For reasons hard to fathom, President Obama is obsessed by Israeli settlement building on the West Bank. The Arabs of course play into this. The Palestinians see a pretext here for suspending peace negotiations until there is a complete building freeze — which they are unlikely to get and which would have the incidental effect of throwing thousands of Palestinian builders out of a job. One of the Arab ambassadors to the United Nations introduced a resolution in the Security Council condemning settlement building as illegal. President Obama spent 50 minutes pleading with Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian leader, to withdraw this resolution. Abbas has been boasting ever since about how he snubbed the president. When the resolution came before the Security Council, the U.S. hesitated, only to veto it in the end. Susan E. Rice, the American ambassador to the U.N., apologized for this and spoke about “the folly and illegitimacy” of Israeli settlement, condemning what she’d saved. The phrase usually attached to conduct of this sort is “getting the worst of both worlds.”
In the world of antiquity, it was universally known that even a lowly citizen of Rome traveled with the awesome might of the Senate and People of Rome behind him. Today, it’s clear that Americans do not enjoy the same courtesy. Not even diplomatic immunity spares them undue hindrance on the soil of a putative ally, as Raymond Davis has discovered. According to U.S. officials, Davis, a contractor for the CIA, shot dead two armed thieves in self-defense in Lahore, Pakistan, but has been detained by Pakistani authorities and put on trial for murder. This breach of international law is unpardonable. It is high time that Washington make plain to Islamabad that respect for the immunity of our diplomats is the least we expect, especially considering the vast sums of aid provided annually to the Pakistani government.
People living under dictatorship have the strange idea that they should have a different way of life. In China, dissidents have been calling for a “jasmine revolution.” In response, the authorities have, as usual, cracked heads. It is not enough merely to arrest people, as they have done; they beat them up. In Cuba, the first anniversary of the death of Orlando Zapata Tamayo seemed to be a danger to the Castro dictatorship. (Zapata was the prisoner of conscience who starved himself to death and became a rallying point for the opposition.) The dictatorship arrested almost 50 Cubans, beating many of them up, of course. For the past year, authorities have prevented Zapata’s mother from visiting his grave. They take no chances, even with old women in graveyards. Back in China, they are blocking the word “jasmine” in the various social media. This is ticklish, however. “Jasmine” is a popular Chinese folk song, a favorite of the former number one, Jiang Zemin, and a favorite of the current number one, Hu Jintao. There are videos of him singing the song while on a trip to Africa. Fidel Castro, to our knowledge, does not sing — although he attracts the admiration of singers. Carole King once crooned to him, “You’ve Got a Friend.” Better people are friends to his prisoners.
A managerial proverb attributed to Peter Drucker proclaims: “You get what you measure.” Until 2001, Welsh schools were required to publish “report cards” tracking their students’ performance on standardized national examinations, and ranked listings of schools were published in the newspapers. These “league tables” quickly developed an enthusiastic public following, as researchers from Britain’s Centre for Market and Public Organisation report, with communities being keenly aware of their local schools’ positions. Accountability in government not always being long-lived, the Welsh authorities banned the practice. What happened next was unsurprising: “We find significant and robust evidence that this reform markedly reduced school effectiveness in Wales,” the researchers conclude. Not, interestingly, for the top 20 percent of schools: High performers will be high performers. But there’s the other 80 percent to think of, and hiding the schools’ poor performance only enables their descent from mediocrity. Report cards for schools are necessary for the same reason as report cards for students: The grown-ups need to know how things are going. Like their British counterparts, U.S. teachers’ unions have consistently opposed making standardized-test scores and similar information easily and widely available. We’d ask what they are trying to hide, but we already know: The evidence is all around us.