The Palm Beach Post from West Palm Beach, Florida on March 27, 1998 · Page 15
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March 27, 1998

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The Palm Beach Post from West Palm Beach, Florida · Page 15

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Friday, March 27, 1998
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THE PALM BEACH POST FRIDAY, MARCH 27, 1998 15A Multicultural That's Tfeltsin being Ifeltsirf reading list misses the point ! It was one of those controversies that rork the jBay Area as regularly as an earthquake. Can vou ssjOs' -"-r"rV','w''h""';wwwfrim!!irrnr - 0SS TEa THE MEPIA 1 ' 'titf'Hlflr''' ' YELTSIN IS FEELING : judge a book by its color? The color of the author . j This brouhaha'Began when two members of the jSan' Francisco school board decided to fuse math (and literature. They proposed that seven of the 10 Irequired books for schoolchildren be chosen from a designated list of multicultural authors. ideaa white male authors while they're down. The 'regular suspects took their posts, praising diversity -or lambasting political correctness in a fuss unmatched since the city across the bay, Oakland, 'ctsrrt1 ta1lriT FKnmVo I The teachers, meanwhile, wanted to flunk the tools. In a city where the white 'majority' is a school minority, many teachers insist there is already a Kvhole lot of diversity in the curriculum. I Finally, a raucous school board meeting ended .'Firing the government is positive,' says Grigory Yavlinsky, the only reformer building a national political party. 'Yeltsin did it himself, with no advice.' But will he, can he, follow through? Bored? Depressed? Stumbling and coughing a lot? Fearful your public is tiring of you, but unwilling to gamble on vigorous reforms? Take the Yeltsin Cure: Grab world headlines by firing your whole Cabinet, and then hire most of them back. A week before Russia's president flexed his shake-up muscles, Gen. Alexander Lebed was , in Washington campaigning for governor of a region in Siberia by speaking in the United States That may sound odd, but it's the new Russian politics: "See this cameraman?" he said to me after telling Congress that NATO expansion is no big threat. "His film goes on television back home. I'm being pragmatic." He's gambling his national future on a regional race. If Gen. Lebed loses in Krasnoyarsk, he's finished; if he wins, he'll be a prospect for president in 2000. Last time out, Mr. Yeltsin pumped money into Gen. Lebed's campaign to split the large anti-Yeltsin vote, then paid hiro off with a short-lived appointment before dumping him. William Satire The formerly arrogant general must be happy about Mr. Yeltsin's latest reshuffle. Gen. Lebed's archenemy in the military, Interior Minister Anatoly Kulikov whose botched war in Chechnya Gen. Lebed ended is out on his ear. And Prime Minister Victor Chernomyrdin, Vice President Al Gore's Gazprom gasbag, has also been cut adrift. "Chernomyrdin's like a sunflower," Gen. Lebed opined through an interpreter before the PM got the sickle, meaning his power was purely derivative. "When Yuri Luzhkov is no longer mayor of Moscow, he's still Luzhkov; but take prime minister from Chernomyrdin, ; - Ellen Goodman lasfweek in a political compromise that was more deft than deep. Among other points, the board ruled for diversity without quotas, saying: "Works of literature read in class in grades 9 to 11 . . . must include works by writers of color " But before we head out to recess for some fresh air, may I register dismay at how any 'dialogue about race' deteriorates into a shouting match. This time, as the participants kept throwing names such as Mark Twain and Toni Morrison about, I wondered if any of them had completed the required reading. - I had just spent a week in Paradise with Toni Morrison. This is her fictional meditation on race and gender, on the game of us and them. It's a novel about a promised land of safe sameness that disintegrates disastrously. ' Ms. Morrison tells the story of an all-black town , iij Oklahoma. We get to know every citizen and ev enable him to run again. Gen. Lebed disagreed: "Yeltsin will run again. He's running already." Gee that's what Grigory Yavlinsky, the only reformer building a national political party, has been saying all along. "There's a Russian saying, 'fools agree,' " smiled Alexander Ivanov-ich. (The more pompous American expression is "great minds think alike.") What about Mr. Yavlinsky? "Intelligent man, attracts smart people around him. Controls 8 percent of the Duma. I don't know what's the matter with Yavlinsky he doesn't engage but doesn't resist. Still, there's an affinity between us. Everybody says he could be kingmaker, not king." Wednesday, I reached Mr. Yavlinsky on his cell phone in Moscow (Kremlinology is easier now). The putative kingmaker gives Gen. Lebed a good chance of making a comeback in Siberia. He, too, is relieved at the fall of Gen. Kulikov, and will not miss Mr. Chernomyrdin; he's glad his reformist ally Mr. Nemtsov remains in place. "Firing the government is positive," says the leader of the Yabloko party. "Yeltsin did it himself, with no advice." Wasn't Boris Berezovsky, the billionaire capitalist at odds with Mr. Chernomyrdin over a gas deal, behind the shake-up, as he has hinted? "No," says Mr. Yavlinsky flatly. "This was Yeltsin being Yeltsin, wanting a tabula rasa. He showed the seven bankers their power was not absolute. Now we'll see if he follows through." Mr. Yavlinsky, unlike most of the bears dancing to Mr. Yeltsin's game of musical chairs, has a clear direction in mind: "Gaining people's confidence with a fair and simple tax system; ending non-tax-paying monopolies like Gazprom; breaking the criminal oligarchy, and privatizing property, including land." That would take steady, purposeful leadership at the top, but I don't see sustained vision in a fits-and-starts reformer like Boris Yeltsin. Mr. Yeltsin is splashing around a lot, but when it comes to building a free economy he's treading water. His only policy consistency is wrongheaded, coming from Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov, Saddam Hussein's loyal KGB friend, whose shortsighted nationalism discourages investment from abroad. Mr. Yeltsin will serve until he drops because he needs to stay in office to stay alive. But to struggle out of its swamp, Russia needs the daring Yeltsin of a decade ago. D William Safire is a columnist for The New York Times. ery corner, every shade of color and every nuance of character. rThe fown of Ruby was founded by the descendants of slaves shunned first by whites and then more devastatingly by lighter-skin blacks. In response the men establish a hierarchy of color in which the darker reject the lighter. ' Ruby is a harbor of patriarchal peace, near an old conyent that becomes a retreat for women refugees and he s nothing. He sees Mr. Luzhkov as "a serious candidate, with money, organization." What about Communist leader Gennadi Zyuganov? "A scarecrow his ceiling is 29 percent." And Boris Nemtsov, the handsome young democrat said to be Mr. Yeltsin's favorite, soon to be reappointed? "He gets the unpopular assignments, along with taking care of the bones of the last czar. Finished." I presumed that Mr. Yeltsin won't seek a loophole in the Russian Constitution that would from the male world. The first line of the book, as the men attack the convent, is starkly about race: "They killed the white girl first." It wasn't until the end that I realized I had no idea which of the convent dwellers was white. Flipping back, looking for clues, I finally understood that this was precisely Ms. Morrison's point Ms. Morrison's work holds Ms. Morrison this riddle at its heart: This is a : .. tale in which skin color is at once the point and beside the point. - By raising the issue of color at the outset and ! then.erasing it, Ms. Morrison said she wanted "to , have the reader believe finally after you know Wasn't education the idea in the first place? J,w" v - a rTT " mw everything about these women, their intenor lives, their past, their behavior that the one piece of , information you don't know, which is the race, may not, in fact matter. And when you do know it, what do you know?" This Utopia that is ruined by its own rigidity reminded me of more than racial strife in America. It echoed with the sounds of Israeli conflicts over who is a Jew, with Serbian passions for ethnic cleansing. This, after all, is what literature does at its humane best. In the colors of Mark Twain or Toni Morrison, it is also colorblind. Black and white and re(a)d all over. It's specific and universal. "These are odd times in this country. We are racially divided and diverse. More of us want to check off the multicultural box on the Census form and more of us worry about resegregation. In this climate an African-American author rises to the top tier of the best-seller list by taking race seriously enough to imagine Paradise. And taking the human condition seriously enough to expand the Color palette. 1 Ironically, only an exquisite racial consciousness may lead readers into and beyond race. This is the intricate dance of reading- list controversies that arise from time to time. This is the duality at the heart of food fights between adults a misunderstanding that is warped by political screaming matches and school board duels. ' The color, gender, life experience of any author is at bnce central and irrelevant to her world view and therefore to ours. Our children need writers who see the world through different lenses to enlarge their own vision, but the numbers game seems to divide us instead. " In the end, we don't learn this by the numbers. It's the words that matter. The good news is that the key players in Prince George's County's school busing saga have agreed to settle their legal fight and move on. The bad news is that the amicable settlement, in suburban Maryland, follows 25 years of rancorous, divisive and costly warfare. The still worse news is that there isn't a great deal to show for it. County Executive Wayne Curry, School Board Chairman Alvin Thornton and NAACP President Hardi Jones say they are looking forward to a future in which neighborhood schools, not mandatory busing, will be the salient feature. William Raspberry Neighborhood schools?! But that's what the (mostly) white opponents of busing were screaming for a quarter of a century ago when the NAACP brought its desegregation suit Neighborhood schools, the conventional wisdom then had it, was merely a code phrase for continued segregation. What has happened in the meantime is that blacks have come to political ascendancy. Mr. Curry, Mr. Jones and Mr. Thornton are black, as is School Superintendent Jerome Clark. Gov. Parris Glendening, whose commitment to pick up a greater share of school construction costs made the settlement possible, has reason to pay attention to an increasingly potent black constituency. And, not exactly coincidentally, the once predominantly white school system is now about three-quarters black. Despite all these changes, however, test scores the second-worst in the state, behind Baltimore remain an issue, and Superintendent Clark has promised to cany out wide-scale firings if there is not substantial improvement in the next few years. In a nutshell: Twenty-five years of often-bitter warfare has ended with little to show for it and the black-white achievement gap was unchanged." Kansas City, too, will return to a neighborhood school approach, though it will retain on a district-wide basis several of the magnet schools. So what are we to conclude from these two failed experiments atypical only in terms of the commitment and resources that went into them? That poor black children are uneducable, even under the best of circumstances? But such a conclusion flies in the face of the fact that there are places with all the problems of a Prince George's or a Kansas City but which nonetheless have managed to educate their children. ; Mr. Ciotti, who knows this, offers a different explanation: We've been looking for improvement in all the wrong places in technology, in architecture, in massive new spending and in a whole variety of educational bells and whistles. According to Mr. Ciotti, a Californian writing for the libertarian Cato Institute, the errors include: ' B The assumption that inner-city blacks nedd middle-class white classmates in order to learn; ' The tendency '(when blacks gain political control) to look to the school system as an employment opportunity rather than an educational institution; The magnet school syndrome, which weakens neighborhood schools and, thereby, fractures the neighborhoods' sense of community, and; The unexamined notion that money can set things right ': I'd add one more: The notion that we ought to use the public schools to integrate the general society and cure the problems of caste and race and class. Fine goals, but so is the quaint one of educating the children. William Raspberry is a columnist for The Washington Post ; And Prince George's is not alone. Take Kansas City, Mo., where according to a depressing new report from the Cato Institute, a dozen years of spending on magnet schools, new construction, reduced class size and an impressive array of amenities produced the same results: No improvement in test scores for the district's black majority, and perhaps less integration than before. As education writer Paul Ciotti put it: "Although the students enjoyed perhaps the best school facilities in the country (including an Olympic-size swimming pool with an underwater viewing room, TV and animation studios, a robotics lab, a zoo, and a model U.N. with simultaneous translation capability), the percentage of black students in the largely black district had continued to increase, black students' achievement hadn't improved at all, ! Ellen Goodman is a columnist for The Boston Globe. progressives would steamroll us all with passage of flat income tax Molly Ivins In the Batty Ideas Department, one of my' favorites is the repeal of the progressive income tax and the substitution of a flat tax. This charming notion currently being pushed by the Republi ingston of Louisiana propose, would actually be totally regressive. Quel fairness. Because repealing even the remnant of the progressive income tax we now have seems to me so patently absurd, I went back to study how we got a progressive income tax in the first place. You may recall that we actually had to pass a constitutional amendment the 16th, in order to do so because of an iffy decision by the Supreme Court in 1894. This country first passed an income tax in 1862 to pay the extraordinary expenses of the Civil War, and it was allowed to lapse in 1872. Debaie continued for the next 40 years, with some of the finest political rhetoric, of the era expended on the question. When Congress finally passed the amendment many Republicans voted for it on the happy assumption that it would never pass the ratification process. But it did so in an expectedly short time; it was adopted on Feb. 3, 1913. At the beginning, the tax applied only to the rich: 99 percent of the population was exempt. 1he rates rose gradually until the 1920s, when powerful Treasury Secretary Andrew Mellon ("three presidents served under him," observed George Norris) began to lower them. The tax was riddled with exemptions from the beginning, and the rich quickly moved to shelter their income from it In the Congressional Record for July 12, 1909, when the House passed the amendment is a remarkable debate. Mr. James of Kentucky speaks: "For a century, this law had been held constitutional by an unbroken chain of decisions, reaching from the first link forged by the revolutionary judges down for more than a hundred years; a chain of decisions so strong that Abraham Lincoln girded it about the Republic in its darkest hour in the War Between the States. It stood by all these tests and grew strong with age. ... Its absolute justice, its immeasurable equity, stamp it a law better than stare decisis, for it is as just a law as the Republic ever made, so fair and so righteous that it might be called the Golden Rule of Taxation. It is the ideal way to support theovernment "Who is prepared to defend as justa system of taxation that requires a hod carrier, who for eight long hours each day wends his way to the dizzy heights of a lofty building with his load of mortar or bricks, to pay as much to support this great Republic as John D. Rockefeller, whose fortune is so great that it staggers the imagination to contemplate it? Who believes that it is just to say that 23 farmers in my district who by a life of self-denial and unceasing toil have been able only to accumulate 200 acres of land and a modest home, who in sunshine arid storm labor on, who by such a life only own in this world's goods $5,000 each, Is it just I inquire, for these men to pay as much taxes to keep up this government as the 23 men who compose the directorate of the New York City Bank, which has a controlling financial power of $11 billion, or one-tenth of the wealth of the United States?" Hits ca change. Molly Ivins is a columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegrar?i. ) According to an editorial in the Capital Times & Wisconsin State Journal: The Columbia study says the nation's poorest those with incomes up to $5,000 a year have fared worst They hold onto 18 percent less of their income than people in similar circumstances kept 15 years ago. People with incomes of $50,000 and up are doing the best They keep up to 57 percent more of their income than they did in 1980. The people in the middle, making up to $50,000 per, keep the same amount of their incomes as in 1980 but they end up paying about 5 percent more to the Social Security system, while the very rich get a cut-off at $62,500. You may wonder where you were while all this was being debated, but in fact we never had a national debate on whether we wanted to scrap the progressive income tax; it was done quietly and in the name of other concerns. To go in now and further "flatten" the tax. as Reps. Bill Archer of Texas and Bob fcv- can-chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, among others has the deceptive appearance of fairness. What could be more just? Bill Gates will bay exactly the same percentage of his income in taxes as a ditch-digger, a waitress or a mailman. One for all, all for bnei-r- think how fair it will be. f Actually, we already have an effective Eat tax, as a recent study at Columbia diversity shows: Because payroll taxes are So regressive, all of us, from rich to poor, pay about one-third of our income in federal taxes. According to the Columbia report, our once-progressive tax system has already been radically altered bv the changes made during the 190s. The government expects more from the poor and less from the well-off. more from married couples jointly filing their returns and less from singles and heads of households." 7

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