- The Washington Times - Friday, September 26, 2003

An important alliance

The summit between President Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed in yesterday’s editorial “Bush and Putin, together again,” is extremely important because of the potential dangers that exist today in many parts of the world directed by extremist organizations.

In this regard, it is critically important to our national security interest to support the democratic initiatives that are taking place in Russia during this transitional period. In particular, note the strong development of an open society through the nonprofit sector that is emerging as the third sector in the development of the new Russia.

I recently returned from Moscow and saw the formation of this robust relationship between the nonprofits, the commercial sector and the government. Accordingly, this relationship between our two countries needs to be strengthened through the personal contact of these two world leaders.



MILTON CERNY

Arlington

The sporthood of Scrabble

Regarding Patrick Hruby’s article “The wide, wide, wide world of sports” (Sports, Thursday) and his nine sporting commandments:

I invite Mr. Hruby and Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban to attend the National Scrabble Championship in New Orleans next August and sample for themselves the aroma that wafts up from 1,000 players frenetically anagramming from sweatier to weariest.

I’ll give him his third commandment, though. Running, jumping, throwing and bodily harm won’t be a big part of our game until we move from ESPN to Fox.

JOHN J. CHEW III

Director

Toronto Scrabble Club

Toronto, Canada

Asbestos bill needs to be cleaned up

There is more to the asbestos legislation pending in the Senate than Wednesday’s editorial, “Cleaning up asbestos suits,” describes. The editorial mentions 60 corporations being “destroyed,” I suppose because they have had lawsuits filed against them, and they may or may not have declared bankruptcy. I do not know if they actually have been destroyed. However, if the corporations follow the same path as Johns Manville, they will not be gone forever, and many of the jobs will not be lost permanently.

My wife, Janet, lost her battle with mesothelioma, caused by asbestos exposure, at age 39 after a five-year battle that included multiple surgeries, chemotherapy and numerous complications. She endured constant, excruciating pain throughout her battle with cancer.

The Senate bill is more than “cleaning up.” You need to read the many provisions of the bill that are very restrictive to the plaintiffs and overly helpful to the asbestos companies. The one-size-fits-all compensation is particularly unfair. Each case is unique. Janet had earned a doctorate from the University of Virginia and had her whole professional career ahead of her when she was diagnosed. We incurred medical expenses for five years. My career was permanently changed as I became almost a full-time caregiver during her illness, and I am now a single father to young children. Should the compensation in our case be the same as for another asbestos victim who may have been diagnosed in his 60s or 70s, near the end of his working life? That is for a jury to consider.

I understand the need for some improvement in the manner in which asbestos cases are managed. I believe that those cases that have been filed for people who have been exposed to asbestos but have no illness at present should be dismissed. (However, I also believe that those cases should be allowed to be reopened if an illness manifests itself.) I also support a cap on the settlement size, albeit a larger amount than the bill’s proposed structure, as a prudent change. Cases already filed should be allowed to continue in the courts. The proposed legislation, contrary to its title, is very unfair to the claimants and the attorneys who have represented their interests.

There is a way to fairly compensate the victims of asbestos disease, hold the companies that knowingly and recklessly used asbestos products responsible and still work toward keeping those companies solvent. As it is now, Senate Bill 1125 is not there yet. The chief executive of Georgia Pacific has said there will be “partying in the streets” if this legislation is enacted. If you read it closely, you will see why.

DAVID M. MURPHY

Earlysville, Va.

Vouching for vouchers

As a critic of D.C. Public Schools, I have applauded Mayor Anthony A. Williams’ support of tuition vouchers for students in failing schools (“Williams implores Senate to OK vouchers,” Metropolitan, Wednesday). Legislation providing up to $10 million in extra funds for vouchers passed by one vote last week in the House of Representatives. Now, Mr. Williams is pressing the Senate to pass it. The bill furnishes up to $10 million for vouchers of up to $7,500 per child — on basis of need.

Waiting for the Senate to act seems unnecessary. Mr. Williams isn’t just some guy. As mayor of Washington, he can twist arms and “roll logs” to gain his political objectives. This should mean he can fashion his own voucher program independent of what the Senate does or fails to do.

Mr. Williams can call for reformation of the D.C. education budget to create vouchers for all students who desire them and meet eligibility standards. The funding mechanism can be simple. For each student granted a voucher, the cost — up to $7,500 — should be subtracted from the D.C. school budget’s bottom line.

Of course, Mr. Williams would have to stand up to the teachers unions. He also would have to listen to the histrionics of Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton and others like her who want to keep D.C. children where they are — in ineffective public schools that have failed two generations of students and limited their futures.

A voucher-reduced student population would mean D.C. schools would need fewer teachers, buildings, support staff, administrators, etc. And because each current student represents an expenditure of more than $10,000 per year by D.C. schools, every voucher issued would mean the system still would get funding of $2,500 for that student, without the cost of educating him.

Thus, even if all students received vouchers and left the system, funding still would stand at 25 percent of current levels — with no need to teach anyone. The D.C. school system could become a think-tank for progressive education with a $250 million annual budget.

That won’t happen, of course, but clearly, Mr. Williams should proceed if he really wants vouchers. There’s plenty of money. All he has to do is redirect it.

Obviously, Mr. Williams’ political problems would be eased by getting the extra federal funds. If he does, he placates his public school buddies with fewer students, less work and the same money. But if the “Education Senator,” Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, blocks the extra funds, Mr. Williams can blame Senate obstructionists and say he gave it the old college try. He would be off the hook. However, D.C. children would be left (as usual) with nothing. He can do better than this.

Public education is like a fortune-telling machine with a short circuit. Its response to everything is, “We need more money.” D.C. per-student expenditures are the highest in the nation. More money is not needed — vouchers can proceed without any new funding. It’s just a matter of political will and purpose — and leadership from Mr. Williams. Yes, it’s a tough political problem.

ELWOOD E. ZIMMERMAN

Potomac Falls, Va.

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