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The Revised 3 R's

[whitespace] Pork-barrel swill permeates the federal educational budget

By Bob Harris

THANKS to the way Congress spends the educational budget, the three R's are apparently now Reading, 'Riting, and Re-election campaigns. In a given year's federal budget, the federal Department of Education is able to allocate only about 10 percent of its resources to discretionary stuff--innovative programs, reforms, research on new teaching techniques, and so on.

It's pretty obvious that really trying to figure out some new approaches in education wouldn't be a bad idea. I perform at colleges all the time, and I swear to you that more than half the time, the student introducing me is barely able to read my printed introduction. Anyway, it turns out that precious little innovation is actually happening. Instead, according to a recent nice piece of work in the Los Angeles Times, most of the discretionary money in the national education budget is getting diverted into pork-barrel local stuff that serves only the interests of a few well-connected contributors or the members of one senator's district.

In the last year, you and I have had the privilege of helping to pay for the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute in Carbondale, Ill., and the Robert J. Dole Institute for Public Service in Lawrence, Kans., neither of which is probably going to change the way kids are taught to read in the 99.96 percent of America not located in these two throbbing metropoles.

We've paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to assemble an oral history of labor unions in Iowa, the home state of Sen. Tom Harkin, a ranking Democrat on the Appropriations Committee, and about $10 million for an exhibit on the Constitution in Philadelphia, the bailiwick of Sen. Arlen Specter, the ranking Republican. So what do we do about it? Well, before we can act and vote and raise a ruckus, the first thing we have to do is educate ourselves. Which, if we don't do anything about it, is exactly what we'll all wind up doing anyway.

EXCEPT FOR ABOUT a half-dozen things no one in their right mind would do (like, say, swallowing a sewing kit, bobbing for lobsters, dating a fashion model), there's nothing worse than guilt by association.

That's what McCarthyism was about. Somebody would merely say they saw you talking to a communist, and then next thing you know all the good writers in Hollywood get blacklisted, and pretty soon The Waterboy is No. 1 at the box office.

But it's different if the person in question, say, actually chooses to attend communist party meetings, contributes a column to a communist journal, and lets his name be used to promote communist causes, all with full knowledge of what it's about. Then it's no more of a stretch to say he supports the communist party than it is to say that Castro supports the cigar industry, Casey Kasem supports pop music, and Pauly Shore supports comedy. None of them have anything directly to do with the enterprise, but their efforts suggest more than a passing interest, futile though it may be.

With me so far? There's something just like that, but different, to talk about.

There's a group called the Council of Conservative Citizens you might want to know about. They call themselves conservative, but check their website at www.cofcc.org, and you'll see that they're a direct descendant of the White Citizens groups who so bitterly fought against civil rights and equality for all Americans. One click from the CCC homepage brings you to screeds exposing the alleged dark secrets of Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King and even calling for a second Civil War to preserve the white race. The page also maintains direct links to the National Front, an openly and unashamedly fascist group, and a bunch of white-supremacist newsletters and organizations.

Suppose for a minute that some prominent national leader endorsed that group, had close family who belonged, spoke several times at their functions, and contributed to their newsletter. And suppose that the guy's spokesman misled the press to cover it up?

Wouldn't you want to know?

And suppose that the information was publicized in one of the biggest newspapers in America. Wouldn't you expect there to be a firestorm of protest from the "liberal" media? Wouldn't the decent people who make up most of this country demand a full explanation and possibly a resignation? You'd think, so, wouldn't you?

OK. Trent Lott. The Senate majority leader. He's really tight with the Council of Conservative Citizens.

That's every bit as newsworthy as who--anybody is sleeping with, isn't it?

I mean, isn't it?

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From the January 21-27, 1999 issue of the Sonoma County Independent.

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