Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Nov. 25: 15% Tuition Increase Is Too High For Florida

By Sylvia Gurinsky

Florida Atlantic University student Slavi Gorgoski had it right when he asked Miami Herald columnist Fred Grimm, ''They're going to raise our tuition 15 percent. Does that mean the college programs will be improved 15 percent?''

No, but it likely means the state of Florida will shirk its responsibility to its higher education students by 15 percent.

A low-to-moderate tuition increase - between three to seven percent - might be necessary. Fifteen percent in this economic climate is outrageous.

Gov. Charlie Crist proposed the increase, plus a plan that would shift tuition responsibility more from the Florida Legislature to the Board of Governors - that's the good news - but would also allow as much as a 40-percent hike in tuition over a three-year period.

Former Sen. Bob Graham, who has been a champion of better higher education, is rightfully worried that tuition increases will prompt the Legislature to play its usual game of cost-shifting.

So, Governor Crist, would you like to explain where the students, many of whom attend these schools because they can't afford any others, are going to get the money to pay for such hikes in a bad economy? And after such moves as Florida International University slashing 22 programs, are you going to explain why it's even worth paying that much more? It's certainly not going to improve the quality of education, or the salaries of any faculty members who don't coach football teams.

(Full disclosure: I am an FIU alumnus.)

Monday, November 24, 2008

Nov. 24: Don't Be Shy About Reigning In Corporate Bigwigs

By Sylvia Gurinsky

Maybe this is where New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg can use his vaunted expertise.

That's because, let's face it, there is no way Citigroup should still be contributing financially to the New York Mets' new stadium if it's so far in the hole that it requires a $326 billion federal bailout. For the time being, Citigroup is still in the partnership.

AIG, which is quickly becoming the poster company for how not to behave after a federal bailout, is keeping its corporate partnership with the British soccer team Manchester United.

Last week, members of Congress got very upset at the chief executive officers of the Big Three U.S. automakers for flying to Washington in separate corporate jets. O.K., Congress, how about turning that anger into action? How about holding CEOs to a higher standard of behavior?

More than a century ago, Congress began to crack down on abusive businesses with antitrust laws, child labor laws and more. Other regulations were put in place a few years ago, after the collapse of Enron. Congress shouldn't be shy about stepping in again - and reigning in the companies that are still living it up at the public's expense.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Nov. 20: Sniglets On Private Jets, Celebrity Children, Christmas Carols - and the Presidential Puppy

By Sylvia Gurinsky

The question of the week comes from U.S. Rep. Brad Sherman of California:




Shame on Forbes, or at least its Web site, for picking up the media craze with the children of celebrities. They've put out a "Top 10" list of the best-looking celebrity tykes.

Since when did those children become public figures, unless they're doing a movie? It's a violation of their privacy - and an invitation to possible harm.


A little something on the lighter side: Christmas carols.

I like Christmas carols - when they're played after Thanksgiving.

I understand people want a little cheerfulness in their lives. But please, can't we - or at least radio stations - wait another week?


I don't know whether this would fit President-Elect Barack Obama's criteria for a puppy for his daughters, but here's a shout-out for the dachshund:


And they look so cute walking around in the backyard.....

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Nov. 19: Discussing the Economy Amid Spa Treatments

By Sylvia Gurinsky

Oh, those Republican members of the Florida Legislature.

How sweet must be the oblivion of knowing they still have a massive majority in both state houses, and that they're still free to do whatever they please. How sweet must be the oblivion of believing that Floridians who are losing their homes and their jobs won't care if their state senators and representatives spend several days at the WaterColor Inn & Resort - not exactly Econo-Lodge - in Destin:


And how ironic that they talk about the economy:


Isn't it awful, how those poor Florida residents suffer, while we come to a resort with snorkeling and spa treatments?

Isn't it nice to know that they get it?

And wouldn't Florida voters like to go back two weeks and really give it to them at the ballot box?

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Nov. 18: Rescuing One American Icon and Saluting Another

By Sylvia Gurinsky

Who has the blame for the U.S. auto industry drowning? Try everyone.

That would include the politicians who spent the 1980s taking away energy and mileage standards for cars, the car executives who worried about today's bottom line and their bonuses instead of the future of their companies, and motorists who spent the 1990s and most of this decade buying polluting, gas-guzzling SUVs.

Now, General Motors, Ford and Chrysler are asking to be part of the federal government's bailout package. Advocates have a point when they say the wipeout of the auto industry would do further damage to the economy. But those who say the companies need to start from scratch also have a point. The chances seem to be better that it will snow in South Florida this week than that Congress will approve $25 billion of the bailout money for the Big Three in its lame-duck session.

(Of course, Republican members of Congress who are now balking at giving money to the car companies weren't so particular when the workers they were bailing out were on Wall Street.)

The automakers had enough imagination to duck and dodge those who were trying to better their standards, both in carmaking and treatment of their employees. Here's one thought that they can find enough imagination to make it to January relatively intact. And when they do, that's when Congress should craft a well-thought out package that helps the auto industry survive - but holds them to specific standards on cars that are well-made and energy-efficient, as well as better treatment of industry workers.

The American auto industry practically invented U.S. industrial success in the 20th century. It needs to reinvent itself for the 21st.


Today, an American and world icon celebrates his 80th birthday. Here's a link to his greatest performance:


Happy Birthday, Mickey.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Nov. 17: G.O.P. Feudin' About Its Future

By Sylvia Gurinsky

Last week's meeting of the Republican Governors Association looked a little bit like a family reunion in which the family members don't really want to be together.

They all had different ideas about what it would take for them to get back on track after this year's election. In fact, if the late, great humorist Will Rogers had seen them, he might have changed his description of an unorganized political party from Democrat to Republican.

There were tiffs over strategy, focus and ideology. And there was Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska.

One firm conclusion from Palin's appearance: Her ego is as big as her hairstyle. She has already begun her presidential campaign for 2012, at least in her own mind. She is now what Sen. John McCain, who picked her as his running mate, accused President-Elect Barack Obama of being: A celebrity.

And that leads to another conclusion: The G.O.P. has to work on its female bench strength in the post-baby boomer generation. If Palin, who counters the big ego with a lack of intellectual curiosity, is the best they've got, they're in more trouble than they realize.

Many people have made the point that the Republicans lack diversity. Want proof? Look in the special election issue of Newsweek at the picture of Sen. John McCain's concession speech. Just about every face is white. That's why the Republicans hold up Gov. Bobby Jindal, of Indian descent, as their version of Obama.

Jindal, Gov. Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota and Florida Gov. Charlie Crist may really represent the future the Republicans want - pragmatic workers who reach across party lines. That's what Obama did in winning the presidential election. If this year's results mean that the era of red states and blue states and selective campaigning and governing is at an end in both parties, so much the better.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Nov. 13: Flippers Are Part Of the Housing Problem

By Sylvia Gurinsky

A couple of years ago, "flipping" was being reported as a phenomenon. A person buys a house, apartment or townhouse and then turns around and sells it, at a profit.

The question is: How much has the abuse of flipping contributed to the current housing market crisis?

It's a legitimate question for one reason: The effect flipping has on the value of other properties in an area, possibly artificially inflating the value of other homes and making it more difficult for homeowners, or prospective buyers, to afford those places.

In drafting laws to help those whose homes have been foreclosed, local, state and federal governments must take a close look at the process of flipping, and implement reforms that protect all homeowners from the profiteering of some.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Nov. 12: The Unanswered Question: What To Do About Russia

By Sylvia Gurinsky

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev had a strange way of congratulating U.S. President-Elect Barack Obama last week: He did so at the same time he announced plans to base short-range missiles near Poland.

Actually, this is less of a response to Obama than a continuing game of one-upmanship between Russia's real leader, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, and President George W. Bush. The Bush Administration has now attempted to placate the Russians by saying that its proposal for a missile defense system in Poland and elsewhere is an effort to protect those countries from an Iranian threat. So far, and to no one's surprise, it's to no avail.

What's less clear is what Obama plans to do about Russia. Sadly, not one reporter asked him about the issue at last week's press conference. But it is as serious a threat as the economy, and it points to the truth of Vice President-Elect Joe Biden's statement during the campaign that Obama would be tested early.

It's true that, as Obama has said, there's one president at a time, and until Jan. 20, that president is Bush. But the time will come soon for Obama to state his plans about the reforming Iron Curtain. Russia must be addressed, and quickly.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Nov. 11: Snap Jaws Shut On Alligator Alley Privitization Plan

By Sylvia Gurinsky

Run, do not walk, to the public hearing planned for this Thursday night at Florida Atlantic University's Davie campus. The subject: Proposed toll hikes for Alligator Alley as the State of Florida aims to have a private company manage the road.

These would be Hikes with a capital "H," since tolls would go up every year for 50 years. According to The Miami Herald, tolls would rise each year at either three percent or the rate of inflation - whichever is higher. That's ridiculous.

The state has come up with a lot of schemes in its time, but this one takes the cake. For starters, it's going to force more drivers without the dough onto Tamiami Trail to travel across the state. That will put more stress on the historic road, which is set to undergo a renovation in four years that would restore more water flow in Everglades National Park. Think of the traffic nightmares if there's an accident.

Thursday night's hearing is at the Liberal Arts Building at 2912 College Ave., Davie. It starts with an open house at 6 p.m. Be there - and shout out a big "NO" to this plan.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Nov. 10: Dade Bungled Scheduling Of Property Appraiser's Race

By Sylvia Gurinsky

During the Jan. 29 presidential primary, voters in Miami-Dade County approved a measure to make the county property appraiser's position elected, rather than appointed.

County commissioners could have put the race on the ballot in August, which would have meant the runoff would have occurred last Tuesday. Instead, they put it on last Tuesday's ballot. Because they did, Dade voters will probably have to schlep to the polls for the fourth time this year - for a runoff next month that will cost the county up to $3.5 million at a time when every dollar counts.

The runoff may be a moot point if candidate Gwen Margolis wins her lawsuit to be declared the winner of last Tuesday's contest:


But the scheduling illustrates that Miami-Dade still has a ways to go to make sure the election process is 100 percent efficient - and cost-effective.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Nov. 6: More On the Election

By Sylvia Gurinsky

I'll divide this into categories....

*Presidential Election

It was on last week's "Saturday Night Live" that John McCain may have been obliquely waving the white flag and pointing to troubles with his running mate. In the very funny opening skit of McCain hawking items on QVC with Sarah Palin, once again played by Tina Fey, there was a moment in which Fey began "quietly" hawking "Palin in 2012" shirts. Would McCain have agreed to that skit if he'd thought he was going to win, or if he didn't want to air out some issues with Palin?

The SNL McCain was the one who didn't run for president after the summer, as was the classy McCain in the concession speech Tuesday night. That was the John McCain people respected.

As for Palin, some have compared her to Ronald Reagan in 1976. Uh, not yet. Reagan had loads more experience and was a better campaigner, and definitely better at reaching out to the other side. She may have miles to go before she runs - beginning with the current sniping McCain staffers are doing.

As for Barack Obama, it's all been said about the campaign. Well, most of it has been said. The biggest surprise here was the 77 percent vote from the Jewish community - higher than what Sen. John Kerry, who has Judaism in his family history, received in 2004. Quite an accomplishment, considering that some early polls had his support between 50 and 60 percent. The People of the Book obviously read Obama's.


The Sunshine State can elect an African-American as president, but can't get other things right in terms of equality for all. Voters said no to Amendment One and yes to Amendment Two. The first one, an effort to repeal a discriminatory anti-immigrant law dating from the 1920s, was probably misinterpreted as a modern-day anti-immigrant amendment, so two slaps on the wrist for voters, for not educating themselves and for actually supporting keeping the law on the books.

Ironically, an ad by Florida Red and Blue opposing Amendment 2 may have helped contribute to its passage. The ad featured a heterosexual couple in a domestic partnership; they are not married because she would have lost the Social Security benefits of her late husband. It may have been "Harry and Louise" in reverse.


Florida's most Democratic Party-oriented county still kept Republican incumbents, including Broward Sheriff Al Lamberti, in office. Lamberti squeaked by challenger Scott Israel. Ultimately, Lamberti's BSO career and his success in quieting down a police department beset by scandal and shootings may have played more of a role in his victory than any party politics.


Voters approved most reforms in the mayor's job and petition initiatives. But yet again, they said no to a living wage for county commissioners. Maybe next time, someone should try adding term limits to the ballot question.

And then there's the issue of the runoff for property appraiser.....I'll deal with that next week.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Nov. 5: Number 44

By Sylvia Gurinsky

To baseball fans, the number 44 has real significance. It's been worn by some of the very best, including Willie McCovey and Reggie Jackson.

And it played a role in one of the most memorable days in American history, April 8, 1974. That was the day Henry Aaron broke Babe Ruth's all-time home run record by hitting number 715. Aaron's uniform number was 44.

Aaron is African-American (as are McCovey and Jackson, incidentally). He broke Ruth's record through unyielding pressure, not just because of the sacredness of baseball records, but also because of the resistance of some Americans who didn't want to see that record broken by a black man. Aaron broke the record with class and grace.

Therefore, the fact that Barack Obama, the first African-American to be elected president of the United States, will be the 44th president of this nation seems appropriate. As a baseball fan, Obama will likely take time to think about that other number 44, and number 42, Jackie Robinson, just two of the many men and women who blazed the trail Obama has followed. Obama now blazes his own trail for many others, including women, Hispanics, Asian Americans and other Americans of different races, religions and creeds.

"Yes we can" is no longer just a campaign slogan. Yesterday, almost 64 million voters gave it a whole new meaning. And because of them, number 44, already important, took on a much greater significance.


Here's a link to the speech that brought the new president-elect into the minds and hearts of Americans; Barack Obama's speech to the 2004 Democratic National Convention:


Last night went a long way toward turning red states and blue states back into the United States.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Nov. 4: Is This Any Way To Have An Election?

By Sylvia Gurinsky

We'll know the "What" later. Now, a discussion of the "How."

Election 2008 attracted the most voter attention in many years, primarily because of dynamic candidates and new ways for people to participate in the process. The first interesting result will be nationwide voter turnout; it could break records.

Someone is going to break a barrier, whether it's the first black president or the oldest elected president and the first female vice president. The presence of candidates such as Barack Obama, John McCain and Sarah Palin, and Hillary Clinton (during the primaries) helped engage the public.

This campaign depended on a combination of the old and new: Multitudes of Internet sites combined with shoe leather and door-knocking; questions asked by Bob Schieffer and David Letterman. (And two things I never thought I'd see together in a sentence, from this morning's Miami Herald, PBS and Twitter.)

And now, the bad news.....

The ambient anger of the last 15 years or so remains. Aspects of the campaigns brought out hateful sides of some supporters of candidates from both sides of the political spectrum. Whoever becomes the next president - and vice president - will have to address this.

For the first time, it felt like the most challenging questions of the candidates didn't come from the one profession that's protected in the U.S. Constitution - the press. While newspapers, radio and television continued to suffer from staff and quality shrinkage, comedians Letterman and Jon Stewart asked some of the best questions.

Talk radio and cable channels were a disaster, spreading as much propaganda as any political ads and contributing to climates of hatred. Sadly, some mainstream journalists started picking up cues from them.

On the voting front, there still hasn't been enough progress to make sure that voter rights, access and technology are the best everywhere. When The New York Times reports a snafu when the actor and activist Tim Robbins tried to vote this morning, what's the status of millions of other Americans?

Here's a link, incidentally, to the article about Robbins:


There's reassurance in knowing that tradition and democracy continue in Dixville Notch and Hart's Location in New Hampshire, where they cast the first Election Day ballots just after midnight. The towns pride themselves on 100 percent turnout, and presumably a well-informed electorate.

The rest of this country deserves no less. So there's work to be done in how we vote - and how we learn.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Nov. 3: A Few Words About Our National Anthem

By Sylvia Gurinsky

As a Florida Marlins fan who was rooting for the Tampa Bay Rays in the World Series, I give a grudging congratulations to the Marlins' National League Eastern Division rivals, the Philadelphia Phillies.

I would like to warmly applaud singer John Oates, of Hall and Oates, for being the only singer during the Fall Classic who delivered a National Anthem that was worthy of the title.

Yes, I am picky about how the "Star-Spangled Banner" is sung. It is difficult, but singer after singer moves around notes, messes up the words, and generally makes it painful to listen to time after time. My favorite vocal versions have come from opera singers, including the late Robert Merrill, who sang it so many times at Yankee Stadium, and Marilyn Horne.

If sports franchises, etc., can't find anyone to sing it properly, just play a recording, let the organist perform, or let the fans/audience sing a cappella. That's the best way.

I tried to find a good recording, but couldn't. So here's the next best thing: Kate Smith singing "God Bless America," from the 1943 movie version of Irving Berlin's "This Is the Army." The sequence includes a then-future U.S. president named Ronald Reagan: