Thursday, October 29, 2009

Oct. 29: Circumstances May Force Obama's Hand In Afghanistan

By Sylvia Gurinsky

President Barack Obama shows shades of his days as editor of the Harvard Law Review in his decisionmaking over Afghanistan.

Now, as then, he doesn't tip his hand and takes everything into consideration. But Obama has issues now he didn't face in the Ivy League.

The leading issue is the fact that the Taliban's campaign against the upcoming presidential runoff election becomes ever bloodier. Most likely, Obama wants to wait until the results of the runoff are in before announcing what he'll do next. The Taliban likely won't let him.

If he wants to concentrate on Al Quaida, he must recall that it was the Taliban that allowed Al Quaida to roam through Afghanistan and plan the 9/11 attacks. In the weeks before that date in 2001, the Taliban also gave frightening flashbacks to 1930s Nazi Germany with its destruction of ancient sites and its inhuman treatment of people. That hasn't gone away.

World assistance in this mess still hasn't been forthcoming, for all of the praise over Obama's efforts and his Nobel Peace Prize. As the runoff gets closer - and the Taliban gets deadlier - Obama's hand may be forced. In his mind, if not publicly, he needs to have his strategy in Afghanistan decided already.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Oct. 28: In Florida, Fight For Health Coverage May Need Court Action

By Sylvia Gurinsky

There may be something of a public option in the health care bill, after all.

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has seen the light (and probably his poll numbers in Nevada) and warmed to the idea. It's still tough to get everyone on board (U.S. Senator Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut, a former Democrat, has come out in opposition and shown yet again why Vice President Al Gore should have picked Sen. Bob Graham of Florida as his running mate in 2000, but that's another story.).

Should the legislation pass Congress, the fight goes to the states. In Florida, the fight may be with Gov. Dances With Right-Wingers - formerly known as Charlie Crist.

In his misguided attempts to appeal to the extremist fringe of the Republican Party (Every time Crist makes another overture, former Florida House Speaker Marco Rubio gets a point closer to him in the polls.), Crist is calling the public option idea a "Trojan Horse."

This from the man who spearheaded the original Trojan Horse, otherwise known as Cover Florida, which doesn't cover much of anything.

A majority of Floridians will likely accept whatever comes out of Congress, since it's bound to be better than what came out of Tallahassee.

Therefore, Floridians should not take any action that Crist and the Florida Legislature might take against any federal law lying down.

If the current legislation passes, the fight over health care coverage may need to go to the courts. If Crist and the legislature say no to Congress, Floridians should fight them for the right - and it is a right - to better health insurance.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Oct. 27: When In Doubt, Get Out, Mr. Ferre

By Sylvia Gurinsky

Former Miami Mayor and Miami-Dade Commissioner Maurice Ferre is a member of the Miami-Dade Expressway Authority.

Now, Ferre is running for another job: U.S. Senator. That means he's going to be accepting campaign donations. Potentially, there might be donations from people who want work on Dade expressways.

Obviously, the two don't mix.

As Miami Herald political columnist Beth Reinhard reported, Ferre is wondering whether he should step down from the expressway authority while he runs:

The answer here is yes, he should. An expressway authority member or a senator should be able to make decisions independently, without fear or favor. Having one post while running for the other makes that difficult. Ferre is right to ask about the authority job.

He should do more than ask, though. While he's running, he should leave it.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Oct. 26: Obama Must Address Status of Haitians

By Sylvia Gurinsky

TPS. Temporary Protected Status.

It's the Holy Grail for thousands of Haitians in the United States, some for many years. President Barack Obama has yet to say anything about it.

Tonight, Obama is appearing at a fund-raiser at the Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami Beach. Among the protesters outside the hotel are those campaigning for TPS.

Undoubtedly, Obama is concerned about the immediate effect of announcing changes in immigration status, particularly for anyone from Cuba or Haiti. It doesn't take much to get the boats sailing toward South Florida - just a little bit of hope.

He is almost certainly consulting with the familiar face - former President Bill Clinton - who is the United Nations' special envoy to Haiti. Clinton dealt with the issue of immigration for both Haitians and Cubans at length during his two terms in the White House. Clinton recommends granting TPS.

The concern by the Obama Administration is understandable. But that doesn't mean Obama can't address the matter of Haitians who are already in this country - particularly those still in detention.

Obama should make an announcement on their status. The announcement should be simple: TPS.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Oct. 22: Al Tirah: Israel Should Openly Investigate Itself

By Sylvia Gurinsky

Al Tirah. Do not be afraid, says the prayer Jews recite on the Sabbath.

Israel is acting very afraid.

The country is sticking to its strategy in recent years of running, hiding, pointing fingers and snarling in its response to the United Nations report over possible war crimes during the country's campaign in Gaza last winter.

Now, there's no question that the relationship between Israel and the UN is only slightly better than that of the Sharks and the Jets in the musical "West Side Story." But every time the UN says something critical, Israel resorts to the same thing: Criticize back, and get the United States to defend you.

It's gutless. It's unlike what Israel, at its best, has been.

Israel, at its best, is unafraid of anything. Unafraid to be honest with itself and its people about what it does wrong, as well as what it does right.

Unafraid to look at itself in the mirror.

Israel doesn't owe the UN an internal investigation of what happened in Gaza.

Israel owes an internal investigation to itself. To its own people.

To its own reputation.

Al Tirah, Yisrael.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Oct. 21: Previewing Two Important Discussions

By Sylvia Gurinsky

One public discussion planned for this Saturday at Books & Books in Coral Gables will preview another discussion that will be both public and private - the debate by the United States Supreme Court over banning books.

At noon Saturday, Books & Books will host a panel discussion, called "Banned in Miami," about the controversy over the removal of the children's book "Vamos a Cuba" from shelves in Miami-Dade County Public Schools. The discussion, presented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, will include former Miami-Dade School Board member Evelyn Greer, who had opposed the board's decision to remove the books; University of Miami Law professor JoNel Newman and ACLU Legal Director Randall Marshall, the ACLU attorneys who brought the case to the Supreme Court; and Mitch Kaplan, owner of Books & Books, representing The American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression (ABFEE).

ACLU Florida did not tailor the discussion as a debate; there will be no panelists in support of the school board's decision at this event. The organization is willing to set up future debates on the issue.

To recall: The school board approved the removal of "Vamos a Cuba" when questions were asked about the book not addressing the Fidel Castro dictatorship.

Frankly, it's difficult to conceive of an innocuous travelogue, even for children, about a country that has imprisoned and murdered those who dare to speak out, and does not have a free press, free speech or free expression.

But that's exactly why the book should not have been removed from schools.

Through the First Amendment, the United States does advocate those things Fidel Castro does not. At the very least, the book is worthy as a tool of discussion and debate in classrooms.

For the moment, the ban stands. "Vamos a Cuba" is one in a series of books that the Supreme Court will hear about during this term, and presumably rule on next spring.

The panel discussion will begin at noon Oct. 24. Books & Books is located at 265 Aragon Ave., Coral Gables. Call 305-442-4408.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Oct. 20: Get Tri-Rail Funding Resolved First

By Sylvia Gurinsky

It looks like there will be a special session of the Florida Legislature in December to try to resolve the issue of SunRail, the commuter system planned for Central Florida.

Before lawmakers tackle SunRail, they need to resolve the matter of a commuter system that already exists: Tri-Rail.

To recall: Tri-Rail's future is threatened, since its funding issues weren't resolved earlier this year. A big part of the problem is that Tri-Rail's fortunes were tied to SunRail's, and both were tied to the issue of a $2 surcharge on rental cars - a surcharge that ultimately went down to defeat during the regular legislative session.

That surchage may come up again, and so might the opposition. An article by Alex Leary for the St. Petersburg Times (and published in The Miami Herald) goes into a detail that might help the chances of the systems - the federal stimulus package:

Even with that help, politics is politics. And once again, Tri-Rail may be left in peril because of political debates over SunRail.

Every lawmaker needs to note: Tri-Rail exists. Tri-Rail works well in getting South Florida commuters out of their cars and into more environmentally friendly transportation.

Regardless of what happens with SunRail, the Florida Legislature and Gov. Charlie Crist must save Tri-Rail.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Oct. 19: Let's Have Hearings On Reality TV and Kids

By Sylvia Gurinsky

If the story of 6-year-old Falcon Heene, the Balloon Boy Whose Parents Apparently Made Him Cry Wolf, isn't cautionary enough to prompt an official look at so-called "reality shows" and their effects on the children involved with them, nothing is.

The scandal of reality shows is comparable to the game show scandal of the 1950s. It's far worse when children are part of the cast.

I previously wrote on this blog about the Suleman and Gosselin children:

Now, the three Heene sons can be added to the mix.

This issue is serious enough to warrant government involvement. Again, the Federal Communications Commission, U.S. Department of Labor, Federal Trade Commission and Congress need to hold hearings about these programs and children, expose every procedure any television network, studio or production company undergoes with children -and finally prohibit the employ of children on any reality show.

The reality here is that it's child abuse.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Oct. 15: Wanted: Full-Time Elected Officials

By Sylvia Gurinsky

Besides the questions voters and journalists ask candidates for elected office about policy, they should now ask another one: Barring illness or catastrophe, do you promise to serve your entire term?

The latest elected official planning an early exit is U.S. Rep. Robert Wexler, D-Boca Raton, who is taking a job as the president of the Center For Middle East Peace and Economic Cooperation. He will leave his seat in January, a year before his term ends.

Naturally, this is setting off a scramble before a costly special election that will determine Wexler's replacement. Like ants at a picnic, the candidates are coming.

Add this to the premature exits of former U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, not to mention numerous local elected officials who try to jump to bigger things.

It seems to be a new policy among elected officials: Vote for me and I'll serve at least part-time.

Voters deserve full time and attention to the job from those they elect. Those seeking to replace Wexler need to think about that before they officially throw their hats in the ring.

Oct. 14: Media Sniglets On Newspaper Endorsements, Tim Russert and the Newseum, Erin Andrews, Rush Limbaugh and the NFL and "Winning" a Nobel Prize

By Sylvia Gurinsky

*The Atlanta Journal-Constitution is planning not to endorse political candidates. In an editorial the other day, the paper said to readers: You can make up your own minds.

Readers can and do make up their own minds, but they like to hear how editorial boards think. An endorsement doesn't necessarily mean that a reader will agree or disagree, but with a newspaper's still-major role as a community touchstone, it's an important statement.

A newspaper endorsement of a political candidate (or the occasional statement that the bunch that's running is so bad, the newspaper can't endorse any of 'em) is also usually well thought-out - as opposed to millions of words of opinion online these days that pass for fact.

Other newspapers, including The Miami Herald with presidential races, have tried the no-endorsement idea and ultimately reversed course. The reason: These opinions are important.

The AJC should reverse course as well. There are too many ill-informed opinions about elected officials out there. Newspapers still provide informed ones, and they're needed more than ever.

*Being added to the mystifying and overly expensive structure in Washington, D.C. known as the Newseum is a reconstruction of the office of Tim Russert, the late host of NBC's "Meet the Press."


Did he do anything more special than CBS anchor Walter Cronkite or "60 Minutes" creator Don Hewitt, whose offices I could see in the Newseum? Or ABC's Peter Jennings, who also died prematurely? (Disclosure: I was a Peter Jennings Fellow at the National Constitutional Center in Philadelphia last year.)

Plus, all of them were lifelong, full-time journalists. Russert was a political worker who switched to news during the 1980s, part of the "revolving door" that has increased and raised questions about ethics and closeness to sources.

The Newseum has already drawn criticism for its high admission prices and for veering from what made it so popular when it was located in Virginia. If they're going to recreate something, let it be from a more deserving journalist.

*Good column today by Tracee Hamilton of the Washington Post about her own experiences with a stalker:

I agree with her comments about Erin Andrews. Folks, Andrews is the victim here. Period.

*The National Football League should say an unequivocal "No" to any ownership, even partial, by Rush Limbaugh of one of its teams (in this case, the St. Louis Rams).

Some might remember that Major League Baseball threw out Marge Schott as the owner of the Cincinnati Reds after she made anti-Semitic comments. That was one instance. Limbaugh insults most Americans, and most of the world, on a daily basis.

He is toxic. ESPN already tried him, and that didn't work. The NFL should stay away.

*Finally, a style point: How many journalists have said that President Barack Obama "won" the Nobel Peace Prize?

Though people, groups, etc. are nominated for the Nobel Prize, it technically isn't a contest. Authors, scientists and so forth are "awarded" a Nobel Prize. That's the way it should be written.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Oct. 13: Where Is Congress On Wall Street Reform, Now That Wall Street Is Betting Our Lives?

By Sylvia Gurinsky

On Sunday's "NBC Nightly News," senior investigative correspondent Lisa Myers reported on life settlement securities, Wall Street's latest gambling stunt that speculates on how long people with life insurance policies will live:

The report speaks to a bigger concern: The fact that Congress hasn't gotten around to reining in Wall Street for the abuses that brought about the collapse of the economy last year.

The complexity of the issues and the legislation that has been proposed don't help. But there's another problem: There doesn't seem to be a major point person in Congress for whom this is a priority. Without a grand poobah of legislation (in the way, for example, that the late Sen. Edward Kennedy was promoting health insurance changes), reform isn't going anywhere.

To make matters worse, Wall Street firms continue to line the campaign coffers of members of Congress for 2010 and beyond.

The business-as-usual mentality contributes to the continued economic crisis and makes a new Wall Street collapse possible.

Americans sick and tired of CEOs playing roulette with their lives and keeping their bonuses and their fancy mansions and yachts need to visit and, find their representatives and call for reform now.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Oct. 12: With Nobels, Reversal of Fortune For US

Sylvia Gurinsky

With the possible exception of the International Olympic Committee and some right-wing radio and cable television talk show hosts, the world seems to like the United States again.

The awarding of an abundance of Nobel Prizes to Americans, including the honoring (however premature) of President Barack Obama with the Nobel Peace Prize, is a message from the international community, to paraphrase Lady Margaret Thatcher, that "we can do business with them."

The most accurate assessment of Obama's prize may have come from the opening skit on NBC's "Saturday Night Live," when "Obama," played by Fred Armisen, said he received the honor for not being President George W. Bush. It speaks to how much the Bush Administration poisoned the international atmosphere in just about every way possible, including the environment, science and medicine, not to mention diplomacy.

International reaction is as important to America's success in fighting a bad economy, terrorism and global warming as home reaction is. It leads to better cooperation and better solutions.

The Nobel Committee showed it appreciates open doors and open minds. So does the world.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Oct. 8: Florida Must Protect Chinese Drywall Victims

By Sylvia Gurinsky

When even Florida's insurer of last resort won't help, higher-ups need to step in.

As Beatrice E. Garcia and Nirvi Shah of The Miami Herald reported today, owners of homes affected by defective Chinese drywall are having trouble processing claims - and potentially face more problems:

Leave it to those insurance companies, including Citizens Property Insurance, to insure themselves more than the homeowners they're supposed to protect - particularly when those homeowners aren't to blame for this situation.

So far, Florida Gov. Charlie Crist and the Florida Legislature haven't done anything about even regulating Chinese drywall, though the problem came to light almost a year ago. On Tuesday, the Florida Senate's Community Affairs Committee had its first hearing on the matter for next year's legislative session.

Insurance protection for homeowners needs to be added to the agenda of those hearings, along with public safety.

The legislature needs to come up with a solid bill that protects the homeowners and their homes.
Florida residents sickened by the environmental effects of Chinese drywall and squeezed by their insurance companies can't afford any more delays.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Oct. 7: Hello, World? Afghanistan Is Your War, Too

By Sylvia Gurinsky

Eight years ago today, Afghanistan was the world's war. It should still be so.

When President George W. Bush announced the start of military action in Afghanistan on Oct. 7, 2001, he had the support of the entire world.

We know the rest; that support declined with Bush's decision to go into Iraq.

Bush isn't in the White House anymore. But the Taliban is still menacing Afghanistan - and possibly greasing the skids for a new emergence of Al Quaida. Meanwhile, President Barack Obama is trying to decide whether to have a military "surge" in Afghanistan.

The rest of the world could make that decision easier by not making the United States, or NATO, go it relatively alone. What happens in Afghanistan affects them, too. The worldwide terrorist attacks that have followed 9/11 are proof.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Oct. 6: Obama Should Try FDR's Alphabet Soup Recipe On Jobs

By Sylvia Gurinsky

It's the jobs, stupid.

President Barack Obama and economists can say all they want about jobs being a lagging economic indicator, and that patience is needed. It doesn't matter.

Patience is impossible when you can't pay the bills.

Obama has been reading about President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Presumably, that includes FDR's so-called "Alphabet Soup" of organizations created to restore jobs. Those included the Works Progress Administration (WPA) and the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC).

Obama's statements that health care reform, energy reform and the stimulus package would create jobs do no good. That's because America's economy has flipped from bottom-up to the top-down "voodoo" economics originated by President Ronald Reagan and advocated by both Bushes (including President George H.W. Bush, who came up with the "Voodoo" label during the 1980 Republican presidential primary). We now know that a lot of economic success during the Clinton Administration was like steroids: Artificial enhancement.

Obama hasn't seemed to grasp, just yet, that Wall Street won't help Main Street out of this mess. Wall Street will only help Wall Street. But it takes Main Street to really make a successful economy.

Obama needs to go back and re-read his FDR books, and devote 2010 to the theme of job creation - not through second-hand, top-down methods, but through primary methods. Then, either through Congress or by executive order, he needs to create a new alphabet soup of productive jobs for Americans.

Monday, October 5, 2009

October 5: Don't Weaken Shield Law, Mr. President

By Sylvia Gurinsky

Until early last week, President Barack Obama had been repeatedly on record as a champion of freedom of the press. That included support of a law that would protect journalists who have confidential sources.

Then, Obama met with his national security team:

Did Attorney General Eric Holder, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and company drink the same Kool-Aid the Bush Administration did? Sadly, it appears so. And more sadly, it looks like Obama has taken his cup to the punch bowl as well.

Sen. Arlen Specter, D-Pa., is correct: The Senate should approve the bill, Congress should hash out the details in committee as if Obama wasn't backtracking on his support - and the president should be called to question on the record.

A weakened press, in any form, is more dangerous to national security than a million Taliban or Al-Quaida missiles. Congress must pass a strong shield law. And Obama must sign it, not veto it.

Friday, October 2, 2009

October 2: Two Years To Get Streetlights?

By Sylvia Gurinsky

An excellent report earlier this week on my former haunting grounds, WPLG-Channel 10, called attention to Miami-Dade County's very odd policy on placing streetlights in unincorporated neighborhoods. The process can take up to two years:

How many crimes can happen in a darkened neighborhood in two years?

The county's policy is unacceptable and one of the reasons so many neighborhoods in Dade moved to incorporate during the last two decades.

The next light that goes on should be a lightbulb over the head of county commissioners, who must approve a speeding up of this process.

This is an issue not only of government efficiency, but also - and more importantly - public safety.