Finally, a roof

John McCaslin
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Posted: Aug 06, 2003 12:00 AM

After three years of legislative delays, the most-visited memorial in the nation's capital will get a visitor center.

The U.S. Senate has unanimously approved legislation allowing a visitor center to be built at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, a vote that memorial-fund founder Jan C. Scruggs calls "an enormous victory for America's young people."

"This educational facility will provide thousands of students each day with the opportunity to learn about service, sacrifice and patriotism at The Wall," he predicts.

Last May, after several failed attempts, Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.), a Vietnam combat veteran, re-introduced legislation to build the center, along with fellow Vietnam-combat vets Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.)

Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota and Virginia GOP Sen. John Warner also have been longtime proponents of the center.

When completed in three or so years, the center will provide an overview of the Vietnam War and the resulting memorial, as well as photos of those killed or missing in action and some of the more than 60,000 items that have been left at the Wall over the years. The center will be built underground within the Memorial's existing 2-acre site.

KEEP OUT

Montana has become the first state to prohibit the sale of land to the federal government.

"State land may not be sold to the federal government or to any agency of the federal government, except for the purpose of building federal facilities and structures," says the amendment introduced by Republican State Rep. Rick Maedje and signed into law by Republican Gov. Judy Martz.

"Not only does the federal government fail to pay taxes on land it holds, but even the PILT payments (Payments in Lieu of Taxes) it promises us never come through," Maedje explains to Environment & Climate News.

"Worse yet," he continues, "Montana has had nothing but serious problems in the last 30 years with virtually every acre the federal government claims to have jurisdiction over in this state. Selling the feds our state land is like rubbing salt in a wound."

MEMBERSHIP PASSES?

When a law is passed by Congress and signed into law, it's supposed to go into effect - or at least that's what Sen. Olympia J. Snowe (R-Maine) always assumed.

As author of the Terrorist Exclusion Act, which became law in 1996, Snowe, a member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, has written to Secretary of State Colin L. Powell questioning his department's implementation of the law to deny - or even permit - a potential terrorist entry to the United States.

"In the wake of the 1993 World Trade Center Bombing, I was astounded to learn that, with only limited exceptions, membership in a terrorist organization in and of itself was not sufficient grounds for visa denial," the senator writes to Powell.

"Instead, burden was placed on the U.S. government to prove than an individual was either personally involved in a terrorist act, or planning one - a threshold that made it virtually impossible to block dangerous aliens such as Sheikh Omar Rahman, the mastermind of that 1993 bombing, from entering the country legally."

Snowe says the intended effect of her legislation was to ensure that members of "foreign terrorist organizations" could be excluded from the United States based solely on such membership. She now wants to know how - or even if - the State Department is enforcing the law.

If it's not being enforced, she wants to know through what processes and mechanisms are waivers granted to those seeking visas who are members of "foreign terrorist organizations."

The senator even requests that Powell provide "the Department of State's definition of 'terrorist.'"

UNCLE SAM'S GUN SHOP

It sounds like a good thing - the Firearms Safety and Consumer Protection Act - but the measure introduced by Sen. Jon Corzine (D-N.J.) and Rep. Patrick J. Kennedy (D-R.I.) is "gun grabbing" pure and simple, says the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms.

"The bill, if ever enacted into law, would in effect so transform the entire firearms industry that it would become completely dominated by federal bureaucrats," committee spokesman John Michael Snyder says. "The ability or inability of a law-abiding American citizen to own or use a gun would be something determined by a fiat of Washington federal bureaucrats."

As its authors would tell you, the Kennedy-Corzine proposal, now referred to committee, would give the Justice Department authority to set minimum safety standards for the manufacture, design and distribution of firearms, issue recalls and warnings, and limit the sale of products when no other remedy is sufficient.

Gary Mehalik of the National Shooting Sports Foundation, agrees with Snyder that "the ulterior motive here, as it has been in the past, is for the restriction on firearm rights under the false premise" of ensuring safety.

"The best way to ensure safety of the firearms," Mehalik says, "is to have a safe human operator."

SKIPPED ACTING

Hollywood High School opened its doors 100 years ago Sept. 13, a centennial observance that stretches all the way to the floor of the U.S. Senate.

"Hollywood High School lives up to its name," says Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.). "Judy Garland, Mickey Rooney and Lana Turner were on the school's roster. Carol Burnett was editor of the school paper. And scores of other celebrities received their education at Hollywood High."

The high school opened in 1903 on the second floor of a former bakery. It had an enrollment that year of 56 students and three teachers. Two years later, construction on the familiar Roman temple-style school began at Sunset Blvd. and Highland Ave., where the school still stands today.

We should also point out that it wasn't just Hollywood celebrities who received their diplomas at Hollywood High, but several future leaders of the U.S. government, not the least being former Secretary of State Warren Christopher.

Actually, Christopher spent his earliest years in North Dakota before his family moved to Hollywood. And nothing in North Dakota, culturally speaking, he wrote in his memoirs, could have ever prepared him for Hollywood.

Other less-glitzy grads include the late California Congressman Joseph Franklin Holt III, who after World War II headed California's Young Republicans, as well as former FCC Chairman William Kennard and former U.S. Postmaster Anthony Frank.

SEE JOHN RUN

Uncle Sam has received the annual report card for public school students in this country and he's not very proud of his nieces and nephews.

Consider that every school day, 3,000 secondary students in the United States drop out. Once the 2003-2004 school year gets under way, nearly 540,000 young people will walk away from the classroom without earning a high school diploma.

The nation's high school graduation rate is 69 percent, although the number is worse in urban areas where school districts graduate fewer than half of their students. Those who continue on to college can find the going difficult.

"About 40 percent of four-year college students and 63 percent of community college students are enrolling in remedial courses in reading, writing or math when they enter college," says Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wa.).

"And although approximately 70 percent of high school graduates enroll in college, only 7 percent from low-income families will have earned a bachelor's degree by age 24."

Late last week, Murray introduced the PASS (Pathways for All Students to Succeed) Act, which would hire "literacy coaches" to strengthen essential reading and writing skills. It would also provide grants for more academic counselors to ensure students have individualized plans to prepare for college.

The most recent 2002 National Assessment of Educational Progress shows the reading achievement of 12th-grade students has declined over the last five years, with 33 percent of senior boys and 20 percent of senior girls reading below the "basic level."

PREESIDENTE BUSH

America has always been a melting pot. What's different today is that English is being heard less and less.

Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) now cites figures showing "that the majority of the nearly 40 million Hispanic Americans rely significantly on Spanish-language broadcast media for their news and information."

"Forty percent - nearly 16 million - of them rely predominantly on Spanish-language broadcast media," reveals Kennedy, "and 25 percent - nearly 10 million - rely exclusively on it."

Congress on several occasions has voted against making English the official language of the United States.