The Palm Beach Post from West Palm Beach, Florida on March 24, 1998 · Page 61
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March 24, 1998

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The Palm Beach Post from West Palm Beach, Florida · Page 61

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West Palm Beach, Florida
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Tuesday, March 24, 1998
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Page 61
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16A THE PALM BEACH POST TUESDAY, MARCH 24, 1998 m sl - The Palm Beach Post " I TOM GlUFFRIDA. Publisher EDWARD SEARS, Editor LON DANIELSON, General Manager J.TOM O'HARA, Managing Editor RANDY St'HULTZ, Editor of the Editorial Page 1 JAN TUCKWOOD, Associate Editor LARRY KLINE, VP Advertising LARRY SIEDUK, VP & Treasurer GALE HOWDEN, Director, Community Relations TOM HIGHFIELD, VP Circulation UNDA MURPHY, Director, Human Resources BOB BALFE, Director, Production ?Vi KEN WALTERS, Director, Marketing and Research 'd , Jake a chair, Florida, and see Sparky sizzle -the historic significance of this llivi ill, 5 aacritteovrlookGcl.,Whenthey Jll M " wem closing in on him, Nixon ran M ! 1 i Hi downhandhidinthis-oh, f Jp Il f MS) Monday's execution marked the return of the instrument legislators now look upon with political lasciviousness. Kids keeping hugs at arm's length 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. J, 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 among students, teachers and administra tors. Two students who don't like the baij on hugging Alicia Galvan, 15, and Ka trina Weed, 14, complained recently to the Fullerton School District board. "I've often been told that a simple hug can ease a troubled mind," Weed testified' "In junior high, when troubles are blowb way out of proportion, it's amazing what a hug can do." Then Ms. Galvan, digging deep into her bag of adult guilt trips, laid it on with this bit of reverse psychology: "They tell ,us 'Hugs, not drugs,' but now, you're ,no allowed to hug and if you hug, you'll get Saturday detention." Poor baby. She can't hug and now sheas' all mad and everything. Please, give the gifl some drugs, preferably a sleeping pill that will send her to dreamland until she awa kens as a tax-paying adult. '"' ' Exactly when, I ask you, did children" get to debate the rules? And when did' hugging become a part of the junior high curriculum? For the moment, the school board is backing teachers in their attempt to lend some decorum to the school day! but we'll be little surprised if the kids eventually prevail. ".V" To wit, I proffer a compromise: For every hug delivered to a school chii'm during the day, parents get two hugs when the student gets home. Anyone failing honor the agreement is sentenced to six weeks of square dancing with his mama.' :',-; Kathleen Parker is a columnist for 4h Orlando Sentinel. 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. this year has been fingerprinted and one of them, Schtwilla Bryant was convicted of stabbing a classmate at Fort Pierce Central High School three years ago. Even the test scores may not be as good as they seem. Scores were reported for only 70 of the 95 students. Third-graders have shown little improvement School board members will consider tonight whether to renew Orange Avenue's charter for a second year. The best argument in favor of keeping the school is that it symbolizes concern a portion of the community that historically has felt ignored. But charter schools are supposed to serve the county at large, not just a portion of it Orange Avenue's student body is 85 percent African-American and the goal for next year is 70 percent far above the county average of 30 percent At the very least Orange Avenue must agree to submit periodic financial reports to the school system. Otherwise, the board should not renew the charter fur Orange Avenue. fhe Internal Revenue Service billed taxpayers $18.3 billion in 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. I 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 cheat-ers, or maybe to raise money. House Ways and Means Chairman Bill Archer, iiS ill t i us younger, more acute folks' who can make a mess of our1 y finances without the excuse of advanced age. These ladies did what all small investors are advised 1 to do, worked at their in vest w ments and watched their; stocks. And the best they could do was 9.1 percent . Meanwhile, the financial" world is full of sharpies offer- m ing the hope of effortless. returns like 23.4 percent,,, And in this bull market they.,',' are fleecing people faster.;::. than the Securities and Ex change Commission or the"" state agencies can police them. Now we are told that,,;, millions of innocent unso-()i; phisticated Americans with, fewer skills and knowledge than the Beardstown Ladies should be added to the po tential pool of lambs to be,,, ,; fleeced. I saw Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, D-N.Y., on the senate uoor last ween extolling his plan for partially privatizing Social Security so everybody can run out and play the stock market with"": money they d otherwise pay" in Social Security taxes. 1 Think of it he said, the typical American, by investing, will be able to build up estates of $450,000. all their,,, ., own money. The senator did , everything but yell, "Every,, man a king," and for a min-ute he sounded like a West -Side Huey Long. l he trouble is, many. . many people won t make $450,000 but will make bad guesses and get wiped out or be taken by investment charlatans. There is a far greater " chance this will happen than '. there is that Social Security",' will ever go bankrupt. Robert Reno is a colum- " tiist for Newsday. " ' 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 Price 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 out that instead of diligently doing their homework and being model small investors who research their stocks, these ladies might as well have A charter school's test 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 ftO Minutes to whine about their troubles. There is a larger lesson here. And, no. it isn't that 14 elderly ladies in the Heartland are more likely to be soft in the head than 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 Betty 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 making 23.4 percent if they ft!t richer, more se range Avenue Charter School in Fort Pierce, the only such school in St Lucie County, serves 95 at-risk students in kindergarten through third grade. The school seems to be popular with parents and with residents of the African-American neighborhood in which it is located. Attendance is 94 percent high for at-risk students, and test scores show improvement in reading and math. But that's where the good news ends. The school is $32,000 over budget and has not paid more than $16,000 in federal employee taxes, a bill that has risen to $21,000 with penalties. To plug the gaps left when two teachers quit the two kindergarten classes have been combined, negating the small-class benefit that has been one of the school's selling points, and Principal Brenda Morgan is teaching third grade. Substitutes are doing a lot of the teaching, and two of those substitutes are Ms. Morgan's daughter and son-in-law. In the county school system, this would be forbidden due to anti-nepo-

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