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Commentary on the present and future of culture, politics, economics, and social values................... "At any given instant/All solids dissolve, no wheels revolve,/And facts have no endurance." W.H. Auden.

Saturday, June 21, 2003

Welcome to the Society Where ALL Students Are Above Average

This week, students across New York state took the Regents examination in mathematics, the passing of which is a requirement for high school graduation. "Too hard," cried superintendants. "Too hard," cried principals. "Too hard," cried teachers. Students just cried.

What is the problem? It turns out that a large number of students will not be graduating from high school this year because they did not pass the examination. Do the professional educators ask, as result, that schools be improved, that teachers be evaluated for competence, that the quality of teaching be upgraded? Oh, no! They want the standards of the examination to be lowered so that most (all?) students pass. And they want future exams to be made easier. After all, if students fail an exam, that damages their self-esteem! Egos are more important that brains!

In response to widespread public complaints about the failing performances of schools in the state, the New York Department of Education in 1996 set a requirement that students must pass a set of Regents examinations in English, mathematics, history, and science in order to qualify for graduation from high school. The results are alarming. In 2001-02, for example, only 68% of students statewide passed the mathematics examination. In New York City, only 50.8% passed. But surely,the problem is with the examination and not with the students and the way they have been taught! So, say the educators, let us lower the standards so that all students pass.

Do you remember author Garrison Kiellor's fictional town of Lake Wobegone? There all the students were above average. A forecast of the future, as it turns out. In New York, if the educators have their way, all the students in the state will be above average. It is just a matter of changing the standards of the Regents examinations! A simple solution to a complex problem! A sliding standard to assure that no one fails! In the Land of Oz, a certificate was all that was needed to establish that a person was a genius. Now our schools will be issuing such certificates to all who enter their halls!

Who says the US is in decline?

Thursday, June 19, 2003

[ Thu Jun 19, 07:29:44 AM | Marco Relius Relius | edit ]
Arms of Japan

What was unthinkable a few years ago has now become inevitable. Japan is rearming. The Koizumi government is steadily dismantling the pacifism that has marked Japaese policy since the end of World War II. As a result, the power structure of the world will be fundamentally altered.

After World War II, Japan renounced the use of force in international affairs. It effectively disarmed. It banned the development of nuclear weapons. Its small military force, the Self Defense Force, could not leave the country. In effect, Japan was willing to live under the protection of the US.

Japan is changing that policy of diasarmament now for five reasons:
1) fear of terrorism
2) fear of North Korea's intentions
3) fear of instability in Japan as the economy continues to decline
4) uneasiness over the US posture as the world's only superpower
5) desire to reassert Japan's role in the world community.

Japan's parliament is ready to pass a law allowing the SDF to go to Iraq in supprt of the US occupation. This is in line with the decision in 2002 to sent a pacification force to Indonesia.

The government wants to increase the size of its military force. It also plants to develop a missile program. And, most surprisingly, it is openly discussing adoption of a policy of pre-emptive military strikes.

Watch for Japan to develop nuclear weapons next!

Japan's new direction marks a momentous change for the world. Is it a welcome one?

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Arms of Japan

What was unthinkable a few years ago has now become inevitable. Japan is rearming. The Koizumi government is steadily dismantling the pacifism that has marked Japaese policy since the end of World War II. As a result, the power structure of the world will be fundamentally altered.

After World War II, Japan renounced the use of force in international affairs. It effectively disarmed. It banned the development of nuclear weapons. Its small military force, the Self Defense Force, could not leave the country. In effect, Japan was willing to live under the protection of the US.

Japan is changing that policy of diasarmament now for five reasons:
1) fear of terrorism
2) fear of North Korea's intentions
3) fear of instability in Japan as the economy continues to decline
4) uneasiness over the US posture as the world's only superpower
5) desire to reassert Japan's role in the world community.

Japan's parliament is ready to pass a law allowing the SDF to go to Iraq in supprt of the US occupation. This is in line with the decision in 2002 to sent a pacification force to Indonesia.

The government wants to increase the size of its military force. It also plants to develop a missile program. And, most surprisingly, it is openly discussing adoption of a policy of pre-emptive military strikes.

Watch for Japan to develop nuclear weapons next!

Japan's new direction marks a momentous change for the world. Is it awelcome one?

Wednesday, June 18, 2003

Another Decision for the Police State

The US police state is shaping up well, thank you. A decision by the US District Court of Appeals for DC has seen to that.

After the terrorist attacks of September 11, US authorities arrested and detained at least 762 persons (maybe over 1000. who knows?) in fear that they might be involved somehow in terrorism. They refused to release the names of the detainees, holding them incognito. "Unconstitutional," cried the critics of the action. Federal District Judge Gladys Kessler agreed with the critics last August and ordered the names to be relased. She said the secret arrest and detention was "profoundly antithetical to democracy."

The US Justice Department instantly appealed to the DC Federal Court of Appeals. Yesterday, a panel of three judges ruled by 2 to 1 to reverse Judge Kessler and keep the names of the detainees secret. The 2 who wrote the decision said that the fight against terrorism justifies the suspension of civil liberties and constitutional guarantees in this case.

The best precedent for this action is in the Gestapo of Nazi Germany. The Gestapo always refused to identify the people it had arrested. They just disappeared. But we knew it could not happen here, right? Not in the land of the free and the home of the brave. We have a Constitution!

Attorney General Ashcroft applauded the latest decision as a victory for democracy. He said it guaranteed "the privacy of the detainees." Is that line from Saturday Night Live?

The US police state marches on. We have the world's largest prison populaton - over 2 million. We run a Gulag in Guantanimo Bay. And now we can imprison people without identifying them or allowing them to see a lawyer. It used to be said in so many Latin American countries by generals after they effected a coup d'etat that democracy must be suspended in order to save it. Yes, yes. If our Constitution does not govern our going to war anymore, why should its Bill of Rights be honored either?
Hamas: Israel Reaping What it Sowed

Israel's Prime Minister Sharon has vowed to hound Hamas and assassinate its leaders. An ironic position in light of the fact that at the beginning Israel promoted the growth of Hamas. Bad decisions do have a way of coming back to haunt!

Hamas was formed in 1987 by the Muslim Brotherhood during the first Intifada. It was intended to be a Palestinian religious opposition to Israel to challenge the secular PLO for the leadership of the Palestinian liberation movement. From 1988 to 1992, Hamas and the PLO actively fought one another. In this situation, Israel thought it would be a clever policy to support Hamas in order to weaken the PLO and its armed wing, al-Fatah, and undermine Yasir Arafat.

The Israeli policy was in line with what imperialist powers have always done in order to rule: divide the occupied people and get them to fight one another. So, Israel supported Hamas to assure its own rule over the territory.

Dr. Frankenstein created a monster he could not control. And Israel now finds it can negotiate with the PLO but not with Hamas. With every bomb explosion in Isreal, its government must shudder at the decision it made fifteen years ago to promote Hamas.

Even at the time the decision was made, there were wise voices that said Israel was making a mistake. But who ever listens to Cassandra?

Monday, June 16, 2003

Coporations and Extortion

During the Clinton years, US corporations were involved in open theft via "creative" bookkeeping, baked books, executive "perks," bribery, insider trading, and other forms of fraud. Look at Enron , WorldCom, CitiBank, Merrill Lynch, Fleet National , and their friends. In the Bush II years, US corpoprations are involved in extortion. Is this progress?

Boeing is threatening to move its manufacturing out of the state of Washington if it does not get "incentives" from the governments of Washington and Seattle. It says it has nine other states interested in offering "incentives" to host the company in a new site.

Now US Airways is threatening to move its headquarters out of Virginia if the Old Comonwealth does not give it "incentives" to stay. It is also threatening to abandon Reagan Washington National Airport if it does not get some "incentives" to remain there.

In both cases, for "incentives" read "taxpayers' money." When the mob tries extortion, it simply says, "Pay us or we'll break your windows and then break your face." US corpoations extort with the more graceful "Pay us or we will move out and leave you with an unemployment residue." Yes,yes. But extortion is extortion. Pity the poor taxpayers!




Mauritania, the "Democracy"

US Air Force units are now stationed in Senegal, West Africa. Who noticed that? Not the US news media. Nor the US taxpayers who are financing the operation. The far-flung flag of the US empire continues to be planted in new and exciting places.

France maintains a Foreign Legion force in Senegal. But we did not put military personnel there to keep the French company. The real US interest is next door in bordering Mauritania. There was an attempted militarty coup there last week against the government of President Maaouya Ould Sid'Ahmed Taya. Maybe we should call him General Taya, since elections are neither frequent nor honest, and he acquired power by military coup in 1979.

Yawn! Another African military coup! So what? Mauritania is on everyone's list of the ten poorest countries in the world. Resources? Iron ore and gypsum are the major products. There are rumors of oil lying offshore, but the "oil conspiracy" fantasy is over-used to explain all. Most of the country is dry-as-sand desert.

It is not just the absence of elections that marks Mauritania as an anti-democracy. It is also its ugly anti-human rights record of oppression, torture, rape, and slavery. Yes, it signed the UN anti-slavery convetion in 1980, but Mauritania still has 80-90,000 slaves, black Africans serving their Berber masters. Occasional raids into Senegal raise that figure.

So,why has Mauritania now become a US protectorate? Yes, the US Air Force is in Senegal, flying missions into Mauritania, in order to keep General Taya in power. The spread of US democracy? Oh, yes.

The real reason is that al-Qaeda organized the militray coup last week. A little while back. General Taya decided it would be profitable to become a US ally. He got lots of aid money in doing so. Lots. All he had to do was to recognize Israel and to suppress the Muslim fundamentalists in his country. A small price to pay for all those US dollars! For the US, a little bribery is a wondrous thing! But the fundamentalists resented his moves. Hence their attmept to drive Taya from power last week. Their aim? To set up an al-Qaeda state in his place. That move panicked the White House and the US Defense Department. So, they sent the Air Force to Senegal toprotect General Taya's regime, implying that further military aid will be forthcoming. Certainly more $$$$$$$.

So, forget the slavery. Forget the non-elections. Forget the torture of political prisoners. Forget the use of rape as a political weapon. In the name of democracy the US will keep Taya in power.

It isn't easy being the world's only superpower! Of course, it isn't easy being a slave in Mauritainia!

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