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16A THE PALM BEACH POST TUESDAY, MARCH 24, 1998 w s c fr - The Palm Beach Post TOM GlUFFRIDA, Publisher EDWARD SEARS, Editor LfJN DANIELSON, General Manager TOM O'HARA, Managing Editor RANDY SCHULTZ, Editor of the Editorial Page JAN TUCKWOOD, Associate Editor '"the historic significance of this t . .a i i ru 4-L area con u pe ovwjaojsaa. v v i im wiey s, iwrti rrciYr in on Wm MiYrrti X7T ,,,W t. i jujmc rU i mm acwi ncre ana juu hi w v" hello, Bill! LARRY KLINE, VP Advertising LARRY SIEDUK. VP & Treasurer GALE HOWDEN, Director, Community Relations TOM HIGHFIELD, VP Circulation LINDA MURPHY, Director, Human Resources BOB BAIJ-'E, Director, Production KEN WALTERS, Director, Marketing and Research ,WM K IMWa! Ill 11 ML. . .smm- --negus i ihpf Take a chair, Florida, and see Sparky sizzle " ' ' j " ' i Monday's execution marked the return of the instrument legislators now look upon with political lasciviousness. Kids keeping hugs at arm's lengths Exactly when did children get to debate the rules? And when did hugging become a part of the junior high curriculum? Florida's electric chair worked perfectly Monday. Imagine the high-fives in Tallahassee. In fact, Old Sparky might have worked a little too perfectly for some lawmakers. Electrocution seems so easy when the killer's head doesn't catch fire. People might think the state is going soft on crime. Gerald Stano's ho-hum death was the first since Pedro Medina's fiery state-sanctioned murder a year ago Wednesday. Since then, legislators have looked upon the chair with political lasciviousness. When Sen. Ron Klein, D-Boca Raton, suggested using lethal injection to avoid any court-ordered delays resulting from questions about Old Sparky, lawmakers reacted as if he had advocated foot rubs and bon-bons for the condemned. Others who questioned Old Sparky's honor got a stronger response. The Florida Supreme Court voted 4-3 that electrocution is not cruel and unusual punishment, but five justices suggested switching to injection. The Legislature then called for a constitutional amendment forbidding the state Supreme Court to outlaw the chair unless the U.S. Supreme Court does so first. Having reaffirmed electrocution as Florida's only official execution method, lawmakers are taking no chances. If the chair is found unconstitutional, the Legislature will allow lethal injection as a fallback. Sen. Charlie Crist, R-St. Petersburg, said, "It doesn't matter to me whether we fry them or inject them, so long as we kill them." These days, that counts as an enlightened view. Last year Senate Majority Leader Locke Burt, R-Ormond Beach, said the chair "is more likely to cause pain," and that pain during execution is a deterrent. The Florida Legislature, once known for progressive decisions based To hug or not to hug. That's the question before school board members in Fullerton, Calif. All things considered, it's a nice problem to have. The kids at Nicolas Junior High School in Fullerton want to hug. In fact, they consider it their right. Teachers and administrators want the little darlings to keep their hands off each other during school hours. Kathleen Parker As the mother of an eighth-grader, I find the dilemma baffling. The only time I can get a hug out of my 13-year-old is when I'm holding a checkbook or a cheeseburger. Both fill the child with fathomless love for his mother. But should I try for a hug out of, say, motherly love, I might as well be trying to sell him a petticoat. Which makes me wonder what that bumper sticker was all about: "Have you hugged your kid today?" It should have said, "Have you hugged your mother today?" Fat chance. Maybe the California debate sheds some light on the mystery of missing hugs. Maybe we're born with a finite number of hugs and have to use them sparingly. With hormones reaching peak frenzy, teenagers may be hoarding theirs for one another. I personally do not remember hugging or wanting to hug in junior high school. Of course, those were the days of forced square dancing and no air-conditioning. During one interminable six-week period of school, we boys and girls had to endure square dancing during our P.E. class. What this ordeal had to do with the price of beans, I can't imagine, but we "promenaded our partners" and "do-si-doed" under the penetrating Central Florida sun until we were at risk for heat stroke or homicide. All I remember is clammy, sweaty, disgusting boys for whom the feeling was mutual, I'm sure. We'd have sooner gone to the principal's office for a paddling than hug. Besides, cooties! We were terrified of cooties in those days, which were far more real to us than, say, AIDS is today. We knew we'd get cooties if we touched a boy, while the most sexually active teen today thinks he's immune from AIDS. In pursuit of The Facts, I asked my son whether any of the kids at his school hug. "What!?" he said with a look that reminded me of the futility of life. "Do we huuuuuuuuggggggg?" I explained the purpose of my question and tried a different tack. "What would it take to get you to hug someone at school?" I asked instead. "A bullet." That's my boy! I knew this was a California thing. Had to be. And as should surprise no one who's ever visited the golden state, the issue of kids-hugging-kids has been elevated to the level of debate Make IRS less taxing There's a sucker born every minute on information, is becoming known for knee-jerk decisions based on anecdote and emotion. No issue highlights that more depressingly than capital punishment. The fact that the courts apply it inconsistently doesn't matter. The fact that executing killers costs more than imprisoning them for life doesn't matter. The idea that the system can make mistakes doesn't matter, not even as the Legislature debates a claims bill for Freddie Pitts and Wilbert Lee, who spent 12 years in prison for murders they didn't commit. On Monday, the clock ticked down on Leo Jones' execution, scheduled for today. The crime is horrible: the 1981 murder of a Jacksonville police officer, Thomas Szafranski. Jones is the second of four convicted killers who are set to die this month. Jones' lawyer says several people heard another man confess. It could be just one more Death Row tale. But the same legislators who claim government makes mistakes when it comes to health, education and welfare believe government is infallible when it comes to justice. Understandably, some victims' families want killers to die quickly and painfully. The Legislature's fixation on electrocution, however, is downright sick. It's as if Florida were in competition with Texas, which executed 37 people in 1997. Old Sparky was gone for a year, but now lawmakers can welcome back their old flame. When the agency challenges a return, penalties should not begin until taxpayers get a chance to make their case. R-Texas, says the motive was the latter. Anyway, after the AP brought the trend to their attention, key members of Congress promised to stop it Sen. Christopher Bond, R-Mo., thinks the IRS shouldn't start the meter until notifying the taxpayer. Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla., would stop the meter if a taxpayer pays in installments, rather than continue to add interest to the balance. Those are half-fixes. It would be better to wait until taxpayers get a chance to make their case, and to impose penalties only if they resist after the IRS wins its point-Congress, which made the laws, pilloried overbearing IRS agents last year. The Senate confirmed Mr. Rossotti in his job and told him to fix the agency. The House passed some flashy but poorly conceived management reforms. The Senate is still considering them. Nobody in the know hopes for much good from the reform bill that passed in the House. Any reform must address one reality. The IRS can never be a friendly collection agency if, every time it sends a customer bad news, the agency includes a bill for hearing the bad news. ible with the neighborhood. The site is behind a day-care center, across from a car dealership and next to a mobile-home park, houses and apartments. Much of the controversy stemmed from fears about putting federal inmates next to My First Steps child-care center, where only a 5-foot fence separates the day-care playground from the proposed Salvation Army site. Salvation Army officials agreed to build a 7-foot berm-and-shrubbery buffer and an 8-foot fence between the two properties. The organization is spending $3.7 million to renovate the property. Transients will not be allowed there; most residents will stay about three months. Commissioner Maude Ford Lee was the sole opponent in the Jan. 30 decision. Commissioners Warren Newell, Mary McCarty and Burt Aaronson were absent for the vote. Each has spoken eloquently about the need for community groups to help government vJve problems. By siding with Commissioners Carol Roberts, Ken Foster and Karen Marcus, y will give the Salvation Army a chance to do that. among students, teachers and administfSjn tors. Two students who don't like the'l5vB on hugging Alicia Galvan, 15, and Ki-trina Weed, 14, complained recently to'ttisg n Fullerton School District board. ''17 "I've often been told that a simple hutf" can ease a troubled mind," Weed testifidS.-"In junior high, when troubles are blotrti way out of proportion, it's amazing whalla ' hug can do." "' Then Ms. Galvan, digging deep intobfJfiO bag of adult guilt trips, laid it on with this- pit 0 of reverse psychology: "They tell nsf 'Unas nnt Hrups.' but now. vou're jYtit allowed to hug and if you hug, you'll geDa Saturday detention. , a l Poor baby. She can't hug and now she'; ; all mad and everything. Please, give the gar some drugs, preferably a sleeping pill Whv will send her to dreamland until she a$P1'' kens as a tax-paying adult. Exactly when, I ask you, did children ' get to debate the rules? And when 'dJrJj, hugging become a part of the junior Wghj curriculum? For the moment, the school ' board is backing teachers in their attermitj to lend some decorum to the school darpv',' but we'll be little surprised if the kjute 1 eventually prevail. ',' (;-,' To wit, I proffer a compromise: iffar every hug delivered to a school chuiji, during the day, parents get two hugs when,;.; the student gets home. Anyone failing. s honor the agreement is sentenced toVa&f weeks of square dancing with his mai;, : lioi I Kathleen Parker is a columnist for th'v1 J Orlando Sentinel. ati'i us younger, more acute folks-" who ran make a mess of our"- T-f finanrps without the excust'? f-V of advanced age. These ladies did what all";,f email invpttnrs am advised JnilJ to do, worked at their invest--'! ments and watched thenrii stocks. And the best theyl .' could do was 9.1 percent. 73 Meanwhile, the financial'1 world is full of sharpies offcr-"! ing the hope of effortless" returns like 23.4 percent 'M i And in this bull market thev... are fleecing people fasten i! J J than the Securities and Lxcvrt change Commission or the; A state agencies can policcr-l I them. 'j Now we are told thati' millions ui niiiucciii, uusu-uu phisticated Americans with fewer skills and knowledgc.72; than the Beardstown Ladies, should be added to the potential pool of lambs to be fleeced. 1 Bun tjni. i.'iiiii.i 1 au iiiv 0 Moynihan, D-N.Y., on the Senate floor last week extol- m ling his plan for partially pri-Wl vatizing Social Security so'' everybody can ru" olJt and play the stock market with ' money they'd otherwise pay.r' in Social Security taxes. , ,. Think of it, he said, the;;-; typical American, by invest-;;;:.-ing, will be able to build up-- i estates of $450,000. all their. i own money. The senator didiu, ever) thing but yell, "Every man a king," and for a min-,, ; utc he sounded like a West Side Huey Long. I he trouble is, man many people won't make $450,000 but will make bad' guesses and get wiped out orl be taken by investment charlatans. There is a tar greater chance this will happen than ' there is that Social Security' will ever go bankrupt. '', in.-t tor NV a. The Internal Revenue Service billed taxpayers $18.3 billion m fines and interest in 1996. If the IRS could collect all of that from scoff-laws, cheats and freeloaders, that would be fine. But cheats aren't the only people the IRS is dunning. IRS fines also land on people who pay their taxes and then learn that the the agency has a problem with their return. When the IRS makes its first contact, the agency attaches a bill for what officials think the taxpayer owes plus interest of 0.5 percent a month and maybe an "understatement penalty" of 20 percent. The bill arrives at the same time the taxpayer learns what the IRS is challenging, before the taxpayer has a chance to argue, and long after the taxpayer filed the return. Fines start from the date the tax was due, not from the date the IRS decides there is a problem. The time gap may be six months or more. A misunderstanding quickly turns into an argument, but the meter keeps running up penalties. IRS Commissioner Charles Rossotti told The Associated Press he doesn't like the shoot-first, ask-later approach. But Congress makes the laws. In 1979, IRS-assessed penalties amounted to 0.26 percent of the total tax collection. Now they range between 1.2 and 1.9 percent. Congress increased penalties and added new ones throughout the 1980s to crack down on cheaters, or maybe to raise money. House Ways and Means Chairman Bill Archer, 1 J$ i SIM f: l II illinJ i TTT 1' "I I ' i: The Beardstown Ladies goofed and overstated their investment returns by 14 percent. Now, some would turn a chunk of Social Security taxes over to the wage-earners and let them play the market. By Robert Reno Feel so bad for the Beardstown Ladies. They, of course, are the 14 women in Beardstown, 111., most of them over 70, who sold 800,000 copies of a "common sense" investment guide describing the simple genius by which they claimed to have racked up a 10-year average annual return of 23.4 percent on their stock portfolio. It was such a nice story, these Warren Buffetts in shawls and lavender. And now those dreadful, humorless bean counters at lYice Waterhouse have gone and ruined it. The huge accounting firm audited the ladies' books and found their return was only 9.1 percent, which is considerably worse than the girls would have done by simply buying the stocks in the Dow Jones industrial average. This would have brought them 12.1 percent. And so it turns nut that instead of diligently doing their homework and being model small investors who research their stocks, these ladiesj might as will have Let Army stay on duty cure, smarter, more self-confident, who are we to belittle their limited accomplishment and patronize their amateurism? At least there was no dishonest big-city broker milking them with overstated claims and misleading accountings. Of course, they did make a bundle on their book but there have been a lot richer and more repellent characters who made big money off books lately. And at least the ladies weren't out peddling smutty stories about how the president came to Beardstown and groped them. They weren't secretly tape-recording their friends and taking the tapes to Kenneth Starr or going on 6t) Minutes to whine aliout their troubles. There is a larger lesson here. And. no, it i-n't that 14 elderly ladies in the Heartland are more likely to be -ilt in the hc.id tV.m a lot of bought a few good mutual funds and thrown them in a drawer. Then they could have used all that wasted time throwing wild sherry parties, playing canasta, sewing slipcovers, even hanging out at the local gin mill. The old darlings are apparently beside themselves with chagrin and insist they had no idea in all those 10 years they weren't raking in the huge profits they said they were. "The Beardstown Ladies are just really, really sorry," said lietty Sinnock, 66, the club's treasurer, who blamed herself for punching the wrong figures into a computer. I believe her. And it would almost seem there was no point in exposing their harmless hobby and its overstated claims. If they thought they were m iking 23.4 k rrenu if thev ! : rii t r. more se Two months ago, a suburban West Palm Beach group raised a ruckus over a plan to move the Salvation Army shelter into their neighborhood. Palm Beach County's zoning staff attempted to work out the differences by recommending greater security, buffers and a fence that would encircle the property. The plan was solid; it offered sufficient protection for the neighbors and gave a respected charity the ability to help twice as many people. County commissioners approved it 3-1. Today the group of business owners and residents of Vilma Lane will ask the commission for a rehearing. They say the proposal to allow the Salvation Army to buy and renovate Gold Coast Baptist Church's 8.5 acres is inconsistent with the county's plan for the neighborhood west of Military Trail and south of Okeechobee Boulevard. Planning and zoning staff members disagree. They say the proposal for a center that helps families in crisis and nonviolent federal inmates who are preparing to go back into society is compat I.