The Palm Beach Post from West Palm Beach, Florida on September 13, 1999 · Page 16
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September 13, 1999

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The Palm Beach Post from West Palm Beach, Florida · Page 16

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West Palm Beach, Florida
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Monday, September 13, 1999
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16A THE PALM BEACH POST MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 13, 1999 s c flpLADlES AND GENTLEMEN, Ml-lS 1 PUETOTHE OVERBOOKED Wm? IliRv NATURE. OF OUR FUSHT PPT k- Wmllk I TW S EVENINO, WE'RE ASKING- FfS-& rT- FOR VOLUNTEERS.. .127 MLC The Palm Beach Post TOM GlUFFRIDA, Publisher EDWARD SEARS, Editor LON DANIELSON, General Manager TOM O'HARA, Managing Editor RANDY SCHULTZ, Editor of the Editorial Page JAN TUCKWOOD, Associate Editor LARRY KLINE, VP Advertising LARRY SIEDLIK, VP & Treasurer GALE HOWDEN, VP Community Relations and Marketing MICHAEL McCAFFREY, VP Circulation LINDA MURPHY, VP Human Resources BOB BALFE, Director, Production LAURA DECK CUNNINGHAM, Director, Marketing Services End school with a new police farce police force A big merger, but the same old TV 'oday, when the Palm Beach County School Board tries to sort out the comedy of errors involv ing its attorney, Cynthia Prettyman, the focus should be on Jim Kelly, the school police chief who cried wolf, and his department. . Board members probably won't be able to determine whether Mr. Kelly overreacted on his own to Ms. Pretty-man's alleged "threat" or was part of some bumbling conspiracy to discredit the attorney. Nor can the board take action against Mr. Kelly, since he works for Superintendent Joan Kowal. But the incident has reinforced the notion that a school district should not be in the law-enforcement business. The board should disband the school police department and turn security over to the sheriff s office and, possibly, city police departments. , Maybe Mr. Kelly will explain that he; thought Ms. Prettyman had an underwater shotgun with the range and accuracy to reach here from Mexico, where he knew she was on a diving vacation over the Labor Day weekend. But even prior to the events of the past few days, few reasons could justify the additional cost and bureaucracy of a school police department. Now there are none. To the contrary: School districts are getting out of as many non-education businesses as possible. The county's regular law-enforcement agencies do not hold the school police in high regard. Viacom bought CBS. Big deal. Troupes oftwentysomethings will play somethingteens trying to be a babe or score with one. The image is supposed to be Rugrats climbing all over Dan Rather, Andy Rooney and others who remember Edward R. Murrow. Viacom owns Rugrats and MTV. CBS has the audience over 50. Merge them, and what do you get? Viacom and CBS together, as they were before CBS shed Viacom to comply with useless laws against networks selling themselves their own programs and owning cable systems. For the price of a $37.3 billion merger, we're back to 1970, the year Viacom spun away. A lot of mergers Tom Blackburn mhmvbh and acquisitions have come across the ticker since then. Now Viacom movies, cable networks, Stephen King's novels and Blockbuster Video is the senior corporation. And NBC, which only had the top-rated network show for the last few years, is being urged to go and find itself a merger partner with the synergy CBS is expected to get with Viacom. If you analyze the deal from Wall Street or Madison Avenue, it can look like the biggest excitement since Disney absorbed ABC. And we know how well that worked. On case we forgot: Disney stockholders are still sore at Michael Eisner about it.) But viewing the merger from a strategic location on the couch in front of the TV set, what do we see? The same old thing, with different Fox boss Rupert Murdoch, 68, already holds the patent on that sensibility, and no one can sink lower. But everyone tries. So, surf the channels and see troupe after troupe of twentysomething actors playing somethingteens trying to be a babe or to score with one. That's this year's fall lineup. Network TV may not be elevating, but it can't be faulted for excessive variety. From the Greeks to 1950, show biz ran on repetition. A successful theater production is a long run, or the same thing every night for a different audience. Vaudeville and nightclub performers hit the road and did the same show nightly for a year or two, then changed costumes, put in some new songs and went back on the road to repeat themselves for another year or two. Television ate up all that material in a couple of years. In the process, it killed off the venues where young performers learned the arts and crafts. There's money for more networks, but there's not enough water in the artistic wells to moisten the existing ones. So artists have become employees, and shows are called products, which at least is truth in advertising. More time is given over to ads, where the last drops of creativity can sometimes be seen. The best drama in television now asks the tantalizing question: Can Mr. Redstone and Mr. Karmazin live happily in the same executive suite? You won't see it on your home screen. Tom Blackburn is a columnist for The Palm Beach Post. ' people in the gray suits to run it. 60 Minutes can do a feature story on Rugrats. After public griping from its executive producer, Don Hewitt, it probably will. They let Mr. Hewitt gripe out loud because 60 Minutes is valuable property, but every few years he loses a fight with the incumbent gray suits. Hip, swinging Viacom, run by 76-year-old Sumner Redstone, inspires young audiences. They may come to 60 Minutes for Rugrats, but they won't stay there with their MTV attention span. CBS has tried and tried to lose its following among the over-50 set The network murdered Murder, She Wrote to get better demographics, but Angela Lans-bury's fans still tune to CBS on Sunday for the show that eventually replaced hers, Touched By an Angel. CBS hopes we tune in for Rona Downey. Here's the bad news: The draw is Delia Reese. CBS sold its soul for Gen Y sensibility on Jan. 1, when it elevated Mel Karmazin, who will be co-top dog with Mr. Redstone after the merger. Mr. Karmazin's credits so to speak consist of making garbage mouth Howard Stern presentable. Give him a choice between ratings and good taste, and he'll never see the second option. No favors for Hillary Give me a show of paws for the cause As recent events show, Palm Beach County should turn over security to outside law-enforcement agencies. According to prosecutors, when a Conniston Middle School student shot and killed a fellow student in 1997, a West Palm Beach police officer not the school police provided information that cracked the case. Several recent prosecutions of school-related crimes, such as a band teacher's alleged lewd assaults against Kennedy Middle School students, have faltered because school police did not investigate properly or waited to call in outside help. Community-based sheriffs deputies and police officers could monitor students outside of school-with no jurisdictional problems, as there are now. There would be more cooperation with federal law enforcement agencies, when needed. Board member Jody Gleason was opposed to disbanding the school police force. Mr. Kelly's actions have changed her mind. She is correct that the officers assigned to the schools should be the most professional, not the least, and that good programs such as truancy interdiction and Youth Court must continue. But the police department has to go. The president didn't explain where the clemency deal came from; others offered theories that match their politics. the original charges and overlooking what they were responsible for Nobel laureates and other distinguished people called for mercy. Maybe the most appealing was Charles Ruff, who is leaving the president's staff after ably defending him during the impeachment trial. A going-away gift to a lawyer he owes big-time? A sop to Puerto Ricans because the Navy has no intention of giving up one of the island's best beaches, which the Navy uses for gunnery practice? Or a bid for the Puerto Rican vote for his wife in New York? The last, which makes the least sense when did New York Puerto Ricans ever vote for a Republican? was the favorite explanation of the chattering classes. The chatter made Hillary Rodham Clinton disavow the help, if that is what it was, and so hurt herself with New York Puerto Ricans. Who still won't vote for a Republican. In the end, it all turned out to be, like so much else in the symbiotic relationship between the president and his critics, about Hillary and Bill and not about Puerto Rico and terrorism. If health-care district officials and county commissioners meet more often, they can save tax money. Yet, at the Sept. 1 meeting, one county commissioner suggested the district pay medical costs for Head Start children that are now paid by the county. What neither county nor Head Start officials apparently knew is that those children, most of them poor, already qualify for some health insurance program, whether Medicaid or Healthy Kids. The county also still spends millions of dollars on services for children and elderly people and some health services. Is there duplication? At the least, all agencies providing similar services could use a common system to determine eligibility. District CEO Cecil Bennett has suggested that money- and time-saving idea for years. The district-county discussions should also include the children's services council. The council will spend more than $31 million next year. The health-care districts proposed budget is.$89 million. Regular talkfests amon all who spend tax money can only be beneficial. ometimes, President Clinton is ,as politically sure-footed as a mountain goat, and sometimes, he does things that smell like one. His clemency offer to 16 Puerto Rican nationalists is in the second category. It came seemingly out of nowhere. The president hasn't explained; others offered theories that match their politics. Turning melodrama into farce, the presumed Democratic Senate candidate in New York criticized the decision: Hillary urged Bill to back away from clemency. What's this all about? Most main-lahders had forgotten. Puerto Rico is a United States commonwealth whose residents are citizens but do not have representation in Congress. During the 1950s and again in the 1970s, nationalists seeking independence turned to terrorism to win it Nobody's keeping Puerto Ricans in chains. In a plebiscite in 1993, less than 5 percent voted for independence. , With more passion than support, the terrorists committed more than 100 bombings. All but two of the ones who got the clemency offer had been in jail for nearly 20 years. (Two were free but owe large fines.) They were convicted of lesser crimes than murder or attempted murder, but federal laws didn't cover as many violent crimes back then; prosecutors made do. Tougher charges could be lodged today, thanks to anti-terrorist laws President Clinton championed. Looking at the prison terms and Continue healthy chats 322 Radical animal-rights activists spin tales of pets as slaves and suing for gorillas' rights. And the lawyers enthusiastically agree. ometime soon, according to animal-rights activists, a great ape will testify in an American courtroom. Speaking through a voice synthesizer, or perhaps in sign language, the lucky ape will argue that it has a fundamental right to liberty. "This is going to be a very important case," Duke University law professor William Reppy Jr. told The New York Times. John Leo Mr. Reppy concedes that apes can talk only at the level of a human 4-year-old, so they may not be ready to discuss abstractions such as oppression and freedom. But just a few weeks ago, one ape did manage to say through a synthesizer: "Please buy me a hamburger." That may not sound like crucial testimony, but lawyers think that the spectacle of an ape saying anything at all in court may change a lot of minds about the status of animals as property. One problem is that apes probably won't be able to convince judges that they know right from wrong, or that they intend to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Since they are not persons, they don't even have legal standing to sue. No problem, says Steven Wise, who is teaching Harvard Law School's first about furs, zoos, slaughterhouse techniques and at least some forms of animal experimentation. But the alliance between the radicals and the lawyers means that, once again, an issue that ought to be resolved by democratic means will likely be settled by judges and lawyers. Steven Wise talks of using the courts to knock down the wall between humans and apes. Once apes have rights, he says, the status of other animals can ; be decided by other courts. The advantage of the litigation strategy is that there's no need to sell radical ideas to the public. There are almost no takers for the concept of "non-human per-sonhood," the view of pets as slaves, or the notion that meat-eating is part of "a fab-' ric of oppression" that; equally afflicts minorities,' women and animals in America. You can supersede open debate by convincing a few judges to detect a "rights" issue that functions as a political trump card. Harvard law professor Mary Ann Glendon, author of Rights Talk, writes about our legal culture's "lost language of obligation." Instead of casting arguments in terms of human responsibility for the natural world, rights talkers automatically spin out tortured arguments about "rights" of animals, and even about the "rights" of trees and mountains. This is how "rights talk" becomes a parody of itself. Lets hope the lawyers and the law schools eventually get the joke. John Leo is a contributing editor to U.S. News & World , . Report ing an antelope is committing a rights violation that should be brought before the World Court in The Hague. One wag wrote a poem containing the line, "Every beast within his pawsWill clutch an order to show cause." The news is that law schools are increasingly involved in animal issues. Any radical notion that requires a lot more litigation is apt to take root in the law schools. A dozen law schools now feature courses on animal law. The course description of next spring's "Animal Law Seminar" at Georgetown University Law Center, for instance, makes clear to students which opinions are the correct ones to have. It talks about the plight of "rightless plaintiffs" and promises to examine how and why laws "purporting to protect" animals have failed. Ideas about humane treatment of animals are indeed changing. Many of us have changed our minds The get-to-know-you meeting this month between Palm Beach County Commissioners and Palm Beach County Health Care District Commissioners was overdue and showed how much the boards have to learn about each other. Face-to-face dialogue between people who spend millions of county property tax dollars is useful in itself. Even more important is the savings that could result from mbr e efficient use of that money. ' When voters approved the healthcare district in 1988, county commissioners saw it as a useful way to increase revenue and shift health responsibilities. The public saw it as a way to buy a first-rate trauma network and provide health care for working poor families that couldn't afford it But because the two boards have rarely met, confusion remains about who does what and which costs each sh6uld pay. V In the past decade, the district has assumed financial responsibility for the' health department and most health-related costs. In 1995, the county agreed to pay the district $15 million a year for 40 years to operate the county nursing home. That's likely to be a good deal for the county as inflation eats into that $15 million in the next century. In that contract, the county also agreed not to shift any more health services to the district course in animal law. He says lawyers can use slavery-era statutes that authorized legal non-persons (slaves) to bring suits. Gary Francione, who teaches animal law at Rutgers University, says gorillas "should be declared to be persons under the Constitution." Are they serious? Enslaved gorillas suing for their constitutional rights? Oh, yes. Unlike mainstream animal-welfare activists, radical animal-rights activists think all animals are morally equal and have rights, though not neces-, sarily the same rights as humans. "Would even bacteria have rights?" asks law professor Richard Epstein of the University of Chicago Law School. For the moment, the radicals want to confine the rights discussion to apes and chimps, mostly to avoid the obvious mockery about litigious leopards, cockroach liberation and the issue of whether a hyena eat

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