- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 27, 2001

Pedigree aside

Inside the Beltway is told that Interior Secretary Gale A. Norton's parents, Dale and Jackie Norton, were at home in Wichita, Kan., the other night when the telephone rang.

It was the Wilderness Society calling, one of a number of environmental organizations to which the couple have belonged.

The purpose of the call was to convince the Nortons to renew their membership. The society's representative pointed out how important the couple's renewal was at this time, and just how necessary their financial contribution was to assist in "the fight against Bush/Norton."

At which point Mr. and Mrs. Norton politely informed the caller that they were speaking to the parents of the new secretary of the Department of the Interior.

"Oh," came the reply. "Well, can we count on you to renew your membership anyway?"

Bank woes

Stress-management counselors seeking additional clients might want to respond to the World Bank, and do so quickly.

Staff of the World Bank are "pushed to the edge" by budget cuts and resulting job insecurity, boosting anxiety levels to an "all-time high," according to the World Bank Group's Staff Association, which writes in its newsletter of "more divorces than in the past, and suicide threats have been made."

Other employees of the powerful organization, founded in 1944, complain of taking their frustrations out on their children, and of excessive alcohol consumption to the point of being "on a slippery slope."

The cause for this turmoil?

A $26 million budget "overrun," which surfaced six months ago and resulted in several hundred employee dismissals.

In addition, the World Bank anticipates another 299 employee "separations," as it calls them, between now and June 30.

That explains why World Bank managers were provided with a list of tips "On Delivering Bad News" particularly to "someone who's worked long and hard."

"There are ways to minimize or maximize the pain, say the Bank's professional counselors. A thoughtful manager can make it easier on the staff member," advises the list of tips, which suggests:

• "Don't tell the person [they're being fired] on a Friday afternoon or before a holiday. This leaves the staff member alone and dangling … .

• "Arrange for a follow-up meeting with the person … .

• "Be honest about what the person can expect and why the redundancy decision was made … .

• "Don't expect the person's performance to be 'business as usual.' He/she will be distracted and preoccupied, as you would be too."

Cost of warmth

Talk about stress: Sen. Byron L. Dorgan, North Dakota Democrat, is the recipient of two natural-gas heating bills forwarded by his distraught constituents.

One man from Fargo set his thermostat at 68 degrees or lower and got hit this month with a $726 bill. Another retired gentleman and his wife say they've been forced to sell their home after receiving a $1,091 February heating bill.

Good thing this winter has been warmer than average.

History social

American history is too important to be swept under the bed or "distorted beyond all recognition," yet that is what is happening in this country.

So warns Sen. Robert C. Byrd, West Virginia Democrat, who fears American children are being denied "any sense of their own history."

Considered Congress' leading authority on world history, Mr. Byrd introduced legislation at the end of the last session appropriating $50 million for schools to teach American history as a separate subject. "No lumping of history into social studies," he says.

He hopes the funding will be a partial solution to the "egregious failure" of the American educational system.

How big a failure?

Barely 17 percent of fourth-graders, 14 percent of eighth-graders and 11 percent of 12th-graders were judged "proficient" in U.S. history, according to one National Assessment of Educational Progress assessment.

Even more disturbing to Mr. Byrd was last year's American Council of Trustees and Alumni study of college seniors who were graduating from 55 of the nation's top universities.

Nearly 80 percent earned no better than a "D" in American history, flunking questions on everything from the identity of Harry S Truman to the correct century when the Civil War broke out.

"These results are shameful and appalling," says Mr. Byrd.

Rest in Peace

The Senate has adopted a resolution that will name the Washington headquarters of the Peace Corps the Paul D. Coverdell Peace Corps Headquarters.

Mr. Coverdell, only the second Georgia Republican to sit in the Senate since Reconstruction, died in July after a stroke.

He served as the director of the Peace Corps under President Bush.

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