Friday, December 24, 2010

Dec. 24: Keeping the Kennedy Spirit

By Sylvia Gurinsky

The end of an era will come in two weeks when U.S. Rep. Patrick Kennedy, D-Rhode Island, leaves his Congressional post. It will end a 63-year tradition of Kennedys in Congress that began with his uncle, John F. Kennedy, serving Massachusetts in the U.S. House of Representatives.

The Kennedy story is well known - probably the best-known story in American politics. Aside from their years of service, however, is the type of service they've engaged in.

Those who have held federal public office - John F. Kennedy, who became the country's 35th president; Robert F. Kennedy, attorney general and senator from New York; Edward M. Kennedy, senator from Massachusetts from 1963 until his death last year; and Patrick, congressman since 1995 - and many other family members have ingrained the ideas of public service to help others in many members of the last few generations. The family motto may just as well be "Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country," JFK's most famous line from his 1961 presidential inaugural address.

It's not a motto that seems to be shared, at least so far, by many of the newly elected people heading for federal and state office, including Florida office, in two weeks.

Those who oppose the Kennedy philosophy have even tried to insult it by labeling it - "liberalism" is one example. Well, if the opposite of liberalism includes meanness, selfishness and bigotry, then the Kennedys are true liberals.

Members of the Kennedy family continue the legacy of public service through countless projects and non-profit organizations. Eventually, members of the "fourth generation" and beyond - the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of John, Bobby and Teddy, as they were known - will likely run for Congress and the Senate again some day.

The question now is how to return the spirit of public service and progressivism to the body family members served for so long. It will be up to those who remember the greatest Kennedy legacy to honor it - and compel their elected officials to do the same.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Dec. 22: Is $4.5 Million (Etc.) Worth It?

By Sylvia Gurinsky

Economics, Miami-Dade County style:

Protest a 12 percent property tax increase by collecting signatures to recall the county mayor and some commissioners by agreeing to chip in $4.5 million for trying to do so.

That's apparently what a special election to vote on the recall of County Mayor Carlos Alvarez and various commissioners will cost.

That's not counting how much yet another special election will cost if voters decide to dump Alvarez and commissioners. In fact, the cost will likely turn out to be a lot more than it would be to just let them serve their terms. Alvarez has less than two years left in his.

Alvarez and commissioners do deserve criticism for what they've done with the county budget. But with one, maybe two, special elections coming up, constituents who support their instant ouster aren't doing much better.

UPDATE: Does Norman Braman, who is leading this tar-and-feather quest, protest too much? Here's a link to Transit Miami. Check out the lead item:

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Dec. 21: DREAMS Denied (Again)

By Sylvia Gurinsky

One of the great head-scratchers of the 111th Congress will be how a United States Senate that repealed "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" managed to vote down the DREAM Act.

Among the "No" votes was Sen. George LeMieux of Florida, who is making noises about challenging his fellow Florida senator, Bill Nelson, who voted Yes, in 2012.

The legislation was bipartisan and meant to help the young children and teenagers in this country who are classified as illegal immigrants. Their parents brought them here. Those children have done nothing wrong; they've grown up here, gone to school here and are ready to give back to the United States. This is the only country they know.

But in 2010, hatred and meanness seems to be the only sentiment many senators know; that's certainly true for those who voted against providing assistance for these young people. It will only get worse as Congress turns over in two weeks.

Immigrant advocates are already putting bull's-eyes on senators who voted No who are up for election in 2012. More voices are needed, though. One should come from the White House, where President Barack Obama certainly has the right to issue executive orders to help youths who would have been assisted by the DREAM act.

Come on, Mr. President. Congress will have little compassion the next two years. This country and its children need you to show more of yours.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Dec. 20: Sniglets On Congress And Almost-Congress

By Sylvia Gurinsky

Democratic members of Congress doth protest too much. They have short memories.

When we read or hear their recent criticisms of President Barack Obama for his compromise on the so-called "Bush tax cuts," let us recall the number of times the Democratic-controlled Congress could have given President George W. Bush the business on domestic and foreign matters in 2007 and 2008 - and didn't.

Where were their spines?


Most members of Congress wait until they're actually in Congress to be investigated for something.

David Rivera hasn't even been sworn in yet, and there are already questions about him.

Rivera won the race in the 25th Congressional district for two reasons: The national anti-Obama mood and an intelligent, capable opponent, Joe Garcia, who ran a lousy campaign.

But now Rivera is under scrutiny for possible ties to a parimutuel, as Scott Hiaasen and Patricia Mazzei have reported:

This issue isn't going away soon. Rivera might want to come clean quickly - or face political and legal winds blowing in an opposite direction in two years, if not earlier.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Dec. 2: Assange Is No Daniel Ellsberg

By Sylvia Gurinsky

There's probably no way for the United States to ever make WikiLeaks creator Julian Assange face justice for any treasonous acts concerning recent posts on the site - not without help from other countries. Assange isn't American, for one thing.

That means the court of public opinion will weigh in on him. Some have called him a traitor. Others have compared him to Daniel Ellsberg, the one-time military analyst who passed along the so-called Pentagon Papers - a look at most of the United States involvement in Vietnam during the 1950s and 60s - to the New York Times and the Washington Post, which published them in 1971.

Calling Assange a traitor may be stretching it, although those who have been leaking to him may certainly deserve the term.

Comparing Assange to Ellsberg is really stretching it. Ellsberg, who is American, paid a heavy price for coming forward with the Pentagon Papers.

Julian Assange may be a criminal, but he's certainly a smart alec, interested less in writing wrongs than in publicity for himself. He is no Daniel Ellsberg.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Nov. 23: Time For El Al Procedures In U.S.

By Sylvia Gurinsky

Why is what El Al does a violation of the United States Constitution while the ridiculously invasive new standards imposed by the Transportation Security Administration are not?

The procedures of El Al, Israel's primary airline, begin once someone buys a ticket. Employees do background checks and connect as many dots as possible.

If they don't find anything wrong with the background checks, the next step happens when a passenger gets to the airport. El Al agents - all with Israel Defense Forces training - ask about who packed the bags, whether anyone else has had them, and so forth.

Besides the answers, the agents are looking at the passenger's behavior and body language.

The background checks and the observance of physical behavior are where El Al evidently gets into a constitutional slippery slope here.

But with the current fuss over the full body scanning machines and patdowns - particularly affected are people with medical problems - El Al's procedures, successful for 40 years, are worth adopting. It's easier to justify profiling than it is to justify the patting down and exposure to radiation of people with prosthetic devices and fluid collection bags.

It's also likely better protection against terrorism.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Nov. 16: The $500,000 Question

By Sylvia Gurinsky

It's all in the numbers.

The debate over whether the so-called "Bush tax cuts" should be extended or dropped could shift on $250,000.

Not necessarily the $250,000 that President Barack Obama has been suggesting for two years as the demarkation line between those who get tax breaks and those who don't. Critics of that number have suggested it's too low because of the small businesses that would be affected.

That may be true. So Obama should raise that number another $250,000 - to $500,000.

Then, to quote the late U.S. Sen. Everett Dirksen, you're talking about real money.

It's half a million. Half a million even sounds different. When it comes to working for or running a business, it is different.

And it might be the necessary dividing line for Obama to offer a compromise on extending the tax cuts to stimulate the economy - and a way for Republican leaders in Congress to show whether they're serious about cutting into deficits.

Whatever they won Nov. 2 hasn't gone into effect yet. Once it does, it will run up against increasingly strident opposition in the Democratic party. Cutting into those deficits will require some sacrifice on the Republicans' part.

The many Americans still without jobs want a fair shake - and they want to know that the richer Americans will pay their fair share.

It can start with Obama and Congress answering the $500,000 compromise question with a firm "Yes."

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

November 9: Trying To Figure Things Out

By Sylvia Gurinsky

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to attend "The Truth About Florida: What We Really Should Know About Planning, Land Use and the Environment," presented by Florida Atlantic University's School of Urban & Regional Planning and the Scripps Howard Institute On the Environment.

It was a room full of intelligent people - municipal and state planners, teachers, students and a few journalists. The planners and teachers communicated the reality of what Florida faces: Continued population growth. Continued tough decisions on planning issues. Continued problems with rising waters due to climate change and lousy land-use decisions in the past.

And the big one: Continued concerns about the decisions of elected officials in both parties.

The most telling quote of the day came from Zhong-Ren Peng, chair of the University of Florida's Department of Urban and Regional Planning. He said, "We are planning for the next 50 to 100 years, unlike a politician who's thinking about the next election."

And usually unlike media who think about the next story.

This week - in this reporter's estimation, probably the worst week for ethical journalism in some time - provided some more things to think about.

Our job got harder for two reasons.

One involves the Florida governor's race, where a bare plurarity of voters elected Rick Scott, whose Florida ties are very new and whose legal past and future are unclear - despite the endorsements by Florida newspaper editorial boards of Alex Sink, a candidate with longer state ties and much stronger ethics.

Another reason involves MSNBC's slipshod handling of Keith Olbermann, first suspending him for donating to political candidates, then letting him off the hook when his supporters complained.

At a time when doing the right (that's "correct" right, not political right) thing is imperative, it seems fewer people are. Worse, it seems to matter less to many people.

Certainly it matters less to media companies who have laid off thousands of hard-working journalists with integrity while paying millions to egotistical blowhards whose partisan voices are as loud as their intelligence level and sense of honor and dignity are low.

That means those of us who believe in ethical journalism and commentary have to work a lot harder at it, and get a lot better at it.

There's a reason we respect Edward R. Murrow and Woodward & Bernstein, and the many journalists who covered the civil rights movement. At the toughest times, they stood their ground for what the press is supposed to do, not for what's fashionable or profitable or favored by the majority.

I'm going to spend the next few weeks trying to figure out how to do so with this blog, and probably incorporate some of the "newer" new media - Twitter, for one - in that effort. So I'll be in and out until January, posting on major topics when necessary.

And always trying to do so with integrity, and without fear or favor to anyone or anything, except the truth. That's what I owe you. That's what everyone deserves.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

November 4: A Thought For Haiti

By Sylvia Gurinsky

Haiti still needs us.

The country is still reeling from last January's earthquake, and now faces new danger from Tropical Storm Tomas.

Remember how you gave after the earthquake. Go back to that source and give again.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Nov. 2: Celebrating a Wordsmith

By Sylvia Gurinsky

Ted Sorenson was President John F. Kennedy's aide, speechwriter and close friend. Until his death Sunday at age 82, Sorenson also protected the Kennedy legacy.

It has been a parlor game to guess whether he or Kennedy wrote some of the most stirring lines of Kennedy's speeches, including the most stirring, part of Kennedy's inaugural speech: "Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country."

The exact source doesn't matter. The sentiment is what counts.

Sorenson was also a crucial advisor to Kennedy at a time when it really counted - during the days of the Cuban Missile Crisis, when Kennedy was trying to communicate the right messages to Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev. At one nail-biting moment, Kennedy ignored a letter from Khrushchev with a hard-line tone and responded to a softer letter; Sorenson is said to have been one of those who advised Kennedy to do so.

Sorenson knew plenty about messages. Those who will be elected to office today would do well to heed his lessons - and those words spoken by his boss on that cold January day in 1961.

Monday, November 1, 2010

November 1: "Hard Times, Not End Times"

By Sylvia Gurinsky

Thank you, Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert and the estimated 200,000 people who showed up at the National Mall on Saturday.

"The Rally To Restore Sanity And/Or Fear" actually served as a reminder that most Americans are sane people, despite the hysteria that contaminates cable networks that call themselves news channels.

"We live in hard times, not end times," Stewart, host of Comedy Central's "The Daily Show," said near the end of the rally.

It's clear that those who attended the rally - and millions more who watched it either on television or online - got that message. Now, it's their turn to spread it.

Monday, October 25, 2010

October 25: Alvarez Is Dense - But Recall Effort Is Overkill

By Sylvia Gurinsky

Is this really necessary?

A year and a half before Carlos Alvarez' second and final term as mayor of Miami-Dade County is scheduled to end, a costly election to determine whether he should be recalled apparently will take place. If voters say yes, another costly election will be held to fill the county mayor's post for that year and a half.

It will cost a lot less to let Alvarez finish his term.

But businessman Norman Braman started this recall effort because of disgust over Alvarez' support of a budget with a tax increase in a recession - while certain county employees continue to get raises. There is also an effort underway to recall Commissioners Barbara Jordan, Audrey Edmonson, Dennis Moss, Natacha Seijas and Bruno Barreiro for approving the tax increases; a sixth commissioner who said yes, Katy Sorenson, will be leaving her post right after the election.

In announcing that he had enough signatures to put the measure on the ballot, Braman made the point that Alvarez is an honest man and not guilty of corruption.

Alvarez is politically dense, though. After the criticisms of last year, when he gave raises to a number of his employees, Braman and many other county residents argue that he still doesn't get it.

The question is whether that denseness is worth this recall effort. In this case, the solution may wind up costing a lot more than the problem.

Friday, October 22, 2010

October 27: Loyalty Oath Just Isn't Jewish

By Sylvia Gurinsky

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, his cabinet and many members of the Knesset have short memories.

In various forms, they're supporting a measure that would require people new to Israel to take a loyalty oath. The argument is that other countries, including the United States, require loyalty oaths from new citizens.

But the equation changes in Israel for several reasons, including the Arabs who live there, Jews who currently have an automatic right of return and people from other countries - both Jews and non-Jews - who have gone there seeking a better life and have been a viable source of labor.

It changes for one more reason: What the Jewish people are supposed to represent.

Loyalty oaths represent a number of sad moments in Jewish history, including forced actions by the Nazis and the high number of Jewish-Americans in show business who lost their jobs and their livelihoods because they were targeted by McCarthyism during the 1950s.

Again, Israel's leaders seem to have forgotten that - and that measures similar to those they're proposing helped generate the conditions that led to the call for a Jewish state in the first place.

The proposal for a loyalty oath by many of the leaders of the Jewish state just isn't in keeping with how a Jew is supposed to act.

The Anti-Defamation League and _____________ are absolutely right to criticize the move by Israel's government to make citizens sign a loyalty oath. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, his cabinet and many members of the Knesset evidently have short memories - about what the Jewish people went through in the Holocaust, about what Jewish Americans went through during the McCarthy era, and about what Jewish American support means to Israel.

October 26: Sarkozy Blew It

By Sylvia Gurinsky

French President Nicholas Sarkozy tried to reverse his softening support by going hard. Now, he's got little support.

If the way he treated gypsies angered not just many in France but also across Europe, then his plans for raising the retirement age from 60 to 62 for budget reasons really tipped the pot.

Like Social Security here, France's pension system is the program with the "Don't Touch" sign. In polls, a majority of the French people have supported those who have gone on strike and used other forms of protest. Though the French parliament is expected to approve Sarkozy's reforms, strikers are expected to continue their efforts.

The last time France had strikes this serious, the legendary Charles de Gaulle was president. Sarkozy was already no de Gaulle before these troubled last couple of months, and with an election looming for him within the next two years, he may face the same fate - defeat - if he doesn't soften his hard line.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

October 21: Harassment Can Take Many Forms

By Sylvia Gurinsky

The phone call Virginia Thomas, the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, made to Anita Hill to ask for an apology for Hill's accusations of harassment by Clarence Thomas in 1991 is, to use a phrase I dislike intensely, a "teachable moment."

It serves as a reminder about harassment in the workplace, and the uphill battle those who endure it must still wage.

Nineteen years ago, Hill had to deal not only with the issues of whatever Mr. Thomas might have done when they both worked in, of all things, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, but with a United States Senate under Democratic control that just didn't get it. Their confirmation of Thomas is still one of the great head-scratchers.

Things improved for a while. But in this age of hyper-partisanship, people are more likely to take Mrs. Thomas' phone call as a political act, rather than the continuation of a nightmare that began for Hill during the 1980s. Hill called the police and the FBI after the early-morning phone call from Mrs. Thomas.

What can the rest of us learn? Harassment can take many forms - and harassment in a phone call should be fought just as mightily as insulting comments on the job.

Friday, October 15, 2010

October 15: Candidates Playing "Duck, Duck" and Other Sniglets

By Sylvia Gurinsky

Shame on Florida gubernatorial candidate Rick Scott and U.S. Senate candidates Marco Rubio and Charlie Crist for not clearing their calendars for debates sponsored by the League of Women Voters that were to air on PBS. The league and PBS were forced to cancel the debates.

Dishonorable mention goes to Pam Bondi, attorney general candidate, for ducking an interview with my friend and former colleague Michael Putney when she came to WPLG-Channel 10 today to tape her two minutes of free airtime given by the station.

What are your excuses for ducking, candidates? Doing your nails? An urgent doctor's appointment? Late catching an episode of "Dancing With the Stars?"

You're running for the right to serve and represent the people of Florida. That means they come first.

Scott, Rubio, Crist and Bondi have proven they can string together coherent sentences, so there's no good reason for skipping out on debates or interviews. It just makes them look gutless.


If a debate that takes place at 7 p.m. airs past everyone's bedtime, does anyone see it?

That's what's been happening with crucial debates in Florida for governor and U.S. Senator. In both cases during the last two weeks, ABC (senatorial candidates) and Univision (gubernatorial candidates) have stuck the debates after 11 p.m. The excuse: Anyone can catch it online.

The most loyal voters are the elderly, who are more likely to use traditional media sources, including television. They're not likely to stay up past 11 p.m., but they certainly have just as much right to see what the candidates have to say as everyone else - and a right to the convenience to see it.

Election time is when television stations really owe a public service to viewers. In this case, Univision and ABC and its stations aren't providing it.


Rick Sanchez' firing from CNN comes about 20 years too late.

He should have been fired - and maybe more- from WSVN-Channel 7 in 1990, when he hit a pedestrian outside Joe Robbie Stadium after a Miami Dolphins game. Police officers inexplicably let Sanchez go home to get his driver's license when they should have cited him for that and tested his blood-alcohol level then and there.

Shame on them and on all, including viewers, who have laughed at Sanchez' dog-and-pony show over the last two decades. It's not funny anymore, particularly for those in the Jewish community who are the latest target of his ignorance.


Will KCET really offer a public service to its Los Angeles community without a PBS affiliation? Doubtful.

KCET, which has been a PBS affiliate for more than 40 years and produces "The Tavis Smiley Show" for the service, announced abruptly its decision to cut ties. Fortunately, there are three other stations in the area that will pick up the slack.

Equally inexplicable is the continuing suggestion that commercial and cable networks do what PBS does.

That's ridiculous. No one else has programs like "Frontline," "The Charlie Rose Show," "Nova," "Nature," "Live From Lincoln Center," "The American Experience," "American Masters" or the "Masterpiece" and "Mystery" rosters.

PBS is an oasis that needs to be preserved.


Good for Major League Baseball for being proactive for once and planning to review the umpiring in this year's postseason.

In fairness, the tension level for umpires to get calls right goes up when the stakes are higher. But the selection and training processes do need to be reviewed, particularly with more postseason games being played. The best teams deserve the best umpiring.


Farewell to Bobby Cox, whose Atlanta Braves lost to the San Francisco Giants in their divisional series, but who departed with typical grace.

It says something that Ted Turner, once the Braves' owner, called his early firing of Cox a mistake, and later hired him back after Cox had led the Toronto Blue Jays to their first division title. Cox, who got his start as a player and coach with the New York Yankees, managed to match that success as a general manager, then a manager - first signing and then leading the nucleus of a team that had an astounding 14 consecutive playoff appearances (13 as division champion), four World Series appearances and one championship, in 1995.

The only question about Cox and the Baseball Hall of Fame is: How soon?


It seems like there should have been more tributes to "Cathy," the 34-year-old comic strip that had its last run Oct. 3.

Millions of women commiserated with the regular girl who went on and off diets, tried on seemingly millions of clothes and shoes and was under pressure from her mother for years to marry and have kids.

Many would say the strip lost some of its relevance after Cathy married long-time boyfriend Irving. Perhaps creator Cathy Guisewite agreed, and from that came the decision to end the strip. She ended in a logical way, with Cathy telling her mother that she's expecting a baby.

So now, Cathy moves on with her life. Those of us who will miss her have just one thing to say:


Wednesday, October 13, 2010

October 14: Miracle in the Mine

By Sylvia Gurinsky

It's a time to rejoice.

The 33 miners in Chile have been safely rescued. They are heroes simply for the grit and grace with which they survived. Their families, their rescuers and those who planned the intricate removal of the miners are also heroes.

But it's also a time to face the reality of the mistakes that led to them being stuck in the San Jose mine for two and a half months. The neglect and cut corners that caused the mine collapse and near-catastrophe must be addressed. Chilean President Sebastian Pinera has promised a full investigation and that such a thing will never happen again in his country.

American politicians and mine owners should take note. The failure both of elected officials to regulate and of owners to follow the law has led to numerous deaths in U.S. mines in recent years. After the miracle in the mine in Chile, there's no excuse for this country to get it wrong anymore, either.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

October 20: Do Not Transfer Control of Miami's Parking

By Sylvia Gurinsky

Just a reminder about that mischief the Miami City Commission placed on city ballots about eliminating the city's Department of Off-Street Parking and transferring control of the responsibilities and money to, well, itself.

Just vote No.

No on transferring the authority from an agency that has run it well to a city commission that will run it into the ground.

No on transferring the authority to a city commission that's addicted to big money from developers with dumb ideas (See the double electronic billboards plan near the Arsht Center.).

No on transferring the authority to a city commission with a mayor who was ready to eliminate funding for the crown jewel that is the Gusman Center For the Performing Arts.

Just vote No.

October 19: Broward Measures All Worth "Yes" Votes

By Sylvia Gurinsky

Voters in Broward County will be deciding on various local ballot issues, most of them regarding ethics reform. Anyone who's been watching or reading news accounts of Broward politicians being led away in handcuffs will know why reforms are needed.

The first measure would actually push back the meetings of the Charter Review Commission and the Management and Efficiency Study Committee to once every decade, instead of once every six years - to make things more efficient.

The second measure would have the county code of ethics overriding any municipal codes. That would set up uniformity in the process.

The third measure would make county officers - the sheriff, the property appraiser, the clerk of courts and the elections supervisor - subject to the county ethics code.

The fourth measure would create an inspector general's office to investigate misconduct and mismanagement.

The fifth measure would expand the Truth In Millage notice to show the portion of property taxes attributable to the county officers mentioned in the third measure.

Broward needs all the help it can get cleaning up its government. A "Yes" vote on all of these measures would start the process.

Monday, October 11, 2010

October 18: What the Tea Party Doesn't Mention: Unemployment

By Sylvia Gurinsky

The Tea Party mentions the deficit a lot. The Tea Party mentions social issues - usually against better judgment and advice.

What the Tea Party doesn't mention is how its candidates for political office would get Americans back to work.

The economy is undergoing its greatest transition not only since the Great Depression, but also since the turn of the 19th century to the 20th, when manufacturing replaced agriculture as the primary moneymaker in the United States. Many economists seem not to grasp this yet, so how about candidates who don't have an economic background?

Well, here's one example: Joe Miller, the Republican nominee for U.S. Senate in Alaska, wants to eliminate federal unemployment benefits because he says they're unconstitutional - even though his wife once collected unemployment benefits after leaving a job.

Gives you a real warm feeling of encouragement about what might be coming Nov. 2, doesn't it?

President Barack Obama warned as early as just after his inauguration that jobs would be the last thing to come back in the economy. It's understandable that anxious voters are grasping for anything that sounds good.

But remember the old saying: It it sounds too good to be true......

A lot of what the Tea Party is saying - and not saying - is too good to be true.

October 13: Principal Cause Of Miami Beach Flooding Is Overdevelopment

By Sylvia Gurinsky

Developer Russell Galbut, whose family has a long and storied history in Miami Beach, is interested in building a shopping and retail center along Alton Road that would incorporate the long-shuttered South Shore Hospital and could help the area.

He may have to build it on stilts.

It hasn't been raining most of the last week, but parts of Alton Road and other areas of South Beach have experienced flooding.

High tides have been getting much of the public blame. Global warming certainly deserves a share of the blame.

But 30-plus years of overdevelopment in South Beach without the infrastructure to match should get most of the blame - along with the many elected officials who approved all that development.

Up through the 1980s, one could enter Alton Road from MacArthur Causeway and not experience any flooding. This writer should know; I went to school in the city for eight years.

Many current Beach residents who came from other parts of the country and the world apparently haven't been here long enough to remember a flood-free history. But they do say that it's never been this bad. And Hurricane Paula now lurks in the western Caribbean Sea, with heaven knows what effects in store for South Florida.

Right now, relief in terms of an updated water and sewer system seems to be roughly a year and a half away. That's not soon enough.

South Florida has been starting to recover the tourists lost when the economy collapsed. But the possibility of having one of the region's crown jewels under water more often isn't going to help that recovery - and will badly tarnish that crown jewel.

This is an emergency. City leaders, as well as Miami-Dade County and Florida environmental management workers, need to figure out a solution now. Stopping new developments in the area until the infrastructure catches up might be a necessary start.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

October 12: Don't Let Balanced Budget Pipe Dream Turn Into National Nightmare

By Sylvia Gurinsky

Because the Florida Legislature's biggest skill is making trouble, it added a straw measure to this fall's election ballot: Should there be a constitutional amendment balancing the budget without raising taxes?

Wouldn't it be nice? Of course it would. But one needs only to look at the last nine years to understand why it would be unrealistic:

Two wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the continuing war against terrorism. The catastrophe of Hurricane Katrina. The economic collapse. The Deepwater Horizon disaster.

Stuff happens, as the kids like to say. Unplanned stuff. If your country is called the United States of America, lots and lots of unplanned stuff. Try handling all that unplanned stuff with a balanced budget requirement and no hikes in taxes or fees.

While balanced budgets are realistic on a state level, a permanent ban on tax hikes even there would instantly cause 50 budget disasters.

On a federal level, it's a pipe dream. A No vote on the straw ballot issue would mean voters are facing reality. Wake up and vote No.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

October 11: Vote No On Florida Amendment 8

By Sylvia Gurinsky

The class-size amendment Florida voters approved in 2002 is just starting to work as it was intended. Now's not the time to blow it.

Amendment 8 would blow it. The amendment, put on the ballot by the Florida Legislature, would allow schools to tweak the class size numbers.

The stated objective is saving money. But the truth is that much of the legislature never supported the 2002 amendment shrinking class sizes in the first place. Sadly, the two major gubernatorial candidates, Democrat Alex Sink and Republican Rick Scott, both support Amendment 8.

Want to know what a smaller class size does? This writer can tell anyone from personal experience, both as a student and as a museum educator. It's a lot easier to communicate to - and with - fewer people. It's a lot easier to pay attention and learn.

Of course, those who want to and those who support the effort have to get past politicians who only seem to believe in noise and chaos. Here's a news bulletin for those politicians: Your strategy not only doesn't work in the classroom, it doesn't work in governing, either.

Hopefully, it won't work at the polls. Vote for Florida's children by voting No on Amendment 8.

October 7: Vote Yes On Florida Amendments 5 & 6

By Sylvia Gurinsky

This is the year voters are supposed to take their government back. In the state of Florida, it can be done with a Yes vote on Amendments 5 and 6.

The two amendments are supposed to put some sanity back in the process of drawing Congressional and legislative districts. It would end the gerrymandering, or drawing of crazy districts to favor a particular incumbent or political party, while also protecting minority voters.

Elected representatives should be community based - and only the community in which the representative lives. That's not the case now. U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, who lives in Miami, represents District 25, which stretches all the way to Naples. District 23, where U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings of Fort Lauderdale serves, covers about half a trip to Disney World - ranging from Miami Lakes to Fort Pierce.

Various power brokers, including Diaz-Balart, who is now running for brother Lincoln's congressional seat in District 21, are trying to put up every roadblock possible for these amendments; he and U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown of Jacksonville have sued to prevent these measures from taking place if voters approve them - with the argument that minorities will be hurt. Yeah, sure. Florida has gotten so diverse in so many communities that any community district drawn will protect minorities.

For sure, Amendments 5 and 6 will protect Floridians from the power grabs of politicians. Voters should say a resounding Yes to both.

October 6: Florida Amendment 4 Could Be Check On Unmanaged Growth

By Sylvia Gurinsky

How much frustration across Florida has led to the creation of Amendment 4, which would allow residents to vote on all local changes to comprehensive land-use plans?

Take some of Miami-Dade County residents' frustrations - constant building on land that should be left as green space; county commissioners' frequent toying with the McAliley Line that's supposed to restrict development; the Miami City Commission's approval of two billboard monstrosities next to the Arsht Center For the Performing Arts - and multiply them by 67 (the number of Florida counties).

Opponents - led by, naturally, developers - have suggested this amendment will lead to 47-page ballots and future voting nightmares.

Here's a different thought: This amendment will lead to what voters want their local governments to have in the first place - some caution when changing plans that will affect the neighborhood or the environment.

So Florida voters should say Yes to Amendment 4.

October 5: Yes On Florida Amendment 2

By Sylvia Gurinsky

Amendment 2 on Florida's ballot would provide a homestead property tax exemption for United States military personnel who were deployed outside the country during the previous year "in support of military operations designated by the Legislature."

Floridians should vote Yes. Members of the military are deserving of a homestead exemption.

But there are caveats. First, the amendment may not go far enough in addressing the contributions of military not serving in hot spots like Afghanistan and Iraq - and the needed aid for veterans struggling with the aftermath of war. With regard to the Coast Guard, the only branch of the military designated to save lives, most of that service happens in U.S. waters. The Guard will not benefit in a big way from this amendment.

There are also legitimate concerns about taking still more money away from the state budget at a bad time economically.

Still, those who serve are worthy of the benefit. So vote Yes on Amendment 2 - but remind those who serve in Tallahassee that everyone who serves this country deserves a helping hand.

October 4: Vote No On Florida's Amendment 1

By Sylvia Gurinsky

So-called "people power" aside, the 2010 election has been turning into the best seats money can buy.

Ever since last winter's atrocious United States Supreme Court ruling opening the moneybags of big corporations wide in political campaigns, the spending in this election has threatened to dwarf the record set in 2008.

Even the so-called "outsiders" running for office this year are people with money and influence. It's still a very difficult road for the ordinary person who wants to run.

That's one reason Florida voters should say "No" to Amendment 1, which would repeal the provision in the Florida Constitution - approved by voters in 1998 - that requires public financing of campaigns by candidates who agree to spending limits.

This was approved in a reform-minded atmosphere - and in the waning days of the leadership of Gov. Lawton Chiles, who set a standard for not spending big money.

Naturally, the Florida Legislature has done mischief with the measure, hiking the spending limit from $5 million to $25 million in 2005 and effectively shutting out non-wealthy candidates.

The provision needs a lot of fixing, and that may need to be done in future ballot measures by petition - or by a lot of public pressure on the legislature and whoever becomes governor.

Many elected officials and would-be elected officials who want to spend big money and see this go away are giving the current budget crisis as an excuse for doing so.

If anything, eliminating public financing will put candidates for public office even more in the hands of wealthy special interests, and disconnect them even more from the people.

That's why Floridians should vote No on Amendment 1.

September 29: Don't Privatize North Broward Hospital District

By Sylvia Gurinsky

The latest "end it; don't mend it" candidate seems to be the North Broward Hospital District, as Bob LaMendola of the Sun-Sentinel reports:

A majority of the commissioners who oversee the district abruptly supported a plan to privatize the district - despite many reservations by the community and on the part of Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, who appoints the board members.

Privatizing what is commonly known as Broward Health will mean just that - closing off meetings, records and many other things to the eyes of the public. Not a good idea for the district, which has a recent history of problems.

The chief reason for privatizing is no good, either: It's good for business. What about being good for the quality of the district's hospitals and patient care?

The only thing that needs changing here is commissioners' thinking on the matter. The next public workshop is tonight at 6, with more to follow. Here's the meeting schedule:

Care about knowing what your local health care system is doing? Go to these meetings - and make your voice heard.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

September 28: Hail the Court Jester Colbert

By Sylvia Gurinsky

In medieval times, when autocratic rulers would issue laws preventing anyone from speaking out against them, the court jester would get around those laws with comedic shtick poking fun at those autocratic rulers.

Thank goodness, in the United States, for the First Amendment. And for comedian Stephen Colbert.

Last week, Colbert went, in character, to Capitol Hill to testify about migrant farm workers. Here's a sample:

Given the criticism by members of Congress from both major parties and Fox News, one would think Colbert had burned the American flag during that hearing (which, by the way, would also have been his First Amendment right, but that's another story).

Many of the same people criticizing Colbert have given support to people like U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson, who heckled President Barack Obama during his State of the Union address earlier this year. They're the same people who have condoned any manner of insult against Obama for everything from his race to his religion and even his location of birth. They're the same people who condone Arizona's unconstitutional tactics towards immigrants, yet haven't done anything to solve the problem.

Colbert, through his appearance, shined a mirror on those people and showed their hypocrisy - like a good court jester should.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Sept. 22: Sniglets On Rick Scott and Harry Reid

By Sylvia Gurinsky

If Rick Scott, the Republican nominee for governor of Florida, was putting together a school assignment, his teacher would have given him a low grade for tardiness.

The assignment, in this case: The release of his tax returns.

Scott and Democratic nominee Alex Sink promised to release them. Last week, Sink did. We're still waiting to hear from Scott.

Scott's financial information is of interest for a couple of reasons: As governor, he would lead Florida in whatever financial direction he wants to go. And as a millionaire who paid for lots of advertising during the primary, Floridians would like to know how he came by that money - especially given questions about his leadership of Columbia-HCA and now Solantic.

Scott got away with playing dodgeball in the primary, but now he's got to face and try to win over voters who don't agree with his ideas. Some openness might help him. He can start by showing those 1040s.


The worst strategy moves of the week may belong to United States Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada. He decided to stick both a repeal of the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy for homosexuals and the DREAM Act, which would allow children of illegal immigrants to get financial aid for school, on a defense funding bill. Everything went down to defeat yesterday.

Reid may not keep his seat in Nevada; in any case, he deserves to lose his status as the Senate's Democratic leader. Such leadership requires more than political strategy; it requires an ability to connect with the electorate. Reid doesn't have that ability.

September 21: Carter Steps Over the Line

By Sylvia Gurinsky

Some months ago, former President Jimmy Carter said an "Al Chet," the expression used on Yom Kippur to indicate one's sins, to the people of Israel.

Now, he owes one to the family of the late U.S. Sen. Edward Kennedy.

Most former presidents, such as Bill Clinton, are relatively gentle in their remarks about political adversaries in memoirs and discussions. Some, such as Gerald Ford, leave the most critical remarks for others to release after they're gone.

Not Carter. He's releasing his "White House Diary," which includes notes he made during his presidency.

Carter was myopic about seeking support from Congress. Both Clinton and President Barack Obama would love to have had the support and quality of congressional leadership - Speaker Thomas P. "Tip" O'Neill of Massachusetts and Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield of Montana - that Carter had during his presidency. Carter didn't make use of that brainpower, though. His go-it-alone approach was one of the things that ultimately cost him a second term.

It also led to Ted Kennedy's eventual disenchantment and run for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1980. Carter hasn't forgiven Kennedy for that run, as he indicates in his book and his recent interviews.

In his autobiography "True Compass," Kennedy, who died in July, 2009, was tough on Carter, with good reason. Carter evidently hasn't forgiven that, either.

Health care reform simply wasn't a priority for Carter, whose one shining domestic achievement was the energy reform that President Ronald Reagan sadly rolled back when he took office. That's likely one of the reasons Kennedy challenged Carter in 1980.

During his political life and since, Carter has made much of his born-again Christian beliefs. He's still got a ways to go in the categories of forgiveness, humility and acknowledging his own mistakes.

Monday, September 20, 2010

September 20: Where's Anger Over Poverty?

By Sylvia Gurinsky

More than 40 years ago, President Lyndon Johnson began a War On Poverty.

America is losing.

U.S. Census figures indicate that one in every seven Americans lives in poverty.

The current economic crisis certainly has pushed the figures up. But it's also symbolic of a long-term mess that actually began after LBJ's anti-poverty campaign did.

The outrage over salaries and bonuses for chief executives of large companies should be mixed with equal outrage for the salaries of rank-and-file workers remaining static since the 1970s. Team that up with outsourcing, downsizing and the biggest elimination of certain occupations as a way of life since the 1890s, and that's how this mess was created.

Tea Party folks angry over the deficit and government spending should be just as angry over corporate non-spending on loyal workers.

Unions that started in the 1800s to fight shoddy working conditions should re-energize in the 21st Century over this issue.

A new War On Poverty is needed - not with more government spending, but with more pressure on Corporate America to get its act together.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

September 16: Kennedy Center: Honor Or Trophy?

By Sylvia Gurinsky

Eyebrows were raised last week when the list of those receiving Kennedy Center Honors for 2010 included Oprah Winfrey.

There is no question of Winfrey's success as a talk show host and entrepreneur.
But the first sentence that describes the Kennedy Center Honors on Google says "The Kennedy Center Honors are awarded annually for exemplary lifetime achievement in the performing arts."

Winfrey has acted occasionally and received a 1986 Academy Award nomination for her role in "The Color Purple." She has also produced various successful films and television dramatic specials.

But to say she's had "lifetime achievement in the performing arts" is stretching things, to put it mildly. If the Kennedy Center wanted to expand the honors to include television producers, it might have done well to honor the recently deceased David Wolper, producer of "Roots" - or it might still honor Dick Clark, who helped revolutionize the influence of rock n' roll with the creation of "American Bandstand."

On the other hand, if those who select the honorees want to stick to the criteria that went into selecting the first recipients - Fred Astaire, Marian Anderson, George Balanchine, Richard Rodgers and Arthur Rubenstein - in 1978, there are almost 100 actors, actresses, dancers, singers, musicians, directors and songwriters they could tap.

Here are some of the so-far excluded: Sid Caesar, Burt Bacharach, Mickey Rooney, Carol Channing, Mary Tyler Moore, Hal Holbrook, Cynthia Gregory, Lorin Maazel, Roberta Peters and Charlie Pride.

The presence of Caesar, Rooney and Channing on that list brings up another problem: The declining age of Kennedy Center honorees. Starting in the 1990s, quite a few of the honorees started getting younger. Winfrey is also in her mid-50s, so the Kennedy Center Honors have gradually been evolving into a mid-career reward, rather than a lifetime achievement. Already, baritone Robert Merrill is one example of someone who was denied the honor before he died. Sadly, more will follow.

Part of the reason seems to be the wish by CBS, which televises two hours of the celebration during the last week of the year, to reach younger viewers in one shot.

If the honors are still around in two or three decades, those who decide them will have to think back on this era, where superficial reality show stars with no talent for anything other than causing trouble dominate the media and genuine talents in music, acting and dance are relegated to the background.

It seems the Kennedy Center has to decide: Will its honors become just another trophy for television ratings, or are they truly meant to celebrate American diversity in the performing arts?

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

September 15: Miami Parking Should Stay In Authority's Hands

By Sylvia Gurinsky

In typical City of Miami fashion, the Miami Parking Authority isn't broken - so naturally, Mayor Tomas Regalado and the City Commission want to fix it by taking over control of city parking.

It's par for the course for a city government that has already threatened to destroy the future of the Gusman Theater in Downtown by withholding money and do plan to wreck the view along Biscayne Boulevard with its approval of two electronic billboard monsters close to the Arsht Performing Arts Center. Why not wreck the parking while they're at it?

The parking authority has been efficient in running the city's garages and lots and have kept a profitable operation that provides relatively manageable costs for those who park.

A handover will likely turn Miami's parking into the same mess as Miami Beach's parking - too expensive and never enough.

It looks like voters will decide the issue Nov. 2. They should say no to this scheme.

September 14: Austerity Must Start With Dade Mayor and Commissioners

By Sylvia Gurinsky

After last year's fiasco over the raises Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Alvarez gave his staff members and the criticisms by a number of county commissioners, why should perks even be an issue?

But they are again, even with a still-troubled economy. Now it's the commissioners who are coming in for criticism, along with Alvarez, for holding on to such things as $800-a-month car lease allowances. The amount of money that could be saved on the car allowances could save a couple of county jobs.

The commission heard an earful in yesterday's public hearing, and they'll hear plenty more before the final public hearing on the budget next Thursday.

According to WFOR-Channel 4, one protester said of the commission, "We tighten our belts. They never do."

Indeed, before Alvarez and commissioners ask anyone else in the county to make sacrifices this year, they should start with themselves.

Monday, September 13, 2010

September 13: Hate Must Always Be Exposed

By Sylvia Gurinsky

As much as most decent people didn't want to see Terry Jones at all last week, he had to be exposed.

Bigots always must be exposed. Jones is, above all, a bigot.

First Amendment rights are limited by the danger they pose, and there was no question that Jones' posturing on whether to burn Korans posed an immense danger worldwide - not just to Americans.

Leaders from President Barack Obama onward were obligated to speak out against the Koran burning. Thankfully, they did - in the United States and around the world.

Also thankfully, millions of Americans used this Sept. 11 for what it's been meant for since the horrific attacks of 2001 - a day for helping others.

Hatred in obscurity and anonymity is hatred that grows, unchecked. Hatred exposed is hatred that can be fought. There were a lot of warriors for good last Saturday.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

September 1: Catch Up On Florida Ballot Questions

By Sylvia Gurinsky

Ballot printers across Florida are still doing the math concerning how many constitutional amendment questions will be on the Nov. 2 ballot. At the moment, the number is six.

To further confuse matters, they are proposed Amendments 1, 2, 4, 5, 6 and 8. That's because proposed Amendments 3, 7 and 9 were stricken from the ballot by the Florida Supreme Court over wording or issues within the ballot questions.

Want to ease the confusion? The Collins Center For Public Policy, the think tank that carries the name of the late, great Florida Gov. LeRoy Collins, has a terrific section at its website that displays and explains each ballot question. It's possible to take a survey, find resources that further explain the issues and discover whatever happened to the ballot questions of 2008.

Here's the link:

Now's a good time to start boning up.


Sunshine Statements will be on hiatus until the week of September 13. I will return with my own views of the 2010 ballot questions.

Happy Labor Day and Happy Jewish New Year!

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

August 31: Pre-September Sniglets

By Sylvia Gurinsky

Some things to think about:

*Somebody with a government attachment might want to start an investigation into the accounting practices of Florida Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria and team president David Samson. The revelation of the profit the team made as Loria and Samson cried poverty while campaigning for the new ballpark now under construction comes as a dismaying surprise to Marlins fans who believed.

Both Miami-Dade County and the City of Miami are asking about re-tooling the construction contracts either for the ballpark or the parking garage - or both. They should.

Samson is simply lying when he says the county knew. If the county had known, someone like retiring Commissioner Katy Sorenson, an honest and honorable person, would have said so during the negotiation process. It speaks to how much Sorenson will be missed when her successor is picked on Election Day.

A public investigation is needed, because heaven knows Major League Baseball's fearless leader, Bud Selig, won't conduct one. Questions should also be asked about what he knew, given that he and the Major League Baseball Players Association rapped the Marlins' knuckles last winter for not spending enough on players.


*A time for reflection during the weekend, as the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina's landfall along the Gulf Coast was observed.

Have Americans learned anything?

About disaster preparedness, perhaps. About the other major issue of Katrina - race - maybe not, given the level of hate currently in the country.


Too many states and the federal government haven't learned that one size doesn't fit all in education, either with students or teachers.

Many teachers in the Los Angeles area are angry at The Los Angeles Times for publishing a database of teachers between third and fifth grades. The teachers are ranked for their ability to raise test scores.

Testing as education policy has been going on across the United States during the last decade-and-a-half - during the same time as the U.S. rankings in the world for students' knowledge, college success and genuine education standards have been declining.

That's not coincidence. If children are learning only how to take tests, they aren't learning what they need to know in order to function in the world.


A slap on the hand to Anthony Horowitz, writer of the "Alex Rider" novels and creator of the marvelous television series "Foyle's War," for a very dumb comment about singer Susan Boyle.

Horowitz has complained about reality television shows, and he has reason to be angry: Greenlit Productions, created and run until recently by his wife, Jill Green, had produced "Foyle's War." But in a series of business moves in the United Kingdom, a mega-company that had purchased Greenlit basically threw the company under a bus; it filed for bankruptcy. Jill Green is now trying to get back the rights to "Foyle's War."

But that doesn't excuse Horowitz' recent comments about Boyle's weight and looks. Boyle, who has had her struggles in life, has a glorious singing voice, discovered last year on the program "Britain's Got Talent."

Boyle isn't what's wrong with reality shows. What's wrong are the numbers of exploitative television executives, producers and - in the case of shows with children - parents willing to do anything for money.

But what's wrong with traditional television folk like Horowitz is a narrow-minded, backwards view of who has the looks to be on TV. He owes Susan Boyle an apology.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

August 26: Muslim and Obama Slams Are Bigotry

By Sylvia Gurinsky

The good news is that the time has apparently passed when well-respected community leaders could string up people of different colors and religions from a tree and lynch them.

The bad news is that they still have a tendency to slander those people, or try to put an insulting twist on a label.

In the wake of President Barack Obama defending the constitutional right of a Muslim group to build Park 51/Cordoba House two blocks away from the site of the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center, right-wingers are trying to insult Obama – and gain points with bigoted voters – by calling him Muslim.

It’s comparable to President Harry Truman once being called Jewish, whether it was because his maternal grandfather's first name was Solomon, or because of Truman's one-time business partner, Eddie Jacobson, who was Jewish and who helped influence Truman to recognize the State of Israel in 1948. Obama should react, and probably will, the way Truman did: He’s not Muslim, but if he was, he wouldn't be ashamed of it.

But the Muslim community, most of whom are law-abiding and patriotic Americans, are rightly angry at this slandering of them.

One of the slanderers is Franklin Graham, ordained as a minister, but tarring the legacy of most American ministers, not to mention that of his father, the Rev. Billy Graham, with his behavior in this. His father, known among other things as the minister to presidents, has spent his life reaching out to people. Sadly, Franklin Graham seems to be painting his legacy as a divider with his contradictory statements about his perception of Obama's religious beliefs.

Credit goes to those in the traditional media, usually timid about calling a spade a spade, who came out last week and criticized the religion baiting.

They called it exactly what it is: Bigotry.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

August 25: South and West Broward Need More Driver License Offices

By Sylvia Gurinsky

A few days ago, Bill Kaczor of the Associated Press wrote an article about how Florida is trying to shorten waiting times for residents trying to get or renew licenses following expanded requirements for identification.

In southern and western Broward County, the answer should be a few new drivers license offices.

Right now, residents of Hallandale, Hollywood, Miramar, Pembroke Pines, Pembroke Park, Southwest Ranches and West Park have just one full-service office in their area, on the corner of Pembroke Road and University Drive in Pembroke Pines. There are always heavy lines.

Another facility has opened at the American Automobile Association office west of Interstate 75 on Pines Boulevard, also in Pembroke Pines. It's a start at relieving the lines, but written and driving tests aren't given there.

Development of drivers license offices in Broward hasn't kept up with the population growth into those communities, Weston or Coral Springs. A look at the list of full-service offices shows that they seem to have stopped somewhere in 1969, when much of Broward's population lived in the eastern parts of the county. Other than the Pembroke Pines offices, Broward's only other drivers license office location west of Florida's Turnpike is in Lauderhill.

Whoever represents Broward in next year's Florida Legislature needs to make that point to their budget-writing colleagues and whoever becomes governor. It's time to move the county's drivers license services into the 21st century.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

August 24: Help Preserve Fort Lauderdale's Character

By Sylvia Gurinsky

The occasional knuckleheaded move ( aside, the city of Miami has started learning to plan wisely.

Fort Lauderdale has a chance for similar wisdom. For most of tomorrow, its residents will have a chance to head to the city's Planning Department and look at proposed laws for development.

The objective is to preserve the character of the city's neighborhoods. Fort Lauderdale is still Broward County's most beautiful city. But in recent years, it's had problems preserving some of that beauty. After a successful growth period during the 1980s and early 90s, budget and leadership crises, mega-construction and fiascoes such as Las Olas Riverfront took the bloom off.

Fortunately, the city now seems headed in the right direction, and residents can help keep it that way by attending tomorrow's open house and communicating their wishes during the process that will continue into the fall.

Monday, August 23, 2010

August 23: No On Eliminating Miami-Dade Manager, Letting Commissioners Set Rates

By Sylvia Gurinsky

Things have recently been quieter in Miami-Dade County's government than in neighboring Broward County's. That could change with two amendments that are very bad ideas.

*The first amendment would eliminate the post of the county manager in 2012 because of the creation of a strong mayor.

Voters in Dade should say No to that amendment, which would politicize the county's largest employer. The position of county manager ensures that a professional is overseeing the many twists and turns of government, and has full attention on those twists and turns, rather than on the next election.

There are currently safeguards in place to ensure that an incompetent manager is removed. If a mayor takes over those responsibilities and is found wanting, the county is basically stuck with that person until the next election. No good.

*The second amendment voters should say No to is one that would allow the county commission to accept or amend a franchise agreement by a two-thirds vote without taking it to county voters. This would allow commissioners to raise utility and other rates on residents without putting it on the ballot.

This amendment has tricky wording to say that would make it consistent with Florida's other 66 counties.

Of course, Miami-Dade is a home-rule county, which means voters have the final say. Again, their final say on this ballot issue should be a firm No.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

August 19: Vote Yes On Appointed Monroe County School Superintendent

By Sylvia Gurinsky

School matters in Florida are too complicated to leave them only in the hands of elected officials.

That's quite true in Monroe County, whose last elected school superintendent, Randy Acevedo, was removed from office after he was found guilty for trying to cover up his wife's spending of district money. After that, Gov. Charlie Crist appointed Joseph Burke, with more than 35 years of education experience, as acting superintendent.

No system is perfect, of course: Appointed superintendents have had their legal troubles and have been subject to the whims of finicky school boards and dissatisfied parents. But should a school superintendent have to undergo the same kind of mud-slinging that's contaminating this year's Florida campaigns for governor and U.S. Senator? No way.

Elected superintendents are from a far simpler time, when there were one-room schoolhouses and districts didn't have to worry about overcrowding, multi-lingual education, Sunshine State Standards and the strangling ties of the FCAT.

School superintendents should have a free hand to tackle those issues. Therefore, Monroe County voters should say Yes to allowing the county school board to appoint the superintendent.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

August 18: Airlines Do Have Service Problem

By Sylvia Gurinsky

A flighty flight attendant sliding down an emergency chute aside, there is a problem with the airlines. And it's been increasing ever since President Jimmy Carter decided that deregulating them was a good idea.

Since then, air travel has evolved from a relatively enjoyable pastime to something akin to herding cattle.

Years ago, comedian Tim Conway got big laughs on "The Carol Burnett Show" when he was in a sketch about "no frills" air travel. It looks less and less like fantasy, however, as passengers increasingly have to pay more money for less service and fewer nonstop, direct flights to a large number of locations. And that's without the security checks.

"Just deal with it" isn't good enough anymore. The fraying relationship between passengers and crew (who don't make the decisions, they just enforce them) could eventually lead to a genuine tragedy. The issue of customer service is one that needs to be addressed soon.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

August 17: Russia Needs To Learn To Go Green

By Sylvia Gurinsky

Two decades ago, particularly after the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev understood that his country had an outdated and outmoded infrastructure in place.

However, what changes Gorbachev tried to make were eventually nullified, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, with ineffectual leadership over environmental issues by Boris Yeltsin, Russia's first president and destructive actions since then by Vladimir Putin.

Now, Russia is burning - not only with forest fires, but with the anger of residents who understand, yet again, how much their leaders have messed up.

Besides the disaster of all that has been burned is the disaster of a lack of environmental policy for Russia, one of the worst countries in the world at preserving what it needs to.

Putin promises better. He can start with an open investigation of all the failings, including his own, that led to the fires. Then, he and President Dmitri Medvedev must re-do Russia’s environmental policy.

It is imperative that Russia go green – and open its doors completely.

Monday, August 16, 2010

August 16: Guts, Insensitivity and Racism In Mosque Debate

By Sylvia Gurinsky

It takes a gutsy president to stick his neck out and risk lots of political support.

President Barack Obama is gutsy.

Almost everyone will debate whether it was wise and proper of him to support the right of the decision to build Park 51/Cordoba House - otherwise known across the country as the "Ground Zero Mosque" - relatively close to the site of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City.

Constitutionally, unless a court says otherwise, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, who runs the organization seeking to build the structure, has the right to build that structure. And it must be pointed out that Obama swore "to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States" when he took the oath of office last year.

Of course, the fact that Rauf is constitutionally able to build on the land doesn't mean he would be right to do so.

While it's true he's had his organization in the area for many years, two blocks is too close for emotional comfort. Rauf is not showing sensitivity either to those who lost their lives that horrible day or their family members. It would be like a Japanese company building a structure just a short way from the Arizona memorial at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii.

New York Gov. David Patterson, who supports the project, is looking at a compromise of offering land to Rauf if he would agree to move the site away from this area. Rauf should consider it. He and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who also supports the project, are asking for plenty of security and other headaches if this goes forward at the current proposed site.

Right-wingers, of course, are apoplectic about Obama's comments, and angrily waving their pitchforks - and showing their stripes of racism against all Muslims in this country.

Sadly, 9/11 not only showed the intolerance of too many Muslims against the West and Israel, but also opened the floodgates of intolerance by too many Americans against those who worship differently, speak different languages and don't quite look like them.

Today, predictably and depressingly, they don't judge Obama too well. History will judge him better. He lived up to his constitutional obligation. And he showed courage in doing so.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

August 12: At Last, A Party To Join

By Sylvia Gurinsky

Want to go to a Milk Party? If so, you'll support Florida's children.

The Children's Movement of Florida launched this week with a series of milk-and-cookies parties. The tasty kickoff is meant to call attention to the serious needs of improved health care, education and social services for Florida's youngest residents.

The main "milkman" is David Lawrence, Jr., who has made children a priority since he retired as the publisher of The Miami Herald. Lawrence's work helped lead to the creation of The Children's Trust in Miami-Dade County, and the state ballot amendment funding pre-kindergarten programs.

The organization has a website,, with some sobering statistics that prove the kids are not all right in the Sunshine State.

Florida ranks dead last in the country in the number of uninsured children in a report by The Commonwealth Fund. The state's Pre-K and mentoring programs don't get enough funding. Florida has almost 30 child abuse cases per every 1,000 children.

There will be more Milk Parties across the state, and certainly more efforts to communicate with those who make the policy and those who are running for the right to do so.

It's not an exaggeration to say this is probably the biggest effort in Florida's history to get children's priorities noticed. The "Milk Party" is certainly a party worth joining.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Aug. 10: State Gets An "F" For FCAT Investigation

By Sylvia Gurinsky

If the issue of whether the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test should be the primary measuring stick of schools in the state was put on the ballot, one gets the sense a majority of Floridians would say an overwhelming "No."

Ever since former Gov. Jeb Bush and the Florida Legislature took what was meant to be a measuring stick and turned it into a threatening weapon for schools, there have been problems. The issue about this year's scoring is the latest.

Florida Education Commissioner Eric Smith seems to be trying to say that all is well with the scoring - despite a common perception among members of the public and school district leaders across the state to the contrary, and despite enough weird changes in scores from last year to this year (including a large number of schools that went from "A" to "F") to suggest more investigation is needed.

The St. Petersburg Times has mentioned a link between one of the companies auditing the scores and the company that scores the test:

And The Orlando Sentinel wonders whether Smith may be trying to rush things because of the federal Race To the Top program, which includes a lot of money:

If children were accused of cheating on this test, there would be a full investigation. Now it's the state that's accused, and nothing less than a full, open and independent investigation will be acceptable.

If it's evident that all was not kosher, then NCS Pearson should go - and so should Smith.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Aug. 9: Broward Commission Should Leave Ethics Reforms As Is

By Sylvia Gurinsky

Message to the Broward County Commission: Think about Joe Eggelletion and Diana Wasserman-Rubin. Think about former Broward School Board Member Beverly Gallagher.

All of them have faced, or in Wasserman-Rubin's case will face, the justice system head-on because they haven't played by the rules.

Perhaps there but for the grace of God go the rest of you. And some of you might yet go that way, since investigations of your activities are ongoing, too.

Think about that tomorrow before you vote to water down the tough ethics reforms that your constituents and the county's new ethics commission want. Think about that before you vote to exempt yourselves and your families from those reforms, or try to silence your critics.

Think about those people who will be speaking in front of you tomorrow, urging you to leave the ethics reforms alone and approve them without any changes. And then do what they ask.

Because you might have a lot more to think about if you don't. Like losing your seat. Or your freedom.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Aug. 3: Don't Defend the Dividend

By Sylvia Gurinsky

You might have seen those television ads imploring viewers to "Defend My Dividend."

The campaign is better known as the battle to maintain the Bush Tax Cuts. You know, the cuts that, along with two wars, helped push this country into a budget and deficit disaster.

Those cuts greenlighted by President George W. Bush and a Republican Congress gave a tax break to those making $250,000 or more each year. President Barack Obama wants to remove that tax break from the fiscal 2011 budget. His budget does include breaks for small businesses - the ones who could really use them.

Of course, big corporations and many of the other people that helped bring you this extreme recession want to keep their breaks. Never mind that many of them have gone back to making profits while still keeping rank-and-file people unemployed or underemployed.

Given that, the "dividend" is indefensible. Congress should let the so-called "Bush Tax Cuts" expire.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Aug. 11: All Campaign Donors Should Be Public

By Sylvia Gurinsky

Voting is a private act. But supporting a political candidate through a monetary donation should not be.

During this election season, of course, campaigns will be flooded with donations from organizations that can currently keep their lists of donors private.

There are efforts to change that in Congress. But passage of anything meaningful is iffy.

Still, this election season shows the need for full transparency. Voters in just about any state can see ads hitting the air, attacking candidates in a shadowy way. The ads are usually sponsored by some group with a motherhood-and-apple-pie name and a somewhat hidden agenda - and a very hidden list of supporters.

Many of these organizations are classified, according to the Internal Revenue Service, as 501(c)(4). The IRS publication on such organizations states that:

"Although the Service has been making an effort to refine and clarify this area, IRC 501(c)(4) remains in some degree a catch-all for presumptively beneficial non-profit organizations that resist classification under the other exempting provisions of the Code. Unfortunately, this condition exists because "social welfare" is inherently an abstruse concept that continues to defy precise definition.
The general concept, however, can be expressed as follows:
Organizations that promote social welfare should primarily promote the common good and general welfare of the people of the community as a whole.
An organization that primarily benefits a private group of citizens cannot qualify for IRC 501(c)(4) exempt status."

That's a loophole big enough for a lot of these groups to ram through - groups that are more interested in their own good than the general welfare.

That's why, when the groups pay for political ads, their lists of donors must be made public. Congress should clear the way for that.

It's for the general welfare - and in the general interest - for voters to know exactly who foots the bills.

Aug. 2: No Equal Justice For Political Candidates

By Sylvia Gurinsky

The 11th District Court of Appeals in Atlanta, not one of the better appeals courts in the country, got it wrong again with its ruling that - for now - halts Florida's public financing law for political campaigns.

It's laughable that Rick Scott, who has spent his own millions on television ads in his race for governor of Florida, would claim that Republican primary opponent Bill McCollum's request for matching funds would deny Scott's right to free speech.

The damage from the ruling is far more serious than any effect on the McCollum campaign. McCollum happens to be Florida's attorney general and therefore gets some press with his public decisions.

But what if Scott's primary opponent was a schoolteacher who didn't have much access to public platforms - and certainly didn't have millions to pay for advertising?

The average person who wants to run for office is the one truly hurt by the appeals court ruling. It basically denies those who aren't rich the right to run for political office, because those people can't secure public financing.

The appeals court joins five United States Supreme Court justices, with their ludicrous decision loosening the reigns on campaign fincancing last January, in saying elections should go to those who can afford to win one.

The United States court system is suppose to follow the tenet of equal justice under the law. That hasn't been evident with these decisions.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

July 29: The Story Oliver Stone Doesn't Want To Tell: His Own

By Sylvia Gurinsky

What if Joshua Silverstein had made his dressmaking fortune in Germany or Austria or Poland, rather than in New York? What if Joshua Silverstein and his wife had had their son, Louis, born in 1910, in those countries? What if Louis had grown to manhood in those countries, and tried to make his way?

He would have been stopped, of course, in his 20s, because of the spread of Nazi influence - Adolf Hitler's influence. Louis Silverstein may have never made it to 40. He almost certainly would have gone to a concentration camp, and might have died there.

It wouldn't have mattered, either, if Louis Silverstein had done in Europe what he did here - change his last name to Stone to avoid anti-Semitism and marry a Catholic woman. The Nazis frequently came for the Jews who tried to lose their Jewishness first.

Instead, it was here, in the United States, where Joshua Silverstein evidently didn't pass on whatever Yiddishkeit he might have had to Louis, who did change his name to Stone for fear of anti-Semitism and marry a Catholic woman. In 1946, they had a son, Oliver.

If you've been reading about that son's interview with The Sunday Times of London this week, you know why this is relevant.

Oliver Stone has become a successful director by telling stories and trying to discover his version of "the truth."

The one truth - and one story - he doesn't seem interested in is his own Jewishness. For a man who was given so much, that is tragic.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

July 28: Metromover Accident Shows Need For Maintenance Money

By Sylvia Gurinsky

Almost a year ago, I wrote:

Last week's accident on the Brickell Loop of Metromover, in which one car crashed into another one, showed exactly why that money is needed.

After the accident, David Sutta, a reporter for WFOR-Channel 4, did a story about the current condition of Metromover; along with age - the Inner Loop tracks opened in 1986, the Omni and Brickell Loops in 1994 - there are rats chewing at the cables:

With a 25-cent charge, those 8 million riders per year would generate $2 million for Metromover maintenance, which would certainly help matters.

That's why the Miami-Dade County Commission should re-institute the fee. It's not too much to ask - or pay - for the public's safety.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

July 27: Bad Signs In Miami

By Sylvia Gurinsky

Violating local, state and federal zoning, traffic and visibility standards, not to mention messing up your architecture? Hey, if you're the City of Miami and you're strapped for cash, no problem.

Last week, the city commission gave unanimous preliminary approval to a plan by developer Mark Siffin to build two electronic billboards, with one potentially of 250 feet and one of 350 feet, atop a 100-foot parking garage that would be constructed next to the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts. According to the provisions of the deal, Siffin would chip in a lot of money for an annual permit and millions toward the construction of Museum Park in the former Bicentennial Park.

Is it all worth putting what the defunct South Florida magazine used to call "Architorture" next to the classy Arsht Center? Is it worth putting drivers along 395/MacArthur Causeway distracted by those billboards at risk? Is it worth keeping nearby residents up at night with the lights?

Beth Dunlop, who covers architecture for The Miami Herald, had an apt take:

The commission will take its "final" vote this Thursday. Expect a lot more opposition at Dinner Key than there was last week.

I put "final" in quotes because it really won't be.

-Not with nearby residents fighting this every step of the way as Miami tries to get approval it doesn't yet have from Miami-Dade County, the State of Florida and the federal government - each of whom have regulations that could prevent the sort of project Siffin's proposing.

-Not with Miami residents likely to take this project to court - which will ultimately cost the city dearly needed dollars.

-And not with questions about how the city, particularly Mayor Tomas Regalado, put this deal together and seemed to skate it past the usual review process. Regalado, who's already ticked off a lot of traditionalists with his recommendation to hold back $100,000 from the Gusman/Olympia Theater in Downtown, is making a lot more people angry with this deal.

The city commission meeting is this Thursday at 9 a.m., and this issue will come up very quickly. Have a good breakfast and head over to Dinner Key - and persuade the commission to reverse itself on what will wind up being a very costly deal.

Monday, July 26, 2010

July 26: Still Needed: Accuracy, Honesty and Accountability

By Sylvia Gurinsky

One of the longstanding rules of good journalism still applies: If your mother says she loves you, check it out.

So do the rules of the Society of Professional Journalists' Code of Ethics: No distorted news content. Journalists should admit and correct mistakes immediately, hold others accountable when they don't and live up to the standards demanded of others.

That's more important than ever when those who break the news don't necessarily work as traditional journalists.

During the past week, two entities that fall into the nontraditional category have made their own news - in different ways.

The first was conservative pundit Andrew Breitbart, who evidently did not follow the SPJ Code of Ethics provision concerning distortion when he posted video that took comments by Shirley Sherrod, Georgia director of rural development for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, out of context. A lot of other media, both traditional and non-traditional, also violated the code by not confirming the context of her statements. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack was one of them; he fired Sherrod before he had all the facts, then did a 180. President Barack Obama apologized to her.

No such full showing of remorse as yet from Breitbart, who may be sued by Sherrod for libel. New York Times v. Sullivan, the 1964 court case that set the standard for libeling a public figure, will get a real test with this one, if Sherrod goes ahead. The standard of that court case includes libel and malice, and heaven knows a lot of the political back-and-forth of the last 15 years or so has certainly been malicious.

Yesterday came news about the website Wikileaks publishing a lot of information about the U.S. conduct of the war in Afghanistan - mostly during the administration of President George W. Bush.

Another Pentagon Papers? Not quite. A lot is already known about how the Afghan war has been conducted; that was not the case when the Pentagon Papers, about American policy in Vietnam between the 1940s and 60s, were published in The New York Times and The Washington Post in 1971.

This time, Wikileaks worked with the Times, the British newspaper The Guardian and the German publication Der Spiegel. All three vetted the website's work.

What is also known is that the rush to publish is more urgent today than it was 40 years ago - and the tendency towards mistakes, wrong assumptions and misjudgments is much higher. Accuracy, honesty and accountability are even more important today.

That means anyone who publishes a website has to abide by those old rules. They're not just for so-called "professional journalists" anymore.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

July 22: Motion Picture Home Saga Is Like a Bad Movie

By Sylvia Gurinsky

A Hollywood screenwriter could come up with this story if it wasn't so sadly true.

Next year, the Motion Picture Television Fund will commemorate its 90th anniversary; it was originally the Motion Picture Relief Fund, created by the early giants of movies, including Charlie Chaplin and Mary Pickford. In 1942, the Motion Picture & Television Country House and Hospital was dedicated. For most of its history, the best and the brightest in the industry have lived up to the organization's motto, "Taking Care of Our Own."

Until recently.

Last year, the MPTF announced the closing down of the Long Term Care Facility, with the argument that the organization couldn't afford to keep it open because of a $20 million shortfall.

The Wrap, which covers the entertainment industry, has been chronicling the saga. It published notes from the board meeting where the decision was made, saying that part of the shortfall stemmed from lower reimbursements from Medicare and Medicaid.

But in an industry that makes millions each year and an organization that has gotten help from most that work in it, why does this facility need public help?

Some of the industry's current best and brightest have been campaigning to keep the closure from happening - George Clooney, Brad Pitt and Matt Damon among them. Many more - including industry professionals, the families of current and former residents of MPTF's facilities and others - have joined efforts to keep the facility open, including a petition drive.

Still others are asking how the shortfall happened. The answer is pretty much the same as it's been in a lot of corporate America recently: Glitzy renovations in various MPTF facilities that weren't crucial, and lots of money for the executives running the facilities, which the Los Angeles Times also chronicled.

Lawsuits have already been filed over the long-term facility closure, and the battle continues.

The MPTF's board includes plenty of people who have made movies about the downtrodden and who have supported the Democratic Party - you know, the one that got health care reform passed. One has to wonder why the board members are acting like the people they profess to be against.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

July 21: C'est La Guerre, Stupid

By Sylvia Gurinsky

The Republican Party's continued standoff against a United States Senate vote to approve benefits for Americans who have been jobless more than six months gets more ludicrous the more the party argues against adding to the deficit.

That's because without those benefits, those jobless won't be able to pay their bills. Now that adds to the deficit - and to the bad economy. No payments, no business.

Another culprit in the deficit hike is actually two culprits - the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that G.O.P. leaders decided not to pay for with a war tax. Until Vietnam, each war that Americans fought overseas included a tax increase to pay for it.

It's not the jobless who are creating the deficit. To quote the French, c'est la guerre. Guerres.

Monday, July 19, 2010

July 19: Tweak Bridge Tender Numbers

By Sylvia Gurinsky

Removing distractions such as televisions and DVD players from bridge houses is a good idea to improve bridge tender safety. So are more supervision and better training.

But there's another idea that might need addressing: Adding more bridge tenders.

The shifts are eight hours long and the tender is alone. It's difficult enough to stay focused on any one thing for so many hours, but it's crucial when lives are at stake.

And they have been at stake in Broward County in particular during the last few years. Last year, 80-year-old Desmond Nolan died crossing a bridge at Sheridan Street in Hollywood because the bridge tender did not see him while opening the bridge. Nolan's family filed a lawsuit against Florida's Department of Transportation and the company it employs to operate that bridge. A couple of weeks ago, 76-year-old Miguel Borda was lucky to escape with his life while the bridge at Hallandale Beach Boulevard went up.

There's a large population of elderly residents in Broward's coastal sections, and they are likely to walk across bridges for various purposes, including shopping, fishing and exercising.

For a bridge tender, what's on the bridge - pedestrians and cars - should get priority before the boats that cross. A bridge tender also has other duties - including paperwork. On weekday shifts, the tender can face rush hour traffic.

Imagine the outcry if there was a single air traffic controller in the tower at Miami International or Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.

FDOT and its contractors need to add more, as well as better trained, employees. On Broward's busiest bridges, one, apparently, is not enough in the bridge house.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

July 15: The Rules Aren't Different Here

By Sylvia Gurinsky

The rules are the same for any candidate for public office - even one who has worked a lifetime in the private sector.

In Florida, this year's election has two candidates for statewide office who fit that bill: Democrat Jeff Greene in the race for United States Senate and Republican Rick Scott in the race for governor.

They're both high in the polls in their respective primaries, but they haven't gotten with the program yet in terms of disclosure. Floridians are still waiting to hear the details of Greene's tax returns, and concrete explanations from both men of their business dealings.

If they win their respective elections in November, they will take public responsibility for Florida's future. They will not be able to hide behind the doors of fancy offices.

If they believe they can keep a distance from the public responsibilities of office, they might want to ask Jesse Ventura and Arnold Schwarzeneggar - two men who weren't "career politicians," but have certainly known the pains of holding public office.

As long as they want - and possibly hold - those public offices, Scott and Greene have responsibilities to be open and honest.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

July 14: Reading the Tea Leaves From Cuba

By Sylvia Gurinsky

If image is everything, as some say, the question is what's behind the recent images coming from Cuba.

The first images came a couple of weeks ago, with a now-teenaged Elian Gonzalez talking about his life and his brief, tumultuous time in the United States in 1999-2000. Clearly, the Cuban government was trotting him out on the 10th anniversary of his return to that island as a propaganda victory - specifically over the Cuban exile community in South Florida.

The next images came a few days ago, with a skinny Fidel Castro in a supposedly live interview (more likely, to quote an expression NBC once used for its Olympics coverage, "plausibly live"), talking about this and that, including the possibility (for him, anyway) that the United States will launch a nuclear war.

Why those images? Most likely because Cuba is trying to avoid the images, at least for its own people, of its release of 52 dissidents. Also most likely because Fidel's brother, Cuban president Raul Castro, is trying to keep the peace in the country. Nothing like a "Fidel's Greatest Hits" release to do that.

But the Cuban people have shown many signs that they want to head into a peaceful, prosperous and open future - including a friendly relationship with the United States. Those signs are far more telling than these pathetic forays into the past. Fidel Castro may be feeling a little healthier these days, but he can't turn back the march of progress in Cuba anymore.