Monday, January 31, 2011

Jan. 31: miserable Monday at the Moncton Times

A reader sent us a comment that a front page story in today's Moncton Times is another ad masquerading as a story. True enough. But our reader was being kind.

"Casino's prime game is fun" is certainly not a front page story, or a news story at all.  But neither is "Concert word today"; (the promoter of a rock show is going to announce the name of a group coming to Moncton, and he's going to announce it today; and there will be a press conference; at the casino; and the premier will be there; and oh,  I could die, I could just die...)This drivel goes one for what seems to be the longest item in the paper.

And there was another free ad." Shediac kicks off winter carnival". There was a little story in there, it's true. But it was hardly stop the presses. Put world war three on p. 2 stuff.

The  editorial was its usual fluff and bumble. Really, who ever came up with the idea that a person who lays out newspaper pages is, by definition, an authority on all subjects from, in this case, the provincial economy, to constitutional law to military affairs? And the writer is always anonymous because the editorial is supposed to reflect the collective wisdom of the whole staff. What collective wisdom? The same collective wisdom that thought "Casino's  prime goal is fun" was a lead news story?

But the real gem is below the editorial. It's a guest column sent on by The \Frontier Centre for Public Policy. By coincidence, The Fontier Centre ( in Calgary) is a ridin', ropin' pardner of the neo-conservative, big business propaganda ranch we call Atlantic Institute of Market Studies.

I could tell before the end of the first paragraph it was written by a professor. It was full of jargon, unlcear meanings, overlong sentences, and improper use of quotation marks to give words implications that have no generally agreed understandings...  It brought back memories of  the years of  undergraduate papers I had failed for such incoherent writing.  Generally, its point is we should ease building restrictions so that the future will consist of ever greater urban sprawl - with all its unbearable costs in transporation (at higher f\uel cost) and access to basic services - like groceries. To him, housing affordability means single-family houses with lawns etc. for everybody.  Why? He doesn't say so. But I expect it's because that way big business will make more money.

The only thing worth reading in the article is his long bio at the end. I have seen lots of pompous bios and  overblown titles before; (remember, I taught in a university.)  But this one set a record. For a start he is Distinguished Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University.

Presidential Fellow simply means he was given that title along with money by the president of the university. Fellow means he might or might not be doing anything in particular. Chapman is a private university, formerly a church college, and still affiliated to a fundamentalist church. Presidential
 Fellowships are funded by generous individuals who wish to make a contribution to learning. Get the picture?

Oh, Chapman Universities two most important achievements are that it is the home of the largest freestanding spiral staircase west of the Mississippi; and it has the second-largest piece of the Berlin Wall owned by an American university. (For real. They brag about it.) Better not tell Moncton City Council about that. They, with the NB corporate world and The Moncton Times & Transcript will insist we borrow eighty million dollars to build the highest freestanding spiral staircase  east of Fredericton, and the second biggest lobster after Shediac. The the whole world will pay attention to us.

The writer, Joel Kotkin, also has a whole bunch of other titles like  senior fellow, senior consultant, adjunct fellow - all with those propaganda mills that call themselves think-tanks. When it comes to overblown titles, they beat even the Ku Klux Klan with its Imperial Wizards.

That's the news for today. And we pay for this crap. 

Sunday, January 30, 2011

A weekend change of pace

It's a Sunday, the one day of blessed relief from the moncton Tand T. So let's look at something else. You might as well read it here because you'll never find it in the TandT.

The rioting in Egypt is something we should all be scared of.

 Egypt is a key ally of both the US and Israel in the middle east. Indeed, the present government of Egypt is essential to Israel in its blockade of Palestine. The government of Egypt, though it pretends to be democratic, is a dictatorship and a paid hand of the US. It ranks with Israel as a recipient of US "aid", largely mlitary and graft. That payoff is the only reason Egypt has been an ally with Israel.

It's hard to see where Obama goes on this one. He cannot tolerate a genuine democracy in Egypt any more than other American governments could tolerate democracy in places like Haiti, Guatemala or Venezuela. Religion is not really the concern. After all, the US is closely allied with the Saudi Arabian monarchy whose religious views make the Taliban look moderate. The issue is control - mostly for oil. Any democratic government in the middle east would certainly look for more of its oil money to stay in its own country. And no American government will tolerate that any more than the British and French would in their heyday.

So what is Obama to do? If he cuts off aid, Russia and China will be happy to rush in waving cheques. But American business (which pays the bills for both the Republicans and Democrats) would not allow him to continue aid payments to anything but a puppet state. Obama is a bought president as much as Egypt was a bought ally. The same is true of Congress.

Nor can he intervene militarily. Contrary to news in the western press, American military performance has been pretty dismal for at least fifty years. Even the defeat of Barbados was a comic opera war marked by dreadful incompetence on the US side.  Nor are the economy or the American people ready for yet another war.

The shift of global economic and military power away from the west is not new. It began over a century ago with the Russo-Japanese War, and was underlined by the Japanese defeat of the British at Singapore in 1942.

What is happening now is a frantic stepping up of the pace of that shift. It's not just Egypt. The withering of American military power for a conventional war has been obvious since Vietnam. The unrest we're seeing in Egypt, Yemen, Tunisia... could well spread over the whole region, even Saudi Arabia.

We've all known they was a shift in global dominance from west to east. Egypt is the warning that it's happening a lot more quickly than we had expected - and maybe a great deal messier.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

For Moncton and region only

On Thursday, Feb. 3, from two to three pm, I shall be hosting the regular meeting of the current events group at the Moncton City Library. (It meets the first Thursday of each month.)

It should be listed among weekly events in The Moncton Times and Tribune. They get notice of it from the library - but they very rarely publish it. Gosh, you'd think they would send one of their ace editors to show the group how ignorant I am.

Oh - admission is free.

I should also be on radio, Moncton CBC's Information Morning on Monday,  Jan. 31 between 7 and 8 to talk about education. I may also have an article by this weekend in a local newsite. Check goggle for coop media.

January 29: How soon they go back to the bad, old days!

The lead article on today's Times&Transcript is not a front page news story. In fact, it's not a news story of any sort. It's not even written like a news story. It's just another example of a newspaper toadying to corporate owners and advertisers by generating artificial excietement for a project that is brainless - but possibly profitable for a few, very rich people.

The headline is "Events centre funds quest continues."   Well, yeah. We've known that for months. The is the search for somebody (who, in the end, will have to be paid back by you and me) to lend us over 80 million for an events centre and hockey rink.

Yessirree. Our schools are collapsing for lack of maintenance. Our snow clearing is the most primitive and most dangerous I have ever seen in a modern city. Our mass transportation belongs in the 1940s - and we're going to make it worse by cramming more cars into the city. We're almost certainly on the edge of a prolonged recession. But, hey, once we build that hockey rink and events centre, the whole world will be talking about Moncton.

Yeah. They'll be taking about the appalling neglect of its schools, the misery of its traffic jams, the ugliness of a small and intitmate city centre made cold and ugly by a massive events centre and its huge parking lot. And its huge debt in a recession.

 The reason that city centres are blighted is because of the automobile. That's why so many shops are now in malls. Reviving a city centre by bringing in more cars is worse than brainless. It's an irresponsible act being carried out by the very few people who will make money out of it. (And who will certainly not move to Main St.)

Now, for the writing of the story. It's so laboriously cutesy it would make baby fwow up. It begins "You have may have heard news stories from across the nation this week"..(about how Ottawa is giving away piles of money). To be kind, perhaps the writer is confused about where government money comes from.

Then, "You might be happy to know this is precisely the money the city is after..." "..the..." downtown events centre the community has been clamouring for..."

First, never write a news story is it were a letter to your ailing mother. Secondly - exactly where the hell is this clamouring community? Who is in it besides the owner of the hockey team and the editors os The Moncton Times?  Have I missed the demonstrations? The rallies? The dancing in the streets?

For bad news that isn't entirely the paper's fault, check out p. A4. The city council is inviting all of us to help plan for what Moncton will look like in fifty years. Right. The city is full of experts who know what the world will be like in fifty years.

As well, City Council seems to have got its understanding of democracy from Premier Alwared. They both believe we elect governments so they can ask us what to do. That's really not it.

People who run for election are supposed to be the ones who have the ideas. They put the ideas to us at election time. If we like them, we vote them in. Do you see the distinction?

This crap isn't news. It's propaganda. And it's atrociously written propaganda at that.

As a parting suggestion, could the council send a few members to a real city to see how they clear snow? (Try to keep the budget for that trip below 80 million.)

Friday, January 28, 2011

Jan. 28: A good day for the Moncton T&T

They can do it. The front page of today's Moncton Times \&Transcript had real news (except, of course, for the mandatory free ad for the hockey business - set up to look like a news story). The editorial and op ed pages had four solid and eminently readable columns by Norbert Cunningham, Alec Bruce, Lynda MacGibbon, and Michel Blais. The editorial, alas, was the usual juvenilia in the service of the boss. But four out of five is better than most newspapers do.

The only serious disappointment was a Life&Times column that was essentially more free advertising, this time for the casino. It gives advice encouraging people to take up gambling. The extistence of a casino with all the social damage it does, and its exploitation of those who really can't afford it  is a disgrace for any government. For a newspaper to encourage it is - well - it's something like a newspaper having an advice column to encourage drunk driving.

The only other dismaying point about today's paper wasn't the fault of the newspaper. It was the appalling speech by Premier Alward in which he made it clear his party has no policy on anything, and doesn't even understand what the problems are. Apparently, Mr. Alward's impression of democracy is that it's a system in which we elect people. Then, having become a government, the elected ones ask us what they should do.

Actually, the idea of democracy is that parties and individuals present their policies to us. We then vote for the ones whose policies we agree with. If government existed simply to ask us what to do, we wouldn't need a government. We could just hire one person at minimum wage to do that.

It was a terrible speech. But the story of it was well presented. There was even some attention paid to the Liberal leader, who used the opportunity to prove that he can be just as dozey as Mr. Alward.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

My Mistake - Jan. 24

there was no blog yesterday, mostly because the editorial was so inane, I really could not think of anything to say about it. The rest of the paper was just boring and irrelevant. My mistake. The paper was boring, of course. But I should have thought that editorial through more carefully.

The story really begins with the last sixty years or so in which North American big business has made a deteremined attempt to cut government services by privatizing them as much as possible. The strategy has been to use the news and phony "think tanks" to discredit public schools, their teachers,and their administrators. It's a movemement that has gone far in the US - with the result that US public education (heavily privatized) - has suffered severe damage, and is now rated  at something like 30th in the developed world. That places it markedly below countries like Slovenia, and way below leaders like Canada, South Korea, Denmark...

You won't see much about that in the media, though, became most of the media are owned by the same people who own the corporations, and who subisize the "think tanks", and who stand to make a great deal of profit out of our children - if we're fools enough to allow them to do it.

The plan is advancing in New Brunswick. Of course. New Brunswick has always been controlled by a few, very wealthy families. And the politicians and the news media have always been their toadies. I should have remembered that as I read the Jan. 24 editorial in The Moncton Times and Transcript.

After months of distasteful and obvious hate-mongering of public schools for at least several years, The Moncton Times burst into a real frenzy when Moncton High School had to be closed for safety reasons. That caused the editorial writer to spew even heavier venom at the elected District Education Council (especially Mr. Doyle, the president)  and the superintendent of district schools  for their  imcompetence and neglect.

When something less than one percent of the parents involved formed a comic-opera protest group, they got full press coverage. Then the DEC and the superintendent did something I had never before seen in Moncton. They wrote to the newspaper telling it go get stuffed. They pointed out they had many times asked for repairs to that school (and others). The money was in the hands of various provincial governments which had other uses for it - like subsidizing paper mills and electricity for factories.

The Times never admitted it. But what had really happened is that the corporate bosses it toadied to were also the ones who heavily influenced government policy and what money should go where. In fact, the DEC and the superintendent had acted courageously in facing down the arrogance and bullying that characterize New Brunswick business leaderhsip, and had acted very sensibly, indeed, in closing a dangerous school. So, like good toadies, the Moncton Times editors backed off to wait for new orders. I think they have arrived.

The January 24 editorial returned to condemning. (Hard to tell exactly who they were condemning; it was one of those foaming ant the mouth, something must be done editorials.) Then they made their suggestion as to how to handle the problem of finding classrooms for all the displaced students.

This was a job for the District Education Council, led by the very capable Mr. Doyle.

Yes, that's right. The are the same people that the same newspaper said  were incompetent asses just a few months ago. (Moncton T&T editors seem to work on the assumption that their readers have stunningly weak memories.) But it's still an asinine editorial.

I have no doubt of the abilities and honesty of Mr. Doyle or the DEC (most of them.). However, there are certain jobs they are not equipped for. Maintaining education in cramped, unfamiliar conditions, and with complex and changing methods to be worked out is a job for people trained to do it. It's also a full time job. DEC members  have no such training - and they are volunteers who serve on a part time basis because most of them have other jobs.

To suggest they should be responsible for such a demanding job is - well - you can see why I couldn't see any meaning in there to talk about. But I was wrong.

The editors of news outlets like The Moncton Times don't write an editorial unless the boss wants them to.  So what is the boss after here?

Note that the editorial had no praise for the superintendent - though she was the one who had the brains and courage to remove our children from danger. (If there was one reason for The Moncton Times to deserve lasting contempt - and there is at least one - it is the refusal to recognize the value and the thanks we all owe for that decision.)  In fact, it is suggesting we take decision making power out of the hands of full time professionals trained in the field, and turning it over to part-time, untrained volunteers who,  in addition, have no control over funding.

This is a suggestion designed not to work. Who will gain from that? Keep an eye on Atlantic Insitute for Marketing Studies. Keep an eye on DEC. Most members are sincere and honest. But, as on most committees, it takes only two or three who listen to the same voices that The Moncton Times does to guarantee this will work out the way the boss wants it to.

There's a game being played here. It's being played with us and with our children.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Jan. 22: The newspaper and the meaning of news

Perhaps the only journalistically honest fearure of North American newspapers is the weather report. There, they just tell us what they have learned is likely to happen. Today's forecast is windy. The papers don't offer any opinion for or against wind. They just tell us it's going to be windy and, with that information we make up our own minds about how to react.

That's so much better than an editorial that offers an opinion with no news on which we can decided anything at all.

Today's editorial is about "Cutting spending is the best option".

The reasons given for cutting spending rather than raising taxes are two - both vague.

One reason given is that cutting spending would discourage the government from wasting money. No, it wouldn't.

It would be helpful here, for example, if the newspaper had been giving us precise news about where money is being wasted - and on whom. How much money goes to private companies? To do what? Do certain companies get more of these contracts than others? Is money ever given away to private companies in the form of subsidies for mills? Or of bargains, even giveaways, concerning crown forests? What about subsidies for corporations that use lots of electricity?

Now I think of it, the government must have contracted professionals in recent years to keep an eye on Moncton High School. Who got those contracts? What did they cost? What were their reports? Did they warn of the serious state is was in? Could we see their reports?

Any differences in law firms hired by Liberals as compared to Conservatives? What do they cost?

And exactly what is it the editorial writer would like to cut? He/she claims to be against HST because it would hurt the poor. Well, it would. And, as we all know, the Moncton Times has a deep concern for the poor, especially for poor millionaires who need subsidies. But if we cut spending, wouldn't we have to cut services that the poor urgently need? Could the editors be a little more clear on exactly what they would cut - and how much this would save? And at whose expense?

Oh, and has it ocurred to the editors that the HST is not the only form of tax? I wonder if there's any room to cut services for the rich and raise taxes for the rich.

And please don't feed us the bilge that the rich create jobs and wealth. The rich in the US have gone wild for decades now in getting a bigger and bigger share of the nation's wealth. But it has not spread that wealth. Indeed, it has done quite the opposite so that the us now has close to 20% of its people below the poverty line..And we have not begun to see the worst of it.

Corporations and investors who come to NB do not come here to create jobs and wealth. I don't know how to break this to those innocent souls at the Moncton Times; but big corporations and wealthy people come here to take away as much wealth as they can in the form of resources, cheap labour, and our tax money.

So how abot giving us more information, and less  opinion? Save your windy moments for the weather forecast.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Jan. 19... and the game goes on....

Imagine being  in the hospital with severe heart disease. The doctor tells you that before even thinking of surgery, he will hold meetings of the general public to decide on whether surgery should be performed and,  if so, how it should be performed.

A ridiculous idea? Yes. But this is the sort of idea being touted by The Moncton Times and Transcript on p. A2 in  the column "City of Moncton is preparing for the municipality's future."

Now,  the complexity of training for a city's future fifty years down the road far surpasses even that of heart surgery. It requires a profound understanding of world economics and where they're going, of where science is taking us, of changes that are going to happen in fifty years (who would have guessed fifty years ago that we would have handy little things called cell phones that could also tap the web and be portable libraries?)  Urban planning calls for remendous expertise and, even with that, a lot of good guesses.

  But tt seems our City Council "surgeons", instead of wasting time and money on those silly old professional planners, is going to consult with ordinary citizens. As an example of such input, columnist Terry Parker quotes a fellow columnist Bob Bellefleur. (There are few journalistic habits worse that one journalist quoting another journalist.)

Bellefleur suggested improving traffic systems (which would bring even more cars into the city), a new civic centre downtown (more cars and parking space).  One suspects that if this were seventy years ago,  he might have suggested more hitching rails for the horses on main street.

In fifty years, it is highly unlikely there will be automobiles on the streets. Certainly, they will not be here in as many numbers. Nor is it possible to understand how relying even more on automobiles will improve our "environment, quality of living lifestyle ( whatever that pompous jargon might mean) , culture (what culture?) and sporting events."  Damn right. Moncton desperately needs more places with seats to rest the bums of people who like to see somebody else getting exercise. (Why does that remind me of ancient Rome?)

The idea of planning for fifty years into the future on the basis of the opinions of people who have no specialized training who have not the faintest idea of what sort of world this will be in fifty years is even sillier than having the general public tell a doctor how to do heart surgery.

But let's put this column together with yesterday's seemingly inane story about MCHS and city council. Put together, the two stories suggest this....

....there already is a plan. It's been decided on. Partly, it's a plan to sell the new hockey arena as part of a package deal. The protest (if only by one person) over MCHS is being tied in with a new arena, a civic centre, a football franchise and "our quality of living life-style" to sell the people of Moncton and New Brunswick on borrowing very large sums of money at a time of great economic uncertainty.  We are very likely to face a much tougher recession - and soon. Before that happens, somebody wants to make a bundle of money out of us - and let us deal with the consequences.

The Moncton Times and Transcript hears. And it obeys.

Be careful, ms. Mealey. Your suggestion to council was a sound one.  But it and you are being used to help some very dangerous ideas coming from some very ruthless people.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

January 18: Is there a story behind the non-story?

Today's banner headline on the Moncton Times&Transcript is a model of a story that should never have appeared on the front page of a paper (or any page, for that matter) because their really is no story. It's also a model of how a reporter should not write a news story. There is, after all, a difference between news and opnion.

The headline reads "Moncton urged to act on schools."  The sub-head reads "...parents warn city council."

In fact, the story is about one parent (check rules for plural and singular).That one mother isn't even named until the fifth paragraph and then, rather ungraciously, by her last name only. We get her full name until page A7. Who she represents or whether she represents anybody at all isn't made clear. Indeed, the headline for the continued story on p. A7 reads "...parent tells city council'" What happened to all those other parents (with an s) on the first page?

It gets worse. A news story is supposed to tell simply what happened. Opinion is supposed to appear on the editorial pages and in clearly labelled opinion columns. This story has at least seven paragraphs which are clearly opinions of the reporter. They are not quotations from anybody. They are the reporter's comments on what schould be done about the schools. The reporter's opinion has no business appearing in a report of what happened. We read a news report for information. What happened? Who said it? Who did it? Who reacted? A news story is intended to tell people what happened, not to steer them into what they should think of it all.

What we have as the news story of the day is that a woman had the initiative to speak to council, and made a very sensible suggestion. That's commendable. More people should do that. The idea that the city, as well as the provincial government, has a stake in the future of schools is useful. It's not earth-shaking. It doesn't move us significantly closer to solving the problems. But it's a good idea. However, that does not make it a news story - not unless editors at the TandT think it is unusual for women to take n initiative and to suggest something sensible. (And I don't think even the editors are that foolish.)

I can't believe, either, that the editors were so incompetent they could not realize this was not a front page news story. I can't believethe reporter is a person who doesn't know how to write a news story.  I do believe the TandT has a suspicious record on coverage of education issues.

Until recently, it was quite obviously cranking up distrust of the schools, of the District Education Council, and of the superintendant. It was doing it by misleading reporting and unprofessional editorials. Then it had to back off when it was shown the local schools and officials were not responsible for the problems the newspaper had accused them of. (Indeed, in many cases such problems didn't even exist.) It backed off. But it never apologized or even admitted it had been wrong.

Now, is seems to be cranking up another education crusade. The last one was very much a crusade in the service of AIMS and of corporate New Brunswick. What's the game this time? Who's calling the shots? Who's going to benefit from some poposal that has already been agreed on by the people who count in this province? That, I am quite sure, is the story behind the story on page A1 of the January 18 edition of The Moncton Times and Transcript.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Jan. 17 You know it's a bad day when.....

...The Moncton Times and Transcript has three non-stories dominating its front page.

1. "Metro Plans Traffic Future"  Moncton has a traffic problem.  Big news. Now, it's going to get organized to start planning to begin to prepare to do something about it. Wow! Stop the presses.

Even if there were master planners already busily at work, nothing is going to happen. The problem is not roads. The problem is cars. As long as we rely on cars for so much of our transportation, we are going to have traffic problems. Los Angeles has been spending billions for over a lifetime. But traffic jams there are so common and so long that they make Moncton look like,,, Moncton.

      Here is a greater Moncton which is going to plan for more car traffic (yes, that is what our councillors will do) at a time when the world is alight with flashing signs that the days of the private automobile are numbered. And here is a Moncton that is getting all excited about building a hockey arena and a pro football stadium which will bring thousands more cars into a city that can't handle coffee break traffic.

     Perhaps what the thoughtful editor might do is to assign some reporter who's now wasting time on other non-stories, to do a feature about how other cities have dealt with the problem of the automobile. Hong Kong, for example, uses electric trolley, double-decker cars built in 1905. They're cheap to maintain. They're enironmentally friendly And you can even rent one for a rolling birthday party. (Alas. They still allow cars, too. So they still get traffic jams.)

Other cities use subways. Too expensive? Surely not. Not for a newspaper that has been pushing for projects that would cost far more. And a subway would do more to revive downtown Moncton all day every day than a dozen hockey arenas.

2. "Metro residents have a say in plan for future".  Don't people in most democracies have a say in plans for their future?  Isn't that kind of the whole point of having a democracy? There's no story  here.  The city councillors are going to make another showpiece of pretending they're getting us to participate when most people have no time or adequate place and no training to offer any useful participation. What they're asking us to do is to set policy. But that's what they are supposed to do in an election campaign. So a few more people will go to a city council meeting. Somebody will suggest something must be done. And that will be a front page story about nothing happening.

3. "Moncton has 'all the goods:' Simmons". A man who was once famous for playing a guitar and painting his face comes to Moncton for a weekend, seemingly because this one of the few places in the world willing to pay to hear him give a speech on business. In the little time he had here between sleeping, eating, speaking, and signing autographs, his quick mind took in all about Moncton; and he pronounced, "'s time for Moncton to stop feeling like second-class citizens."  When you see a line like that on the front page of a city's daily newspaper, you know it's second-class.

The main editorial was the usual toadying job - kissing up to the boss by attacking unions.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Jan. 15. A Time Not to Read a Newspaper At All.

No. I just can't bring myself t talk about the standards of a newspaper that today devoted its front page and two, full colour pages to a former rock star who gave a speech to a paying audience that wanted to know all about the importance of brand names.

Nor can I think of adequate words for a permier who thinks it might be a neat idea to encourage more government sponsored gambling. I have no doubt that the income can be used to ease the burden of taxation on the rich by picking the pockets of the middle class and the poor. It's like school fees, but with the added thrill of creating more addicts and social damage. The next, logical step will be to intruduce elementary school courses on how to gamble.

But no. I can't bring myself to talk about that. Let's talk something more morally uplifting. Let's talk about war.

For nearly 500 years, western countries have easily and cheapily defeated peoples just about all ofverthe rest of world - the natives in the Americas, in Africa, in the middle East, in Asia. The major reason was a superior sense of how to conduct war, and superior technology in weapons and transportation.  But the Second World War was a turning point.

By then, even earlier, the power and randomness of modern weapons had made civilians the majority of casualties in war. (And that was quite deliberate.)  More important, the "lesser" breeds were catching up to western ways of making war - and were adding their own ways of fighting back.

It was over a hundred years ago that Japan, just emerging from its feudal age, manhandled Russia. They easily defeated western armies early in World War Two in Indonesia, Malaya and Hong Kong. It got worse after 1945. The Korean War was, at best, a draw. The French empire in Africa and Asia collapsed in less than a decade. The British Empire, the ruler of 20% of the earth's surface, simply disappeared  almost overnight. But the British, at least, had learned a lesson.

The old, conventional style of war was finished. It didn't work against sandalled peasants with primitive weapons who had learned to hold their own against conventional - and very expensive - western forces. The Americans learned that in Vietnam. Or, rather, they should have learned it. Primitive, ill-equipped, and half trained peasants of  a small country could defeat the conventional armies of the most powerful country in the world. Well - The Americans should have learned that. But they didn't.

As a result, it almost drove the US broke in the Vietnam War. It may very well succeed in finishing the job with Obama's expensive and futile "surges" in Afghanistan. Even American generals now agree that killing one "terrorist" creates ten more. Conventional warfare doesn't work any more.

The British, Russians, Germans, and Israelis learned the lessons the Americans have not. The British learned it long ago in Malaya, when they abandoned conventional military forces to use highly triained, small groups to focus on key targets while, at the same time, winning over the local population.

The Brtitish troops (called special op) troops in Malaya carriedout small scale operations, but against targets of high value and with wide results. There were also units trained in psychological warfare. One of their creations was the protected village which the British not only defended from guerilla attacks, but which helped the villages with hosptials and schools. The result was to do what the American armies have never managed - to win over the local population, thereby denying guerillas a support that is essetnail to them.

Generally, American special ops forces are abysmally organized, disliked by the Pentagon, and wrongly used as simiple, assassination squads - who are likely to kill even more civlians and to create even more terrorists.
The US remains committed to conventional,brute force. It's extremely expensive. And it hasn't worked for over half a century  So why to they do it?

Part of the reason is that any military falls into the habit of worshipping the old ways with a kind of romantic sentiment. Just a few years before 1914, for exaample, a British army journal carried an article on whether the sword or the spear would be the decisive weapon in the next war. When the brass in any country does go for a role and  equipment, it has a strong impulse for the glory and status of having the newest, shiniest and most expensive weaponry available. Thus the Canadian Froces' zeal for a fighter plance so expensive it will dominate our defence budgets for a generation  - and is quite useless for any Canadian purpose.

Status is important to generals. That's why Rick Hillier so obviously disliked peacekeeping. No glory. No status. No nice, shiny equipmjent.

We could fight in an old-style, conventional war against an enemy dumb enough to do the same thing; and even then only as a satellite, serving the US in a US war. Sadly,  general estrimates are that such a war, if it should occur, would go nuclear within weeks.  That is now the only kind of war that Canada is equipped to fight. Well and truly, these days, the paths of glory lead but to the grave.

Canada now has an unbalanced military to fight a style of war that lost its usefulness by 1945 at the latest. Are the general alone enough to explain that? I doubt it.

War is a highly profitable business for the defence industry. It now takes some 280,000 bullets to an Afghani (whether guerilla or civilian. That's up some four times since the 1940s. A drone bomber, costing even more than 280,000 bullets costs even more per kill, commonly of just eight or ten  Again, the dead are as likely as bullet victims to be civilans, women, children, babies.

Conntional war is hugely expensive and ineffective. The strategic (rather than merely tactical) use of special ops is far cheaper and more effective  -and also less likely to lead to nuclear war - than any conventional war.

For the defence industy, the choice is obvious. And, just to make sure, nice generals can be sure of good jobs at high pay and minimal duties when they retire to heaven on the board of directors of a major defence industry.

War in far away places has become a very profitable business, especially since an Afghanistan or a Vietnam or even a Venezuela would be in no position to launch a major attack against us or our war factories. Both sides of the coin are winners for the defence industry.

And what if a conventional war gets out of control and goes nuclear? What are you? Some kind of an extremist?

P.S. For a comic opera, but true, description of the most overblown American Special Op (CIA, Delta Force, Seals, etc.) ever, read Secret Armies by James Adams, a former Military Correspondent for the Sunday Times. He was a chapter on the invasion of Grenada - which wasn't at all like the Clint Eastwood movie.

Friday, January 14, 2011

The media - our manipulators

At the bottom of the editorial page, Norbert Cunningham has an interesting article about how TV and then the web have been disappointing for the predominance of mindless trash in them. Quite true. It would have been even truer if he had mentioned newspapers, too - especially since just above his column was an editorial that was a prime example of ignorance and manipulation.  (It also suggests big business in New Brunswick has shifted its support from the federal Liberals to the Stephen Harper cro-magnons.)

The whole story was there in  the WE SAY spot on the left side of the editorial. "Michael Ignatieff leaves no doubt he would lead an old-style tax and spend Liberal government."

Now, I have no great enthusiasm for Michael Ignatieff - perhaps slightly more than I have for Harper; but that still would leave a lot of room for upper movement should Ignatieff ever develop a principle and maybe even a policy or two. But that WE SAY statement is just ignorance, childishness, and manipulation.

For the ignorance, even a casual study of Canadian history would show that throughout the history of this country and its provinces, the bigger spenders have been Conservative governments. I do wish the Times and Transcript writers would learn some Canadian history. Perhaps they could start each work day by all singing O Canada. See if they can get past O Canada: te-dum-te-dum. te-de.

Perhaps the only cautious and intelligent and honest taxers and spenders of all Canadian history were the old CCF (now the NDP) governments of Saskatchewan under Tommy Douglas. They kept taxes down while still pioneering much of Canada's social services - like medicare.

Generally, both Liberals and Conservatives have been big taxers and spenders. In fact all governments are tax and spend. They're supposed to be. That's why we elect them. Taxing and spending is why we have roads and public schools and hospitals  The questions are not taxing and spending. The questions are who is shouldering the tax, and who is getting the benefit of the spending.

Those are the real questions; and they are also the ones that newspapers have avoided ever since the late 1800s when newspapers suddenly became far more widely available; and when wealthy newspaper owners like Hearst and Beaverbrook saw how they could be used to maniupulate people, to keep them ignorant of what is happening, to spread hatreds, and to get people all worked up by using childish prhases like "Liberals just tax and spend."

You can see the same thing in the American news media as they have people calling each other Democrats or Republicans as though each of those was a dirty word. Americans are ignoring the greatest crisis of their history by arguing about whether it was caused by Democrats or Republicans. In fact, both parties are irrelevant since both are on the payrolls of the same corporations. Anyway, the crises the US are facing don't begin with the politicians. They begin with unscrupulous bankers, with a defence industry whose greed knows no limits. (Defence industries love wars. Whoever wins, they still rake in huge sale. The US military lost, for example, in Vietnam. But for American defence corporations the defeat was a time for breaking out the champagne, and bonusses all around.)

The Moncton Times and Transcript loves using childish catch-phrases like "tax and spend". It gets people's attention away from reality. It gets them arguing over two political parties that are really identical puppets.

If we're seriously looking at budget restraint, we should be getting full information on exactly where our money is going. How much of it is being used to benefit private business like - oh - just off the top of my head - the timber and paper industries? Or - how do corporate taxes in New Brunswick compare to such taxes across Canada?  And, after all the loopholes are considered, what are the percentages of tax paid by the average person and the very rich?

No such luck. What we're getting is half-wit wit and, like Americans, being manouevered to argue about political parites instead of real needs, real prioirties, and questionable hand-outs.

Alward is Shawn Graham. They both dance for the same puppeteers. (Do you seriously think that Graham dreamed up the Quebec Hydro scheme all by himself? Do you seriously think that scheme would never have happened if Alward had been premier in place of Graham?)

So, in addition to scrapping our TV sets and computers, let's also help preserve our forests by buying fewer newspapers. And let's see if we can save the old PA system at Moncton high, and install it in the offices of The Times and Transcript. And let them sing along every morning,  "O Canada, our......ta de da de da...."

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Jan. 12 - sunshine and dewdrops at the Moncton Times

This is the best day I have seen for The Moncton Times&Transcript.

The whole first page was real news - no ads in disguise, no propanda...well, there was a self-serving interview with Harper. But you have to expect that from a prime minister. That's just one of life's little burdens. The News Section was even better as, in contrast to most of the US media, it featured a very balanced and sensible story bout the Tucson shooting.

Editorial and op ed pages wer a joy to read. The editorial was well stated.; and below it, in For the Record, we did not see the usual propaganda of a right wing think tank, or of a corporate chief or  a political hack. Instead, we got a bit of balance from the other side, from James Clancy and Tom Mann who seemed far better informed and  more in touch with daily life for the average New Bruswicker than the usual stuff of that column.

As alwaysl, some solid columnists came through. (For all its faults, the TandT does have some solid columnists. Elsie Hambrook and Alec Bruce were in their usual good form. Rod Allen was almost amusing, However, he disgraced himself by suggesting that the immortal Robbie Burns was a heavy drinker. (He drank only a light form of scotch, drank it iin exemplary moderation, and mostly for its medicinal qualities.)  Allen is, I note, an English name. And, as my highland mother taught me, Scotland is the only country that has never been defeated. Indeed, the union with England came only after a Scottish  king agreed to accept the crown of England as well,and to bring the influence of Scottish culture into the semi-barbaric atmosphere of English life with its diet of warm beer and cold toast.

Alas! The English (including, apparently, the Allans) were not able to rise to the opportunity. Thus their foul lies about Robbie Burns. But we'll dinna fash oursel's, Mr. Allen. When the Scots are in heaven, dancing and toasting the Immortal Memory of the world's greatest poet, y'll be ben th' room with the rest o' the miserable English, drinkin' y'r warm beer, and eatin' y'r cold toast for all of eternity.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Jan.12 From solid analysis to hypocrisy to what makes the moncton times a stinker.

Today's hypocrisy wasn't the fault of The Moncton "Times editorial staff. Occasionally, a paper has to publish some piece of self-serving trash by a politician. Today, the Liberal critic for education got his turn with a column on the Conservative budget cuts to education.

Mr/ Albert is a Liberal. You remember the Liberals. They're the ones who created a crisis at Moncton High with their years of neglect of its obvious dangers, and with their interference (through kissing up to AIMS) with a fundamentally good education system. Yes, Mr. Albert is quite correct that the Conservatives are going to do even worse damage. But any race between Liberals and Conservatives to see which could first destroy public education would be too close to call.

In fact, public education is underfunded across Canada. In just a couple of generations, we've gone from free public schools to schools that charge fees for basic materials (often amounting to hundreds of dollars a year for just one family), and that waste the time of students and teachers with the constant push for fund-raising drives.  At best, it simply is not possible for most schools to keep up with needs in that way. Why doesn't the government put adequate money into education? Because - and this is true right across Canada - they can lower taxes, especially for rich and influentual, by underfunding the schools.

Why don't the rich and influential use their money and influence to increase public school budgets? One reason is they are the ones getting the tax breaks out of cut-rate public education. The other reason is they don't give a damn. Their children go to private schools.  Private schools are not places of superior teaching. I have taught with people who later taught at some of the most presigious schools in Canada. They were very average teachers. I have frequently spoken in nationally-known private schools. At university, I taught many graduates of private schools.  I saw no reason to believe either the schools or their teachers or their students were any better than the public schools - except they had enough money for more teachers and more equipment. (In Quebec, private school fees had an added bonus for the rich. They were tax-deductable.)

Expect nothing from the Liberals or the Conservatives. They both do what they're told to by the wealthy and influential.

The Moncton Times, like its masters,  has shown no concern about cuts to the education budget. But that's understandable. After all, we need to cut somewhere so we can borrow the money for a new hockey arena, football stadium, and professional football team. First things first.

Then there was the stinker part. That showed up in "Letters to the Editor".  It showed up in the form of  the longest letter to the editor I have ever seen. It is a letter fulsome in its praise of Woodlands, a part of J.D.Irving Ltd.  Look. We all know whose boots the editors lick. But don't they have any pride at all?
Do they have to be so obviously wretched? 

Still, one column, all by itself, made today's Moncton Times cheap at ten times the price. Alec Bruce wrote a piece on the Arizona killings and the wounding of a congresswoman that was throroughly sensible and thoroughly well-written. It was good to see a class act in the paper.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Jan. 11: Capitalism as a magic wand

This morning I had a note from David Seymour of the Frontier Centre from Public Policy. The answer was an almost immediate reponse to my Jan. 10 blog which suggested that Mr. Seymour did not appear to be the sharpest knife in the drawer. That thought came as I read his Moncton T&T column about what a bright and wonderful future lies ahead of us. (In fairness, he's smug and unthinking enough to get his data from Freedom House - an organization 80% financed by the American government with the rest coming mostly from millionaires and billionaires - and at that he got some of the data wrong.)

Mr Seymour's problem is that of most neo-conservatives and their serving peasantry. They think of capitalism as a mgic wand. You just wave it, and all problems - climate change, pollution, poverty, dictatorship - well, they all just vanish. (Did you know that EBay, a great capitalist invention, actually is solving the pollution problem by recycling used goods? No? Well, that shows you have more brains than Mr. Seymour does. He doesn't realize how much of the stuff sold on e bay is new. Or how much would earlier simply be sold through newspaper ads and lawn sales. Even if E Bay were doing that, the idea they are a major factor in cleaning up world pollution is behneath sophomoric.)

In fact, no ism cures all problems all the time; and only neo-conservatives, communists and fools could believe in any such concept. Any ism is a human creation. Any leader of an ism is human. Mr. Seymour may not believe this; but humans are people - and, oh people are imperfect.

Captialism is very good at creating wealth. But, as the North American experience is showing, it does one hell of a bad job in distributing that wealth. It also creates enormous poverty to supply itself with resources. There's a reason why countries like Congo, Guatemala, Haiti and so on are poor.

Haiti, in particular, has been under American control for almost a cenuturty - either directly or through dictators imposed by the US. In that century, it has been government by pure capitalism. It doesn't even have public schools or public sewage or public water for most of its people. Never has had.  Some people, a few, have made money out of Haiti - exotic fruit plantation ownders, clothing manufacturers. But they haven't been Haitians. Most of the people of Haiti, for decades, have been among the poorest people in the world. Capitalism has not been a magic wand for Haiti. It's been a bludgeon.

No ism - not capitalism, not communism, not socialism - works perfectly in any pure form. Any of them might work in certain situations - for a time. All need regulation. All of them need elements borrowed from the other isms at times.  Anyone who calls himself capitalist, social or communist is really just a damn fool, Mr. Seymour. Or possibly a hired flack who either has brains without principles or principles without brains. Possibly both.

Meanwhile, read today's column in your spot.  It's by Gwynn Dyer,one of this world's more intelligent commentators. He notes rising food shortages (accompanied by deadly riots) as results of what looks like a modest climate change. We've already seen some rise here, and we're going to see more. He also points out this will get worse as we rapidly pump of the last of the giant, underground waters that our agriculture has relied on. This is not a distant threat. It has already caused violence and death, and that is certainly only a hint of more than is to come - soon.

Quick, David Seymour. Quick! Quick! Wave your magic wand.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Jan 10 The Moncton T and T has an editorial page comment that's keeper

David Seymour heads a neo-conservative "think thank" called Frontier Centre  for Public Policy. Like so many of these outfits (like our own Atlantic Insitute for Marketing Studies), it's a propaganda front for corporations and wealthy individuals. So, of course, it gets prime space in news media like The Moncton Times and Transcript. (I mean, the editors may be weak on principles, but at least they know whose shoes to keep licked.)

This artcle is worth a read. Google The Moncton Times and Transcript for January 10. It's so idiotic it makes theTandT editorials above it  read like recently discovered thoughts from Plato.  David Seymour poses as the man who knows all, sees all. He has, according to his bio, a BA and a BE. So there. (That bio brought back memories of my father. He was a practical man who had to work hard all his life. I remembered the day I came home with a BA; and my father muttered," Buggar All." It took me years to realize he was quite right.)

So we have Mr Seymour, BA, BE pronouncing on the state of the world with comments so inane that he must be one of those many "think tankers" who couln't find his own bellybutton using both hands.

First, he sees freedom bursting out all over the world. He quotes an NGO called Freedom House to this effect. He must have got a BA without having to read anything; because I checked Freedom House's site. It says exactly the opposite. Worse, Freedom House is 80% funded by the American government, with the rest coming from large corporations and very wealthy individuals. It's a front,Mr. Seymour. Can't you even recognize your own kind?

The capitalist economies all over the world are doing great, you'll  be happy to hear. Yessirree. The biggest and most successful one of them all has only a fifth or so of its population living under the poverty line. It shares with Canada a gap between rich and poor that has been inflating for two generations so that the very rich  make in a few hours what a middle class earner makes in a year. That means the rich can equal the yearly income of a minimum wage worker in less than a half hour of chatting over a scotch.

However, all that wealth in the hands of a few means we're really, really lucky. The wealthy, it seems, are going to clean up all this environmental stuff. Of course. It makes sense. They own most of the environment. They aren't going to let it go bad. I guess that's why Obama and Stephen Harper have really been cracking down on outfits like BP and Alberta oil sands. That's

Generally speaking, the rise of the super-rich will reduce over-population, end pollution...

Oh, and did you know that everybody is getting richer? And the environment is generally improving. Damn right. Just goes to show you how you can be fooled by all those people all over the world pretending to be poor and sickly and starving and unemployed and dying. And Canada and the US are not polluters. In fact, they lead the world in environmental cleanup. And all that talk about a global economic crisis is just crazy stuff from people who ain't smart like David Seymour with his two Bachelor's degrees.

Yes, as Mr. Seymour concludes, we're right on the edge of the greatest period in human history.

Hey! All you people at the Moncton TandT. We know you have to publish crap like this to please the boss. But could you at least have the decency not to publicly wallow in the stuff.

And would you mind standing downwind?

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Jan.8 The little editorial that could -and did

There was a very sensible editorial on education in this day's The Moncton Times&Transcript.

It recognized that New Brunswick has a strong record for retaining students at least until they finish high school. In fact, that's quite an old story to appear as news. For a long time now, New Brunswick schools have been doing a solid job on retention.  But at least the editorial writer is doing better than the one of a few months ago who used that same story to spit hatred and contempt at the teachers and the administrators.

The retention rate, at some 92%, is pretty good in any league - and far, far superior to the rate in the US (which relies heavily on standardized tests and rankings.)

The editorial writer did say we now have to work on the remaining 8%. Fair enough. And the editorial was honest enough to say that much of the problem now was with social backgrounds, family expectations, family disruptions, that sort of thing. More impressive, the editorial was honest enough to admit it didn't see any obvious solution. Neither do I. So let's start with how this all began.

It is estimated that in the year 1750, 75% of all Scots could read and write. That would put Scotland of 1750 right up there with the top  dozen or so countries in the world today - and way ahead of the modern US.  And reading and writing  paid off.  Scotland after 1750 produced generations of brilliantly successful scholars and businessmen. Scots dominated Canadian politics and business of our own colonial days. Our first prime minister, John A. Macdonald, was a Scot. So was the leader of the opposition. So were the builders of the CPR, the railway that made Canada possible. Most important, and still affecting us today, was the Scottish revolution in education.that created that high rate of literacy of 1750.

It actually began two hundred years earlier, when John Knox laid the foundations of the Presbyterian Church in Scotland. He believed that people should make their own decisions. They should read The Bible for themselves; and not rely on the opinion of the clergy. That was quite different from Anglicanism and Roman Catholicism which emphasized obedience to the clergy As a result, in both Catholic France and Anglican England, most education was available only to the privileged few who could afford it. When Prebyterianism called for all to read The Bible for thsmelves, it demanded education for all.  That demand of John Knox led to public education, with access to all, even the most isolated, poor and remote.;

My Baptismal certificate carries the name of Reverend Gammel Craik. He was a Welshman, but from the Presbyterian tradition. Born very poor, he had to go to work  in the coal mines while still a child. There, like all the miners, his work breaks were spent in circles of miners deep undergraound who, by the light of their lamps, read The Bible to each other, and carried on lively debates about it. That habit of reading, discussing and learning was his community environment for ten years down in the mines. By his twenties, Gammel Craik had educated himself well enough to pass the entrance exams for theological college.

In the Presbyterian tradition, education was both public and, as we would say, continuing. Some children, like Gammel Craik, couldn't finish public school. But they at least got off to a start in the public schools. And both rich and poor went to the same public schools. The result that the schools were good.  The rich, who had political power, made sure of that because their children were in the same schools as everybody else.

My grandfather, born into rural poverty in the Scottish highlands, had only six years of school. But he spoke, besides his native Gaelic, both English and French. All of his life, he read and added to his learning. When I was a child, an elderly friend of his told me, "'e was a gentleman, 'e was. Well read. 'e could 'old his own the best people." That was all because of the Scottish environment  he had grown up in.

The Scots Presbyterians brought their public education system with them when they emigrated to Canada and the US. That's why Canada was developing public schools to be attended by both rich and poor as early as the first half of the nineteenth century. That why the private schools, then and now, have commonly been of either Anglican or Catholic origin. The public schools were based on the principal of individual freedom and equality . The private schools were based on class status and authority. (That's not a criticism of either Anglicans or Catholics. It's simply the statement of a difference between two religious traditions.)

But none of this fully explains the Scottish passion for reading and learning. It needed more than schools and teachers to produce a 75% literacy and from that to produce all the John A. Macdonalds and Lord Strathconas of Canadian histoyr. The schools were reinforced by the religious convictions of the parents, by the importance parents placed on learning, by the respect and involvement of the whole community in learning, discussing, working, achieving.

If we want to help the 8% who still drop out, we won't do it by following the hare-brained advice of business leaders who are simply looking for more profits. The problem for that last 8% (and for many of those who did finish high school) is not the schools. It's not the teachers.

It's the parents. It's the environment they establish. It's the respect for learning that so many parents lack. It's the community's lack of serious public discussion,the public's lack of any commitment to learning and to open discussion.

Moncton is the city which is sleepwalking its way to borrowing close to 200 million dollars, maybe more, for a hockey rink, a football stadium and a football team as top priorities. (And the news media and politicians support that moronic and valueless set of priorities) Moncton is where the institutions of higher learning are so inactive in encouraging learning and discussion that they are practically invisible. Moncton, like other places, is where the churches have settled fore being irrelevant.

Moncton is the intellectually and spiritually impovershed place that Scotland was before 1750.  If Monctonians were now to migrate to a new land, the only culture they would be able to bring with them would be outdoor concerts featuring aging rock stars; and beer served in plastic cups.

Children in Moncton grow up with the example constantly before them of  low expectations, primitive life experiences, massive disinterest in anything requiring an IQ of more than 50, and a spiritual vacuum. The problem is not the schools or the teachers. It never was.

The problem ss us. That's what we have to work on.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Jan. 7 - The little editorial that (almost) could

Not long ago, The Moncton Times editorial and reporting staff were dumping all over the superintendent and the district education council for the dilapidation of school buildings in general, and the catastrophic state of Moncton High in particular. When some one percent of angry parents gathered to protest the closing of the dangerous school, the news media all covered it as the major story of the day. In fact, a demonstration by one percent of the parent is no story at all. And no news service worthy of the hame would have paid any attention to it. But they were all out for educational blood.

The Moncton Times has since had to back off as is has been shown that the blame for neglect lay with the provincial governments. But it did so in its usual classless way, not expressing any apology for its false accusations - and not explaining why its reporting staff had not been asking questions about the obvious neglect years ago.

Today, the editorial writer seemed to come full circle, demanding the government find the money to maintain the schools properly. The editorial calls on Alward to take immediate action.

I found it puzzling. It's a sensible editorial. That's rare.

Then I read the last paragraph.

"Public-private partnerships for every school would work."

Of course. We should contract out school maintenance to private business. Why, then it wouldn't cost anything, would it?

 Only somebody dumb enough to read The Moncton Times editorials (I plead guilty) could believe that. If you privatize you have to pay the repair costs ---PLUS a profit. It's not cheaper. It's more expensive.

As usual, The Moncton Times is taking its lead from AIMS and corporate New Brunswick. They all want corporate New Brusnwick to get its greedy fingers into our education budget. They don't give a damn about the chldren - except as items on the open market.

Oh, Norbert Cunningham had a good column about books and reading. But I suggest he get a good book about World War One.  The British did win the Battle of Jutland. It took heavier casuaties than the Germans did. But it was the German navy that fled back to harbour - and stayed there. The British fleet remained in control of the sea. That's how a winner is decided in battle. You don't count the dead on each side. You look to see who retreated and who stayed.

Oh - yeah. The German fleet was not interned at a port in the Orkneys. Not until the war ended in 1918 was the German fleet ordered to sail to the Orkneys as a war prize for the British. It was on that final sortie that the Germans scuttled their ships.

But, hey, I'm being picky. It was a good column. I prefer books to e readers, too.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

How to Read a Newspaper

Reading a newspaper takes a little bit of thinking -- but it can pay off.  In The Moncton Times and Transcript of Jan. 6, for example, there is a cheerful story about a New Brunswick public school principal being named the best in Canada. (I don't question she may be a very fine principal, indeed. That is not the point here.) The point is that the newspaper ran the story.

But isn't running the story what a newspaper should do? Yes. But the New Brunswick papers are very careful about which stories they care to run; and they have usually either ignored good news about the New Brunswick public schools, and have even presented it as a disgusting sign of the failure of the schools.

Just in the past few months, for example, New Brunswick public schools were named as the tops in Canada for the high school completion rate of their students. That, incidentally, might well make them tops in the world. But the Moncton Times editorialist treated it with a vitriolic fury that said this was proof of the failure of our schools. It berated the teachers and administrators for what was surely an outstanding achievement. Then, in a bizarre statement that seemed to have no connection at all with the news  story - or any other reality - it thundered, "Teachers should teach all the students."

About the same time, the superintendent of public schools in District Two was named one of the hundred most important women in Canada. That was not bad, one should think, for a small city that so far had achieved its only fame as a location for call centres. However, the editorial that accompanied that story was the most contemptible rant I have ever seen in a newspaper. It accused her, with no evidence whatever, of gallivanting to parties all over Canada, neglecting her work; and simply gadding about to get personal fame.

That has been typical of The Moncton Times in its reporting on education for some years. Why has it done that? Well, hint no. 1 - it might have something to do with a North American campaign to denigrate public schools in order to turn over much of the control of them to private business - for private profit. It's a campaign which has been a very successful one for private business in the US. It has racked up huge profits. Unfortunately, American education has, in the same time, dropped into the toilet of the industrial world.

Hint no. 2 - The major device used by private business to get into the schools has been the "think tank", a front for their propaganda.

Hint no. 3 - The "think tank" in this region is the Atlantic Institute of Marketing Studies.

Hint no. 4 - The AIMS Board of Directors is made up of this region's corporation leaders. The name "Irving has not been an unfamiliar one on that board.

Hint no. 5 - Guess who owns the New Brunswick newspapers.

So why did The Moncton Times even print the story of a high school principal - the sort of person the newspaper has long spat on - getting a prestigious award?   Just one hint....

Look at who gave the award. It's a non-proft organization called The Learning Partnership. (Non-profit does not necessarily indicate it's either poor or for charity. Actually, it seems to be extremely well funded. I wonder by whom.) 

The "partnership", to judge from the list of directors, is composed exclusively and equally of people from education and from very big business. Well, the schools are training people for business. So, isn't it good to have business involved?  Actually, there are a lot of problems with that idea.

One is that schools are not training their students exclusively for big business. In fact, they are training more for small business, for civil service at all levels, for social service, for general life. So where are the reps from small business, from civil service, from the military,  from social service, from the churches and all the other areas of life?

I won't pretend to have the whole story on this. Not yet. But The Learning Partnership looks very much like yet another big business scheme to horn in on education to get more profits for big business. It's much more sophisticated than AIMS, and has a much more reasonable-sounding approach. But when I look at the board of directors, I see the same sort of gang I see at AIMS.

And that may explain why The Moncton Times ran that story.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

sometimes, the editorial is just childish

The June 5 editorial was full of praise for the statement by a professor that, in effect, good times are just around the corner, and New Burnswick should be preparing for them.

For a start, it is not clear why the story ran at all. It is not a rarity for professors to say things; but they usually don't get reported. In this case, there are plenty of professors who have said exactly the opposite. (And they have not been reported.) When you see a professor story, and you see it accompanied by a cheering editorial, tread carefully.

For openers, a return to prosperty after a recession is not "inevitable". Nothing is inevitable. This is not just a recession. It is a collapse of the American dollar, and a dangerous slide for the US economy with implications for the military power its economy depends on; and all this occuriing in the midst of a rapid change in world pwer. It is quite possible that the US economy will never return to its old form. Indeed, it has poured money into its economy at a rate unequalled in world history; and the only result has been a sluggish recovery and, at that, often based on a return to lower wages.

As for the chances of New Brunswick finding new economic opportunities, perhaps so. But new opportunities do not mean benefits for everybody. (Remember the story about how some CEOs make more money in a few hours than their employees do in a year?) At that, it isn't the whole story. Lots of other people are taking chunks out of the profit pie long before it gets to you and me.

In fact, it is quite common that profitable business prefers a poor society to supply its work force. You can find examples of that all over Central America, Congo, Nigeria, Iraq... Haiti has been a money maker for clothing factory owners and plantation owners. But not much of that maney has ever reached the Haitians.

In short, the editorial is a shoddy piece of boosterism which, as always, ignores the fundamental problems of New Brunswick - the lack of effective democracy. the propagandist nature of most of the news media, the failure of New Brunswickers to engage themselves in the decisions that affect their daily lives and the futures of their children.

Will the US economy bounce back? I doubt that very much. With an unpayable debt, a commitment to very expensive wars, a sickening dollar, a refusal to modernize its services in health and education (in both cases because of the power of ideologues and billionaires), and its reluctance to ask rich people to pay taxes, it is difficult to see where the recovery will come from. General Motors may recover - by shifting much of its work to cheap labour countries and by cutting wages in the US. General Motors in that way may prosper. It is difficult to see a general prosperity for the American people arising from that.

If, for example, mineral wealth is discovered in New Brunswick, it will not follow that the people of New Brunswick will make much out of them.  After all, we already know that a lot of wealth has been made out of this province over the past century and more - but not a whole lot of people got it.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

apology to Moncton readers

I was wrong about the date of one of the Current Events group meeting the Moncton Library.

The evening meeting is Wednesday, Jan. 5, from 7:30 to 8:30.
The afternoon meeting is Thursday, Jan. 6, from 2 to 3.

In both meetings, we will start with a few comments about the return of fascism - then on to whatever those attending would like to discuss.

Monday, January 3, 2011

to plillies

I have received a comment from the name above that the unions did organize a people's economic summit. I was interested to read that. I had not known it. My point, perhaps badly worded, was that I saw no public statements in the media about union opinion of the other economic summit - thought unions were listed as being represented. Only business people seem to have been interviewed and reported on.

I was surprised (aghast) that unions attended such an obvious propaganda trick as the economic summit; and am relieved to hear that they also held, their own summit. I could still wish they had refused to attend the other one.

a bleak future for New Brunswick

The Moncton Times edition for Jan. 3 was blessedly short, with most of it obviously prepared as fillers way in advance. That may explain the top story on this third day of the new year, "Metro rings in the new year".
Even the lead editorial was pretty bland stuff. Then....

Then there came a short editorial, "Save Even More! ". This one went beyond the usual sophomoric vitriol of the editorial writer. It almost certainly set the tone for the NB economy for the next few years - as decided by the Alward government in it's "coalition" with big business.

New Brunswick has to reduce its debt. The big business members of the coalition have made it clear this must not be done at any cost to big business. The poor are going to have to bear the burden of reducing the debt (including the additions to the debt which are mainly be benefit the wealthy - such as the new hockey arena, the events centre, the CFL team....

The issue addressed by the editorial concerns guidelines given to government agencies for the coming year. The Liquor Board, for example, has been told to cut two percent of costs in the coming year. This caused the editorial writer to launch into the sort of rant usually reserved for teachers who think their schools should normally be repaired well in advance of ceilings falling during the mandatory chorus of O Canada. Why was the editor foaming at the mouth?

It was because the liquor board agreed to cut two percent of costs in the coming year. That's right. The editor chewed the board out for doing what the government told it to do. They were cutting working  hours (and, so, cutting salaries), and would have the system in place within three months.

What? Why were they only cutting two percent? Why couldn't they cut more? Much more? Why wait three months? And why don't they save still more by going past cutting salaries? Why don't they fire of some staff, too?

Watch for a lot of that tone in the coming year. We're going to nail the poor while running up even bigger debts to help the rich. We're going to cut services, cut education, cut jobs, raise taxes. But all of it in ways that affect only the poor and the middle class. Fire people, cut wages...that certainly is the way to create prosperity - but not for very many of us.

What a gutless newspaper! Can you imagine that paper - or any other paper in New Brunswick - suggesting maybe corporations and the rich are not paying as much as they should? Can you see now what the "coalition" of big business and government is all about?

Get ready for the bargain sales/giveaways of crown lands and provincial parks and resources. Get ready to hear the debt is all your fault. Get ready to be told that you have to pay for it. Get ready for a Moncton Times even more contemptible than it has always been.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

The dreariness of a New Year's Day Moncton Times

The banner heading for Jan.1 Moncton Times? A piece of boosterism, of course. The News makers of the year were the volunteers of Moncton who helped with the international junior championships of something. I would certainly give them all credit for their contribution. But newsmakers of the year? What news did they make? I didn't see all that much about them even in the Moncton Times. We've had far more stories and editorials about  how contemptible our teachers are, how everybody is talking about nothing but the events/hockey centre and getting a CFL team. Again the centre and buying a CFL team figured big in the editorial yet again on this day.

Without even trying hard, I can think of lots of events that made more news in The Times than a junior championship. An aged rock group at Magnetic Hill was worth over a week of headlines, plus at least one supplement. (I think this is what today's editorial referred to as "cultural" life.

Then you have the really important events that The Moncton Times gushed all over, but never gave much news on - and certainly never asked any questions.

1. The visit of a neo-conservative politician from the US to give a speech to NB businessmen on education. Jeb Bush is a man who knows nothing about education. But he demands big money for giving a speech. Who paid him? Why were businessmen at an education speech? Why didn't The Moncton Times report that  the chief education organizer for his brother, George Bush, gave an interview to The Economist (perhaps the world's leading conservative journal) that the system he was talking about has proved to be a damaging failure in the US, driving American education to the lowest levels of the developing world? This is the "accountability", standardized test, school ranking horror that we are still pushing on our schools, and that Jeb Bush was here to praise. In fact, the tests do not test either schools or teachers, and they do enormous harm to schools. That word comes from Diane Ravitch, a very conservative scholar of education with a high reputation in the field. But I guess she wasn't impressive enough to make The Moncton Times.
In fairness, I see no sign anybody in New Brunswick gives a damn what is being done to their children. The provincial PTA and the Home and School are as clueless and useless a lot as I have ever encountered.

A big story of the year was that we are destroying our schools and our children. Notice you haven't heard any big speeches by education professors praising standardized testing? Well, at least they keep their mouths shut, I suppose. But I could wish they had the courage and integrity to open them.

2. The Economic Summit was a major offensive by big business to openly take over the provincial government. We don't even know who was invited, or why. Nor have we heard anything about it from any invited group except for business leaders. What? The university presidents were too shy to make a statement? The union reps had nothing to say? (In this province, probably not.)

3.And there was a much, much bigger story. The Moncton Times carred a commentary to make an announcement. But the paper lacked either the guts or the brains to follow up with questions.
Mr. Irving of you know who announced he and his friends from the summit had formed a coaltition with the provincial government.

This is the first time a coalition of a government with private business has ever occured in Canada. Indeed, I can think of no such example in any democracy in the world. A coalition means that people we did not elect are now full members of the government. Even the pretence that this is a democracy has been tossed aside.

This is an act that is unconstitutional. It's also hopelessly unworkable in a democracy. The premier has not said a word. Nor has The Times.

When some of the lowest paid people in the province (teachers' aides and school aides) decided to work to rule (that is to do their required jobs) as a means of asking for a smalll raise, The Times attacked them in a venomous editorial. Boy, The Times can be really tough with the small guys.

But it didn't say a word about Mr. Irving's annnouncement that he and his unelected friends are now in charge. There were no questions of Irving or of Alward. There was not even a statement from editor Norbert Cunningham on what the word coalition means. Lots or lip and insults for small and defenceless people. But just a greasy kiss for the boss. And, to  his eternal shame, not a word from Mr. Alward.