Archive for Media

The Star’s Crime & Punishment Series

In what can only be called a freak burst of actually getting someone to do investigative journalism, The Star has managed to put together a brilliant series of stories on Crime & Punishment. I’ll be trying to parse through it in the coming weeks, but it looks really good. Check it out.

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14 arrested for protesting fee hikes at University of Toronto

Note: This article was supposed to be published in the next Basics Community Newsletter, but unfortunately because of some misunderstandings was unable to make it. So I’ve published it here in full.

On Thursday March 20, over forty students and allies staged a sit-in at the University of Toronto administration’s offices to protest against increases in student fees. The peaceful protest was met with physical aggression by campus police on the orders of senior university administrators. Undeterred, students and allies formed the Committee for Just Education and organized an emergency rally on March 25 to continue protesting fees. On April 7, they held an open forum on fees and staged another rally on April 10 to protest fees.

Charging fees for university and college is one way to keep the working-class and the poor in check. Although the government discusses grants and loans, these are either hard to come by or add up to huge debt-loads after graduation. Students then become “indentured servants” — working to pay off loans while also trying to maintain a life. But free education is a possibility. Cuba, Ireland, Sweden, Finland and many other countries around the world offer free education at all stages. Others, like Venezuela, are moving toward free higher education.

Free education is something that working-classes and their allies have fought for over the past centuries in various countries. These were not gracious policies of the ruling classes, but like health care, the eight-hour working day, and the weekend, are the products of struggle. The students and organizers at UofT are attempting to continue in this tradition of struggle.

But UofT’s administration responded in the most authoritarian way. First, the administration is investigating students under the Code of Student Conduct, which could lead to sanctions including suspension and expulsion. Then, for the first time in over 35 years, they selected 14 students and organizers and got Toronto Police to press criminal charges against them for alleged involvement in the sit-in on March 20. The “Fight Fees 14” were arrested over one month after the events and were released on restrictive bail conditions that prevent their associating with one another, and ban them from UofT property except for classes. One student organizer was in custody overnight, and others were held for unusually long periods of time.

This repression of dissent comes at a time when universities are moving toward increasing privatization and commercialization to intensify serving the needs of corporations and industries, instead of serving the public good. Increasing student fees contributes to the university itself operating like a private corporation instead of a public institution. When students and others protest against this agenda of corporatization, they are met with tremendous repression. At the University of British Columbia, 19 students were arrested on April 4 for opposing the commercialization of campus space, and other universities are introducing or revising Student Codes of Conduct.

We must act now to make the university accountable and accessible to our communities. Please visit www.fightfees.ca and e-mail fightfees@gmail.com to learn more about joining the struggle against student fees and helping the Fight Fees 14.

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How much does UofT spokesperson Robert Steiner get paid to lie?

About $126,000.

According to CTV News:

[the demonstrators] even mixed up their facts, Steiner added, noting the fee hike is actually 10 per cent.

Ah. Well, according to the University of Toronto’s own documents accessible here (p. 16):

The ancillary will increase the fall/winter residence rates by 20% in 2008-09.

So, if Robert Steiner is capable of getting an incontrovertible fact wrong — either because he was misinformed or willfully misleading everyone — then what else other facts did he get “mixed up”?

He said, “Demonstrators seemed to be protesting everything from the war in Afghanistan to the coffee at Second Cup [...]”

Well, actually, no. The demonstrators were protesting the NC residence fees, and student fees in general. The only time Second Cup was brought up was when one of them asked me why I was drinking Tim Hortons coffee — and that I threw away the cup without rolling up the rim.

(Yes, one of them commemorated the 5th anniversary of the war in Iraq — March 20 — but, last time I checked, being against wars that kill millions of people is a good thing.)

Also:

If there was any “brutality,” Steiner suggested it was on the part of demonstrators who tried to trip staff as they left the building, shouted at security and in one case even bit an officer.

Well, it is evident that protesters were pushed to the floor and held by police officers as members of the administration were escorted out. According to the protesters, the administration members literally walked on top of them. According to Robert Steiner, they were trying to trip staff.

Seeing as Robert Steiner is so full of lies and misinformation, I’m not planning on taking his word for anything. After all, if you get $126,000 a year for “Strategic Communication” you probably know exactly how to spin the truth into lies — even if that contradicts your own documentation.

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Re: race card

The letter I sent to the Globe & Mail’s editor-in-chief, comment editor, and Tony Jenkins:

Dear Messrs Greenspon, Martin and Jenkins,

The cartoon printed on Monday, February 18, attempts to take a stab at the substance of what an Afrocentric curriculum may look like. As many readers have noted, the cartoon is racist. I can imagine that, in your defense, you will say something along the lines of, ‘If we thought it was hateful, it wouldn’t be allowed.’ Mr Jenkins might assert that his cartoon is based on real life, and that it is only meant to shed light on a different viewpoint. After all, this is not the first time Mr Jenkins has expressed his racism through his art. On July 6, 1994 the Globe & Mail published a cartoon captioned, ‘Wisdom of the elders…’ This cartoon depicted Natives as drunken, smoking gamblers, passing on such “wisdom” to Native youth. A humourous turn of phrase, no doubt, in the minds of Mr Jenkins and the then associate editor of the Globe & Mail, Sarah Murdoch — but vile and racist, nonetheless.

In this latest cartoon, the ‘joke’, of course, is that knowledge itself is decisively nonracial and, indeed, can’t possibly be racialized — so the only way these schools would be “Afrocentric” is through the thick-lipped, ebonicized blackness of the teachers (and students).

In the cartoon, the key element of Afrocentrism is the ebonics (“S’up, dog?”), and this means that what characterizes African cultures (and the cultures of descendants) is the bastardization of proper, common standards of discourse (that is to say, knowledge), and therefore, behaviour. And this bastardization—this wanton inability to get it right—is all that separates the Afrocentric curriculum from the supposedly non-cultural, non-racial curriculum that gets taught in “normal” schools. So, not only are these Afrocentrists setting themselves apart, but they are going to ruin the ability of black students to interact with “mainstream” Canadians.

These assumptions and assertions, carried by the cartoon, are not only ignorant of the content of and debate surrounding Afrocentric schools, but wrong and deeply racist. Tony Jenkins and the Globe & Mail should apologize to all readers for printing this cartoon. It was not funny, it was racist. It was not enlightening, except to reveal how deeply racism is entrenched into Mr Jenkins’s art and the Globe & Mail’s editorial decisions. In addition, Mr Jenkins and those involved in deciding to publish the cartoon should attend anti-oppression and anti-racism seminars.

Awaiting your apology,
Noaman Ali

Yes, folks, letters can and will change the world. (Not.)

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Race cards

I googled Tony Jenkins, the cartoonist who drew the racist Globe & Mail cartoon I commented on earlier. It turns out this isn’t the first time Jenkins has been a racist. In 1994, Jenkins drew, and the Globe & Mail published, the following:

Jenkins on Natives

Does the racism in this cartoon need to be elaborated upon? Does anyone have to break this down?

Tony Jenkins, the cartoonist, defended his work, saying it wasn’t racist but based on fact or real life. He said the inspiration from the work came from a story about the Kahnawake community’s rejection of a casino project. There are about 60 bands waiting in the wings to get into gaming.

Natives are into smoking, drinking and now gambling, Jenkins said. At one time, Elders would pass on information about hunting and trapping. Now the knowledge that will be passed down will be about gambling, the cartoonist said.

Jenkins attempts to take the political issues of the day and make people laugh and think. It’s one man’s opinion, and is expected to be taken with a grain of salt, he said. The intent wasn’t to mock, but to shed light on a different viewpoint.

Globe and Mail Associate Editor Sarah Murdoch concurred. Racism is not allowed in the paper, but ‘fair comment’ is and Jenkins is given a lot of latitude, she said.
“If we thought it was hateful it wouldn’t be allowed,” Murdoch said.

So there you have it: If the Globe & Mail’s editor doesn’t think it’s hateful, it isn’t. If the Globe & Mail’s editor doesn’t think it’s racist, it isn’t. If the Globe & Mail publishes some vituperative, base, racist content, well, it isn’t.

We see here how deep Jenkins’s racism is, and how entrenched racism is in Globe’s editorial decisions.

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Race card

Fathima has a brilliant post about the virulently racist editorial cartoon featured in the Globe & Mail on Monday, comparing it to The Star’s two editorial cartoons as well.

Racist Cartoon

What’s particularly interesting about this Globe & Mail cartoon (by Tony Jenkins) is that, unlike the ones in The Star, it takes a stab at the substance of what an Afrocentric curriculum (so to speak) may look like. The joke, of course, is that knowledge itself is decisively nonracial and, indeed, can’t possibly be racialized — so the only way these schools would be “Afrocentric” is through the thick-lipped, ebonicized blackness of the teachers (and students).

In asserting that the key element of the Afrocentrism is the ebonics, “S’up, dog?” [sic], it asserts that this, this is what characterizes African culture and its derivative culture: the bastardization of proper, common standards of discourse (that is to say, knowledge), and therefore, behaviour. And this bastardization, this wanton inability to get it right, is all that separates the Afrocentric curriculum from the acultural, aracial curriculum that gets taught in “normal” schools. So, not only are these Afrocentrists setting themselves apart, but they are going to ruin the ability of black students to interact with “mainstream” Canadians.

(In all of this I imagine certain administrators from the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Arts & Science looking at the cartoon and saying, “I can see how it’s offensive, but it’s not quite racism.”)

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the Nooz! (2)

4. And in Afghanistan, Canada has brought a considerable measure of self-governance to its puppets. Not really:

Kandahar Gov. Asadullah Khalid said he tried to warn the police commander away from Sunday’s event, much like he warned Canadians away from Spin Boldak on Monday.

“We informed the Canadian Forces to avoid patrolling the border areas because our intelligence units had information that suicide attackers were in the areas and wanted to target Canadian or government forces,” Khalid said.

“Despite informing the Canadians, they went to those areas anyway.”

The Canadian military bristled at the suggestion the deaths and injuries could have been avoided, saying the Canadian Forces make the decisions on where its soldiers will patrol.

“We regularly receive threat warnings and obviously we go where we want to, when we want to in our area of operation,” said Lt.-Cmdr. Pierre Babinsky.

“We obviously take notice of these warnings but our aim is to operate freely within our area of operation despite those.”

Note that their area of operation is … all of Afghanistan. And, hold on, wait, this is not colonization?

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the Nooz!

Kosovars declare independence.

1. Kosovo, NATO’s other colony (next to Afghanistan), has declared itself the 54th American state, after Canada, Israel and Britain.


2. “Democracy” rears its ugly b(h)utt(o) yet again as voting begins in Pakistan. This, of course, is the “best revenge” (00:31).


I can’t go jogging. Even the dog hasn’t had a proper walk in a while.

3. Frustrated by the fact that the people of Sderot cannot walk their dogs (indeed, one even died!) because of the not-so-constant barrage of the world’s most underwhelming rockets, Israel’s Prime Asshole Ehud Olmert has given a “free hand” to the Israeli occupation army to carry out as many more massacres1 (of, well, humans) as it wants in the Gaza Strip. If the people of Sderot can’t walk their dogs, by dog, then the people of Gaza can’t access electricity, fuel, clean water, food, or medical supplies: “…there is no justification for demanding we allow residents of Gaza to live normal lives while shells and rockets are fired from their streets and courtyards at Sderot and other communities in the south.” He also reminded the people of Gaza that the world’s longest-lasting military occupation as well as the total land, sea and air blockade is “normal.”

1. Note that the headline talks about the “activist” who was killed, and not about, well, his wife and children. Imagine if it said, “Blast kills woman and children.” But, of course not — who will cry for the dogs of Sderot!?

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Yellow Peril?

China’s cheap exports have come under increasing scrutiny recently, particularly in the Canadian press, after a string of dangerous products were recalled. First, there was the case of the tainted toothpaste, sold in low-cost stores (like dollar stores) as reputable brands like Colgate. Then, there was a case of tainted pet food (and soon enough, people food). And, most recently, a case of excessive lead paint in several toys — this is something that effects my family personally, as I’m sure it does millions across the world.

There’s a lot of obfuscation going on in what, exactly, the Canadian media is saying and how it’s saying it. Let’s peek through this using one of Linwood Barclay’s pieces in The Star, “Quality control that’s made in China.” (Barclay is supposed to be a humourist, but I’ve never found any of his columns to be even remotely funny. They’re not intelligent enough to be scathing pieces of satire, either. Ultimately they’re just sophomoric attempts at humour.) The article takes the form of a multiple choice test those applying to become Quality Control Inspectors have to take.

Obfuscation One: Intellectual Property

4. What should China do about the fact that Canada’s Customs Act does not make it illegal to import or distribute goods known to be counterfeit?

a) as sign of gratitude, put “highly flammable” stickers on substandard extension cords.

b) give Canada a cut-rate on shrimps left out in the sun too long.

c) is this a trick question?

Barclay conflates counterfeiting with safety. Let’s be clear about this, just because something is counterfeit does not mean it’s unsafe. As a matter of fact, the tainted toys I mentioned above are produced by Mattel (and its Fisher-Price line) — Poison Me Elmo. It’s also known that Bayer, the big pharmaceutical corporation, exported HIV-tainted medicine to Latin America and Asia with full knowledge in the mid-1980s. Other pharmaceutical companies, like Eli Lilly, suppressed data that indicated that drugs, like Prozac, can cause adverse side effects. The CEOs aren’t executed or even jailed — most cases aren’t even brought to trial because this big pharmaceutical companies either settle out of court or buy members of the legal profession.

Read the rest of this entry »

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A worker died on Monday

A worker died on Monday. Early in the morning, in the subway somewhere between York Mills and Davisville. The media’s reaction seemed to be subdued, muted. No, I don’t mean about the train stoppage; no, that, after all, was a big deal. The coverage seemed to be more about those who were inconvenienced by the stoppage of transit than about the man who died.

And that got me thinking, this man died so that I could get to school. It’s that simple, that real, that concrete.

He’s not a solider who died supposedly defending an abstract notion (freedom; read: our own brand of terror) in some concocted war on an abstract noun (terror; read: someone else’s brand of freedom). He didn’t die protecting liberty, justice, civilization, or what have you.

It’s nothing that complicated, it’s very simple really: This man died so that you could go to school. Or so that you could go to work. Or to an interview. Or to a restaurant, a club, a bar, a party, a friend’s house, a shopping centre — from point A to point B — so that you could get to your university.

It’s real.

The man was crushed to death so that we could get to school.

Are any students at UofT going to get together and hold a vapid, self-indulgent, self-inflating vigil to commemorate his death? Are they going to start facebook groups and online ribbon campaigns about him?

Do you even know his name?

And yeah, what happened at VTech was bad, but it’s strange to imagine that the life of students in the United States somehow means a lot more than the life of students in, say, India, or Iraq, or Palestine, or Nigeria, or Indonesia, or Chile, or Peru, or Bolivia, so on, so forth — but most of their stories never get heard, they never get put on the front pages or even the back pages.

Or, like the worker in the subway, their stories are crowded out. How many times have you heard stories about oilfields in various countries being disturbed by local populations? Consider this NYT headline: “Growing Unrest Posing a Threat to Nigerian Oil” — that’s what it is, really, at the end of the day, it’s just business.

How many times have people complained about TTC Staff being overpaid? Can you look this dead man’s wife in the eye and tell her that her husband was overpaid? Tell their children that?

TTC Staff aren’t overpaid, they’re underpaid. And everyone else who doesn’t have a half-decent union fighting for them, or who are getting swept away by the tides of global capitalism, they’re even more underpaid. You want to know who’s overpaid? Some big fat old stupid white man (increasingly being replaced by others, other races, people from other parts of the world, etc.) sitting in an air-conditioned room far above the proceedings of the you and the me, the people on the streets, signing papers that signal the literal deaths of thousands and the slow deaths of thousands more. Those are the people who are getting overpaid. They don’t even earn the money they make, they steal it. They wouldn’t know a hard day’s work for a fair day’s pay if it bit them in the ass. Those are the same people we, you and me, aspire to be.

No, instead, we look at the man on the street — standing in front of aggressive College St. traffic with a sign between him and hundreds of people with places to go and things to do in cars and a huge truck pulling tons of dirt out of an excavation site — we look at the man on the street and complain that he doesn’t do anything. Or we complain that he’s holding a coffee cup. Or we complain that he’s taking an extended break. Or we complain about there being more than one of them — you know the joke, there are three men, one to do the work, one to direct traffic, one to hold the coffee cups — what ignorance, what stark ignorance. What self-indulgent ignorance.

I saw this big, white, bearded guy on the subway once — he was wearing glasses, too. I was trying to read a book, and he was trying to engage people in conversation. He was trying to talk to them, and they were politely ignoring him or brushing him off. He seemed jovial. His hands were blackened, his clothes were, too. But he wasn’t a bum, no, he was obviously a manual labourer. At Kennedy station, when I put on my Spider-Man hat he commented on it. He talked about how he used to read the comics when he was young. How he couldn’t afford them anymore. How it was good that I was going to university. How I could get a good job. How money troubles hit you when you have a family to support. He worked for Toronto Hydro, fixing cables, lines, poles, or something. He was trying to talk to people to make them smile. He thanked me for talking to him, and he told me to keep on smiling.

And we complain about workers getting overpaid. When really, they are the ones who keep us afloat, who keep our miserable, fat, starved skinny, superficial, ignorant, self-indulgent, Starbucks latte, MP3 player, Cosmo magazine, Gucci glasses, shiny laptop lives afloat.

And when they ask for their rights, when CN workers strike, the placid, corporate bought government makes their strike illegal. It legislates for them to go back to work. So that the economy doesn’t suffer. “The economy.” The almighty economy. Yes, other workers will suffer, they’ll lose business. Yes, the wheels of industry will be interrupted and impeded. Yes. But really, that’s not the problem the government has — it couldn’t care less about the workers in the first place, or it wouldn’t have gotten rid of regressive labour legislation and it would enforce whatever is left, rather than passing ad hoc legislations to protect “the economy” — which really means protecting the fat pigs and keeping them in power as well. That’s “the economy.”

Yeah, a worker died on Monday. He was crushed by a machine the size of a car. They couldn’t move his body for several hours.

And we don’t even know his name.

So that we could get to school.

So that I could hand in a paper — on Marxism, no less. How hard is it, really, to theorize or imagine class struggle? It is here, it is now, it is the lives we live and the deaths we die — the lives we ignore and the deaths we ignore. That is class struggle. That is sexism. That is racism. That is the nature of our shallow lives.

Antonio Almeida died on Monday. He had a wife, a son, and a daughter, a mother and a father, friends and colleagues. He was 38 years old.

Antonio Almeida
Antonio Almeida

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