Think tanks wrap-up III

Feb. 12, 2003 at 5:39 PM
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WASHINGTON, Feb. 12 (UPI) -- The UPI think tank wrap-up is a daily digest covering opinion pieces, reactions to recent news events and position statements released by various think tanks. This is the third of three wrap-ups for Feb. 12.

The Heritage Foundation

WASHINGTON -- Trading darkness for light

By Brett D. Schaefer

Africa used to be known as "the dark continent" because so little was known about it. Increased knowledge (and political correctness) has dated that description, but one can argue that the situation the African continent finds itself in today is dark indeed.

Sub-Saharan Africa is stricken with pervasive poverty. In 2000, on average, each person in sub-Saharan Africa made only $568 -- many less than a dollar a day, according to the World Bank. For this "average" person to become as wealthy as an American (whose income averaged $31,996 in 2000), their economies would have to grow about five percent a year -- for the next 80 years.

Then there's disease. As President Bush noted in his State of the Union address, nearly 30 million Africans have AIDS, including three million children under the age of 15. The United States should offer help to prevent the spread of this disease, Bush said, because "seldom has history offered a greater opportunity to do so much for so many."

He's right. But Africa's poverty should be just as big a foreign policy concern as the spread of AIDS. The administration recognizes this: A September 2002 Bush administration national security study said that in Africa, "promise and opportunity sit side by side with disease, war and desperate poverty." It went on to note that this situation "threatens both a core values of the United States -- preserving human dignity --and our strategic priority -- combating global terror."

Economic repression creates poverty and resentment that terrorists can exploit. Case in point: Five of the seven countries the State Department identifies as state sponsors of terrorism -- Cuba, Iran, Libya, North Korea and Syria -- were rated among the world's least free economies in the 2003 "Index of Economic Freedom," an annual survey The Heritage Foundation publishes with The Wall Street Journal.

But poverty isn't a matter of fate. It's largely imposed through ill-conceived and repressive economic policies. A major step toward alleviating poverty is to provide greater economic freedom and strengthen the rule of law. Most economic analyses conclude that these policies are the only way to create the opportunities that lead to greater wealth.

And, as noted in The Heritage Foundation's latest policy guidebook, "Agenda 2003," (, America's strategy in Africa should focus on two priorities: expanding economic freedom and strengthening the continent's ability to address political instability.

Congress can help the administration address these priorities in several ways:

-- Pass a free-trade agreement with the Southern African Customs Union. Union-member countries (Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, South Africa and Swaziland) are among the freest in Africa and are well positioned to reap the benefits of free trade with the United States.

-- Authorize the president to negotiate a free-trade and investment agreement with sub-Saharan Africa. Congress and President Bush should cooperate to expand the successful trade preferences started under the African Growth and Opportunity Act. This would benefit African entrepreneurs, promote growth and development, and increase America's access to the region's vast oil and gas resources.

-- Support free trade through the World Trade Organization, including the elimination of agricultural barriers. One of Africa's greatest assets is its ability to produce agricultural products cheaply. However, this advantage is greatly diminished by the huge subsidies that Europe and the United States give their own farmers. In future WTO negotiations, America should follow the ambitious agenda set forth by U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick. In particular, it should back his efforts to end agriculture subsidies and eliminate barriers to genetically modified foods that serve as a barrier to free trade. (Some African countries, despite having millions of starving citizens, have refused U.S. grain that has been modified through technology because they're afraid that the European Union would refuse their imports as an act of protest.)

-- Support the president's vision for the Millennium Challenge Account. This program would reward countries that increase economic freedom, strengthen the rule of law and promote industry and their people -- policies that are key to increasing prosperity.

The problem of AIDS is dire and the president is correct to rally America's resources to address the problem. But Africa's poverty kills as surely as AIDS. A lack of economic freedom and rule of law contribute to the big, bleak picture of current African life. Economic freedom and trade will help improve that picture and create an African continent that lives in the light of liberty, peace and prosperity and not in the dark of slavery, war and poverty.

(Brett D. Schaefer is the Jay Kingham fellow in international regulatory affairs in the Center for International Trade and Economics at The Heritage Foundation.)

The Institute for Public Accuracy

(The IPA is a nationwide consortium of policy researchers that seeks to broaden public discourse by gaining media access for experts whose perspectives are often overshadowed by major think tanks and other influential institutions.)

WASHINGTON -- Turkey, NATO, the bin Laden tape

-- Sanar Yurdatapan was recently awarded the Global Rights Defenders award by Human Rights Watch.

"Turkey is boiling. Ninety percent of the people are against an attack on Iraq. We are shocked at the depictions we see of the situation in the U.S. media. People here are not unhappy with NATO. No one here is with Saddam, we know the horrors he has done, but

outside of a tiny minority which is hoping to benefit -- nobody wants this."

-- William Hartung, a senior research fellow at the World Policy Institute, Hartung has written several articles on NATO.

"The flap between the U.S. and its NATO allies over when and how to provide assistance to Turkey in the event of a war in Iraq underscores the contradictions inherent in keeping NATO on life support in a post-Cold War environment. The Warsaw Pact has long since gone onto the dust heap of history and NATO deserves the same fate."

-- Diane Perlman is a clinical psychologist and contributor to the new book "The Psychology of Terrorism."

"A U.S. invasion would be an unparalleled opportunity for bin Laden to magnify his power and mobilize his base. He couldn't do it without our help. Bin Laden's methodology, as demonstrated on 9/11, is to take our force and turn it against us. Our military buildup, threats, and domination provide him with material needed to motivate more followers."

-- Jillian Schwedler, a professor of politics at the University of Maryland, has

monitored bin Laden's statements since well before the Sept. 11 attacks.

"We should not be surprised by this statement from bin Laden, in fact we should have anticipated it. This reaching out to Iraq at this point in time is reminiscent of the al Qaida statement of 1998 that expressed solidarity with the Palestinian people. Fringe figures like bin Laden seek to associate themselves with ... popular issues."

-- As'ad Abukhalil, author of "Bin Laden, Islam and America's New 'War on Terrorism.'"

"When Powell testified before Congress yesterday, he misrepresented the content of the tape ... bin Laden is now as attuned to public opinion as Karl Rove: the previous audio was dealing with Palestine, when he knew it galvanized Arab and Muslim masses, and now, in his typical fashion, he capitalizes on Arab and Muslim rejection of the U.S. war. Most noteworthy: the language used against Saddam's regime, and against all socialists (bin Laden in fact declares their infidelity, i.e. their blood is spillable), leaves no doubt that the peddled theory of alliance between bin Laden and Saddam is a figment of overworked U.S. propagandists. Bin Laden, however, rationalized a temporary stand with 'infidel socialists' against U.S. aggression."

The Acton Institute

(The Acton Institute works to promote a free and virtuous society characterized by individual liberty and sustained by religious principles. Its goal is to help build prosperity and progress on a foundation of religious liberty, economic freedom, and personal moral responsibility.)

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. -- Laboratories of educational choice: the D.C. experiment

By Clint W. Green

In the divinely ordained institution of the family, parents are given responsibility for the upbringing of children. The experience of the Washington Scholarship Fund, or WSF, is a case study in the exercise of this parental responsibility and the opposition it sometimes evokes.

In 1993, the WSF was established as a privately funded school voucher program in Washington, DC. In 1997, the WSF expanded its program and in the following spring received over 6,000 applications from students in government and private schools in the District. Of these, 1,000 scholarships of up to $1,700 were awarded.

In February of 2000, the Program on Education Policy and Governance at Harvard University released an evaluation of the program in the District. The evaluation found, among other things, that 95 percent of the students participating were African-American. Furthermore, those African-American students who switched from government schools to private schools in grades two through five scored higher -- an average of three percentile points in reading and seven percentile points in math -- than their peers in government schools.

Additionally, parents of students in the WSF program reported that the class sizes were, on average, smaller in private schools (18 pupils in private schools as opposed to 22 in government schools). The study also noted that parental contact with a child's school occurred with greater frequency.

While this evaluation mentions, correctly, that it would be premature to draw any lasting and permanent conclusions from the data, it also states that "the results do suggest that vouchers for low income families may be particularly effective, initially at least, if concentrated on students in lower grades. These students have fewer problems adjusting to private school and score higher in math after six or seven months in a private school setting."

Given this evidence, as well as research provided by the Milwaukee and Cleveland programs in parental choice, the recent move by President Bush to expand parental choice programs in Washington, D.C., seems logical. On Feb. 7 the Washington Post reported that the U.S. Department of Education had announced President Bush's decision to ask Congress to set aside $75 million for a school voucher program in the District, along with six or seven other cities across the nation.

As expected, this move has caused criticism from the usual suspects who oppose the rights of parents to choose what type of education their children will receive. This laundry list of opponents includes the District's teachers unions, the mayor, the school board, and District Congressional Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, whose opposition to the parental right to choose is well established.

The portion of the president's plan that seems to have attracted the most opposition is its provision allowing non-profit organizations, such as the WSF, to apply to distribute the vouchers to District families. A careful reading of the remarks made by some of the opponents explains why.

Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton remarked, "the notion of skirting public officials by funding a private entity is both insulting to public officials in the District of Columbia and treating the District in a way no other city or state is treated. And we will not be treated unequally. We demand equal treatment when it comes to federal funds."

These remarks are telling in that they carefully avoid any mention of failing schools, parental choice, or of doing what is best for the children of the District. Instead, Ms. Holmes Norton is focused on the idea that federal money might bypass the District of Columbia's bureaucracy and go directly to the families and students who need it. In the end, the argument is not about students; rather, it is about who will get the money.

Holmes Norton also questioned why the Education Department did not focus more on the growing charter school movement in the District: "Why would someone try to come in and take money that might go to charter schools and use it far less efficiently?"

The same question might be asked of the District's government schools and union representatives. In Sept. 2002, the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Columbia received a complaint from the Washington Teachers' Union and its parent body, the American Federation of Teachers, alleging serious criminal activity on the part of the union's officials, including embezzlement and other improper use of union funds. The FBI's investigation has thus far found evidence of the misappropriation of over $2,000,000 in union funds.

It is just this type of theft and systemic corruption that the Department of Education is attempting to prevent.

The District of Columbia's public schools are not exempt from waste and inefficiency either. In 2002, the District of Columbia Auditor issued a report in which it was found that over $67 million was paid to private vendors providing special education services, without the Office of Special Education validating the eligibility of students or the accuracy of vendor invoices. This resulted in the District paying over $1.2 million to vendors for services provided to 567 students who were ineligible for special education services, or whose eligibility could not be determined.

The auditor also found that the District overcharged the public schools for utilities and other services in excess of $1 million. More than mere waste and inefficiency, this constitutes a gravely unjust and immoral stewardship of money earmarked for the education of children.

Allowing parental choice in the education of children is not a privilege bestowed on parents by the state; it flows, instead, from the very nature of parenthood itself, which is a reflection of the Divine Fatherhood of God. Restoring to parents those means and resources, rightfully belonging to them, makes educational choice a reality, giving children a greater chance of educational success.

While vouchers are far from perfect in all their long-term implications, they are a step in the right direction for freeing up a system hostile to educational choice. The evidence in Cleveland, Milwaukee, and in Washington, D.C., confirms this. Rather than concerning themselves with protecting an unethical and unjust system that allows for systemic corruption, theft, waste, and inefficiency, the District's leaders should be championing a program that offers the means necessary for Washington's children to find the success so often denied them in failing government schools.

(Clint Green is the programs officer at the Acton Institute and a former middle school teacher.)

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