Dispatches > The Buzz

The Buzz

Issue: "Every law counts," Dec. 23, 2000

Federal appeals panel rejects Cleveland's school choice program
Courting a reversal
The rough road traveled by Cleveland voucher-school families just got rougher. The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last week struck down the 4-year-old Cleveland Scholarship Program that gives tuition vouchers of up to $2,500 to needy families with children in kindergarten through sixth grade. The ruling upheld a 1999 decision by U.S. District Judge Solomon Oliver, who quashed the program at summer's end, leaving nearly 4,000 students in educational limbo just before the first day of school. Judge Oliver later allowed CSP to continue issuing vouchers pending an appeal. In Monday's 2-1 ruling, Judges Eric Clay and Eugene Siler, Jr., wrote that the program is unconstitutional because most of the 56 schools that receive CSP funding have a religious affiliation. In his dissent, Judge James Ryan held that CSP attorneys proved the program's funding is allocated on the basis of neutral, secular criteria. "In striking down this statute today," Mr. Ryan wrote, "the majority perpetuates the long history of lower federal court hostility to educational choice." Institute for Justice attorney Clint Bolick, who represents the parents of CSP students, is hopeful that the merits of this case will compel the U.S. Supreme Court to weigh in on the issue. The high court already has affirmed the use of tax dollars for indirect aid such as the purchase of computers. "The court now has issued six consecutive rulings upholding indirect aid, so we're feeling hopeful," Mr. Bolick said. "Maybe we can make this lucky seven." U.S. kids trail others in science
Average Americans
Are America's schools preparing children for the information economy? Apparently not. U.S. students improved their scores in math and science, but still placed behind nearly half the world in global tests. Eighth-graders in Australia, Canada, and several European and Asian nations topped their American counterparts. While the Clinton Administration showed optimism that the scores improved-they were above average-others weren't so happy with the performance. "We have a long way to go to be internationally competitive," said Rep. William Goodling (R-Pa.), retiring chairman of the House Education and Workforce Committee. The tests, sponsored by the International Association for the Evaluation of Education Achievement, were last held in 1995. They cover areas ranging from algebra and geometry to chemistry and physics. Researchers discovered that American children spend more time with computers and calculators than foreign students, but do less homework. Sports inflation
Salary bubble?
Think the stock market has been overvalued? Baseball star Alex Rodriguez last week signed a 10-year, $252 million contract with the Texas Rangers, and slugger Manny Ramirez signed an 8-year, $160 million contract with the Boston Red Sox. The Rodriguez deal doubled the previous sports record-a $126 million, six-year agreement between NBA forward Kevin Garnett and the Minnesota Timberwolves, and "A-Rod" will earn more money than Rangers owner Tom Hicks paid for the entire team just three years ago. The 25-year-old walked away from the Seattle Mariners, which offered only a three-year deal. With sports talk radio hosts calling him "Pay-Rod," Mr. Rodriguez defended his contract: "What would you recommend your son to do?" Sudan's islamic regime is a shoo-in
Elections without opponents
Sudan's Islamic regime began presidential and parliamentary elections, but an opposition boycott and ongoing civil war have rendered the elections meaningless. President Omar Hassan al-Bashir and his ruling National Congress Party are shoo-ins in what should be, under Sudan's constitution, his final five-year term of office. Opposition Islamic factions boycotted the election because Mr. Bashir imposed emergency rule a year ago to choke the power of colleague-turned-rival Hassan al-Turabi. The National Democratic Alliance (NDA), an organization that includes rebel groups fighting on behalf of Sudan's Christian population, also boycotted voting. The government also expelled U.S. diplomat Glenn Warren, who was meeting with them at the time. In the past month U.S. diplomats have stepped up criticism of the Khartoum regime, calling for an end to its slave trade and war against the South. Mr. Bashir canceled visas for all U.S. diplomats in late November after U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Susan Rice visited a rebel-held town and met with women freed from slavery. Foreigners Cite U.S. vote confusion
Spent prestige
Election disarray at home is making a mockery of U.S. election watchdog practices overseas. Haiti's general counsel in the United States, Ira Kurzban, wrote a complaint letter to The Miami Herald after President Bill Clinton sent a letter to Haiti's newly reelected president, Jean Bertrand Aristide. Mr. Clinton's letter cited irregularities in last month's presidential election in Haiti and urged that votes in contested legislative elections last May be reexamined. Mr. Aristide's government, propped up by U.S. military intervention six years ago, now seems to have acquired a deaf ear: "The recent U.S. presidential election shows conclusively that we have no business telling other countries how to resolve lawful but disputed elections," said Mr. Kurzban. Barak tries to outmaneuver Netanyahu
Israel's sore loserman
When Prime Minister Ehud Barak surprised Israelis and his own ruling Labor Party by resigning his office Dec. 9, it looked like the head of state was eating humble pie for his inability to bring about a peace settlement with Palestinians. It was quickly apparent, however, that stepping down was a shrewd political maneuver by Mr. Barak to retake a shrinking power base. Mr. Barak's popularity has plummeted as Israel confronts more than two months of its worst clashes with Palestinians in over 50 years. Voters are increasingly nostalgic for the government of Benjamin Netanyahu, the conservative prime minister ousted by Mr. Barak in elections last May. Polls last week showed Mr. Netanyahu leading by 46 percent to Mr. Barak's 29 percent. By resigning, Mr. Barak triggered an Israeli law that allows only sitting members of its legislature, known as the Knesset, to compete in special elections. Mr. Netanyahu resigned his seat in the Knesset following last year's defeat. But members of the Knesset's ruling coalition broke ranks with Mr. Barak. They supported a motion that could allow Mr. Netanyahu to stand for the special election, to be held in February. If that motion is unsuccessful, the parliamentarians could vote to dissolve the Knesset, a move that would trigger general elections that could include Mr. Netanyahu but would not take place until May. Mr. Netanyahu's first obstacle is wresting control of his own party from Ariel Sharon. At 72, Mr. Sharon, also a former prime minister, appears less formidable than the 51-year-old Mr. Netanyahu. Both favor a hard line in negotiations with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat as the way to restore Israeli security. Official warns of "infowar"
Future shock?
Could America be subject to a Pearl Harbor-style attack, except with computers instead of bombers? Maybe, says National Security Council official Richard Clarke. He told a Microsoft-sponsored conference that the United States could soon discover that other countries have built arsenals of information warfare. Such an "infowar" could involve hacking, code-breaking, and even the destruction of vital computer networks. Mr. Clarke, the national coordinator for security, infrastructure protection, and counterterrorism, didn't actually predict such events, but he warned that America would be wise to keep an eye open for them: "It may be improbable that a war in cyberspace can occur, but it could happen." What should be done? Mr. Clarke thinks the U.S. government needs a CIO, a chief information officer, in charge of the entire federal computer infrastructure. He also proposed offering $25,000 scholarships to budding computer security experts for each year they agree to do government work. He argued that the tech industry and the government should open private communication channels so that security problems can be relayed without fear of public discovery. At the same conference, Microsoft chairman Bill Gates showed off some tools to improve security, the boldest of which is a smart card that works with the Windows operating system. Users would log in with a physical ID instead of a password. Smart Cards haven't hit Main Street yet, and no one knows whether the average PC owner will accept such an unfamiliar system.

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