Shock and awe?

The line snaked around the block at Bloor Cinema, but it wasn’t for a classic film or a Hollywood blockbuster. U of T’s chapter of the Ontario Public Interest Research Group played host last Monday to Naomi Klein, author and U of T alumna, in town to promote her latest book. In The Shock Doctrine: the Rise of Disaster Capitalism, Klein challenges the idea that democracy and laissez-faire capitalism go hand in hand, arguing the coupling only benefits the elite.

A cornerstone of Klein’s thesis is that times of shock, such as political upheaval and natural disasters, are exploited to push through economic policies. When the majority of the population is either too distracted or powerless to form any kind of opposition, says Klein, the drastic deregulation of markets and public spending slashes characteristic of Chicago School economics are often implemented.

Klein pointed to the recent Wall Street financial crisis. “[This] is one of those shock moments when the shock doctrine is applied,” she said. “I think what we’ve been witnessing in Washington and on Wall Street is a very concerted effort to benefit the very people who are most responsible for creating that economic crisis.”

The night was also devoted to the importance of grassroots activism in pushing issues into the political limelight. “Why can’t First Nations rights be that kind of national, broad-based issue?” asked Klein, comparing First Nations advocacy with climate change initiatives. All proceeds from the talk went to the Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory and the Algonquins of Berriere Lake.

Prominent Toronto activists also took to the stage. John Clarke, Ontario Coalition Against Poverty founder, was among them. “In this city […] there has been massive under-funding of public housing,” he said. “People are living under conditions that are beyond belief.” OCAP led a street takeover at Gerrard and Parliament on Oct. 4 to highlight these issues.

Other speakers included representatives from the Tyendinaga Support Committee, No One is Illegal, the Coalition Against Israeli Aparteid and the Toronto Coalition to Stop the War.

Klein echoed their call for action. “These powerful forces are much, much weaker than we think and it’s time to remember that we’re much, much stronger than we think,” she said.

Naomi Klein is also the author of No Logo: Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies, as well as the writer and producer of The Take, a documentary about Argentinean labour struggles.

Men score three straight wins

The Varsity Blues men’s soccer team recorded two strong offensive showings Sept 27 and 28, first against the Trent Excalibur and the Royal Military College Paladins. With Trent being the only team this year to shut the Blues out, the 4-2 result on Saturday came as a welcome reassurance in the team’s finishing ability.

The Excalibur looked ready to score an early goal off of a miscue by the Toronto defense, but John Smits, the rookie keeper who took over for the injured Luciano Lombardi, came up with the early save. Two minutes later, Toronto attacked the right wing as first-year midfielder Geoffrey Borgmann crossed the ball to forward Seung Bok Lee, who got the height on the Trent goalkeeper, heading the ball in to give Toronto the 1-0 lead. Toronto conquered offensively for the rest of the half with a second goal at the 22 minute mark. The Borgmann-Bok Lee team hooked up again, when a cross by Borgmann bounced around the Trent box before a goal by Lee.

Toronto captain Dustin Chung praised Borgmann’s play. “Geoff’s our key man on the right-wing,” he said. “He put the work in today and we’re just glad that it was productive.”

A third goal was scored at 27 minutes off of a free kick redirected by third-year striker Nordo Gooden. The first-half ended with Trent taking advantage of a pass back to the goalkeeper, slowed down by weather conditions on the synthetic field. Trent striker Thaddeus Bolton capitalized on the error by intercepting the pass, maneuvering around Smits to score for his team.

Coach Capotosto singled out Toronto’s defensive play as an area to improve on in the weeks ahead. “We were taking things for granted on the field. We weren’t getting into position early and we were a little disoriented defensively.”

Second-half action saw striker Alexander Raphael score Toronto’s fourth goal on a penalty kick shortly before Bolton tapped the ball towards Toronto’s line at the other end of the field. While Smits looked to have successfully cleared the ball, the line-judge ruled that it had crossed the threshold. Trent recorded their second goal.

“We were a little disappointed that we tied [Trent] 0-0 about a week ago, so we went back to the drawing board in training sessions and we worked on the wing channels and getting crosses in. We did exactly that today,” said Chung.

In Sunday’s game against the RMC Paladins, the Blues continued this show of offensive finesse with a convincing 4-0 win over the bottom seed in the Eastern division. Niko Pesa, a first-year forward from Burlington, Ontario and striker Raphael each scored two goals.

Asked about the team’s performance this year, particularly on the offensive side, Raphael commented on the team’s chemistry. “The difference between this year and previous years […] is the way we work together. Last year, we had a skillful team, but we weren’t really able to connect. This year the team has gelled within the first couple of weeks which has just been amazing.”

With these two wins, the Blues move from eighth to sixth place in the Canadian Interuniversity Sport ranking for men’s soccer. Last Saturday, the Blues picked up another win with a 3-1 victory over the Nipissing Lakers. If the Blues can continue these dominating offensive performances, Toronto fans can look forward to a very interesting post-season.

Colleges get more leeway on ancillary fees

The Ontario Ministry of Training, Colleges, and Universities has released a new set of guidelines regulating college ancillary fees. The new regulations, drawn up in response to a court ruling on the legality of ancillary fees, place fewer restrictions on colleges.

Ancillary fees cover expenses that are neither funded by government, nor covered in tuition, such as athletic centres and dental plans, and on average amount to $643 per student. The new policy, effective next fall, prohibits colleges from charging ancillary fees for resources necessary to program delivery, as these should be covered by tuition, but allows for fees used to enhance student life. The new guidelines do not specify what is considered a basic program and what is an enhancement, leaving postsecondary institutions with a great deal of flexibility in determining ancillary fees. The guidelines also allow for a maximum annual increase of 20 per cent without approval from students.

The policy comes in the wake of a $200-million class action lawsuit launched against 24 Ontario colleges by students Dan Roffey and Amanda Hassum. The students sued for the return of the extra fees covering computers, libraries, and labs, claiming that since these were academic services, charging extra for them was illegal. The court ruled that the regulation of ancillary fees was the responsibility of the government, not the courts.

According to the Canadian Federation of Students’ Ontario chairperson Shelley Melanson, the new guidelines do little to remedy the problems introduced in the lawsuit. Melanson said that not setting a standard for what constitutes a “basic program” invites disproportionate charges of fees depending on which institution you attend. She said that the cap at a 20 per cent increase per year still allows for prohibitive costs.

However the College Student Alliance, which represents students at 16 of the 24 Ontario colleges, commended the policy for not dictating exactly what is basic versus an enhancement, recognizing that each college is different.

Surging women’s team looks ahead to playoffs

The University of Toronto Varsity Blues women’s soccer team lost last Saturday to the Nipissing Lakers. The heartbreaking 2-0 loss ended Toronto’s spectacular four-game streak that saw them climb the national rankings to fourth in the CIS. It also ended their two-and-a-half week reign as the top-ranked team in the OUA as they fell to second behind the University of Ottawa.

The results at Education Centre Field are disappointing for the Blues. Toronto has built high expectations through the first half of their 14-game season, dominating their opponents in their last four. Undefeated at home with a 7-1 record, the Blues had proven to be a top contender in the OUA.

“It’s been a really great team effort,” explained interim head coach Eva Havaris on September 28 following the game against RMC. “The girls are really applying everything and everyone is stepping up all over the field. It makes it tougher for those teams coming in to play us. We have a fantastic group of girls; a very coachable group. When we have a game plan and a focus for the week, every single person is applying it.”

A defence-first mentality is a winning tactic for the team. It has proven to be the Blues strongest asset on the field and the toughest for their opponents to overcome. Prior to the game against Nipissing, they allowed only two goals in eight games played. In their game against the Royal Military College Paladins, the Blues completely shutdown their opponents as RMC failed to muster even a shot on goal all game.

“We’ve got some experienced players back there that are really solid,” said Coach Havaris. “They are committed to that defensive part of the game and all of them are playing as a unit right now.”

While the defence has always been strong for the Blues, their offensive game has shown remarkable growth. They outscored their opponents by a stunning 20-1 margin in the four games prior to Nipissing, compared to the 6-1 goal margin in the four games before that. Coach Havaris stressed that the team’s recent offensive surge coincided with the coaching staff’s plan for the season.

“We had an entire season planned as a coaching staff,” explained Coach Havaris. “For the first phase, we were focusing on our defence. We’re just finishing up our phase two now which was all about our transition game and our finishing. For the last two and a half weeks what you are seeing is a product of our practices and our game plan.”

Even with Saturday’s loss, the Blues are well positioned to receive a first-round bye in post-season quarterfinal action and a chance to finish first overall in the OUA. With only five games remaining in the regular season, the players are looking eagerly towards an opportunity to have home field advantage in the quarterfinals and possibly the finals.

“[The playoffs are] definitely not in the back of our minds, it’s definitely in the front and that’s all that we really want to do,” said rookie forward Jennifer Siu. “And we’re going to work extremely hard, [and do] whatever it takes to get there and win.”

“It’s in the back of our minds, yes of course, but as a staff that’s not our focus,” said Coach Havaris, who was quick to emphasize that she was still taking things one game at a time. “Our focus is to get to that next point that we want to get to as a team. The biggest part is that we’re on track for what we want to achieve by the end of the season. Now we’re entering phase three of our plan.”

Voting isn’t just a right—it’s a responsibility

“You may not be interested in politics. But you may be sure that politics is interested in you.”

—J. B. Priestly, author, broadcaster, veteran

You are born. The hospital in which you first meet the world has been purchased with tax dollars from generations of Canadians. Your doctors and nurses are paid with money collected from your parents and theirs, your aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, and everyone else. Already, everyone in the country has a stake in you—an investment of capital. You are named and it is notarized for your birth certificate, your passport to the rights and privileges of Canadian citizenship. You are on your way. Even though you don’t know about politics, politics already knows about you.

You are brought home. Your crib has been inspected under rigorous safety regulations. Your blanket materials have proven both safe and new. Government agencies have provided your caregivers with certified information about the nutritional value of your food—it’s right there on the jar. You develop a nasty little rash, but a quick search of the Health Canada website shows that it’s most likely nothing to worry about; with a change of soap brands, it clears right up. You are now more comfortable, so you and your folks can sleep through the night. All the while you are protected by a vast extended family of fire fighters, police officers, and EMS attendants. Before you could possibly care about politics, politics is caring for you.

You start school. You can be certain of your teachers’ competence because your government ensured that they spent years learning their craft. Tax money, collected in communities around the country, provides you with books for reading, paint for art, computers for exploring, and a safe playground for recess. With these tools at hand, you gain an inkling of your greater interests. These ideas and interactions will lead to your career and hobbies, and enable you to begin your cycle of contribution to the national neighborhood. Whether or not you choose to learn about politics, politics is learning about you.

You begin to take responsibility for your decisions. Maybe you decide to go straight to college or university, and do so through the use of a student-loan system. Maybe you fall in love and decide to settle down and raise a family; once again, hospitals and product-safety regulations become a concern. Maybe you decide to take up a skilled trade, and want assurance that your workplace is safe and that you will be paid in full and on time. Maybe you decide to become one of our soldiers or decision-makers. Whether or not you work in politics, politics is working for you.

You store the money you earn in banks and financial institutions regulated by your government. You pay taxes and begin to invest in your fellow citizens the way they have invested in you. You buy a car and rely on roads. You buy a home and rely on public utilities. You travel, become an activist, support charities, become a patron of the arts, a peewee coach—you do it all. But you must consider your number-one responsibility to your national community: you must decide whether or not you will vote. Politics shines upon every facet of your life, and you must decide whether or not you will be counted among those who make the decisions that affect your life. You may not be interested in politics. But you may be sure that politics is interested in you.

Justin Chatwin is a student of the University of Toronto and your federal NDP candidate in the riding of Eglinton-Lawrence. He wants you to vote, even if not for him.

No reason to feel blue

I had the good fortune of covering the Blue Jays’ final home game of the regular season against the Yankees for the radio station FAN590. I’ll admit I spent most of the first half helping FAN reporter, Zack Cooper, figure out the drafting order for his hockey pool. This sort of thing can happen during a meaningless game of baseball, even with Roy Halladay on the bump looking for his 20th win of the season. But at least I wasn’t as bad as Barry Davis from Rogers Sportsnet, playing Scrabble with his wife over Facebook. Though if I think about it, I’m sure if I had a laptop, I would have been on Facebook improving my online pickup lines.

It was probably the fourth inning when I started to pay attention. The Jays struck for three runs to make it a 5-1 game, and I was feeling some excitement for Halladay. While watching Halladay dominate the Yankees is always exciting, this time it felt different, removing some of my disappointment for the Jays’ offense wasting the best pitching staff in the Majors and missing the playoffs for the fifteenth straight year. Fans at the game gave Halladay huge standing ovations after each inning, going crazy after Halladay finished the game, securing his 20th win.

“Did you see who was the first one to congratulate Roy?” Barry Davis asked me. “A.J. Burnett,” he said. Good ol’ Burnett finally had his breakout season just in time to opt out of his contract and ask for more money. But the fans were happy, the players content, and it made the season feel like a success despite how frustratingly inconsistent it had been.

The game left me wondering whose fans were more disappointed with their team this year: the Blue Jays or the Yankees? Spending the entire summer at the FAN, I had read many articles on the Jays’ lack of offense, GM J.P. Ricciardi’s incompetence, and A.J. Burnett’s questionable future in Toronto. I’m sick of the Toronto media continuously bashing the Jays. It seems like they forget that the Jays are in the toughest division in baseball against the two biggest payrolls in baseball, the Yankees and the Red Sox. Now, the Jays also have to deal with the powerful Tampa Bay Rays, who came out of nowhere to win the American League East this year.

If I were a hardcore Yankees fan this year, I’d probably be borderline suicidal. Yankee Stadium closed down this season, and for the first time in 13 years the Bronx Bombers didn’t make the playoffs. What a year to come up lame. There will be no playoff games in Yankee Stadium’s swan song. This disappointment comes amidst the New York Times reporting that the Yankees’ deal with New York City to build their new billion-dollar stadium may have violated tax regulations and state laws. Ticket prices for halfway decent seats in the new stadium have soared to the point where a $500 seat near home plate will be considered a bargain.

But hey, the team’s payroll for 2008 was a mere $209 million. If they want to maintain that exorbitant payroll, they’ll have to hit up the fans for more money despite having a crappy season. God knows the Toronto Maple Leafs have no problem doing that. Let’s do the math: the Yanks’ 89 wins costs around $2.35 million per victory. Compare that to the Jays’ $98 million 2008 payroll and 86 wins, and you’ve got just under $1.14 million per win.

The highlight of my final home reportage was the post-game interviews in the Yankees’ locker room where I saw first-hand just how tough the New York media can be. Yanks’ manager Joe Girardi was getting killed on questions about him allegedly covering up an injury to his all-star closer Mariano Rivera. The media repeatedly insinuated to Girardi that he had caused the injury by using Rivera too much after the pitcher complained about his body being—and I’m not making this up—“cranky.” When the press had finished with Girardi they openly and heatedly discussed him in front of several Yankee players. On the way to the press box, some angrily suggested that Girardi should be fired.

While it was frustrating to watch an entire Jays’ game this season, I think cheering for the Yankees would have been much, much harder.

A culture of cutbacks

Throughout this election—which Stephen Harper so hastily called—there has been a lot of talk about the arts. I have joined a group of artists who are very concerned with Mr. Harper’s ideas about art. For me, his disposition towards the arts is a symbol of everything he stands for.

We must remember that Mr. Harper started this debate by eliminating—two weeks before calling the election—two government programs that helped artists present their work overseas. Though these programs were small, Harper’s actions had a greater impact. Soon, almost $50 million in other program cuts were uncovered. These cuts show a systematic change in government policy.

I am more concerned about the bullying manner in which those programs were eliminated. It shows how we can expect Harper to act in the future: unilaterally dismantling public institutions that have taken generations to build—our universal health care system, and our status as a peacekeeping nation in a world plagued by conflict—and vetoing real progress by ignoring the hard facts of climate change.

It’s hard to know where Mr. Harper will hit next. Many Canadians feel like deer in headlights, frozen by the glare.

I try to think of everything as part of a whole. As an artist, I tend to think of life “culturally.” How we talk, act, dress and behave is no less important than what we have learned, where we work, who we love and how we live—they are all part of who we are. Every part is important.

You can apply this holistic way of thinking to the arts. Everyone knows something important about Canadian culture, whether it’s the fact that Karen Kain was lead ballerina of the National Ballet, Margaret Atwood is a famous writer, or Joni Mitchell was born in Saskatchewan. Not all Canadians attend the ballet, read Atwood, or like “Big Yellow Taxi,” but they recognize the significance of each. These artifacts define us as Canadians, just as much as the skits of Rick Mercer or the music of Holy Fuck. Canadian arts include the whole nation: you can’t pit what plays in Moose Jaw against what happens in Vancouver, Winnipeg, Peterborough, or Halifax.

As artists, we cannot let Mr. Harper pit pop music against the concert hall, comics against painting, or Jeopardy against Passchendaele. Harper can’t convince us that he’s putting more money into the arts when we see how the cuts happen—by whim: cuts here, payoffs to Conservative supporters there.

Mr. Harper would like us to believe that the many aspects of Canadian life can be divided, that one thing is the enemy of another, one person is worthy and another expendable. This breeds ignorance, or worse, elevates it to a virtue.

Mr. Harper scares me. He scares a lot of people. And when we are afraid, it’s hard to make good decisions. That is how our Prime Minister operates: by lowering our expectations, reducing our sense of self-esteem, intimidating us into giving up on the things that engage us, the wonderful differences that move and change us.

I can’t tell you how you should vote, or whether voting will produce the result you want. You have to make up your own mind. You have to vote with your conscience and put your faith in the electoral system. All I can hope is that you do vote, and that you do so with confidence—in hope, and not out of fear.

Robert Labossiere is a member of the Department of Culture, an ad hoc movement of artists engaging with the issues during the current election. The opinions expressed in this letter are strictly his own. Get involved http://www.departmentofculture.ca.

America Votes 2008 Debates

Round 1: Presidential Smackdown

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the main event! In the red corner, Republican Senator from Arizona, Mr. Straight Talk himself, John “Maverick” McCain! And, in the blue corner, the junior Senator from Illinois bringing change we can believe in, Barack “The Star” Obama! Hold on to your seats, folks. This could be one heck of a show!

Except that it wasn’t. Both candidates did well—they reiterated their positions, and clarified the differences between their policies and ideologies. But there were no zingers, no confrontations, and no real interactions. PBS journalist Jim Lehrer, the moderator for the evening, practically had to beg the candidates to speak to each other.

The score:

Point to Obama for linking McCain to deregulation and trickle-down economic policies.

Point to Obama for countering McCain’s earmark-and-pork-barrel spiel with his plan to cut taxes for 95 per cent of the population.

Point to McCain for highlighting his own foreign policy experience.

Point to Obama for switching the focus to the war in Afghanistan and the unfinished business there.

Point to McCain for making Obama capitulate on his previous pledge to meet with dictators without preconditions.

Point to McCain for his stamina and energy—and not looking like he was going to die and leave (shudder) Palin with the presidency.

Could anyone have predicted this? After 90 intense minutes there is no clear winner!

Round 2: Vice Presidential Sudden Death

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome! Tonight, the number-twos go head to head. In the red corner, armed with a hockey stick in one hand and lipstick in the other, Alaska’s very own pageant queen, Governor Sarah “Pitbull” Palin! And in the blue corner, the scrappy senator from Scranton, “Average Joe” Biden! Place your bets now, people. This could be the last time you see such an uneven match-up!

It was hard to look at Palin without thinking about SNL’s Tina Fey. But alas—Palin (seemed) to have her act together, and didn’t leave Fey with (many) “Silly Sarah” moments to spoof. Still, the match was won before it started. All Biden had to do to succeed was avoid a memorable gaffe.

The score:

Point to Biden for being an excellent surrogate for Obama, and accurately outlining the ticket’s policies and positions.

Point to Palin for being “Maverick” McCain’s biggest fan.

Point to Biden for answering the questions that were asked.

Point away from Palin for going off on random tangents when she didn’t like and/or understand the question.

Point away from Palin for answering “I’ve only been at this for five weeks” when asked what campaign promises she’d have to break in light of the bailout plan.

Point away from Palin for attributing climate change to the cyclical temperature changes of the planet.

Point to Palin for correcting Biden: “The chant is ‘Drill, baby drill!’” (as opposed to “Drill, drill, drill”).

Point to Biden for being a foreign policy expert and countering Palin on every count. (Surprise, surprise.)

Point to Palin for just being so adorable!

What’s this? The judges have reached an agreement: “Pitbull” Palin is awarded a honourary win for NOT making a fool of herself! “Average Joe” may have shined out there, but not failing counts too.