Friday, April 24, 2015

April 24: why we ain't real smart...

In 25 years of radio, TV and print media, I was never once asked to cover or comment on a hockey game.  I guess that just makes sense. I mean, I might sound silly if I complained they were playing without a ball, or that the basket was too low for a jump shot. In the news media, only people who know the game are assigned to cover sports.

In all those years, though, I was often interviewed or appeared in discussion groups with journalists on education issues. Never, in all that time, did I encounter a journalist who had a clue about education. Only once was I interviewed by a reporter who was actually assigned to the education beat. And it was obvious from the start that she knew nothing about it.

Couple that problem with newspapers run on the cheap, like Irving press, which have so few reporters that they not only don't have any specialization, but don't have the manpower to study any story in depth, to do investigative reporting. For an example of the result, see A1 of the Times and Transcript "Province to cut 302 education positions".

This is a shallow and useless story which relies heavily on the government version of why it is cutting education spending. This is not the reporter's fault.He is not an expert on education. Assigning him to cover an education story is like assigning me to cover a hockey game. To make it worse, he isn't given the time to ask questions, to do some digging. And the Irving newspapers are almost entirely made up of stories like this.

Partly, that's because the Irving press is a private business. And, like all private business it is not in business to keep us informed or to create jobs. It's there to make as much money as it can while giving back as little as it can.

But education is important - maybe not as important as a hockey game or an events centre; but still important to children, to adults, and to the future of this province. So what will be the effects of cutting 302 positions be? What will be the effects from closing schools? Exactly what is an effective class size? (How large are classes in the private school the Irving children go to? ) What will happen to children with special needs? How will communities be affected?

The story justifies the cuts by saying that they, as a percentage, are lower than the  percentage of students we lost since fifteen years ago. What the hell is that supposed to tell us? What is an effective ratio of students to teachers? Maybe we were way understaffed 15 years ago, and now have the right ratio. But that takes a bit of investigation to figure out..

Then we're told the government is saving money by cutting $250 per teacher for teaching supplies. What supplies are being cut? How will that affect the classroom? How will it affect the students? I have never heard of an education system so cheap it had to cut off classroom supplies. Do the Irving children go to schools that have no classroom supplies? Don't our children have the right to education that the children of the rich do?

We are told that a Conservative MLA. Gary Crosman, was pleased to learn that not ALL cuts would be at the school level. He is described as a former teacher, school administrator, and education council member.
I know the type well. So I can understand why he got promoted from  being a teacher to a school administrator and then education council member.

I see no sign in this story that either the education minister or premier Gallant has given the slightest attention to the effects of these costs. Nor is there the slightest sign that they have any concept of what education is about or any thoughts about new approaches to the whole question. And New Brunswick is a province that desperately needs some  new thinking. It has good teachers. What it desperately needs is someone in government with a brain, and newspapers that inform the general public so it knows what's going on.

It will not affect the Irvings, of course, since their children go to private schools But there is a danger for all of us in that.

Modern public schooling originated in Scotland - and it led to an explosion of Scottish talent in the Sciences and Arts - one of the greatest such explosions in history  so that tiny Scotland has played a major part in the development of our modern world. In Quebec, I attended the English-Protestant schools which were based on the Scottish system, and were excellent. That was because the wealthier Scots who dominated Quebec business up to the 1970s had a stake in the schools. Their own children went to them. My high school graduated a son of one of Montreal's richest families and, about the same time, the son of one of its poorest families - Christopher Plummer and Oscar Peterson. We all had a chance.

The French Catholic public schools of the time were designed for the poor. For most children, it effectively ended at grade nine - if that long. The teachers were the cheapest available, and the curriculum heavy on religion. The wealthier French Catholics who sat on school boards wanted it that way because it kept their taxes down. And it didn't hurt them in any way because their own children, like Justin Trudeau, went to elite private schools. It is no coincidence that almost every premier in the history of Quebec has been a graduate of private schooling. (Levesque went to a private school, but never graduated from it.)

We're seeing the development of something similar in New Brunswick, with the rich getting private schooling for their own children, but seeing public education only as a place to save tax money - and, perhaps - to be privatized for profit. It's already happened in the US where  those who can afford it pretty well have to send their children to semi-privatized schools, while most children are left to founder in public schools that are overcrowded, in bad repair, often dangerous, and badly equipped. The result is that the US now is rated as having one of the worse education systems in the developed world. New Brunswick is going the same way.

But I'm so happy the Irving children will be in nice schools.

This is a 'news' story that tells us nothing, and comes from people who know nothing. It's a remarkably incompetent piece of journalism - not because of the reporter but because the ownership and management of the worst daily newspapers I have ever seen - with the possible exception of the New China News Agency.

Page 8 has a bigger story than the education one on a wrestling show of the cornball type that's coming to Moncton. The whole story is really just an ad..
The editorial is quite decent. The first time, I think, I've seen a decent one in the Irving press.

There's a big push coming for the events centre. Norbert Cunningham's column is, I suspect, the opening popgun for it. Most of it is vague and without evidence or argument. But, he says, we must spend much more than a hundred million on it because we need a centre that will be one of the wonders of the modern world - like the Eiffel Tower.

(Okay, I guess. But tough skating.)

There's a more intelligent letter to the editor on the same subject.

On the commentary page, Cole Hobson also has a pitch for the events centre, so I guess the big push has really started.. Most of it is pretty vague. And it would have been wiser for him to leave out  paragraph 7 in which he tells us that the Coliseum did NOT sell out for the the recent Wildcats' Game 7 for the title. And that was even counting all the Halifax fans who came up for the game. I've never heard of such a game not selling out.

Alec Bruce makes the good point that the Gallant government is not to be trusted on the research team it put together to study the effects of shale gas development. But that leads him to support acceptance of the research sponsored by Alward. I see no possible reason to trust either government on this. Let's get real.
Irving owns both the Liberals and the Conservatives. Whatever the search process is, we will never get an honest report from either party. Alec Bruce must know that.
In section B1, the province is asking private business to run some hospital services. Why? They say it will make it more efficient. Why? Damned if I know. Privatizing usually means the service will either be worse AND will cost more. The US has all its hospital services privatized - and it's a hugely expensive disaster. There is no reason to believe that private business is more efficient than government. That's myth that business has spread through the news media it owns.

Then there's a fascinating world story on B4 about how Obama has apologized for a drone strike that killed two hostages being held by Al Quaeda. He did not mention that, over the years, the US has daily been bombing many countries with drones with the result that thousands have been killed.

We also know that many, perhaps a majority, of those killed have been civilians including children. So how come we don't demand the figures? How come our news media don't even mention them? How come Obama doesn't apologize for killing all the other innocent ones?
1. Because Obama is a bigot who doesn't care how innocent or young the murdered might be as long as they're, you know, different from us.
2. He doesn't have to apologize to most Americans for the reason cited in 1.
3. He doesn't have to apologize to Canadians or the western world for the reason cited in 1 and 2..

Apart from those two stories, there's nothing in News&World.

But, if nothing's happening in News&World, lots is happening in the real world.

For a start, the bizarre confrontation between Iranian cargo ships (supposedly carrying arms to Yemen) and the American navy seems to have been called off. But one wonders why the US navy made it such a big deal in the first place.

The US sent 8 warships to block the cargo ships, 8 ships were very modern, very fast, and very heavily armed. And they were topped off with the nearly 100,000 ton aircraft carrier, USS George Washington with its high speed and its 90 or so aircraft.

All of that was sent to stop seven cargo ships plodding along, at best, at half the speed of the US ships. There are escorted by armed Iranian warships. Two of them. But Iran's navy has been tiny and poorly armed for thousands of years. So I checked google to see what Iran could possibly have sent to counter state of the art warships with missiles and the world's biggest warship.( The US also has more warships along the coast of Yemen.)

What Iran sent is an aging frigate (a small ship with a weak armament) - and a landing craft (of no sea combat ability whatever.) Talk about using a sledgehammer to swat a fly! Just one of the missile cruisers could have done the job in minutes, and with no risk whatever to itself. So why send that massive force?

In that same time period, Saudi Arabia stopped its bombing of Yemen. Why? In fact, the bombing of Yemen had not, till then, achieved much. If the Saudis expected to win, they had to keep up the bombing - and they had to add a ground attack. Why have they just stopped the bombing?

I certainly don't have the answer to any of those questions. But I get nervous when the US suddenly gathers such a powerful naval force within reach of Iran, and when the King of Saudi Arabia suddenly becomes a good guy and stops bombing. One gets the feeling that another power (maybe two or three)  was coming into play here.

The Irving press also fails to mention Greece which is in very serious economic trouble. The international bankers who hold the Greek debt want their money, no matter if that destroys the people of Greece. They insist (like the owners of New Brunswick) that it maintain an austerity budget, and cut back on "frills" - like public education and hospitals.

The Prime Minister of Greece has tried it. He says that it doesn't work. It just causes suffering. Of course that's what it does. That's why the depression of the 1930s went on so long. The bankers don't care. They just want their money. The same thing is happening in Ukraine - but the Irving press doesn't mention that, either. It is quite possible we may see another civil war in Ukraine, this time in the western section governed from Kyiv.

In general, the very rich are robbing the whole world. That's what the wage gap is all about. There is a massive redistribution off wealth to the very, very rich from all the rest of us. And austerity budgets don't work. Franklin Roosevelt learned that in the great depression. So did Canadian prime ministers Bennett and Mackenzie-King. It is not possible to make any country rich again by making most of its people poor.

In that great depression, it was not big business that saved us. It was government. It was government that created jobs and that controlled the greed of big business. What has happened now is that big business, itself, has become the government. That's why the wage spread is out of control. Business cannot run a nation..It has no competence whatever to do so. But it does run our nations. That's why so many in Latin America and Ukraine and Africa and the Middle East and, yes, North America are now suffering. That's why the news media owned by the very rich are busily teaching us to fear and to hate  so will ignore them as the real problem, and send us into war after war - for them..

The very, very rich, in their greed, have never understood that creating poverty will, in the end, destroy them, too. And, certainly, premier Gallant has not understood anything. Nor has prime minister Harper.

That's why it's essential to start one's planning not with questions of money but with questions of what the society needs. Then, you also look at the very rich, and see if we can really afford all the money (and lives) we hand over to them - and the very, very little they ever contribute to the rest of us.


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