- The Washington Times - Friday, May 15, 2009

Union no-shows

The Senate held a hearing on the future of the recently canceled D.C. scholarship program that allowed inner-city children to attend private schools, and not a single member of the vehemently anti-voucher teachers lobby attended.

Sen. Joe Lieberman, Connecticut independent, and Sen. Susan Collins, Maine Republican, both supporters of the defunct program, invited the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, along with some other representatives, to explain their opposition to the program. But, no one agreed to attend and testify publicly against it.

Mr. Lieberman, in his opening statement, lamented the fact that he was unable to have a balanced hearing.

“I do want to state for the record that we invited no less than six witnesses to come and testify about their alternative perspectives on this program and not a single one accepted our invitation,” he said. “I say that with regret, because I wanted to hear both sides.”

The D.C. Opportunity Scholarship program is scheduled to end later this year because of a provision added by Democrats to a government-spending bill. The pilot program had been in effect for five years and supporters want it to be reauthorized. Opponents, led by teachers unions, say the voucher program threatens public education.

Sen. George V. Voinovich, Ohio Republican, complained that the very people who stopped the program were the ones who wouldn’t attend to defend their actions.

“The only reason this is a problem is because of a couple of special interest groups: the National Education Association and American Federation of Teachers,” he said.

Absent and uncounted

One in four ballots requested by military personnel and other Americans who live abroad and are eligible to vote were never counted in the 2008 election, according to a new government study.

The Senate Committee on Rules and Administration and the Congressional Research Service surveyed election offices with high numbers of military personnel across the nation to see what happened to the 441,00 absentee ballots requested by Americans living overseas.

The study found that about 98,000 ballots were mailed but never returned; 13,500 ballots were rejected because they were improperly signed or notarized; and 11,000 were simply labeled “undeliverable.”

A progressive conundrum

Some liberals think it’s time for Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to take a little revenge on one of her fiercest critics with her new international powers.

Conservative talk radio host Michael Savage, placed on Britain’s banned list of persons for his “hate speech,” has asked the Thomas More Law Center to write a letter to Mrs. Clinton asking her to intervene in his case.

Thomas More Law Center President and Chief Counsel Richard Thompson wrote a letter to the secretary. “On behalf of Michael Savage, an American conservative talk show host, the Thomas More Law Center respectfully demands that you call upon the government of the United Kingdom to rescind the arbitrary and capricious decision to ban Mr. Savage.”

Not so fast, say some Hillary fans.

“It’s a conundrum for a progressive,” wrote Michael Hood, a liberal who monitors conservative talk radio and blogs at Blatherwatch.blogs.com. “We say Hillary should definitely help Savage … but not until she gets Afghanistan and Pakistan squared away.”

Mr. Savage, whose San Francisco-based radio show is America’s third-most-popular and who is known for his fervent opposition to illegal immigration and same-sex marriage, is one of 16 people whom Britain barred from entering.

British Home Secretary Jacqui Smith said last week that the “least-wanted” list is intended to clarify “the sorts of unacceptable behavior we are not willing to have in this country.”

Besides Mr. Savage, the three Americans on the blacklist are Westboro Baptist Church pastor Fred Phelps, known for his anti-gay stance and picketing of funerals, his daughter Shirley Phelps-Roper, and white supremacist leader Stephen “Don” Black.

Ringing away

One of the biggest items of “news you can’t use” this week is the number of cell phone calls that interrupted the White House press corps briefing led by press secretary Robert Gibbs on Wednesday.

Veteran Human Events reporter John Gizzi’s cell phone, which has an upbeat Meringue-themed ring tone, rang twice during the briefing. When it rang a second time, Mr. Gibbs confiscated it and tossed it to an aide in a room behind his podium.

But that wasn’t the end of it.

After Mr. Gizzi’s phone was taken, the cell phone belonging to CBS news reporter Bill Plante rang. Mr. Plante, however, chose to accept the call and stepped out of the room to answer it. He returned and asked Mr. Gibbs, with a smirk, “Did I miss anything?”

Mr. Gibbs and the rest of the press corps took it all in good fun, but an apologetic Mr. Gizzi pointed out in a post for Human Events that, perhaps, it wasn’t all his fault.

“The briefing, originally scheduled for 1:00, was moved to 1:30,” he wrote. “Then it was moved to 1:45 and it finally started at 2:00 p.m. Gibbs was at it again, telling my colleagues and me to ‘hurry up and wait’ once more. When the briefing starts that late, of course we’d get calls.”

Regardless, he promised to make the briefing room a “cell phone free zone” and bring a book to keep him occupied the next time a briefing was going to be held late.

• Amanda Carpenter can be reached at [email protected] washingtontimes.com

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