Monday, November 12, 2007

Russia, School Vouchers, and Iran

Perhaps Putin “Gets It” Now
To say that U.S. relations with Russia have been strained in recent years is an understatement. While many held out hope that Russia might become an ally in the post-Cold War world, the relationship turned chilly as President Vladimir Putin, a former KGB officer, sought to reassert Russian power in the world with a series of provocative gestures, including Russia’s refusal to back tougher measures against Iran. In fact, many observers viewed Putin’s recent visit to Tehran as a public rebuke of the West, as he almost seemed to be encouraging the Islamic Republic’s defiance.

But now there are leaks coming out of the Kremlin that suggest Putin may have left Tehran with a very different attitude. Iranian-born journalist Amir Taheri reports that Putin advisors are now saying that the Russian president was “taken aback” and “had not expected what he heard.” What exactly did he hear? Just consider the following quote from a senior Russian official:

“This was the first time that Putin was talking to senior Islamic Republic leaders in a substantive and focused way. The president found his Iranian interlocutor weird, to say the least. The Iranians mouthed a lot of eschatological nonsense and came close to urging Putin to convert to Islam. It was clear they lived in a world of their own.”

Taheri also reports that both Iranian “president” Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei gave Putin the impression that, “‘they settle matters in the metaphysical space’ and with ‘the help of the Hidden Imam.’” Moreover, the Russian officials said, “The Iranians think they have already won. So intoxicated they appeared with hubris that they did not even ask Putin to help them ward off further United Nations sanctions.”

This is crucial, friends, because according to the Shiite sect that Ahmadinejad follows, the “Hidden Imam,” or Islamic messiah, will only return after an apocalyptic conflagration. Ahmadinejad believes he is fulfilling Islamic prophecy through Iran’s nuclear program! Let’s hope that after sitting down face-to-face and looking into the eyes of this madman that Putin now understands the threat confronting the civilized world. Remember this report the next time you hear a politician suggest that we need to engage the mullahs diplomatically or offer them economic incentives. The last time the world trusted a madman’s signature on a scrap of paper promising “peace in our time,” millions lost their lives.






Indian Air Force Gets Screwed
India's recent deal to partner with Russia in the development and production of a "Fifth Generation Fighter" has caused some unrest in the senior ranks of the Indian Air Force. Some generals believe India is paying too much ($5 billion, about half the development cost) and is not involved enough. The Russians have frozen the design of the aircraft. This is not to say that Indian air force generals cannot have some input when changes have to be made during development, but the current deal does not force the Russians to pay much attention.

The Russian-Indian effort is meant to build a superior aircraft to the American F-22. The Sukhoi T-50 is not expected to fly until 2010, and won't be in service for another 5-10 years (depending on how quickly the new technology can be obtained). The T-50 looks a lot like the F-22. The 37 ton T-50 is about the same weight as the F-22, and has a similar shape.

The benefits of the Russia-Indian cooperation are many. In addition to the financial and technical help, Russia will have a guaranteed export customer, and a better chance at increasing the number produced, and bringing down the per-aircraft cost. If only 200 are produced, each aircraft will carry a $50 million share of the development cost. Manufacturing costs for each aircraft could be as much as $100 million. While Russia and India have lower labor costs, wage rates are not a major factor here. You have to build a lot of expensive, and precise, production facilities.

In addition to stealth, super-cruise and multiple sensors (some of them passive), the T-50 will also contain multiple electronic systems, all possessing a lot of technology that neither Russia, nor, India, have at the moment. While Russia has its spies trying to steal all the technogoodies it can, that may not be enough.

For the last 70 years, the Russians have been designing hot (although often flawed) aircraft, that tended to be flown by low quality pilots. The Russians say they are trying to break out of this cycle, but they've been saying that for several decades. Their last generation of fighters, the MiG-29 and Su-27, like all those before it, performed poorly against American fighters. But the Indians believe this is more a reflection of pilot, than aircraft, quality. With the T-50, they will have a fighter far superior to anything Pakistan or China possess. That's worth $5 billion, and not being allowed to tinker with the design. This assumes that the cooperation deal involves the understanding that the aircraft will not be sold to China or Pakistan. By StrategyPage







School Vouchers, Please!
By Tom McLaughlin

It’s my misfortune to have been a public school teacher during the more than three decades that public education has been in decline. The reasons are too voluminous to account for here, but I’ll point out two: increased power of teachers’ unions and increased intervention by big government.

The teachers’ unions make it so expensive to get rid of bad teacher that administrators usually just try to just work around them. One report claims it costs an average of $200,000 in legal fees to fire someone if the union contests it. How can a principal build an effective team if (s)he can’t get rid of dead wood? Under most contracts, the only easy way to get rid of a teacher is through the RIF process – Reduction In Force. If a budget is cut or if student enrollment declines, teachers can be laid off – but administrators still don’t have the option of laying off dysfunctional teachers. It has to be “last hired, first fired.”

Then the federal government enters the picture and mandates that local districts spend more and more on students who don’t function well. Trouble is, many slow learners for whom this spending was originally intended over thirty years ago are being dropped from services. They get help in their early grades, but then they’re tested again in middle school and even though they’re still struggling, regulations say they’re operating at the level they’re capable of and they’re declared ineligible for services. Meanwhile, students who are quite capable but who won’t function for whatever reason, receive most of the help. They get an increasing share of services while many slow learners are cut loose to fend for themselves. Regular classroom teachers are expected to tailor their curricula to slow learners who have been reclassified as “low normal.” At the same time, they must put up with the presence of the others who can work but won’t and they must try to keep bright, motivated students interested – all in the same room at the same time. Educational “experts” insist this can be done if teachers receive training in “differentiation.” One result of this is the grade inflation prevalent at nearly every level of education.

As in so many other social programs since the 1960s, millions and millions of our tax dollars are spent to subsidize dysfunction in public education. Why should we be surprised when it increases? Such students learn that the less they do for themselves, the more someone will step in and do it for them. It’s called “learned helplessness” and it has a pronounced effect on the atmosphere of a class. Such kids do nearly nothing for themselves because they’ve learned that there are essentially no consequences for drifting along. They’re passed along year after year. Few ever stay back anymore because the “progressive” experts insist it does them no good. And, they insist that students be grouped heterogeneously – that is, the functional ones are in the same classes as the dysfunctional ones. This way, a whole class is held back rather than just the students who refuse to learn. This condition is most pronounced in middle school, because in high school students may choose advanced courses after the first year and the many dysfunctional students drop out along the way. The “experts” are afraid of grouping students according to their ability and their willingness to do the work necessary to learn, because bright, motivated students would progress so much that the gap between the functional and dysfunctional would become a chasm and attract scrutiny.

The teachers’ unions are the biggest constituents of the Democrat Party and major donors as well. With their pronounced Leftist bias, they push the party to port and are largely responsible for bringing Planned Parenthood sex education programs and homosexual activists into public schools with all the accompanying propaganda.

Students down to kindergarten level are exposed to it. What’s going on at Portland, Maine’s King Middle School lately – prescribing birth control to middle schoolers – is a good example of how far that envelope is being pushed.

Whatever money is left over in union coffers after contributing to Democrat candidates is used to fight voucher initiatives in whatever city or state they might arise. The unions know that if low and middle income parents had a choice about where to send their children to school, it wouldn’t be the local public school for many. With the choices vouchers would offer, the enormous political power of the teacher’s union monopoly would be smashed and public schools would have to compete for students. Unions insist that voucher initiatives would “take money away from public schools,” but one wonders what kind of fuzzy math they use to make those calculations. It costs an average of over $10,000 per year for each student in public schools. Voucher initiatives which the unions have defeated over and over call for less than half that amount to be spent for students to go to private schools. Parents would kick in the rest. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that vouchers would leave more money for public schools, not less.

In spite of all this, my career has provided much reward because I've had the freedom to deliver my curriculum the best way I can and it's been my privilege to work with almost three thousand Maine children, most of them terrific kids. Also, I know that although union power is at its greatest.

Right now, cracks are beginning to form. The Utah legislature passed a voucher initiative and the governor signed it. The teachers' union forced it to referendum and defeated it Tuesday after outspending the proponents. New York City, however, is considering one. Cracks are widening.



U.S. Says Attack Plans for Iran Ready
U.S. defense officials have signaled that up-to-date attack plans are available if needed in the escalating crisis over Iran's nuclear aims, although no strike appears imminent.

The Army and Marine Corps are under enormous strain from years of heavy ground fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. Still, the United States has ample air and naval power to strike Iran if President Bush decided to target nuclear sites or to retaliate for alleged Iranian meddling in neighboring Iraq.

Among the possible targets, in addition to nuclear installations like the centrifuge plant at Natanz: Iran's ballistic missile sites, Republican Guard bases, and naval warfare assets that Tehran could use in a retaliatory closure of the Straits of Hormuz, a vital artery for the flow of Gulf oil.

The Navy has an aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf area with about 60 fighters and other aircraft that likely would feature prominently in a bombing campaign. And a contingent of about 2,200 Marines are on a standard deployment to the Gulf region aboard ships led by the USS Kearsarge, an amphibious assault ship. Air Force fighters and bombers are available elsewhere in the Gulf area, including a variety of warplanes in Iraq and at a regional air operations center in Qatar.

But there has been no new buildup of U.S. firepower in the region. In fact there has been some shrinkage in recent months. After adding a second aircraft carrier in the Gulf early this year - a move that Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said was designed to underscore U.S. long-term stakes in the region - the Navy has quietly returned to a one-carrier presence.

Talk of a possible U.S. attack on Iran has surfaced frequently this year, prompted in some cases by hard-line statements by White House officials. Vice President Dick Cheney, for example, stated on Oct. 21 that the United States would "not allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon," and that Iran would face "serious consequences" if it continued in that direction. Gates, on the other hand, has emphasized diplomacy.

Bush suggested on Oct. 17 that Iran's continued pursuit of nuclear arms could lead to "World War III." Yet on Wednesday, in discussing Iran at a joint press conference with French President Nicolas Sarkozy, Bush made no reference to the military option.

"The idea of Iran having a nuclear weapon is dangerous, and, therefore, now is the time for us to work together to diplomatically solve this problem," Bush said, adding that Sarkozy also wants a peaceful solution.

Iran's conventional military forces are generally viewed as limited, not among the strongest in the Middle East. But a leading expert on the subject, Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, says it would be a mistake to view the Islamic republic as a military weakling.

"Its strengths in overt conflict are more defensive than offensive, but Iran has already shown it has great capability to resist outside pressure and any form of invasion and done so under far more adverse and divisive conditions than exist in Iran today," Cordesman wrote earlier this year.

Cordesman estimates that Iran's army has an active strength of around 350,000 men.

At the moment, there are few indications of U.S. military leaders either advising offensive action against Iran or taking new steps to prepare for that possibility. Gates has repeatedly emphasized that while military action cannot be ruled out, the focus is on diplomacy and tougher economic sanctions.

A long-standing responsibility of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is to maintain and update what are called contingency plans for potential military action that a president might order against any conceivable foe. The secret plans, with a range of timelines and troop numbers, are based on a variety of potential scenarios - from an all-out invasion like the March 2003 march on Baghdad to less demanding missions.

Another military option for Washington would be limited, clandestine action by U.S. special operations commandos, such as Delta Force soldiers, against a small number of key nuclear installations.

The man whose responsibility it would be to design any conventional military action against Iran - and execute it if ordered by Bush - is Adm. William Fallon, the Central Command chief. He is playing down prospects of conflict, saying in a late September interview that there is too much talk of war.

"This constant drumbeat of conflict is what strikes me, which is not helpful and not useful," Fallon told Al-Jazeera television, adding that he does not expect a war against Iran. During a recent tour of the Gulf region, Fallon made a point of telling U.S. allies that Iran is not as strong as it portrays itself. "Not militarily, economically or politically," he said.

Fallon's immediate predecessor, retired Army Gen. John Abizaid, raised eyebrows in September when he suggested that initiating a war against Iran would be a mistake. He urged vigorous efforts to stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, but failing that, he said, "There are ways to live with a nuclear Iran." He also said he believed Iran's leaders could be dissuaded from using nuclear arms, once acquired.

The possibility of U.S. military action raises many tough questions, beginning perhaps with the practical issue of whether the United States knows enough about Iran's network of nuclear sites - declared sites as well as possible clandestine ones - to sufficiently set back or destroy their program. Among other unknowns: Iran's capacity to retaliate by unleashing terrorist strikes against U.S. targets. Nonmilitary specialists who have studied Iran's nuclear program are doubtful of U.S. military action. "There is a nontrivial chance that there will be an attack, but it's not likely," said Jeffrey Lewis, director of a nuclear strategy project at the New America Foundation, a nonpartisan public policy group.






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