Raising the stakes

CFS connections

How close, if at all, should UTSU be to the Canadian Federation of Students? Some praise the group for organizing mass advocacy on student issues, while others see them as power-hungry, careerist, wannabe-NDP hacks.

Fees

What commitment should UTSU have in campaigning to lower tuition and ancillary fees? Some support advocacy for cancelling or lowering tuition fees. Others want less secondary fees, such as for Hart House, textbooks, and campus media. Last year UTSU reps voted for the $18 Varsity Centre bubble levy after a heated referendum; now funding for the Centre for High Performance Sport, the Student Commons, and other projects may be raised.

Advocacy or service?

Should unions primarily campaign on student issues, or should their focus be on supplying services? UTSU has lost points with some students for its political slant, and for spending time on activism that doesn’t yield results. Many find class sizes and professor accessibility more important than Drop Fees protests.

U-Pass

How much should UTSU compromise for an annual Metropass built into the T-card? Should the union insist on an opt-out? Last fall, the TTC proposed a $480-per-year, non-transferable pass for September to April with no opt-out. The idea died before reaching a vote and UTSC’s referendums failed, although many are using public transit in the midst of the recession.

Towards 2030

President David Naylor’s roadmap for the university advocates corporate research partnerships and hints at fee hikes. How should the plan be approached as it goes to Phase 2? An all-campus plebiscite by UTSU and GSU found 93 per cent against the removal of provincial regulations on tuition, which the plan is likely to ask for.

Student space

Who gets a say in how to run the upcoming student commons? The campus has crumbling infrastructure and few places to study and hang out. How effectively can UTSU advocate for more student space?

Clubs funding

Last year, UTM’s union wanted its own budget for clubs, taking a chunk out of UTSU’s ability to fund over 350 recognized clubs. Clubs who do not receive official recognition face astronomical fees for space bookings. The Clubs Committee meets behind closed doors, and club leaders are outnumbered two to one. The committee chair is appointed, not elected.

Satellite campuses

Should UTSU’s relations with UTM and UTSC change? The Mississauga campus shares responsibilities between its union and UTSU. Scarborough has an independent union.

Transparency

Students have made repeated efforts to make their union more transparent and accessible. Moves to have the board meeting minutes posted online were struck down at November’s annual general meeting, on the basis that campaign strategies would become available for admin to view.

Shame of the Yankees

It hardly seems possible that three weeks ago, Alex Rodriguez and the New York Yankees were fretting over something as meaningless as whether teammates called the star slugger “A-Fraud” behind his back.

Former Yankees manager Joe Torre makes that assertion in his new tell-all book The Yankee Years, in which Torre and co-writer Tom Verducci craft an intriguing third-person narrative that reveals the juiciest gossip about the inner-workings of the Yankee clubhouse.

But the most shocking details, the ones unbeknownst to Torre and the rest of the world, were revealed just days after the book’s release: Rodriguez tested positive for anabolic steroids in 2003.

The test was initially implemented as a way to determine the extent to which steroids had permeated baseball, and it was supposed to be anonymous. Yet when results of Rodriguez’s positive test leaked to Sports Illustrated reporters, published February 7, the name-calling in Torre’s book was pushed out of the headlines.

The results of the leak are yet another damning chapter of baseball’s steroids era. They cement the destruction of Rodriguez’s reputation as a natural talent who would erase the memory of steroid offender Barry Bonds and become the new home run king.

As fans and the media point fingers at Rodriguez and commissioner Bud Selig for letting steroids take over the game under his watch, the timing couldn’t have been worse for the Yankees. They’re already in dire straits, having missed the playoffs in 2008, the year after they fired Torre in favour of Joe Girardi.

The Yankee Years follows Torre from his hiring as Yankee manager in 1996, through the team’s dynasty years, their decline and fall, closing with Torre’s inevitable dismissal.

Along the way, Torre recounts the most famous moments of what he deems the “neo-Peloponnesian War” between the Yankees and Boston Red Sox. While it’s interesting for any baseball fan to revisit Torre’s in-game managerial decisions, the most salacious details are Torre’s personal opinions on players like the irresponsible David Wells, the mercurial Kevin Brown, and natural born leader Derek Jeter.

It’s common knowledge that the Yankees’ questionable personnel decisions have been responsible for their demise, and the destruction of team chemistry is nowhere more evident than in chapter eight, “The Issues of Alex.”

Torre chronicles the rift that developed between Rodriguez and Jeter, turning their friendship into a cold, unspoken feud. Rodriguez became obsessed with the public’s preference for the likable Jeter, despite Rodriguez being the far superior baseball player.

But his self-esteem issues would have far greater consequences.

Torre believes that Rodriguez’s problems stem from a fear of failure caused by his insatiable need to justify his outlandish contract and secure his place as one of the game’s all-time greats.

Concerning Rodriguez’s struggles under pressure, Torre says, “He was hyperaware of how he looked to others and how he was perceived. It was a self-awareness that crept into his at-bats in clutch situations, causing performance anxiety, and his teammates knew it.” As far as public condemnations go, it doesn’t get more overt than that.

In his emotional apology, Rodriguez cited these exact fears as the motivation that caused him to turn to performance-enhancing drugs.

The media reaction has since been all over the map, with some calling for Rodriguez’s accomplishments to be stricken from the record. Others are more willing to forgive, since baseball had no formal rules against steroids use when the then Texas Rangers shortstop failed testing in 2003.

Ultimately, the solution has yet to play out, as Rodriguez has at least a decade of his career ahead of him, which he’ll likely spend trying to make amends. It’s worth noting that no player identified in the Mitchell Report as having tested positive for banned substances has been elected to baseball’s Hall of Fame.

Torre also vents his frustrations over the yearly player turnover that turned the Yankees from annual championship contenders to a mess of artificially inflated egos and biceps. He describes the ill-advised moves as “heading toward an abyss.”

Yet even during this current off-season, the team has made alarmingly similar moves to the ones that dragged them down in the first place. They’ve once again attempted to bolster the pitching staff with high-priced signings, including a small-market star who seems unprepared for the New York microscope in C.C. Sabathia (whose potential issues resemble those of Randy Johnson and Javier Vazquez), and an unreliable, injury-prone starter in A.J. Burnett (shades of Carl Pavano and Jaret Wright).

But Rodriguez’s poor play in the clutch and endless personal distractions are by far the team’s biggest problem. Fall out from the steroid scandal will undoubtedly make the 2009 season immeasurably difficult.

In these times of crisis, the comments Rodriguez made on the day of his trade to the Yankees are particularly poignant: “I have seven years to play with Derek and set my legacy as far as being a part of Yankees history.”

With a new reputation as a steroid user whose accomplishments are forever tainted, Rodriguez has succeeded in cementing his legacy. Now he’ll have to live with it.

UTSU CRO moves to stop rival debate

UTSU’s Chief Returning Officer has told a campus group to shut down their elections debate. The Varsity has obtained an email sent shortly after midnight on Feb. 26, in which CRO Lydia Treadwell asked the U of T NDP to cancel their event, saying it violates UTSU policy.

U of T NDP’s debate is slated for Thursday, March 5, in conflict with an event that UTSU is co-hosting called “Taskforce on Racism.” The taskforce is being conducted by the Ontario branch of the Canadian Federation of Students. CFS is known for supporting slates in union elections and has in the past bussed in members from other schools to help campaign.

“It has come to my attention that your organization is advertising an event entitled ‘UTSU All Candidates Summit,’ wrote Treadwell. “I am writing to inform you that this event is in violation of Section 2f. of the UTSU Elections Procedure Code which outlines that the role of the CRO is to organize and establish guidelines for ‘candidate forums.’” The rule Treadwell quotes is Article 4.2.f.

“In order to ensure elections rules are upheld, I am requesting that you cancel this event at this time and cease organizing anymore campus wide ‘debates’ that are in contravention of UTSU Elections policies and procedures.”

UTSU’s official all-candidates meeting, which Treadwell is required to organize and run under her contract, takes place Tues, March 3.

Black and Blues

On Saturday, February 21, the Varsity Blues took on the Ryerson Rams in the women’s basketball playoffs. The contest between the Toronto rivals was an intense affair, befitting a playoff game. However, this was not how the game started. Ryerson came to the Athletic Centre to harass the heavily-favoured Blues to stop them from progressing to the semifinals.

The Rams used the full court press from the get go. But the Blues seemed to be the quicker and fresher of the two teams, managing to spring the traps, and find the open player at will. Blues point guard Sherri Pierce was a second faster than any of the Rams guards, leading the fast breaks to a deadly effect. To make matters worse for Ryerson, they were unable to cope with the height advantage of the Blues players. The Blues pulled down fifteen more rebounds than Ryerson in the first half, and completely dominated the low post.

Blues player of the game Tara Kinnear converted lay-up after lay-up, as she shot an astounding seventy five per cent from the field. She ended the half with 17 points and nine boards. The presence of Toronto’s post players meant that points were hard to come by for Ryerson, relying on the erratic outside shooting of Lisa Goldring. The Rams were timid, and allowed themselves to be bullied by their much larger neighbours.

Whatever Ryerson head coach Sandy Pothier told the girls at half-time motivated them, as a different team emerged from the dressing room. Maybe she pointed out the 41-24 score line and reminded the team that this was a playoff game. Suddenly, the Rams shined brighter and became aggressive. Lacey O’Sullivan’s hard foul on Toronto’s Pierce was an indication of what to expect in the second half. Ryerson packed the paint and forced Toronto’s guards to take shots. Any time Nicki Schutz or Kinnear touched the ball the Rams surrounded them, as they hacked and harassed the two down to a manageable size.

The referees either forgot that basketball is a non-contact sport, or embraced the idea of a playoff game not for the fainthearted. The pace of the game slowed down, because of the foul trouble that had benched Toronto’s starting point guard. The Rams forced Toronto to play their style of hoops. The home fans, quiet for much of the night, began to get increasingly frustrated each time a body hit the floor, and no whistle followed.

With 8:24 left in the third quarter, Blues player Nicki Schutz had her face squished into the ground and was lucky to escape with a cut on the bridge of her nose. A concerned mother in the crowd implored the referees to bring some order to the game. Along with the hard play, the Rams found their shooting. They hit five three pointers in the quarter, and one of them was a four point play. The quarter ended 59-53.

The Blues were leading, but they had been outscored 29-18 in the third quarter.

The Rams’ momentum did not stop in the fourth. The referees found their whistles and started calling fouls, but inconsistently. With six minutes and thirty seconds left in the game, the Rams took the lead for the first time since their first basket with a three pointer. The Rams shot an impressive 57 per cent from beyond the arc in the second half. That was when the Blues Nicki Schutz decided to take over the game.

When asked what she did differently in the second half, Schutz replied, “I was being double and tripled team the whole game. In the first half, I think I had to try and find the open man. In the playoffs, it’s not going to be about the top two, it’s going to be about three, four, and five scoring those extra 10-20 points.”

With four Blues starters in double digits, that plan was executed. In regards to her ten points in the final quarter, Schutz said, “I just got aggressive [and] took it to them.” With 2:53 on the clock, the Blues wrestled the lead back from the Rams, and Schutz made sure not to give it back. Toronto won the game 78-69.

Jock, prof, diplomat: author Andrew Cohen tells of the multiple identities of Lester B. Pearson

Most Canadians know Pearson better as an airport than a Prime Minister, said syndicated columnist and noted political analyst Andrew Cohen at this year’s Keith Davey lecture. But the Lester Pearson he presented was an affable athlete, a distinguished diplomat, and an architect of Canadian identity. The lecture on Monday at the Isabel Bader Theatre marked the release of Cohen’s latest book, a biography of the Prime Minister.

Pearson attended Victoria College before enlisting in the army, where his squadron leader nicknamed him “Mike,” because he thought Lester didn’t sound fierce enough. After the war he attended Oxford, where he excelled, briefly becoming a professional athlete. Later in his political career, when asked what he had that his colleagues didn’t, he responded, “I played professional baseball.”

He taught for several years at the University of Toronto before joining the newly created Department of External Affairs as one of its first employees. In 1941 he was posted to Washington where, according to Cohen, the greatest test of Pearson’s diplomacy was mollifying then-Prime Minister Mackenzie King, for whom Pearson once had to collect, package, and ship rocks from ruins.

By the 1940s, his profile was rising: he was integral in creating NATO, and on the committee that created the state of Israel.

Apparently, the Liberals once had to pull out a map to show him his riding in northern Ontario, Algoma.

He won, and was appointed Minister of Foreign Affairs. In this capacity, he invented “Pearsonian diplomacy,” most notable in the Suez Crisis, a situation he famously diffused, and for which he was awarded the Nobel Prize. Cohen says that Pearson “didn’t invent peacekeeping, but realized it needed a midwife.” Certainly, he can be credited with this part of Canadian identity.

Soon after Suez, he became a Liberal leader, winning a minority government in 1963. Cohen suggested we draw lessons from Pearson, whose minority government was “singularly transformative,” bringing in the Canadian flag, Medicare, official bilingualism, and the pension plan, to name only a few. Pearson, as presented by Cohen, certainly challenges the claim that you can’t get things done with a minority.

We vote for a better electoral process

“Governing Council shame on you. Who the hell elected you?” This chant, often heard at U of T protests, shows some nerve on student unions’ part, given that every year something mars their election process.

As reported in Monday’s issue of The Varsity (see Feb. 23, “UTSU directors talk election business”), some members of the University of Toronto Students’ Union Elections and Referenda Committee can’t be bothered to show up to meetings. Furthermore, UTSU executives who sit on the ERC see no point in creating a separate group to watch over this process.

Yet voter turnout in last year’s UTSU election was a paltry 13 per cent. How are other parties at the negotiating table supposed to take student demands seriously?

The solutions to these problems are surprisingly simple. Putting aside the politics of the campaign, what U of T students really need is an electoral system they can rely on. A positive first step would be for the union to show some faith in students. It also needs to face the facts about its estimation in the eyes of the people it’s supposed to represent. (Read: most students could care less about UTSU.)

Full disclosure: The Varsity attempted to plan an all-candidates debate. Talks broke down after many concessions when the Chief Returning Officer absolutely refused to allow a student to moderate the debate—even if the student would partner with the CRO’s selected moderator, who didn’t go to school here.

I note this because it exemplifies the misconception held by UTSU execs regarding how much this election means to students, and the same lack of regard for students’ abilities to remain neutral when holding potential union execs to account. The CRO, Lydia Treadwell, worried that “union members”—in other words, average students—could not be trusted to remain impartial. But how many students consider themselves members of UTSU, much less take sides?

Students deserve, and can do better. Here’s a few suggestions for how to revamp the process:

Firstly, the elections committee should have its own website, separate from UTSU’s. The elections committee should receive fees from the union, but it must have control over its own finances. Its activities should include being the sole advertiser of UTSU election notices, devloping advertising such as posters to encourage students to vote, and costs from its independently-held debate. All of these activities should be independent from the union.

Secondly, the elections committee should not contain anyone directly involved with the union, and by “directly involved” I don’t mean its so-called “members.” UTSU’s got it backwards: the current system has the most interested parties choosing the person whose job it is to be impartial. That committee has chosen a CRO whose main draw is the fact that she isn’t a member of the union, even though the vast majority of the union’s members are indifferent to elections to the point of not voting.

As usual at U of T, at the meeting where the CRO was ratified there was no transparency about who the other candidates for the position were. No information has been disclosed about Treadwell, other than that she is not a U of T student, not affiliated with any club or college, and has never held an elected university position. Treadwell’s name didn’t float into the ERC out of nowhere. At the very least, I want to know who nominated her.

Thirdly, the CRO should be selected in early September, because a CRO may be needed at any time of the year—not just for end-of-year elections. The selection of the CRO may still rest with UTSU execs and directors, but the process should be extensive and transparent, including a nomination period where the merits of candidates are publicly vetted by the UTSU, and questioned by student media.

The CRO should select their own elections committee. According to Scrivener, the reason this year’s ERC was so rushed picking a CRO was because of difficulties coordinating schedules. This problem is understandable—members of the present ERC have other responsibilities with the union. If members of the elections committee did not have their attention so divided, things would run a lot more smoothly.

As a separate entity, the committee would have some teeth in scheduling election dates. The first week of nominations would not have to occur during Reading Week, when no one is on campus. Most importantly, such a committee would behave neutrally—something that the current ERC, based on its membership, can make no claims to. With a more transparent selection process, no one on the committee could risk being partial, because that would be immediate cause for dismissal.

If the U of T administration were to propose a fairer election system, the unions involved would decry it as Simcoe Hall’s attempt to wrest further control from students—even though it’s in the students’ best interest. In December of last year, VP and Provost Cheryl Misak was forced to disband the Advisory Committee on Democratic Processes in Student Government after several student unions refused to participate.

After all, a politician by any other name still clings to what power they’ve managed to attain, and UTSU executives could have something to lose from a fairer system that encouraged participation and alternative voices.

If UTSU wants to prove that they’re not just a bunch of NDP candidates-in-waiting, they’ll put some power back in the hands of the people they represent.

But then, who the hell elected them?

The public may whine, but the Big Three need more money

The public reaction to the Big Three auto bailout has shattered myths we’ve been fed about sticking together in hard times. Today, it seems to be every man for himself, everyone else be damned. It also seems that the fundamental conservatism (small-c) of the U.S. and Canadian governments is a blessing, a protection against the tyranny of democracy.

The auto sector is, as we used to say in Grade 12 German class, upgefucked. Decades of mismanagement, adversarial unions, and artificially-inflated prices, combined with a decline in the real and perceived quality of the Big Three’s product lines, have driven these once formidable companies to near-bankruptcy, dependent on the public dole to survive. In addition to the provisional loans already secured from the U.S., Canadian, and Ontario governments, GM and Chrysler have asked for an additional $19 billion from the U.S. to help with major dealer buyouts, and are negotiating proportional requests from Ontario and Canada. The situation is bad, and will likely worsen before it gets any better. However, the Big Three cannot be allowed to fail. Bankruptcy seems to be an option more costly than public loans.

Although I am no admirer of cars, and certainly have no affection for the Big Three, the cost of human suffering would be far too great to accept. I tend toward the view that recessions are ultimately a natural part of the economic cycle and could potentially benefit consumers and producers. As a recent Toronto Star editorial similarly opined, the cost of bankruptcy in real and perceived terms would be too great, likely triggering the domino-like collapse of an industry that employs hundreds of thousands of workers directly and millions residually. Consider that these “timely” proceedings are rarely timely, and sometimes take years. Add governmmental obligations to secure pensions in Ontario and Canada and the huge burden placed on an already strained public support system in the U.S., and the cost to taxpayers might be much higher than anything the bailout promises.

Yet, due to a combination of selfishness and ignorance, most people would rather accept the collapse than pay their hard-earned dollars in taxes to union welfare mothers. Why must they be punished for the imprudence of others? Why must they support the generous pensions of autoworkers? These companies make awful cars anyway.

One assumes that many of these voices come from the same people that elected Ronald Reagan/”BM the PM” and still consider ketchup a vegetable. They likely named their daughters Margaret in honour of the Iron Lady herself.

Yet they make a few valid points, including that the pension system as it stands will have to be modified, and fast. The Big Three will have to close many dealerships, and would be wise to invest in green production of green products—small cars are the wave of the future. But they cannot do any of these things without governmental help, and they definitely cannot do them in bankruptcy. Our governments understand this, and fortunately are not saddled with the task of bending popular opinion on the matter. So the taxpayers will shoulder the burden, and they’ll bitch about it from now until Reagan rises for the Second Coming. As aristocrats and conservatives have long said, some things are simply too important to be decided by the people.

Normally, I’m a bit of a populist. I’m the only one who thinks it should be 100 per cent constitutional for Vermont (or, dare I say it, Quebec) to leave the Union (Confederation) if that’s what the people want. But the other day my horoscope offered sage advice: you must take the opportunity to learn about the positive qualities of something you disagree with (it was not nearly so grammatically correct as this, but you get the drift).

I’m taking that advice, and appreciating the conservative, slow-moving nature of government, which normally infuriates me. It is precisely because governments can be unresponsive to the will of the people that the Big Three might be saved, and may even emerge better than before. And in times like these, we all need a little help now and again. Union welfare mothers are no exception.

*Totally unrelated, but I couldn’t resist. Apparently, a passport is no longer good enough to change the official name on your record at the University of Toronto. Only at U of T would the document accepted by the Canadian government be deemed “just not good enough.” Maybe our passports were victims of the bell-curve.

Obama Watch

Successful passage of the stimulus bill—check. Passage of the housing bill—check. High approval ratings across the board—check. Bipartisan consensus—still working on that. Despite his early legislative accomplishments, President Obama is still in pursuit of Republican support. Although his conservative colleagues don’t appear to be rallying behind him anytime soon, average citizens are.

As a candidate, Barack Obama preached a great deal about the importance of Democrats and Republicans putting aside their ideologies and settling on a common goal. But how can the President convince those whose views are diametrically opposed to his own? There is no hope of consensus on matters relating to the economy, health care, or the environment when the (predominantly Southern) Republican Party insulates itself with an ultra-conservatism mandate, leaving a handful of relatively open-minded politicians to fend for themselves.

While assembling the largest stimulus package in the nation’s history, the President stuck to his campaign rhetoric and consulted numerous members of the Republican caucus. They proposed a lone measure that was tried, tested, but wholly untrue: tax cuts. Granted, President Obama did include this measure in his economic platform during his campaign, but his capitulation to the Right’s demands during the crafting of this bill produced a final sum that, according to some economists, may not be sufficient to lift the economy out of the dumpster.

Despite a few setbacks, the President’s drive to win over the opposition was apparent last night when he made a televised formal address to Congress outlining his domestic policies. Injecting some much-needed confidence into the American psyche, he drew enormous applause from Democrats. But when the stimulus bill was mentioned, only three Republicans stood up to cheer—the three that voted in favour of the bill. The remainder of the caucus was noticeably stoic and unresponsive. Instant public surveys concluded that the President’s approval ratings had increased, and that the public’s reception to the speech was positive. On the other hand, the Republican rebuttal, presented by Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, called for no interventionist policies, but rather—you guessed it—more tax cuts. This oft-recycled counterargument is weak, and according to the American citizenry, fully repudiated.

The President has made his case to the public. He’s taken his stimulus tour on the road to some of the most affected cities in the country, and like a good salesman dressed in a spiffy suit, pitched his plan to those who would listen. They liked what they heard, and thanked him with impressive performance ratings. The philosophical divide in Washington is too great for any elected official to abolish overnight, but with the numbers on his side, President Obama can use popular support as a launching pad for more progressive policies, with or without the Republican thumbs up.