March 2007
By Alan W. Dowd

Japan Gets Defensive
Making good on his promise to strengthen Japan’s defenses, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has won approval for his plan to elevate the Defense Agency to a full-fledged ministry for the first time since World War II. The change passed the Japanese Diet “without significant opposition,” according to the Associated Press. Given the nearby North Korean menace, this should come as no surprise—and it should be welcomed by Americans, who have found in Japan a stalwart 21st-century ally.

Perhaps paradoxically, Tokyo is trimming its defense budget for 2007, although it is increasing spending on missile defense by some 30 percent.

Along with the defense reforms, Japan adopted changes to the country’s education law to help Japanese children “acquire a better understanding of their heritage,” according to one lawmaker. Specifically, the new law requires schools to encourage patriotism, directing them “to cultivate an attitude that respects tradition and culture, that loves the nation and home country.”

The Cost of Coming to America
In a recent study published in City Journal, Steven Malanga of the Manhattan Institute offers some little-known details about the immigration influx that is transforming America.

-Since the mid-1960s, an estimated 30 million legal immigrants and 15 million illegals have made America their home.

-Legal immigration has exploded from 2.5 million in the 1950s to 7.3 million in the 1980s to 10 million in the 1990s.

-The argument that immigration helps the US economy is shaky at best and probably wrong, according to Malanga’s research. Some two-thirds of Mexican immigrants coming to America are high school dropouts; 37 percent of California’s foreign-born were on Medicaid in the 1990s (costing each native-born California household about $1,200 annually in taxes). In fact, immigration’s net benefit to the US economy, often lauded by immigration proponents as a reason to open the doors wider and offer amnesty, amounts to a paltry $120 per household.

-And it appears the drain of human capital northward is not helping the Mexican economy. Mexico’s per-capita GDP was 37 percent the size of America’s in the 1980s and is now just 25 percent.

The Queen at War
By the time you read this, Jessica Gaulke will have traded in her sash for a rifle and battle-dress fatigues. Last summer, the 22-year-old Minnesotan was named Queen of the Lakes for the Minneapolis Aquatennial event. But when her National Guard unit was called up for training in Texas in preparation for deployment to Iraq later this year, the beauty queen saluted, gave up her crown and fell in line.

“There [are] so many people over there now that are trying to make it a better place,” said Gaulke, who followed in her father’s footsteps by joining the National Guard. “I’d like to be part of that,” she told NBC affiliate KARE-11.

Gaulke’s unit will be activated this month, which gave the college senior a chance to wear her crown one last time at the Tournament of Roses Parade in January.

Bloody Birthday: The AK-47 Turns 60
2007 marks the 60th birthday of perhaps the most influential—and certainly the most lethal—weapon in the postwar world: the AK-47.  

Designed by World War II Soviet tank commander Mikhail Kalashnikov, the automatic weapon is the firearm of choice for some 50 standing militaries and numerous guerilla groups, according to historian Larry Kahaner, who recently authored a book on the ubiquitous gun. It is responsible for an estimated 250,000 deaths every year, qualifying it as “the most devastating weapon on the planet,” in Kahaner’s estimation. 

It was so effective during the Vietnam War that Congress actually investigated reports that US troops were using AK-47s taken off dead enemy soldiers. After the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, according to Kahaner, the CIA shipped thousands of AK-47s to anti-Soviet guerrillas. “It did the same in Nicaragua in the 1980s,” as Kahaner details in a recent excerpt of his book published in The Washington Post. 

Find out more at http://www.kahaner.com/.

As a contributing editor to The American Legion, Dowd writes columns and news briefs on national security, foreign affairs and U.S. politics each month for the magazine's "Rapid Fire" section.