Judge blocks vouchers; private money to help
In 1963, Alabama Gov. George Wallace stood in a schoolhouse door in a failed attempt to keep blacks from entering. Thirty-seven years later, a Florida judge has effectively stood in the schoolhouse door, barring minority and poor children from getting out of their failed schools and into private schools where they will get a real education. The case, which Gov. Jeb Bush says will be appealed, involved 53 Pensacola poor children, who were given state money to pay private-school tuition in Florida's groundbreaking voucher program. In their private schools they were learning to read and write, something they weren't accomplishing as well in their government-run school. It's no surprise that teachers' unions and other organizations want to keep kids trapped in these failed schools. The big surprise is that the NAACP, which is supposed to be about advancing people of color, is a co-conspirator in assuring that many poor minority children will remain stuck in the intellectual equivalent of a condemned building. Ted Forstmann, the Wall Street financier who heads the Children's Scholarship Fund, tells me he will pay for the 53 Pensacola kids to remain in their private schools. He also believes many people are not aware of the history of education in America and the amount of money misspent on the current system. Mr. Forstmann wants you to know that K-12 education is a $400 billion "enterprise," twice the size of the telecommunications market. And it's a monopoly. Government has broken up smaller monopolies on the correct theory that monopolies produce a bad product at a high price. Education spending in constant dollars has increased 14-fold since 1920. Test scores are down, international rankings are an embarrassment, and census data show public schools have become the second likeliest place in America for a violent crime to occur. The solution to the violence problem is not trigger locks, but unlocking the public-school door so kids and parents can escape if they choose. The Founders never intended for government to teach the next generation. In fact, before the American Revolution and for the first 100 years of America's existence, education was competitive and diverse. Choice was widespread and, while not a perfect system, children learned. Such a system produced George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and many other well-educated citizens. Jefferson correctly observed: "If a nation expects to be both ignorant and free, it expects what never was and never will be."
-Cal Thomas, © 2000, Los Angeles Times Syndicate
Ups & Downs of the week
Binge drinking in college: Despite all the alcohol education and anti-drinking programs of the 1990s, about the same number of students on America's college campuses went out and got wasted. A survey released by the Harvard School of Public Health covering 14,000 undergraduates found that 44 percent were binge drinkers, compared with 43 percent in 1997, and 45 percent in 1993. "Bingeing" in this case means a man had at least five drinks (or a woman four). The credibility of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals: PETA launched a "Got Beer?" campaign to get students to drink alcohol instead of milk. "If you drink milk, you are supporting a product that is horrible for human health, catastrophic for the environment and a living nightmare for the animals involved," said Bruce Friedrich, PETA's vegetarian campaign coordinator. The Buzz tosses a ripe tomato-suitable for the making of barbecue sauce-at GOP state Rep. George Albright of Florida for breaking new ground for big government. He filed legislation to create a new cabinet-level post: secretary of barbecue. "Barbecue is big business in this state," he said. It's also big business to Mr. Albright, co-owner of two barbecue restaurants. The secretary of barbecue would serve a one-year term without pay.
The No-Comment Zone
- Fewer people will run more newspapers. That's the result of Tribune Co.'s plan to buy Times Mirror Co. in a $6.3 billion deal. It would create a media empire including the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune, nine other newspapers, and various other properties under one set of corporate managers. Look for the papers to hold tightly to the ever denied liberal slant and corporate grey dullness in news content as everything folds under one set of corporate managers.
- About 83 percent of Americans support the teaching of evolution in public schools, but about 79 percent support the teaching of creationism. The polling firm DYG Inc., in a poll for the leftist group People for the American Way, also found that almost half of respondents agreed that the theory of evolution "is far from being proven scientifically," while 68 percent thought it possible to believe in evolution while also believing that God created humans and guided their development. Daniel Yankelovich, chairman of DYG, said the results reflect the postmodern belief that no single view can provide complete understanding of most issues.
- Pressured by Capitol Hill lawmakers, the White House made public the text of a sweeping trade agreement with China. The document had been kept under wraps since it was completed last November. Trade officials said its release would prejudice ongoing negotiations between China and other World Trade Organization member states. But members of Congress charged that the American public was being left out of the trade debate because of the secrecy. The agreement calls on China to further open now-restricted markets like telecommunications and agriculture. In return, the United States must make normal trade relations with China permanent. Beijing's trade status is now subject to annual review and has been a referendum on human rights and freedom in China.
- Cardinal Ignatius Kung, who spent 30 years in Chinese prisons for his Catholic faith, died on March 12 at age 98. Pope John Paul II, who secretly named Mr. Kung a cardinal in 1979 while he was in prison, called him a "noble son of China" who showed "heroic fidelity to Christ amid persecution and imprisonment." Mr. Kung was imprisoned for defying attempts by China's communist government to control Roman Catholics through a state-run church. Mr. Kung was released from prison in 1985 and given permission to travel to the United States for medical treatment in 1988. He died from stomach cancer at the Stamford, Conn., home of his nephew, Joseph Kung, founder of the Cardinal Kung Foundation, which monitors religious freedom in China.
Impeachment lawyer hired in elián case
When National Council of Churches affiliates decided to find a lawyer for Juan Miguel Gonzalez, what better fount to drink from than the Clinton Legal Defense Team? Last month church leaders approached Gregory B. Craig, who defended the president during his Senate impeachment trial last year, and asked him to represent the father of 6-year-old Elián Gonzalez. Mr. Craig (who lawyered famously, "the president's testimony was evasive, incomplete, misleading, even maddening, but it was not perjury") traveled to Cuba early in March to meet with the 31-year-old Mr. Gonzalez. He was accompanied by Joan Brown Campbell, the former head of the NCC, who has championed Elián's return to Cuba; Thom Fassett, general secretary of the General Board of Church and Society of the United Methodist Church; and an unnamed "associate," according to a statement by the United Methodist Church. The statement also said that the General Board of Church and Society is paying Mr. Craig's legal fees through "a humanitarian fund" set up for that purpose. Asked about reports that NCC General Secretary Robert W. Edgar first asked Mr. Craig to serve as legal counsel, Mr. Edgar told WORLD, "I knew about it." He said he did "not know" why Mr. Gonzalez may require legal counsel in the United States. Ms. Campbell and other members of the delegation to Cuba could not be reached for comment. Mr. Gonzalez has remained in Cuba throughout his son's ordeal, despite assurances from U.S. officials that he could obtain a visa to travel to the United States, as did Elián's two grandmothers in January. Clinton enjoys war of words with NRA over gun control
Shooting from the lip
President Clinton fought a war of words with his favorite opponent, the National Rifle Association. The battle dragged on and on last week after the NRA's Wayne LaPierre suggested on television that the president is content to let people die in gun violence in order to reap political gain: "I've come to believe that he needs a certain level of violence in this country," he said on ABC's This Week. "He's willing to accept a certain level of killing to further his political agenda, and his vice president, too." Mr. Clinton shot back immediately ("their knee-jerk reaction to any gun safety measure is wrong...") and used the NRA as speech fodder at a pair of fundraisers. Mr. LaPierre refused to back down and then raised the stakes by saying the president owes an apology to the parents of murdered children: "I think he should look them in the eye and explain why he won't enforce the laws against crack dealers with guns and take them off the street." He said much the same thing in yet another television interview. By midweek, the White House had hosted a gun-control pep rally to keep the controversy alive. "These kids, they keep dying every day," said Mr. Clinton. "They don't know it's an election year." But the president does. He's pushing for "common-sense gun control" to be passed before the April 20 anniversary of the Columbine High School massacre (this same plan failed in Congress last year). The president's plan would impose background checks on sales at gun shows that could take as long as 72 hours. Mr. Clinton also wants child-safety trigger locks required on new guns and a ban on the import of large-capacity ammunition clips. Mr. LaPierre prefers that the feds enforce the laws already on the books. In Denver earlier this month he joined forces with his gun-control nemesis James Brady to back Project Exile, a $1 million Colorado public awareness campaign to deter crime. Mr. Brady, seriously wounded by a gunman firing at President Reagan, attended the opening celebration along with Mr. LaPierre. Representatives of both sides said tough prosecution of gun-related crimes would be a deterrent and would ensure prison time for criminals. Congressional hearing on baby body parts makes no progress
Shooting the messenger
On the eve of the congressional hearing on the illegal sale of fetal tissue by baby body-parts brokers, ABC's 20/20 weighed in with a hidden-camera interview of Missouri pathologist Miles Jones. Dr. Jones bragged on camera of the high profits he earns by selling the limbs, tissues, and organs of voluntarily aborted babies. But despite such bald admissions, Democrats involved in the March 9 hearing chose to set aside considerations of whether the laws regarding the sale of fetal tissue had been broken; they focused instead on discrediting an eyewitness to such crimes. Missouri "tissue recovery technician" Lawrence Dean Alberty, who in 1997 blew the whistle on Dr. Jones and Maryland-based baby body-parts brokerage Anatomic Gift Foundation, testified at the hearing. By his own admission, Mr. Alberty had embellished stories of goings-on inside abortion clinics that he had told previously to Life Dynamics, the Texas pro-life activist group that spearheaded an undercover investigation of Mr. Alberty's claims. But despite documentary evidence that the core of Mr. Alberty's allegations of illegal tissue sales were true, Democrats on the House Subcommittee on Health and the Environment used Mr. Alberty's inconsistent testimony to torpedo the entire hearing, according to Michael Schwartz, an aide to subcommittee vice-chairman Tom Coburn (R-Okla.). Mr. Schwartz believes that subcommittee Democrats, including Californians Anna Eshoo and Lois Capps, used Mr. Alberty's previous untruths "to derail the focus of the hearing, which was the issue of whether or not baby body parts are being sold illegally in this country." Jim Lafferty of the Traditional Values Coalition called the hearing "a disaster" from a pro-life perspective. On the up-side, the Federal Bureau of Investigation last week launched its own probe into the marketing of fetal tissue. In addition, at least three states are now considering legislation that would tighten existing laws surrounding the exchange of fetal tissue between researchers and abortion clinics. Census compliance campaign plays the greed card
Show us the money
A stressed-out waitress leaves her young son at one of her tables as she takes food orders. He starts to make a commotion, causing customers to take notice and her boss to reprimand her. So begins a new TV commercial making the rounds nationwide. But at the end of the commercial, our waitress doesn't say something like, "I have a headache this big," or "Calgon, take me away!" Instead, a narrator says, "Next year, billions of dollars will be spent for day care. Will you get your share?" The commercial is part of a $167 million federal ad campaign that attempts to persuade Americans to fill out and return census forms mailed to them this month. The campaign doesn't appeal to people's patriotism or sense of civic responsibility but directly to their desire for federal cash. Ads highlight the woes of hypothetical people having to go without a particular federal program. "The top reason is, crudely stated, 'What's in it for me?'" said Census 2000's Jennifer Marks to The Kansas City Star. Kenneth Prewitt, director of the Census Bureau, also plays the greed card in the cover letter sent out with the forms. "The amount of government money your neighborhood receives depends on your answers," he writes. "That money gets used for schools, employment services, housing assistance, roads, services for children and the elderly, and many other local needs." The strategy seems to be, well, paying off. As of early last week 2.4 million forms had already been returned.
- Gas prices are way, way up, right? Wouldn't this be a good time to get rid of the Gore Tax, which adds 4.3¢ to every gallon? Not according to House Republicans, who are backing away from repeal proposals. "Let's not get bogged down on only one dimension of the problem-a short-term dimension that offers scant relief," House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-Texas) told reporters last week. A whopping 18.4¢ is added to every gallon of gas to feed the federal budget. Truckers pay a 24.4¢/gallon tax on diesel fuel. That includes the Gore Tax, which takes its name from the vice president's 1993 tie-breaking budget vote that passed the budget and the increase. So why not cut the tax as gas prices approach $2 per gallon? Because congressmen like transportation projects, especially those in their own districts. Some pooh-poohed the idea that a cut would matter. "I don't know if it has any effect on fuel costs," said Rep. J.C. Watts of Oklahoma, a member of the House GOP leadership. "Supply and demand is driving prices right now." Indeed. The supply of taxes and Washington's demand for them.
- A new Dotcom was born March 5, but he's not a website. Dotcom is one of the first cloned pigs, and his birth paves the way for a new source of transplants for humans. Riding along with this, naturally, is the dream of making a carbon copy of your Aunt Ethel. PPL Therapeutics, which cloned Dolly the sheep three years ago, announced that five healthy, cloned piglets were born March 5 in Blacksburg, Va. Independent tests of the DNA of the piglets (named Millie, Christa, Alexis, Carrel, and Dotcom) confirmed they were clones of the sow. Scientists hope that pigs can be genetically engineered so that the human body will more readily accept their organs or cells, making them more easily transplantable. They hope to test transplantation of genetically altered pig organs on humans in four years. And as for naming one of the clones "Dotcom," Ron James, PPL's managing director, said that "any association with dotcoms right now seems to have a very positive influence on a company's valuation."
- His testimony before the U.S. Congress about persecution of Sudanese Christians made Roman Catholic Bishop Macram Max Gassis a fugitive. Even so, he still makes risky trips home to Sudan to encourage fellow church members. To honor his efforts, Chuck Colson's Prison Fellowship presented him the William Wilberforce Award last month.
- Methodist Pastor Ken Johnson of Adams County, Ohio, helped spark an international fad-Ten Commandment yard signs. After he and other volunteers distributed the signs locally to protest the removal of Commandment monuments from area schools, they were shocked to receive over 51,000 orders from 30 states and six countries.
music channel hardly shows videos anymore
Who wants to watch a million videos? MTV passed that magic number last month, celebrating with the channel's most-played video ever, Peter Gabriel's "Sledgehammer." The heavily hyped event covered up the fact that MTV doesn't play many videos anymore. Nine of the 10 most-played songs were 1980s hits. Only Pearl Jam's "Jeremy" charted from the 1990s. Why? When MTV started 19 years ago, it entered a world where music video and cable TV were both in childhood. At the start, few bands even had footage, so much of what appeared were new wave and unknown Eurobands like the legendary Buggles of "Video Killed the Radio Star" fame. MTV became identified with youth, and endless commercialism dominated the channel, with American commercial pop and rock taking over. For example, every one of Madonna's self-renovations was shown over and over. Then, in the 1990s, videos started vanishing in favor of original programming. An endless parade of shows with various degrees of popularity and tackiness hit the screen: Dead At 21, The Real World, and Singled Out were just a few. For some, MTV was still an icon of decadence, but for others it symbolized cheesiness. The worst parts have been self-righteous stabs at educational programming like the long-running obnoxious pep rally Rock the Vote, the laughable Fight for Your Rights: Take a Stand Against Violence, and a 2000 primary primer called Choose or Lose. Who doesn't cringe when remembering that Bill Clinton answered the "Boxers or briefs?" question in 1992? Yet no matter how bad MTV gets, it won't go away. Since it was one of the first generation of cable channels, it has a tenured position in the channel selection. Perhaps one day a serious competitor will come along and show that MTV has been a dinosaur for over a decade. -Chris Stamper A new drug of choice for coping with reality
Goodbye, Prozac. The wonder drug of the 1990s is in decline as doctors are turning to another antidepressant, Zoloft. Prozac, since its 1988 introduction, has made mental illness downright normal. About 17 million Americans have taken Prozac. An imbalance of the chemical serotonin in the body is thought to affect people's moods. Prozac tries to regulate that and has effects similar to those of traditional antidepressants, minus some scary side effects. Prozac's reputation is that it's something like magic. "Prozac seemed to give social confidence to the habitually timid, to make the sensitive brash, to lend the introvert the social skills of a salesman," Dr. Peter D. Kramer wrote in his 1993 best-seller Listening to Prozac. "It changed my whole life," said Prozac Nation author Elizabeth Wurtzel. "I realized it was possible to not be depressed. It was like putting glasses on and seeing the world in a different way." When Viagra came along a few years later, it was Prozac II, the latest potion for personality from a pill. What makes this scary is not that new drugs are available, but that so many people expect medicine to solve personal troubles. -Chris Stamper Ripley would be too politically incorrect today
Still not believing it
Robert Ripley was a strange guy. He wandered around the world collecting oddball items and describing them in his column, "Ripley's Believe It Or Not." His work began back in 1913 when he became a cartoonist for the New York Globe and continues over a half-century after his death. No one could turn curiosity into a passion like Ripley. He took the scariness out of freak shows and made it a mass market. Where else could one turn to hear about a replica of the Mona Lisa made out of bread? Or the two-headed turtle in some guy's house in Schenectady? A revived TV show started this year, and successors carry on the comic strip and numerous tourist-trappy Ripley's museums. People still want to see that Rolls Royce made out of matchsticks. Of course, today's cultural climate would never allow a new Ripley to get started. He held up artifacts of other cultures as oddities. Those shrunken heads, fertility statues, and body piercings could not be considered symbols of weirdness today, but would be talismans of cultural diversity. -Chris Stamper