Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Dec. 30: Gaza - The Storm Before the Calm

By Sylvia Gurinsky

It's no accident that Israel chose now to hit Hamas and hit hard. Come Jan. 20, their window of opportunity will close.

That's because a U.S. president who's actually interested in the peace process will be sworn in.

"Frozen" would be a charitable way to describe President George W. Bush and his work - or lack of it - in the Middle East. President-Elect Barack Obama, on the other hand, is likely interested in getting something constructive done there.

There must be at least one pragmatist in Hamas and Hezbollah who understands that they will eventually have to break down and recognize Israel's right to exist and live in peace and security. The Israelis know they will not get rid of these terrorist groups, but hope to break them down to a point where they understand it will be better to shed the terrorist label.

(And for all those people around the world protesting Israel's action: Try living day after day with rockets raining down on your homes, your schools, your businesses, for years. It's not so easy to criticize when you've lived in that situation.)

The late statesman Abba Eban said that men and nations behave wisely, once they have exhausted all other alternatives. Hopefully, the time for wisdom is coming to the Middle East, soon.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Dec. 23: Close-Out On Sniglets

By Sylvia Gurinsky

I'm going to take an almost two-week hiatus from this blog (barring something momentous), but first, a few sniglets to close out 2008:

*It's much of Miami-Dade County versus the State of Florida in the battle over the proposed constuction of an underwater, trucks-only tunnel to the Port of Miami.
I've always had questions about this project, mainly for environmental reasons (What would construction, and God forbid, potential accidents, do to Biscayne Bay?). The bad economy creates other issues.
If South Dade has a busway (another ill-advised project), how about designating one of the lanes on the port bridge for trucks only? The "road damage" excuse doesn't mean very much when one considers that trucks are coming from other roads on which they might do potential damage - and a tunnel isn't being built for that.
Better to take the tunnel project funds and redistribute them to projects the county needs much more urgently.

*In this bad economy, it's nice to know that members of the Florida Legislature don't seem to have problems getting jobs in higher education, as a Sunday Miami Herald report showed. Not that it's helped the state's colleges and universities, which have been hiking tuitions and cutting programs. All current lawmakers should disqualify themselves from such jobs while they serve. Period.
As for Florida House Speaker-Designate Ray Sansom's other job.....Resign one or the other, Sir.

*Just when it looked like the current Sunrise City Commission was bringing back John Lomelo's ghost, the city of Deerfield Beach seems to be outdoing Sunrise. Mayor Al Capellini has been arrested on a charge of felony corruption. When Commissioner Steve Gonot was arrested on an unrelated charge, he stepped down from his commission seat. Despite that, both men still plan to run for mayor next year. Oy vey.
Add to that Sylvia Poitier, who has taken over as mayor and doesn't exactly have the cleanest record herself. She's been defending Capellini and Gonot.
The one voice of reason seems to be Commissioner Pam Militello, who wants the city to have an ethics code. For the moment, at least, Poitier doesn't see the need.
That's exactly why Deerfield Beach needs one. They also need a close eye by the state to see if further action will be needed in the new year to clean up that city's government.

*Here's the first prediction for 2009, or maybe the last one for 2008: Caroline Kennedy bows out of the possibility of that Senate seat, saying "thanks, but no thanks."
If she thought it would be like being appointed to a special task force, well, it's not. One of the biggest obligations any public official has is communication with the press, and so far, Kennedy's been holding back. That's not a promising sign.
Would Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis have wanted her daughter in this position? Probably not.
With a disclaimer that prognostication is not my strong suit, here's what I predict: No Senate for Caroline Kennedy, but perhaps an ambassadorship or other post in which President-Elect Barack Obama can thank her for her assistance and endorsement, and not have to answer to the press.

That's it for now. Have a great holiday season, and a happy, healthy and peaceful 2009. See you in January.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Dec. 18: SAG May Wreck Itself With Strike Call In Bad Economy

By Sylvia Gurinsky

If you can't trust Laura Ingalls Wilder, who can you trust?

That would be actress Melissa Gilbert, whom America watched grow up in the 1970s and 80s on "Little House On the Prairie." Gilbert had an even more important role earlier this decade, as president of the Screen Actors Guild. In Wednesday's Los Angeles Times, Gilbert wrote an essay on why the organization should not take a strike vote now:


Currently, SAG President Alan Rosenberg has an ill-advised militancy on this issue. That would be OK if the economy was good, but it's not.

SAG isn't just a bunch of Hollywood actors and actresses on television and in the movies. It's members stretch all over the United States, and might be as likely to work in local commercials as in a major motion picture. If there is a strike, their chances of finding alternative work in this economy isn't great.

The same issues - DVD and Internet residuals, the shrinking television opportunities, and so forth - will still be there, waiting to be resolved, when the general economy does improve. And SAG's less affluent members will be in a better position to walk a picket line, knowing they do have some degree of backup.

Rosenberg's stance is dividing the union, and if there is a strike soon, could wreck it entirely. The word on a strike vote should be: Delay. Or two words: Long delay.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Dec. 17: No Real Justice Will Come From Madoff Case, Unless......

By Sylvia Gurinsky

Maybe Sen. John McCain had something during the presidential campaign when he called for the firing of Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Christopher Cox.

At the very least, the SEC did not do its job in policing former NASDAQ Chairman Bernard Madoff. The cost is far more than the $50 billion in fraud he is accused of committing against, among others, small investors and charities. There will be no government bailout of those whose life savings or funds for their communities were taken. Perhaps a few lucky people can go to court and score a victory.

The biggest loser is the entire country, whether one invested with Madoff or not, because it was counting on the policing entities, including the SEC, created in the wake of the stock market crash of 1929. They all failed.

Politicians will make noises about reforms, but elected officials in both parties deserve plenty of the blame as well. That includes our last two presidents. Bill Clinton was as cozy with big business as he was with Monica Lewinsky. As for George W. Bush, the less said, the better for the temper.

Can President-Elect Barack Obama start turning the tide? Maybe, but he might want to consider doing so the way he ran his presidential campaign: From the ground up, starting with people like the small investors who lost their money. The insider's club in Washington had a major hand in this mess. They're too far in to know how to fix it.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Dec. 16: Going Back To Public Servants

By Sylvia Gurinsky

Two states, two Senate seats, two different circumstances that aren't all that different.

In Illinois, the issue is the muddy political arena that may have prompted Gov. Rod Blagojevich to try to sell the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Barack Obama to the highest bidder. People are asking why the state that gave Abraham Lincoln to government service has not placed the needed reforms on the books to try to overcome questionable politics.

In New York, the issue is whether Caroline Kennedy will take the Senate seat Hillary Clinton will vacate if she is confirmed as secretary of state. Kennedy, an accomplished lawyer, author and children's advocate, seems to have been inspired by her involvement in Obama's presidential campaign. But a lot of Clinton supporters are suddenly back in presidential-primary mode, saying how dare Kennedy consider getting into politics when she has no experience.

Wasn't that what a lot of people were saying about First Lady Hillary Clinton when she was toying with the idea of running for senator almost a decade ago?

Kennedy knows something about politics, given her family legacy. She has the idealism that has marked the best her family has had to offer in public service. The Kennedys are public servants, who have paid a heavy price for what they've given to this country.

And last I checked, those who aspire to political office are not required to have held previous political offices. Given what's going on today, some might actually consider that an advantage

Americans are always saying they want the best of their leaders. They went to the polls Nov. 4 to try to make that happen. Illinois and New York owe their residents no less.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Dec. 15: Hands Off the Trust Funds, Florida Pols

By Sylvia Gurinsky

Like little kids who can't keep their hands away from the cookies, it seems the Florida Legislature, and possibly Gov. Charlie Crist, can't resist the lure of a trust fund in trying to prop up the state budget.

It's happened before, and now it's happening with a trust fund that honors the late Gov. Lawton Chiles. The fund was created with money the state gained in a settlement with Big Tobacco - a settlement from a fight Chiles spearheaded against the tobacco companies. It supports children's health care.

Earlier this year, the state borrowed from the fund with the Chiles family's permission - provided the money would be paid back. Not only hasn't that happened, but now the state wants more.

Rhea Chiles, the widow of Lawton Chiles, and their son, Lawton "Bud" Chiles III, are rightly threatening to take the state to court; they also say that if Crist and the legislature continue to raid the fund, they will ask that Lawton Chiles' name be taken off. What a terrible legacy that would be, 10 years after his death.

Here's hoping it doesn't come to that. Crist, who got elected to office making voters believe he knows better, needs to listen to the Chiles family and get his and state lawmakers' hands off those funds and other trust funds. This may be the holiday season, but trust funds aren't holiday treats.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Dec. 11: Sniglets On Cone Of Silence, Greg Maddux and Jay Leno

By Sylvia Gurinsky

Bravo to the Budget and Finance Committee of the Miami-Dade County Commission for deciding to maintain the "Cone Of Silence" that restricts lobbying during a bidding process. Commission Chairman Bruno Barreiro, whose strong suit apparently isn't government reform, wanted to eliminate it entirely, but wiser heads prevailed.


A word about the retirement of a class act in baseball, pitcher Greg Maddux. In addition to his glittering statistics on the pitcher's mound, he had the distinction of saying no to New York Yankees' owner George Steinbrenner - twice. Here's to Maddux for his stinginess with hitters (except when he was facing the Florida Marlins, of course), and to proving that there were things more important than money.


Finally, a thought about NBC's move to put Jay Leno at 10 p.m. I happen to think it's a smart move. I do understand the complaints of drama producers that it takes away five potential hours for them, but is the network really going to take a chance anyway with a costly drama that doesn't have franchise potential these days? (It used to be that the network in last place would roll the dice; that's how ABC got out of last place, with dramas like "Desperate Housewives," "Lost" and "Grey's Anatomy." But NBC isn't going to spend that kind of money in this economy.)

Here's a reality check about dramas: During the 1970s, on average, networks would produce 24 episodes of dramas. It was even more during the 1960s. Today, viewers are lucky to get half a season, whether on cable or network. That's not good for gaining loyal viewers. Also, they can now catch shows on DVD or online - both new and classic shows.

At the very least, Leno's will retain viewers who are turned off by Conan O'Brien. Let's face it, to go from Allen, Paar and Carson to Triumph the Insult Dog is a major letdown.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Dec. 9: Resign, Governor Blagojevich

By Sylvia Gurinsky

Well, suddenly, that sit-in isn't Chicago's biggest story. Neither is the bankruptcy of Tribune, whom I worked for until last January. And neither is President-Elect Barack Obama's Cabinet selections.

That's thanks to Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, a Democrat who has apparently claimed President Richard Nixon as his role model.

This morning, Blagojevich and his chief of staff were arrested on various corruption charges related to the selection of Obama's replacement in the U.S. Senate. Basically, the Feds say the governor was ready to sell the Senate seat to the highest bidder:


Judging by what U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald and others have said about the transcripts, Blagojevich sounds like Nixon during Watergate, with profanity, loose statements and insults of various people, including Obama. The irony is that Blagojevich was elected in 2003 with a promise to clean up Illinois politics in the wake of his predecessor, Gov. George Ryan, now serving a prison sentence for racketeering and fraud.

In the twists and turns of Illinois politics, Blagojevich could still appoint Obama's successor from jail, if he's still governor. The state legislature is moving quickly to impeach him, but Blagojevich should beat them all - and resign.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Dec. 8: Sunrise Sunset

By Sylvia Gurinsky

Full disclosure: I covered the city of Sunrise, Florida in 2004 for the Sunrise Forum. At the time, I thought Commissioners Don Rosen and Sheila Alu were voices of reason and reform.

Ah, well...

Alu, Rosen and Commissioner Roger Wishner now seem to be Sunrise's very own "Gang of Three." They were the ones who approved hiring Stuart Michelson last summer as the city attorney without opening the job up for bids. Michelson has returned the favor by ruling that Wishner, Sunrise's deputy mayor, can succeed Steven Feren as mayor when Feren takes his judicial seat next month and stay the mayor until 2010, instead of having to stand for election in March, because of Michelson's interpretation of a city law about a deadline for holding elections.

So, where are Rosen and Alu in calling for some justice for Sunrise voters, the way they did when former City Manager Pat Salerno ran the show? Amazingly silent.

Commissioner Joseph Scuotto wants to run for mayor, but will apparently have to wait, unless the many Sunrise residents who will be at the next commission meeting can get a majority of commissioners to change their minds - or unless someone takes this to court, which could happen.

The 13th item on the agenda for tomorrow night's City Commission meeting would put two commission seats, but not the mayor's post, on the March 10 ballot. Sunrise residents should make their voices heard tomorrow night. A word to the commission - either listen to them now, or pay later.

And a special word to Commissioners Alu and Rosen: You spent a lot of time in commission meetings saying that you represent the best interests of the city. Prove it.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Nov. 4: Woe, Canada

By Sylvia Gurinsky

Remember when Americans frustrated with the results of the 2000 election were talking about fleeing to Canada?

Don't be surprised if Canadians start moving in the opposite direction. The country is in as difficult a crisis of leadership as any free country can have.

It began in October, when Prime Minister Stephen Harper kept his post, but his Conservative Party did not win a majority in Parliament. Harper has proceeded to lose the confidence of members of Parliament with inaction on the economic crisis and a move to eliminate public funding of elections.

That last one, which Harper has since backed down on, was a breaking point for the leaders and many members of three parties: Liberal, New Democrat and Bloc Quebecois. They planned to give a no-confidence vote to Harper's government next Monday and form their own coalition, with Liberal leader Stephane Dion as the provisional head until the spring.

No action for now: With the permission of Canada's Governor General Michaelle Jean - the direct representative of Queen Elizabeth II to the Commonwealth country - Harper suspended Parliament for the next month and a half.

Jean did the right thing. Tensions need to cool.

The action shows signs of bringing an end to the Odd Trio that would have potentially governed Canada. Dion's party lost more than 30 seats in the October elections, he's not popular and he will step down from his Liberal leadership post in May. Bloc Quebecois advocates Quebec becoming a country, separate from Canada.

Harper has plenty of flaws, including his agreement with too many policies of U.S. President George W. Bush. But the coalition would have been potentially more disastrous for Canada, which needs one leader to work with U.S. President-Elect Barack Obama on relevant issues for North America. Harper, Dion and Canada's other political leaders need to take the next month-and-a-half to mend fences with the people of Canada, not continue to snipe at each other.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Dec. 3: It's Because They're Successful

By Sylvia Gurinsky

For those who carp that many of President-Elect Barack Obama's Cabinet selections worked for the Clinton Administration, that they don't represent change, there's this:

They do represent results.

Remember the Clinton Administration? No, not the scandals. The other Clinton Administration, the one that made progress in foreign relations and gave this country a good economy and a budget surplus.

Obama remembers. That's why he's picked so many people who worked in Washington during the 1990s. Technology may change, but know-how generally doesn't. Obama is counting on them to get the country back on track. So are Americans, who have generally greeted the selections with a thumbs-up.

Obama seems, above all, a pragmatist. That's something the United States desperately needs. So if he's stacking the deck with Clintonites, it's because they've been succesful.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Dec. 2: New Battlefront For Gay Rights

By Sylvia Gurinsky

Miami-Dade County Circuit Judge Cindy Lederman finally set it out: The state of Florida's ban on homosexual couples adopting children is unconstitutional. Her ruling should be commended - and upheld.

But now, a new battle will start - one that will very likely make it to the United States Supreme Court before it's done. No doubt many state lawmakers and people who spearheaded the unfortunate Amendment 2 approved by Florida voters Nov. 4 are at it again, trying to figure out how to keep the supposed wolf at the door. For the real wolf, they just need to look in the mirror. They are basing their arguments against adoptions by gays on outmoded and untrue theories.

Lederman's ruling shows that science, common sense and good, solid personal experience are beginning to overcome ideology. We are finding out that the quality of the parent - regardless of sexual orientation - is what counts. As it should.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Dec. 1: Will "Cabinet Of Rivals" Cool International Rivalries?

By Sylvia Gurinsky

Is President-Elect Barack Obama's "Cabinet Of Rivals" going to leave this world a better place than they're finding it?

Assuming the confirmation process goes smoothly for all, those rivals will include current Secretary of Defense Robert Gates (who does not need to be re-confirmed), Homeland Security Secretary-Designate Janet Napolitano - and oh, yes, Secretary of State-Designate Hillary Clinton.

Napolitano and Clinton, as well as Gen. James Jones, Obama's pick for national security adviser, and Susan Rice, Obama's pick as the United States ambassador to the United Nations, face a world much changed from the one President Bill Clinton left.

One symptom of that change is the tragedy last week in Mumbai. The terrorists, wherever they are from and whoever trained them, clearly targeted Americans, Jews, Britons and anyone sympathetic to the causes of those people. While India is busy pointing a finger at Pakistan, it has to take into account its own failings in ensuring the security of its people and its visitors.

The United States may have to play referee once again - and does have to keep an extra eye on Pakistan for its possible harboring of terrorists of many stripes, including Al Qaida.

There is the issue of the U.S. image overseas during the last eight years, which has triggered everything from disdain to outright hatred and a re-awakening of Cold War-style matters that Clinton and his predecessors thought they had resolved.

There is also the War On Terror. The way it's been fought by the Bush Administration does not work. Period.

What India must go through now is not dissimilar to the soul-searching this country still needs to go through, seven years after 9/11 - about security, about relations with the rest of the world and about the future.

It's soul-searching President George W. Bush and many around him haven't participated in. One trusts that Obama and his "Cabinet Of Rivals" will finally do so.