Thursday, April 30, 2009

April 30: New Knights Are Needed

By Sylvia Gurinsky

My recent reading includes a book that's 21 years old: "Knight," a biography of publisher John S. Knight that was written by legendary Miami Herald columnist Charles Whited in 1988.

It's a wonderful read, chronicling Knight's development of his publishing empire. One of my observations was that Knight, who died in 1981, was astute about what was happening to newspapers and where they might go.

Knight was reluctant to have Knight Newspapers go public in 1969, and equally hesitant at the merger with Ridder Publications in 1974. He decried the increasing corporate influence on newspapers and was concerned about executives who did not have knowledge of the journalism side of the business.

The current troubles with newspapers are Exhibit A that he was right. His own company, which became Knight-Ridder, went into a freefall after the successes of the late 20th century and was swallowed up by McClatchy, with some newspapers being sold - including Knight's flagship Akron Beacon Journal, now owned by a Canadian company.

Aside from the issue of the Internet, there is also the result of years of erosion of solid community coverage and understanding.

What will fix it?

New Knights, or new Katharine Grahams - in other words, new people who have knowledge both of the nuts and bolts of journalism and a balance sheet, and commitment to and confidence in the future of their media.

A lot of people have been predicting the death of newspapers and even the death of journalism. Both predictions are premature. Newspapers - in whatever form - and journalism will survive, provided the people who run them and the people who work for them care about the first priority - informing the public.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

April 29: A Little To the Left, Please

By Sylvia Gurinsky

The Broadway production of Irving Berlin's "Call Me Madam" had a song called "The Washington Square Dance." Berlin's lyrics included "Republicans over to the right, Democrats over to the left. The left meet the right and don't explode/Try to find the middle of the road."

Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania knew how to do the dance. But his frustration that his fellow Republicans no longer do finally caught up with him yesterday. Specter jumped to the Democratic Party.

A lot of Specter's political stances are not in keeping with the Democratic Party line, so he had to be pretty upset to make the leap. Pennsylvania's Republicans have pretty much gone the way of the G.O.P. in other parts of the country - increasingly right-wing, intolerant and strident, and thus out of touch with a majority of Americans.

This at a time when President Barack Obama is popular, but his fellow Democratic leaders - U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid - are not. Plus, Pelosi and Reid are not up to the quality of some of their Democratic congressional predecessors - notably Tip O'Neill and Mike Mansfield.

So there is opportunity, but the Republicans have not yet figured out how to exploit it. They can start by going back to their roots. The Republicans were the party of fiscal conservatism, which worked best when President Ronald Reagan was delivering the message.

The social conservatism issue started to creep up when the Rev. Jerry Falwell's Moral Majority backed Reagan in the 1980 election. It's become part of the standard party line. But with shifting national views and the hypocrisy of politicians like Sen. Larry "I'm Not Gay" Craig of Idaho or Alaska Gov. Sarah "I believe in abstinence, but my teenage daughter is an unwed mom" Palin, it means a lot less. It also means a lot less if Republicans are unwilling to compromise with Obama. One of the hallmarks of Reagan's success was that he was willing to work with O'Neill and the Democrats.

Efforts like the April 15 "tea parties" to protest Obama's stimulus package and work on high-tech campaigning may make a bit of traction. Better still will be politicians willing to open their eyes, ears and minds to new ideas. That kind of thinking helped the Democrats come back from the abyss. It will help the Republicans, too, if they're willing to embrace it.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

April 28: Is There a Way To Fix Confirmation Delays?

By Sylvia Gurinsky

Kathleen Sebelius is expected to be confirmed as the secretary of Health and Human Services this afternoon.

Why did it have to take this long?

Republicans have objected because Sebelius, the governor of Kansas, supports abortion rights. Duh. She's a Democrat. What did they expect?

This has been going on since February, when President Barack Obama nominated Sebelius shortly after former U.S. Sen. Tom Daschle of South Dakota, his first pick, withdrew because of tax issues.

It takes this long for the United States Senate to look at Sebelius' records? Come on.

All cabinet posts are important, but this post is one of the most important. The Senate should have moved more quickly on vetting and confirming Sebelius.

The delay sheds light on the problem of delayed confirmations, generally for political issues. There were plenty during the presidential administrations of Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. Obama still doesn't have many critical positions filled.

Perhaps Obama can put his predecessors in the White House and the Senate to work on streamlining the confirmation process and removing politics. The problem with vacant positions is evident in the millions of Americans who are affected by them.

Exhibit A: If Sebelius is confirmed, she will walk right into the swine flu crisis.

Government positions need to be filled - quickly.

Monday, April 27, 2009

April 27: The Monster On the Back Of Your Car

By Sylvia Gurinsky

Now, the issue of the number of Florida license plates really has reached the breaking point:

What started innocently as a tribute to the astronauts who died on the Space Shuttle Challenger in 1986 and as a way to raise money for scholarships has turned, quite simply, into a monster.

Florida has more than 100 types of license plates so far, with no end in sight. Fundraising for worthy groups - the original intent of the plates - has been superseded by vanity and politics.

St. Sen. Victor Crist, R-Tampa (no relation to Gov. Charlie) has suggested ending the specialty license plates and using stickers instead.

Here's another suggestion: Just end them. Period. Especially with this economy.

Florida should have one license plate, and that's it. Find another way to raise money for worthy public schools and organizations - like the Florida Legislature and Gov. Crist funding them properly.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

April 23: Keep Bird Strike Reports Public

By Sylvia Gurinsky

Is the Federal Aviation Administration kidding?

Given the re-emergence of birdstrikes as an issue following last January's US Airways ditching in New York City, how can the FAA even consider making reports about birdstrikes secret?

An Associated Press article Monday reported that the FAA solicited public comment about this proposal. Have they ever gotten it - 5 to 1 against. One of those comments was by Donald Jones of Jacksonville, one of the survivors of the US Airways ditching in the Hudson River. He said, "This issue needs to be addressed openly, not swept under the rug." Agreed. The National Transportation Safety Board, which investigates accidents, also advocates publicity of birdstrikes.

The FAA and the Airline Pilots Association, which also supports making the reports secret, want to avoid panic. The idea that secrecy can do that is misguided. Only openness can do so. The FAA must keep the reports public.

April 22: Would a Subscription To "Yachting" Help?

By Sylvia Gurinsky

In the alternate reality that is the 2009 Florida Legislature, the latest proposal from lawmakers representing their home planets (because they certainly don't represent Florida) is to limit the sales tax on yacht and private airplane purchases while putting a full sales tax on magazine subscriptions within the state.

The argument from lawmakers that the wealthy won't pay any tax on yachts and planes they don't buy in Florida loses traction with people who have been laid off or soon will be.

As for the magazines, legislators argue that if readers pay the full six percent at the newsstand, they should also pay for mail subscriptions. That's not going to cheer workers at print publications already struggling to hold on to subscribers and their futures.

In its alternate reality, the Legislature seems to have forgotten basic reality: People are struggling and need a break. Common sense tax reform is needed. As usual, Floridians aren't getting either relief or sense from their elected representatives.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

April 21: Florida Legislature Is Trying For Permanent Damage To State Democracy

By Sylvia Gurinsky

The clock is ticking. And leaders in the Florida Legislature know it.

How else to explain their dictatorial bent toward Committee Substitute For Senate Bill 956, innocently titled "Relating To Elections"?

The April 16 St. Petersburg Times features all the damage it would do:

Today's Miami Herald mentions the sneakiness in which legislative leaders are trying to pass 956 and a partner-in-crime in the House:

And here's a direct link to the bill, in all its lack of glory:

Republican legislative leaders are in a race against the clock and Florida's shifting demographics. The state is becoming more moderate and voted for Barack Obama last November. Once the results of the 2010 Census are complete, district gerrymandering will likely end many of the good times Florida's G.O.P. has enjoyed since the mid-1990s. That's why they want this so much, and why they're stifling public debate.

Gov. Charlie Crist was typically wavering in his statement about the bill.

Don't waver, Governor. If this bill gets to your desk, veto it - loud and clear. It is bad for democracy.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

April 20: Wasserman Schultz Needs To Also Speak Out About Insurance

By Sylvia Gurinsky

What U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-FL, said in her statement about breast cancer detection angered plenty of people who don't yet believe there is enough scientific proof that women younger than 40 need to routinely be tested for the illness.

But it's what she didn't say where she really goofed. Wasserman Schultz, who has been bravely fighting her battle against breast cancer for more than a year, said nothing in that press conference about health insurance.

That's surprising, because Wasserman Schultz is a strong supporter of universal and affordable health care coverage. In the past, she has filed bills to prevent restrictions on insurance based on where people travel. Last summer, she co-sponsored the Healthy Americans Act to guarantee universal coverage.

She is a cosponsor on a number of bills to protect and improve health coverage, and that includes coverage for those tested and treated for cancer. That's commendable. But she needs to speak out about it more. At this time when so many Americans are losing health insurance coverage, words from Congress will speak just as loud as actions. Wasserman Schultz must again speak as passionately about health insurance as she does about cancer detection and treatment.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

April 7: Protest Perks of FPL Executives

By Sylvia Gurinsky

When the executives and financial stockholders of Florida Power & Light meet in Juno Beach on May 22, all stakeholders - that is, anyone whose power or job relies on FPL - should show up if they can. For a protest. A loud one.

Michael Mayo, the long-time columnist for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, deserves credit for posting the link to FPL's Security and Exchange Commission filing, so everyone can see for themselves what the executives get. Here's Mayo's blog:

And here's the SEC filing:

To save the trouble, go to Page 66, where you'll find the details about that out-of-town, voluntary physical exam in the requisite tiny print.

It's something to think about the next time the lights go out. Or the next time, heaven forbid, a hurricane hits South Florida and your power is out for weeks.

A big part of the problem in the current financial crisis is not just the Bernie Madoffs of the world, who take corruption to extremes. It's executives like the ones at FPL, who seem to not comprehend the lives of people who live in the real world. Those executives stopped living in that world long ago, and can't relate to those people their company is supposed to serve.

That's why those people should show up in Juno Beach on May 22. Yell. Scream. Protest the bonuses and perks the FPL executives get. Floridians deserve better from their power company than to have its bosses act like those at AIG.


Note: I will be off for the next week-and-a-half, and will not post again until April 20. Happy Passover, Easter or two weeks of spring to all.

Monday, April 6, 2009

April 6: With Each Gun Death.....

Sylvia Gurinsky

I'm willing to concede to the National Rifle Association on one point: Guns don't kill people. People kill people.

But an abundance of guns make it a lot easier for people to kill people.

We've seen the examples over and over again in recent weeks, with the latest instance being last week's shooting in Binghamton, N.Y. The shooter, Jiverly A. Wong, killed 13 people, including himself, and wounded four. USA Today reports that Wong was a frequent buyer of weapons:

With each gun death, the NRA's arguments about guns and the freedom to shoot them become sillier and more tone-deaf to reality. With each mass shooting, the need for tougher gun control laws - including a full reinstatement of the assault weapons ban - becomes clear.

Will the Binghampton shootings make the Democrats in Congress develop a spine and reconsider their romantic relationship with the NRA? Or are they still willing to compromise public safety to win re-election to their seats?

Tom Mauser, whose son Daniel was one of the victims in the Columbine High School shootings 10 years ago, was in Maine testifying for stricter gun control laws. Now, 13 other families understand what Mauser does - the price this country pays for its romance with guns. Will elected officials, including President Barack Obama, develop that understanding?

Thursday, April 2, 2009

April 2: How To Pay For Hiking Tuition In Florida?

By Sylvia Gurinsky

Where was the Florida Legislature all those years when people were crying for an increase in the quality of the state university system? Now, when most Floridians can't afford it, they want to give schools the right to hike tuition by as much as 15 percent.

Their timing and their political instinct both stink.

Yes, there needs to be more quality in Florida's 10 universities now that people need them more than ever because of the economic crisis. But there also needs to be a way to protect deserving people who want to go to those schools, but can't afford it. Not everyone gets financial aid.

Wait a minute. Whoever will be the new president of my alma mater, Florida International University, will get plenty of financial aid - a salary somewhere between $500,000 and $600,000 - when students who are potential future university presidents, scientists, doctors, governors, teachers and so forth can't string together $4,000 in a semester to pay for 12 credits.
Talk about inequality.

Here's a thought: Governor Charlie Crist, who likes to tread carefully, should call on several of his predecessors - Bob Graham, Reubin Askew, Bob Martinez and Jeb Bush - to form a panel and put together a report of specific needs for schools and prospective students.

Florida's university system, what it needs and how deserving students can be supported all deserve careful study that can't and won't be accomplished in the two-months of hijinks that make up a legislative session.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

April 1: Foul Ball On Sports Stance Toward Mental Illness

By Sylvia Gurinsky

The very best wishes to former Florida Marlin Dontrelle Willis, now a pitcher for the Detroit Tigers, as he battles anxiety disorder.

And some different wishes for many baseball fans and sportswriters who cover him and have asked questions about him: Stop treating Willis as if he has leprosy.

He joins an estimated 40 million Americans, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, who are diagnosed with anxiety disorder. Most are diagnosed before they reach age 21. Willis is 27.

Major professional sports seem to have a perpetual problem dealing with athletes who struggle with mental illness. In baseball, people refer to a pitcher who can't find the plate as "having Steve Blass disease," a reference to the Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher who suddenly lost his ability to throw strikes. It's an insult to Blass, now a Pirates broadcaster, who's about to celebrate his golden anniversary with that franchise.

It's been difficult for athletes in major sports to emerge from mental illness to become stars again, and it's easy to wonder whether the attitude they face in their locker rooms/clubhouses and in the press boxes is the reason why.

People like Sen. Thomas Eagleton, Florida Gov. Lawton Chiles, Kitty Dukakis, Tipper Gore and more have raised awareness of mental illness. It's time such awareness crossed the lines of sport.