Friday, April 20, 2018

From the Archives: Virginia GOP Senate candidate E.W. Jackson argues for drug-law reform

Virginia GOP Senate candidate E.W. Jackson argues for drug-law reform
May 31, 2012 4:28 PM MST

U.S. Senate candidate E.W. Jackson told a group of Virginia Republican activists last weekend that he disagrees with current drug laws and that he is “committed to the idea that we should not be locking people up for the recreational use” of drugs like marijuana.

Jackson, a Harvard-educated lawyer and ordained minister, is one of four candidates in a GOP primary election on June 12. He was responding to a question posed by a member of the Republican Liberty Caucus in Arlington County on May 26 about what the appropriate role of government should be in regulating things like medical marijuana and other drugs.

Did he inhale?
In the course of his answer, Jackson admitted his own past use of illicit drugs and did not apologize for it.

E.W. Jackson Senate candidate drug law reform
“I don’t use drugs, obviously,” he said, “but I have.”

Jackson added that, “as a minister,” he tells his congregation that “it’s better not to do drugs. It’s better not to even use alcohol -- not that I think using alcohol is some sort of mortal sin, but it has a way of getting control of people’s lives sometimes, so you’re better off staying away from it.”

Continuing, Jackson referred to a recent rant by magician and Celebrity Apprentice contestant, Penn Jillette, about the inequities of the war on drugs.

“Let me say, I really am bothered by the idea that we are putting people in jail for getting high,” he explained.

‘Spoke to my heart’
“It’s interesting,” he added, that there’s “somebody who I probably don’t have a lot in common with, Penn Jillette, [who] really spoke to my heart and I had to take a step back when he said, ‘the president has confessed to using cocaine, he’s confessed to using marijuana. The only reason he is president is that he didn’t get caught. If he had been caught, his life would have been completely different.’”

Pausing dramatically, Jackson went on:

“Now folks, I can say the same thing. That’s what arrested me. I can say the same thing. I don’t think we should be locking people up and saddling people with felonies because they have used recreational drugs.”

The Senate candidate did express some skepticism about whether legalizing all currently illegal drugs would “eliminate the crime associated with” the drug trade.

Should not lock people up
He did, however, express openness to the idea of decriminalizing marijuana and other drugs by saying that he is “committed to this idea that we should not be locking people up for the recreational use of those drugs -- at the very least, of those drugs that we agree don’t put people in a position to do things that are going to destroy their lives and more importantly the lives of others.”

Jackson’s opponents in next month’s U.S. Senate primary are former Governor George Allen, Delegate Bob Marshall, and Tea Party activist Jamie Radtke.

A video recording of Jackson’s remarks to the Republican Liberty Caucus is available on YouTube.


Publisher's note: This article was originally published on Examiner.com on May 31, 2012. The Examiner.com publishing platform was discontinued July 1, 2016, and its web site went dark on or about July 10, 2016.  I am republishing this piece in an effort to preserve it and all my other contributions to Examiner.com since April 6, 2010. It is reposted here without most of the internal links that were in the original.




Guest Post: Americans support legal marijuana – but states don't agree on how to regulate it


Santiago Guerra, Colorado College

On 4/20, many across the U.S. gather to celebrate their love and appreciation for marijuana.

marijuana leaf
Polls show that 64 percent of Americans favor legalizing marijuana. But, despite the majority support, there’s no clear consensus on how it should be regulated. As a researcher who has studied the impact of drugs in the U.S. and Mexico, it’s been captivating to watch states adapt as they attempt to regulate this illicit and stigmatized substance.

Many states permit medical marijuana, but there’s a wide variety of approaches. Today, 29 states currently permit medical marijuana and have an established system for regulating it.

Another 17 states have limited medical programs. These programs provide access to products with low levels of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and high levels of cannabidiol (CBD), with the goal of eliminating the “high” and maximizing medical benefits. Beyond that, the conditions doctors and patients can treat with cannabis vary from state to state.

Minnesota, New York and West Virginia don’t permit marijuana smoking as part of their medical programs. West Virginia, however, allows patients to vaporize marijuana plant matter, while Minnesota only permits consumption of marijuana in liquid extract form.

Colorado, where I am based, has a much more expansive medical program. Patients can access an array of products, from extracts to strains of raw plant material. While New York caps the amount of THC that a product dose may contain, Colorado and other states have no such limit on their medical marijuana products.



Meanwhile, recreational marijuana use has been approved for adults 21 and over by nine states: Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont and Washington, as well as the District of Columbia.

However, once again, states haven’t implemented their policies uniformly. Vermont, for example, does not currently have a system for commercial sale and distribution, and only allows individuals to cultivate two plants. Colorado, on the other hand, has developed a robust commercial system, allows individuals to grow up to six plants, and limits the amount of marijuana products an individual can possess.

Most states have struggled with how to navigate the public consumption of cannabis, which remains illegal. As states continue to debate and implement marijuana policies, the American public will begin to recognize what works (and what doesn’t).

The ConversationWhile these policy inconsistencies may raise concerns for some constituents, these state experiments are a valuable way to figure out how this substance works and how it affects society.

Santiago Guerra, Assistant Professor of Southwest Studies, Colorado College

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Guest Post: Is Ryan Kelly's Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph an American 'Guernica'?

Jennifer Wenzel, Columbia University

On Aug. 12, 2017, Charlottesville Daily Progress photographer Ryan M. Kelly captured the moment that Nazi sympathizer James Alex Fields, Jr. drove his Dodge Challenger into a crowd of counterprotesters, injuring 19 and killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer. It’s probably the most enduring image to emerge from the weekend of “Unite the Right” rallies in Charlottesville, Va.

Eight months later, Kelly’s iconic photograph from that tragic day has earned him the Pulitzer Prize for Breaking News Photography.

At first glance, the photograph is nearly impossible to make sense of visually or politically. Cars are not supposed to drive into pedestrians; fellow citizens are not supposed to kill each other over political differences. And there’s so much in the frame of the image – so many figures and forms crowded together, most only partially visible – that you can’t take it in all at once.

Pablo Picasso’s 1937 iconic mural “Guernica” might teach us how to interpret this image more closely, and why it is important to do so. Like Kelly’s photograph, “Guernica” conveys a moment of terror through a jumble of forms and fragments that seem to make no sense.

In April 1937, a different sort of “Unite the Right” moment took place in fascist Europe during the destruction of Guernica. At the request of General Franco, the leader of nationalist insurgents in the Spanish Civil War, German and Italian warplanes bombarded the Basque town in northern Spain. Terror rained from the sky: Hundreds of civilians were killed, while military targets were left unscathed.

Days later, as May Day protesters filled the streets of Paris, Pablo Picasso began what would become an anti-war masterpiece.



Pablo Picasso Guernica

Pablo Picasso, ‘Guernica’ (1937).
Reina Sofia



There are uncanny echoes of Picasso’s “Guernica” in Kelly’s photograph. Picasso used the Cubist techniques of fragmentation and collage to create a visual cry of anguish at the destruction wrought by men at the controls of war machines.

To make sense of the painting, you must do the work of reassembling what has been rendered apart. Yet you will never make sense of such destruction. You cannot merely glance at this massive painting or take it in all at once; you must stand and look and witness. There is nothing beautiful about it. It refuses to console. However, in the painting’s abstraction – its matte shades of gray, its distorted figures that stand in for the wounded and the dead – there is a kind of mercy toward its viewers and these victims.

If there is any mercy of abstraction in Kelly’s photograph, it is that of time. The image captures the moment in medias res – when the bodies of the men near its center still evoke the beauty of the human form in its wholeness.



Pulitzer Prize photograph Charlottesville


Ryan M. Kelly/The Daily Progress



Yet we know the victims are not whole; that is why it hurts to look. The contorted positions of the man in red and white sneakers and the man somersaulting above him make sense only in the realm of sports photography. But this is not a game.

Elsewhere the photograph captures only fragments: arms and hands, legs and feet, heads and faces. Empty shoes on the ground. Sunglasses. A cellphone in midair.

You will never make sense of this image because it makes no sense. (Or, rather, it makes as much sense as racism itself.) Yet to look away risks turning away from the truths it tells. A heavy aspect of our national tragedy is that we seem to lack a president – such as Abraham Lincoln – whose heart might break to see such carnage.

As he kept reworking “Guernica,” Picasso painted over a raised fist he had initially drawn near the center of the canvas. Then – as now – the raised fist is a symbol of solidarity against fascism. It makes an eerie reappearance on two posters in the top third of Kelly’s photograph.

“Guernica” includes small lines resembling newsprint. The Charlottesville photojournalist’s image is also crowded with text; some of it implicates the driver, while other words are a call to action.

Clear as day, there’s the incriminating license plate. No one can deny that this car drove into this crowd, as the colluding European fascists did when they claimed that Guernica had been bombed by Spanish Republican forces.

Then there’s the collage of protest signs and street signs that the neo-Nazi at the wheel didn’t heed: Peace/Black Lives Matter. Solidarity. STOP. LOVE. BLACK LIVES. STOP.

Kelly’s photograph redirects these injunctions to the viewer, who’s left to wonder whether this is what our democracy – or the state of our union – looks like.

The ConversationThis is an updated version of an article originally published on Aug. 17, 2017.

Jennifer Wenzel, Associate Professor of English and Comparative Literature and Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies, Columbia University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


Wednesday, April 11, 2018

You Keep Using That Phrase, I Do Not Think It Means What You Think It Means

Statue of liberty in a cage An article published this week in Foreign Policy brought to mind the memetic line of Inigo Montoya from The Princess Bride, "You Keep Using That Word, I Do Not Think It Means What You Think It Means."

Writing under the headline "Economic Rights Are Human Rights," Yale University's Samuel Moyn shows by the second paragraph of his article that he doesn't know what he's talking about:

For 40 years, America’s human rights policy has focused narrowly on political and civil liberties and has been coupled with a free market libertarian agenda for the world. By neglecting social and economic rights and the vast disparities both within and among nations, U.S. policy has exacerbated many of the evils it set out to eradicate. It needs an overhaul.

A "free market libertarian agenda for the world" is exactly what has promoted economic rights and liberties for the past generation. By promoting free market policies around the world, poverty has been reduced to a tiny fraction of what it was only 40 years ago. People nearly everywhere are healthier, wealthier, and better educated than their parents and grandparents were.

Why only "nearly everywhere"? Because some countries have refused to liberalize their economies, thus perpetuating and deepening the poverty experienced by all but the political elites and their cronies in the limited business sector. Compare, for instance, Botswana and Zimbabwe -- neighboring countries but one is politically free and economically prosperous while the other is both politically oppressed and economically depressed.  The conditions on both sides of the Botswana-Zimbabwe border are inextricably intertwined.

Check out anything posted to HumanProgress.org if you are skeptical of my claims.

By the way, I clicked on the article;s link because I agree with the headline: Economic rights are, indeed, human rights.  In fact, I addressed that issue from a somewhat different angle way back in 1991, just as the economic freedom revolution began to advance around the globe.

Monday, April 09, 2018

Guest Post: The Slippery Slope to a Constitution-Free America

By John W. Whitehead


Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”—Benjamin Franklin

The ease with which Americans are prepared to welcome boots on the ground, regional lockdowns, routine invasions of their privacy, and the dismantling of every constitutional right intended to serve as a bulwark against government abuses is beyond unnerving.

I am referring at this particular moment in time to President Trump’s decision to deploy military forces to the border in a supposed bid to protect the country from invading bands of illegal immigrants.

John Whitehead Rutherford Institute
John W. Whitehead
This latest attempt to bamboozle the citizenry into relinquishing even more of their rights is commonly referred to as letting the wolves guard the henhouse.

Never mind that using the U.S. military as a police force constitutes a direct violation of the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878. Never mind that America’s police have already been transformed into a standing army. Never mind that the borders have always been porous—a fact that the government and its corporate partners profit from greatly when convenient. Never mind that Trump’s infatuation with heavy-handed military and police power could pave the way for far greater threats to our liberties than a few underfed, unemployed migrants entering the country.

We are long past the stage where the government—at any level—abides by restrictions on its powers.
What we are dealing with is a run-away government hyped up on its own power, whose policies are dictated more by paranoia than need.

Watching the state of our nation unravel, I can’t help but think of Nazi Field Marshal Hermann Goering’s remarks during the Nuremberg trials. As Goering noted:
It is always a simple matter to drag people along whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. This is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in every country.
It works the same in every country.

The same propaganda and police state tactics that worked for Adolf Hitler 80 years ago continue to be employed with great success in a post-9/11 America.

We keeping returning to the same sticking point, forced to make the same choice over and over again: essential liberty or temporary safety.

Time and again, we keep sacrificing our liberties for phantom promises of safety.

Whatever the threat to so-called security—whether it’s rumored weapons of mass destruction, school shootings, or alleged acts of terrorism—it doesn’t take much for the American people to march in lockstep with the government’s dictates, even if it means submitting to martial law, having their homes searched, and being stripped of one’s constitutional rights at a moment’s notice.

Moreover, it doesn’t really matter whether it’s a Democrat or a Republican at the helm, because the bureaucratic mindset on both sides of the aisle now seems to embody the same philosophy of authoritarian government.

The lesson is this: once a free people allows the government to make inroads into their freedoms or uses those same freedoms as bargaining chips for security, it quickly becomes a slippery slope to outright tyranny.

This is fast becoming a government that has no respect for the freedom or lives of its citizenry.
Yet there are warning signs we cannot afford to ignore.

First off, there is no such thing as a “border” in the eyes of these military patrols. The entire United States of America has become a Constitution-free zone.

According to journalist Todd Miller, the “once thin borderline of the American past” is “an ever-thickening band, now extending 100 miles inland around the United States—along the 2,000-mile southern border, the 4,000-mile northern border and both coasts... This ‘border’ region now covers places where two-thirds of the US population (197.4 million people) live… The ‘border’ has by now devoured the full states of Maine and Florida and much of Michigan.”

As part of its so-called efforts to keep the nation safe from a host of threats, the U.S. government has declared that ever-expanding border region a Constitution-free zone.

Miller explains:
“In these vast domains, Homeland Security authorities can institute roving patrols with broad, extra-constitutional powers backed by national security, immigration enforcement and drug interdiction mandates. There, the Border Patrol can set up traffic checkpoints and fly surveillance drones overhead with high-powered cameras and radar that can track your movements. Within twenty-five miles of the international boundary, CBP agents can enter a person’s private property without a warrant.”
To recap: 66% of Americans (2/3 of the U.S. population, 197.4 million people) now live within this 100-mile-deep, Constitution-free zone.

That’s a lot of ground to declare off limits to the Constitution.

The result, as Miller notes, “is a permanent, low-intensity state of exception that makes the expanding borderlands a ripe place to experiment with tearing apart the Constitution, a place where not just undocumented border-crossers, but millions of borderland residents have become the targets of continual surveillance.”

Be warned: government agents continue to roam further afield of the so-called border as part of their so-called crackdown on illegal immigration, drugs and trafficking. Consequently, greater numbers of Americans are being subject to warrantless searches, ID checkpoints, transportation checks, and even surveillance on private property.

Second, this de facto standing army that has been imposed on the American people is in clear violation of the spirit—if not the letter of the law—of the Posse Comitatus Act, which restricts the government’s ability to use the U.S. military as a police force.

America’s police forces—which look like, dress like, and act like the military—have undeniably become a “standing” or permanent army, one composed of full-time professional soldiers who do not disband, which is exactly what the Founders feared. With the police increasingly posing as pseudo-military forces—complete with weapons, uniforms, assault vehicles, etc.—a good case could be made for the fact that SWAT team raids, which break down the barrier between public and private property, have done away with this critical safeguard.

Unfortunately, the increasing militarization of the police, the use of sophisticated weaponry against Americans and the government's increasing tendency to employ military personnel domestically have all but eviscerated historic prohibitions such as the Posse Comitatus Act.

Indeed, there are a growing number of exceptions to which Posse Comitatus does not apply. These exceptions serve to further acclimate the nation to the sight and sounds of military personnel on American soil and the imposition of martial law.

This begs the question: if the borders constitute a Constitution-free zone, who will police those policing our borders and hold them accountable for misconduct and wrongdoing?

We’ve seen what happens to domestic police charged with wrongdoing: they get little more than a slap on the wrist. Just recently, in fact, the U.S. Supreme Court shielded a police officer who shot a woman four times in her driveway as she stood talking to a friend while holding a kitchen knife. As Justice Sonia Sotomayor acknowledged in her dissent in Kisela v. Hughes, “It tells officers that they can shoot first and think later, and it tells the public that palpably unreasonable conduct will go unpunished.”

Third, there’s the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency, an arm of the Department of Homeland Security made up of more than 60,000 Customs and Border Protection employees, and supplemented by the National Guard and the U.S. military. 

A national police force imbued with all the brutality, ineptitude and corruption such a role implies, the DHS—aptly described as a “wasteful, growing, fear-mongering beast”—has been ruthlessly efficient when it comes to establishing what the Founders feared most: a standing army on American soil.

The third largest federal agency behind the Departments of Veterans Affairs and Defense, the DHS—with its 240,000 full-time workers, $40 billion budget and sub-agencies that include the Coast Guard, Customs and Border Protection, Secret Service, Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)—extends its tentacles into every aspect of American life.

In fact, just about every nefarious deed, tactic or thuggish policy advanced by the government today can be traced back to the DHS, its police state mindset, and the billions of dollars it distributes to police agencies in the form of grants to transform them into extensions of the military: militarizing police, incentivizing SWAT teams, spying on protesters, stockpiling ammunition, distributing license plate readers to police agencies, contracting to build detention camps, tracking cell-phones with Stingray devices, carrying out military drills and lockdowns in American cities, using the TSA to carry out soft target checkpoints, directing government workers to spy on Americans, conducting widespread spying networks using fusion centers, utilizing drones and other spybots, funding city-wide surveillance cameras, and carrying out Constitution-free border control searches.

Finally, there’s this whole question of martial law.

Technically, a good case can be made that the Constitution-free border regions within the United States are already under martial law carried out by a standing army comprised of militarized police and the U.S. military.

Then again, for all intents and perhaps, the American police state is already governed by martial law, is it not? Battlefield tactics. Militarized police. Riot and camouflage gear. Armored vehicles. Mass arrests. Pepper spray. Tear gas. Batons. Strip searches. Drones. Less-than-lethal weapons unleashed with deadly force. Rubber bullets. Water cannons. Concussion grenades. Intimidation tactics. Brute force. Laws conveniently discarded when it suits the government’s purpose.

This is what martial law looks like, when a government disregards constitutional freedoms and imposes its will through military force, only this is martial law without any government body having to declare it. This is martial law packaged as law and order and sold to the public as necessary for keeping the peace.

It doesn’t matter whether the so-called threats to national security posed by terrorists, extremists or immigrant armies ever became a reality. Once the government acquires—and uses—additional powers, it does not voluntarily relinquish them.

The damage has been done.

For those who can read the writing on the wall, it’s all starting to make sense: the military drills carried out in major American cities, the VIPR inspections at train depots and bus stations, the SWAT team raids on unsuspecting homeowners, the Black Hawk helicopters patrolling American skies, the massive ammunition purchases by various federal agencies such as the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Education, the IRS and the Social Security Administration.

Viewed in conjunction with the government’s increasing use of involuntary commitment laws to declare individuals mentally ill and lock them up in psychiatric wards for extended periods of time, the NDAA’s provision allowing the military to arrest and indefinitely detain anyone, including American citizens, only codifies this unraveling of our constitutional framework.

Throw in the profit-driven corporate incentive to jail Americans in private prisons, as well as the criminalizing of such relatively innocent activities as holding Bible studies in one’s home or sharing unpasteurized goat cheese with members of one’s community, and it becomes clear that “we the people” are the real enemies of the state.

We’re the ones in the government’s crosshairs.

That wall being built at the border won’t be just for keeping illegal immigrants out—it’s to keep us trapped within the punishing confines of the American police state.

Our freedoms—willingly relinquished in response to endless scare tactics—have been breached, undermined, and eroded time and time again. We’re being conditioned to this life in a police state.
As for this latest maneuver, it’s just another means of poking a hole in the already-tattered fabric of the Constitution.

In other words, it’s a test to see how hard we will fight to hold onto what remains of our freedoms.

If this is a test, we’re failing abysmally.

Face it: we are sliding fast down a slippery slope to a Constitution-free America.

We’ve been heading in this direction for some time now, but this downward trajectory has picked up speed since Donald Trump became president.

This state of near-lockdown has been helped along by government policies and court rulings that have made it easier for the police to shoot unarmed citizens, for law enforcement agencies to seize cash and other valuable private property under the guise of asset forfeiture, for military weapons and tactics to be deployed on American soil, for government agencies to carry out round-the-clock surveillance, for profit-driven private prisons to lock up greater numbers of Americans, for homes to be raided and searched under the pretext of national security, for American citizens to be labeled terrorists and stripped of their rights merely on the say-so of a government bureaucrat, and for pre-crime tactics to be adopted nationwide that strip Americans of the right to be assumed innocent until proven guilty and creates a suspect society in which we are all guilty until proven otherwise.

All of these assaults on the constitutional framework of the nation have been sold to the public as necessary for national security.

Time and again, the public has fallen for the ploy hook, line and sinker.

We’re being reeled in, folks, and you know what happens when we get to the end of that line? We’ll be cleaned, gutted and strung up.

Incredibly, no matter how many times Americans are lied to, cheated, swindled, robbed, manipulated, and doublecrossed, they still keep falling for the government’s tired, thinly disguised ploys to amass more power at the expense of the citizenry.

Remember when George W. Bush claimed the country was being invaded by terrorists post-9/11 and insisted the only way to keep America safe was to give the government and its gun-toting agents greater powers to spy, search, detain and arrest?

The terrorist invasion never really happened, but the government kept its newly acquired police powers made possible by the USA Patriot Act.

Remember when Barack Obama claimed the country was being invaded by domestic terrorists and insisted the only way to keep America safe was to give the military the power to strip Americans of their constitutional rights, label them extremists, and detain them indefinitely without trial?

Battlefield America John WhiteheadThe invasion never really happened, but the government kept its newly acquired detention powers made possible by the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

Now you have Donald Trump claiming the country is being invaded by immigrants and insisting that the only way to keep America safe is to empower the military to “assist” with border control.

Mind you, Trump is not the first president to deploy military forces to the border.

Nevertheless, you can rest assured that this latest call for boots on the ground (whether those boots belong to the National Guard or the armed forces is mere semantics) to police the American border is yet another Trojan Horse that will inflict all manner of nasty police state surprises on an unsuspecting populace.

As I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, the menace of a national police force—a.k.a. a standing army—vested with the power to completely disregard the Constitution, cannot be overstated, nor can its danger be ignored.

ABOUT JOHN W. WHITEHEAD
Constitutional attorney and author John W. Whitehead is founder and president of The Rutherford Institute. His new book Battlefield America: The War on the American People (SelectBooks, 2015) is available online at www.amazon.com. Whitehead can be contacted at johnw@rutherford.org.


Reprinted by permission of The Rutherford Institute.






Saturday, April 07, 2018

From the Archives - 'Teaching Geography: A Valuable Enterprise' (1997)

I first wrote about this topic in the late 1980s. This article appeared in the Norfolk Virginian-Pilot on April 7, 1997, under the headline "Teaching Geography: A Valuable Enterprise."

- - - - - - - - - - - -

Lord Chesterfield, the 18th century English statesman, once remarked: "The world can doubtless never be well known by theory: practice is absolutely necessary; but surely it is of great use to a young man, before he sets out for that country, full of mazes, windings and turnings, to have at least a general map of it, made by some experienced traveller.''

Healy Tower Georgetown University Rick Sincere teaching geography
Healy Tower, Georgetown University
When I was a child in elementary school, my teachers insisted that my classmates and I draw maps of all the major countries and regions of the world. Being all thumbs when it comes to handling a crayon or pencil, my grades were always low, mostly Cs. Nonetheless, I learned geography: I learned where things are and the relationship of one thing to another.

Today's students are apparently not being taught where things are. The serious teaching of geography in the schools seems to have disappeared. This is distressing.

For example, a few years ago at the School of Foreign Service of Georgetown University - America's premier institution for the teaching of international affairs, alma mater of President Bill Clinton - almost a third of the brightest and most competitive freshmen in the school's history failed a basic geography test, even after taking a one-credit course in the subject. Earlier, of the 225 students who tried to test out of the course, only 23 passed, and of those, 16 were not U.S. citizens.

The questions on this exam were not difficult, but basic: What is the capital of China? Where is the Persian Gulf? Who are the two main ethnic groups of Cyprus? Through what countries does the Danube River flow?

Other, similar tests and surveys show similarly disturbing results. Many high school students tested a couple of years ago could not find the United States on a world map, a good fraction pointed to Brazil as the answer.

The consequences of this ignorance are grave. As Georgetown Dean Charles E. Pirtle put it, "How can we expect our students to understand news reports out of the Persian Gulf when they don't know where it is, much less where Kuwait, Bahrain and the Straits of Hormuz are?''

Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Jeane Kirkpatrick notes that "many of our most bitter foreign-policy disputes are a direct consequence of the fact that Americans decided sometime not to study geography anymore. It is impossible to think sensibly about foreign affairs without knowing what is where.''

Jeane Kirkpatrick teaching Geography Rick Sincere
Jeane Kirkpatrick photo by Rick Sincere
Ambassador Kirkpatrick explains: "In foreign policy, geography is destiny. What gives the U.S. a vastly different stake in Nicaragua than in, say, Burundi? Burundi is my example of a very remote place. I have been there, and I can testify that it is a very remote place. I do not think we should be indifferent to the hardships of its people, but I do believe that Burundi is less important to us than Nicaragua. The difference is rooted in geography.''

Knowledge about the static facts of geography - as real estate brokers say, "location, location, location'' - is important because other social factors can be so fluid and dynamic. When Ambassador Kirkpatrick commented on the differences between Nicaragua and Burundi, a Marxist regime in Nicaragua was threatening the security of the United States and its allies in the Western Hemisphere. Today, Nicaragua is free (if still troubled) while Burundi is amidst a maelstrom of conflict and pestilence that includes refugee flows, civil war in neighboring Zaire and Rwanda and endemic ethnic violence. Yet without knowing the facts about these countries - territorial size, population, economic products and neighbors - we cannot wisely judge the importance of recent changes and coming trends. As citizens, we cannot make well-grounded decisions about U.S. policy toward these places.

The new standards of learning and standards of accreditation for Virginia schools include a renewed emphasis on geography (among the other social sciences). The new standards suggest strongly that geography be taught in grade 10, although the Arlington public schools have a nationally recognized, model program that requires geography in grade 8. The Arlington sequence is more logical than the state's version, because teaching geography in eighth grade girds students with the conceptual tools and facts they need to learn world history, economics and other high school subjects. Every Arlington student I have encountered remembers the geography course fondly, and all agree that it definitely prepared them for future studies.

The task of other Virginia schools is clear: Reintroduce geography teaching as a separate discipline with an emphasis on facts. Children should be able to name the state capitals at an early age, the capitals of foreign countries soon afterward, and by high school should be able to fill in the blanks on a world map, naming oceans and rivers, mountain ranges and islands, cities and nations. Should we expect less?

Memo: Richard Sincere is co-chair of the Social Studies Advisory Committee for Arlington Public Schools.