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Al Gore considers US democracy in grave danger due to news media

Fellow Fulbrighter Harry recommends a speech by former Vice President Al Gore who promoted his Current TV network at the "We Media" conference. Al Gore's speech began with the dire warning:

American democracy is in grave danger. It is no longer possible to ignore the strangeness of our public discourse . I know that I am not the only one who feels that something has gone basically and badly wrong in the way America's fabled "marketplace of ideas" now functions. (...) More than four years [after 9/11], between a third and a half [of all Americans] still believe Saddam was personally responsible for planning and supporting the attack. At first I thought the exhaustive, non-stop coverage of the O.J. trial was just an unfortunate excess that marked an unwelcome departure from the normal good sense and judgment of our television news media.
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Famous Berlin Airlift base Rhein-Main is closed

The Rhein-Main Air Base near Frankfurt was the central hub for American military forces in Europe since the end of World War II. The base played a crucial role in the wars in Korea, Vietnam, and Iraq. During the 1948-1949 blockade of West Berlin, the US Air Force delivered everything the West-Berliners needed to survive (food, fuel, medicine, hope) in 190.000 flights, most of them from Rhein Main. (The UK -- and to some extend France -- flew many additional flights.) On average every three minutes a "candy bomber" (Rosinenbomber) landed in Berlin during the 15 months long blockade. 31 US servicemen and women lost their lives. The base will now be incorporated into an expansion of Frankfurt Airport. The US bases Ramstein and Spangdahlem have been upgraded to pick up the slack from the closure of Rhein-Main.
The highest ranking German politician attending the closure ceremony was the finance minister of the state of Hessen. Members of the federal government or the city government of Berlin did not participate.
Blogger Jim Bass perceives a general lack of of gratefulness today. More reports in the Mudville Gazette and in the German FAZ.

Standing up for moral values in the war on terrorism

Many people around the world believe that the United States does not anymore live by Benjamin Franklin's famous principle "They who would give up an essential liberty for temporary security, deserve neither liberty or security." And it is indeed of concern that a federal appeals court panel ruled in September that the president has the authority to indefinitely detain a U.S. citizen without charge as an enemy combatant, as the Washington Times reports. (The Supreme Court will probably have the final word.)

However, the US Senate, an army captain and a US District judge have recently made courageous decisions in support of Benjamin Franklin's principle regarding the interrogation of detainees and the release of unpublished Abu Ghraib pictures. MSNBC informs us that

The Republican-controlled Senate voted Wednesday to impose restrictions on the treatment of terrorism suspects, delivering a rare wartime rebuke to President Bush. Defying the White House, senators voted 90-9 to approve an amendment that would prohibit the use of "cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment" against anyone in U.S. government custody, regardless of where they are held. (...) Bush administration officials say the legislation would limit the president's authority and flexibility in war. But lawmakers from each party have said Congress must provide U.S. troops with clear standards for detaining, interrogating and prosecuting terrorism suspects in light of allegations of mistreatment at Guantanamo Bay and the abuse scandal at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. "We demanded intelligence without ever clearly telling our troops what was permitted and what was forbidden. And when things went wrong, we blamed them and we punished them," said McCain, a prisoner of war in Vietnam.

Senator McCain (R-Ariz), who proposed the amendment, cited a letter he received from Army Capt. Ian Fishback. The Washington Post published his entire letter, which includes these quotes:

Despite my efforts, I have been unable to get clear, consistent answers from my leadership about what constitutes lawful and humane treatment of detainees. I am certain that this confusion contributed to a wide range of abuses including death threats, beatings, broken bones, murder, exposure to elements, extreme forced physical exertion, hostage-taking, stripping, sleep deprivation and degrading treatment. I and troops under my command witnessed some of these abuses in both Afghanistan and Iraq. (...)
Some argue that since our actions are not as horrifying as Al Qaeda's, we should not be concerned. When did Al Qaeda become any type of standard by which we measure the morality of the United States? We are America, and our actions should be held to a higher standard, the ideals expressed in documents such as the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. (...) Do we sacrifice our ideals in order to preserve security? Terrorism inspires fear and suppresses ideals like freedom and individual rights. Overcoming the fear posed by terrorist threats is a tremendous test of our courage. Will we confront danger and adversity in order to preserve our ideals, or will our courage and commitment to individual rights wither at the prospect of sacrifice? My response is simple. If we abandon our ideals in the face of adversity and aggression, then those ideals were never really in our possession. I would rather die fighting than give up even the smallest part of the idea that is "America."

Similarly, US District Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein defended US ideals at the expense of US security by ordering the release of unpublished Abu Ghraib photos. The Boston Globe writes:

Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, had argued in court papers that releasing the photographs would aid al-Qaida recruitment, weaken the Afghan and Iraqi governments and incite riots against American troops. But the judge said: "My task is not to defer to our worst fears, but to interpret and apply the law, in this case, the Freedom of Information Act, which advances values important to our society, transparency and accountability in government." (...) An appeal of Hellerstein's ruling is expected, which could delay release of the pictures for months.

Top graduates teach to the poor in attempt to tackle education disparities

"I think I'm like a lot of people who know they want to do something meaningful before they start their careers." says Lucas E. Nikkel, a recent Dartmouth graduate and one of nearly 2,2000 participants in the Teach for America program, which according to the NY Times

sends recent college graduates into poor rural and urban schools for two years for the same pay and benefits as other beginning teachers at those schools. (...)

Teach for America officials believe that the program's recruitment success is a sign of the "post-9/11 generation's commitment to public service" and reflects "college students' belief that education disparities are our generation's civil rights issue." Teach for America attracts many graduates from top colleges

who want to contribute to improving society while keeping their options open, building an ever-more impressive résumé and delaying long-term career decisions. (...) Teach for America grew out of a senior thesis by Wendy Kopp, a Princeton student, proposing a national teacher corps. Ms. Kopp quickly got seed money from Exxon Mobil, then, with a small staff, began a grass-roots recruitment campaign that yielded 500 fledgling teachers, who were placed in six regions in 1990.

Evaluations of the Teach for America members' performances are not so impressive. Besides, while they make a great effort for two years, the general education problem continues:

Teaching does not pay much. It is not glamorous. And the qualifications of most young people going into the field are less than impressive. A report by the National Council on Teacher Quality last year said that the profession attracts "a disproportionately high number of candidates from the lower end of the distribution of academic ability."

Meanwhile in Germany: Two students at the University of Saarland have designed a coaster that can tell servers when someone needs a refill. The device senses the weight of a beer mug placed on it and signals to the bar when one is close to empty.