Thursday, December 31, 2009
This decade, commonly known as the "aughts," (but labelled by me as the "oys,") is coming to a close. The analysis by journalists, historians and just about everyone with an opinion has just begun.
When all is said and done, three days above all will have influenced this first decade of the 21st Century, and possibly many decades beyond:
*Dec. 12, 2000: The day five members of the United States Supreme Court gave the 2000 U.S. presidential election to George W. Bush - even though Vice President Albert Gore won the popular balloting.
They came to that decision after a month and five days of legal wrangling and a mob scene, a predecessor to today's "Tea Party" groups, that stopped the ballot count in Miami-Dade County.
There's no telling how long it will take to repair the damage the Bush Administration did to this county or to the world.
*Sept. 11, 2001: The day that shattered any illusions about this country's invincibility, in so many ways. A day we are still paying for, and will continue to pay for in the future.
President Bill Clinton warned about the possibility of such a thing almost two years before it happened. Others, including former Senators Warren Rudman and Gary Hart, gave more specific warnings - unheeded warnings - in the months leading up to the attack.
Almost a decade later, a number of Americans either still don't understand, or refuse to accept, this country's responsibilities at home or abroad. Unfortunately, too many of those Americans either have held, hold or aspire to hold elected office.
*August 29, 2005: The day the wool got pulled off most eyes.
That was the day Hurricane Katrina made landfall on the Gulf Coast. That night, a breach in the levies outside of New Orleans led to most of the city being inundated with water by the next morning. Incompetence and apathy at the local, state and federal levels were exposed, for all the world to see.
*Nov. 4, 2008: The day hope won.
Never mind the current struggles. President Barack Obama's election took this country a giant leap forward, into full acceptance of a multicultural society. In some ways, it was a counterpoint to the first two days named in this blog posting.
It was also a reminder that the United States goes forward, sometimes in spite of itself.
May the next decade, somehow, continue to bring this country, and this planet, foward.
Wednesday, December 23, 2009
One of the solutions to the jobs crisis may lie in something Alex Penelas did almost a dozen years ago.
Penelas, then the mayor of Miami-Dade County, was trying to figure out a way to address the county's tourism-heavy economy and the weebles and wobbles that economy could take. Penelas called a jobs summit in January, 1998. He worked with One Community One Goal, the jobs-creation branch of the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce. Thousands of community leaders attended.
The result was more than a half-dozen targeted areas of work, including health care/biomedical, education and film/entertainment. Progress was made on creating new jobs and luring new businesses for Dade.
A similar initiative could be useful now at all levels - local, state and national. Next month, Florida legislators will have their own meeting about job creation. President Barack Obama will continue his own initiatives.
Penelas spent a lot of political capital during the Elian Gonzalez custody battle and the disputed presidential election of 2000. But there is no question about his acumen for tackling economic issues. At the very least, those trying to bring back the economy should use his jobs formula.
Tuesday, December 22, 2009
(With apologies to Charles Dickens......)
The health care plan had steamed along toward final approval in the United States Senate, until Ebenezer Lieberman of Connecticut had said no.
The worst part was that Ebenezer, a one-time Democrat turned independent and a one-time almost-was vice president of the United States, would not say exactly why he was now trying to torpedo the legislation. This despite the fact that hundreds of rabbis and constituents chased after him.
The spirits thought about sending the ghost of Al Gore to visit Ebenezer, until they were reminded that Gore is alive and well, kina hora.
Then they thought about sending three latkes - the latke of Chanukah past, in which Ebenezer recalled his childhood as the son of a liquor store owner (Package store? Come on.); the latke of Chanukah present, with the Senate debate over the bill and the latke of Chanukah future, in which Ebenezer would find himself unable to get a minyan together for Shabbat because the other nine men didn't have health insurance.
But then the spirits were told that Sen. Ben Nelson, a Democrat, had a change of heart, and Ebenezer would not be needed - at least for now.
So they'll all be voting on health insurance erev Christmas.
Friday, December 18, 2009
ABC news anchor Charles Gibson will quietly retire after tonight's newscast.
In an interview that ran in the Washington Post earlier this week, Gibson expressed discomfort with the tone television news has taken recently. As he said, it has become louder and more partisan. It's not something he wants to be part of.
He's right. His departure coincides with the sound and fury over the latest celebrity scandal, that of golfer Tiger Woods, and with the noise that gets made on both sides of the political spectrum about health care, the economy or the war in Afghanistan. That, along with the economic collapse of long-standing media entities, is enough to make one wonder whether American journalism as a whole will ever be good again.
Certainly, there are islands of sanity - National Public Radio and two CBS News programs, "60 Minutes" and "CBS News Sunday Morning," among them. And there are still thousands of journalists quietly doing stellar work for entities ranging from community newspapers to online journalism sites.
But the squeaky wheel gets the grease - or the green, in this case. And there are a lot of squeaky - and low-quality - wheels these days. There are also a lot of people who seem to think the way to "make it" in journalism today is to compromise ethics and give in.
That is not the case. Journalism is as trendy as anything else in American life; just look at Joseph Pulitzer, who went from being the king of "yellow journalism" to creating the ultimate prize representing journalism excellence.
One hopes American journalism, which doesn't look so good today, will eventually undertake a similar march back to respectability. This country needs it. Journalists need to improve their accuracy - and turn down the noise.
Thursday, December 17, 2009
“What I would tell the people in Key Biscayne is – schedule your fires, if you’re going to have one in your house. And schedule your heart attack to meet the department’s time table."
President-Elect, International Association of Fire Fighters Local 1403
Barbera was absolutely right in his comments to WPLG-Channel 10. Miami-Dade County Fire Station 15, which serves Key Biscayne, is now closed two days a week because of budget cuts. The closest county station available is in South Miami.
Here's what Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Alvarez had to say:
That excuse simply doesn't cut it, especially after Alvarez made budget priorities an issue by not eliminating the raises he gave many members of his staff. Those raises certainly aren't emergencies.
But the potential for genuine emergencies - unscheduled - is always present in Key Biscayne, which has a lot of condominiums, a school, hotels and the Cape Florida Lighthouse.
That municipality's best bet might be to try to make some sort of a deal not with the county, but with the City of Miami, which has a couple of stations in the downtown area - not far from Key Biscayne, and a lot closer than the South Miami station.
It's already pretty obvious that reaching Alvarez is impossible. He is tone-deaf to true budget needs.
Monday, December 14, 2009
This wasn't two elegantly dressed gate-crashers at a White House state dinner.
In fact, the attack on Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi yesterday called to mind something far more horrifying and tragic - the 1995 assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin.
Like Rabin, Berlusconi was in a public place. Like Rabin, Berlusconi dealt with a hostile opposition (For wildly different reasons: Rabin dealt with the opposition to his efforts at peace with the Palestinians, while Berlusconi deals with corruption charges and a sex life that apparently rivals that of golfer Tiger Woods.).
An Associated Press story said Berlusconi usually has about 30 security agents around him. But the question of how an attacker could get so close with a souvenir statue will persist.
The memories of the kidnap and assassination of one-time Italian premier Aldo Moro in 1978 and the assassination attempt on Pope John Paul II in Rome in 1981 are still fresh. The attack on Berlusconi should have both security officials and the Italian parliament asking detailed questions.
Thursday, December 10, 2009
Someone interviewed on WPLG-Channel 10 Tuesday had a good suggestion for drawbridges: Crosswalks, with "Walk-Don't Walk" signs when a bridge is going up.
It's possible that such electronic signs might have saved the life of 80-year-old Desmond Nolan, who fell to his death last month when the Sheridan Street bridge in Hollywood, Florida went up. Nolan, who was wearing headphones, may not have heard warning bells. Nolan's family has sued bridge tender Michael O'Rourke and the companies that oversee the bridge tending for negligence; the family says O'Rourke did not take needed precautions to make sure Nolan was safe.
We all know about the cat-and-mouse games cars often play to get across a bridge before the gates go down. But the danger is just as big for pedestrians and bicyclists. And it is more dangerous if, for example, a pedestrian has a handicap.
In Delray Beach, the bridge that crosses Linton Boulevard between A1A and the mainland has a sign warning motorists, bicyclists and pedestrians of the times the bridge goes up. That and crosswalk signs should be the first things on the list for Florida's Department of Transportation, which operates many drawbridges, to review.
The second should be the training bridge tenders receive. They are up there to be the eyes and ears for those in the water and those on the bridge. They need to keep those eyes and ears open at all times.
Tuesday, December 8, 2009
Add Israel Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman to the list of leaders from that country who have put a foot squarely in their mouths.
At a rabbinical conference Monday, Neeman said he believes Halacha, the Jewish law, should become Israel's binding law - although he later said his words were taken out of context.
They'd better be out of context. Israel was created as a Jewish state, but also as a democracy that protects the rights of all. Israel is not, and should not be a theocracy.
Maybe State Sen. Gary Siplin of Orlando needs to get away from the area close to Walt Disney World. Perhaps he can take a trip south to the part of Florida that is home to one-third of the state's population.
Maybe then, Siplin can take a look at Tri-Rail, the commuter rail system that links that one-third together - and not refer to it as a "choo-choo train," as The Miami Herald quoted him in today's edition.
Maybe he and most of his fellow lawmakers can comprehend how important Tri-Rail is to Southeast Florida and to those who ride it - usually to work and back. Maybe he can comprehend the blow the local economy - and thus Florida's economy - would take without it.
The bill Siplin and his Florida Senate colleagues are considering would preserve Tri-Rail and help it get needed federal funding. It would also create SunRail, which would provide an equally necessary commuter rail system for Central Florida.
Siplin makes a valid point about Florida not spending enough on education, including higher education.
But students take Tri-Rail, too. They need it. If the Senate kills this bill, does Siplin want to be the one to explain why to those students - and explain to them just how they're going to get to school?
Monday, December 7, 2009
It's all well and good that President Barack Obama wants to rely on the sage heads of this country to get people back to work.
But his jobs summit last week also needed to feature more of the unemployed - particularly those who have had to face the altering of lives and livelihoods that had been established for decades.
Reshaping the American economy involves a lot more than saying it is time to create "green" jobs or jobs in new technologies. It involves a lot more than saying workers can be retrained.
It also involves changing the psychology of many of those workers, and that is far more difficult.
If one has been a factory worker, or a journalist, or a travel agent (all jobs in serious trouble in the United States) at the same company for more than 20 years, and that person has lost that job and the benefits that went with it - not to mention the camaraderie and sense of family with fellow workers - where does that person go from there? That's something millions of workers have been learning about during the past few years. It's not as easy as saying "get a new job in a new industry" or even "train for that new job."
Hopefully, as Obama crafts a plan for more jobs, he will go out into the country and hear from more people in that situation - and create a plan that relies as much on them as it does on so-called "experts."
Former U.S. Sen. Paula Hawkins died late last week.
Hawkins capitalized on being an outsider - she had held no previous elected office - to win the Republican senatorial primary in Florida in 1980, and then rode Ronald Reagan's coattails to victory over incumbent Sen. Richard Stone, a Democrat.
Hawkins mainly championed children's issues during her single term. But she was increasingly seen as being out of touch and too close to Reagan's policies for the taste of many Florida voters at the time. In 1986, she faced the state's most popular politician, Gov. Bob Graham, for the race to keep her seat. Graham won and served in the Senate until 2004.
Commenting about Hawkins last week, Graham mentioned that the 1986 campaign was a civil one. That civility and Hawkins' status as a pioneer for Florida women deserve notice - and tribute.
Thursday, December 3, 2009
Of course Tareq and Michaele Salahi don't want to testify in front of Congress. After all, the House Homeland Security Committee won't pay them to do so.
The committee should go ahead with a subpeona, and show the gate-crashing Salahis what a true reality show is.
Aside from the fact that the United States Department of Justice and the Federal Communications Commission may have a few things to say about Comcast's purchase of a controlling stake of NBC Universal, the other disturbing part about the deal is that Comcast is keeping CEO Jeff Zucker.
One wonders whether Zucker knows the skeletons in the closets of those he works for, because it certainly isn't the quality of NBC programming that keeps him in his job.
The feathers have just about all fallen off the once-proud Peacock. The network that gave us Bob Hope, Bill Cosby and Must-See TV has turned into an almost complete wasteland, with only Brian Williams' newscast and the pandering Today show breaking the bleak word on ratings.
The gamble of Jay Leno at 10 p.m. is not working so far, and the same is true of an uncomfortable Conan O'Brien in the Tonight Show spot where Allen, Paar, Carson and Leno ruled.
Otherwise, the prime-time lineup consists of a combination of a couple of shows, including "30 Rock," that appeal to critics and the coasts but not Middle America; leftovers like the "Law & Order" programs - and garbage, otherwise known as reality shows.
It's worse than during the late 1970s and early 1980s, when NBC drew snickers for shows like "Manimal."
Where have you gone, Bill Cosby and Steven Bochco?
Jeff Zucker, unfortunately, is still there. He shouldn't be.
While NBC sinks lower and lower, PBS, normally an oasis of quality, sinks to its pledge drive level - dark and dreary during the holiday season. Is an Ed Sullivan retrospective on rock and rollers the best they can do?
How much would it cost PBS to mine its rich, more than 40-year-old treasure trove of programs, including "Upstairs, Downstairs," classic editions of "Live From Lincoln Center/Live From the Met," "Dance In America" and "Masterpiece Theater" (not to mention Ken Burns' past series) to raise money? It would be a lot better than those self-help infomercials they wouldn't be caught dead running in their normal schedule.
PBS' calls for help need help.
A cautionary note for the Professional Golfers Association as its leaders scratch their heads over what's been going on with Tiger Woods: Remember Tonya and Nancy.
Figure skater Tonya Harding's enlistment of her bodyguard to attack fellow skater Nancy Kerrigan just before the 1994 United States Figure Skating Championships created a scandal and gave the sport a collection of rubbernecking followers for a while - a fallout that artificially boosted figure skating's popularity. When the rubberneckers inevitably drifted away, that, combined with the 2002 Olympic judging scandal, plunged the sport into a commercial abyss in the United States from which it has yet to dig itself out.
The PGA should not rely on scandal to make its money. In the end, it will only hurt.
Finally, so long to Bobby Bowden after 33 years as head coach of the Florida State Seminoles' football team.
Most of his tenure was storybook: Two national championships, multiple honors as Coach of the Year and lots of stars sent to the National Football League.
In recent years, though, the headlines have not been so kind. There was scrutiny of his salary, the highest among State of Florida employees. A cheating scandal may cost FSU 14 wins. Recent seasons were mediocre. Finally, FSU boosters and trustees started making noise that Bowden had to go.
He does go - and deserves to - with his head held high nonetheless.
But it's still impossible for this daughter of a UM alumnus to resist two words: Wide Right.
Wednesday, December 2, 2009
What a generous bunch those members of the Miami-Dade County Commission are.
They don't want the folks at either the Beacon Council, which brings businesses to the county, or the Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau, which brings tourism to the county, to overtax themselves on trips abroad. So the commission created the International Trade Consortium. And as my friend and former colleague Glenna Milberg reported on WPLG-Channel 10 last night, they spent close to $1 million on trips at a time when they've had to cut programs and jobs because of the economic crisis:
Much of the commission still seems to be having a problem relating to the real world most of their constituents - their bosses, let's recall - live in. With these trips, they're not doing anything the Beacon Council and the GMCVB aren't already tapped to do.
That means the International Trade Consortium is redundant. It should be eliminated - and if commissioners really have to go overseas, there are already two organizations they can take a trip with - preferably, one commissioner at a time.
Otherwise, they should just stay home.
Tuesday, December 1, 2009
Carol Marbin Miller, a top investigative reporter for The Miami Herald, had a stunning article in Sunday's paper about the abuse hotline run by Florida's Department of Children and Families:
For years and going back to the days when the agency was known as the Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services (HRS), there have been serious problems with resources for investigating abuse. Several generations of Florida lawmakers in both major political parties have failed to act to provide necessary funding. Governors have either appointed totally incompetent agency directors, or have had competent directors rejected by the legislature for a variety of reasons.
The conflict and mistakes have led to numerous tragedies. The rationing of abuse calls is the latest example.
Sadly, there's no reason to expect that this Florida Legislature, even if it holds hearings and holds DCF's feet to the fire, will do anything to change the situation. Neither will Gov. Charlie Crist, who is only concentrating these days on how many far-right voters he can woo for his U.S. Senate campaign.
That means the principal responsibility rests with DCF Secretary George Sheldon. He is still reviewing the system. He should listen to child advocates more than to his "quality assurance" team.
The current system of quantity assures that, unfortunately, there's still not enough quality when it comes to DCF investigating abuse.
Monday, November 30, 2009
Welcome back, Hialeah Park.
The grand dame of Florida horseracing returned to action last Saturday, and more than 26,000 were on hand for the welcome. Hialeah Park will host quarterhorses and not the thoroughbreds that made it famous. It will also likely rely on the gambling that other pari-mutuels now have. But a fully restored Hialeah Park has a beauty other tracks can't boast and will host more family-friendly events, such as weddings, quinces and other celebrations. The park can also host outdoor concerts.
Speaking of outdoor concerts, Miami Marine Stadium once hosted plenty of them. The facility, which was built in 1964 and also hosted speedboat races and Easter sunrise services, has been closed since Hurricane Andrew hit South Florida in 1992. The stadium is structurally sound, but covered with graffiti and in need of various repairs.
Its fate rests in the hands of the City of Miami. There are obvious reasons for the city's slowness to act - the economic crisis of the late 1990s and today - and the underlying rumble that city leaders wanted to raze the Miami Modern facility and put something tall and expensive there.
New Mayor Tomas Regalado is, thankfully, not among those rumblers; he has said he wants to see Miami Marine Stadium brought back to life. So do the National Trust For Historic Preservation and the World Monuments Fund, which have helped raise money to commission an engineering study to determine the cost of renovating the facility. So do many South Floridians, ranging from singer Jimmy Buffett, who performed there, to teenagers Hannah Imberman and Kira Feldman, who have been putting together a book about the stadium called "If Seats Could Talk."
Friends of Miami Marine Stadium has the latest information and ways for the public to get involved:
With one jewel - Hialeah Park - reopened, South Florida looks forward to another jewel - Miami Marine Stadium - glistening again on Biscayne Bay.
December 1 update: According to this morning's Miami Herald, it looks like yet another jewel - the Coconut Grove Playhouse - may have a second life, thanks to GableStage:
Forgive me if I still view the Playhouse's board and the Aries Development Group with some wariness. But GableStage has a great reputation in local arts. Here's hoping the organization gets to fully implement its plans for the historic playhouse.
Tuesday, November 24, 2009
Fifty million Americans - one-sixth of this country's population - worry about being able to feed their families.
That statistic, with the terrible name "food insecurity," was released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture just a week before Thanksgiving. Surely, the timing is no coincidence.
A little more than 48 hours from now, millions of Americans will be sitting down to lavish Thanksgiving meals.
It's not hard to give a thought - and some food - to those going without.
Martin Luther King Day and September 11 have already become national days of service. Thanksgiving can and should be counted as one, also.
Be thankful to those who will volunteer at food banks and community centers on Thursday (and beyond), and to those who give to ensure the operation of those facilities. And if you haven't already, please give your support.
Sunshine Statements will return next week. Happy Thanksgiving!
Thursday, November 19, 2009
Zetia. Vytorin. Vioxx.
All prescription drugs that were advertised on television, in newspapers and in magazines. All under scrutiny, or in the case of Vioxx, taken off the market because of problems.
All just more proof that there should not be advertisements of prescription drugs.
The drug companies, which have polluted television and print, are now trying to choke the Internet as well.
Not only should the FDA prohibit Web advertisements, it should also eliminate all other prescription drug ads.
Along with the studies on drug safety are other studies - including a new one by UCLA - that the ads do not make for more educated consumers, despite drug companies' bleats to the contrary.
The squeals that eliminating the ads would harm free speech are utter nonsense. This is a public health issue. The ads have done more to hurt consumers' health, not to mention their relationships with doctors.
To coin a phrase from former First Lady Nancy Reagan, the FDA should Just Say No to any prescription drug ads.
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin is right: Newsweek's choice to put a picture of her in jogging wear on its cover was sexist. Apparently, it also violated the guidelines of Runner's World, the original publisher of the photo. And the photo was grossly taken out of its original context.
Would Newsweek put a photo of President Barack Obama in his basketball wear on its cover? Doubtful.
Would liberals who back up the magazine over the photo choice, and the showing of Palin's legs on an inside page, be singing the same tune if the face on the cover was that of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton? Also doubtful.
(And by the way, Newsweek's executives are men. Tsk, tsk.)
There is a legitimate argument that Palin has tried to use feminine wiles - such as the wink in last year's vice presidential debate - to lure voters. She shouldn't. Looks won't stop Iran from building a nuclear bomb or make a decision on whether to send more American troops to Afghanistan. Looks won't create new jobs. Brains will.
Newsweek doesn't help matters by catering to that very argument. Their photo choices hurt every woman who has chosen a life in public service, and who still faces the challenge of trying to prove herself on the job.
Monday, November 16, 2009
As long as there have been elections and politicians, there has likely been political corruption. But the level can depend on how much is done not only to fight it when it happens, but to prevent it from happening in the first place.
In Florida, it's been persistent. On the heels of the recent arrests of three politicians in Broward County on corruption charges comes the resignation of one Miami city commissioner and the suspension of another. Gov. Charlie Crist is calling for a statewide grand jury to investigate political corruption and ethics issues.
Crist, incidentally, is one of a number of politicians giving back campaign donations from Broward County attorney Scott Rothstein, who is accused of running a Ponzi scheme.
At the same time, former Florida Sen. (and Gov.) Bob Graham has published a book, "America, the Owner's Manual: Making Government Work For You," encouraging citizens to get involved in the government process. In speaking about the book (including a recent appearance at the Miami Book Fair), Graham, whose first "workdays" were spent as a civics teacher at Cooper City High School in 1974, criticized the reduction in the number of civics classes in public schools.
Low ethics and fewer civics classes. Likely, it's not by coincidence.
Rather than appointing a grand jury on taxpayers' money to repeat what we already know, Crist should tap Graham and other respected leaders in Florida to study and report on how to avoid corruption in the future. Likely at the top of that report will be recommendations for engaging citizens in the process - starting with close attention to whom they vote for and what the ties of those candidates are.
Clean government must begin with those who build it.
Thursday, November 12, 2009
The parking lot of the Orlando building in which one person was killed and five injured last Friday is unguarded.
Not that it necessarily mattered. Even if a parking lot guard had seen Jason Rodriguez, accused of the shootings, with a weapon in his car, that guard would have had a hard time stopping him.
That's because of the ridiculous law the Florida Legislature approved and Gov. Charlie Crist signed last year, allowing guns in cars outside businesses.
Since the tragedy at Virginia Tech University more than two years ago, in which 32 students were killed, there have been 13 mass shootings in the United States, including those last week at Fort Hood and in Orlando. Between the Littleton, Colorado, shootings in 1999 and Virginia Tech, there were eight such shootings.
Meanwhile, politicians in both major parties either stay in the iron grip of the National Rifle Association and its money, or are too timid to speak out in opposition. While they stay in the NRA's grip, they loosen gun control laws and put the public more at risk.
How many more innocents will have to die before all of that is reversed?
Monday, November 9, 2009
Congress will ask, and the public - particularly those who have family members at Fort Hood Army Base in Texas - has a right to know how the security system so completely broke down last Thursday.
The biggest question currently being asked is who knew that Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan was, at the very least, troubled, or quite possibly seeking connections to radical Muslim terrorist groups such as Al-Qaida?
The second biggest question is whether he didn't get the help or discipline he needed either because of overtaxed resources or superiors who feared being hit with accusations of discrimination.
There are other primary questions:
*If people in the area weren't supposed to have weapons, how did Hasan enter with his?
*Why did it take a civilian police officer to stop Hasan? Where were the military police?
*If military doctors are overburdened, why haven't more civilian psychiatrists, psychologists, counselors and social workers been recruited to help military members and their families deal with the stresses they face?
There were warning signs years ago about a lack of resources on the homefront. Last Thursday may have been a prime example.
For all Americans, and for the dead and injured at Fort Hood, Congress must get answers.
Two corrections to report, both of which have been made in their respective blog entries.
1. The first correction is to the Nov. 3 blog, in which I put the name of the wrong environmental organization that fought the jetport in the Everglades. The correct name of the organization is Friends of the Everglades.
2. The second correction is in the Nov. 5 blog, to the spelling of the first name of the Florida Marlins manager. It's Fredi Gonzalez.
Thursday, November 5, 2009
John Anderson is a one-time Republican member of Congress from Illinois and was an early example of the exodus of moderates from that party when he ran as an independent presidential candidate in 1980. He's also one of the most intelligent, rational voices about reforming the election process.
He's at it again this week, with a column that ran, among other places, in The Miami Herald:
We all know most elected officials won't vote to do anything that would compromise their own re-election chances - even if it saves millions of dollars, as this move would.
Perhaps the place to start with instant runoff reform is at the municipal level. In the coming weeks, voters in Miami-Dade and Broward counties will schlep back to the polls for runoff elections in various municipalities. Spending millions of dollars to set up another election - or elections - at a time when the thoughts of most have turned to holiday spending (if they have money for it this year) is not anyone's idea of a good time. Wasting millions of government dollars when jobs, hours, etc. have had to be cut because of the economy really isn't smart.
Techology and its cost could certainly be a factor. Most of Florida has done a cha-cha-cha between punch cards, touch screens and optical scanners since the mess in 2000. Local governments probably don't have the appetite for one more change, unless it can be proven to save money.
It's time to get those calculations from other cities that are using the instant runoff, start with local governments and then begin a petition drive to get runoff elections reinstated at the state level in Florida.
Saving money, time and political credibility could be the result.
With apologies to Andy Rooney, ever have something pop up in your brain that hadn't been an issue before?
This week, it was unions and political endorsements.
Public employees, police, fire departments and others have unions. These unions often endorse political candidates.
Is it me, or is their something wrong with potentially endorsing for - or against - someone who could be your boss?
It creates a lot of problems at work.
Finally, one must tip a cap to the hard work of the New York Yankees, this year's World Series winner (and, she cynically added, the other baseball team in South Florida). There will always be the argument that they bought a championship. But champions still need heart and the will to win, and this group had plenty.
There is no problem giving credit to someone who hasn't gotten enough: Yankee Manager Joe Girardi.
Girardi is too classy to say, as pitcher Tug McGraw (a former New York Met) said in 1980 when his Philadelphia Phillies won, that South Florida, or at least Florida Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria, can take this championship and stick it.
But one wouldn't blame Girardi for having that sentiment after 2006, in which he won the National League Manager of the Year Award and Loria then fired him because of his own thin skin for criticism. That thin skin was on display again last month, when it looked like Loria was going to dump Fredi Gonzalez, the Marlins' current manager, and then backed off after widespread public and press criticism.
Girardi deserves many of the laurels for the Yankees' fine year.
Tuesday, November 3, 2009
OK, quick. Who remembers the pivotal congressional and governor's races of 1993?
Who remembers the headlines that they generated - that it was "bad news" for President Bill Clinton?
Media, be it low-tech or high-tech, has a tendency to overhype year-after elections. (A notable exception was 2001, for obvious reasons.)
There isn't a president in either political party in recent memory who hasn't managed about a half-and-half approval rating during his rookie year when there weren't extenuating circumstances. (Again, the first year of President George W. Bush needs to be thrown out of the equation, both because of the questionable 2000 election and 9/11.)
Today, pundits everywhere are talking about what yesterday's election results mean to President Barack Obama next year, to Obama in 2012, to former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin in 2012, to former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney in 2012, to whatever in 2012.
All it means is: Pundits are doing a lot of talking. And it isn't adding up to very much.
Next year, the congressional midterm election will, indeed, be a serious barometer of how Obama will attempt to govern.
This election? Not so much.
Money doesn't matter very much if there's no Planet Earth to spend it on.
Let that message be communicated to most members of the Miami-Dade County Commission and Republican members of the United States Congress, both of who don't seem to get it.
In Dade, the issue is the site in the Everglades once targeted for a jetport. The opposition was so fierce that it triggered the creation of the group Friends of the Everglades, and jetport plans were abandoned. That was four decades ago.
Now, despite the green movement, despite the realities of what pollution has been doing to this planet, county commissioners are looking at using the jetport site either for rock mining or oil drilling, as Curtis Morgan writes in The Miami Herald:
Guess they slept through the local history lesson generated by that semi-abandoned runway in the Everglades.
The county should either sell the land to the state for preservation or mitigate it. A quickie profit on oil or rock mining today will result in an environmental and financial loss too big to comprehend tomorrow.
Speaking of losing, only one Republican U.S. senator, George Voinovich of Ohio, was at the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee meeting this morning about the greenhouse gas-curbing bill, as the Associated Press reports:
As with members of the Miami-Dade Commission, the only green the congressional GOP seems to care about is money.
In so doing, Republicans holding high elected office have even ignored the wishes of many of their own conservative constituents, who see global warming and other environmental hazards as a serious problem.
Open your eyes and ears, senators.
Monday, November 2, 2009
The latest odd couple features former Florida Attorney General Bob Butterworth, the state's resident troubleshooter, as an advisor to Florida Power & Light.
Basically, Butterworth is advising FPL on what went wrong in the company's quest for a large rate increase.
It should be an easy job for Butterworth, because the rest of FPL's customers already know what the problems are.
Start in 2005 with Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma, and the fact that many FPL customers had their power out for a month or more - especially after Wilma, which hit Oct. 24. Floridians have never forgotten that.
Move forward to 2008 and the official collapse of the economy, which had already been creaking and groaning in the Sunshine State since 2005. How does a company justify a 30 percent rate increase to people who are being thrown out of work and losing their life's savings?
Add recent news reports about FPL officials living it up in luxury and having too-cozy relationships with members of the Public Service Commission that's supposed to regulate them.
The message already exists. Hopefully, coming from Butterworth, FPL's leaders will finally comprehend it.
Thursday, October 29, 2009
President Barack Obama shows shades of his days as editor of the Harvard Law Review in his decisionmaking over Afghanistan.
Now, as then, he doesn't tip his hand and takes everything into consideration. But Obama has issues now he didn't face in the Ivy League.
The leading issue is the fact that the Taliban's campaign against the upcoming presidential runoff election becomes ever bloodier. Most likely, Obama wants to wait until the results of the runoff are in before announcing what he'll do next. The Taliban likely won't let him.
If he wants to concentrate on Al Quaida, he must recall that it was the Taliban that allowed Al Quaida to roam through Afghanistan and plan the 9/11 attacks. In the weeks before that date in 2001, the Taliban also gave frightening flashbacks to 1930s Nazi Germany with its destruction of ancient sites and its inhuman treatment of people. That hasn't gone away.
World assistance in this mess still hasn't been forthcoming, for all of the praise over Obama's efforts and his Nobel Peace Prize. As the runoff gets closer - and the Taliban gets deadlier - Obama's hand may be forced. In his mind, if not publicly, he needs to have his strategy in Afghanistan decided already.
Wednesday, October 28, 2009
There may be something of a public option in the health care bill, after all.
U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has seen the light (and probably his poll numbers in Nevada) and warmed to the idea. It's still tough to get everyone on board (U.S. Senator Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut, a former Democrat, has come out in opposition and shown yet again why Vice President Al Gore should have picked Sen. Bob Graham of Florida as his running mate in 2000, but that's another story.).
Should the legislation pass Congress, the fight goes to the states. In Florida, the fight may be with Gov. Dances With Right-Wingers - formerly known as Charlie Crist.
In his misguided attempts to appeal to the extremist fringe of the Republican Party (Every time Crist makes another overture, former Florida House Speaker Marco Rubio gets a point closer to him in the polls.), Crist is calling the public option idea a "Trojan Horse."
This from the man who spearheaded the original Trojan Horse, otherwise known as Cover Florida, which doesn't cover much of anything.
A majority of Floridians will likely accept whatever comes out of Congress, since it's bound to be better than what came out of Tallahassee.
Therefore, Floridians should not take any action that Crist and the Florida Legislature might take against any federal law lying down.
If the current legislation passes, the fight over health care coverage may need to go to the courts. If Crist and the legislature say no to Congress, Floridians should fight them for the right - and it is a right - to better health insurance.
Tuesday, October 27, 2009
Former Miami Mayor and Miami-Dade Commissioner Maurice Ferre is a member of the Miami-Dade Expressway Authority.
Now, Ferre is running for another job: U.S. Senator. That means he's going to be accepting campaign donations. Potentially, there might be donations from people who want work on Dade expressways.
Obviously, the two don't mix.
As Miami Herald political columnist Beth Reinhard reported, Ferre is wondering whether he should step down from the expressway authority while he runs:
The answer here is yes, he should. An expressway authority member or a senator should be able to make decisions independently, without fear or favor. Having one post while running for the other makes that difficult. Ferre is right to ask about the authority job.
He should do more than ask, though. While he's running, he should leave it.
Monday, October 26, 2009
TPS. Temporary Protected Status.
It's the Holy Grail for thousands of Haitians in the United States, some for many years. President Barack Obama has yet to say anything about it.
Tonight, Obama is appearing at a fund-raiser at the Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami Beach. Among the protesters outside the hotel are those campaigning for TPS.
Undoubtedly, Obama is concerned about the immediate effect of announcing changes in immigration status, particularly for anyone from Cuba or Haiti. It doesn't take much to get the boats sailing toward South Florida - just a little bit of hope.
He is almost certainly consulting with the familiar face - former President Bill Clinton - who is the United Nations' special envoy to Haiti. Clinton dealt with the issue of immigration for both Haitians and Cubans at length during his two terms in the White House. Clinton recommends granting TPS.
The concern by the Obama Administration is understandable. But that doesn't mean Obama can't address the matter of Haitians who are already in this country - particularly those still in detention.
Obama should make an announcement on their status. The announcement should be simple: TPS.
Thursday, October 22, 2009
Al Tirah. Do not be afraid, says the prayer Jews recite on the Sabbath.
Israel is acting very afraid.
The country is sticking to its strategy in recent years of running, hiding, pointing fingers and snarling in its response to the United Nations report over possible war crimes during the country's campaign in Gaza last winter.
Now, there's no question that the relationship between Israel and the UN is only slightly better than that of the Sharks and the Jets in the musical "West Side Story." But every time the UN says something critical, Israel resorts to the same thing: Criticize back, and get the United States to defend you.
It's gutless. It's unlike what Israel, at its best, has been.
Israel, at its best, is unafraid of anything. Unafraid to be honest with itself and its people about what it does wrong, as well as what it does right.
Unafraid to look at itself in the mirror.
Israel doesn't owe the UN an internal investigation of what happened in Gaza.
Israel owes an internal investigation to itself. To its own people.
To its own reputation.
Al Tirah, Yisrael.
Wednesday, October 21, 2009
One public discussion planned for this Saturday at Books & Books in Coral Gables will preview another discussion that will be both public and private - the debate by the United States Supreme Court over banning books.
At noon Saturday, Books & Books will host a panel discussion, called "Banned in Miami," about the controversy over the removal of the children's book "Vamos a Cuba" from shelves in Miami-Dade County Public Schools. The discussion, presented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, will include former Miami-Dade School Board member Evelyn Greer, who had opposed the board's decision to remove the books; University of Miami Law professor JoNel Newman and ACLU Legal Director Randall Marshall, the ACLU attorneys who brought the case to the Supreme Court; and Mitch Kaplan, owner of Books & Books, representing The American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression (ABFEE).
ACLU Florida did not tailor the discussion as a debate; there will be no panelists in support of the school board's decision at this event. The organization is willing to set up future debates on the issue.
To recall: The school board approved the removal of "Vamos a Cuba" when questions were asked about the book not addressing the Fidel Castro dictatorship.
Frankly, it's difficult to conceive of an innocuous travelogue, even for children, about a country that has imprisoned and murdered those who dare to speak out, and does not have a free press, free speech or free expression.
But that's exactly why the book should not have been removed from schools.
Through the First Amendment, the United States does advocate those things Fidel Castro does not. At the very least, the book is worthy as a tool of discussion and debate in classrooms.For the moment, the ban stands. "Vamos a Cuba" is one in a series of books that the Supreme Court will hear about during this term, and presumably rule on next spring.
The panel discussion will begin at noon Oct. 24. Books & Books is located at 265 Aragon Ave., Coral Gables. Call 305-442-4408.
Tuesday, October 20, 2009
It looks like there will be a special session of the Florida Legislature in December to try to resolve the issue of SunRail, the commuter system planned for Central Florida.
Before lawmakers tackle SunRail, they need to resolve the matter of a commuter system that already exists: Tri-Rail.
To recall: Tri-Rail's future is threatened, since its funding issues weren't resolved earlier this year. A big part of the problem is that Tri-Rail's fortunes were tied to SunRail's, and both were tied to the issue of a $2 surcharge on rental cars - a surcharge that ultimately went down to defeat during the regular legislative session.
That surchage may come up again, and so might the opposition. An article by Alex Leary for the St. Petersburg Times (and published in The Miami Herald) goes into a detail that might help the chances of the systems - the federal stimulus package:
Even with that help, politics is politics. And once again, Tri-Rail may be left in peril because of political debates over SunRail.
Every lawmaker needs to note: Tri-Rail exists. Tri-Rail works well in getting South Florida commuters out of their cars and into more environmentally friendly transportation.
Regardless of what happens with SunRail, the Florida Legislature and Gov. Charlie Crist must save Tri-Rail.
Monday, October 19, 2009
If the story of 6-year-old Falcon Heene, the Balloon Boy Whose Parents Apparently Made Him Cry Wolf, isn't cautionary enough to prompt an official look at so-called "reality shows" and their effects on the children involved with them, nothing is.
The scandal of reality shows is comparable to the game show scandal of the 1950s. It's far worse when children are part of the cast.
I previously wrote on this blog about the Suleman and Gosselin children:
Now, the three Heene sons can be added to the mix.
This issue is serious enough to warrant government involvement. Again, the Federal Communications Commission, U.S. Department of Labor, Federal Trade Commission and Congress need to hold hearings about these programs and children, expose every procedure any television network, studio or production company undergoes with children -and finally prohibit the employ of children on any reality show.
The reality here is that it's child abuse.
Wednesday, October 14, 2009
Besides the questions voters and journalists ask candidates for elected office about policy, they should now ask another one: Barring illness or catastrophe, do you promise to serve your entire term?
The latest elected official planning an early exit is U.S. Rep. Robert Wexler, D-Boca Raton, who is taking a job as the president of the Center For Middle East Peace and Economic Cooperation. He will leave his seat in January, a year before his term ends.
Naturally, this is setting off a scramble before a costly special election that will determine Wexler's replacement. Like ants at a picnic, the candidates are coming.
Add this to the premature exits of former U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, not to mention numerous local elected officials who try to jump to bigger things.
It seems to be a new policy among elected officials: Vote for me and I'll serve at least part-time.
Voters deserve full time and attention to the job from those they elect. Those seeking to replace Wexler need to think about that before they officially throw their hats in the ring.
Oct. 14: Media Sniglets On Newspaper Endorsements, Tim Russert and the Newseum, Erin Andrews, Rush Limbaugh and the NFL and "Winning" a Nobel Prize
*The Atlanta Journal-Constitution is planning not to endorse political candidates. In an editorial the other day, the paper said to readers: You can make up your own minds.
Readers can and do make up their own minds, but they like to hear how editorial boards think. An endorsement doesn't necessarily mean that a reader will agree or disagree, but with a newspaper's still-major role as a community touchstone, it's an important statement.
A newspaper endorsement of a political candidate (or the occasional statement that the bunch that's running is so bad, the newspaper can't endorse any of 'em) is also usually well thought-out - as opposed to millions of words of opinion online these days that pass for fact.
Other newspapers, including The Miami Herald with presidential races, have tried the no-endorsement idea and ultimately reversed course. The reason: These opinions are important.
The AJC should reverse course as well. There are too many ill-informed opinions about elected officials out there. Newspapers still provide informed ones, and they're needed more than ever.
*Being added to the mystifying and overly expensive structure in Washington, D.C. known as the Newseum is a reconstruction of the office of Tim Russert, the late host of NBC's "Meet the Press."
Did he do anything more special than CBS anchor Walter Cronkite or "60 Minutes" creator Don Hewitt, whose offices I could see in the Newseum? Or ABC's Peter Jennings, who also died prematurely? (Disclosure: I was a Peter Jennings Fellow at the National Constitutional Center in Philadelphia last year.)
Plus, all of them were lifelong, full-time journalists. Russert was a political worker who switched to news during the 1980s, part of the "revolving door" that has increased and raised questions about ethics and closeness to sources.
The Newseum has already drawn criticism for its high admission prices and for veering from what made it so popular when it was located in Virginia. If they're going to recreate something, let it be from a more deserving journalist.
*Good column today by Tracee Hamilton of the Washington Post about her own experiences with a stalker:
I agree with her comments about Erin Andrews. Folks, Andrews is the victim here. Period.
*The National Football League should say an unequivocal "No" to any ownership, even partial, by Rush Limbaugh of one of its teams (in this case, the St. Louis Rams).
Some might remember that Major League Baseball threw out Marge Schott as the owner of the Cincinnati Reds after she made anti-Semitic comments. That was one instance. Limbaugh insults most Americans, and most of the world, on a daily basis.
He is toxic. ESPN already tried him, and that didn't work. The NFL should stay away.
*Finally, a style point: How many journalists have said that President Barack Obama "won" the Nobel Peace Prize?
Though people, groups, etc. are nominated for the Nobel Prize, it technically isn't a contest. Authors, scientists and so forth are "awarded" a Nobel Prize. That's the way it should be written.
Tuesday, October 13, 2009
On Sunday's "NBC Nightly News," senior investigative correspondent Lisa Myers reported on life settlement securities, Wall Street's latest gambling stunt that speculates on how long people with life insurance policies will live:
The report speaks to a bigger concern: The fact that Congress hasn't gotten around to reining in Wall Street for the abuses that brought about the collapse of the economy last year.
The complexity of the issues and the legislation that has been proposed don't help. But there's another problem: There doesn't seem to be a major point person in Congress for whom this is a priority. Without a grand poobah of legislation (in the way, for example, that the late Sen. Edward Kennedy was promoting health insurance changes), reform isn't going anywhere.
To make matters worse, Wall Street firms continue to line the campaign coffers of members of Congress for 2010 and beyond.
The business-as-usual mentality contributes to the continued economic crisis and makes a new Wall Street collapse possible.
Americans sick and tired of CEOs playing roulette with their lives and keeping their bonuses and their fancy mansions and yachts need to visit www.house.gov and www.senate.gov, find their representatives and call for reform now.
Monday, October 12, 2009
With the possible exception of the International Olympic Committee and some right-wing radio and cable television talk show hosts, the world seems to like the United States again.
The awarding of an abundance of Nobel Prizes to Americans, including the honoring (however premature) of President Barack Obama with the Nobel Peace Prize, is a message from the international community, to paraphrase Lady Margaret Thatcher, that "we can do business with them."
The most accurate assessment of Obama's prize may have come from the opening skit on NBC's "Saturday Night Live," when "Obama," played by Fred Armisen, said he received the honor for not being President George W. Bush. It speaks to how much the Bush Administration poisoned the international atmosphere in just about every way possible, including the environment, science and medicine, not to mention diplomacy.
International reaction is as important to America's success in fighting a bad economy, terrorism and global warming as home reaction is. It leads to better cooperation and better solutions.
The Nobel Committee showed it appreciates open doors and open minds. So does the world.
Thursday, October 8, 2009
When even Florida's insurer of last resort won't help, higher-ups need to step in.
As Beatrice E. Garcia and Nirvi Shah of The Miami Herald reported today, owners of homes affected by defective Chinese drywall are having trouble processing claims - and potentially face more problems:
Leave it to those insurance companies, including Citizens Property Insurance, to insure themselves more than the homeowners they're supposed to protect - particularly when those homeowners aren't to blame for this situation.
So far, Florida Gov. Charlie Crist and the Florida Legislature haven't done anything about even regulating Chinese drywall, though the problem came to light almost a year ago. On Tuesday, the Florida Senate's Community Affairs Committee had its first hearing on the matter for next year's legislative session.
Insurance protection for homeowners needs to be added to the agenda of those hearings, along with public safety.
The legislature needs to come up with a solid bill that protects the homeowners and their homes.
Florida residents sickened by the environmental effects of Chinese drywall and squeezed by their insurance companies can't afford any more delays.
Wednesday, October 7, 2009
Eight years ago today, Afghanistan was the world's war. It should still be so.
When President George W. Bush announced the start of military action in Afghanistan on Oct. 7, 2001, he had the support of the entire world.
We know the rest; that support declined with Bush's decision to go into Iraq.
Bush isn't in the White House anymore. But the Taliban is still menacing Afghanistan - and possibly greasing the skids for a new emergence of Al Quaida. Meanwhile, President Barack Obama is trying to decide whether to have a military "surge" in Afghanistan.
The rest of the world could make that decision easier by not making the United States, or NATO, go it relatively alone. What happens in Afghanistan affects them, too. The worldwide terrorist attacks that have followed 9/11 are proof.
Tuesday, October 6, 2009
It's the jobs, stupid.
President Barack Obama and economists can say all they want about jobs being a lagging economic indicator, and that patience is needed. It doesn't matter.
Patience is impossible when you can't pay the bills.
Obama has been reading about President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Presumably, that includes FDR's so-called "Alphabet Soup" of organizations created to restore jobs. Those included the Works Progress Administration (WPA) and the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC).
Obama's statements that health care reform, energy reform and the stimulus package would create jobs do no good. That's because America's economy has flipped from bottom-up to the top-down "voodoo" economics originated by President Ronald Reagan and advocated by both Bushes (including President George H.W. Bush, who came up with the "Voodoo" label during the 1980 Republican presidential primary). We now know that a lot of economic success during the Clinton Administration was like steroids: Artificial enhancement.
Obama hasn't seemed to grasp, just yet, that Wall Street won't help Main Street out of this mess. Wall Street will only help Wall Street. But it takes Main Street to really make a successful economy.
Obama needs to go back and re-read his FDR books, and devote 2010 to the theme of job creation - not through second-hand, top-down methods, but through primary methods. Then, either through Congress or by executive order, he needs to create a new alphabet soup of productive jobs for Americans.
Monday, October 5, 2009
Until early last week, President Barack Obama had been repeatedly on record as a champion of freedom of the press. That included support of a law that would protect journalists who have confidential sources.
Then, Obama met with his national security team:
Did Attorney General Eric Holder, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and company drink the same Kool-Aid the Bush Administration did? Sadly, it appears so. And more sadly, it looks like Obama has taken his cup to the punch bowl as well.
Sen. Arlen Specter, D-Pa., is correct: The Senate should approve the bill, Congress should hash out the details in committee as if Obama wasn't backtracking on his support - and the president should be called to question on the record.
A weakened press, in any form, is more dangerous to national security than a million Taliban or Al-Quaida missiles. Congress must pass a strong shield law. And Obama must sign it, not veto it.
Friday, October 2, 2009
An excellent report earlier this week on my former haunting grounds, WPLG-Channel 10, called attention to Miami-Dade County's very odd policy on placing streetlights in unincorporated neighborhoods. The process can take up to two years:
How many crimes can happen in a darkened neighborhood in two years?
The county's policy is unacceptable and one of the reasons so many neighborhoods in Dade moved to incorporate during the last two decades.
The next light that goes on should be a lightbulb over the head of county commissioners, who must approve a speeding up of this process.
This is an issue not only of government efficiency, but also - and more importantly - public safety.
Wednesday, September 30, 2009
There is no excuse.
Surviving the Holocaust is not an excuse. Having your wife murdered by Charles Manson is not an excuse.
Nothing justifies film director Roman Polanski's rape - and it was a rape - of a 13-year-old girl in Los Angeles in 1977. The victim, now 45, has absolved him. That doesn't matter, either. Neither does his ability as a director.
Polanski, who skipped the country in 1978 to avoid sentencing, has to face the music - and justice.
Justice would be nice. The idea the Los Angeles justice system had back then - counting the 43 days he'd served in jail as his sentence - was a joke. Polanski fled because it looked like the judge in the case was coming to his senses and would hand down a harsher penalty.
There may yet be a harsher penalty - much harsher, as a Reuters article states:
On the other hand, many have seen the L.A. system's reputation for incompetence in trying celebrities. So even if he pleaded guilty - which he did - Polanski might still get away with what he did.
Equally guilty are the more than 100 movie-industry people, including Oscar-winning Martin Scorcese, who seem not to believe that child rape is a crime. They signed a letter calling for Polanski's release. Actress Debra Winger, who complained years ago about the treatment of women in her profession, and "The View" cohost Whoopi Goldberg, who is a mother and grandmother, also seem to have had lapses of sanity in this circumstance - particularly Goldberg with her Clintonesque definition of rape.
It's rape, Whoopi. Polanski did it. He must pay.
Wednesday, September 23, 2009
Last week, a member of the Florida Legislature suggested that the Public Service Commission, which is supposed to oversee the state's utilities, might be in need of its own overseer - the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
At the very least, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement has already started, and the Florida Senate will likely start its own investigation into the PSC, which has recently seen too-cozy relationships between some of its employees and, in particular, executives at Florida Power & Light. This as FPL and other state utilities are requesting big rate hikes in a bad economy.
The PSC ignored years of grand jury recommendations about how to clean up its house. This is the result. The investigations are past due - and FPL is past due for similar scrutiny from the state. This public utility and its supposed guardian aren't acting very public.
Last year, Broward County voters approved the creation of an Ethics Commission. That commission, appointed by county commissioners, is to write a code no later than next March.
None too soon, after today's arrest of Broward County Commissioner Josephus Eggelletion, Broward School Board member Beverly Gallagher and former Miramar Commissioner Fitzroy Salesman on corruption charges.
The South Florida Business Journal has the specific complaints on its Web site:
Florida Gov. Charlie Crist will be busy the next day or so, as he likely suspends Eggelletion and Gallagher. Salesman lost his commission seat earlier this year, as he was going to trial on the assault charge.
Ironically, the county Ethics Commission has one vacancy - the seat that would have been filled by Eggelletion. Whoever replaces him will likely fill it. Crist will make that decision on a temporary commissioner and School Board member as well.
There have been some Broward politicians arrested in recent years - former Sheriff Ken Jenne two years ago, former Commissioner Scott Cowan in 2000, and Salesman on an assault charge in 2007. But the scope of what happened today is staggering.
That's why the Ethics Commission must put together a code that leaves no room for doubt on the rules county commissioners must follow. And the School Board must conduct a similar review of its own standards.
Tuesday, September 22, 2009
Ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya is back in his home country - sort of.
He's currently holed up in the Brazilian Embassy, which has had power cut off by the Honduran army loyal to Roberto Micheletti, who took over as president when Zelaya was ousted after trying to hijack the country's constitution and get another term as president.
The United States and most countries across the Americas and around the world still recognize Zelaya, actions aside, as the legitimately elected president of the country and are insisting on his return. Costa Rican President Oscar Arias tried to mediate a solution. Many in Honduras are having none of it.
The upcoming presidential election in November is supposed to resolve this. Increasingly, it looks like that won't happen. What seems more likely is the prospect of civil war.
With world leaders in New York and Pennsylvania this week for the United Nations meeting, the Clinton Global Initiative and the G-20 summit, there are a lot of other things on the agenda. But a Honduras in crisis means a country - and a region -more vulnerable to rogue leadership and terrorist groups. This needs a solution, and soon.
Monday, September 21, 2009
Were the critics watching the same Emmy Awards I was? Apparently not.
They seemed to like what I found so humorless and tasteless that I switched channels after an hour. Neil Patrick Harris, so good at the Tony Awards, did his best here, but couldn't overcome a downright weird, at best, show.
And now Rob Lowe has the dubious distinction of having been involved in the two worst televised awards shows of all time. At least this time, he didn't have primary responsibility.
But the Emmys perfectly reflected the decline and fall of broadcast television.
Once, in an age before VCRs, it could be a painful decision to choose between two popular series. One could always find something to watch, be it comedy or drama. Characters were relatively functional people - a bit loony, sometimes, but no one you'd be sorry to meet. Heroes were heroes. Villains were villains. Most television characters were kind. There was no in-between. Reality was the nightly newscast.
For a while from the 1960s through the 1990s, television even managed to set standards and break barriers.
It's pretty much been a downhill decline since the late 90s. The majority of this writer's viewing these days is on PBS, and on DVDs of classic television series. Only CBS' Tuesday night lineup and "The Mentalist" (moving to Thursdays) and NBC's "The Jay Leno Show" hold any interest for me on traditional networks. Not even Kelsey Grammer's new show "Hank," which looks like just another variation of his beloved Frasier Crane character.
The most astute comment I heard before I switched the channel last night was Julia Louis-Dreyfus calling this the "last official year of broadcast television."
She may be right.
Thursday, September 17, 2009
The tragic stabbing death of Coral Gables High School student Juan Carlos Rivera on Tuesday and its aftermath pointed to two safety needs.
It is true, as FIU associate professor Philip J. Lazarus said, that more "mental detectors" are needed than metal detectors for students such as Andy Rodriguez, currently charged with second-degree murder in Rivera's killing.
But an extra camera or two in the courtyard where Rivera was killed might have compelled someone to spot trouble before the tragedy occurred.
Afterward, a better communication system between Miami-Dade Public Schools and parents might have avoided a lot of mixed signals and anxiety. Parents and guardians who communicated by cellphone and/or text with students came to the locked-down high school, demanding that they be allowed to take their children home when news reports were saying the suspect was in custody. A number came with food when some students said they hadn't eaten lunch yet.
A better system for cellphone and text message communication with parents and guardians by the school district is needed - something similar to the system Virginia Tech University put in place after a gunman killed 32 people there before turning a weapon on himself. In this age of 21st-century technology, television press conferences are no longer good enough.
More cameras may have to wait for an improved economy. But the school district could certainly look into inexpensive text and cellphone communication methods. In multiple ways, safety depends on it.
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
I traveled with about 60 other lost opportunities on Monday.
We were traveling on Metromover, the rail system that goes around Downtown Miami. It's free. If the county charged a quarter per person, it would have meant $15. That's not much for 60 people, but add the number of people who use Metromover on a given day, or a given week.
The county used to charge a quarter for Metromover, but stopped after voters approved a half-cent sales tax for transportation in 2002. Given Miami-Dade County commissioners' allergy to raising necessary taxes or fees to get out of the financial mess, they are hesitant to restore a fee on Metromover. They worry ridership would go down.
But how does the county benefit from jammed cars of free passengers when, even before the financial crisis hit, there were already reports of mismanagement of the transportation tax money?
The three main categories of people who ride Metromover are students, businesspeople and tourists. Students generally head to Miami-Dade Community College, the New World School of the Arts and other nearby facilities. If they ride five days a week, they'd pay about $1.25 a week. Some could argue that it's a hardship, but what about the students who now spend that $1.25 on a 20-ounce soda from a vending machine?
The same arguement can be made about businesspeople. As for tourists, they won't miss a quarter.
Dade needs the money. And commissioners, who have been ducking the hard choices in favor of letting critical community programs fall by the wayside, need to get something right. They can start by reinstating the 25 cent fee for Metromover.
A significant reason for the recent uptick in notables who are rude is simply - and sadly - this: It pays.
Politically extreme radio commentators are paid millions of dollars to spew their venom. U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson will keep getting campaign dollars and constituent support. Kanye West and Serena Williams will keep making their millions.
In other words, it seems no one really gets punished anymore for behaving boorishly. That person gets rewarded, instead.
That is the real tragedy.
Speaking of punishment: U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who has had an organization problem in various ways, has shown another one with the House's disapproval resolution of U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC) and his heckling of President Barack Obama last Wednesday. That resolution should have been issued last Thursday or Friday and not allowed to linger and create yet another political battle on the House floor. Discipline should be swift.
Speaking of punishment, continued: Why is actor Alec Baldwin hosting tomorrow night's "Live From Lincoln Center" concert on PBS? Granted, the network is having trouble finding a permanent host to replace the late, great Beverly Sills. But Baldwin's selection raises the ire of both conservative classical music fans, who disagree with the actor's left-leaning politics, and especially of child advocates, who recall Baldwin's own beyond-rude behavior a couple of years ago during a telephone call to his daughter, Ireland. (His long-standing custody battle with ex-wife Kim Basinger was no excuse.)
Surely PBS can do better. Violinist Itzchak Perlman, who has hosted classical programs before? Ted Koppel? (Hmmm......Ted Koppel and PBS......About time for that partnership to take place.....) Barbara Walters? Sills' buddy Carol Burnett? How about reaching into Canada and finding a newsperson with the hosting and interview skills that the CBC's Patrick Watson showed during the 1980s?
"Live From Lincoln Center" and classical music fans deserve the best.
Finally, what do critics have against Jay Leno?
Leno's new show is pretty much like his "Tonight Show" was - and what's wrong with that? It was on top in the ratings, and will probably get more viewers than he got at 11:30. His monologue is still there, and still funny.
David Letterman is the critics' darling. With his sometimes twisted satire and his excellent interviewing skills, he deserves respect. But Letterman can sometimes be lazy, with repetitious routines and a not-so-rapid response at times to topics in the news.
Neither of them is Johnny Carson. (Who is?)
But good luck to Leno at 10 p.m.
Thursday, September 10, 2009
President Barack Obama did what he needed to do in his speech last night. (And yes, he got an assist from U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson, R-South Carolina, who picked the wrong time to open his mouth and the right time to give another punchline to late-night comedians.)
Bravo to Obama for saying that denial of coverage by insurance companies because of pre-existing conditions would be illegal. That denial is discrimination, and like other forms of discrimination, it must stop.
Obama also talked about compromise - on a public health insurance option, among other issues. Obama's speech was well-received, but there are still liberal Democrats saying they can't vote for a bill that does not have the public option.
An idea for a compromise might lie in what Florida did with home insurance after Hurricane Andrew. Besides hundreds of millions of dollars of property damage, the storm provided a hard hit to insurance companies and many Floridians who had never dealt with a direct hit by a hurricane. (Andrew was the first storm to score a direct hit on South Florida since Hurricane Betsy in 1965.)
In a special session, the Florida Legislature created, and Gov. Lawton Chiles signed, the Joint Underwriting Association (JUA), kind of a pool for insurance companies, but also an entity that came to be known as the "insurance of last resort" for homeowners who couldn't otherwise get covered.
The health care/health insurance crisis is its own kind of storm, with tens of millions of victims - the uninsured, the underinsured and those who fear losing their insurance because of job or financial issues. During his speech, Obama hinted at the choices that could be available to them.
One should be health care's version of a JUA - a government-managed insurance of last resort available to those who cannot otherwise get coverage for financial reasons. It should be full coverage, too - not like the half-hearted Cover Florida plan, which could more accurately be called Partially Covered Florida.
One size does not fit all Americans, so one form of health insurance should not be the reform. The president recognizes that. It's time for Congress to make a law that meets that standard.
Tuesday, September 8, 2009
Here's a link to what President Barack Obama will tell schoolchildren today:
For those who have listened to Obama since he started his presidential campaign in 2007, it's a logical follow-up to what he's told parents about their responsibility towards their children. Obama knows a few things about personal responsibility and about learning from family members and teachers.
It's also a logical follow-up to what previous presidents, including Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, have done in speaking to students.
Then there is the illogical: The mouth-foamers - including Florida Republican Party Chairman Jim Greer and Miami-Dade School Board Member Marta Perez - who opposed Obama giving the speech for assorted reasons, each more ludicrous than the last.
Greer, one of the people who started the criticism, is now giving a back-of-the-hand suggestion that he'll let his kids watch the speech. Awwww.
Perez' comparison of the speech to something Fidel Castro might do in Cuba was especially idiotic. Perez, a one-time schoolteacher who was a long-time voice of reason and reform when corruption pervaded the Dade school district, knows better.
Former First Lady Laura Bush, Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) are to be applauded for speaking out in Obama's defense. They get an A.
So does Obama. The critics, including Greer and Perez, get an F - and need to go sit in a corner someplace.
Thursday, September 3, 2009
Politicians love to thump their chests and say "No new taxes." It's almost always an automatic vote-getter.
But the lines outside driver's license bureaus across Florida early this week show why the "no new taxes" motto isn't always a good idea.
Besides taxes, elected officials try to avoid raising fees whenever possible. Because of that, the fee for getting a new driver's license or renewing a license hadn't increased in years.
This year, because of the hit the state budget has taken, that changed - and how. The fee for a new license has shot from $27 to $48. It's even worse for those renewing their licences; the fee has gone up 140 percent, from $20 to that same $48. (Full disclosure: I'm one of the license renewers who will cough up more dough.)
Naturally, Floridians are screaming and yelling about how unjust the increase is in a year when the economy is bad and so many people are out of work.
What's really unjust is that the Florida Legislature spent all those chest-thumping years paying much more attention to the health of their re-election campaign treasuries than to the budget they administer.
Had they really focused on the state budget through the good years, they would have risked some complaints by raising fees gradually - but not as much anger as this lump-sum increase is generating now.
Both elected officials and, yes, voters need to learn that sound fiscal responsibility includes making the hard choices on raising taxes and fees even during the supposed good times, not only when an emergency leaves no choice. It's better to sacrifice a few votes today than a lot of needed dollars tomorrow.
Tuesday, September 1, 2009
(Disclosure: I am a part-time educator at the Historical Museum of Southern Florida.)
It wasn't so long ago - little more than a generation, really - that the Greater Miami area had to contend with being mislabelled as a cultural desert. Never mind that the Greater Miami Opera (today the Florida Grand Opera) had been around since 1941, the Historical Assocation of Southern Florida had been founded the year before that; that both the Miami Science Museum and the Lowe Art Museum began in 1950; that the great Marian Anderson had integrated the Dade County Auditorium in 1952, that tenor Luciano Pavarotti had made his American debut here in 1965 or that Dade County began its Art in Public Places program in 1973. Those successes couldn't knock down the old reputation.
Then came the 1980s, and Time magazine's "Paradise Lost" cover story. In the wake of that, and in the search for civic pride, the arts started to bloom. Christo's pink "Surrounded Islands" in Biscayne Bay drew worldwide attention. In succession came the establishment of the New World Symphony, the Miami City Ballet, the Florida Philharmonic (sadly gone now), the Miami Book Fair International and so many visual and performing arts groups, both large and small, reflecting the county's various ethnic groups and communities. This decade has seen the construction of the county's performing arts center and the welcoming of Art Basel.
The budget Mayor Carlos Alvarez proposed cuts $11 million from the county's Department of Cultural Affairs. That would mean the department could not provide grants to support cultural organizations.
Never mind, for the moment, Alvarez' illogic in proposing these cuts when he's giving raises to a number of his staffers (See yesterday's blog entry.).
The bigger issue is the threat those cuts, if enacted, pose to the arts community.
For every dollar Miami-Dade County invests in the performing and visual arts, private donors and other public entities provide $27. Now that's a bargain.
Admission fees for most of the arts facilities are bargains, as well. A lot of their business comes from the tourists who visit South Florida. It's gratifying to know that the tourists want some culture along with their sun and South Beach nightlife.
Other customers include the county's estimated 340,000 schoolchildren, who get a great deal more than just a few hours away from the classroom when they see a play or concert, visit a museum or go on a tour to a historic landmark such as the Cape Florida Lighthouse. In many cases, those visits are life changers. How many South Florida natives now work for those arts groups because of a ballet or painting they saw in those facilities as a kid?
Almost a month ago, there was a meeting of local arts groups to discuss what to do. This comes from Miami Herald reporter Jose Pagliery's story about the event; it's a quote from Sheila Austin, a former member of Dade's Cultural Affairs Council:
Speaking before a crowd, she echoed words taken from a recent conversation she had with her father, famed jazz artist Charlie Austin: ''Would you rather see a kid with an AK-47 or a kid with a paintbrush? Or trumpet?''
We all know the answer to that. Go and communicate that answer to the members of the Miami-Dade County Commission at two upcoming public hearings - this Thursday, Sept. 3 and Thursday, Sept. 17, both at 5 p.m. Remind them that the arts are the best buy in Miami-Dade County - with the best results for Dade's future.
Monday, August 31, 2009
You've got to hand it to Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Alvarez. In less than a few eye blinks, he managed to tick off most of the county's roughly two million residents.
That's because Alvarez, who made a big deal earlier this summer of the need for the county to slash its budget, gave big raises to a number of his employees. (Disclosure: One of those employees, Victoria Mallette, was a classmate of mine at FIU and a co-worker of mine at WPLG-Channel 10.)
While Alvarez says his staff was reorganized, a lot of that reorganization involved moving people to other county jobs, as Jack Dolan and Matthew Haggman reported in The Miami Herald last Saturday:
Add the runaround given to Commissioner Sally Heyman when she tried to get information about the raises, and the result is a big mess for the mayor.
Angry commissioners are now talking about cutting the mayor's budget for next year by as much as 45 percent. Some Dade residents are starting a petition to recall Alvarez. It's hard to blame them.
Alvarez seems to not sense that when he said the county needed to tighten its belt, that meant him and his office, too. None of the excuses he's giving can justify his actions to residents who will see cuts in services, to county employees in other departments who will lose or have already lost their jobs, or to community-based groups in various categories that will have their futures threatened by cuts to or total elimination of grants programs.
Mr. Mayor, call your staff together, tell them, "Sorry guys," and eliminate those raises. It's the only way you can save face.
Wednesday, August 26, 2009
Even before Sen. Edward Moore Kennedy died last night, it was not hard to guess what would be written and said about him - the highlights and the lowlights.
But Kennedy's life was one of contradictions. The relative length in years he had - he was felled by a brain tumor at age 77 - compared to his three fallen brothers Joseph, Jr., John and Robert, allowed him to show that.
The first contradiction was the privilege in which Kennedy and his siblings were raised, and the life of public service most of them chose - especially John, Robert, Ted and their sister Eunice Kennedy Shriver, the Special Olympics founder who died just two weeks ago.
During his first campaign for the United States Senate, in 1962, Ted Kennedy was lambasted as a lightweight who was capitalizing on the family name, and that if he'd been Edward Moore, he wouldn't have been elected. Kennedy spent 46 years in the Senate, tied in longevity with Sen. Daniel Inouye of Hawaii and surpassed only by Sen. Robert Byrd of West Virginia and the late Sen. Strom Thurmond of South Carolina.
After the assassinations of John and Robert Kennedy, family members and Democrats looked to Ted Kennedy as the standard-bearer. However, it is easy to believe that he never really wanted to run for president. His personal demons hinted at a man haunted by that part of the family legacy. His challenge of incumbent President Jimmy Carter in 1980 seemed more of a campaign against Carter's political shortcomings than a true aim for the White House. He did not run either in 1976 or in 1984, more logical times for presidential campaigns.
And the biggest contradiction: This lion of liberalism reached across the Senate aisle frequently for legislation, whether in education, civil rights, international matters, health care or social services. Former First Lady Nancy Reagan was among those coming out with statements today mourning Kennedy's death; among his many friends, he counted Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah and last year's Republican nominee for president, Sen. John McCain of Arizona.
In his well-remembered speech at the 1980 Democratic National Convention, Kennedy said, "Programs may sometimes become obsolete, but the ideal of fairness always endures. Circumstances may change, but the work of compassion must continue....For all those whose cares have been our concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die."
In his remarks this morning, President Barack Obama said of Kennedy, "The extraordinary good that he did lives on.....For America, he was the defender of a dream."
And because Sen. Edward Kennedy picked up the banner of public service and inspired others to achieve the ideals of fairness and take on the work of compassion, his dream, indeed, shall never die.
Thursday, August 20, 2009
While the average life expectancy in the United States is still increasing, so are the number of people who are severely overweight.
The fight against obesity has to restart where it's been slowed down - the schools.
Budget crises have compelled public schools to do two things harmful to children's health: Pull the plug on physical education classes, particularly in middle and high schools, and sign deals with vendors to sell high-fat snacks and high-sugar sodas in lunchrooms.
Both must be reversed. Former President Bill Clinton got the process off to a good start in 2006 with a deal to get snack makers to put healthier choices into vending machines. But it's the responsibility of school districts to do the rest. So far, they haven't. Until the general budget picture improves, they probably won't.
A child with a healthy lifestyle has a better chance of being an adult with a healthy lifestyle. Clinton, who met earlier this week with President Barack Obama about international matters, should also discuss this national matter with Obama.
For U.S. life expectancy to continue to go up, obesity numbers have to start going down.
I'll be on a weeklong break with the blog. See you August 31.
Wednesday, August 19, 2009
Almost 20 years later, there's been no justice for the families of those killed in the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland.
If Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi, who is in jail in Scotland, was complicit in that bombing, he should die in prison. Megrahi has terminal cancer and has appealed for his freedom to go home to Libya to die. If he's guilty, why release him on compassionate grounds? Where was his compassion for the 270 people who were murdered Dec. 21, 1988?
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and American families of those killed on the Pan Am flight are among those insisting that Megrahi, the only person ever convicted in the bombing, should stay in jail. Many in Great Britain, including families of the murdered, believe he should be freed, and have questioned the evidence presented at his 2001 trial. But the debate brings up a bigger matter: The unanswered questions of what happened in Lockerbie, and who really ordered it.
Was it Libya? Was it Iran, taking revenge for a shooting down of one of its airliners by the U.S.S. Vincennes months earlier? Was it one of the Palestinian terrorist groups, supported by Iran and/or Syria?
In 1990-91, Syria joined the American-led coalition and Iran didn't object when troops liberated Kuwait after its invasion by Iraq. More recently, the United States has re-opened diplomatic ties with Libya, which offered millions of dollars to the families of those killed in Lockerbie. Whatever they disagree on, families on both sides of the Atlantic do agree on this: The whole truth has never come out, and international politics is the primary reason why.
Jim Swire of Britain, whose daughter Flora died in the bombing, is planning to sue the Scottish prosecution service, reports The Telegraph in Great Britain:
Swire's action should be just a start in re-opening investigations into the bombing and finding out who was responsible for what happened to Pan Am Flight 103. Families who lost loved ones deserve an honest answer.