The Palm Beach Post from West Palm Beach, Florida on March 28, 1998 · Page 136
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March 28, 1998

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The Palm Beach Post from West Palm Beach, Florida · Page 136

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West Palm Beach, Florida
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Saturday, March 28, 1998
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12A THE PALM BEACH POST SATURDAY, MARCH 28, 1998 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 Beardstown Ladies INVESTMENT STRATEGY 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 xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxH "'il"nfL.1 Butler did make him the crime; do the time Academy spiked an opportunity An Oscar for the documentary about the Birmingham church bombing would have caused Hollywood to think about race. He deserves a prison sentence after his conviction for trying to corrupt the most powerful office in Palm Beach County. felony and four misdemeanors. The convictions will keep him from practicing law for at least three years. They will send him to jail for as long as a year. Prosecutors hope the presiding judge, retired Florida Supreme Court Justice James Alderman, will send Butler to prison for between three and five years. Mr. Brabham, now a lawyer in Texas, goes on trial Monday on charges of bribery, conspiracy and campaign finance violations. Baber and his family are expected to testify against him as well, hoping to win a more lenient sentence for his DUI manslaughter conviction than the 19 years he faces. Butler deserves no leniency. This wasn't just a bribe for any office. It was bribe for the job that decides who goes trial and who goes free. Butler's campaign ads blamed Palm Beach County's "crime wave" on Mr. Krischer's unwillingness to prosecute cases. He said Mr. Krischer's office offered too many lenient sentences, dropped too many cases and let too many crimes go unsolved and unreported because police and the public had no confidence in the prosecutor's ability to render justice. Judge Alderman has a chance to give the public some renewed confidence in the justice system. Send to prison the man who spent $680,000 of someone else's money pledging to fight crime. Phil Butler will fit right in. end tests Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' other omissions of deserving black nominees, such as Samuel L. Jackson in Jackie Brown, could be seen as just the whims of a fickle industry. Last year, the academy heaped praise upon an English patient who had sex with a self-centered woman at a tea party while her devoted husband was in the next room. While still in good health, the man gave maps to Nazis without regard for how, his action would influence the war. That travesty of romantic lust won Best Picture.; Still, as prizes go, filmmakers covet; an Oscar because it means more people:will see the movie and that students and professionals will study the film. A prize for Mr. Lee's documentary could have enticed more people to see the beauty of these four little girls and vow, "Never again." j So, Monday night, I watched the Oscars with more interest in the documentary category than ever before. Call my choice a sentimental favorite, if you will, but for me a lot was on the line. 4 Little Girls lost ." I regret the loss. The racial hatred that; seethed just below the surface of civility in Birmingham before the bombing is all the more awesome because we know, all of us, that such vitriol exists today, building in intensity. Likely, it will explode when people of goodwill decide they've allowed as much change as they want to tolerate for now. A decision by the'academy to acknowledge these little girls' lives could have influenced others in the film industry to address our inner hostilities. Stebbins Jefferson is a columnist for The Palm Beach Post. LEGISLATURE i hil Butler is guilty. Guiltv of accepting a bribe from a West Palm Beach busi nessman to bankroll his 1996 campaign for Palm Beach County state attorney in Exchange for granting the man leniency on a DUI manslaughter charge, i Guilty of conspiring with lawyer fed Brabham to get money from the man, who was trying desperately to stay Out of prison. . I Guilty, three times over, of violating state campaign laws by soliciting more than half a million dollars from the businessman, furniture store executive James Clyde Baber III, and his family, j Guilty, finally, of trying to corrupt the most important elected office in Palm Beach County. T A six-member jury heard a week's worth of evidence and arguments about Butler's sordid attempt to unseat State Attorney Barry Krischer. The jurors heard profane transcripts on which Butter said he hated Mr. Krischer so much that he was "willing to go bankrupt to take the guy down." They heard testimony about how Butler and Mr. Brabham coaxed $400,000 from Baber's 70-year-old mother, telling her it wouldn't be an illegal campaign contribution if they funneled the money through another state with no contribution limits, i Evidence ranged from the tedious tb the absurd. Butler, for example, treated fake promissory notes on computer to back up his claim that the Baberses' $680,000 contributions were loans, not bribes. Butler plotted a break-in of Mr. Brabham's law office that he could blame on Mr. Krischer. i Considering the overwhelming evidence, jurors took an unusually long time to sort through it all. Thursday, however, they found the West Palm Beach lawyer guilty of all charges: one Stop smoke; tate lawmakers show no hesita tion when passing ill-conceived "reforms" that damage public education, but when it comes to getting Hd of an auto-emissions system tnat is nothing but a welfare program for testing companies, a Senate committee wants more information. In 1991, under the threat of losing federal highway money, Florida began inspecting auto emissions systems in the six counties, including Palm Beach, that had recorded too much ground-level ozone in 1987. Ozone at high altitude blocks cancer-causing ultraviolet radiation, but at ground level it causes headaches and irritates eyes and the respiratory system, i Florida's air is cleaner today, but there is no evidence that inspections are the reason. More plausible explanations are improved auto technology and the smaller number of older cars on the highway. Dwight Davis, who runs the State's emissions bureau, conceded in a memo two years ago that "the current program will provide only marginal further environmental benefits." I It does, however, provide major financial benefits to the private companies that operate the inspection stations, and to the state. The companies get 85 percent of the $45 million motorists spend each year at $10 a test and the state takes the other 15 percent, using some of the money to help support the Division of Driver Licenses Terminate 3f Boynton Beach wants to try again this year to abolish term limits, the city ought to take politics out of the issue by making the change apply only to future commissioners. Since 1966, the Boynton Beach charter has limited commissioners to two two-year terms, more or less. After then-City Attorney Raymond Rea ruled that Bob Ferrell could run for mayor after two commission terms, the charter was changed again in 1988 to close that loophole. City Attorney James Cherof ruled in 1994 that Commissioner Lynne Matson, elected in 1991 to fill an unexpired term and reelected in 1992 could run again because she had not served a full two terms. Ms. Matson won again and served five years. Obviously, commissioners don't like term limits, but they have been popular with voters. Commissioners have tried seven times to loosen or eliminate the limits, and seven times the voters have said "No." The most recent vote, March 10, was very close, with only a 65-vote margin out of 2.335 votes cast Emboldened by the near-victory, champion? of unlimited terms want to try again in November. a to two one: bad the one to of in only '0 cried when I saw it," my walking partner confided several months aco. as we circled the block before dawn. A strong woman of great faith, she rarely allows her stoic facade to slip, no matter what crisis she faces, but Spike Lee's documentary film, 4 Little Girls, had penetrated her armor. "I couldn't help it," she said, almost apologetically. I understood per fectly. This powerful documentary immerses viewers in history no one can deny. For that reason, both my friend and I were delighted when this critically acclaimed film about the 1963 bombing of the Sixteenth Avenue Baptist Church in Birming Stebbins Jefferson ham, Ala., was nominated for an Academy Award. In this film, without his usual explicit comments, Mr. Lee details the lives of Denise McNair, 11, and Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley and Carole Rosamond Robertson, all 14. These little girls, who had gone into the basement that Sunday morning in September to primp before entering the sanctuary, were killed instantly by the explosion of a bomb that Ku Klux Klan members had planted. They had hoped to stop the civil rights movement, but the murders had the opposite effect. The girls' deaths motivated many people of different races to join the struggle to end desegregation. None of these children was politically active, though one had boldly questioned her parents about why she couldn't eat at a A pointed Exchanging drug users' dirty needles for clean ones is nobody's ideal solution to the problems of AIDS or drug abuse. But there is no doubt that it works. By Robert Dawidoff Qmagine if you were the nation's top public health official and you could save thousands of lives and curb the spread of AIDS with your signature. That is the opportunity facing Secretary of Health and Human Services Donna Shalala. On Wednesday, she can authorize federal support for needle exchange programs for intravenous drug users and thereby significantly reduce the transmission of HIV. Intravenous drug users habitually share their hypodermic needles, exposing each other as well as their sexual partners and their offspring to the deadly disease. In an exchange program, addicts turn in their used needles for clean ones. The April 1 date is significant because federal legislation prohibiting federal support of needle exchange expires Tuesday. If these programs can be shown to reduce the spread of AIDS without encouraging drug use, then HHS may proceed with the exchange. Needle exchange has been shown to meet these conditions. So what are public health officials waiting for? They must seize this chance to save American lives. (In 1997, the House of Representatives toughened the ban on federal financing of needle exchanges. An amendment to the HHS budget appropriations bill took away Secretary Shala-la's discretion to allow exchanges on a case-by-case basis at drug treatment clinics.) Needle exchange is nobody's ideal solution to the problems of AIDS transmission or intravenous drug use. But there is no doubt that it works. According to studies of five New - I f-: public lunch counter. Her father confides that explaining why she couldn't because she was black was more painful for him than later identifying her body and seeing a piece of concrete lodged in her skull. Mr. Lee profiles the girls in ways that reveal their personalities. Once introduced, neither they nor the destructive power of the bigotry that ended their lives can be forgotten. Interviews with the girls' family members, friends, civil rights activists and government officials re-create the cauldron that was Birmingham during the late 1950s and early '60s. Of the city before the demonstrations, a white man said, "It was the ideal place to raise a family." One of the dead girls' fathers, however, describes the city as "an awful place." Because those views diverged, children died. Film shapes culture. It can merge perceptions so that we see each other's world more clearly. It can remind us that human dignity, maintained as an alternative to violence, can overcome evil. These premises, which are at the core of Mr. Lee's film, caused me to hope he would win the Oscar. Had 4 Little Girls won, I thought, the means to a :b?'.'4vi- V s s York City needle exchange programs, the HIV-infection rate was cut by two-thirds. The urgency and effectiveness of needle exchange have been endorsed by the president's own advisory council on AIDS, the American Medical Association, the National Academy of Sciences, the American Public Health Association, the National Commission on AIDS, the U.S. Conference of Mayors and the American Bar Association, to name a few. Between 650,000 and 900,000 people in the United States are infected with HIV, and more than a million Americans inject illegal drugs. New medical therapies have reduced AIDS deaths significantly but have no impact on the rate of infection. There is a scientific consensus that clean needles and safer sex significantly reduce the rates. But the focus of public response has been on treatment, not prevention, as if these were competitive goals. The habitual sharing of needles JL i e8 4 J and the Florida Highway Patrol. The companies protected their interests by giving more than $140,000 to parties and candidates during the 1996 legislative campaigns. Every legislator who lives in Palm Beach County took money from the companies' political action committee. Not surprisingly, one of the suggested "reforms" is to change inspections from once a year to once every years and double the fee. That means the companies would get the same money for doing half the work. The Senate Natural Resources Committee's solution is a $125,000 study to decide how often and how costly tests should be, and whether newer autos should be exempt. Absent from the list of questions is the best Should Florida test emissions? The only valid excuse to keep the tests is the danger of losing federal money, but the Environmental Protection Agency is far more flexible on such questions that it was a decade ago. Instead of looking for ways to increase testing-company profits, the Legislature should ask EPA about alternatives. the politics To end limits on length of service in Boynton, apply the ban to future commissioners. Term limits are a bad idea. They assume voters are too dumb to turn out officeholders and deny voters the right to keep good officeholders. But issue in Boynton Beach has become of personalities. It is no secret that many term-limit foes want to allow Mayor Jerry Taylor to run for a third term next year, and defenders of the status quo have jumped on that to portray the change as a power grab. The way to neutralize that issue is word the change so that present commissioners are bound by the two-term rule. That is unfair to supporters Mayor Taylor and Commissioner Shirley Jaskiewicz, who also is in her second term. It may also be unfair to supporters of Commissioner Jamie Tit-comb, elected to fill an unexpired term 1995 and reelected in 19. At this point, however, it maybe the way that te measure will pass. better end spreads AIDS among users, their sexual partners and their babies. A large proportion of the estimated 6,000 cases of pediatric AIDS can be traced to shared needles. One-third of all AIDS cases and more than half of those involving women result from injections of drugs or having sex with people who do. Fighting drug use is hard enough; When you add AIDS and its transmis-' sion, however, the public health system is overwhelmed. Needle exchange programs safely dispose of used needles. Most programs refer clients to HIV testing and counseling and drug treatment programs. A 1997 study, published in Tfte Lancet (a British medical journal), estimated that needle exchange programs might have prevented between 4,400 and 9,700 HIV infections, which would have saved as much as half a billion dollars in health-care expenditures. The same study estimated that needle exchange might prevent 11,300 more cSes among drug injectors, their sexu--al partners and their children. It isn't hard to figure out why the government is not preparing the public ; to support needle exchange. Officials seem to have confused saving American . lives with saving their own skins. " ; ' It may well be that the political' consequences of instituting needle ex- ' change will be as contentious as the administration apparently fears. But . politics as usual will not stop the AIDS plague. Courageous, professional and mature decisions about public health will. Surely we have learned something from the deadly results of government inaction during the first decade of the AIDS epidemic. An informed public must make it politically dangerous for ' the administration not to act on Wednesday to save lives. Otherwise a missed opportunity will become a fatal April Fool's joke. Robert Dawidoff is a professor of American history at Qaremont Graduate I'ntversity. He wrote this article for Newsday. .

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