Thursday, December 31, 2009

Dec. 31: Four Days That Changed a Decade

By Sylvia Gurinsky

This decade, commonly known as the "aughts," (but labelled by me as the "oys,") is coming to a close. The analysis by journalists, historians and just about everyone with an opinion has just begun.

When all is said and done, three days above all will have influenced this first decade of the 21st Century, and possibly many decades beyond:

*Dec. 12, 2000: The day five members of the United States Supreme Court gave the 2000 U.S. presidential election to George W. Bush - even though Vice President Albert Gore won the popular balloting.

They came to that decision after a month and five days of legal wrangling and a mob scene, a predecessor to today's "Tea Party" groups, that stopped the ballot count in Miami-Dade County.

There's no telling how long it will take to repair the damage the Bush Administration did to this county or to the world.

*Sept. 11, 2001: The day that shattered any illusions about this country's invincibility, in so many ways. A day we are still paying for, and will continue to pay for in the future.

President Bill Clinton warned about the possibility of such a thing almost two years before it happened. Others, including former Senators Warren Rudman and Gary Hart, gave more specific warnings - unheeded warnings - in the months leading up to the attack.

Almost a decade later, a number of Americans either still don't understand, or refuse to accept, this country's responsibilities at home or abroad. Unfortunately, too many of those Americans either have held, hold or aspire to hold elected office.

*August 29, 2005: The day the wool got pulled off most eyes.

That was the day Hurricane Katrina made landfall on the Gulf Coast. That night, a breach in the levies outside of New Orleans led to most of the city being inundated with water by the next morning. Incompetence and apathy at the local, state and federal levels were exposed, for all the world to see.

*Nov. 4, 2008: The day hope won.

Never mind the current struggles. President Barack Obama's election took this country a giant leap forward, into full acceptance of a multicultural society. In some ways, it was a counterpoint to the first two days named in this blog posting.

It was also a reminder that the United States goes forward, sometimes in spite of itself.

May the next decade, somehow, continue to bring this country, and this planet, foward.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Dec. 23: One Nation, One Goal

By Sylvia Gurinsky

One of the solutions to the jobs crisis may lie in something Alex Penelas did almost a dozen years ago.

Penelas, then the mayor of Miami-Dade County, was trying to figure out a way to address the county's tourism-heavy economy and the weebles and wobbles that economy could take. Penelas called a jobs summit in January, 1998. He worked with One Community One Goal, the jobs-creation branch of the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce. Thousands of community leaders attended.

The result was more than a half-dozen targeted areas of work, including health care/biomedical, education and film/entertainment. Progress was made on creating new jobs and luring new businesses for Dade.

A similar initiative could be useful now at all levels - local, state and national. Next month, Florida legislators will have their own meeting about job creation. President Barack Obama will continue his own initiatives.

Penelas spent a lot of political capital during the Elian Gonzalez custody battle and the disputed presidential election of 2000. But there is no question about his acumen for tackling economic issues. At the very least, those trying to bring back the economy should use his jobs formula.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Dec. 22: A Post-Chanukah Carol

By Sylvia Gurinsky

(With apologies to Charles Dickens......)

The health care plan had steamed along toward final approval in the United States Senate, until Ebenezer Lieberman of Connecticut had said no.

The worst part was that Ebenezer, a one-time Democrat turned independent and a one-time almost-was vice president of the United States, would not say exactly why he was now trying to torpedo the legislation. This despite the fact that hundreds of rabbis and constituents chased after him.

The spirits thought about sending the ghost of Al Gore to visit Ebenezer, until they were reminded that Gore is alive and well, kina hora.

Then they thought about sending three latkes - the latke of Chanukah past, in which Ebenezer recalled his childhood as the son of a liquor store owner (Package store? Come on.); the latke of Chanukah present, with the Senate debate over the bill and the latke of Chanukah future, in which Ebenezer would find himself unable to get a minyan together for Shabbat because the other nine men didn't have health insurance.

But then the spirits were told that Sen. Ben Nelson, a Democrat, had a change of heart, and Ebenezer would not be needed - at least for now.

So they'll all be voting on health insurance erev Christmas.


Friday, December 18, 2009

Dec. 18: Journalism Needs More Accuracy and Less Volume

By Sylvia Gurinsky

ABC news anchor Charles Gibson will quietly retire after tonight's newscast.

In an interview that ran in the Washington Post earlier this week, Gibson expressed discomfort with the tone television news has taken recently. As he said, it has become louder and more partisan. It's not something he wants to be part of.

He's right. His departure coincides with the sound and fury over the latest celebrity scandal, that of golfer Tiger Woods, and with the noise that gets made on both sides of the political spectrum about health care, the economy or the war in Afghanistan. That, along with the economic collapse of long-standing media entities, is enough to make one wonder whether American journalism as a whole will ever be good again.

Certainly, there are islands of sanity - National Public Radio and two CBS News programs, "60 Minutes" and "CBS News Sunday Morning," among them. And there are still thousands of journalists quietly doing stellar work for entities ranging from community newspapers to online journalism sites.

But the squeaky wheel gets the grease - or the green, in this case. And there are a lot of squeaky - and low-quality - wheels these days. There are also a lot of people who seem to think the way to "make it" in journalism today is to compromise ethics and give in.

That is not the case. Journalism is as trendy as anything else in American life; just look at Joseph Pulitzer, who went from being the king of "yellow journalism" to creating the ultimate prize representing journalism excellence.

One hopes American journalism, which doesn't look so good today, will eventually undertake a similar march back to respectability. This country needs it. Journalists need to improve their accuracy - and turn down the noise.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Dec. 17: Does Alvarez Expect Scheduled Emergencies In Key Biscayne?

By Sylvia Gurinsky

“What I would tell the people in Key Biscayne is – schedule your fires, if you’re going to have one in your house. And schedule your heart attack to meet the department’s time table."

-Dominick Barbera
President-Elect, International Association of Fire Fighters Local 1403

Barbera was absolutely right in his comments to WPLG-Channel 10. Miami-Dade County Fire Station 15, which serves Key Biscayne, is now closed two days a week because of budget cuts. The closest county station available is in South Miami.

Here's what Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Alvarez had to say:

That excuse simply doesn't cut it, especially after Alvarez made budget priorities an issue by not eliminating the raises he gave many members of his staff. Those raises certainly aren't emergencies.

But the potential for genuine emergencies - unscheduled - is always present in Key Biscayne, which has a lot of condominiums, a school, hotels and the Cape Florida Lighthouse.

That municipality's best bet might be to try to make some sort of a deal not with the county, but with the City of Miami, which has a couple of stations in the downtown area - not far from Key Biscayne, and a lot closer than the South Miami station.

It's already pretty obvious that reaching Alvarez is impossible. He is tone-deaf to true budget needs.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Dec. 14: What Happened To the Security In Italy?

By Sylvia Gurinsky

This wasn't two elegantly dressed gate-crashers at a White House state dinner.

In fact, the attack on Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi yesterday called to mind something far more horrifying and tragic - the 1995 assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin.

Like Rabin, Berlusconi was in a public place. Like Rabin, Berlusconi dealt with a hostile opposition (For wildly different reasons: Rabin dealt with the opposition to his efforts at peace with the Palestinians, while Berlusconi deals with corruption charges and a sex life that apparently rivals that of golfer Tiger Woods.).

An Associated Press story said Berlusconi usually has about 30 security agents around him. But the question of how an attacker could get so close with a souvenir statue will persist.

The memories of the kidnap and assassination of one-time Italian premier Aldo Moro in 1978 and the assassination attempt on Pope John Paul II in Rome in 1981 are still fresh. The attack on Berlusconi should have both security officials and the Italian parliament asking detailed questions.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Dec. 10: Improve Drawbridge Safety In Florida

By Sylvia Gurinsky

Someone interviewed on WPLG-Channel 10 Tuesday had a good suggestion for drawbridges: Crosswalks, with "Walk-Don't Walk" signs when a bridge is going up.

It's possible that such electronic signs might have saved the life of 80-year-old Desmond Nolan, who fell to his death last month when the Sheridan Street bridge in Hollywood, Florida went up. Nolan, who was wearing headphones, may not have heard warning bells. Nolan's family has sued bridge tender Michael O'Rourke and the companies that oversee the bridge tending for negligence; the family says O'Rourke did not take needed precautions to make sure Nolan was safe.

We all know about the cat-and-mouse games cars often play to get across a bridge before the gates go down. But the danger is just as big for pedestrians and bicyclists. And it is more dangerous if, for example, a pedestrian has a handicap.

In Delray Beach, the bridge that crosses Linton Boulevard between A1A and the mainland has a sign warning motorists, bicyclists and pedestrians of the times the bridge goes up. That and crosswalk signs should be the first things on the list for Florida's Department of Transportation, which operates many drawbridges, to review.

The second should be the training bridge tenders receive. They are up there to be the eyes and ears for those in the water and those on the bridge. They need to keep those eyes and ears open at all times.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Dec. 9: Israel Is a Jewish State - But Not a Theocracy

By Sylvia Gurinsky

Add Israel Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman to the list of leaders from that country who have put a foot squarely in their mouths.

At a rabbinical conference Monday, Neeman said he believes Halacha, the Jewish law, should become Israel's binding law - although he later said his words were taken out of context.

They'd better be out of context. Israel was created as a Jewish state, but also as a democracy that protects the rights of all. Israel is not, and should not be a theocracy.

Dec. 8: Tri-Rail Is a Lot More Than a "Choo-Choo Train"

By Sylvia Gurinsky

Maybe State Sen. Gary Siplin of Orlando needs to get away from the area close to Walt Disney World. Perhaps he can take a trip south to the part of Florida that is home to one-third of the state's population.

Maybe then, Siplin can take a look at Tri-Rail, the commuter rail system that links that one-third together - and not refer to it as a "choo-choo train," as The Miami Herald quoted him in today's edition.

Maybe he and most of his fellow lawmakers can comprehend how important Tri-Rail is to Southeast Florida and to those who ride it - usually to work and back. Maybe he can comprehend the blow the local economy - and thus Florida's economy - would take without it.

The bill Siplin and his Florida Senate colleagues are considering would preserve Tri-Rail and help it get needed federal funding. It would also create SunRail, which would provide an equally necessary commuter rail system for Central Florida.

Siplin makes a valid point about Florida not spending enough on education, including higher education.

But students take Tri-Rail, too. They need it. If the Senate kills this bill, does Siplin want to be the one to explain why to those students - and explain to them just how they're going to get to school?

Monday, December 7, 2009

Dec. 7: Jobs Advice Needs To Come From Those Experiencing the Shifts

By Sylvia Gurinsky

It's all well and good that President Barack Obama wants to rely on the sage heads of this country to get people back to work.

But his jobs summit last week also needed to feature more of the unemployed - particularly those who have had to face the altering of lives and livelihoods that had been established for decades.

Reshaping the American economy involves a lot more than saying it is time to create "green" jobs or jobs in new technologies. It involves a lot more than saying workers can be retrained.

It also involves changing the psychology of many of those workers, and that is far more difficult.

If one has been a factory worker, or a journalist, or a travel agent (all jobs in serious trouble in the United States) at the same company for more than 20 years, and that person has lost that job and the benefits that went with it - not to mention the camaraderie and sense of family with fellow workers - where does that person go from there? That's something millions of workers have been learning about during the past few years. It's not as easy as saying "get a new job in a new industry" or even "train for that new job."

Hopefully, as Obama crafts a plan for more jobs, he will go out into the country and hear from more people in that situation - and create a plan that relies as much on them as it does on so-called "experts."


Former U.S. Sen. Paula Hawkins died late last week.

Hawkins capitalized on being an outsider - she had held no previous elected office - to win the Republican senatorial primary in Florida in 1980, and then rode Ronald Reagan's coattails to victory over incumbent Sen. Richard Stone, a Democrat.

Hawkins mainly championed children's issues during her single term. But she was increasingly seen as being out of touch and too close to Reagan's policies for the taste of many Florida voters at the time. In 1986, she faced the state's most popular politician, Gov. Bob Graham, for the race to keep her seat. Graham won and served in the Senate until 2004.

Commenting about Hawkins last week, Graham mentioned that the 1986 campaign was a civil one. That civility and Hawkins' status as a pioneer for Florida women deserve notice - and tribute.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Dec. 3: Sniglets On Salahis, NBC, PBS, PGA and Bobby Bowden

By Sylvia Gurinsky

Of course Tareq and Michaele Salahi don't want to testify in front of Congress. After all, the House Homeland Security Committee won't pay them to do so.

The committee should go ahead with a subpeona, and show the gate-crashing Salahis what a true reality show is.


Aside from the fact that the United States Department of Justice and the Federal Communications Commission may have a few things to say about Comcast's purchase of a controlling stake of NBC Universal, the other disturbing part about the deal is that Comcast is keeping CEO Jeff Zucker.

One wonders whether Zucker knows the skeletons in the closets of those he works for, because it certainly isn't the quality of NBC programming that keeps him in his job.

The feathers have just about all fallen off the once-proud Peacock. The network that gave us Bob Hope, Bill Cosby and Must-See TV has turned into an almost complete wasteland, with only Brian Williams' newscast and the pandering Today show breaking the bleak word on ratings.

The gamble of Jay Leno at 10 p.m. is not working so far, and the same is true of an uncomfortable Conan O'Brien in the Tonight Show spot where Allen, Paar, Carson and Leno ruled.

Otherwise, the prime-time lineup consists of a combination of a couple of shows, including "30 Rock," that appeal to critics and the coasts but not Middle America; leftovers like the "Law & Order" programs - and garbage, otherwise known as reality shows.

It's worse than during the late 1970s and early 1980s, when NBC drew snickers for shows like "Manimal."

Where have you gone, Bill Cosby and Steven Bochco?

Jeff Zucker, unfortunately, is still there. He shouldn't be.


While NBC sinks lower and lower, PBS, normally an oasis of quality, sinks to its pledge drive level - dark and dreary during the holiday season. Is an Ed Sullivan retrospective on rock and rollers the best they can do?

How much would it cost PBS to mine its rich, more than 40-year-old treasure trove of programs, including "Upstairs, Downstairs," classic editions of "Live From Lincoln Center/Live From the Met," "Dance In America" and "Masterpiece Theater" (not to mention Ken Burns' past series) to raise money? It would be a lot better than those self-help infomercials they wouldn't be caught dead running in their normal schedule.

PBS' calls for help need help.


A cautionary note for the Professional Golfers Association as its leaders scratch their heads over what's been going on with Tiger Woods: Remember Tonya and Nancy.

Figure skater Tonya Harding's enlistment of her bodyguard to attack fellow skater Nancy Kerrigan just before the 1994 United States Figure Skating Championships created a scandal and gave the sport a collection of rubbernecking followers for a while - a fallout that artificially boosted figure skating's popularity. When the rubberneckers inevitably drifted away, that, combined with the 2002 Olympic judging scandal, plunged the sport into a commercial abyss in the United States from which it has yet to dig itself out.

The PGA should not rely on scandal to make its money. In the end, it will only hurt.


Finally, so long to Bobby Bowden after 33 years as head coach of the Florida State Seminoles' football team.

Most of his tenure was storybook: Two national championships, multiple honors as Coach of the Year and lots of stars sent to the National Football League.

In recent years, though, the headlines have not been so kind. There was scrutiny of his salary, the highest among State of Florida employees. A cheating scandal may cost FSU 14 wins. Recent seasons were mediocre. Finally, FSU boosters and trustees started making noise that Bowden had to go.

He does go - and deserves to - with his head held high nonetheless.

But it's still impossible for this daughter of a UM alumnus to resist two words: Wide Right.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Dec. 2: Stay Home, Commissioners

By Sylvia Gurinsky

What a generous bunch those members of the Miami-Dade County Commission are.

They don't want the folks at either the Beacon Council, which brings businesses to the county, or the Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau, which brings tourism to the county, to overtax themselves on trips abroad. So the commission created the International Trade Consortium. And as my friend and former colleague Glenna Milberg reported on WPLG-Channel 10 last night, they spent close to $1 million on trips at a time when they've had to cut programs and jobs because of the economic crisis:

Much of the commission still seems to be having a problem relating to the real world most of their constituents - their bosses, let's recall - live in. With these trips, they're not doing anything the Beacon Council and the GMCVB aren't already tapped to do.

That means the International Trade Consortium is redundant. It should be eliminated - and if commissioners really have to go overseas, there are already two organizations they can take a trip with - preferably, one commissioner at a time.

Otherwise, they should just stay home.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Dec. 1: DCF Abuse Hotline Is Not Something To Be Rationed

By Sylvia Gurinsky

Carol Marbin Miller, a top investigative reporter for The Miami Herald, had a stunning article in Sunday's paper about the abuse hotline run by Florida's Department of Children and Families:

For years and going back to the days when the agency was known as the Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services (HRS), there have been serious problems with resources for investigating abuse. Several generations of Florida lawmakers in both major political parties have failed to act to provide necessary funding. Governors have either appointed totally incompetent agency directors, or have had competent directors rejected by the legislature for a variety of reasons.

The conflict and mistakes have led to numerous tragedies. The rationing of abuse calls is the latest example.

Sadly, there's no reason to expect that this Florida Legislature, even if it holds hearings and holds DCF's feet to the fire, will do anything to change the situation. Neither will Gov. Charlie Crist, who is only concentrating these days on how many far-right voters he can woo for his U.S. Senate campaign.

That means the principal responsibility rests with DCF Secretary George Sheldon. He is still reviewing the system. He should listen to child advocates more than to his "quality assurance" team.

The current system of quantity assures that, unfortunately, there's still not enough quality when it comes to DCF investigating abuse.