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Wednesday, January 1, 1997

Groups to Watch

A Head Start for Charities

There may be no such thing as a free lunch, but individual citizens, families, and companies interested in starting charities can now receive the required legal work absolutely gratis. Through its new "Counsel for Charitable Giving" program, the Washington Legal Foundation hopes to spur the formation of new philanthropic groups throughout the country. Setting up such tax-exempt institutions usually requires legal counsel and copious help filing forms with the IRS. The foundation, a nonprofit, public-interest law firm in Washington, D.C., is offering to provide free advice and the services of D.C. tax lawyer William J. Lehrfeld to people starting nonprofits.

The activities and philosophy of such charities must be in accord with WLF's own principles: free enterprise, limited and accountable government, entrepreneurial spirit, and patriotism. Hoping to create more philanthropy overall, WLF has already fielded several dozen serious inquiries from would-be foundation founders.

* Washington Legal Foundation; contact Daniel Popeo, chairman and legal counsel -- 2009 Massachusetts Ave., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20036. Tel.: 202-588-0302, fax: 202-588-0371.

Education Reformers

Nobel laureate Milton Friedman and his wife, Rose, have started a new foundation bearing their names to promote "reform of elementary and secondary education by increasing competition through parental choice."

The new group, headquartered in Indianapolis, Indiana, will champion education alternatives to public schools by sponsoring research on the benefits of such competition, raising public awareness, providing legal assistance to activists, granting money to parental groups and nonprofits, and maintaining a database of legislative developments. Friedman was one of the first advocates of vouchers that allow parents to choose among public, private nonsectarian, and private religious schools.

* Milton and Rose D. Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice; contact: Robert Enlow -- One American Sq., P.O. Box 82078. Indianapolis, Ind. 46282. Tel.: 317-681-0745, fax: 317-634-0945.

Renewing American Character

A new Washington-based foundation is launching a pair of programs "to renew the American character." Lamenting the isolation and moral relativism of modern American culture, the Tricentennial Foundation for America (TFA) seeks to promote civic virtue by creating "character-building programs for youth, family, and professional people in all walks of life."

One of the foundation's projects is an after-school program for youth called Tricentennial Clubs for America. The youth activities would combine volunteerism, recreation, mentoring by adults, and character education, often in partnership with existing service organizations like Rotary Clubs and Kiwanis Clubs.

The foundation's second major project is a "calendar-based home-learning system" for promoting awareness of family history and reestablishing the family as the "primary stewards" of civic character. The program, called the Almanac for the American Family, allows households to "journal their current family events, document their family history, and reconstruct their roots with reference to American history and cultural customs and traditions."

TFA hopes to establish a grassroots network of "resource centers" and communication links joining families to their local cultural, civic, and religious institutions.

* Tricentennial Foundation for America -- National Press Bldg., ste. 941, Washington, D.C. 20045. Tel.: 202-637-2076, fax: 202-637-0070.

Cautionary Tales

Young Thugs

Although the overall crime rate in New York City has declined dramatically in recent years, prosecutor Peter Reinharz notes that violent crimes committed by teenage predators have increased sharply. Reinharz blames this soaring teen crime wave on the New York state legislature, which passed and continues to preserve the Family Court Act governing juvenile justice in New York. This Act, with its anti-incarceration, pro-rehabilitation bias, "has made sure that a New York crime victim's suffering comes cheap."

Under current New York law, the maximum sentence that 13- to 15-year-olds can receive for most crimes -- including many crimes of violence -- is 18 months of incarceration in a camp-like residential facility. In practice, even hard-core juvenile offenders guilty of reckless manslaughter or robbery serve no more than 10 months, while most car thieves usually get off with probation. (In New York, 16-year-old offenders are tried in adult criminal courts -- rather than in family court -- but the state's youthful-offender law authorizes judges to reduce their sentences sharply and expunge all criminal aspects of the case from their records.)

New York law favors youthful offenders in other ways as well. For example, it denies family court judges the authority to issue search warrants and arrest warrants, so that if police retrieve a gun used by a 15-year-old mugger without a search warrant, lawyers for the offender (usually from the Legal Aid Society) can seek to suppress the weapon as evidence. And even if juvenile offenders are convicted, they are considered not to have committed actual crimes, but only "acts which, if committed by an adult, would be a crime." Since no crime was committed, juvenile offenders acquire no criminal record.

According to Reinharz, "The philosophy behind the state's no-fault juvenile justice system" -- its emphasis on rehabilitation rather than punishment -- "might have made sense in the days when juvenile offenders stole apples and picked pockets, often driven by poverty. . . . But are the teen criminals in court today, almost nine out of 10 of whom are violent felons, really juvenile delinquents rather than criminals?"

Reinharz argues that the New York state legislature's emphasis on rehabilitating youthful offenders is misplaced, since all the evidence indicates that authorities have had very little success in rehabilitating violent teens. He calls on the New York state assembly to emulate most other states and modify its juvenile justice code by lengthening sentences and trying violent teens in criminal courts at an earlier age. "Surely," he concludes, "it's time for our assembly leadership to get mugged by reality, as the expression goes, before the rest of us all get mugged in earnest."

* "Why Teen Thugs Get Away With Murder," by Peter Reinharz, City Journal, Autumn 1996.

Thoughts on Civil Society

A New Model for Communities

The November-December 1996 issue of the American Enterprise addresses "Cures for Lonely Suburbs and Dying Cities." Journalist Philip Langdon describes a new trend in contemporary architecture and community development: The attempt to overcome the loneliness of conventional suburban life by returning to traditional community designs. "Traditionalist" community developers stress the importance of the public realm -- streets, sidewalks, parks and gathering places -- as a way of fostering a sense of community. In traditionalist developments, houses are built close enough together so that neighbors get to know each other, streets tend to be narrow to slow the flow of traffic, and most essential neighborhood services are accessible without cars.

"This setting benefits children as much as adults," Langdon contends. Children have the opportunity to explore the neighborhood and develop a healthy sense of autonomy, while simultaneously enjoying the kind of adult supervision characteristic of traditional communities. By contrast, Langdon believes that conventional, automobile-dependent suburbs deprive children of the skills and judgment needed to manage unfamiliar situations.

Today, about 100 traditionalist developments are in planning or under construction. Perhaps the strongest indication that the new traditionalist town "is more than a hobby horse for nostalgic visionaries" is the Walt Disney Co.'s decision to build an entire new community -- to be called Celebration -- near Orlando, Florida. Designed to house 20,000 people and costing $2.5 billion, "Celebration elevates traditionalism from the province of mostly small, local, and often contrarian developers to the realm of amply financed mainstream corporations."

But what can be done to improve the neighborhoods of the overwhelming majority of Americans who do not live in traditional communities? Harvard professor Harvey Mansfield argues that neighborhoods can be improved by a renewed emphasis on "respectability." Littering, decorating public spaces with graffiti and begging are all instances of the breakdown of respectability. "It is wrong and undemocratic," Mansfield writes, "not to make the effort to gain our fellow citizens' respect."

Robert H. Nelson of the University of Maryland believes that residents of inner-city neighborhoods should be allowed to privatize essential services. "Private inner-city neighborhoods could contract competitively for trash collection, street cleaning, and other services, bypassing expensive and ineffective municipal bureaucracies." Alan Ehrenhalt, editor of Governing magazine, regards neighborhood schools as the engine of neighborhood renewal.

Robert B. Hawkins Jr. of the Institute for Contemporary Studies believes that, "Washington and the state capitals must return real authority to citizens in the form of charter schools, tenant ownership, and governance of public housing projects, and the like." And traditionalist developer Henry M. Turley Jr. believes in returning to "older, traditional ways of building communities [that] were often more wholesome, comfortable, and efficient" than their modern counterparts.

But it's not only community developers who are concluding that in many respects the past was better than the present. Fred Siegel, a professor at the Cooper Union in New York City, writes, "If we could simply return our older cities to the conditions they enjoyed before Lyndon Johnson declared 1965 'The Year of the Cities'. . . it would be considered an historic achievement." The massive failure of the urban-renewal programs begun during the 1960s has led to a radical rethinking of how best to help the urban poor. Instead of pouring billions of taxpayer dollars into an ineffective social service bureaucracy, the emphasis now is on fostering business-financed inner-city economic growth.

Currently, the most important sources of such economic growth in New York are in retailing and niche manufacturing. "It would be a happy conjunction of forces if some of the workers in these new manufacturing jobs could come from the ranks of those scheduled to be moved off AFDC by the 1996 welfare reform bill," concludes Siegel. "But that will be a difficult task."

The task would be much simpler, writes Joel Kotkin, if our large and poorly governed urban mega-jurisdictions were broken up into smaller political units. And, in fact, "regional secession movements" exist throughout California, in the New York boroughs of Queens and Staten Island, and even in Kansas. In Los Angeles, that hotbed of contemporary urban secessionism, both conservative and liberal politicians endorse the general right of cities or school districts to secede.

Secessionism is popular, argues Kotkin, because governing can be done far more flexibly, quickly and intelligently in smaller jurisdictions. "When city deficits mounted in L.A.," he writes, "the city council raised city taxes and fees. The smaller cities, in contrast, responded by slashing fees to provide businesses with incentives to expand, while putting the lid on city spending."

As a result, the unemployment rate in small cities adjacent to Los Angeles, such as Burbank and Glendale, is much lower than in its giant neighbor, and while major corporations have been fleeing Los Angeles in droves, its smaller neighbors are experiencing a massive business expansion fueled by such firms as Time Warner, Disney, and NBC. "The comparative fortunes of these smaller cities and the big city of Los Angeles," he concludes, "is telling evidence of the benefits of devolving political power to a more local level than most current city boundaries allow."

* "Cures for Lonely Suburbs and Dying Cities," American Enterprise, November-December 1996.

Innovations in Public Safety

Like many conservative state policy groups, the Pioneer Institute for Public Policy, in Boston, Massachusetts, sponsors an annual competition for "better government." Recently it honored 10 innovations in public safety, its category for 1996. These state and municipal government initiatives and nonprofit projects, many of them in Massachusetts, include the following:

Alliance All Purpose (Mass.) -- A group home for adolescent boys that seeks to "channel the energy and ambitions of troubled youth into the mainstream through manual labor and entrepreneurship."

Right Turn (Mass.) -- A proposal for private operation of public alcohol-treatment facilities, under which it would expand treatment to include monitoring and aftercare and would require nonindigent DUI offenders to pay the costs of treatment.

Volunteer community policing (San Diego, Calif.) -- A "volunteer services unit" in San Diego that uses 600 citizen volunteers to staff community-policing initiatives, including a "crisis-intervention team" and a "retired senior patrol."

ReTec America (Cambridge, Mass.) -- A supervised, after-school educational program for computer literacy, offered in schools and public-housing projects for "youth who might otherwise turn to crime."

Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative (Boston, Mass.) -- A community development program that seeks to "design crime out of the neighborhood" with strategies such as lighting public parks and renovating abandoned buildings for habitation.

Operation Night Light (Boston, Mass.) -- A joint venture between Boston's police and probation departments, it promotes the sharing of information about offenders and sends Boston detectives to the homes of probationers to provide protection for probation officers and issue lessons on discipline.

Zero Tolerance (Worcester, Mass.) -- Seeks to drive drug activity out of targeted neighborhoods by coordinating the efforts of several city community-development offices with those of the police department.

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