Archive for category Politics

Dormez-vous, France?

"Allons enfants de la Patrie, Le jour de gloire est arrivé !"

“Allons enfants de la Patrie, Le jour de gloire est arrivé !”

The most brilliant minds of France are escaping to London, Brussels, and New York rather than stultify at home. Walk down a street in South Kensington – the new Sixth Arrondissement of London – and try not to hear French spoken. The French lycee there has a long waiting list for French children whose families have emigrated.

I grimly listen to my French friends on this topic.

From a senior United Nations official who is now based in Africa: “The best thinkers in France have left the country. What is now left is mediocrity.”

From a chief legal counsel at a major French company: “France is dying a slow death. Socialism is killing it. It’s like a rich old family being unable to give up the servants. Think Downton Abbey.”

From a French publisher: “In the past 10 years, the global village has become a reality. The world economy has become so important that a nation-state can no longer play the role that it did 10 years ago. The French have not woken up to that.”

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Perpetuating Grievances

Did you know that disagreeing on government royalty policy constitutes “racism”?

Now you know:

Current and former First Nations chiefs are imploring the Saskatchewan Party to stop running a “racist” television advertisement which claims revenue-sharing with First Nations will cost taxpayers billions of dollars.

Bellegarde and elder Ted Quewezance, who also addressed the crowd of approximately 400 delegates and guests at the assembly, both called the ad “racist,” saying it perpetuates negative stereotypes.

Do you know what really perpetuates negative stereotypes? Aboriginal leaders accusing anyone who disagrees with them as being “racist.”

Thankfully, the Sask Party isn’t taking the bait:

Patrick Bundrock, executive director of the Saskatchewan Party, said in an email Wednesday that the “ad accurately reflect(s) the NDP position and statements by NDP leader Cam Broten on First Nations revenue sharing and we stand by the ad.”

Truth is no defense to perpetual grievance-mongers.

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The Projecting Finger

Unwilling to merely be wrong about civic issues in Saskatoon, Gerry “The Finger” Klein fails to find the pulse of the city of Calgary as well.

His latest column is a terrific exercise in the art of projecting one’s own biases:

Our western neighbour held its municipal elections Monday while councillors in Saskatoon debated how to get more cabs on the streets, whether it was possible to extricate the city from the taxi industry or whether we wouldn’t be better served with a taxi commission or outside body.

It is a dance I have witnessed regularly since the 1980s, when I first started to cover council. The issue seemed fresh and alive then, but no longer so.

Because when you think of the terms “fresh” and “alive,” your mind goes immediately toward municipal policy discussions.

Many people — including me — have advocated for city hall to free the taxi industry from its control by allowing market forces to dictate how many cars are allowed on the streets and restricting council’s control to monitoring safe cars, trained drivers and compliance with standard rules. However, civic officials who have followed this for as long as I have insist that the free market strategy hasn’t worked anywhere it’s been tried. Too often it leaves drivers and passengers exposed to criminal activity or inadequate service.

And as one wise official reminded me this week, taxis actually form an integral part of Saskatoon’s public transportation system. It can’t be allowed to fail, yet there is a string of unhappy players any time councillors get involved.

It is the lobbying from those players that kicks off the seemingly inescapable and awkward dance, which typically makes for a long night at council. I even recall a meeting where a representative of a taxi company started to snore loudly when the debate went past midnight, making it difficult for me to hear what was being said.

Those damned, dull Saskatonians clinging to their outdated taxi regulations. I’m bored! Why don’t we have elections when I’m bored?!

While Saskatoon again was undergoing the ritual on Monday night, Alberta’s two largest cities were overturning the latest political theory about the conservative nature of suburbia. Calgary handily sent Naheed Nenshi back to the mayor’s office in spite of a well funded campaign to oppose his urban agenda. He first caught the country’s attention when he came from behind to claim the highest office in a city well known for its conservative traditions.

Indeed. Naheed Nenshi has the distinction of being only the eighth liberal/progressive mayor ever elected in Calgary. A remarkable achievement, really, especially when you consider his opposition in the race:

Despite this imposing ensemble, Nenshi received about 74% of the overall vote, no thanks to a “well-funded campaign” by his opponents, who likely didn’t even spend one-tenth of what was spent by the Nenshi campaign.

While his agenda clearly upset some Calgary developers who were encouraged to contribute $100,000 each to help ward candidates who could slow its implementation, there was little surprise that Calgary’s hyper-popular mayor was returned to office – especially after his tireless effort to deal with the unprecedented flooding that befell Alberta’s largest city this spring.

Yes. The nefarious efforts by those nasty developers, of whom the Nenshi campaign said were acting “illegally,” only knocked off two of Nenshi’s five main supporters on city council — John Mar and Gael MacLeod — and nearly a third, the erstwhile Druh Farrell.

On the other hand, of the 14 ward candidates supposedly supported by this sinister cabal (as seen in this joint Global TV-Nenshi expose), only eight were able to win their seats on council.

Wait a second. I guess this means that Nenshi’s efforts to raise taxes and levies on suburban developers will be thwarted by council.

Some revolution.

Oh, and The Finger might as well know, that boring, old notion of taxi regulation? Nenshi’s dancing the taxi commission dance too.

Facts can be a bitch when you’re projecting.

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Henry Louis Gates, Jr. is sophistry gone berserk

Capitalism was slavery gone berserk.

Only a Harvard-tenured professor could say anything so stupid and unmoored by reality and get his own documentary series on PBS.

For many of us, Henry Louis Gates, Jr. was the guy who over-reacted to a police officer responding to a call at his door and ended up having a beer with the president for some bizarre reason.

"Down that beer like you down the chains of social injustice."

“Down that beer like you down the chains of social injustice.”

For the cultural and academic elite, Skip Gates is a distinguished scholar and social critic with impeccable credentials in blaming Whitey for everything.

His documentary follows this tack:

Slavery in the United States was once a roaring success whose wounds still afflict the country today.

So says Henry Louis Gates, Jr., who examines both its success and shame in The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross, his new PBS documentary series that traces 500 years of black history. “Slavery is a perfect example of why we need limits on the more unfortunate aspects of human nature,” he says. “Slavery was capitalism gone berserk.”

Here is Gates’s reasoning: capitalism is bad, slavery was bad. Ergo, capitalism = slavery.

He is a lot more nuanced than that, of course. He sees that one group makes a lot of money during slavery, therefore capitalism was involved in some way. QED.

One could just as easily say that “slavery was socialism gone berserk.” You see, on a small scale, a plantation was like a place where everyone worked for a higher purpose, and everyone (save for the minority elite) was treated exactly the same. It’s a specious analogy, yes, but so was Gates’s.

Or, you could say that “slavery was communism gone berserk.” No one, save the elite minority, had rights and everyone worked “from each of his abilities” to the “needs” decided by the central authority. This analogy holds more true than the previous one, because where ever it was implemented, communism was essentially slavery.

Slavery – “the supreme hypocrisy” – was always an essential ingredient of the U.S. experiment. White Americans always drew heavily on the labour, culture and traditions of blacks while denying them due credit in exchange, not to mention their human rights. The father of the United States, George Washington, was one of its largest slave owners, even as one of his slaves, Harry Washington, understandably fled to join a British regiment and fight against the patriots.

Gates lives in a world without objectivity. Otherwise, how else could he redefine “capitalism” to mean work without wages, where parties don’t freely exchange goods, services or resources?

“Because of the profound disconnect between principles of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution and the simultaneous practice of slavery, we’ve had historical amnesia about slavery,” Gates said in a recent interview. “We still see the effects, and feel them.”

Even the site for the U.S. capital city – Washington, D.C. – was chosen to accommodate the mighty bloc of Southern slave owners.

The African Americans doesn’t fall prey to white scapegoating. For instance, Africans practised slavery long before white Europeans cashed in, and Gates journeys to Sierra Leone, where he visits with Africans whose forebears profited from it.

And therein lies the weakness of Gates’s argument. There were Africans who profited from slavery, then as well as now. Yet places like Sierra Leone never flourished economically, either during the slave trade or after. Slavery never brought prosperity in Africa.

Likewise, slavery wasn’t a product of capitalism in the United States (nor was it socialism or communism). The institution was a part of the agrarian, mercantilist, neo-feudal South. Slaves played the part of indentured servants, plantation owners the minor feudal lords.

Wealth came about via ownership of fertile property, and despite slavery, not because of it. Initially, the prime agricultural areas of the South created plenty of valuable products and fostered a fast-growing population.

However, the Industrial Revolution coincided with the American, which led to the North’s economy booming past that of the South. Slavery kept the South from succeeding. Not only was the institution abhorrent in both nature and practice, but it was counter-productive to the ends of its proponents.

The fact that the abolitionist North far outpaced the slave-owning South eludes Gates. He simply doesn’t see his contradiction, nor does he consider how true “capitalism gone berserk” in the North during the latter half of the nineteenth century created wealth and opportunity for everyone, including those blacks escaping the Jim Crow South.

Speaking of Jim Crow, does Gate even realize that those laws were passed by government because legislators sought to restrict berserking capitalists from hiring or serving the upstart black population?

Sorry, that was a stupid question. Of course he doesn’t realize this, because to realize this would up-end his grand narrative, not to mention his plan to indoctrinate every schoolchild in America with this historicistic tripe.

Gates should stick to drinking beer.

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And those who can’t teach?

Well, pace Woody Allen, they still teach.

I’m Facebook-friends with my old hometown high school science teacher, Steven Allen (no relation to Woody), who also doubled as a vice-principal at the time. He’s a nice enough guy and have nothing against him personally. But I never thought much of him as a teacher nor as a vice-principal. He always extolled the virtues of David Suzuki and the leftist cause (later he became very active in the Saskatchewan Teachers Federation), and his theories on student discipline were often dubious and occasionally mocked.

It was in no small part due to Mr. Allen that I left home and attended a private Catholic residential school (at considerable cost to my parents), which resulted in a dramatic turnaround in my academic performance and my eventual acceptance to engineering school. So thanks for that, Steve.

A couple of years ago, he sent a friend request, so I accepted. Because I’m friendly. He just posts the typical radical leftist drivel you’d see at any union rally, universities and other conformist progressive camps: “Harper is evil,” “Bush is evil,” “inequality is evil,” etc. Don’t get me wrong — reading this stuff doesn’t really bother me because I like to know how the other half lives and thinks. I just don’t agree with one iota of propaganda he’s pushing, and I tend to leave his commentary be.

Today, Mr. Allen linked to this opinion piece on how Bill Gates and his zeal for standardized testing are destroying education or something.

Mr. Allen posted a quote from the article on his Facebook page and, instead of getting into an argument on his Facebook page, I thought I’d paste the quote here and then rebut below:

Gates seems not to know or care that the leading testing experts in the nation agree that this is a fruitless and wrongheaded way to identify either good teachers or bad teachers.

So how do we identify good teachers or bad teachers? No one seems to know.

Student test scores depend on what students do, what effort they expend, how often they attend school, what support they have at home, and most especially on their socioeconomic status and family income.

Not “most especially” on what they do or how hard they try; it’s about the money, honey.

Test scores may go up or go down, in response to the composition of the class, without regard to teacher quality.

If teacher quality doesn’t matter, then why don’t we outsource public education to Mexican immigrants and save us a few bucks?

Students are not randomly assigned to teachers.

No, just arbitrarily by the year in which they happened to be born.

A teacher of gifted children, whose scores are already sky-high, may see little or no gains.

What about those gifted students who are getting poor marks because of a lousy teacher? And what if sky-high marks are because of a certain teacher?

A teacher of children with disabilities may be thrilled to see students respond to instruction, even if their test scores don’t go up.

Because the primary goal of education is to “thrill” teachers.

A teacher in a poor neighborhood may have high student turnover and poor attendance, and the scores will say nothing about his or her quality.

Coincidentally, Mr. Allen criticized the cancellation of the mandatory long-form census.

But all will get low marks on state evaluation systems and may end up fired.

Because the other primary goal of education is to prevent teachers from getting fired.

Look, I’m no expert. I’ve worked with enough statistics to know that data is useless unless it’s treated carefully. It’s not the quantity or quality of information that’s available but, rather, how it is applied toward a particular end.

If standardized testing were the only method being used to evaluate educational performance then, yes, I’d agree that it wouldn’t be the best tool or even a good one. But I hardly would think that this data would be used in this manner.

If the data found, instead, that there were trends (key performance indicators or KPIs, in corporate lingo) which pointed the way to a possible problem and potential solution, then why not test to certain standards?

Put it this way: teachers already assign midterm and year-end finals, don’t they? Wouldn’t these tests be considered “standardized” if they are exercised annually by the same teacher using the same course material? Even if we recognize that these particular tests would be performed locally, they still would be used on different cohorts which, as Mr. Allen pointed out, may vary based on their composition. So what’s the difference?

The difference is, of course, that standardized tests could actually point out to taxpayers and parents that some teachers aren’t as good as others and, as Mr. Allen put it, we’d consider firing “them all.”

Another consideration is that teachers aren’t compared to their counterparts in comparative schools. Not only does this imply a lack of accountability, but it doesn’t also help the teachers who are struggling in their role, who might need more resources for skills training to do their jobs better or to provide a stronger educational environment.

After all, if an industrial corporation finds a lagging KPI, they don’t just fire the person responsible. They would look at the underlying causes, such as the person’s level of skill, oversight, or resources to do the job. This way, if the problem persists, the accountability would start from the CEO and work its way down to those implementing the program. The whole company would be invested in the solution.

But since teachers are told by their union that they’re somehow special, that these tried-and-tested methods don’t somehow apply to them, our schools aren’t going to get any better and the kids will continue to suffer.

And those shitty teachers will continue to teach until they exercise their defined-benefit pension plans.

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Letter to the Editor

I don’t know what it is about Mayor Atchison that Gerry “The Finger” Klein hates so much, as I’ve noted previously.

Last week, he takes issue with an exchange between the mayor and one of my other favourites, Darren Hill. My letter in response is posted below:

Gerry Klein calls out Mayor Atchison and other supporters of the proposed $170 road-maintenance flat tax for their supposed insensitivity toward the city’s poorer taxpayers. He says that this “regressive” tax would make widowed seniors “subsidize” wealthy residents of the suburbs and exurbs.

Where were Klein and the rest of the well-meaning councillors when they advocated and received an annual flat tax of $55 for homeowners to pay for their beloved recycling program? I recall no tears shed by mandatory recycling advocates on how well-off homeowners living beside The Willows (who were already recycling) would be subsidized by the poor, old widow living alone on a fixed income and consuming practically nothing.

One can debate the merits of using flat taxes to either keep roads safe and maintained or to put off the construction of a new landfill by a mere five years.

But, please, spare me the righteous and indignant hypocrisy.

Rob Huck
Saskatoon, SK

It was published nearly word-for-word the next day, a new record for me.


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Meandered standards

I simply don’t get the criticisms of standardized testing in public schools by anyone other than a union leader. Case in point, from last weekend’s StarPhoenix editorial:

The government doggedly is pursuing standardized testing to fix the underachievement by Saskatchewan students in some subject areas, even as other jurisdictions are moving away from such testing because of a plethora of problems that range from cultural biases to the inability of “a snap shot in time” test to gauge a student’s performance over time or what she actually knows.

Aren’t all school tests “a snap shot in time,” whether they are held in September, in March or in June?

And aren’t standardized testing supposed to capture deficiencies due to factors such as “cultural biases?” I mean, isn’t the point of public education to ensure that all students are prepared to enter the workforce or post-secondary institutions no matter their culture of origin?

The most bizarre thing about the criticism is that the government remains committed to implementing these testing even while putting a “pause” on other priorities, “including a do-over of the school capital priority list.”

Why do we need to re-evaluate the capital priority list? We all know that the rapidly growing areas in the province, including especially my own community, need new schools, stat, and only a couple of schools are typically funded in a given year, if that. More importantly, the education minister doesn’t set the capital budgets; that’s the finance minister’s job. One item doesn’t affect the other.

The editorial is just an aimless attempt at a cheap shot at Education Minister Russ Marchuk that could have come straight from the mouth of the teachers federation.

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