Thursday, July 30, 2009

July 30: Successful State Parks Need Maintaining

By Sylvia Gurinsky

Florida's parks are a success story, drawing visitors in record numbers.

It's easy to see why. Go to the park system's Web site ( and take a look. The scenery is beautiful. And the price is right, depending on where one wants to go.

But there are storm clouds, and not just from those afternoon showers.

Thanks to the economy, $23 million was chopped from the maintenance budget for state parks, reports Drew Harwell in the St. Petersburg Times:

It's true that things could be worse - as they are in California, where a number of parks are closing for the time being because of that state's budget crisis. But things could also be better.

Considering how much children and teenagers take to indoor technology these days, the success of Florida's parks is all the more surprising - and welcome. But run-down buildings, malfunctioning equipment and non-native vegetation that goes unchecked will threaten that good fortune.

Success stories don't stay that way without proper support. Florida's environment does not get that help from those who govern the state. The park system can fall into the category of things that are taken for granted.

Gov. Charlie Crist should put together a study group of past and present elected officials who can take a close look at the parks and figure out a method of permanent financial support that is both politics-proof and economy-proof.

Florida's parks and its visitors deserve to know that "The Real Florida" is the best Florida.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

July 29: PSC Should Say N-O To FPL

By Sylvia Gurinsky

Well, Florida Power & Light is having a non-recovery recovery:

This morning, WLRN-FM's local news report indicated that FPL seeks a rate increase of as much as 30 percent from the Florida Public Service Commission.

For obvious reasons, PSC's answer should be no.

FPL may have creative math, but millions of Floridians don't have the same capacity in this bad economy. They certainly can't afford rate increases, no matter how much FPL promises they'll save next year.

FPL executives might want to take a look at the rest of the economy, not just their own. The rest of the economy says: No rate increase.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

July 28: The Other Race Issue: "Birthers"

By Sylvia Gurinsky

President Barack Obama's election and inauguration last January didn't put an end to racism.

Americans got an overt look last week with the arrest of Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates and Obama's reaction to that arrest at his press conference last Wednesday. One's own experiences do influence one's own responses. Obama wrote in his first book, "Dreams From My Father," about his experiences with "DWB," otherwise known as "Driving While Black."

But there's a more subtle form of racism - racism disguised as something else - like alleged concern over where Obama was born.

So-called "birthers" are people who have been questioning whether Obama is a natural born citizen of the United States.

He is. Obama was born in Honolulu, Hawaii Aug. 4, 1961. He does have a birth certificate, and there were notices in both Honolulu newspapers a couple of days after his birth.

His father was born in Kenya, making Obama the seventh American president to have a parent born outside the country. (The others were Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, James Buchanan, Chester Arthur, Woodrow Wilson and Herbert Hoover.)

The facts don't stop many of the "birthers," who supposedly want to see the actual birth certificate, not a copy.

It's possible that some people really are questioning his citizenship. If that is the case, one would hope that if Sen. John McCain, who was born in the Panama Canal Zone, had been elected president, they would have asked the same questions.

But many of the people questioning Obama's birthplace have been coming up with ridiculous claims. And they most likely have another, poisonous agenda.

What they really want is no black president, no president with a heritage that goes back to Africa or a history that includes several years in Indonesia.

What those people are, really, are racists and xenophobes.

Unfortunately, a beer in the White House can't solve that problem, or be an antidote to that poison. But an enlightened reaction among members of the press and Congress can. They need to nip the "birther" campaign in the bud by calling it what it is - hatred.

Monday, July 27, 2009

July 27: Sniglets On National Health and Jim King

By Sylvia Gurinsky

A great report by NBC chief science and health correspondent Robert Bazell about the national obesity crisis led off tonight's NBC Nightly News. It included some words by former President Bill Clinton, whose foundation has spearheaded a campaign to reduce obesity in the country.

Clinton, a one-time fast-food junkie whose 2004 open-heart surgery helped convert him to healthier habits, will undoubtedly do his best. But the most effective campaign could come from the man currently in the White House.

Barack Obama, battles with cigarettes and once-a-month cheeseburgers aside, exercises frequently; the Obama family has been eating a healthy diet, with an emphasis on organic food, in the White House.

Obama runs a country that lost its way to good health years ago. The fitness craze of the 1970s and early 80s has given way to a fast-food craze and record numbers of overweight adults and children. Blame can be spread around and includes the increasing number of restaurants with fried foods and fatty menus, and school districts that allowed soda and vending machines into their cafeterias with expectations that money would be raised for classrooms.

So-called fitness shown on television these days is in exaggerated form (Example: The so-called reality program "The Biggest Loser") and fad diets, instead of healthy ones, are emphasized in media and in bookstores. Another culprit is the number of hours spent in front of computer screens, rather than engaging in healthy activities.

In promoting health-care coverage, Obama has discussed preventive care. He could and should say more about one aspect of that care - diet and exercise. He should also take a close look at The President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports, which hasn't gotten much attention in recent years, and put emphasis on it as a focal point for good health for children and adults.


Farewell to Florida Sen. Jim King of Jacksonville, who died yesterday at age 69.

King, a Republican who was once Senate president, could be infuriating in sticking to the party line at times - sympathy for the family of race-car driver Dale Earnhardt resulted in a vote to close all autopsy records in the state. In 2003, he let party pressure influence him to vote for a law to prevent removal of the feeding tube of Terri Schiavo - a decision he later publicly said he regretted.

But King could also reach across the aisle, with legislation that helped the environment. He had written the "Death With Dignity" law 21 years ago. And his joie de vivre and enthusiasm made friends all over.

So long to a friend of Florida.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

July 23: Don't Blame the Ballpark

By Sylvia Gurinsky

South Florida residents, journalists and politicians all get good mileage out of bashing the Florida Marlins' plans for a new ballpark as the root of seemingly all financial evil these days.

One problem: It isn't true.

The critics have been saying that without the ballpark deal, Jackson Memorial Hospital would have enough money to continue operating. They've been saying that without the ballpark deal, Miami International Airport would have enough money for its renovations.

To say that is to ignore the history of both JMH and MIA. That history includes a great deal of mismanagement. In Jackson's case, former hospital president Ira Clark made some missteps after voters approved a half-penny sales tax increase to support the hospital. Its bureaucracy and facilities grew too much, and not always wisely.

And what can be said about Miami International Airport, whose renovations have been going on longer than the Monroe siblings renovated Oliver and Lisa Douglas' farmhouse in the CBS comedy "Green Acres?" The fact that the airport is looking at slot machines and horse racing - HORSE RACING????!!!!!! - to raise money should tell taxpayers all they need to know about how money is managed there.

Both institutions are important to this community. They do need fixing. But don't blame the Marlins' ballpark for their problems.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

July 22: Does That Coughing Person Next To You Have Health Insurance?

By Sylvia Gurinsky

How many of the more than 1 million Americans diagnosed this year with the swine flu don't have health insurance?

That question is the reason this country needs health insurance reform. In how many cases has a lack of insurance prevented people with what is officially known as the H1N1/09 virus from getting treatment - which puts more people at risk?

See why reform is so important in this country?

In trying to avoid the "my plan first" mistakes President Bill and First Lady Hillary Clinton made more than 15 years ago, President Barack Obama may have veered too much in the other direction, leaving too many of the details up to Congress. That in itself is dangerous.

Obama probably won't get bills passed before the August recess of Congress - his original goal. But he still has time to correct the ship in order to get a plan passed this year.

Senator Edward Kennedy's excellent piece (written with Democratic Party strategist Bob Shrum) in this week's Newsweek on the need for a plan carries the case forward:

The myth that health insurance is supposed to be a business, not a necessity for all Americans, has gotten this country into serious trouble - in the economy and in public health issues.

If you have health insurance, think about that the next time you come in contact with someone who's sick.

Does that person have insurance?

Should that person have insurance?

The answer is yes.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

July 21: Time To Reach For the Stars

By Sylvia Gurinsky

"We choose to go to the moon and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard."
President John F. Kennedy, Rice University, September 12, 1962

The 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing on the moon reminded Americans of how much was accomplished that day in 1969 - and how much this country has yet to accomplish.

The touching down of the lunar module Eagle and the steps astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin took on the moon were triumphs not only of American know-how, but also American will.

What has happened to that know-how and that will?

Companies that were called "too big to fail" actually became too big not to fail. Jobs that were once the expertise of this country have gone overseas. Products that are made here have become substandard. Making money has taken precedence over making quality in many areas, from manufacturing to journalism.

President Barack Obama, who spoke so much about hope during last year's campaign, is struggling with battles to get the economy back on track and a sound health insurance plan. He has to deal with a Congress that's mostly timid - at least when it's not partisan.

How does this country get back, for lack of a better word, the mojo?

It would help to have a history lesson. The seeds for the success of The Greatest Generation - not just in fighting and winning World War II, but also in business and technology and, ultimately, the triumph of Apollo 11 - were sown during the Great Depression.

Imagination and creativity similar to what was shown then will pull this country out of the current funk. Americans have no choice but to do the hard things to get back on track - and once again, to reach for the stars.

Monday, July 20, 2009

July 20: Cronkite Championed Quality Journalism

By Sylvia Gurinsky

Walter Cronkite, who died last Friday at age 92, earned the tributes he has received not just because of his longevity as a journalist - his career stretched back to the 1930s - but also because he was a champion of integrity and the First Amendment.

It is unlikely that a journalist will ever again have the influence and reach Cronkite had as anchor of the "CBS Evening News" from 1962-81. Cronkite did not abuse that power; quite the contrary. Whether the story was the Cuban Missile Crisis, the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy or Martin Luther King, the Vietnam War, the space program, Watergate or the Middle East peace process, Cronkite kept asking questions, kept digging for information and made sure that he informed the public, as any good journalist should.

And if he showed how he felt from time to time, well, that humanized him - his voice breaking on the announcement of Kennedy's death; his enthusiasm 40 years ago today, when lunar module Eagle landed on the moon and Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin took the first steps there; and yes, the February, 1968 commentary that may have turned public opinion on the Vietnam War, and did end President Lyndon Johnson's thoughts about seeking re-election.

During his tenure as managing editor of the CBS Evening News, the network hired a diverse pool of taleneted correspondents, including Ed Bradley, Diane Sawyer and Lesley Stahl. Cronkite, whose wife, Betsy, was also a journalist, helped others break barriers.

Even after he stepped down from the anchor desk, he never really retired, hosting a science program for CBS during the 1980s, continuing to comment on news of the day until recently - and continuing as a champion for a free, ethical and independent American press.

CBS has announced that Cronkite's voice will continue as the nightly introduction for the network's current anchor, Katie Couric. However, Cronkite's most important recent words can be found at the home page of

"Professional journalists gather the news and report it accurately and fairly. They're not influenced by people or groups who have their own agendas. Professional journalists act independently. They seek the truth and report it. They are accountable for the stories they write."

Walter Cronkite did just that. And that's the way it is.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

July 16: Sniglets On Legislative Travel, Miami-Dade's Budget and Reopening a Case In Fort Lauderdale

By Sylvia Gurinsky

Never mind that a number of Florida officials, including the two major candidates for governor, are being criticized for how they've spent the state's money on travel. Never mind that the Florida Legislature has moved to ban out-of-state trips for state employees for the next year. Lawmakers are still traveling:

With apologies to the memory of Karl Malden and those American Express commercials, perhaps the legislature's new motto should be: "Don't leave home." Don't these people know how to take their own advice in a bad budget year?

Apparently not. And it's something voters shouldn't forget next year.


Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Alvarez did one thing right in his proposed budget: Eliminating discretionary funds for commissioners. The money could still be used to support deserving community organizations without being politicized as a system of barter to keep those commissioners in office, which is basically how it's used now.

But Alvarez should have made another proposal: Restore the 25-cent fee to the Metromover system that travels through Downtown Miami and vicinity. A quarter isn't too much to ask in tough times. A lot of those quarters would go a long way in Dade's budget.


The most disturbing part of Julie Knipe Brown's excellent story in today's Miami Herald on the murder of businessman Ben Novack, Jr. is actually the part in which she writes about the death of his mother, Bernice, earlier this year:

Given the details, it sounds like the Fort Lauderdale Police Department needs to go back and re-open this case.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

July 15: Formulas To Fix Baseball

By Sylvia Gurinsky

Unless you're a National League fan, last night was a pretty good one for baseball.

Busch Stadium hosted a terrific, celebratory All Star Game in St. Louis, probably the best baseball city in the United States. Tribute was paid to St. Louis Cardinal great Stan Musial. President Barack Obama threw out the first pitch. The game highlighted a new generation of stars, was competitive and relatively quick.

It was a balm for fans exhausted by Major League Baseball's continuing problems with players who take performance-enhancing drugs, teams whose owners don't seem to care about making them competitive and outrageous ticket prices in a bad economy.

The game's administration and leadership need fixing. One-half of the two toxic forces who did the most to contribute to the steroid crisis - Major League Baseball Players Association Director Donald Fehr - is, at long last, retring. The other half, Commissioner Bud Selig, is hanging on for the time being.

When he does retire, here are some proposals for what baseball should do:

1. Change the way in which the baseball commissioner is selected. Let both players and owners pick their leader. Come to think of it, create an advisory committee also made up of baseball fans, and let them have a say in the process. One more thing: No more baseball owners as commissioners.

2. Any new commissioner should immediately announce a full and uncompromising review of the performance-enhancing drug issue from the mid-1980s to the current time. Such a review must go way beyond the 2007 Mitchell Report and include worldwide pipelines. It must also include all records set in that time. Players found to have used performance-enhancing drugs should instantly be stripped of any records. Teams with a majority of juiced-up players should forfeit championships.

3. A new commissioner also needs to review franchises, such as Pittsburgh and Baltimore, in which the ownership has been unwilling to invest to improve the team and order the owners to sell the clubs if the situation has been ongoing for more than a decade. There is no excuse for once-proud franchises to become anyone's doormat.

4. A commissioner should work with clubs to ensure that fans can continue to be able to afford a day or night at the ballpark for their families. Encourage teams to provide ticket discounts for senior citizens and large families.

Last night was a bright one for baseball. After the dark days of recent years, fans deserve many more of them.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

July 14: Compromise On Rickenbacker Causeway

By Sylvia Gurinsky

The Rickenbacker Causeway should not go all-electronic toll because:

1. Key Biscayne gets a lot of tourists and sometime visitors who do not have electric toll transponders/cards.

2. Motorists aren't alone on the road, as an article in today's Miami Herald shows.

Miami-Dade's Public Works Department has the best proposal, with the combination of electronic passes and one cash lane. That's better than the proposal of County Commissioner Carlos Gimenez, usually one of the best on the dais but in a policy slump recently, with his support of all-electronic tolls on the Rickenbacker (not to mention studying the idea of slot machines at Miami International Airport).

Elected and transportation officials will never be able to force sometime drivers or people who can't afford the monthly fees for electronic devices to get them. Coin lanes need to be an option for the only way into Key Biscayne by car.

As for bicyclists, the county professes to be interested in improving conditions for them. Putting them in a race with motorists zipping through electronic toll lanes won't do that.

The Miami-Dade Commission should adopt the Public Works proposal. Compromise is needed on the Rickenbacker Causeway - among the people who drive it and the people who oversee it.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

UPDATED: July 9: Florida Needs To Address Issue of Sex Offenders' Residency

By Sylvia Gurinsky

What happens once sex offenders have served their prison sentences?

In Miami-Dade County, many of them have settled under the Julia Tuttle Causeway because Dade law states they can live no closer than 2,500 feet to schools, parks or other areas in which children gather.

The county is removing them from under the causeway because of its proximity to a location called Picnic Island #4. Now, the American Civil Liberties Union is suing the county, saying its law overshoots state law, which puts the mark at 1,000 feet.

Meanwhile, almost no politician at a local or state level has addressed the issue of what happens after these people are released from jail. Can they be rehabilitated and reintroduced into society? If not, what happens then? Certainly, chucking them under a bridge is no solution.

When Gov. Charlie Crist was in the Florida Senate, he was known as "Chain Gang Charlie" for a proposal to have prisoners in chains by the side of the road as they did their work. The nickname and proposal earned both scorns and superlatives, but at least he showed some imagination.

Now, Crist needs to show similar creativity - and work with the Florida Legislature and local governments to decide how to make offenders who have served their sentences productive members of society. Putting them to substantive work - and not in substandard living conditions - would be a start. Perhaps creating special work camps for them would be a solution.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

July 8: Palin Is Qualified For Drama Queen

By Sylvia Gurinsky

Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin truly missed her calling. After her beauty pageants, she should have headed for Hollywood.

Instead, she's in politics. After a year-and-a-half of apparently solid governing of Alaska by her, Sen. John McCain made the mistake of picking Palin as his running mate. She was not - is still not - ready to be either vice president or president of the United States. In terms of policy, her knowledge is nowhere near the level of a respected world leader. Worse, she has seemed unwilling to learn, so far.

What she is perfectly willing to do is act like a reality-show contestant in front of the whole country. Whenever there's a personal crisis - generally self-inflicted - or a reporter, blogger or comedian exercises their First Amendment rights to comment on her, she whines, she threatens, she blames everyone else - and generally refuses to take responsibility for anything. That's not the way a stateswoman acts.

Her decision to resign from office and the press conference were just more of the same. It is interesting to note that everyone seems to have the same reaction to her decision that they had to her presence on the Republican ticket last fall - Democrats, Independents and many Republicans in a decision-making position don't like her.

In the case of the Republicans, they're going to ride the horse, though, probably to the 2012 presidential nomination, unless something else unforseen happens, because she seems to have support among the party's rank and file. Sympathies to Republicans who want a more sober - and prepared - nominee who knows how to deal with the responsibilities that come with being a resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

There are Republican women who fit that profile - Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas comes to mind - but at the moment, at least, Sarah Palin isn't one of them. She's qualified for drama queen, not president.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

July 7: McNamara's Piece

By Sylvia Gurinsky

In retrospect, which was the title of Robert McNamara's autobiography, President John F. Kennedy's decision to appoint McNamara as secretary of defense may be one of the most absurd Cabinet choices of the 20th century.

McNamara, the president of Ford Motor Company at the time, was probably more suited to the job President Lyndon Johnson would give him eight years later - president of the World Bank. But Kennedy was floored by McNamara's intelligence and figured he would be successful in changing military tactics.

It sometimes worked - most successfully during the Cuban Missile Crisis, when McNamara's suggestion of a blockade was accepted and executed. But others in the Kennedy Administration, including Secretary of State Dean Rusk, United Nations Ambassador Adlai Stevenson and Attorney General Robert Kennedy, eventually won the day with their diplomacy. (An interesting footnote: A documentary on the DVD of the film "Thirteen Days," which is about the crisis, indicates that during the second week, McNamara, short on sleep and proper nutrition, was becoming unglued.)

But McNamara's military tactics failed big during the Cuban Missile Crisis and especially the Vietnam War, which came to be known, derisively, as "McNamara's War." Despite his autobiography, in which he acknowledged mistakes in Vietnam, and his comments in interviews and the documentary "The Fog of War," he will always be a figure of hatred to many who lived during the Vietnam era.

As time, emotions and the Vietnam generation pass, however, historians, scholars and future political and military leaders will be able to study McNamara's words about the failure in Vietnam and learn lessons from them. Also, future generations will also be able to learn from his World Bank tenure, in which he reached out to developing nations.

Robert McNamara proved the best and the brightest, as many in the Kennedy Administration were known, could blunder. But his actions and words in later life will serve as lessons to those whose job it is to keep the peace.

Monday, July 6, 2009

July 6: Katharine's World

By Sylvia Gurinsky

(Full disclosure: I am a former employee of WPLG-Channel 10, which is owned by the Washington Post Company.)

One of the worst moments of the tenure of Washington Post publisher Katharine Graham came in 1981, in the fallout over an article called "Jimmy's World," about a little boy who was a drug addict. The article, written by a young reporter named Janet Cooke, impressed plenty of people, enough to win a Pulitzer Prize. A day later, Cooke and The Post returned the award when it was revealed that "Jimmy" did not exist. The following week, the paper published an extensive - and honest - study of how Cooke's piece got past the safeguards the paper had established for accuracy and ethics. Executive Editor Benjamin Bradlee, who had led the paper since before its Watergate reporting glories, took the heat.

So did Graham. It was characteristic of both.

This week, Graham's granddaughter, Post publisher Katharine Weymouth, had her own "Jimmy's World" moment with the revelation - in Politico, an online competitor of The Post - that Weymouth had planned various "salons" with Post journalists and Washington bigwigs for sponsors who would pay for the privilege.

That was the problem. Post reporters and editors feared, rightly, that it would compromise their ability to do their work.

The plans have been cancelled. In yesterday's paper, Weymouth published an apology:

It's true her grandmother would frequently dine with political, business and civic leaders, but it was always on Graham's dime. Graham, who had worked for The Post as a labor reporter when her father, Eugene Meyer, ran the paper, did not interfere with Bradlee's running of the newsroom. But as she proved repeatedly during the Watergate era and beyond, she was willing to take the heat when things went wrong.

Weymouth's mother, Elizabeth or Lally, as she's known, is also a reporter, having done numerous interviews of world leaders for Newsweek in recent years. Despite the family history, Katharine Weymouth apparently did not gain any newsroom experience to go with her business experience - a problem common among many of today's newspaper executives. The lack of journalism experience shows.

Weymouth has taken responsibility. For her grandmother, that would have been the final step. For Weymouth, it has to be the first step. She has yet to learn the lessons her grandmother, a widow with little business experience when she took over The Post in 1963, had already learned.

Chief among them: Without integrity, any media outlet has nothing.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

July 1: Bad Gamble For Dade With MIA Slots

By Sylvia Gurinsky

Obviously, eight members of the Miami-Dade County Commission didn't read that Miami Herald article on Sunday about the increase of gambling addicts in the state of Florida.

How else to explain their absolutely birdbrained support of putting slot machines in Miami International Airport?

The reason: Debts from airport expansion, thanks to years of cost overruns and general incompetence. And some county leaders have the chutzpah to criticize the Florida Marlins for their administration? Hey, at least the Marlins keep costs down.

(Speaking of which, shame on Commissioner Carlos Gimenez, long a critic of the Marlins' ballpark deal (which has been supported in this blog) and generally a common-sense vote on financial issues, for supporting this proposal for MIA.)

The full cost - in public safety and social services - of Florida's increasing obsession with gambling has yet to be tallied, but as gambling opportunities go up, that cost skyrockets as well.

The Miami-Dade Commission should not add to that cost by approving a losing plan on slot machines for MIA.