This Week

Issue: "Forbes: Right on the money," Nov. 8, 1997

How low can we go?

As if it were not enough that nine girls and young women in upstate New York are now infected with the virus that causes AIDS, former Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders last week blamed the Chautauqua County, N.Y., tragedy on school officials' not being explicit enough with sex-ed. This is no joke: In a speech at the National Press Club on the occasion of her being honored by the manufacturer of the controversial birth-control drug Depo-Provera, Dr. Elders said condoms should have been available "on every corner, so all you'd have to do is reach in and pick them up." Reach in and pick them up is almost precisely what 20-year-old Nushawn Williams is alleged to have done to 28 area girls, ranging in age from 13 to 24, by offering them drugs in exchange for sex. Contrary to Dr. Elders, the New York school district where most of the girls received their sex education is in fact on the cutting edge of explicit sex-ed; officials boast that their program won national awards for its "comprehensive" approach. School officials say sex-ed begins in the fifth grade and that 7-year-olds are told how HIV is transmitted. A USA Today article quoted Jamestown High School principal Terry Redman explaining that in the entire two-week "age-appropriate" sex course, "You might spend the first 20 minutes on abstinence. It's fairly straightforward. You do it and move on, and sometimes it's forgotten." Sometimes? In an emergency school assembly called in the wake of the sex-for-drugs tragedy, the newspaper reported one high-school senior took a microphone and to "scattered applause" he complained, "This [assembly] is the first time anyone's said anything about abstinence."

Green thumb

Remember that "Indonesian gardener" who gave almost half a million dollars of his father-in-law's money to the Democratic National Committee in 1996? The Los Angeles Times last week obtained a four-page summary of a June 24 interview with Arief and Soraya Wiriadinata, conducted in Jakarta by two Senate investigators and an FBI agent. Someone connected with Fred Thompson's Senate Governmental Affairs Committee leaked the summary to the newspaper. The investigators' interview with the Wiriadinatas raises new questions about former Commerce Department official and DNC fundraiser John Huang. The first of the couple's DNC donations, the Times reported, came while Mr. Huang was still working for the government and was prohibited from soliciting funds. According to DNC records, Mr. Huang's wife, Jane, was responsible for soliciting the donation. But in the interview, the Wiriadinatas say Jane Huang never discussed money with them. Mr. Huang refuses to appear before the Thompson committee without immunity, but his lawyer insists Mr. Huang "did nothing illegal in connection with the Wiriadinatas' voluntary donations." Meanwhile, Mr. Thompson's anger with White House "foot dragging" boiled over, even as fellow Republicans seemed to suggest the time had come to wrap up the probe. The committee chairman blasted White House lawyers during their Oct. 29 appearance before the committee, complaining that key documents and evidence under subpoena has come from the White House "in dribs and drabs." On television the previous weekend, Mr. Thompson was more provocative: "Washington, D.C., is the only place you can get away with" the kinds of delays that have hamstrung his investigation. In a letter, Mr. Thompson asked Senate leader Trent Lott to back legislation to extend the probe past its Dec. 31 deadline. Mr. Lott, who has been critical of Mr. Thompson's leadership of the probe, had no comment on the letter. Committee member Don Nickles (R-Okla.) didn't help Mr. Thompson's cause when he answered a reporter's question on whether he thought the committee's investigation should be extended: "I could give you either argument. My guess is we won't extend it. Unless we're uncovering major new material, what's left to be done?"

Testing 1-2-3

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Several major government agencies continued to run on borrowed time last week, one month into Fiscal Year 1998, with six controversial appropriations bills still in dispute. House-Senate negotiators crafted a compromise they thought would break a deadlock over the biggest funding bill: the measure that provides $269 billion to operate the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education. At issue was whether to retain an amendment to the House-passed version of the bill that bars President Clinton from developing national educational tests. The Oct. 30 compromise didn't sit well with conservatives. "Once again," complained Rep. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), "our leadership is running from a fight with the president." The measure would allow the education department to "field test" national exams and allow states voluntarily to adopt the tests, but leave with the House and Senate education committees the final decision whether to implement the tests nationwide. One of those who would make that decision-William Goodling (R-Pa.), chairman of the House education committee-blasted the proposal. "That so-called compromise allows the piloting and field testing of the test in 1998, which is exactly what the administration planned to do without congressional approval," Rep. Goodling said. Senate conservatives-who fear national testing will lead to federal control over curriculum as teachers "teach the test"-plan a filibuster to block consideration of the compromise. Assuming the measure passed anyway, White House aides made it clear the president would veto it. "It's not acceptable," declared a White House spokesman, who pointed out Mr. Clinton will accept nothing less than complete freedom to move forward with national testing.

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