Page 73 article text (OCR)
14A THE PALM BEACH POST WEDNESDAY, MARCH 25, 1998 M SL The Palm Beach Post TOM GlUFFRIDA, Publisher Edwarp Sears, Editor Lon Danielson, General Manager TOM O'HARA, Managing Editor RANDY SCHULTZ, Editor of the Editorial Page JAN TUCKWOOD, Associate Editor IN FLORIDA, WE GET HIGH ON GOD! ...ONRWEPAND FAMILY VALUES! .oNUPBOOnNQTHEPEWL'" and VANISHING SIN " I y LEGISLATURE fffi LARRY KLINE, VP Advertising LARRY SIEDLIK, VP & Treasurer GALE HOWDEN, Director, Community Relations TOM HIGHFIELD, VP Circulation LINDA MURPHY, Director, Human Resources BOB BALFE, Director, Production KEN WALTERS, Director, Marketing and' Research Give poor Floridians some shark repellent AND WHEN IT COMES TQ CAPITAL HJNIaHMtNT, WE GET HIGH"' 1 A LEGISLATURE stack Netanyahu's deck ... 264 percent annual interest rate Jy would be a loan shark's delight anywhere in the world. In Florida, it's legal. Since state lawmakers created the shark sea, lawmakers should drain it, as they have the chance to do this year. It may be hard; beneficiaries of the rate .- Jhe title-loan sharks, er, lenders ; have spread more than $80,000 among ; lawmakers and political parties. Wonder where they got that money? The borrowers can't make many campaign con- . tributions if they are trying to repay ; money at 22 percent a month. ! The law that blew up interest rates ; for poor Floridians was introduced and : shepherded in 1995 by Rep. Ed Healey, D-West Palm Beach. The law allows lending with automobile titles as the only collateral. A car may be a poor ,' family's only asset. If the family can't ! get a bank loan or a second mortgage, .' why not let the family put up the car as : security? That's what Rep. Healey says he figured. But even he admits that i things didn't work out as expected. ; During the past three years, hun- dreds of title loan companies have ' swum into Florida waters. By the indus- try's figures, "only" 5 percent of borrowers lose their cars (though the cur- rent lack of regulation allows title ftblBaKM ON FIGHTING CPIME AND PROMOTING $07 Deal could he United States and Israel are heading for a fateful week. President Clinton has indicated to Prime Minis ter Benjamin Netanyahu that the U.S. wants to present to Israel and the Palestinians a compromise that it believes can break the deadlock between them. If they both accept it, that would be ideal. But if not, the U.S. would have to explain publicly who is holding up the peace process. Thomas L. Friedman The Clinton proposal reportedly calls for a 13 percent further Israeli redeployment from the West Bank in three stages over three months, in return for specific changes in Palestinian behavior that would have to be implemented roughly in tandem with the Israeli pullbacks. These include Palestinian crackdowns on incitement to violence, unequivocal abrogation of the Palestinian Covenant and a range of security undertakings. But for weeks now, Mr. Netanyahu, knowing that this U.S. proposal was coming, has been fighting a guerrilla diplomatic war using Congress and Jewish leaders to get it killed. Watching all this, the thought occurred to me: What if Bibi surprised everyone and said yes to the U.S. compromise? What would happen? Well, to begin with, Mr. Netanyahu's approval rating among Israelis would probably soar from around 40 percent to around 75 percent, leaving the Labor Party leader, Ehud Barak, completely in the dust. (Monday's polls in Israel show a majority of If the prime minister accepts the U.S.-brokered compromise, the effect would be profound throughout the region. Israeli Jews favoring the 13 percent U.S. compromise, 71 percent favoring a more active U.S. effort to get Mr. Netanyahu and Yasser Arafat to the table, and 81 percent wishing Mr. Clinton would bring them to Camp David.) Mr. Netanyahu would have enough public support to form any government he wanted including a national unity government with Labor on his terms. Within Mr. Netanyahu's own ruling coalition some far-right members would bolt, but Bibi could govern without them. The National Religious Party, a key bloc in his coalition, would have to decide whether it is an extremist movement committed to holding all the West Bank or a party that understands there must be a compromise and it's better to do it now under conditions of strength. Ariel Sharon, who also has one foot in the Likud and one in the extreme right, would have to decide whether to follow Bibi in supporting the compromise in which case Mr. Sharon could play an important role in bringing along the other religious parties or attack Bibi, in which case Mr. Netanyahu could use his popularity to marginalize Mr. Sharon. Meanwhile, Mr. Arafat would be in a panic. He knows this plan would be a good lenders to take cars and sell them after lenders miss one payment. That seems '. to sanction car theft.) The average ' borrower gets $400 for four months and pays $352 in interest. If that's a favor for poor folks, what is exploitation? The House and Senate are working on bills to rein in the rates. The best of the bunch sponsored by Rep. Bill Put good sense in gear Sublette, R-Orlando, and Sen. Charles Williams, D-Live Oak only slashes the allowable annual rate to 30 percent. That's still way above the legal interest rate for banks of 18 percent. Title loan operators claim that drop ping their rates from unconscionable to merely outrageous would put them out of business. They are, however, willing to compromise. Don Tucker, a former House speaker, says 22 percent a month for the first four months and 1.5 percent after that is the rock bottom. Mr. Tucker is the lobbyist who convinced Rep. Healey that auto title loans were Mother Teresa's work in the first place. He wrote the 1995 bill. Now he has written one for Sen. W.D. Childers, R-Pensacola, to push in the Senate. It is scheduled for a vote Thursday in the ways and means committee. The industry bill would let members vote for the sharks' "compromise" that keeps exploitation alive. Any "compromising" should be between 30 percent and zero. The 30 percent would be OK if it really flushed the lousy operators out of the state. But we have only the industry's word that it would, and this is not a very honorable industry. Public outrage got the Legislature to the point of discussing compromises. Public outrage must keep pushing lawmakers the rest of the way. If Martin County's school transportation department has the lowest bid, it deserves the private bus contract. school board member Tony George, and that turned out to be a signal of things to come. The next day, the school board heard a new round of presentations and threw the selection wide open again. Board members seemed especially impressed with the Laidlaw presentation. A public hearing will be held April 1. There are two possible explanations. Some board members might simply be philosophically committed to privatization. Or, they may distrust the public employees due to the sickout staged by 30 drivers two years ago to protest their contract. Board members wanted assurances that there would be no repetition. On a personal note, driver union leader Brad Gonzalez occasionally irritates board members. But none of this should matter. The goal should be to provide reliable transportation at the lowest cost to taxpayers. If the transportation department has the best price, and provides acceptable assurances that drivers will live up to their no-walkout and pay-concession promises, then the department should get the contract. ,n ON THE SMELL Or ' ' 1 -l' RMDMIMft CI PsUf' deal for Israel, and he's only tentatively saying yes because he thinks Bibi will say no. Mr. Arafat would also understand that by embracing the U.S. plan, Mr. Netanyahu was closing the breach between Israel and the United States, and unifying all American Jews and Congress behind him This would give Mr. Netanyahu an overwhelrn-ingly powerful position vis-a-vis Mr. Arafat going into final-status negotiations. In Baghdad, Saddam Hussein would have heartburn. He would understand that Mr. Netanyahu's embrace of the U.S. compromise means America's Arab allies will not be able to hide behind Israeli intransigence as an excuse for not joining the next anti-Saddam crusade. In Damascus, Hafez Assad would be unnerved, seeing a- new phase of strategic partnership between Israel and the United States that could"brfly weaken Syria's position. King Hussein, meanwhile, would emit a huge sigh of relief, seeing his risky backing for Mr. Netanyahu finally paying off. Finally, such a move would force every one to give Mr. Netanyahu a second look. By having whittled the United States down to 13 percent (the Palestinians wanted- 30; Bibi is offering 9), it would establish him as a better negotiator than the Labor Party, but also one who appreciates the importance of the U.S.-Israel relationship. Those who say that Mr. Netanyahu is a fraud who has been trying to kill Oslo but blame Mr. Arafat for it would have to reconsider. Yes, what if . . . Thomas L Friedman is a columnist for The New York Times. .. For Mr. Clinton to spend an evening with Bob Novak, the current Gridiron pre'si-'; dent and one of the presi-; dent's toughest journalistic critics, or for first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton to be seated : next to Speaker Newt Gihg-. rich at the head table puts' a' ' leash on their emotions at ' least for a few hours. Some see this willingness to hobnob as a sign of corruption. To me,' it seems more a reminder oF shared values and obligations' that are more important than;' any particular political victory ; or defeat. Mr. Gingrich seemed clearly to be alluding to the possibility of impeachment proceedings when he closed off his mainly humorous speech by talking directly to Mr. Clinton and to the press about the need to keep cool. aunng tne very grave trials ... the enormous difficulties."., we may face in "the next fey years." ; "There may be days when the president and I can barely stand to read what you write . or to see what you report,,"',, Mr. Oingnch said. And there . may be days you wonder how this system can survive. . (But) I want to say to this entire crowd, whatever hap-' pens over the next two or"; three years: You are Ameri- cans, you are the carriers of freedom." That is a timely reminder at any moment, but especially in a week when the stresses' in the system are so severe and the potential for doing serious harm to the public trust is so high. A great journalist of the last generation, Theodore White, frequently reminded Americans that politics is the ' alternative to warfare. Anything that underlines that lesson can't be all bad. David liroder is a pctlitual columnist far The W ashington Clinton, press whine, dine together The decision as to who runs Martin County school buses should be made on the basis of service and economics alone. In October, the school board decid-; ed to let private companies bid against the transportation department for the right to operate the system's 98 buses. By last week, the field had been nar-: rowed to the transportation department ; and two large, private companies, Laid-; law Inc. and Ryder Student Transportation Services. The department bid $10.39 million for three years, compared with Ryder's $10.45 million though Ryder was slightly cheaper for the first year, $3.37 million to $3.39 million. Laidlaw's bid of $12.9 million was not comparable because Laidlaw also wants to buy the system's buses. The school district's transportation committee on March 16 ranked the transportation department first. "My conclusion is that you try to negotiate with the staff to make this thing work," consultant Christopher Andrews told the committee. "Most of the time, you should give the in-house folks a chance before going to contract." Though the Martin County Taxpayers Association had come up with the privatization idea, the association's representative on the committee, President Bob Adams, supported the transportation department. The only committee member who leaned toward a private company was At the annual Gridiron dinner, the president and his media friends and foes alike make peace and poke fun if only for an evening. On the midst of one of the tensest periods of press-government relations since Watergate came the Gridiron dinner, a ritual that embodies what is either best or worst about Washington, depending on your viewpoint. David Broder For 113 years, this club of THE ASSOCIATED PRESS1958 FILE PHOTO The Gridiron dinner brought out Kennedys in 1 958 (from left), Edward (then a University of Virginia student), John (then a senator from Massachusetts) and Robert (counsel to the Senate rackets investigating subcommittee). Reverse these charges do on a Saturday night up here? I can't imagine why anyone would think you're out of touch." She pricked the pomposity of the occasion perfectly. But as an obviously biased participant in this archaic ritual for more than two decades, it strikes me that it proves its worth especially in bad times like these. Mr. Clinton, who has avoided most press questions about the allegations that have swamped him in the past few months, showed up for the dinner. The question was how he would handle an evening of musical parodies involving the coaching of White House interns, the evasions of his pal Vernon Jordan and even Mr. Clinton's lack of fidelity to Socks the White I louse cat, A wave of laughter and applause and, frankly, of relief swept the room Saturday night when Mr. Clinton came to the podium, surveyed the scene and asked, with practiced timing: "So, how was tvxr week?" Moralists will say the charges of sexual harassment that had dominated Mr. Clinton's week after Kathleen Willey's appearance on 60 Minutes are no laughing matter. They are right But when people are at each other's throats as much as politicians and the press have been this year, it is fairly important that they step back, at least for a moment, and share a laugh. Washington is suffering from an excess of "war room" psychology that says you go out to destroy any critic before he can dismember you. It infects relations between the White House and Congress, Republicans and Democrats, rival camps of lawyers. And it poisons relations between the press and politicians. The Constitution and the freedom of the nation require genuine rivalries among all those institutions. The tension is real and valuable. But the sanity and even the survival of the country also depend on these battles being fought with a degree of mutual respect. Dining and laughing together engender that feeling. newspaper reporters has picked a pre-Easter weekend for an annual dinner at which they and their editors and publishers from around the country and leading political and governmental officials break bread together and exchange what are meant to be humorous shots. Club members write and perform musical skits lam pooning the follies of both parties. An official from the targeted side is invited to give a 10-minute speech after each skit. The occupant of the White House gets the last word each year, responding to the only toast of the evening: "To the president" Critics charge not unreasonably that this four-hour exc hange of mock blows is the ultimate expression of insider elitism. I will never forget when, a few years back, Ann Richards, then the governor of Texas, looked out at the 6) guests, the men in white tie and tails, the women in formal dresses, and drawled. "So this is what y'all Too many defendants don 't Pay court costs. Palm Beach County shows the Legislature how counties can change that. court and oversees its 25 special masters, says it will work in other counties, too. I le and six other judges and court administrators helped draw up the legislation to allow all 20 judicial circuits to devise their own collections courts. Under the bill the House finance committee is expected to consider Thursday, courts could seize cash bonds to satisfy court fees. Judges would have the right to assess defendants the cost of collecting court fees. Special masters would have discretion in scheduling payments. The money would go back to the counties to help pay for operating and building expenses for the courts, as well as to crime compensation trust accounts. "It's a good piece of legislation," Judge Ciklin said, "designed to collect revenue and, most important, uphold the notion of accountability and respect yntil last year, anyone ordered by a Palm Beach County judge to pay court costs could ignore the order. The defendants wouldn't take hits on their credit ratings. No judge would hold them in contempt No collections agency would harass them .about a mere $161, the usual fine for a misdemeanor such as drunken driving. The county lost hundreds of thousands of dollars over the years simply because it didn't enforce the collection of court fees. That changed in January 1997, when Palm Beach County became one of the first to start a collections court Under legislation being considered this year. other counties could create their own versions of the court It works this way: Those who are assessed fines in court get 90 days to pay. If they don't pay, they must go to court to explain why. If they still don't pay, the "special master" a lawyer trained to preside over the court may place hens on their property. Collections court brings the county between $35100 and $45.00 a month. In addition, it has resulted in the collection yf $100,000 old debts. County Judge Cory Cikhn. who started the for a court -orded sanction." Lawmakers should have no problem passing it.