Thursday, January 28, 2010

Jan. 28: No Self-Investigation Could Be Worse For Israel

By Sylvia Gurinsky

If Israel is to be a true "light unto the nations," it needs to do its own full and open investigation of accusations of war crimes in Gaza during 2008-09.

Before someone else does.

IDF soldiers tried to come forward. Too many Israelis - especially those in the government - have wanted to turn their backs on what those soldiers have said. Maybe because they don't want to believe. Maybe because they're in denial. Maybe because, to paraphrase Jack Nicholson's character in the film "A Few Good Men," they can't handle the truth.

But not investigating those complaints opens Israel to more international investigations - and diplomatic problems far more severe than a British judge trying to have members of the Israeli government who set foot in the United Kingdom arrested.

During the last two weeks, we have seen the best of Israel on display with the heroic actions of its rescue workers in Haiti.

Israel needs to continue to show its best - and open itself up to its own scrutiny.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Jan. 27: Is Florida Turning Into the Surrender State?

By Sylvia Gurinsky

Attorney Dan Paul died earlier this week. Paul was known as a principal creator of Dade County's home-rule charter in 1957, and as an activist against unchecked development, particularly of the county's parks and green spaces. He was a fighter.

That's worth remembering at a time when too many of Florida's residents and elected officials are giving up the fight against various things - particularly the dangers of offshore oil drilling and spreading casino gambling.

Obviously, members of the Florida Legislature and too many members of Congress didn't hear about that oil-tanker spill off the coast of Texas during the weekend. They're still keeping up the drumbeat for drilling off Florida's beautiful shoreline.

And it was disheartening to read that State Rep. Ellyn Bogdanoff, R-Fort Lauderdale, a candidate for Florida's Senate, is giving up her battle against expanded casino gambling in the state and essentially saying that if Florida can't beat the Seminoles, it should compete against them. That means more hotels with casinos - as well as more gambling addicts and a bigger fight against crime by police departments that have had their budgets slashed.

All of this is coming because of Florida's struggling economy. Bogdanoff and her colleagues can't seem to come up with constructive ways to fix that economy, so they're coming up with destructive ones, instead.

That kind of attitude will turn the Sunshine State into the Surrender State. That's not good for Florida in any way.

Jan. 26: Chiles Family Should Walk Into Court Over Trust Fund

By Sylvia Gurinsky

"Walkin' Lawton" was the nickname of Lawton Chiles, who literally walked his way across the state of Florida in his first, winning campaign for the United States Senate in 1970, and then did it again 20 years later when he ran for governor - and also won.

Chiles, who died weeks short of leaving the governor's office in 1998, was a champion of the state's oldest, youngest and weakest residents. In his memory, the Lawton Chiles Endowment Fund was established to help the elderly and children gain access to health care.

Sadly, the legacy of "Walkin' Lawton" has given way to the reality of "Chameleon Charlie" - as in the current governor, Charlie Crist, who is threatening to raid the Chiles fund for the second year in a row to prop up the state budget. This while he proposes a tax cut for the wealthy - probably to satisfy those campaign donors who may be looking at Crist's shrinking poll numbers against Marco Rubio and thinking twice.

Chiles' family has threatened to sue the state over raids on the fund. They should walk into court and do just that.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Jan. 25: Elections Go To Those Who Own One

By Sylvia Gurinsky

In the Supreme Court's history, not many rulings are more damaging than their decision about campaign finance last week. Dred Scott, which upheld slavery, is certainly one. Bush v. Gore might be another.

The same 5-4 vote that took place in Bush v. Gore took place last week in Citizens United v. FEC. The majority suggested that, on the basis of the First Amendment, corporations' campaign contributions cannot be limited. If candidates were already accused of buying elections, think what will happen now.

A lot of people have suggested that public financing for candidates would be a solution. Don't look for it from Congress, which is in the pocket of corporations and will be even if the party in control shifts in November.

Don't look for guts from Congress in trying to pass campaign finance reform, either. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who has carried the standard on this issue for two decades, is basically waving the white flag.

It will take a major, Watergate-style election crisis to get the pendulum to swing again, just as it took the Civil War to get President Abraham Lincoln to abolish slavery. Until then, sadly, elections will go to the highest bidder.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Jan. 21: Ban Health Insurance Discrimination

By Sylvia Gurinsky

As Congress and President Barack Obama mull how to proceed with health care legislation, there is one issue they can probably take care of immediately, without much chance for a filibuster:

Banning discrimination by health insurance companies against people who either have preexisting conditions or a genetic predisposition to an illness.

The current health care bills being considered for reconciliation would do so - but in 2013. Not good enough. That also goes for the six-month window for banning insurance discrimination against children.

One of the reasons the current bills are in such trouble are because they are compliated - and fixated on the issues of cost. Ensuring - and insuring - that people who are ill have a real chance at quality care will begin to lower those costs.

Long ago, the United States Supreme Court ruled the practice of banning people from jobs on the basis of their health illegal. Why should insurance companies be able to get away with the same thing?

They shouldn't, of course. The revised health insurance bill should ban health discrimination immediately.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Jan. 20: Sexism In Coakley Loss? No, It Was More Like Arrogance

By Sylvia Gurinsky

There is still sexism in American politics. Sadly, there are still men and women across the country who won't vote for competent female candidates. Just as sadly, there are female candidates who try to make themselves into what they're not - or try to tone down who they are - in order to get votes.

But was sexism a factor in Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley's loss in that state's United States Senate race?

Not really. Coakley had already won a statewide election for her current post.

The best female candidate - former U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno comes to mind - can't win if she runs a lousy campaign. In 2002, Reno, running for governor of Florida, was let down by bad work by her campaign staff.

This time, Coakley deserves the brunt of the blame. She campaigned as if the Senate seat held by Sen. Edward Kennedy for 47 years was an entitlement for her and the Democratic Party.

Arrogance knows no gender. That's the primary lesson from yesterday's election. Both male and female candidates of all political stripes should take note.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Jan. 19: NBC's Screw-Up (And This Has Nothing To Do With Jay and Conan

By Sylvia Gurinsky

Then there was NBC's screw-up. No, not Jay Leno and Conan O'Brien.

The other screw-up. The one figure skating fans know about.

The United States Figure Skating Championships have been taking place since last week in Spokane, Washington, and will continue into next weekend. These are the big ones. The ones that decide who will represent the country at the Olympics next month in Vancouver.

Typically, the national championships take place over the course of a week, maybe Tuesday to Saturday, with pairs and dance finals shown on tape, the men's final shown live Saturday afternoon and the ladies' final shown live Saturday night. At least that's how ABC, which taught the world how to cover the sport, handled it during more than four decades.

But because of figure skating's recent miseries in this country, ABC waved goodbye to the national championships, which are now on Olympic network NBC, whose call letters increasingly stand for "Never Be Competent."

Apparently, NBC pushed the United States Figure Skating Association to stretch out the competition to a length almost as long as the Olympics; however, only the women's final will be shown in live prime-time, this Saturday night. The men's final, in which prospects are much better for an Olympic medal, was shown yesterday afternoon. The dance final, with reigning Olympic silver medalists Tanith Belben and Ben Agosto, is scheduled for this Saturday afternoon.

The whole thing presents a logistical nightmare for skaters, coaches, families and fans headed to Spokane. It's also a source of disgust for fans having trouble finding everything on television.

Maybe if NBC gets Jay and Conan to host the coverage?

Monday, January 18, 2010

Jan. 18: Serve In Haiti and At Home

By Sylvia Gurinsky

"We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right," Martin Luther King wrote in his famous "Letter From a Birmingham Jail" in 1963.

Today, the day that honors King, that quote is given extra meaning because of what has happened in Haiti.

The Web site has plenty of volunteer opportunities, not just today, but in the days, weeks and months to come across the United States.

As for Haiti, the biggest request right now is for donations - of money, of basic supplies. Check your local media - television, Internet and newspapers - for those efforts.

Use today - and the days beyond - creatively.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Jan. 14: Haiti Needs a Marshall Plan

By Sylvia Gurinsky

Haiti was already the heartbreak of the Western Hemisphere long before Tuesday's earthquake.

The most impoverished nation on this side of the globe, Haiti has battled decades of brutal dictators, corrupt leadership and natural disasters. It was thought the four storms that battered the country two years ago provided about the worst that could be seen.

With an estimated 100,000 people dead and at least a million more affected by this tragedy in some way, the earthquake's aftermath is far worse. Rich and poor, black and white, just about everyone within the quake's range has been touched.

Conditions in Haiti are certainly comparable to conditions in many European countries after World War II. At that time, President Harry Truman signed off on the Marshall Plan, named for then-Secretary of State George Marshall, which provided aid to those countries and the means for them to stabilize themselves.

Today, Haiti needs something similar - an effort that can come both through the UN and the Organization of American States. Both organizations should get to work quickly on such a plan.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Jan. 13: Hawk Soars, While Big Mac Comes Clean

By Sylvia Gurinsky

With apologies to the memory of Charles Dickens, it was the best of times, it was a remembrance of the worst of times......

South Floridians rejoiced last week at the news that Andre Dawson, Miami-born and raised, was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

A terrific fielder and hitter, Dawson, nicknamed "Hawk," played the second half of his career for the Chicago Cubs, Boston Red Sox and Florida Marlins on badly damaged knees from the first half of his career with the Montreal Expos and the artificial turf in Olympic Stadium. That makes his achievement all the more extraordinary.

Speaking of artificial, the issue of steroids was raised yet again by the confessions of Mark McGwire Monday that he had, indeed, used them. It wasn't a perfect confession by any means, but it's further than previous confessed steroid users have gone.

Evidently, too, judging by the comments of former U.S. Rep. Tom Davis Monday, McGwire would have gone that far in the 2005 Congressional hearings that Davis chaired, except that then-U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales would not agree to immunity for McGwire. One has to wonder if anything would have changed in baseball if Gonzales, who showed a tendency to make the wrong decision on most issues, had agreed to immunity for Big Mac.

McGwire likely won't be prosecuted. But he likely will never go into the Hall of Fame, either.

McGwire's comments illustrate the problems Major League Baseball still faces in handling the complete truth about steroids, human growth hormone and whatever else has been used by players.

The only good thing about the so-called Steroid Era is that it has definitely put more focus on players like Dawson, who played before baseball's ugliest chapter since the Black Sox Scandal began. Thanks to that focus, Dawson is where he belongs - in Cooperstown. The Hawk soars anew.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Jan. 12: Say No To FPL - Again

By Sylvia Gurinsky

This week, the Florida Public Service Commission will decide whether Florida Power & Light should get that large rate increase they've been going after.

If 10,000 angry Broward County residents who lost their power earlier this week don't give PSC the answer, then all the other news about FPL during the last few weeks and months should:

*The problems at the Turkey Point nuclear power plant;

*The tendency of FPL executives to try to get cushy with PSC commissioners, to the point where a couple of those commissioners had to be replaced;

*The luxury living of a few of those FPL executives, and their reluctance to disclose their full salaries and benefits;


*The continued bad economy in Florida.

With those reasons, obviously, PSC's answer to FPL should be the same one it gave Progress Energy yesterday: NO.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Jan. 11: Was Reid Quote Leak Meant To Sabotage Health Care Bill?

By Sylvia Gurinsky

While seemingly everyone is jumping on U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid for his statements about then-presidential candidate Barack Obama, the furor generates a couple of questions in this corner.

*Who leaked Reid's comments, published in the book "Game Change," written by Mark Halperin and John Heilemann about the 2008 presidential campaign? They weren't in the press releases from the publishers, according to

*Why, in a book that has interesting revelations about everyone from Hillary Clinton to Sarah Palin and John Edwards (no, not together), are Reid's comments drawing the most scrutiny - especially when he's already apologized to Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder has defended him?

Many will say the discussion is about race; Republicans who drop-kicked former Majority Leader Trent Lott after his comments praising "Dixiecrat" Strom Thurmond's presidential campaign of 1948 claim hypocrisy.

Perhaps there's another reason: Health care.

A lot of people don't like the versions of the health care legislation the two houses of Congress passed - particularly the Senate's version, which completely dropped any semblance of a public option.

Unquestionably, Reid goofed in his statements. But did someone want revenge against Reid over health care, and thus used this quote to do it? It's worth thinking about.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Jan. 7: Look At the Evidence, Dr. Casson

By Sylvia Gurinsky

Evidently, Dr. Ira Casson isn't a fan of the television show "Hawaii Five-O."

On "Journey Out of Limbo," a 1972 episode of the long-running police program, Dr. Bergman (played by Al Eben), the Five-O physician/coroner, compared the bout of amnesia by Five-O detective Dan Williams (played by James MacArthur) to the temporary amnesia suffered by National Football League players with concussions. That's almost 40 years ago.

But Casson, who recently stepped down as co-chair of the NFL's committee on concussions, has decried any link between concussions and brain injuries, and did so again Monday during a U.S. House Judiciary Committee hearing in Detroit. He complains that it's politics, or maybe steroid use.

Never mind that a number of former football players who are personal evidence to the contrary also testified Monday. Never mind the recent firing of Texas Tech University Coach Mike Leach over his treatment of a player who had received a concussion.

And never mind the decades of details, not just on fictional television shows, but in hundreds of news reports and university studies.

That's not politics, Dr. Casson. That's evidence.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Jan. 6: Save Anderson's Corner

By Sylvia Gurinsky

Miami-Dade County is doing the right thing with its $500-a-day fine to the owners of the historic Anderson's Corner in the Redland:

So-called "demolition by neglect" has already damaged or destroyed other historic structures across Dade. Some of those structures are acknowledged as old, but not protected with historical classification. On the other hand, Anderson's Corner is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. There is no excuse for its current condition.

The State of Florida also sees the structure as historic. As the non-profit Florida Trust For Historic Preservation receives nominations for the Most Endangered Historic Sites for 2010, Anderson's Corner should go at the top of that list.

And if the building owners don't clean up, Dade officials should also turn to the state - whose government has the power of eminent domain. If need be, that power can be used to preserve this literal corner of South Dade's history.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Jan. 5: More Should Investigate Turkey Point

By Sylvia Gurinsky

John Dorschner's excellent story yesterday about the Turkey Point nuclear power plant should have been on The Miami Herald's front page, period, not just the front page of the paper's "Business Monday" section:

The story illustrates fears many South Floridians have about nuclear power, Florida Power & Light and a combination of the two.

If FPL is busy cleaning up, remember that the company is in the middle of a major public relations campaign to try to get Florida's Public Service Commission to approve a large rate hike on consumers.

Dorschner's story shines a light on the true FPL. So should the Florida Legislature and the United States Congress, with hearings. South Florida's largest public utility needs to have all the ways it operates Turkey Point made exactly that - public.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Jan. 4: TSA Appointment Needs More Scrutiny (But Not For DeMint's Reason)

By Sylvia Gurinsky

The issue of whether Erroll Southers would allow unionization and collective bargaining by Transportation Security Administration employees is no reason to disqualify him from becoming director of the agency.

The issue of whether Southers has told the truth about what he did with an FBI computer more than 20 years ago is another story.

Going into the weekend, the primary issue was the holdup of Southers' nomination by Sen. Jim DeMint, R-South Carolina. DeMint has been putting up a stop sign over Southers' refusal to suggest he would stop TSA employees from unionizing.

Since unions have played a strong role in improving work conditions in this country, one wonders what DeMint has against them. The assumption here is that his primary opposition is that unions tend to favor Democratic candidates for political office. Tsk, tsk, Senator.

A bigger matter - which DeMint and his Senate colleagues on both sides of the aisle should look more closely at - is what Southers has said about what he did when he was an FBI agent two decades ago. Separated from his wife, Southers did two computer searches to access records of her boyfriend.

However, Southers recently seems to have suffered from that Iran-Contra-style amnesia that afflicted members of the Reagan Administration two decades ago. In Southers' case, he didn't come clean from the beginning when he testified to Congress in his TSA confirmation hearings. He said he didn't remember. Tsk, tsk, Mr. Southers.

Especially after the Christmas Day scare on Northwest Airlines Flight 253, the issue of who heads the TSA needs to be resolved quickly. But the Senate also needs to ensure that person is above reproach. How about calling Southers back for one more hearing before the vote?