This Week

Issue: "School-to-Work debate," Sept. 5, 1998

Can't shoot straight

It's not that the president doesn't have his defenders. It's just that they're a little reckless. The first congressional Democrat openly to call for the president's resignation, Paul McHale of Pennsylvania, got roughed up last week by President Clinton's character assassins. Geraldo Rivera, on his CNBC cable show, quoted an unnamed source-"very close to the president"-as saying Mr. McHale, a Marine reservist who served in the Persian Gulf War, had exaggerated his military record. "So are any of us without sin?" Mr. Rivera sniffed. The very next night, Mr. Rivera apologized for his false report. But the incident hardened Mr. McHale's opinion that the president should go. "This is a pretty consistent response we've seen from this White House whenever anyone raises criticism," Mr. McHale said. "This loose cannon ... confirms some of our most serious concerns, that this administration does not have a commitment to truth." That left presidential spokesman Joe Lockhart sputtering that the Rivera source was not from inside the White House. "[We] can't control some jerk outside the building who purports to speak for the president."

World in brief

Dinnertime blast
Shattering dinner-hour din at Cape Town's Planet Hollywood, a bomb-possibly set by Islamic fundamentalists angered by American missile attacks on Sudan and Afghanistan-exploded at the American theme restaurant, killing one woman and injuring 24 other people. An unknown Muslim group claimed responsibility in a call to a local radio station. Cleaning house
If Russian president Boris Yeltsin found himself battling U.S. cruise missiles and bearded terrorists for center stage, back home he vowed to take a back seat to no one. The president responded to calls for his own resignation by sacking his cabinet Aug. 23, the second time he cleaned house in less than six months. Mr. Yeltsin fired Prime Minister Sergei Kiriyenko and replaced him with his predecessor, Viktor Chernomyrdin. The about-face did not keep the ruble from falling to all-time lows, threatening bank closures and default for Russia. Spreading War
What observers feared across the uneasy belt of Africa began to be realized last week. Fighting between Congo rebels and the government of Laurent Kabila, himself a former rebel (who overthrew dictator Mobutu Sese Seko more than a year ago), widened to include outside forces. Troops from Angola and air support from Zimbabwe were reportedly sent in to back up the Kabila regime. Thus fortified, government forces turned back the rebels, who at one point advanced to within 18 miles of the capital, Kinshasha. Rebels, in turn, have been helped by forces from Rwanda and Uganda, observers say. Those countries deny direct involvement but say they will use force to protect their borders. Humanitarian workers killed in Kosovo
Cannon fire from a police vehicle killed three ethnic Albanians working for the Mother Teresa relief organization in Kosovo. The armored personnel carrier opened fire on tractors pulling wagons loaded with supplies for refugees. Serb officials said they could not see the contents of the wagons; relief workers, however, say it is the latest attempt by Serb forces to harass local Samaritans trying to help the Albanians. Everybody wins?
Canada's Supreme Court ruled that Quebec had no legal right to secede from Canada, but the high court also obligated government officials to negotiate with the province should a clear majority vote for secession in a referendum. Both sides counted the Solomon-like decision as a victory.

Is the tide turning?

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Education reform is making significant inroads in the public-opinion battle. The annual Gallup poll conducted on behalf of Phi Delta Kappa, the professional educators' fraternity, found last week that a majority of citizens favor full educational choice: By a margin of 51-41 percent, survey respondents said they supported allowing parents to send their school-age children to "any public, private, or church-related school they choose," even if that meant using some of their own tax money to fund all or part of the tuition at the private schools. Just two years ago, 54 percent were opposed and 43 percent were in favor, while last year opinion was divided. The survey also found overwhelming support for a congressional Republican plan-opposed by the White House and teachers' unions-to set up tax-free savings accounts, from which deposits could later be used for private-school tuition. The Gallup poll reported a statistical dead heat over "vouchers" that pay 100 percent of private- or religious-school tuition: 48 percent in favor, 46 percent opposed. The favorable margin grew to 52-41 when the vouchers were specified to pay partial tuition. But the poll also showed that the framing of the question alters attitudes: When asked whether parents should be allowed to send their children to private school at public expense, exactly half the respondents said they were opposed. But the good news for education reformers is that 44 percent answered yes to that loaded question.

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