Tuesday, September 30, 2014


Albert Einstein famously declared that insanity was doing the same thing over and over again while expecting a different result. Unfortunately, that while that definition applies to so much that goes on in our little twin island republic that it's not even funny, nowhere does it apply more than to our education system. I know that a lot of people are not going to like me saying it, but our education system sucks ... all the way from the primary schools right up to the University of the West Indies and back down again.

Let's start with UWI first: once upon a time when UWI was the Imperial College of Tropical Agriculture it enjoyed a world-class, first class reputation. Today, UWI ranks near the bottom of any list of universities and does not appear anywhere on any list of the world's top universities. Don't believe me? Take any discipline ...say, economics ... and have two young graduates applying for the same job ... one from UWI and the other from, say, Harvard. Guess who is going to get the job? I don't think I need to go further: UWI is not a first class school and it could be and should be. Heck, it's not even a second class school!

And as for our so-called "prestige schools", well they are anything but prestigious and it is nothing short of a miracle that some students not only graduate, but are bright enough to go on to first class universities and make their mark on a fast paced and rapidly changing world that is happily leaving us as a country way behind.

But officials in the Ministry of Education continue to tinker with an inadequate, out-moded, out dated, inefficient system and absolutely refuse to consider that the system is way past its "use by" date. The other day I met one of these Ministry boffins who vigorously defended the system, so I asked him "if I blew up the education system this afternoon so that there was absolutely nothing left and you had to start from the beginning, would you put back the exact same system?" He answered honestly before he realized the trap that he wouldn't, which, of course, is exactly my point. If you would put in a completely different system if the old one was completely blown up, then why don't we put in a new one now? And we don't have to blow up the old system, just put in the new one and phase out the old one gradually.

A lot of our problems in this country begin with the failing/failed education system. And part of the reasons that the system is failing is because we simply refuse as a society to pay our teachers a proper wage. The result is that the teachers don't teach in the classrooms, but force parents to hire them to give private lessons to the children. The result is that just about every child that takes the SEA exams or what used to be called 'O' Levels and 'A' Levels in my day are now forced to have their parents hire teachers for extra lessons. If they don't, except for the very bright kids, you can guarantee that the kids will fail.

Now, another question: if the system and the schools are so good, why does just about every child who hopes to pass the requisite exams have to take extra lessons? In other first world countries extra lessons are not needed for the vast majority of students! So, why are they a way of life here if the system is so good?

I could go on almost forever on this subject, but hopefully you have got the point. Fixing the education system will ultimately fix most of our problems. Don't fix it and I can guarantee that the problems will not only continue but will get worse. And, yes, I do have ideas on how we might fix the system besides paying the teachers a proper salary. I'll share those ideas in another post. But before I get there we should all be on the same page, which is agreement that the system is broken and needs to be fixed. Once we have agreement on that fundamental point we can then discuss ideas on how we might fix it.

Oh! And by the way, while I do have ideas on how to fix things, I certainly don't hold my ideas out as the only ideas or the only way to do things. The purpose of this post is to try and get as many as possible to recognize the problem and begin thinking of ways to fix it; because one thing is certain: the system is broken!

Friday, September 26, 2014


And the answer to my question is that except for the names and a few other changes, the answer is none! I mean, think about it! The ISIS leaders pretend that they are religious. But the operative word in that last sentence is "pretend", for in a month of Sundays nobody could ever convince me that the so called brand of Islam that they are pushing has anything to do with Islam, which is a religion of peace and tolerance. (Indeed, in the 'dark ages' in Europe it was Islamic scholarship that saved a lot of the accumulated scientific knowledge from foolish destruction from the then Christian fundamentalists. But that is another story.)

Our local gang leaders at least are honest enough that they don't pretend to be representatives of a higher cause. They quite simply are about controlling absolutely the territory that they control, and woe betide anyone (and I mean anyone) who dares to challenge their authority, because the remotest challenge means death to the challenger.

And this is the point of this post. I have written before that we are in the throes of a relatively small scale civil war ... a fact which the mainstream media and the PNM opposition simply refuse to acknowledge. Details are still sketchy at the time of writing but from what has come across on the news this morning is that it seems that there was a huge gun battle last night at about ten o'clock between two rival gangs just outside the Besson Street  Police Station!! Apparently, the gangs had high powered rifles and the fight became a three way fight with the police joining in. The end result is that three gang members have been killed including one who was already wanted for murder.

But when the Minister of National Security says that he is buying armored personnel carriers the Opposition howls in protest and a Catholic priest talks loftily from his pulpit about "extra-judicial killings".

Look, regrettably the only thing that can defeat the force of these gangs is force. Live with it! If you say that you don't like it, well, honestly, neither do I. But I would hate it even more if a member of my family or a friend was gunned down because a gang lord decided that he or she should die for some real or imagined slight such as refusing to hand over a purse/wallet/car keys. I wwould feel a lot happier if I saw all the Opposition politicians (and 'all' means 'all') coming together with the Government of the day and making it crystal clear to the revolutionaries that they support absolutely the unitary State of Trinidad & Tobago. And if they don't particularly like what the Government is doing in the realm of national security, then for crying out loud, stop criticizing and tell me exactly what they propose to deal with putting down this revolution. Stop the platitudes. Let's hear real and concrete proposals. And if you can't then shut up.  For just as ISIS got stronger and stronger so will these guys if they are not stopped now. And 'now' has to mean 'now'!! Put another way: lead, follow or get out of the way!

Monday, September 22, 2014


Like probably most people in T&T, I became very interested in the Scottish referendum for independence which was held on September 18th when a convincing majority (55% to 45%) of Scots voted to stay in the United Kingdom. The story as it unfolded was riveting especially towards the end when opinion polls began to suggest that the result could be very, very close ... so close that it might even have ended up the other way with  a slim majority voting for independence. That this would have led Scotland and the United Kingdom into completely uncharted territory was at once as dangerous as it was at the same time exciting. That in the end the Scots voted for security over everything else, was also probably (with the benefit of hindsight) predictable.

But what caused this movement for independence in the first place? After all, for more than three or four hundred years Scotland has been part of the United Kingdom. There are probably as large a percentage of Scots who served and died in the two great wars of the twentieth century as there are Englishmen. Scotland hasn't done badly in terms of economic "goodies" that it gets from the rest of the United Kingdom. In fact, reports leading up to the vote suggested that Scotland in fact gets more "goodies" on a per capita basis than the other parts of the country. So why would the Scots want to leave such a cozy arrangement from which they were so obviously benefitting? And why would such a large minority (because 45% is a very large minority) want to leave such a cozy arrangement?

It seems that the truth is that the Scots found themselves getting sick and tired of Thatcherite policies being imposed on them from London. It was policies first formed by Mrs. Thatcher that exacerbated a system of inequalities and dumped valuable social programs on the rubbish heap. Former Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair in 1997 did, through a form of federalism known as "devolution", push through some  reforms which allowed Scotland to keep certain policies such as free higher education and national health care while south of the border  the health care system has been partially privatized and English university students are now having to go into debt like their American cousins in order to pay for their higher education.

In other words, Scotland's value system, which is more socialist than the rest of the Tory dominated UK, was/is at risk so long as Scotland remains or remained part of the UK.  But the referendum campaign has elicited promises to the Scots that will give them greater power to resist the Tory policies ... which is probably better for the Scots than independence. And now, with the leaders of all three main political parties having promised even more powers to the Scots the rest of the UK, especially the regional Parliaments in Wales and Northern Ireland, will begin to demand more internal self-government. In other words, the "old" United Kingdom is now dead and something new is going to emerge; what exactly it will look like when all the dust settles is far too early to tell, but one thing is certain: it ain't gonna be like it was before the 18th September. And all of the changes that are to come were basically started by Maggie Thatcher whose policies over the years have created greater inequities in the system that finally dove the Scots to revolt.

I know I am taking a long time to come to the point of this post, which is not why the "no" campaign succeeded or should have failed nor is it to have a dissertation or discussion on Mrs. Thatcher's economic policies. The point that I want to make is that in the United Kingdom Margaret Thatcher never had a popular majority even though she ruled as Prime Minister for 11 years. The most she ever got was 43.9 percent of the vote! The most that David Cameron (the current Prime Minister) has ever got was 36.1 percent of the vote. The point is that Britain's "first past the post" system has allowed the Tory minority to dominate.

The anti-Tory vote gets split between the Liberal Democrats and the Labour Party. The Liberal Democrats were so anxious to get into power the last time around that they formed a coalition with the Tories that effectively reduced their influence to zero. The United Kingdom has had a Tory dominated government for the last 4 years.

So? Where am I going with this? Ask yourself: would history have been different in the UK if instead of a first past the post system as it has now, they had instead a run-off system like the one that T&T is about to get? Would the Tories have been able to govern and impose policies which a majority of British voters do not want if the system had allowed voters a second chance while narrowing their options? Would this have been a bad thing? (And, yes, the majority of British voters do not vote for the Tories in the UK general elections, so I can say with great equanimity that the majority of British voters do not support Tory policies. If they did, they would vote Conservative!)

Speaking only for myself, I was never a great lover of Mrs. Thatcher's economic policies which have been almost slavishly copied in other countries including our own. I argued then (and have been unfortunately proven right) that you cannot run a country like a business and that Thatcherite policies only make the rich richer and the poor poorer. But, again that is not the point that I wish to make here. My point is that despite all the piffle that has been printed about the run-off provisions that we are about to pass into law, the truth is that they can and will go a long way towards making our own little corner of the world a fairer place to live in. And that is important! If the UK had tackled the thorny problem of electoral reform earlier the very obvious looming political problems that it now faces would never have arisen. The first past the post system allows a minority to rule the majority. Imperfect as the run-off might be, it still is a better option.