Wednesday, May 20, 2009

May 20: Sniglets On Green Autos and BSO

By Sylvia Gurinsky

It's only 30 years late.

President Jimmy Carter wanted to mandate improved gas mileage on cars. Had he served two terms, he probably would have succeeded.

Instead, this country got Presidents Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and two Bushes and a rollback of strong mileage standards. That's why Americans have had to wait until now, when this planet is in peril, for President Barack Obama to put the mandate back - with 2016 as the goal.

Of course now, the complaints are that automakers can't build cars with high fuel economy and high safety standards.

That's baloney. Of course they can. They have to.

American automakers have no choice; they need to do it to survive. Automakers in other countries have had higher fuel standards since the 1970s, and while everyone's lost money in the bad economy, those companies seem to be in better shape.

The goal gives a chance for the revitalization of something that's been lost over the last 40 years or so: Good old American know-how.

Henry Ford used that know-how to build his Model T. Other car pioneers made innovations in safety and gas mileage. So what's the problem? Just a lack of guts, apparently.


One has to wonder whether the massive budget cuts planned for the Broward Sheriff's Office are one way in which Sheriff Al Lamberti is forced to clean up the mess Ken Jenne left behind.

Among the 300 employees who could lose their jobs are 40 BSO deputies. Valuable programs could be cut.

Instead, maybe Lamberti should have reversed Jenne's biggest mistake, outside of his ethics violations - all those deals with all those municipalities.

During Jenne's tenure as sheriff, BSO scooped up law enforcement for six municipalities - including Pompano Beach - incorporated before 2000, and went after others. How much money could the Sheriff's Office have saved if Jenne, who resigned in 2007 and went to jail on federal corruption and tax evasion charges, hadn't been so power-hungry?

Lamberti needs to review all of those agreements, and talk with the cities to figure out which ones can pick up police services and which ones can't. It's one thing to provide law enforcement for small communities. It's another entirely to provide those services simply for vanity.


I'll be away from this blog for the next week-and-a-half. See you in June.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

May 19: Abortion Debate Needs Substance

By Sylvia Gurinsky

If his speech at Notre Dame didn't do it, whoever President Barack Obama nominates to replace Justice David Souter on the Supreme Court will definitely turn up the volume on the debate over abortion - again.

At the same time, a majority of a group polled by Gallup identifies itself as "pro-life," and the entertainment world shows timidity in tackling the issue of abortion.

Seems like it's time to throw some substance into the issue.

Those who say they're pro-life generally follow that with: Babies should be adopted if they're unwanted.

That doesn't always turn out to be the case, however. While there's been an increase in the number of parents willing to take babies who are multiracial, with health problems or affected by a mother's illness or chemical addiction, the vast majority of parents still want a cute, cuddly and healthy baby who looks like them. Celebrities don't adopt those unwanted children, either. (When are we going to hear about Brangelina or Madonna adopting an American "crack baby," or one with Down Syndrome?)

We know what that means for the social services system. And we know who pays for it: All of us.

That issue is now as important as a woman's privacy is in the abortion debate. Maybe more important.

Obama put out a nugget in his speech on Sunday when he talked about reducing the number of unintended pregnancies. He and our other elected leaders must talk more about what happens in many cases when those pregnancies take place - and what the consequences are.

The abortion debate should not be one of good versus evil. It should be one of what is in the best interests of American women, the men who are affected - and the children.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

May 14: Obama Had No Choice On Photos

By Sylvia Gurinsky

Someday, the full photographic record of torture of prisoners by U.S. military personnel should be released.

Now is not the time, however.

President Barack Obama is right in listening to the concerns of military leaders in gauging the effect the release of the photos will have on the safety of troops in Iraq, Afghanistan and other Arab countries.

Obama's intentions were good in his initial wish to release the photos. The full record of abuse needs to come out at some point.

That is happening with printed records of what has happened.

Photos are another story. Even in this age of YouTube, we still know the power of pictures to move and motivate - and incite to anger or riot in some parts of the Muslim world. Sadly, there are cases in which cooler heads cannot yet prevail in those areas. And those areas are overseen by American and allied military personnel who are vulnerable.

So Obama's intentions are equally good - and necessary - here. He may ultimately lose in the courts. But as Commander-in-Chief, he has done his duty.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

May 13: From Obama, Some Meaning Amid the Humor

By Sylvia Gurinsky

By now, most of us have laughed at the funny parts of President Barack Obama's speech at the White House Correspondents Association dinner last week.

But Obama got very serious at the end, with words illustrating that he understands that the only profession protected in the United States Constitution is in trouble, and that he also understands what a free and active press means to this country. Here's the excerpt:

"...we meet tonight at a moment of extraordinary challenge for this nation and for the world, but it's also a time of real hardship for the field of journalism. And like so many other businesses in this global age, you've seen sweeping changes and technology and communications that lead to a sense of uncertainty and anxiety about what the future will hold. Across the country, there are extraordinary, hardworking journalists who have lost their jobs in recent days, recent weeks, recent months. And I know that each newspaper and media outlet is wrestling with how to respond to these changes, and some are struggling simply to stay open. And it won't be easy. Not every ending will be a happy one. But it's also true that your ultimate success as an industry is essential to the success of our democracy. It's what makes this thing work.
You know, Thomas Jefferson once said that if he had the choice between a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, he would not hesitate to choose the latter. Clearly, Thomas Jefferson never had cable news to contend with -- (laughter) -- but his central point remains: A government without newspapers, a government without a tough and vibrant media of all sorts, is not an option for the United States of America. (Applause.)
So I may not -- I may not agree with everything you write or report. I may even complain, or more likely [Press Secretary Robert] Gibbs will complain, from time to time about how you do your jobs, but I do so with the knowledge that when you are at your best, then you help me be at my best. You help all of us who serve at the pleasure of the American people do our jobs better by holding us accountable, by demanding honesty, by preventing us from taking shortcuts and falling into easy political games that people are so desperately weary of. And that kind of reporting is worth preserving -- not just for your sake, but for the public's.
We count on you to help us make sense of a complex world and tell the stories of our lives the way they happen, and we look for you for truth, even if it's always an approximation, even if -- (laughter.)This is a season of renewal and reinvention. That is what government must learn to do, that's what businesses must learn to do, and that's what journalism is in the process of doing. And when I look out at this room and think about the dedicated men and women whose questions I've answered over the last few years, I know that for all the challenges this industry faces, it's not short on talent or creativity or passion or commitment. It's not short of young people who are eager to break news or the not-so-young who still manage to ask the tough ones time and time again. These qualities alone will not solve all your problems, but they certainly prove that the problems are worth solving. And that is a good place as any to begin.So I offer you my thanks, I offer you my support, and I look forward to working with you and answering to you and the American people as we seek a more perfect union in the months and years ahead."

Thank you, Mr. President.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

May 12: Can't Anyone Here Run This State? Maybe its students

By Sylvia Gurinsky

A disheartening session of the Florida Legislature - probably the worst in recent memory, and that's saying something - is followed by the unsurprising news of Gov. Charlie Crist running for Mel Martinez' U.S. Senate seat.

If Crist really wasn't inclined to pay attention to overseeing Florida before, now he really won't. Lt. Gov. Jeff Kottkamp, whose ethics problems keep mounting, is no alternative.

All this means Florida will essentially continue its leadership vacuum until January, 2011 - if the state is lucky.

Last week, Howard Troxler of the St. Petersburg Times wrote a great column about ways to reform the legislature:

Actually, take any responsibility for redistricting away from lawmakers - the farther away, the better. But the other three recommendations are good ones.

And one more not given by Troxler: A pick-up on former Sen. Bob Graham's campaign to increase the amount of civics taught to students across Florida.

That campaign should actually become a part of the 2010 political campaign. Graham, who served with distinction from 1987-2004 in the Senate seat Crist now seeks, can certainly apply the heat to everyone running for something in Florida next year.

They all have to prove they can run the whole state, their part of it or the policy that guides it. Making sure Florida's leaders of the future know how to do so is a good way to start.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

May 11: MLB Needs To Investigate Latin American Steroid/HGH Pipeline

By Sylvia Gurinsky

Manny Ramirez' troubles illustrate the holes that remain in Major League Baseball's policing of illegal substances.

There was a missing piece in the 2007 Mitchell Report about steroids and other banned substances in baseball, and it may have been the biggest piece: The Latin American-Caribbean connection.

There is no equivalent to this country's Food and Drug Administration in many of the other countries in the Western Hemisphere. Most ballplayers from countries in the Caribbean and South America go back to their home countries during the off-season, and can easily obtain steroids, human growth hormone and other substances banned from over-the-counter sale in the United States.

Some representatives for the caught players have screamed discrimination against Latin ballplayers. That's nonsense. To the contrary, Major League Baseball is still letting many of the countries its players come from get away with being pipelines for banned substances.

Baseball is big business in those countries. Recruitment of ballplayers starts when they are young (So young, in some cases, that some major league teams have gotten in trouble for signing underage players.). Baseball academies have sprung up like mushrooms after constant rain. For many ballplayers who come from poverty, baseball is manna.

If Major League Baseball is serious about stopping this completely, beyond the 50-game suspensions, it should issue an ultimatum to these countries: Stop the steroids/HGH pipelines, or we leave.

May 7: Mend Dade Transportation Funding, Don't End It

By Sylvia Gurinsky

Anyone who has any connection to public transportation in Miami-Dade County should be angry about how dollars from the voter-approved half-penny sales tax have been abused.

But that is still not a good reason to repeal the tax.

Commissioner Carlos Gimenez asked his colleagues to put a measure on an upcoming county ballot to ask voters to decide on repeal. By 7-4, the commission said no.

There will now be a petition drive to put the measure on a ballot. I suspect the drive will succeed. I hope a ballot measure doesn't.

The reason rests in County Manager George Burgess' comments in a memo, according to yesterday's Miami Herald, about "cataclysmic impacts" if there's a repeal. You'd better believe it. Add the possible effects of repeal to the predicted elimination of Tri-Rail (See yesterday's Sunshine Statements entry.) and you have a disaster.

The county should make changes using former President Bill Clinton's onetime statement about affirmative action: Mend the way the transportation tax is used, but don't end it.

*First, the county should eliminate free rides on Metromover, which goes around Downtown Miami and the Brickell Avenue area, and restore the fee to 25 cents. Money is needed to maintain those cars, the stations and the security, and a quarter wouldn't be too much to ask.

*Suspend any free rides for seniors until the economic need of those seniors can be reviewed. There's no question that many seniors do need to take Metrobus in particular for health and social service functions. Extend the Patriot Passport criteria - free rides for veterans making less than $22,000 a year - to seniors in a similar economic situation.

*Get rid of that busway in South Dade that was never a good idea and is still not needed. The volume of traffic in that area is not heavy enough to justify it.

*Resume efforts at tri-county cooperation with Broward and Palm Beach, which may help save Tri-Rail as well, and communicate with members of Congress and the White House about what might be done at the federal level. Communicate with the state as well, but anticipate that no help will be coming from Tallahassee until at least after the 2010 elections.

*Start planning for future transportation again, including Metrorail extensions to North Dade and (somehow) the beaches.

Those measures have to be for starters, and they must come now, before a petition drive succeeds. Miami-Dade government must work to regain the trust of the people it serves.


A topical sidestep: To the matter of former U.S. Sen. John Edwards and his wife, Elizabeth, who is coming out with a book. I'm not interested in writing about this right now, but I will post a link to a great column by Wendy Button, who was John Edwards' speechwriter:

That says it all.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

May 6: South Florida Democratic Legislators Are Off-Track On Tri-Rail

By Sylvia Gurinsky

We have met the enemy of Tri-Rail, South Florida, and it's some of this region's own Democratic legislators.

Because, according to the Palm Beach Post, they were pressured by unions and because they didn't want the state to be liable for accidents on the tracks, they joined anti-tax-under-any-circumstances Republicans in voting against a bill that would have provided a permanent source of funding for Tri-Rail - a $2 surcharge on rental cars. Because of that, unless a miracle happens, Tri-Rail may have a year and a half to two of survival at most before it's killed entirely.

Many commuters can't afford that. Ridership is up over the last few months for people trying to save money on gasoline. Others don't have a car as a backup plan, and must travel in the tri-county area - some from Palm Beach County to Miami-Dade - using Tri-Rail.

Co-conspirators in this mess are Gov. Charlie Crist, who's spent the session polishing his entry speech into the U.S. Senate race, and legislative leaders in both houses and both parties.

Democratic lawmakers say they're pro-labor. Not judging by this vote. They turned their backs on fellow South Floridians struggling to hold on to jobs. Come November, 2010, angry Tri-Rail riders might turn the tables in the voting booth.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

May 5: St. Stephens - The New Yorker and the Senator, All Over Again

By Sylvia Gurinsky

Preservationists across South Florida still get shudders recalling the demolition, during the 1980s, of the New Yorker and Senator hotels in Miami Beach. The two Art Deco hotels were part of the clarion call for the preservation of that city's history.

The demolished 1912 chapel of St. Stephen's Episcopal Church should be Miami's clarion call.

Holes in city preservation law and blunders by church leaders - the final blunder being their ignorance of calls for a week's delay of demolition while preservationists tried to make their case -came to this.

Sunday's Miami Herald article by Andres Viglucci and Tania Valdemoro said Miami doesn't require a preservation officer or board to approve demolition contracts - unlike, for instance, Coral Gables. That was one reason this structure slipped through the cracks.

But this time, the city, which has actually been improving on historic preservation recently (witness attempts to preserve the Miami Modern hotels and the Bacardi complex along Biscayne Boulevard), made the smaller mistake. The church definitely gets the bulk of the blame.

The biggest blame is that administrators of the church, which is right next door to the historic Barnacle, seem to lack knowledge of preserved history in the Grove and an idea that the old building, if restored, could have served as a landmark site for them.

They could have taken a cue from the Barnacle, the home pioneer Ralph Munroe built in 1891, which is now a state park. They could also have taken a hint from Plymouth Congregational Church, just a few blocks away. That church's campus includes a one-room schoolhouse built in 1889 and moved to the church's campus in 1969.

The church may learn its lessons in answering to outraged members, Grove residents and history lovers. As for the city, its lesson should come with a change in the law: Make every project in the city come before a historic preservation officer or board. Yes, every project. As Miami gets older, more of its history is worth preserving. The city has let too much of it get away.

Monday, May 4, 2009

May 4: Jumbo Sniglets On Outsourcing, Pontiac, Bishop Thomas Wenski and Jack Kemp

By Sylvia Gurinsky

Does the current H1N1 flu epidemic have anything to do with lax procedures from outsourcing?

That has yet to be thoroughly investigated. But it's clear the actions of U.S. companies that outsource anything anywhere must be probed somehow.

A consequence of outsourcing (besides the loss of American jobs) is that companies set up shop in countries that don't have the protections this one has. The merchandise comes back to Americans, but not with the same quality it once had when it was made here. We've already seen that during the last two years with the recalls of merchandise from China.

This is a global issue. If free trade is to continue, President Barack Obama must pressure both U.S. corporations that do business overseas and the leaders of foreign countries to clean up their acts.


It's an illustration of the bad shape General Motor (It doesn't really deserve "Motors" anymore, does it?) is in that it's killing Pontiac, one of its two brands with cars that have the best gas mileage (The other one is Chevrolet. Full disclosure: I drive an Impala.)

Pontiac had a reputation as a sexy car for young adults who spent much of their time cruising around, so perhaps gas mileage didn't mean much to them. But it means plenty today, and GM didn't promote the model properly.


Et tu, Bishop Thomas Wenski?

The one-time South Florida religious leader, who now serves in Orlando, is joining the hue and cry against Obama speaking and receiving an honorary degree at the University of Notre Dame because of Obama's pro-choice stance.

Many Catholic clergy are protesting, but Wenski has a reputation for campaiging for truly relevant matters - particularly the humane treatment of Haitian refugees. His outspokenness against Obama speaking at Notre Dame is surprising and sad.

One wonders if Wenski and many others in the American Catholic hierarchy are being pressured by Rome to protest Obama's appearance in South Bend May 17. Somewhere down the line, the clergy will want and need help on issues they agree on with Obama, most notably AIDS and immigration. What will they say then?


Finally, the tributes to Jack Kemp, who died of cancer over the weekend, illustrate what the Republican Party is lacking.

Kemp served 18 years in Congress, was secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development during the George H.W. Bush administration, and ran for president in 1988 and as Bob Dole's running mate in 1996. He did so the way he quarterbacked the Buffalo Bills in the 1960s - with class and grace.

Kemp, a true-blue (or is that true-red?) Reagan conservative, knew how to argue his case. But unfortunately for the integrity of his party, he didn't win those arguments often enough within the G.O.P.

Kemp reached across the aisle and across demographic divides. While they're paying homage to Kemp, Republicans might take a page from his political playbook.

An ESPN tribute to Kemp yesterday included a link to a letter Kemp wrote to his grandchildren after Obama was elected:

Well done, Mr. Kemp.