- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 2, 2000

Union of Concerned Scientists defends itself

John Carlisle's "Long on activism, short on science" (Commentary, June 10) attacks the position of the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) on several issues, while also attempting to undercut our credibility. His broadside is long on vitriol and short on facts.

The scientists who contribute to UCS' work include Nobel laureates, biologists, physicists, ecologists, climatologists and transportation engineers. By combining rigorous scientific analysis with innovative thinking, our scientists and engineers collaborate with colleagues across the country to conduct technical studies that shape our views on the proposed national missile defense system, the impacts of global warming, the risks of genetically engineered crops and other topics.

By questioning our stance on global warming, Mr. Carlisle cites the oft-repeated, but waning, rhetoric of the fossil-fuel industry that scientists are split into two equal camps on global warming. The vast majority of climate scientists agree that global warming is a reality. Even industry itself has thrown out claims to the contrary, with Ford Motor Co., General Motors, BP-Amoco and other companies now conceding that global warming must be taken seriously.

Mr. Carlisle also misrepresents our take on genetically modified foods. Rather than seeking a ban, we advocate that the environmental and human health impacts of agricultural biotechnology be properly assessed. The Food and Drug Administration has yet to require safety testing on any of the genetically modified foods on the market, relying instead on the industry's conclusions that these foods are safe. This level of assurance of safety for the public is scientifically unacceptable.

As it is with the nature of scientific research, UCS asks hard questions about challenging issues. There are certainly those who disagree with our positions, but our only vested interest is in the health and safety of our communities and environment.


Chief operating officer

Union of Concerned Scientists

Cambridge, Mass.

A moving tribute to fathers by daughter of President Reagan

As my father claims that he named me for Ronald Reagan when this significant president was an actor, Maureen Reagan's Father's Day tribute held special meaning for me now that my own father has signs of advanced dementia ("A president and a father," Op-Ed, June 16).

Further, this year provides particularly focused attention to memorials for America's war dead whether from World War II, Korea, Vietnam or the Civil War, whose black soldiers are honored at Washington's African-American Civil War Memorial. Miss Reagan's remembrance of her father's empathy for her suffering for his loss in the 1976 Republican race for president and the manner in which he taught her the importance of schooling reinforces for me what is right about mentoring and the Big Brothers-Big Sisters program, since they provide a means of delivering the fatherly presence for those whose fathers' lives were cut all too short.

In fact, the work of Miss Reagan and former first lady Nancy Reagan reminds me of those programs wherein public school children teach their parents the wonders of computers. In this case, Miss Reagan and Mrs. Reagan have used the tragedy of Alzheimer's disease to teach the nation what is most human about this cruelest of diseases. I see their lesson for us as being that while we cannot stop the ravages of the disease on our loved ones, we can and must recall and proclaim what was the best of them. The national attention they have garnered makes me want to congratulate them on a job well done.

For those who might feel that their fathers weren't there for them, perhaps the spirit of a statement attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt might help: "A woman is like a tea bag; when she is in hot water she just gets stronger." Thus, even fatherless children can grow up to at least feel that they will provide the strength for their own children or help some other fatherless family precisely because they can say they recall stories such as those told by Miss Reagan that can provide them with the model for what their own fatherhood could be.



Who is the winner of the school reform referendum?

Regardless of which side of D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams' June 27 school reform referendum ultimately prevails, the District is the immediate loser. No mandate resulted from the nefarious methods used and big money invested to influence the outcome of the referendum, the approval of which would give the mayor and city council control over public school affairs.

Only the "yes" vote was fully funded, had glossy brochures, garnered editorial endorsement in The Washington Times and The Washington Post, and was promoted on television by such dignitaries as D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton and Mr. Williams.

On the other side of the issue was Larry Gray (who?), legislative chairman of something called the D.C. Congress of PTAs.

A day after the referendum, some residents still were receiving in the mail brochures promoting the mayor's initiative, while the vote-"no" side was still in a school daze over the results of the vote count thus far. Yet for all the money that went into the "yes" effort, the vote, as close as it was, presents no clear winner.

When a referendum revives the worst face the city could show its racial division there is nothing to cheer about. The racial division unearthed by the mayor's prosecution of this referendum is now another problem to deal with. And it did not have to be so. Collaboration would have prevented the divisiveness that marred the fine effort represented by the referendum. The council members who supported the referendum's prosecution did so with the optimal conditions for their own success and in the process skirted the clearer picture that could have been presented in a general election. When measured against the little-organized opposition from the grass roots, the "no" vote should have been run over and dispatched with ease, but it was not.

Although the percentage of voters who turn out in special referendums in the District historically has been low (that's why the council had the vote taken at this time), the June 27 school reform referendum with its double-digit turnout (11.6 percent of registered voters) was one of the highest special-election turnouts in D.C. history. However, the goal should have been to obtain a mandate, especially by the proponents of the referendum. With a 30-year ignominious history culminated by a control-board takeover in 1996, the "yes" vote should have been crushing.

However, an examination of the reasons that it was not illustrates what should have been done to bring forward a reform initiative that virtually everyone could support. Politicians, not educators, were the architects of this referendum. At the polls, one side of town was voting to dismantle a school board while the other side of town was voting to preserve voting rights.

Neither side of the issue clearly defined for voters what "yes" or "no" means for the classroom; improvement in facilities; procurement and contracting; the relationship between the superintendent, mayor, council and school board; the timely delivery of instructional materials; small schools; smaller class size; the program to attract and retain good teachers; improvement in the quality of the lunch program; the Stanford 9 exam; the weighted student formula; or the right of parents to use their own resources to supplement the administration's allocations.

Failing to have these types of issues as the focus of debate for the voters made this referendum just what it has turned out to be a continuation of unwanted racial politics in public school education.

The June 29 editorial "Who cares about D.C. school reform?" makes the point regarding the low black turnout on the referendum that the very constituents who could benefit most from a better-run school system essentially ignored the opportunity to vote. It is just water under the bridge now, and that's too bad. Those same voters still have a chance to elect strong candidates and to make sure the mayor and council appoint people in a way that satisfies the need for expertise as well as citywide inclusion.

It's time for the mayor and D.C. Council to heal the city by every means necessary. One good way will be to put this effort behind them as quickly as possible and let the people see improvement in the public schools as a result of this new form of school governance. For the sake of the children, let's hope everyone will allow the ballot result to become a real victory for children in the classrooms across the city.

As a school board member who never had real authority, I am relieved that the elected board will no longer be a smokescreen for those who hold the real power. It is time to move forward, without excuses. Let the people see the results.


Ward 3 member

D.C. Board of Education


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