Saturday, March 26, 2005

TODAY'S WASHINGTON POST has an interview with Condoleezza Rice, in which Rice talks at length about the Bush administration's "desire to see the spread of liberty and freedom as essential to the securing of a better future. ..." Here is some of what she said, with my commentary.

Q: All right let me ask you then, In these two countries [Saudi Arabia and Syria] do you hope that women are voting in any form of elections in Saudi Arabia within four years? Do you hope that Assad is out of power within four years? And Egypt, do you see want to see an election in which Mubarak has legitimate kind of competition as we do or as happens in any western country?

SECRETARY RICE: We've been very clear that we think that competitive presidential elections are to be desired. So yes, on competitive presidential elections. They will not look like American competitive presidential elections. I assume that American presidential elections are sui generis [unique] to this long history that we have.

In truth, the Republican Party leadership has been working very hard since well before the 2004 election to ensure that the United States will effectively have only one party. We should all hope that competitive presidential elections in Egypt or elsewhere will not look like American competitive presidential elections.

Q: How do you assess where we are in a region where we do know something, and where we know the language and we know the people? Here in our own hemisphere, where do you see things with Venezuela, with Haiti, Colombia?

SECRETARY RICE: Well the region has its challenges. It also has its successes. ...

I think part of the problem is that we need a new focus in the hemisphere on how democratic governments deliver better for their people. And in Monterrey, the so-called Monterrey consensus, really was about when you talk about development assistance, is how do you use development assistance to encourage good governance, to get people to deal with corruption.

Corruption is basically a tax on the poor, that's what corruption is. ...

Secretary Rice might want to turn her attention to the corruption inherent in legislators who pass a bill making it much harder for poor, working class, and middle class Americans to get relief from debt largely caused by predatory lending practices on the part of credit card companies who effectively pay said legislators to represent their interests rather than the interests of ordinary Americans.

...And how to deal with the education gap, the health gap, and to build stronger systems which, in a democratic society, can then actually be held accountable. The leaders can be held accountable.

Condi is talking about the education gap and the health gap in Latin America, but the same gaps exist in the United States; and here they are even worse, because the extremes between wealth and poverty are so much further apart.

The education gap starts early in the United States, and is exacerbated in many cases by the same kind of corruption Secretary Rice decries when it's happening in other countries. For example, a report released on March 18 by the General Accounting Office reveals that millions of dollars in Head Start funds are being siphoned off from the children who are supposed to be served by the program and going instead to enrich the people who run the program. The purpose of Head Start, of course, is to prevent the achievement gap between poor and financially secure children before it begins.

An October 7, 2003, study by the Education Commission of the States found that the education gap extends to higher education as well.

At a steady rate, there will be 2.3 million more students enrolled in post-secondary education by 2015. On the other hand, if the nation matches the participation rate of the top-performing states, there will be an additional eight million students enrolled by the same time. This difference is the "gap."

Judged from an international perspective, this raises some concerns for the United States. According to the study, the country is at risk of slipping "further behind the growing number of developed nations that have stepped up their efforts over the last decade to increase educational attainment."

The study is explicit as to why the nation must pay attention to post-secondary education on an international level.

"Human capital is the coin of the realm," it reads. "Educational attainment, measured in terms of the highest degree or level of schooling attained by the adult population, is the international currency used to assess the strength of a country's economy and its standard of living."

Sandra Ruppert, the project's director, emphasized the importance of solving the United States' own problems by recognizing the achievements of other nations.

"I think a lot of lessons will be learned from other countries -- the solutions extend beyond our own borders."

Furthermore, the study points out that higher levels of attainment are correlated with many other socially beneficial factors: higher per-capita earnings, health increases, family income, civic participation and a reduction in crime and child poverty.

That the United States is falling behind other countries in its access and attainment of post-secondary education is only the first warning sign that more attention needs to be paid to providing easier access to higher education, the study explains.

The study also points out that a greater number of people may soon be at risk of not having access to a college education at all based on age, racial and ethnic factors.

As for the health gap that troubles Rice in Latin America, the most obvious response is that when the richest country in the world has 45 million citizens with no way to pay for health care (and growing), that country really is not in the best position to lecture other countries about health gaps.

Q: Tiny follow up. What message does that send when you're giving F-16s to a military government that ousted a democratic regime at a time you're trying to promote democracy?

SECRETARY RICE: Robin, Pakistan is worlds away from where it was three and a half years ago. One has to look not at fixed points in time, you know, international politics is not like a satellite that comes over and takes a snapshot, takes a snapshot, it's a process.

But Condi is a diplomat now, and probably she would think it undiplomatic to say that the U.S. is selling F-16 fighter jets to Pakistan to reward Pakistan for being compliant with the Bush administration's policies on Afghanistan and Iraq. She certainly would not want to acknowledge that the Bush administration was willing to lie about Pakistan's involvement in the sale of nuclear material to Libya so as not to cause embarrassment or political damage to Washington's most important partner in the so-called "war on terror."

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