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Think tanks wrap-up VII

  |   April 2, 2003 at 6:01 PM
WASHINGTON, April 2 (UPI) -- The UPI think tank wrap-up is a daily digest covering opinion pieces, reactions to recent news events and position statements released by various think tanks. This is the seventh of eight wrap-ups for April 2.


The Institute for Public Accuracy

(The IPA is a nationwide consortium of policy researchers that seeks to broaden public discourse by gaining media access for experts whose perspectives are often overshadowed by major think tanks and other influential institutions.)

WASHINGTON -- Supporting troops. Rumsfeld: lightning rod. City teach-in. U.S. credibility. 'Unavoidable' deaths.

-- Nancy Lessin and Charley Richardson are founding members of Military Families Speak Out. They have a son who has been deployed in the Gulf and just learned that he will be going into Iraq. They are in touch with over 300 other families of people from every branch of the military currently deployed in the Gulf.

"The most supportive thing that anyone can do for our troops right now is to halt this invasion and protect their lives as well as the people in Iraq. We need to end not just this war, but also a foreign policy that drives these aggressive wars ... If I saw my son getting into a car with a drunk driver, I would try to stop that car from moving. For me to stand on the side of the road and salute would be ridiculous."

-- Norman Solomon, co-author of the new book "Target Iraq" and executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy.

"While (Defense Secretary) Donald Rumsfeld serves as a lightning rod for criticism, the president of the United States has ultimate authority -- and ultimate responsibility -- for all major policy decisions. But the current debate over U.S. military strategy in Iraq is hollow; it routinely accepts the continuation of a war that is a flagrant violation of the U.N. Charter. The only way to end that violation -- and to halt the ongoing slaughter -- would be to stop the bombing and immediately withdraw American troops from Iraq."

-- Reese Erlich, co-author of "Target Iraq."

"The credibility of the U.S. military is highly suspect. It repeatedly claimed that Umm Qasr and An Nasiriya had fallen and that there was an uprising in Basra. Video provided by al-Jazeera, which still has a reporter in Basra, showed otherwise. Now, the U.S. military is attempting to disavow responsibility for the bombing in Baghdad that killed over 50 civilians. But Robert Fisk of Britain's Independent is on the ground and has published what appear to be the serial numbers of the U.S. missile that struck the Baghdad neighborhood."

-- Stephen Zunes is a professor of politics at the University of San Francisco, and author of "Tinderbox: U.S. Middle East Policy and the Roots of Terrorism."

"The Pentagon claims that civilian casualties are 'unavoidable.' This, however, is patently false. Civilian casualties are unavoidable only if the war is unavoidable. This war was not unavoidable." Zunes is a specialist on the Mideast, including Syria.


The National Center for Policy Analysis

(The NCPA is a public policy research institute that seeks innovative private sector solutions to public policy problems.)

DALLAS, Texas -- Costs and benefits of war

by Bruce Bartlett

Every day, Americans watch their televisions in awe as United States cruise missiles and precision bombs rain down on Baghdad. There is also much destruction going on elsewhere in Iraq. It may seem absurd, therefore, to suggest that the war in Iraq could somehow end up being an economic blessing for the Iraqi people. Yet that is the conclusion of an important new analysis of the war.

Written by three University of Chicago professors -- Steven Davis, Kevin Murphy and Robert Topel -- the study looks more carefully at the costs and benefits of war to Iraq than any previous analysis. It concludes that war is actually a good thing for Iraq.

First, the professors look at what the pre-war situation in Iraq was. They note that Saddam Hussein has been running the country into the ground for more than 20 years. Per capita gross domestic product was $9,000 (in 2002 dollars) in 1979, the year Saddam solidified his power. The most recent estimate puts per capita GDP at a little over $1,000.

In short, well before the first bomb fell on Iraq, the country had already suffered a devastating destruction of its economy equivalent to what might result from a major war. In less than a generation, Iraq went from being among the wealthiest countries on earth to among the poorest.

To be sure, U.N. sanctions imposed after the 1991 war contributed to the impoverishment of the Iraqi people. But those sanctions would have been lifted had Saddam simply been willing to live up to his own promises to disarm, cease efforts to obtain weapons of mass destruction, and end his support for international terrorism. He did not do so, therefore sanctions stayed in effect.

Even if sanctions had been lifted, however, Iraq still would be a poor country, owing to the state socialist policies imposed by Saddam. Virtually the entire economy is controlled by the state, with little room for private business much above the most primitive level. The banking system in Iraq has collapsed and inflation is estimated at about 100 percent per year. The Iraqi dinar was worth $3 as recently as 1983. Today, $1 will buy 2,700 dinars.

It is not known exactly how big the Iraqi government is, but estimates are that a third of the entire labor force is engaged in intelligence, police, security, military or paramilitary service -- 1.3 million people altogether out of a total labor force of just 4.4 million. Moreover, much of what the Iraqi government spends goes just for the personal gratification of Saddam and provides no benefit to the people.

According to Kenneth Pollack of the Brookings Institution, Saddam has built 50 new palaces for himself since 1991 -- many incredibly opulent, with gold faucets and such -- costing $2.5 billion per year in a country whose total GDP is just $60 billion, almost all of that accounted for by oil.

This being the case, the University of Chicago study estimates that more Iraqi civilians would die if the pre-war situation had remained in place. They estimate that at least 200,000 Iraqis would have died on top of the 500,000 that have already died at the hands of Saddam. Moreover, they estimate that maintaining the prewar policy of "containment" would have cost the United States some $380 billion -- far more than the war is likely to require.

This suggests that the war is a win-win situation for both the United States and Iraq. It is far cheaper to deal with Saddam now than allow the problem to fester for many more years. We will pay less out of pocket and the Iraqi people will suffer fewer deaths and less privation at the hands of Saddam. Once free to work and produce free of government control, Iraq could once again become one of the wealthiest nations on earth and its people could have a standard of living equivalent to those in Saudi Arabia or Kuwait.

But first, Saddam and his Baath Party henchmen must go. This is the essential precondition for both peace and prosperity in Iraq. Since they won't go voluntarily, there is no other course except to expel them from power by force.

Some say that Iraq is unsuited for either democracy or capitalism. They note that there is really no Arab or Muslim country that can really said to have both. But the same was said of Japan at the end of World War II. Yet that country -- whose pre-war history is not altogether different from Iraq's -- became a bastion of both democracy and capitalism.

The lack of role models in the Middle East should not discourage those who think its soil is inhospitable to freedom of either the political or economic variety. A similar argument was made about Latin America not too many years ago. But once counties like Chile and Mexico paved the way, others soon followed. Iraq could do the same for the Arab world.

(Bruce Bartlett is a senior fellow with the National Center for Policy Analysis.)


The Acton Institute

(The Acton Institute works to promote a free and virtuous society characterized by individual liberty and sustained by religious principles. Its goal is to help build prosperity and progress on a foundation of religious liberty, economic freedom, and personal moral responsibility.)

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich.-- Teachers need to be taught, too!

by Clint W. Green

"Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates correction is stupid."

-- Proverbs 12: 1

The Book of Proverbs provides much insight into the living of a virtuous life and its truths are as valid today as they were nearly 3,000 years ago. In the verse above, the author of Proverbs warns us that the person who hates being corrected is a person who is not wise and not likely ever to become so. No one enjoys being criticized, but most recognize that criticism and correction are essential for learning and living a virtuous life.

Two years ago, five Californians, including two teachers, began a Web site designed to give students the opportunity to offer just that type of correction and criticism to their teachers. The site, Ratemyteachers.com, allows students to rate their teachers' classroom performance, based on such criteria as "clarity" and "helpfulness." Since its inception in 2001, students from 13,369 schools across the United States and Canada have rated over 197,600 teachers.

Many teachers, no doubt, find this disturbing, as teachers at all levels tend to think tenure not only assures them a job, but protects them from criticism and evaluation as well. Already, over 100 schools or districts have blocked student access to the site via school computers.

Sadly, a large share of private and parochial schools have joined their government school colleagues in restricting student access to the site. The fact that many private and parochial schools discourage this type of evaluation is a further indication that government school groupthink has spilled over into the private school culture.

To be sure, there are a vast number of teachers -- the unsung heroes of education -- who do their job with great devotion, skill, and love. These are the teachers whose influence on young lives is lasting, first and foremost, because they bear witness to the love and discipline of learning. For teachers such as these, feedback and evaluation from their students has never been a cause for concern. However, for those teachers for whom mediocrity is the highest virtue, the fact that they might receive a report card from their students is simply more than they can bear.

Other teachers see Ratemyteachers.com as a platform for angry or mischievous students to attack teachers and damage reputations. Although the Web site is designed to filter out inappropriate language and to prevent students from making multiple entries, this can never be completely ruled out. Gordon Williams, a teacher at Brooklyn Tech High School, who was given a failing grade by the student-raters, dismissed the ratings, telling the New York Post: "It's geared to the student who's got a beef. It's unfair."

This particular rating system may indeed be unfair, although that has yet to be illustrated. But it brings into the light a much larger and more important issue. Education should be governed, where appropriate, by market-based incentives, and people are beginning to realize this. For some years, school districts have been offering to parents a general and vague report card on their teaching staffs, but now student are demanding to have their own say.

As Nancy Davis, co-founder of Ratemyteachers.com, told the New York Post, "Teachers haven't come under this type of scrutiny (before). The students are the consumers."

This simple point -- the recognition that students are the recipients of a service, paid for by the taxes of their parents -- represents a fundamental shift in thinking regarding education. It also places a moral demand on teachers, a demand that has always been present but which is finally being recognized for what it is. Teachers had grown accustomed to being the beneficiaries of taxpayer-funded educational entitlements, compliments of teacher unions and of tenure (a bond with greater protection in law than marriage these days).

Given the crisis-level failure of contemporary educational institutions and methods, teachers no longer find themselves immune from the forces of today's meritocratic market. More and more, teachers are required to demonstrate merit and competence -- in other words, to know their subject matter, to be able to teach it effectively with clarity and precision, and to live up to the appropriate expectations of the parents and students that they serve.

Teachers today are called to do what the author of the Book of Proverbs attempted to do so many years ago: to pass on to students, not merely information, but understanding, knowledge, and wisdom. The correction that comes from students evaluating their teachers can be an indispensable source of information to educators as they attempt to live out their vocation of service to students -- a vocation that requires competence in the practice of instilling a love of truth and a desire for wisdom.

"Stop listening to the words of instruction, my son, and you will stray from the words of knowledge." (Proverbs 19: 27).

Learning never ends and the person who loves truth enough to chance imparting it understands that, in some instances, the teacher should become the taught.

(Clint Green is the programs officer at the Acton Institute and a former middle school teacher.)

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