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.
Tuesday, August 18, 2009
Unbelievably, this is true:
Is anyone else scared of what might happen, God forbid?
I certainly am.
Monday, August 17, 2009
Of all the churches that are to close, including 14 in South Florida, how many could have been saved if the Catholic Church had only saved itself morally during its sex abuse scandal?
During the 1990s and the early part of this decade, the Catholic Church paid out hundreds of millions of dollars to people who said they were abused by priests - money they could have saved, at least in part, if church leaders had come clean in the first place instead of covering for the accused and often transferring them to other parishes.
Now, the church says that because of the economy, it can't afford to maintain all the congregations. In this community, the 14 will be merged into other churches. But parishoners say, and rightfully so, that it's hard to merge cultures, traditions and special qualities that each congregation has.
More than the current economic crisis, the sins of the Fathers - and their overseers in the Catholic Church - from decades ago are to blame for these shutdowns.
Thursday, August 13, 2009
In Florida, it's expensive to do the right thing.
That's why the state should maintain the discounts state residents receive for installing shutters and doing other things to protect their homes from hurricanes.
A story by Beatrice E. Garcia in last Sunday's Miami Herald , however, indicates that insurers are pressuring the Florida Legislature to reverse themselves on the shutter discount:
Essentially, the insurance companies' argument is that the discount is Florida's form of "cash for clunkers" (or in this case, cash for non-clunkers), in that it's been so popular they can't make money.
Somehow, that's hard to believe. There are plenty of Floridians who still haven't put shutters, or any other kind of hurricane protection, on their homes.
Insurance companies may look at surcharges for those who do nothing. If homeowners can afford the surcharge, that's not a bad idea. If they can't, however, that brings yet another problem.
The review the Legislature is currently doing is necessary; any kind of public scrutiny is welcome. But lawmakers should not cave in to pressure - or campaign dollars - from the insurance industry.
In recent years, Florida has been learning how to get hurricane preparation right. Weakening the methods in any way would be wrong.
Wednesday, August 12, 2009
Florida Power & Light and Progress Energy, otherwise known as the state's chutzpah chiefs, want the Public Service Commission to allow them to raise rates as much as 31 percent - but they don't want to disclose how much their top executives make.
Bravo to PSC for making an issue of this. Florida's energy companies must be accountable to the public they serve.
Eunice Kennedy Shriver's son, Bobby, has said that his mother was never elected to any office, yet she changed the world.
Indeed, she did. Her perception was colored by the situation of her sister Rosemary, who was classified as mildly retarded, yet became almost fully incapacitated after a lobotomy.
Shriver founded the Special Olympics in 1968; today, more than 3 million athletes worldwide participate in Special Olympics events. There are winter and summer games. The program has broken down barriers for the developmentally disabled in countries such as China, Iraq and Afghanistan.
Besides her family, Eunice Kennedy Shriver is survived by the millions worldwide who are better off for her actions.
Roberta Fox, who served in the Florida Legislature for 10 years during the 1970s and '80s, made no less of an impression for women trying to move forward. She campaigned for the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment in Florida, which did not happen. However, she accomplished plenty more:
The campaign continues for equal pay and other equal treatment for women. But Roberta Fox blazed a trail that should make those goals reachable.
Dr. Pedro Jose Greer is one of 16 recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Greer reached legendary status at a young age in South Florida for his achievements in medicine. He founded the Camillus Health Concern and redefined the way the homeless in this community receive health care. He left a long legacy of medical students at the University of Miami better for his teachings, and will do the same in his current post at Florida International University's medical school. And has done all these things with a sense of humor that leaves his patients in stitches - in a good way.
Here's to you, Dr. Greer.
Tuesday, August 11, 2009
What's happened to the governor of Florida?
In trying to get elected senator, Charlie Crist is throwing away the playbook he used to become governor in 2006. During the Republican primary that year, he paid little attention to Tom Gallagher, a once-moderate Republican who veered sharply right. Crist played the middle and won the hearts of swing-voting Floridians.
This time, history isn't repeating itself, at least not yet. Crist apparently doesn't like what the polls are telling him about the gap between him and this campaign's designated righty, former Florida House Speaker Marco Rubio, though most newspaper polls put Crist way in front.
Therefore, the governor of all the people is trying to turn into the senatorial candidate for only part of Florida. Crist's public statement that he would have voted against new Supreme Court Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor and his veering away from his energy policy of last year show that he's trying to appeal to some of the voters Rubio has been courting.
In so doing, Crist may turn off at least some of those swing voters from 2006. Somewhere, U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek, the leading Democratic contender for that Senate seat, is taking notes.
Speaking of that Senate seat, Mel Martinez, who currently occupies it, isn't willing to wait around to find out who will win it in November, 2010. He's stepping down.
Martinez apparently has never had a taste for politics, and even less so with the pressures of being part of today's Republican Party. Separation from his family and pressures of caring for an elderly parent apparently added to the decision.
This writer wouldn't mind Crist appointing the man who preceded Martinez - Bob Graham - to serve the remainder of the term. The old, 2006 Crist might have done so. One wonders whether the new Crist will appoint someone who fulfills Florida's best interests - or his best primary election interests.
Monday, August 10, 2009
A lot of members of Congress are baseball fans. So they might try taking a hint from the umpires when people at their health-care town hall meetings turn unruly: Eject them.
The town-hall tantrum throwers are nothing more than rabble-rousers, nothing more than operatives (possibly paid ones, in a number of cases), designed to sabotage any attempt at health care reform. So far, members of Congress in both parties have been shell-shocked against them. Some, including, sadly, South Florida's Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Ron Klein, seem to be resorting to telephone "town hall" meetings.
The behavior of the saboteurs is most harmful to the people, often in the hundreds, who honestly do want to understand what health care legislation Congress and President Barack Obama propose to pass, and how it will affect them in terms of coverage and cost. Those people go to the town hall meetings because they want honest answers to their questions.
At these meetings, if anyone gets out of line, the member of Congress presiding should tell them the basic facts: If they don't behave, they'll be kicked out. Period.
Maybe they'll shut up long enough to remember that 60 million fellow Americans don't have health insurance, and many of them have illnesses that put everyone's lives and livelihoods at risk.
Will members of Congress be criticized for the ejections? Sure. But it's better to be criticized for action than for the paralysis they suffer from now.
Thursday, August 6, 2009
The shooting at an LA Fitness center outside Pittsburgh that took three innocent lives is just one way increasing weakness in gun laws is showing.
Bullied and/or financially buffeted by the National Rifle Association, lawmakers in Congress and across the United States have been removing protections for people in places of business, national parks and other areas that are gun-free. The actions of LA Fitness shooter George Sodini - a man who didn't have a criminal record and had a hate-filled blog that, apparently, nobody read until it was too late - show the perils of opening up locations to people with guns. The problem is that people will bring them. That includes angry people, even those without criminal records. People who, like Sodini, are ready to kill.
The LA Fitness tragedy should give pause to any elected official considering opening up any public forum to guns.
So should a study by the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. One of the NRA's persistent arguments is to "get illegal guns off the streets." The Brady study says that's very difficult for states to do because of the lack of strong gun laws:
Congress and the state legislatures - including Florida's - need to take this report seriously.
If the NRA's argument is that if guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns, the Brady study shows the opposite: More outlaws have guns because more guns aren't outlawed.
And if more places are open to guns, they become inviting targets for more troubled people.
Wednesday, August 5, 2009
The main talk seems to be about the politics of former President Bill Clinton going to North Korea and coming back with freed journalists Laura Ling and Euna Lee. Who benefits. What it signifies about North Korea. What it means for the United States.
The bottom line should be this: What it means for Ling and Lee.
The two journalists work for Current TV, which was co-founded by former Vice President Al Gore, who got Clinton involved in the final trip to bring them back. Ling and Lee were captured in March while they were working on a story. They had been sentenced to 12 years of hard labor.
Enough with the political back and forth. Is there anyone who can rationally argue that Clinton's trip wasn't worth it? The Ling and Lee families certainly think so. They're right.
Laura Ling and Euna Lee are free. That's what counts.
Tuesday, August 4, 2009
It's a simple question, and has been since a woman asked it of Senator Robert Dole during one of the 1996 presidential debates: Why shouldn't all Americans have the health insurance coverage you have in Congress?
Dole agreed, as do many members of Congress when they're pressured at public forums on this issue.
But they won't put federal money where their mouths are - at least when it comes to the rest of the country.
Here's a link to a Chicago Tribune/Los Angeles Times article with details of the health insurance members of Congress get, at taxpayers' expense:
Why doesn't someone do a political ad asking the question, "Why don't Americans get what members of Congress get?"
The disparity between federal health insurance and the average American's health insurance (or lack of it) isn't getting enough attention. President Barack Obama tried to shine a light on it during his press conference, but it was overshadowed by the controversy over his response to the Henry Louis Gates arrest. Too bad. It was a missed opportunity - not by Obama, but by the press.
Funny how universal health coverage seems to work so well for the highest levels of American government. Yet, so many in those highest levels don't want it for the rest of the country.
If Congress doesn't approve a health insurance plan that Obama can sign into law, how about a new campaign - to withdraw Congress' own health coverage?
Maybe then, they'd see the light.
Monday, August 3, 2009
Releasing the list won't solve the problem.
The reaction of a lot of people to the leaking of the names of David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez from that 2003 list of Major League Baseball players who tested positive for an illegal substance is that the entire list should be released.
All that means is that the entire list will be released.
A genuine resolution of the problem of steroids, human growth hormone and whatever other illegal junk baseball players are swallowing, injecting and slopping on won't come without two things:
1) A change of leadership and leadership philosophy in both the MLB Commissioner's Office and the Major League Baseball Players Association,
2) A full, outside investigation of baseball and its national and international leadership over the past two decades.
Today comes the story that two Boston Red Sox security officers, one the son of former Sox second baseman and current announcer Jerry Remy, have been fired for connections to steroid use. They insist they didn't supply players.
Even if that's true in this case, baseball fans with long memories will recall the Pittsburgh drug trials of the mid-1980s, in which a number of baseball stars - and baseball team employees - 'fessed up their guilt in various involvements with cocaine.
Human nature being what it is, it's not hard to suspect that steroid and human growth hormone suppliers are working in, or for, at least some of those clubhouses right now.
Love of money being what it is, it's not hard to suspect that team and players union executives still want to turn their backs on whispers about which stars are involved.
Then there's the Latin America pipeline, which has never been investigated at all. Again, many of those countries don't have the equivalent of a Food and Drug Administration.
While the cocaine addictions didn't stop completely with the Pittsburgh drug trials - Dwight Gooden and Darryl Strawberry's problems with cocaine were still largely ahead of them in 1985 - it did seem to become the exception rather than the rule. That's because baseball had a real leader - Commissioner Peter Ueberroth - who was determined to clean up the sport.
Another commissioner, Fay Vincent, banned steroids from baseball in 1991. Bud Selig, who succeeded Vincent in what was essentially an owners' coup against the commissioner's office, never tried to enforce that ban until the evidence and yells from Congress became too obvious to ignore.
And still the problem goes on. Ramirez, mentioned in that 2003 list, was suspended for 50 games earlier this year. He and others caught continue with their "The dog ate my homework" excuses.
Someone, anyone - a small college, an ambitious federal prosecutor - needs to begin and sustain an outside, comprehensive investigation of what baseball has been doing on this issue since Vincent was deposed.
That 2003 list doesn't contain the names of those who are really guilty in this mess: Bud Selig. Union head Donald Fehr. And many team owners, executives and managers.