Additional stops on a random walk through a garden of issues currently in the news . . .
A study of student performance on the National Assessment of Educational Progress test (NAEP) since the early 1970s reaches dismal conclusions. On a scale of 500, test scores by today's high-schoolers average a pitiful one point higher in reading and just two points higher in math.
Do the scores not shout that la-de-da experimentation (today's "progressive education") doesn't cut it -- and teachers should take the kids and run, not walk, back to the basics?
Possibly the best development during the new administration is the replacement of the top general in Afghanistan -- a conventional warfare guy -- with two generals boasting extensive experience in special operations. As Defense Secretary Robert Gates said in announcing his decision, "From a military perspective, we can and must do better."
As for instance Ulysses Grant did in the 1860s, Matthew Ridgway in Korea, and David Petraeus with the late-hour "surge" in Iraq, surely in Afghanistan the right generals can put us on the road to victory.
Israel's new prime minister will meet America's new president Monday -- and the principal topic of discussion likely will be, or should be . . . Iran. President Obama wants an independent homeland for the Palestinians. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu concurs with that long-term objective.
But Netanyahu regards dealing effectively with Iran -- its nuclear ambition, its practice of terror through clients such as Hezbollah and Hamas, and its President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad the Mad -- as central to the success of both a Palestinian entity and Middle Eastern peace.
The White House budget office now acknowledges the Obama administration's first-year budget deficit will at least quadruple the record-setting final-year deficit of the Bush administration -- all deficits in all budgets of course ratified by the practically useless U.S. Congress.
Remember the screaming outrage at Bush/Republican deficit spending? It's funny -- isn't it? -- the deafening silence that greets a looming one-year Obama/Democrat deficit at least four times higher.
As he did regarding so much, Mark Twain had it right about your on-the-job federal legislators -- saying: "No man's life, liberty, or property is safe while Congress is in session."
Then there's ethanol. Both the president and his congressional rubber-stamps are gaga over the stuff. They favor corn-derived ethanol as a gasoline additive that will drive down U.S. foreign petroleum dependence.
Yet: (1) Federal subsidies for ethanol drive up the cost of food (last year by about $1 trillion worldwide). And (2) last year ethanol displaced maybe 3 percent of domestic oil usage -- a figure requiring the dedication of 300 million acres of cropland to producing corn not to feed human beings but to help power their cars.
Oh, great. During the past month computer spies hacked into the Pentagon's $300 billion Joint Strike Fighter project -- the nation's costliest weapons system ever. Hackers also penetrated (stole?) the database of Virginia's Prescription Monitoring Program -- containing not only 35 million prescriptions but the patient records of Virginians by the millions.
So, seductive as digitizing the medical records of every American may sound, perhaps those harboring privacy/security concerns have a telling point.
Think times are not tough for newspapers? Consider these numbers for the Boston Globe, long one of the country's premier journalistic properties. The New York Times bought The Globe in 1993 for $1.1 billion -- at that time the most ever paid for any newspaper. In 2006 The Times rejected a $550 million offer for The Globe -- half the 1993 purchase price -- as too low.
With The Times now wrestling with Globe unions for concessions to keep the presses rolling, the paper's estimated value: $12-$20 million.
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