Concrete Objections

Concrete Objections

Concrete Objections

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
June 15 2001 7:46 AM

Concrete Objections

All the majors lead with yesterday's Senate 91-8 bipartisan passage of an education bill, which the Washington Post calls the "first major overhaul of the nation's education policy in 35 years." The  New York Times calls the vote a "legislative triumph" for President Bush, who had campaigned on the key ideas of the bill--annual testing in reading and math in grades 3-8, aiming extra federal money at schools where students don't test well, and if that doesn't improve their performance, letting them have access to federal funds for tutoring, summer school, or transportation to another public school. (The coverage notes that Bush had also called for private school vouchers as an option but doesn't note that he never pushed very hard for them.) The coverage suggests that since the House has passed a similar bill (although the House version allocates much less money), some major restructuring of the federal role in public school education is assured, but the NYT says that money differences between the Senate, the House, and the White House could "unravel the effort."

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Plus, the WP observes that all but one of the programs authorized by the Senate bill would be "severely constrained" by the budget limits approved earlier this year to accommodate the just-passed Bush tax cut. And the paper notes that the lone exception of guaranteed funds--the monies the Senate earmarked for special education--is not in the House bill and is opposed by the White House.

The papers all note that the Senate's trip toward passing the bill involved a swerve through the issue of gays in the Boy Scouts, with the passage of a Jesse Helms proposal to deny federal funds to school districts that exclude the Scouts for excluding gays. Later on the Senate also passed a measure proposed by Sen. Barbara Boxer that requires all funded schools to give all youth groups equal access to their facilities regardless of the organizations' stances on sexual orientation. USA Today weaves its coverage of all this into a separate fronter reporting that Scout leaders in nine of the largest U.S. cities are urging abandonment of the gay ban.

The WP and the Los Angeles Times context by reminding that federal dollars still are but a small part of total public school funding. And the NYT suggests that states can ignore aspects of the bill with relative impunity, with its reminder from one analyst that states "have yet to implement many of the provisions of a 1994 education law." The analyst concludes that, "The likelihood that these changes are going to percolate down in a way that will touch kids and reach schools is real slim."

The WP, NYT, and Wall Street Journal report on what they see in the latest financial disclosure forms filed by House and Senate members. The Post fronter, running under the headline "FOR HILL INVESTORS, FEW CAPITOL GAINS," emphasizes the financial pain suffered by many politician-investors last year. Similarly, the NYT effort, supplied by the AP, goes high to depict "generally modest finances" among the leaders of the new Democratic-controlled Senate. The Times immediately notes that Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle's largest asset is half-ownership in a house, worth between $50,000 and $100,000 (this vagueness is due to the gauziness of the forms). This is apparently supposed to connote relatively modest means, but the paper doesn't supply the relativity--it doesn't tell us if that number represents his equity in the house (if so, then on most loans, that would indicate rather spiffy digs), nor does it tell us what the median U.S. home equity is. Similarly, the paper also goes high with the information that Sen. Patrick Leahy's major asset is a Merrill Lynch account worth $15,000 to $50,000, but we aren't told what percentage of U.S. citizens are similarly funded. Contrast all this to the Journal, which reports at the outset that according to the forms, "Several senators and House members last year took advantage of the tail end of the stock market's boom in initial public offerings, making quick and lucrative profits that average investors can't get." The Journal detects several members of Congress "flipping" their IPOs--that is, selling their shares shortly after getting in on the offering, sometimes on the same day, for a quick profit.

The LAT fronts word that a construction firm awarded a contract to work on the just-approved U.S. World War II memorial to be built in Washington, D.C., is a subsidiary of a German company that used slave laborers to work on the Nazi war effort. The NYT ran an insider on this two days ago. Both stories point out that the American subsidiary also built the West Wing of the White House and CIA headquarters. The LAT reports that the German parent company has contributed to a recently created fund for paying damages to surviving forced laborers, and the NYT says that the president of the American construction firm is Jewish and quotes him saying, "I wonder how many of the people making the complaints are driving Volkswagens and Mercedeses and BMW's." Neither story mentions the recent revelations that much of the construction of the White House and U.S. Capitol was carried out by slaves.

The WP and NYT report that the Health Care Financing Administration, the federal agency responsible for public health insurance for millions of poor, disabled, and elderly Americans, has undergone its first major change under the Bush administration--it's been renamed. After a five-day employee contest, the results are in: It's now the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson says the new name will symbolize "a new culture of responsiveness." Neither story says what the new culture will cost in changes to building signs, government documents, letterhead, and business cards.