Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Sept. 30: Polanski, Supporters and L.A. Justice System Are All Guilty

By Sylvia Gurinsky

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

Sept. 24: Speaking Of Ethics, What About the PSC?

By Sylvia Gurinsky

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.

Sept. 23: Arrest Fallout: Broward Needs Tighter Ethics Enforcement

By Sylvia Gurinsky

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

Sept. 22: Could Crisis Generate Civil War In Honduras?

By Sylvia Gurinsky

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

Sept. 21: Emmys Reflect Dying TV Breed

By Sylvia Gurinsky

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

Sept. 17: Improved Parent Communication, More Cameras Needed After Coral Gables High Killing

By Sylvia Gurinsky

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

Sept. 16: We Can Spare a Quarter For Dade's Budget

By Sylvia Gurinsky

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.

Sept. 15: Sniglets On Rudeness

By Sylvia Gurinsky

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

Sept. 10: Solution To Public Health Insurance Option In.....Hurricane Andrew?

By Sylvia Gurinsky

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

Sept. 8: Obama's Speech To Students Is Logical; Criticism Is Not

By Sylvia Gurinsky

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

Sept. 3: Why "No New Taxes" Isn't Always a Good Idea

By Sylvia Gurinsky

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

Sept. 1: Save Dade's Best Buy: The Arts

By Sylvia Gurinsky

(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.