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News Briefs

GOP Aims to Deflect Budget Criticism


President Bush, facing Democratic charges that he has been fiscally reckless, plans to use a heavy travel schedule to try to shift voters’ attention away from the mechanics of the budget to the benefits of his proposals, administration officials said this weekend.

Senior officials said Bush will use the bully pulpit more aggressively this fall than he did during his first seven months in office. He plans frequent appearances in informal settings like his excursion last week to a Target store in Kansas City, Mo., where he chatted with shoppers about how they were spending the rebate checks that were part of his tax cut.

The new offensive is part of a White House effort to position Bush as the protector of Social Security and Medicare when Democrats are arguing that his tax cut has threatened the long-term solvency of those programs and made other priorities unaffordable. As Congress works through the 13 annual appropriations bills next month, the president will try to turn Democrats’ arguments against them.

“At the national level, the president will make it clear that irresponsible spending is the biggest threat to Social Security, Medicare and our men and women in uniform,” said Jim Wilkinson, deputy White House communications director. “At the local level, we’ll be saying, ’Democrats are holding up your education money, your highway money, your environmental protection money, to play politics.’ ”

Lawyer Says Condit’s Staff Made Unauthorized Statements


Rep. Gary Condit (D-Calif)’s staff repeatedly put out misleading statements about the congressman’s relationship with Chandra Levy, but the California Democrat never authorized them to do so, Condit’s attorney said Sunday.

“Congressman Condit did not tell his staff to go out and lie,” Condit’s attorney, Abbe Lowell, said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “Congressman Condit did not authorize those statements to be made. Those staff people spoke about what they hoped was the truth and what they thought the truth was.”

Lowell’s comments -- three days after Condit’s national television interview -- appeared to be an attempt to put some distance between the congressman and his staff, and blame them for the misleading statements. Levy, 24, was reported missing in early May, and only in his third interview with police did Condit tell investigators that he had a romantic affair with her.

When asked why the staff members’ misstatements to the media were not corrected, Lowell said, “It was a mistake for the staff and the collective office of the congressman and the congressman and me not to correct that sooner and correct it better.” Lowell declined to comment after the program.

Britain Changes Its Tune On Street Musicians


Street buskers have long lived on the fringes of society. As minstrel, troubadour or hobo, the traveling musician has been seen as a creative troublemaker with an instrument on his back.

But in a country where it’s not uncommon to see classical string quartets, opera singers or rock guitarists performing for nothing more than a handful of coins, street musicians’ contributions to society are gradually being recognized with a fresh eye.

Everyone from government officials to social service workers is coming to view buskers as a means of improving city life.

“They say we’re the next-oldest profession after prostitution,” said Tylluan O’Sinend, head of the Buskers’ Union, a collective of street musicians raising awareness of homelessness -- and raising money -- through their art.

A formerly homeless busker in Bath, in southwest England, O’Sinend is at work on the group’s second attempt to earn money for the homeless through busking. Last year’s No Fixed Abode project provided grant money to homeless street musicians so they could make CDs of their music in a professional studio. They sell the CDs and give a portion of the profits back to the Buskers’ Union to help other homeless musicians make recordings.

Statistics Show American Education Is Passing and Failing


From one point of view, the U.S. Census Bureau offers a glowing report on America’s goal of becoming an educated nation.

A record 81 percent of the population has completed high school or its equivalent, and the percentage appears to be headed still higher.

But another number tells of trouble on the horizon. Among the most recent crop of young adults, those now 18 to 24, only 75 percent have finished high school, suggesting a substantial dropout rate.

Therein lies a mystery: Why is the national graduation rate climbing while so many school-age children are dropping out?

The question evokes an array of answers from demographers, statisticians and educators. Some think immigration of less-educated young people is skewing the numbers. Others point to “redshirt” students who spend an extra year in high school, then graduate at age 18 or 19. They also cite “second-chance” dropouts who earn degrees in their later years by passing an exam.

That the Census Bureau seems to be pointing in both positive and negative directions is not just a matter of academic curiosity.

Critics contend that the government is inflating the nation’s educational achievement by counting people who pass equivalency exams as essentially the same as those who graduate from high school. They say equivalency certificates are pseudo diplomas with little value.