Monday, April 20, 2015

April 20: How could they be so stupid?

Early yesterday, a major news story broke in plenty of time to make today's newspapers. But, apparently, nobody at Irving press realized it was important.  As usual, all the world news stories seem to have been chosen by a toss of the dice. But this story has consequences to think about.

A boat carrying refugees, almost a thousand of them, sank in the Meditteranean, killing all or almost all aboard.

Why is that so important? The reason goes back to a conference in Evian, France way back in 1938. Millions of Jews were desperate to get out of Germany. I knew two of them. Bernard and Evi, his wife. They told me that they were seated near the front of the Sports Palatz when Hitler gave a speech on  his plans for Germany. Rioting arson, thefts, beatings, murders, arrests aimed at Jews were already happening. And Hitler said there was more, much more, to come.  That's when Bernard turned to Evi, and said, "I think it's time to leave."

But there was no place to leave for. No country, including Canada, the US, and Britain would accept Jews - even though all countries knew what was happening to them. Fortunately, Bernard was a wealthy man at the time. And he spent it lavishly, almost all of it, on corrupt customs officials and politicians of several countries. Canada was the one that proved most buyable. And so it was that I met his wife, by then a very elderly woman, and a student in my history class. And so I was invited to enjoy many an evening with her and Bernard.

US President Roosevelt was under pressure in that period to do something about the Jews of Germany. So he called a conference in Evian to discuss giving refugees shelter in Europe and the Americas. Hitler did not attend, but he announced that he would release any Jew, even all of them, if they had a guaranteed destination.

But the conference failed because none of the countries, including Canada and the US, would agree to accept Jews. Thus, the holocaust.

US, British, French - and now Canadian - interferences in Africa and the Middle East have sent uncountable millions fleeing in terror. Iraq alone has produced millions of refugees. A livable country even under Hussein, it was destroyed for all but oil billionaires by Britain and the US. Ghadaffi was certainly not a nice person. But Libya was functioning under him. Now, helped by Canada, the US has made Libya a furnace of horror. The Syrian "civil war", provoked and financed by the US and Saudi Arabia, has created millions more dead or hungry and homeless -and terrified. We're now doing the same thing in Yemen. The whole region is collapsing - and largely as a result of a US foreign policy established by the very, very rich.

There's no secret about it for anyone who can read and think. And it's not something that happens because they're Muslims. If that were true, the whole Muslim world would have died centuries ago.

No, they have been killed in their millions as their world, their society, their nations, were smashed to make some very, very rich people even richer. Thus the one-legged child alone and lost and friendless sitting in the filth of the street and dying of starvation. Thus the father standing dazed by the disappearance of his family that he will never see again..

Those who can move and who have money can cross to Italy and, from there, across Europe to survive. The voyage will cost them every cent they have; and they know well that the chances of rickety and overloaded boats sinking are very, very high. But to stay is almost certain death.

And so they flee in their hundreds of thousands, even millions, to a Europe that doesn't want them - just as it didn't want Jews in 1938. Will that callous hatred fade? I doubt it. With so many European - and American and Canadian leaders shouting hatred for Muslims as they once shouted hatred for Jews, we can expect serious violence as refugee numbers rise. Nor is there the slightest chance that Canada and the US will do anything useful.  Quite the contrary, Harper has been scoring political points by encouraging hatred and fear of Muslims.

Yes, it was just one boat that sank, and just a thousand or so who drowned. But there will be many millions in the greatest holocaust this world has ever seen. And we are very largely to blame because we destroyed those societies so that our billionaires could steal their resources.

The other big story for Canada got missed, too. B4 has the story of a meeting of the Arctic Council at which Canada intends to criticize Russia for its  "Ukraine aggression". Now, that may seem like an odd thing to say at a meeting about Arctic development. It sounds, again, like Harper using this as a chance to boost his Ukrainian-Canadian vote for the next election. And it is that. But there actually is a Ukraine connection, a real one.

You may remember that earlier in the Ukraine crisis, Marshal Harper rode into a national conference with his loaded popgun on his hip, rode right up to Putin, and said, "ah'm given ya till midnight to get outta Ukraine."

And that brings us to another big story the Irving editors missed.

Recently, Russia has been massing troops and equipment in its part of the Arctic. Why? It's almost certainly Putin's way of giving the finger to marshal Harper. Well, we'll show him. We'll send up an icebreaker from the Irving shipyard - just as soon as it's built.

B5 has a large story on how two statues, one in Ottawa and one in Guelph, are being installed in honour of Lt. Col. John McCrae who wrote  "In Flanders Fields".  As the story says, it's an excellent poem. I memorized it as a child; and I still remember every word. But people should think while reading it - because it is not - as it is so often used  on Nov. 11- a poem in mourning the sacrifice of our dead. Think of the lines...

Take up our quarrel with the foe.
To you, from failing hand we throw
The torch. Be yours to hold it high.....

That's not mourning our dead. That's glorifying war. And, if you read the newspaper story, it's clear that McCrae was, himself, a man who glorified war. A better example of war poetry by a Canadian might be Robert Service, "Rhymes of a Red-Cross Man". Some of them have more range and depth that In Flanders Fields does.

A small point - the story says that McCrae died near the killing fields he immortalized.  Please. Fields cannot be immortalized because they were never mortal in the first place.
The only story in section A worth reading is that the bat population of New Brunswick is down from 7,000 (already a low number) just months ago to 20. Just 20.
The editorial, again, is unspeakably silly. It suggests we solve the rural school closure problem by selling the schools to private business to operate them as nursing homes. Right. Just what we need - giving more of our health care over to the private sector.

Worse, the solution has nothing to do with the problem. The problem is to sustain the influence of the school as a major factor in community life. Making them into nursing homes is not going to do that. Nor will it do anything to solve the problem of students spending hours in a bus to travel to more distant schools...

One of the worst things about New Brunswick is how people will sit back and watch their children being maltreated so that the very rich won't have to pay taxes. This province needs a lot of thought about what its children need, what education is all about, why the literacy rate is so low (and it's not because of the schools, and it's not helped by those idiot reading marathons that IrvingLtd. sponsors.) If parents want their children to read, THEY have to read. I learned to read books and poetry because my father read them. Poor as we were, there were always some used book in the house.

This government has to put more money into the education system, not less, and more teachers, not fewer to encourage reading. I'm astonished that parents will allow a government to treat schools and children as it does just to please billionaires who don't pay taxes.

Norbert gets a gold star for a well-reasoned, balanced, and intelligently written column on the Gomeshi affair at CBC. This is really good stuff.

On the opposite page, Commentary, Craig Babstock has a decent article. But it's on the same topic that Norbert discussed, and offers the same opinion. Why on earth did the editor of these pages (Rod Allen?) allow that?

Still, on this best of all possible days, Steve Malloy has a serious, well-written, and sometimes very funny commentary on parents and spoiled brats. It's well worth a read.

Alec Bruce has a good column on the case of Senator Mike Duffy. It includes some most enjoyable quotations - and also asks the question, "who cares?" That question is neither trivial nor cynical, but symptomatic of how disillusioned we have become about our political leadership.

On the whole, a good day for editorial and op ed pages, with the only loser being the eternal.

This paper also needs a commentary writer who can deal with a broad range of matters. News is not understandable when it;s reported simply as news. The reader needs the stimulation of commentary to give the news meaning - and that means at least one person who is knowledgeable on a broad range of topics. The very occasional columns by Gwynne Dyer or David Suzuki don't fill the gap.

And it could be made easy and relatively cheap by having someone write such columns for all the Irving papers.  But that won't happen.

The Irving are too cheap. That's why they so often use staff people to write the commentaries in addition to their regular work.

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