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Candide’s Latest: December 14, 2006


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Democrats’ Majority
Hanging By a Thread

It was too good to last. Or was it the arsenic in South Dakota’s Christmas water? From the Post: “Sen. Tim Johnson (D-S.D.) was in surgery last night after falling ill at the Capitol, introducing a note of uncertainty over control of the Senate just weeks before Democrats are to take over with a one-vote margin. Johnson, 59, was taken to George Washington University Hospital shortly after noon, where he underwent "a comprehensive evaluation by the stroke team," his office said. Aides later said he had not suffered a stroke or heart attack, but they offered no further comment or details of the surgery. The two-term senator's illness -- which sent Senate Democratic leader Harry M. Reid ( Nev.) rushing to the hospital to check on Johnson -- underscored the fragility of Democrats' hold on the next Senate, which they won by the narrowest of margins in the Nov. 7 elections. Should Johnson be unable to complete his term, South Dakota's Republican governor, Michael Rounds, would name a replacement for the next two years.” The full story…

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Education in America
How To Manufacture Drones

Michael Bloomberg, the New York Mayor, writes in today’s Wall Street Journal:

Today a bipartisan commission of high-profile academic, government, business and labor leaders selected by the National Center on Education and the Economy (NCEE) will release a report that provides a sobering assessment of our nation's education system: Only 18 out of 100 high-school freshmen will graduate on time, enroll directly in college and earn a two-year degree in three years or a four-year degree in six. Just 18! It used to be that those without college degrees could count on well-paying jobs in manual labor; those days are long gone. Now, not only are we losing low-skilled jobs to nations with lower wages, but more and more of these nations are developing education systems to compete with us for high-skilled jobs. And as technology and communications make the world a smaller place, they are growing ever more competitive. For much of the 20th century, the education level of America's work force was second-to-none. But others have caught up, and even moved past us. Now, unless we take bold action, we risk losing our competitive edge. The problem is not that America doesn't spend enough money on education -- we spend enormous amounts, far more than any other nation. But we're not getting a sufficient return on our investment. The fact is, our education system looks a lot like the U.S. auto industry in the 1970s -- stuck in a flabby, inefficient, outdated production model driven by the needs of employees rather than consumers. The full story…

Good points, all, until you remember the motive: to a “free” market zealot like Bloomberg, the freedom of education is a non-starter, an irrelevancy. The purpose of education is one-dimensional: to manufacture future workers and tax-payers. Education is a means to an end, not an end in itself. What education ought to be may be an endless debate along those lines. But there’s a dehumanizing aspect in play when the individual is made subordinate to an aim beyond himself, and in enough cases, in spite of himself. The worst of this is becoming apparent in, for example, Florida, where state law now requires eighth graders to “declare” a major and set themselves on a career path. It’s the Europe model of nailing down an individual’s place in society (rather than his aptitude). And it’s got nothing to do with education.

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Retarded Death Row
Barbarism With an American Face

From the Wall Street Journal: “At 8:30 a.m., Gregory Thompson, his hands cuffed to his waist, has already swallowed eight of the 12 pills he takes a day. Mr. Thompson is on death row at the Riverbend Maximum Security Institution, and like many prison inmates, he is mentally ill. In addition to his daily drug regimen, he receives an antipsychotic injection twice a month. The medication controls his paranoia, delusions, schizophrenia and depression. It may also make him competent enough to be executed in the oversized wooden chair housed in a building less than 100 yards away. Why the 45-year-old is here isn't in dispute. On New Year's Day 1985, he abducted Brenda Blanton Lane from a shopping-center parking lot in Shelbyville, Tenn., while stealing her car. He fatally stabbed the 28-year-old four times in the back. The last strike had such force that the butcher's knife he used came within millimeters of passing through her body. He left her to die at the end of an icy dirt road. Today, however, Mr. Thompson's case is at the center of a complex debate about the death penalty in the U.S. Recently, the Supreme Court ruled that mentally retarded defendants and juveniles cannot be sentenced to death. Mr. Thompson is asking the courts to decide whether mentally ill prisoners can be executed if rendered competent only by medication. His twice-delayed execution and similar cases are working through the judicial system; one will likely end up in front of the high court. There are more than 3,300 people awaiting execution in the U.S., according to the Death Penalty Information Center, a nonprofit group critical of how the death penalty is administered. Various organizations conservatively estimate that at least 10% of them suffer from serious mental illness. In all, about 17% of the nation's prisoners have a diagnosis of serious mental illness. The Supreme Court ruled 20 years ago that federal and state authorities could not execute defendants too insane to understand that they were about to be killed. But states have wide latitude to determine how sane a defendant must be in order to be executed. They can also choose to medicate defendants to reach that point, a practice that's been outlawed in at least three states with the death penalty. Some medical and legal groups argue that it puts doctors in an ethical bind: having to treat people in order for them to be killed.” See the full story…

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Carter on Carter
Worse Than Apartheid

Jimmy Carter writes at The Guardian’s blog: “It would be almost politically suicidal for members of Congress to espouse a balanced position between Israel and Palestine, to suggest that Israel comply with international law or to speak in defence of justice or human rights for Palestinians. Very few would deign to visit the Palestinian cities of Ramallah, Nablus, Hebron, Gaza City or Bethlehem and talk to the beleaguered residents. What is even more difficult to comprehend is why the editorial pages of the major newspapers and magazines in the US exercise similar self-restraint, quite contrary to private assessments expressed forcefully by their correspondents in the Holy Land. My new book, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, is devoted to circumstances and events in Palestine and not in Israel, where democracy prevails and citizens live together and are legally guaranteed equal status. It is already possible to judge public and media reaction. Sales are brisk, and I have had interesting interviews on TV. But I have seen few news stories in major newspapers about what I have written. Book reviews in the mainstream media have been written mostly by representatives of Jewish organisations who would be unlikely to visit the occupied territories, and their primary criticism is that the book is anti-Israel. Two members of Congress have been publicly critical. Some reviews posted on Amazon.com call me "anti-semitic," and others accuse the book of "lies" and "distortions". A former Carter Centre fellow has taken issue with it, and Alan Dershowitz called the book's title "indecent". Out in the real world, however, the response has been overwhelmingly positive. The book describes the abominable oppression and persecution in the occupied Palestinian territories, with a rigid system of required passes and strict segregation between Palestine's citizens and Jewish settlers in the West Bank. An enormous imprisonment wall is now under construction, snaking through what is left of Palestine, to encompass more and more land for Israeli settlers. In many ways, this is more oppressive than what black people lived under in South Africa during apartheid.” See the full post…

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Israeli Court’s Blessing
Assassinations Are Us

From the Jerusalem Post: “After five years of deliberations, a panel of three High Court of Justice judges ruled unanimously Thursday against a petition asking it to declare that the policy of targeted assassinations conducted by the army since the beginning of the second intifada was illegal. The ruling, however, conditioned approval on preventing harm to uninvolved Palestinian civilians and said monetary compensation should be dispensed to the families of innocents killed in such operations. The court emphasized in its ruling that not all targeted killings were identical, and therefore not always permissible by law. Every situation must be examined according to its specific situation before deciding whether or not to authorize a targeted killing, wrote the court. The court determined that civilians who were on their way to commit an attack against the IDF or civilians or had planned an attack or were in between carrying out a series of attacks were fair targets. However, civilians were not to be targeted for past actions if they had ceased participating in violent activities.” The full story…

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Why the French Riots Were a Good Thing
France’s Colonial Blowback

From Princeton professor and American of recent vintage Bernard Chazelle: “Should you one day be ordered at gunpoint to explain the provenance of the French motto in 10 seconds or else, you could do worse than say: “From the Enlightenment flows liberty; from the family equality; and from the Bible fraternity.” Then run. Liberty and equality are twin values doomed to live in perpetual tension. It is their sibling rivalry—not the relative merits of Yorkshire pudding and sauteed frog legs—that explains why the French and the Brits orbit in different planetary systems. This cosmological oddity did not escape Tocqueville's attention: “The French wish not to have superiors; the English wish to have inferiors.” For this, blame (who else?) the parents. Since the 17th century, the French peasant family has been governed by egalitarian inheritance rules that ensure the children equal shares of the loot. No such strictures across the Channel where, armed with that favorite cinematic device, the will, English parents have jealously guarded their freedom to screw over their least-favored kids. This, argues the eminent historian Emmanuel Todd, is the reason egalitarianism is inscribed in the French DNA in big block letters. Ever pondered why the French commiserate with striking transit workers who leave them stranded in the rain all day? Ever puzzled over their indifference toward five-time Tour de France winner, Bernard Hinault, and adulation of zero-time winner, Raymond Poulidor? Wonder no more: that the French don't need inferiors explains the commiseration; that they can't stand superiors accounts for the indifference. Todd links it all up to the equality-obsessed 17th-c Bassin Parisien.” Read the full essay at Bernard Chazelle’s home page…

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Blame It on World War II
Germany Smokes On

From the International Herald Tribune: “Smokers and their allies in Germany won a reprieve Wednesday after the government of Chancellor Angela Merkel backed away from supporting a ban in one of Europe's last bastions of tobacco freedom. The reprieve for smokers came after Merkel's coalition government of conservatives and Social Democrats discovered that its modest proposals to ban smoking in public places like restaurants, bars and nightclubs might run up against the federal Constitution. Forcing restaurants to allocate a section for nonsmokers would fall to the länder, or states, the government belatedly realized. Other countries, including Britain, Ireland and Italy, have banned smoking in public places and France plans to do so next year. But Germany, along with two other heavy smoking countries, Denmark and Luxembourg, continues to hold out on the protection of nonsmokers. Lawyers said the case in Germany was unique because of the complicated federal system established by the Allies after World War II.” The full story…

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Soy Milk Makes You Gay
 
Thanks to Firedoglake. And for a good deconstruction, go see Plunderbun's.

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