- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 22, 2004

Saying goodbye

So it’s goodbye to Harry “the Cat” Brecheen, the great St. Louis Cardinals pitcher who recentlydiedatage89 (“Roundup,” Sports, Monday). He was truly a classy athlete with impressive statistics (133-92) over a 12-year span.

Moreimportant,Mr. Brecheen was a part of the exciting “Gas House Gang” era in the mid-1940s that made up the Redbirds and included the likes of Stan Musial, Enos Slaughter, Johnny Mize, Marty Marion and Whitey Kurowski. Most important, Mr. Brecheen did his job meticulously and never whined about money or perks, unlike today’s pampered prima donnas. Right, Roger Clemens, Mike Piazza, Alex Rodriguez, etc.? Oh yes, Harry Brecheen was admired and respected by his teammates and fans — a rarity these days.


Massapequa, N.Y.

Rx for reform

Tuesday’s Commentary column by Donald Devine, “Rx bill’s fine print,” erroneously stated that the recently enacted Medicare bill will allow employers to shift their premium costs for health coverage to their retirees and still receive a subsidy from the federal government for maintaining retiree prescription-drug benefits. Mr. Devine got it half right. As his commentary stated, this would, indeed, be “quite a deal,” but it isn’t the deal included in the Medicare bill signed into law by President Bush last month.

In fact, just to avoid any further doubt or speculation on this point, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Thomas, California Republican, who chaired the Medicare conference negotiations, wrote a letter Jan. 16 to Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson in which he stated that the assertion that employers would qualify for the new Medicare subsidies regardless of how much cost-sharing they required their retirees to do “is not supported by the legislative language in the statute or congressional intent.”

Here’s the way it works: The only employers who will qualify for future payments from Medicare will be those who can demonstrate that their prescription-drug coverage for retirees over 65 is at least “actuarially equivalent” in value to the Medicare drug benefit that begins in 2006.

The legislation also directs the Department of Health and Human Services to come up with further guidance on how employers will be required to determine the value of their retiree prescription-drug benefits. Once this program gets under way, any prescription-drug coverage under which the retiree pays for most, or all, of the value of the benefits under the plan surely will be determined under the agency’s guidance to be lower in value than Medicare’s drug benefit and therefore ineligible for federal subsidies. Now, with the letter from Mr. Thomas to Mr. Thompson, this is as close to a firmly settled issue as you can get.

It has been widely and accurately reported that the availability of retiree health coverage has been declining steadily over many years and that retirees frequently are shouldering an increasing share of the cost of their health coverage, whether from their former employers or from Medicare. The good news is that the new Medicare bill should help many employers maintain this important benefit for retirees rather than discontinuing coverage and driving up the costs and burdens for the government to provide drug benefits to even more seniors in the future.


Vice president, health policy

American Benefits Council


Training tomorrow’s leaders

I can’t believe that after all we’ve learned about brutally misogynous cultures, such as that in Afghanistan under the Taliban, an educated person would believe in the “equality of world cultures.” The government certainly shouldn’t be promoting the teaching of such ideological nonsense to impressionablechildren (“Learning globally,” Page 1, Sunday).

How can anyone think for a minute that all cultures are morally equal? Many societies worldwide remain bastions of cruelty, for women in particular. Amnesty International has condemned “honor killing” in Pakistan, where hundreds of women are killed annually for the slightest infraction against a rigid gender morality code. In Saudi Arabia, women basically are property with no civil rights and are required to wear an all-covering garment that hides any evidence of individuality.

Rather than teach politically correct fables that have nothing to do with reality, why not educate young people about Western civilization’s genuine accomplishments in the areas of race and gender equality? We can be proud of what political struggle has achieved here, unlike the retrograde cultures that still enslave women, yet inexplicably remain admirable in the skewed opinion of multicultural extremists.


Berkeley, Calif.

Sunday’s article “Learning globally,” about the international baccalaureate program, failed to enlighten the reader as to the nature of the program.

I have been a history and German teacher in the IB program for seven years, and I can tell you it is an excellent college-preparatory program. We do put the word “world” back into education in the program, but we do not promote one-worldism, socialist causes or any other extreme liberal political and economic philosophies. We do present the full spectrum of political and economic philosophies, from fascism to communism, laissez-faire capitalism to globalization, macro- and microeconomic theories, etc. We do not teach peace in our school program, but neither do we teach war. Students learn about both peace and war.

More specifically, they learn to research the causes and effects of conflict and international cooperation. We teach studentstothink,develop intellectually and come to some genuine, authentic understanding of their own as to their place in the world, as well as their community and country. We do not make a point of teaching cultural relativism. We simply present cultures and societies as best we can from various perspectives. Whatever positions the students take, they also are required to present counterclaims and other points of view.

The teachers do not promote any point of view — that’s part of our extensive training. We are teaching our students of history to be little historians themselves — to research and analyze primary sources, to take a historiographical approach to their studies and to write analytical papers that are thesis-driven. IB students on average are no more intelligent than other students, but they are much better prepared in the skills necessary for university studies.

In regard to the issue of college credits, Woodson High School in Virginia has made a grievous error in abandoning the IB program. What your article failed to mention was that there are three levels of courses. The lowest level is called ab initio; then there are the standard level and the higher level. Only the higher-level courses are considered to be at a typical college level of instruction. In order to qualify for the IB diploma, a student must take, I believe, three of six tests at the higher level. Why would a college or university accept credits that were at a standard high school level or less?

In our school, only the foreign languages and math are at the standard level. English, history, psychology, biology and chemistry are all at the higher level. Most of our students who get the IB diploma average at least a year of college credit from the colleges and universities they attend. Of course, no student is going to get college credit for a certificate in a standard-level course. Advanced Placement credits are just that and are similar in nature to the higher-level IB courses, so there is college credit involved.

High schools that abandon the IB because the students who take standard-level courses do not get college credit clearly have their priorities wrong and/or do not understand the nature of the IB program itself.


Portland, Ore.

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