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World Briefs II

Senate Approves Compromise Bill Regarding Standardized Tests

Los Angeles Times
WASHINGTON

By an 8713 vote, the Senate Thursday agreed to a last-minute compromise with the White House that allows the federal government to pay for an ambitious Clinton administration plan to develop national standardized reading and math tests.

But an odd alliance of conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats in the House is expected to join forces next week to reject the proposal, setting the stage for a possible veto showdown with President Clinton.

Because in both houses the testing issue is attached to the $80 billion appropriations bill for the departments of Education, Labor, and Health and Human Services, the dispute could disrupt their funding for the new fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1. The Senate approved the massive spending bill 928.

Thursday's Senate vote would allow taxpayer dollars to be spent on development and implementation of an annual reading test for fourth-graders and a math test for eighth-graders.

Officials at the Education Department estimate it would cost about $32 million to design the tests and up to $100 million to fully implement them. The testing is proposed to begin by spring 1999.

El Nino Summit Announced Following Subcommittee Hearing

Los Angeles Times
WASHINGTON

Federal, state and local officials plan to gather next month in Los Angeles for a summit on El Nino, the weather condition some predict will cause the wettest California winter at least since 1982-83 and perhaps in a half-century, U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., announced Thursday.

News of the summit - which came hours after a lengthy congressional subcommittee hearing on the odd oceanographic forces that cause storms and droughts worldwide - pleased California leaders who had been prodding the Clinton administration to take a more aggressive approach in readying for the expected weather problems.

A cadre of six weather experts who briefed the House's Energy and Environment subcommittee Thursday morning refused to speculate on exactly how much rain El Nino would dump on the Pacific Coast, but said Southern California could easily see as much as three times its normal precipitation.

The experts urged passage next week of an appropriations bill that includes $18 million for two El Nino-related research projects, arguing that investment in understanding the phenomenon would ultimately save the government millions in disaster relief.

Unlike a detailed discussion of the science of El Nino at the Scripps Institute in San Diego in June, the Los Angeles summit will focus on more practical concerns.

Key Clinton Aide Traces Donor Access to Sloppy Procedures

Los Angeles Times
WASHINGTON

National Security Adviser Samuel R. "Sandy" Berger testified Thursday that sloppy White House procedures allowed some Democratic donors with questionable reputations - and their foreign guests - to meet with President Clinton and his top aides.

But Berger, the highest-ranking White House aide to appear before the Senate fund-raising hearings to date, insisted that the visits did not influence U.S. foreign policy and said that a new policy instituted earlier this year subjects all foreigners seeking White House access to a National Security Council review.

Although Berger said that NSC officials never believed that the agency should "police" White House visitors, they did occasionally issue warnings, which went unheeded, about invitees such as controversial oilman Roger Tamraz and Democratic donor Johnny Chien Chuen Chung. Other visitors - a Chinese arms dealer and a Russian businessman with alleged mob ties, slipped into the White House without the NSC's knowledge, Berger acknowledged.

The Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, which is investigating campaign finance improprieties, called Berger for questioning to highlight how the Democrats' fund raising veered dangerously close to foreign policy during the 1996 presidential campaign as a variety of donors with overseas interests used contributions to gain access to top U.S. government officials.

Owner, Partners Announce Plans To Take BET Holdings Private

The Washington Post
WASHINGTON

Robert L. Johnson, owner and founder of BET Holdings Inc., and his corporate partners want to take the Washington-based company private, officials said Thursday.

Johnson and Liberty Media Corp., a subsidiary of cable giant TCI Inc., are offering to buy the six million shares of BET that they don't already own for $48 each, a 17 percent premium over Wednesday's closing price.

If the offer is approved, Johnson and Liberty would be the sole owners of Black Entertainment Network, an African American-oriented cable operation that reaches 50 million households, and a growing entertainment empire that includes restaurants, a pay-per-view network, a jazz channel and Emerge magazine.

"Analysts could imagine plenty of sound reasons for Johnson and Liberty to buy out the remaining public shares of BET, a company that in 1991 became the first African American-controlled company traded on the New York Stock Exchange and which has made Johnson one of the country's most prominent black entrepreneurs.

"My theory is that they perceived that BET shares were undervalued relative to its cable competitors and that the market wasn't going to give them a fair valuation," said E. Breck Wheeler, a J.C. Bradford analyst in Nashville. "BET is the largest publicly traded independent cable network and the value of its subscriber base alone is huge."