Saturday, March 22, 2014

Marois and the PQ: Snatching Defeat from the Jaws of Victory in Québec

I freely admit to being a Francophile. In junior high school, when many of my friends were taking Spanish as their “foreign” language (a decision that makes a lot of sense in New York), I enrolled in French, and continued taking it through high school. Two years ago I took an intensive conversation-immersion class at the college where I teach in January, just to brush up on my skills, skills that come in handy on my annual March vacation in Québec. And in fact, in five days, I will once again be travelling to Montréal, proudly sporting a fleur-de-lis tattoo on my left shoulder, diving into mounds of Poutine and eating myself silly at a Sugar Shack.

It should come as no surprise, then, that I am following the upcoming Provincial elections in Québec with some fascination and interest. Just two years ago, on this blog, I chronicled (and predicted) the rise to power of Pauline Marois and le Parti Québécois, with their vision of an independent Québec (Separatists Poised for Québec Election) And I must admit, whether we are discussing Scotland, Kurdistan, or the Tuaregs of Mali, I sympathize with people-groups seeking their right to self-determination. As the largest and most significant French-speaking and French-cultured people in the entire western hemisphere, Québec sovereignty is something I can support – at least theoretically.

But, with the elections only 16 days away (April 7), it appears that Marois and the PQ will suffer a deserved defeat.
If it is possible to go overboard on a principle, the PQ has found a way to do it.

In their efforts to preserve what is unique about Québec, the Province has won concessions from the rest of Canada on a variety of issues, most notably immigration. Canada scores and rates potential immigrants based on a number of factors, including job skills, education, etc. Québec won a concession that permits that province to give “extra points” to would-be immigrants for whom French is their mother tongue.

One unforeseen consequence of this (being that there are so few places where French is spoken as the primary language) is that Québec has seen an increase in immigrants from places like Algeria, Morocco, and Lebanon, all places where French colonialism’s tentacles established French as the national language.

But, from at least one perspective, that creates an entirely new set of “Un-Québec” problems: these immigrants and students are Muslim. Some were burkas or other religious head gear. And if there is any way to bring out an ugly xenophobia or a parochial mindset, it is to drop immigrant Muslims into the midst of a French culture that already sees itself as “under siege” by a dominant English-speaking Canada.

And so, Marois unveiled the party’s “Charter of Values,” which purports to codify in law the values that identify Québec’s uniqueness. Within that Charter are provisions that make it illegal to wear conspicuous religious symbols (Jewish yarmulkes, Muslim burkas, and Sikh headgear) in government offices or as government employees. In Québec, that means not only the huge government sector, but schools and hospitals as well. In a well-publicized (and ridiculous) exercise in linguistic zealotry, the province’s Language Police went after a Montréal restaurant for printing the word “pasta” on a menu (“pasta” is Italian, and not French, and therefore a violation of new requirements mandating business be conducted in French.) Other PQ candidates have pushed the sovereignty issue way too hard, forcing Marois to concede that the borders would remain open, promising continued use of Canadian currency, and insisting that a Québecker would continue to sit on the governing board of the Bank of Canada, none of which are credible promises that an independent Québec could guarantee.

To be fair, the majority of Francophones support the Charter of Values. However, minorities, Anglophones, civil libertarians, and younger people have begun to roll their eyes at the intolerance coming from the PQ. Protests have sprung up, especially in Montréal. On Tuesday, The Mohawk Council of Akwesasne released a public statement saying Quebec sovereignty would create "very real concerns" for the First Nations community. “If Quebec ultimately chooses to separate, I would advise our Council and community to hold our own vote in order to determine whether we would stay within the borders of Quebec or separate ourselves,” said Chief Mike Kanentakeron Mitchell.

Having defeated all other parties just two years ago, the PQ appears to be heading for crushing defeat in just two weeks. The most recent polls are in significant agreement:

45 per cent of likely voters currently intend to vote for the opposition Liberal Party, compared to just 32 per cent for Pauline Marois’ PQ. A third party, the Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) was in third place with 13 per cent, though it is likely that the Liberals and the CAQ would form a coalition together to keep the PQ out of power altogether.

Some of the strongest opposition to the PQ is coming from Montréal, long a cosmopolitan crossroads in Québec, and the center of a student uprising against tuition hikes that help defeat the Liberal Party two years ago and catapult the PQ to power (Montréal Students, Labor, Citizens ). It would appear that the PQ has lost this group of voters. In fact, within moments after completing this post, the following news item came across my feed:

"...Some 75.7% of voters in the riding of Sainte-Marie-Saint-Jacques, in downtown Montreal is French. However, since last Monday, more than half of the people who have to get the right to vote for the first time are English or allophones. This is a demographic phenomenon observed in several districts of the metropolis, and a concern at the highest levels for electoral authorities..." (Original: Quelque 75,7 % de l’électorat de la circonscription de Sainte-Marie–Saint-Jacques, au centre-ville de Montréal, est francophone. Pourtant, depuis lundi dernier, plus de la moitié des personnes qui se présentent pour obtenir le droit de voter pour la première fois sont anglophones ou allophones. Un phénomène démographique observé dans plusieurs circonscriptions de la métropole, et qui inquiète au plus haut point les autorités électorales. - Le Devoir: libre de penser)

It will be an interesting visit this year. I expect to be welcoming Liberal Party Leader Philippe Couillard as the next Premier in Québec.


Friday, March 21, 2014

Pearson PLC and the Mis-Education of America's Youth

Sounding like the grumpy old man I have become, I often shake my head and complain about the lack of basic knowledge among young people today when it comes to government, history, geography, literature, and civics. Ask a college-aged student about the branches of government and Constitutional provisions, and one gets blank stares or impassioned (though incorrect)pronouncements more often than accurate answers. I know I have not been alone in throwing my hands up and asking, “what are they teaching these kids?!” (And I’m a teacher!)

Well this week I found at least one of the answers – and it lies in the textbooks and textbook companies being chosen.

Pearson PLC is one of the largest textbook manufacturers in the United States, with sales in 70 countries. Like most large text publishers, they seek multi-million dollar monopoly contracts to supply books for all public schools throughout a state via state education departments. But they have also wrapped their tentacles around more than just printing books, as they have now become the predominant publisher of testing systems as well (in spite of a 2012 discovery in New York State that at least 30 of their answers on such student tests were incorrect.)

Last year, I was hired by Pearson on a temporary contract to grade qualifying exams submitted by new teachers. These were individuals who were seeking to become certified public school teachers, and they took essay tests relating to their chosen subject area. As a college business teacher, I was selected to help grade aspiring high school business teacher exams.
We were told to grade essays on a 1-4 scale. If a candidate at least "grasped some of the issues", we were instructed to grade that essay a 3 out of 4 - a passing grade. It was a group effort, whereby scores were agreed upon by consensus, and I was constantly critiqued for scoring essays too low. I was also overruled.

The most frustrating part is that we were told specifically that we could not reduce our scoring for spelling, grammar, or organization.

Yes, that’s right. America’s next generation of teachers: spelling, grammar, and organization are unimportant for the purposes of obtaining teacher certification. Perhaps that's part of the problem...

But now I've run across this textbook gem, currently making the rounds on Facebook… I'd like to say it's a hoax, but, I am sad to say, it’s been verified.

The American Nation, a Pearson textbook (ISBN 0131817159), is a mandated textbook used throughout New York State. On page 237, the text discusses the Constitutional Rights enumerated in the Bill of Rights. Rather than allowing the Constitution’s words to speak for themselves, and rather than drawing on legal principles, the text explains the Second Amendment this way:

“Each state has the right to maintain a militia, an armed force for its own protection. Today, the militia is the National Guard. The national government and the states can and do regulate the private ownership and use of firearms.”

That’s not fact: that's pure political sentiment. As a matter of Constitutional Law, it is a complete failure.

In striking down the Firearms Control Regulations Act as unconstitutional, the U.S. Court of Appeals held as follows:

“[The Second Amendment] protects an individual right to keep and bear arms…the [right] was premised on the private use of arms for activities such as hunting and self-defense, the latter being understood as resistance to either private lawlessness or the depredations of a tyrannical government (or a threat from abroad)."

They also noted that though the right to bear arms also helped preserve the citizen militia, "the activities [the Amendment] protects are not limited to militia service, nor is an individual's enjoyment of the right contingent upon his or her continued or intermittent enrollment in the militia." The court determined that handguns are "Arms" and concluded that thus they may not be banned by the District of Columbia.

On appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court (District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570 (2008)), the Court affirmed the decision, holding that text and history of the Second Amendment demonstrate that it connotes an individual right to keep and bear arms, not a right restricted to national guards or formal militias.

Pearson’s textbook is absolutely, legally, and ethically, incorrect. And if you wonder why today’s young people don’t understand their government, country, or history, here is a prime example why.


Saturday, March 15, 2014

One Quarter Million Views as of Today....

On June 15, 2005, I began this blog with a post expressing my annoyance at Congressional investigations into "performance enhancing substances" in Major League Baseball. The combination of breast-beating self-righteousness along with an obvious complete lack of understanding regarding anything they were talking about was making me crazy. 9 years later, I am no less disgusted with self-righteous politicians passing new regulations about things they know nothing about in an endless quest for power and control. And scrolling through these 409 posts has been like a 'walk down Memory Lane."

Back in 2005, I didn't even know that the NSA existed. Back in 2005, gay marriage was not legal anywhere in the US. Who would have thought that in the 9 years this blog has been in existence that such a tidal change would have occurred in the quest for marriage equality? What a long, unbelievable ride it's been...and it's all been chronicled right here.

As of today, according to Google Analytics, this page has now been visited 250,000 times - one quarter million readers from every continent, including translations into multiple languages.

Wow. Thank you to all of you who have enabled this blog - merely one's man's hobby, an effort to chronicle world and national events - to grow and survive this long.

Thom .