Minnesota Governor clarifies Playboy slurs
Jesse 'the Devout'
Winter is coming early in Minnesota for Jesse "the Governor" Ventura. His popularity is plummeting into a deep freeze since he opined in Playboy that, among other things, religion is for the "weak-minded." A Minneapolis newspaper poll places his favorability rating at 54 percent, down from 73 percent in July. Moreover, he's no longer receiving the royal treatment from star-struck journalistic interviewers. On NBC's Meet the Press, Tim Russert asked Gov. Ventura to explain his remarks denigrating religious belief. Mr. Russert pointed out that "some three million" Minnesotans "are members of organized religion," and asked whether the governor "really" considered "priests and nuns and ministers and rabbis" weak-minded. Enter Jesse "the Backtrack." Uh, no, the Body responded, attempting to place his remarks in context. "I see many cases of organized religion just simply going out and becoming a money-making machine and a business like any other business, the business of selling religion and religious beliefs." RUSSERT: Who, in particular, troubles you with that? VENTURA: No one in particular. I just believe that there's honesty and integrity that has to happen and I believe that if you look at the Jesus Christ that I know, he hung out with the worst people that there was. RUSSERT: Do you believe in God? VENTURA: Absolutely. RUSSERT: Do you consider yourself a Christian? VENTURA: Yes, but I don't believe necessarily that I need a church to go to. I can go-my religious beliefs can be by a lake, they can be on a hill, they can be in the solitude of my own office. And I believe that there's no set example of what people's beliefs should be. RUSSERT: But do you believe that Jesus Christ is the Savior? VENTURA: Yeah, according to, you know, the religious beliefs that I have. The interview concluded with Mr. Russert's asking about a comment the governor made concerning reincarnation and female undergarments. "I thought you were a big thinker," Mr. Russert concluded. veep gets teachers' union backing
Gore outbids Bradley
How do you spell public schools? G-O-R-E. After union activists criticized Bill Bradley and George W. Bush for supporting private-school vouchers, the American Federation of Teachers endorsed the vice president in his bid for the Oval Office. "Al Gore has been for years a close friend of education and of children," said AFT President Sandra Feldman. Translation: Mr. Gore fervently supports more federal welfare programs and education funding. Meanwhile, Mr. Bradley is backing down from his pro-vouchers stance, saying that using tax dollars to send kids to private school is not "the answer to the problems of public education." Few new fiscal year hitches
The federal government's Fiscal Y2K D-Day came and went with few hitches. What went wrong? Minor Y2K bugs bit two agencies, but they resulted in no loss of life, no injuries, and no one even had to dip into emergency disaster rations. The two snags were but a slight scratch across the flesh of leviathan: The Energy Department said a purchasing system failed, and the National Science Foundation had some trouble providing information to grant recipients. Nearly all states and many companies started their fiscal years in July and reported few problems. At this rate, the dreaded Y2K bug may be more a dust mite than a ravaging plague. SDI test successful; Russians cry foul
A U.S. military team launched an unarmed Minuteman missile from the Marshall Islands on Oct. 2. The Minuteman successfully intercepted a target missile launched minutes before from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. It was the first test of the Strategic Defense Initiative missile defense system. The intercept took place more than 100 miles above the earth, demonstrating the potential for providing a defensive shield to protect the United States from incoming long-range missiles. The test launch was the first landmark in a lengthy project-led by the Pentagon and defense contractors Boeing, Raytheon, and Lockheed-Martin-involving the development, testing, and potential deployment of a system to detect, track, and destroy hostile missile launches aimed at the United States. Moscow's military brass is warning that the system could lead to a Cold War-style arms race. Col. Gen. Vladimir Yakovlev, commander of Russia's Strategic Missile Forces, said Russia may drop out of all disarmament treaties, close its borders to U.S. arms observers, and begin stockpiling nuclear weapons if the U.S. defense system is built. hard-to-see signals blamed for london crash
A rush-hour train collision just outside London's busy Paddington Station may be the rail system's worst accident in more than a decade. Two days after the Oct. 5 crash, rescue workers immediately confirmed that over 30 were dead but said as many as 100 could be missing. The challenge to officials: fighting past a blistering inferno to assess the damage, and determining just who was on the trains-one outbound for nearby Bedwyn and the other inbound from western England to Paddington-at the height of morning commutes. Pinpointing the cause is another challenge; train drivers have complained that one set of signals out of Paddington is hard to see, and the driver of the outbound train had just two months of on-the-job experience. State Department points a finger at China
The U.S. State Department designated China and six other countries for possible sanctions for having engaged in or tolerated severe violations of religious freedom. China immediately criticized the indictment, the first such action under the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act, which authorizes the State Department to impose sanctions. China officials said the U.S. action interferes in its domestic affairs, and said Beijing protects religious activity as long as it is regulated by the state and is within what officials deem "normal religious activity." The report also named Afghanistan, Burma, Iran, Iraq, Serbia, and Sudan as religious-freedom violators. Virtually all those named are already under economic sanctions and lack normal relations with the United States. China is the lone exception. Return to normalcy in Taiwan
Back to school
Two weeks after the worst earthquake in decades hit central Taiwan, schools reopened on Oct. 4. The swift return underscores the high priority Taiwanese place on schooling. The quake flattened many school buildings and left huge cracks in others. Schools that are safe, however, are being drafted for double duty: Classroom sizes will double and school days will be lengthened into the evening to accommodate additional classes. Schools in the hardest-hit areas, particularly in Taichung and Nantou counties, where most of the quake's 2,100 victims lived, will be stretched further, as they help students with school supplies, new books, and clothes. national assessment test finds one in four public-school students with "proficient" writing skills
A 25 percent shame
Need more proof that American education is the pits? The Education Department reports that only one in four of the nation's public schoolchildren knows enough to write a competent term paper. Testers asked 60,000 fourth-graders, eighth-graders, and 12th-graders to write stories and reports about events or experiences. When the scores were added up by the quasi-governmental National Assessment Governing Board (NAGB), roughly one in four students in each grade level was proficient enough to deliver a solid academic performance and write competently about a challenging subject. Evaluators considered those students proficient who could organize thoughts, choose words well, spell correctly, and consistently use good grammar. Only about one percent of students performed at a level testers considered "advanced." The testing, which took place in 1998, included students at both public and private schools. Students in private schools-about one-sixth of the total sample-were better writers than their public-school counterparts. But, on the whole, their performance was still nothing to write home about. Only about one in three 4th- and 12th-grade private-school students wrote at a level considered "proficient" by evaluators. Eighth-graders at private schools fared much better, with nearly half performing at the proficient level. Education Secretary Richard Riley took a Machiavellian approach to the largely lousy test results. He used the news to push for more federal funding for education: "If we don't [spend more], we will never reduce the large number of high school graduates who have to take remedial writing classes in college." Nation in brief
From Trump Towers to the White House? New York tycoon Donald Trump last week took the formal step of creating an exploratory committee to determine whether to seek the Reform Party nomination for president. Said the Donald: "We're looking at the very strong possibility that we could win-and not just the nomination." UPS: Undoubtedly Protecting Society
United Parcel Service last week announced that it will no longer deliver handguns through its regular service. UPS Next Day Air, which has fewer people handling packages and less chance for theft, will continue handgun deliveries. UPS spokesman Norman Black said the company is sensitive to the debate over access to guns: "Society is concerned about these weapons falling into the wrong hands." N.C.'s Floyd flooding: "worst ever"
North Carolina Commerce Secretary Rick Carlisle reports that more than 1,000 businesses in the Tar Heel state sustained enough damage from Hurricane Floyd to warrant Small Business Administration claims: "I think it's the worst ever in terms of business disruptions." Democrat Gov. unveils Reagan license plate
One more for the Gipper
As a controversial biography of Ronald Reagan hit bookstore shelves, the state that launched his career will memorialize the two-term president on license plates. For $50 and a $40 annual fee, California drivers can own the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation License Plate, with proceeds going to support the 40th chief executive's presidential library. In a remarkable display of respect, Gov. Gray Davis stood in front of a poster-size personalized license plate reading "GIPPER" and said Mr. Reagan restored patriotism and confidence in America. "In the early '80s, when the country was wracked with self-doubt after Vietnam and Watergate, he taught us to believe in ourselves again," the liberal Democrat said. Frontrunner slouches away from right
Bush rips GOP conservatives
Republican frontrunner George W. Bush last week blistered what he termed his party's "slouching toward Gomorrah" message, in a speech many pundits saw as an attempt to distinguish himself from beleaguered congressional Republicans. Days before that, he criticized a Republican House proposal to save a few bucks by spreading out payments to the working poor through the Earned Income Tax Credit; currently, those eligible for the EITC receive one lump-sum payment. Mr. Bush accused Republicans of attempting to "balance their budget on the backs of the poor." Unnamed Bush campaign advisers told a Fox News reporter that if some Republicans in Congress "are feeling beat up by Bush, they better get used to it. The Texas governor ... will continue to set himself apart and take his own path." Mr. Bush, in his speech to the neoconservative New York think tank Manhattan Institute, said: "Too often, on social issues, my party has painted an image of America slouching toward Gomorrah. Too often my party has focused on the national economy to the exclusion of all else, speaking a sterile language of rates and numbers. Too often my party has confused the need of limited government with a disdain for government itself." He also called for mandatory testing (administered by the states) for 3rd- through 8th-grade students. The Bush speech raised the ire of talk radio's Rush Limbaugh: "In many ways, W. is starting to sound like Howard Baker, Bob Dole, all of whom challenged Ronald Reagan for the nomination at one time or another, and all of whom accused Reagan of, in essence, lacking compassion." The no-comment zone
- American Indian activist Russell Means has an answer to the liquor stores that surround his South Dakota reservation: If you can't beat 'em, join 'em. He wants to form a nonprofit organization to open liquor stores, sell booze to fellow Indians, and use the profits to treat alcoholism. The Oglala Sioux have one of the nation's highest alcoholism-related mortality rates.
- Is your child's teacher smoking weed on the side? With teen drug use commonplace in public schools, one district fought to the Supreme Court for the right to test prospective teachers for illegal substances. The justices made that fight pay off, as they turned away a lawsuit against the Knox County (Tenn.) Board of Education without comment, after officials argued that teachers must stay alert to ensure student safety. According to a plan adopted in 1994, all teachers, principals and assistant principals, teacher aides, school secretaries, and bus drivers must submit to urinalysis tests.
- First Warren Beatty, now Oprah Winfrey? Some Reform Party members are campaigning to draft the talk-show mogul for the 2000 presidential race. "It is Jesse Ventura times 100," said draft committee chairman Paul Larsen, who claims she has more money, name recognition, and honesty than the ex-wrestler. A spokeswoman for Ms. Winfrey said she is not interested.
- Vice President Al Gore's campaign chairman Tony Coelho has a big problem. His lawyer says Mr. Coelho never repaid about $100,000 of a $300,000 personal loan cited in a highly critical State Department report. That means American taxpayers could be stuck with repaying money borrowed from a Portuguese bank while Mr. Coelho was commissioner general for the U.S. pavilion at Expo98 in Lisbon, Portugal. The lawyer, Stanley Brand, contradicted an earlier report that the whole thing was paid off.
- Bronx lunchroom cashier Linda Williams put $7 in her pants pocket and quickly discovered her employer would make a federal case of it. The Feds accused her of stealing from her job at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center, then took the case to court-and lost. Ms. Williams said the money was change from the $10 bill she used to buy breakfast. Five government witnesses were called in for a trial that lasted one day before the judge ruled in favor of the defendant. She hopes to get her job back.