5 Best Thursday Columns

The Merchant of Death, the misconduct of generals and more

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  • James Ledbetter on Why the American Economy Won't Act Like Japan's  The notion that the U.S. economy will somehow morph into Japan's because of the current recession is simply "an annoying argument that won't go away," writes James Ledbetter at Slate. The writer then describes three main differences between Japan in the '90s and the U.S. recession: 1) Commercial land prices in Japan ballooned 500 percent before the bubble burst, a much higher number than the U.S. figure of 200 percent, 2) Many American corporations are posting healthy profits, unlike their debt-saddled Japanese counterparts, 3) The U.S. government acted much more swiftly to the crisis, as opposed to a Japanese government that "prolonged its malaise by unfathomable delays in policy response."
  • George Will on Israel and the 'Risks For Peace' Fallacy  Spare Israel the lectures on the need to take "risks for peace," writes the Washington Post columnist. Beset by intifada after offering "more than 90 percent of the West Bank" at Camp David, Israelis formed a consensus that it would be impossible to give as much as "any Palestinian interlocutor would demand." Now they are naturally skeptical of the calculus involved in sacrificing something "tangible and irrecoverable" for "something intangible and perishable." For a nation that has "never known an hour of real peace" amid frequent attacks, "patronizing American lectures" about the need for sacrifice ring hollow.

  • Charles A. Stevenson on General Misconduct  In a New York Times op-ed contribution, the John Hopkins University lecturer uses the case of Vietnam-era Air Force General John D. Lavelle to illustrate his argument that "a general should never act contrary to written orders, and certainly never on vague verbal cues." Lavelle's grave mistake was authorizing air-strikes on North Vietnamese positions without first being fired upon, an action contrary to the written rules of engagement. Although Lavelle was denied four-star general status upon his retirement, there has been a recent movement to posthumously grant him that honorable distinction. With the nation currently involved in two wars, Stevenson hopes that the Senate will hesitate to honor a general who acts contrary to formal orders, challenging "a core principle of our civilian control of the military."

  • Ed Royce on the Impending Freedom of the 'Merchant of Death'   The international arms dealer Victor Bout once simultaneously armed the Taliban and their Northern Alliance foes, fueled numerous civil wars in Africa, and built a complex enterprise that included a fleet of aging Soviet aircraft. Arrested in March 2008 by a joint operation between the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency and Thai authorities, he might very well go home to Russia a free man by Friday, concludes Ed Royce. "Bout walking free without being tried would be a miscarriage of justice that would severely harm U.S. relations with a key Asian ally," he writes. "Worse, there is little doubt that Bout would reclaim his arms franchise as a vengeful enemy of the United States and arm those targeting U.S. troops and interests around the world."

  • Sue Horton on Testing Teachers  Writing in The Los Angeles Times, Horton argues student performance on standardized tests is a flawed but nevertheless effective way of measuring teacher performance. She concedes that "so much of learning, and of excellent teaching, involves intangible things" before citing her own fifth grade teacher, who had her students write haikus and hold a Japanese tea ceremony. But, says Horton, if data can reveal which teachers are more successful at imparting the fundamentals of education, then it's clear that "the system should study what those teachers are doing right." Still, she hedges, no test measures "the equally important but less tangible kind of learning that comes from a tea ceremony."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.