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April 22, 1997


Camel Cash

Tobacco industry executives have been talking with their legal opponents secretly during the past few weeks. Big Tobacco hopes that a series of payments and concessions will buy them immunity from liability lawsuits. Only Congress can convey such immunity. Congress should just say no.

RJR Nabisco and Philip Morris Companies have proposed payments of nearly $300 billion over the next 25 years to compensate states and individuals for health-related costs associated with cigarettes. What is the real cost of products that kill more than 400,000 Americans every year? The Tobacco Products Liability Project at Northeastern University estimates the cost to be as high as $150 billion annually. Richard Daynard, director of the project, believes that tobacco companies could recover their cost of the settlement simply by adding 50 cents to the price of a pack, a move that would have little effect on sales.

President Clinton has called for effective oversight by the F.D.A. of tobacco sales practices. He is following the talks with understandable interest. Elimination of billboard advertising and the establishment of a fund to educate young people about the dangers of smoking are just two of the attractive concessions being discussed. However, if the tobacco industry is allowed to thrive, it will push its products twice as hard in foreign markets. Can anyone who is sincerely worried about the nation's moral values sleep well?

As soon as word of the secret talks became public last week, tobacco stocks rose 10 percent. Before the nation milks the cash camel, it should ponder the words of former F.D.A. director Dr. David Kessler: ``Every time we've hailed a significant milestone in the fight against tobacco...the industry has always turned it to their advantage.''

-- Dan Silver

Life Forms by Dan Silver

Letters To The Editor

Dear Editor

The first lectures of the Science and Religion series presented an interesting contrast in the style and substance of the speakers. Dr. Sneed conducted his side of the debate like a family argument. Although he claimed that Religion, like Science, was a "systematic inquiry" into the nature of the universe, he never once attempted to describe its method of determining the truth. Instead he squabbled over the claims of the two disciplines. Science, he said, has much to learn from Religion; but what that might be he didn't say. He complained about the lack of humility on both sides, as though Science and Religion might resolve the differences between them by being more respectful of each other. Dr. Gottlieb claimed the moral high ground in the debate. After all, a Theory (capital T) has no authority but that earned by its credibility among scientists. So he simply presented a text book outline of the scientific method, along with a few anecdotes to show how some people fail to understand or value the truth of Science. But Dr. Gottlieb might have saved his breath, for every time his opponent said something cogent or cute in response to his strident claims, a ripple of applause ran through the audience. The scientist may have had the better claim to truth, but the preacher was struggling to save God. And that's what really matters to most of us --- that we save God. Late in the evening, during the Q& A period, we learned that the Oriental religions, notably Buddhism, have no problem with Science. It is the Western religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam) in their primitive, or fundamentalist, forms, that conflict with Science and the Modern world. The speakers didn't elaborate on that, but I suppose the reason is not hard to find.

The "revealed" religions of the West are belief systems which originated in the distant past with communications from God. The faithful therefore claim to know, not merely what we can observe and conclude about the universe, but the design and purpose of its Maker. And it is this knowledge that makes their belief systems superior to the fallible theories of scientists. True believers can rest assured that they have the truth, in complete and unchanging form, so long as they cling to concepts of nature, society, and individual life that prevailed thousands of years ago; back in the time of myth and legend; back in a world of feudalism and patriarchy, when racism and sexism were wisdom; back, back into the darkness of inherited guilt and everlasting punishment, when men bowed in awe before their lord and praised the glory he achieved by vengeance.

When Religion springs from such a savage source, is is no wonder that belief in God is threatened by progressive Science.

Walt Darring

Dear Mobile County Fellow Citizen,

Citizens For Better Education is a rapidly growing grassroots initiative of parents and concerned citizens throughout Mobile County committed to the purpose of uniting voices and efforts to improve primary and secondary education in our public school system. The initiative behind our organization was born of an overwhelming collective sense of public frustration and outrage over the chronic neglect of the physical conditions and meager educational resources characterizing our schools, and exacerbated by a general low priority political attitude regarding educational funding and overall student achievement. The stated mission of Citizens For Better Education is "to provide a united community voice of support for improving the educational, physical, and moral climate of our public school system," which we intend to accomplish through pursuance of our three organizational objectives as follows: (a) To secure an adequate funding base for addressing the educational resources and physical plant needs of the public school system in Mobile County,

(b) To support legislation and political achievement, health, safety and welfare of all children and youth,

(c) To promote a positive community awareness of the achievements and successes of the Mobile County Public School System, and its students and educators.

We feel strongly that, as long as Mobile County's children are forced to attend school in buildings so severely overcrowded that thousands are placed in decaying portable classrooms without protective coverings for students en route to the cafeteria or restrooms during thunderstorms, and in buildings lacking the simple physical comforts of heating and air conditioning, it is incumbent upon every concerned citizen of Mobile County to expect county and state political leaders, elected to serve their communities, to prioritize revenue spending to remedy the disgrace of such vivid financial neglect.

There is currently a prevailing sentiment among many concerned Mobile County citizens that there must be a much greater portion of county tax revenue earmarked for support of our financially beleaguered public schools. Preliminary results (as of March 1997) of the Mobile Community Consensus Campaign indicate that 20,014 surveyed respondents, 81% of Mobile County's responding residents favor spending more money on schools, while 85% of those responding indicated that the current yearly per pupil spending in Mobile County ($4,057.00) should be more in line with the national average ($5,894.00) of yearly per pupil expenditures. 79% of the respondents indicated that they would support additional local revenue to address the school funding issue. In 1996, the government of Mobile County collected a total of $270,040,678.00 from all sales taxes. As a matter of record, the county government is mandated by the State Legislature to make payments of $1.2 million per year to the school system until the year 2002, at which time mandatory school funding payments will cease. This, according to Mobile County Commissioner President, Gary Tanner, combined with direct and indirect voluntary contributions (from fiscal year 1989/90 through fiscal year 2001/02) averages to slightly more than $2 million per year in total funding contributions (as estimated for the twelve-year period) to the Mobile County Public School System.

We, as Citizens For Better Education, believe that it is only wise for our community to increase financial investments in our educational system. Besides producing a well-educated and trained workforce, empirical research has shown that heightened student achievement resulting from a quality education is also a direct deterrent to crime. According to The Alabama Kids Count 1996 Report, "The well-being of all Alabamians is tied to the condition of our schools and the educational attainment of our young people. Investing in education provides a return not only to students but also to the entire state economy. Higher education levels cause the economy to grow by increasing personal incomes, and greater personal incomes increase tax revenues." In 1996, the Report ranked Mobile County 63 out of the 67 counties in Alabama regarding the percentage (62.8%) of high school graduates, and 65 out of 67 in regard to overall number of juvenile violent crime arrests, with 67 being the worst ranking in each case. It is our utmost desire and intentions to work cooperatively and in conjunction with the Mobile County Board of School Commissioners and the Superintendent of Schools, as well as with all other governmental, business, civic, and religious entities to accomplish our mission of improving education in Mobile County. The accomplishments of our school system over the past four years, specifically with regards to the implementation of a 64 million dollar building program, the retirement of a 20 million dollar operational debt, and the dramatic improvement in student standardized test scores are extremely encouraging, and have deepened our resolve to assist and support the Mobile County Public School System in efforts to bring about continued progress and improvement. We challenge all community leaders in the political, business, civic and religious arenas to join us in showing interest and concern for the future of education in our community, by endorsing legal initiatives to voluntarily increase county revenue appropriations to the public schools, to benefit not only the 65,000 children and youth enrolled in the Mobile County Public Schools, but ultimately the overall quality of life for all citizens of Mobile County.

We invite you to join us at our next Citizens For Better Education general meeting which will be held at 6:00 p.m. on Monday, May 5, 1997 at the Greater Gulf State Fairgrounds complex.

Connie W. Hudson, Co-Chair
Melissa G. White, Co-Chair
Citizens For Better Education

The Harbinger, Mobile, AL