Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Feb. 24: Reporters Wrong To Take Up Scientology Grudge Match

By Sylvia Gurinsky

Are Russell Carollo, Christopher Szechenyi and Steve Weinberg really that hard up for money?

It's hard to imagine why the three - all with long and stellar pedigrees in journalism - would accept thousands of dollars from the Church of Scientology to put together a report challenging the St. Petersburg Times' stories about Scientology. Needless to say, the sect isn't happy with the Times:

This is not an independent study. This is a Scientology grudge match, and it might not even be published. What happens to Carollo, Szechenyi and Weinberg then?

It's true that journalism is in its most uncertain state in ages. Unfortunately, many reputable journalists have been making unsavory deals to keep the bills paid.

This is about as unsavory as it gets. It's worth asking the three journalists what they think of the medium's future. Not very much, judging by their acceptance of blood money.

After that, it's hard to think highly of them.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Feb. 23: The Thrill of Sportsmanship, The Agony of Sore Losers

By Sylvia Gurinsky

The last week has given us a chance to look closely at both sides of sport - and that was without Tiger Woods' weird mea culpa last Friday.

Few sports can provide a closer look at both sides than figure skating. In the aftermath of the men's and ice dance competitions, has it ever.

The ugly side has come mostly courtesy (or lack of it) of Russia, which did not respond well to American Evan Lysacek winning the gold medal and 2006 Olympic gold medalist Evgeny Plushenko winning the silver in the men's competition last week. Plushenko led the kvetching, complaining about the scoring, the skate order and so forth even before the competition began. Russian de facto leader Vladimir Putin got into the act afterwards. So did Canadian Elvis Stojko, who is evidently still bitter about the two golds he lost in Lillehammer (1994) and Nagano (1998) to Russians Alexi Urmanov and Ilya Kulik. The athletic Stojko evidently doesn't think anyone who doesn't do a quad is athletic or deserves a gold medal.

(Here's a thought: If Sean White can win Olympic gold with snowboarding jumps, how about creating, in addition to the current skating, a jumping-only competition in ice skating? No music, no choreography, no hideous costumes: Just two minutes of skaters doing quads and so forth.)

There's also been a little yip-yapping after last night's win by the exquisite Canadians, Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, who skated the best ice dance since Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean of Great Britain scored perfect marks with "Bolero" in Sarajevo in 1984. The complaints yesterday came from the Italian dancer Massimo Scali, who said Virtue and Moir benefitted from the crowd and are not really technical. Guess he didn't see the same program the rest of the world did.

On the other side: The sportsmen and women, which include Lysacek and dance silver medalists Meryl Davis and Charlie White and fourth-place finishers Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto, all from the United States. All gracious.

So was Frank Carroll, Lysacek's coach, who finally had an Olympic gold medal winner on the podium after 30 years of near-misses.

Athletes and coaches can win or lose. But this Olympics proves again that sportsmanship always gets the gold.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Feb. 22: Beware a Poisoned Tea Party

By Sylvia Gurinsky

Behind the millions of Americans who have honorable intentions for their government to clean itself up are those who show this country's ugliest side.

Last Monday's excellent New York Times piece by David Barstow about the rise of the Tea Party movement included some names - including the John Birch Society, which once called President Dwight Eisenhower a Communist - from the not-too-happy distant past:

Jumping on the Tea Party bandwagon are these entities and others who take their racist, hateful, anarchic, narrow-minded views and try to cloak them as "conservative" or "government reforming."

Some Republicans are trying to win over these voters. Do they really want them?

And do those people of all political stripes who legitimately want government and spending reform want to be attached to them?

The late Sen. Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts once said, "Integrity is the lifeblood of democracy. Deceit is a poison in its veins." Those who joined the Tea Party movement with the best of intentions need to look out for that poison.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Feb. 18: Wanted: Public Servants

By Sylvia Gurinsky

At local, state and federal levels, there has been a recent exodus of long-serving elected officials.

For some, fear of losing in the November elections is the reason. For others, including long-serving U.S. Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, R-Miami and Miami-Dade County Commissioner Katy Sorenson, it's simply time to move on to other things.

Still, the departures of people like Diaz-Balart, Sorenson and U.S. Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Indiana are a "brain drain" on their legislative bodies. Whoever replaces them and others will wage elections that could turn nasty - and, in many cases, fueled by the poison found on talk radio, cable channels and, yes, blogs. The result could be more people who win elections, but are nowhere near ready to govern properly - or worse, don't care to learn how.

Add the recent Supreme Court ruling allowing even bigger and more corruptive money into elections, and the result is yet another roadblock to honest, intelligent individuals who would otherwise seek to run for public office.

Sorenson's future plans - a program at the University of Miami to train people who are interested in serving in local government - are promising. So are the efforts of people such as former U.S. Sens. Bob Graham of Florida. Perhaps they can get through the next hurdle: Getting the good people to be willing to serve - and able to win.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Feb. 17: IOC Remains Insulated From Real World

By Sylvia Gurinsky

It takes a special kind of tackiness to come out and blame an athlete for his own death less than 24 hours after he dies. Tackiness that can only be exhibited by the International Olympic Committee.

That's the same IOC that decided to continue with the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich after the massacre of 11 Israeli athletes; the same IOC that managed to get wound up in a scandal over the selection of Olympic host cities.

Avery Brundage, the dictatorial, racist hypocrite who led the IOC for 20 years (and who made the decision to continue those Munich games), may be dead. But his spirit was well evident on Saturday, when the organization backed up the International Luge Federation's report blaming Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili's actions for his death on the luge track last Friday. This, of course, while officials were tweaking the track and changing the start positions of the men's and women's competitions.

When Jacques Rogge became the head of the IOC and managed to persuade the International Skating Union to clean up its judging mess at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, there was hope that real reform was coming. With the "investigation" of Kumaritashvili's tragic accident, all that's been shown is that the International Olympic Committee is as insulated from the real world as ever.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Feb. 16: Oversight Missing (Again) On Jackson

By Sylvia Gurinsky

Once again for a crucial Miami-Dade County entity - Jackson Memorial Hospital - no one was minding the store.

Jackson's budget deficit for the fiscal year could be $250 million by the time auditors get through. Hospital administrators are trying to determine what to cut - including some of the administrators. Today, more than 40 layoffs have been announced, and many more will follow.

JMH leaders and the Public Health Trust trade blame and bicker both with Jackson's unions and with the University of Miami, the hospital's medical partner. And not very much has been heard from the county commission, which is supposed to oversee the overseers. Meanwhile, the clock may be ticking on Jackson's future.

Both the bickering within Jackson and the silence from commissioners must stop. Both groups must come up with immediate solutions to this crisis - starting with a gatekeeper for the money.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Feb. 10: Don't Tinker With Florida Class Size Law

By Sylvia Gurinsky

Studies about the benefits of smaller classes are clear. So was the will of Florida voters in 2002, when they approved an amendment mandating smaller class sizes.

Now, some members of the Florida Legislature are trying to tinker with that amendment. They might combine it with a provision that would provide a penny sales tax increase for Florida schools. That's a mix that would never pass muster with the Florida Supreme Court if it was proposed by an outside group, rather than state lawmakers, since it would deal with more than one issue.

Legislators use the current budget crisis as an excuse. But the truth is that a number of lawmakers, many of them in the Republican Party, never wanted the class size amendment, and they've pounced on the crisis to justify their current actions.

They forget that putting more students into classrooms would require more resources - and thus, more money - to help them. A penny sales tax increase wouldn't cover that.

Of course, once the class size provision gets loosened, in typical government fashion, there's nothing that says it won't be loosened even more.

The legislature would do better for schools by saving budget money in other areas. As for class sizes: Lawmakers should leave them alone.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Feb. 9: Fighting Terrorism Isn't Just a Military Issue

By Sylvia Gurinsky

The so-called War on Terrorism was never going to be a "typical" war. It can't be, because of the nature of the targets.

It cannot be fought militarily, at least in the sense that wars had been fought until the last half of the 20th century. The reason? Civilians in free nations and their lifestyles are the targets.

We already know from Israel's experience that military campaigns haven't wiped out Hamas or Hezbollah, or their efforts to kill - and Israel is better at fighting terrorism than most.

We also know that U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan didn't thwart the Nigerian man who attempted to blow up a plane to Detroit on Christmas Day. Other passengers on that plane prevented a catastrophe there.

So it's naive for members of Congress or other politicians to believe simply that terrorists should be tried only by a military tribunal, or that the campaign to eradicate them should only be military.

Eight and a half years after 9/11, the world - and certainly the United States - still hasn't figured out that this unconventional war requires unconventional tactics.

Perhaps President Barack Obama and Congress can come up with the first one by creating a "terrorism court," combining military tribunals and the civilian court system. It would be a better solution than the game of "trial tag" that's going on now.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Feb. 8: Rising From the Floodwaters

By Sylvia Gurinsky

This year's Super Bowl captured the imagination and a lot of hearts because of what happened in August, 2005.

The New Orleans Saints' victory yesterday was about much more than a team winning its first National Football League championship. It was about a city coming back from under the floodwaters of Hurricane Katrina and the damage done to so many of its landmarks, including the Saints' home, the Superdome.

It's easy to forget that there were questions, after Katrina, about whether the Saints would stay in New Orleans. The team's uncertain future at that time was reflective of the city's uncertain future.

It's likely that the Superdome, where so much heartbreak took place four and a half years ago, will now host one of the many celebrations the Big Easy will have for the Saints.

There is much work still to be done in New Orleans, and incoming Mayor Mitch Landrieu will lead the next steps for rebuilding. But take a break, folks, and hoist a beer with those beignets to your Saints. You've earned it.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Feb. 4: Miami's Deja Vu

By Sylvia Gurinsky

It's 1996 all over again - sort of - in the City of Miami.

Now, as then, the city has a major budget shortfall - $45 million - and a federal investigation after many of its leaders and administrators have spent not too wisely or too well during the last few years.

In 1996, that shortfall hit $60 million, a city manager and finance director went to jail, a Florida oversight commission took over Miami's finances for a while and the situation got to the point where residents voted on a ballot measure that would have dissolved the Magic City.

Those who remember those events are holding their breath at what the federal investigation will reveal.

But Miami may be in a better situation this time to fix its own mess, with a commission now dominated by reform-minded types led by Mayor Tomas Regalado. Given the general economic crisis, the city is already being forced to tighten belts - and try to make compromises with unions.

That's a good sign, considering that Miami had to be pulled out of the 1996 mess by others. This time, the city needs to lead the cleanup - and make sure the mistakes are never repeated.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Feb. 3: Obama Doesn't Reach For the Stars (At Least Not Yet)

By Sylvia Gurinsky

Maybe it was because of where he was July 20, 1969.

While Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were taking their first steps on the moon, soon-to-be 8-year-old Barack Obama was living in Indonesia. Maybe there was television coverage, but perhaps not on the caliber of what could be experienced in the United States.

Obama, as he wrote in his excellent memoir "Dreams From My Father," was also beginning to go through the identity crisis that would consume him for most of the next two decades.

In any case, perhaps he wasn't touched by the Apollo 11 moon landing the way many other Americans were. If he had been, perhaps he would have done more for near-term space exploration in the budget he unveiled this week.

The return to the moon that had been proposed by President George W. Bush has been scrapped. Obama's focus for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, better known as NASA, will be this planet, for the time being.

In fairness, Obama also wants research into new technologies for longer space missions, going deeper into space - eventually. That shift will save NASA jobs, but will hurt the contractors who were counting on moon missions, as well as supporters in Central Florida and East Texas, the hubs of manned space exploration.

It will also hurt this country in a more fundamental way.

The Apollo moon landings came in a country wearied by the Vietnam War and economic struggles. Armstrong, Aldrin, Michael Collins and the others who travelled to the moon between 1968-72 inspired others the way Charles Lindbergh had inspired them.

It's true that Obama is pragmatic. But space exploration requires much more. It requires being a dreamer.

In the wake of the budget announcement comes news that Iran has launched live animals into space. Perhaps competition from a foe - the way the Soviet Union competed with the United States in the moon race during the 1960s - can provide a kick.

This country needs to reach for the stars. So does President Obama.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Feb. 2: Crist's Florida Budget Forecast: Too Sunny

By Sylvia Gurinsky

Perhaps Florida Gov. Charlie Crist went to see a stage production of "Annie" before he signed off on his proposed $69.2 billion budget:

"Maybe" and "Tomorrow" seem to be running themes in this optimistic budget - in stark contrast to more pessimistic and pragmatic figures being suggested by state lawmakers, whose theme seems to be "It's a Hard-Knock Life."

The contrasts were shown yesterday, said the St. Petersburg Times, when Crist's budget director, Jerry McDaniel, faced the House Budget Council on Education and Economic Development:

A $250 million reserve is alarming and certainly not enough, considering that Florida will soon welcome thousands of Haitians fleeing earthquake destruction. Then, there's the question of hurricanes.

There's also the question of Crist's political motivations: He has room for a corporate tax cut, but not for raises for state employees, or to keep his hands off trust funds.

Long before he started running for Senate, Crist had a reputation of not working in tandem with the Florida Legislature on the hard-core budget details. If he wants to see any part of his dream budget actually pass, he'd better put some meetings with lawmakers at the top of his calendar. Otherwise, he'll get hard lessons in reality - political and otherwise. Those lessons will be far more costly for Florida.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Feb. 1: Phantom Of the Uninsured?

By Sylvia Gurinsky

Maybe it was all a dream, like the one Pam Ewing had about husband Bobby being dead on "Dallas," or like the one Bob Hartley had about the show "Newhart."

Sixty million Americans partially or totally without health insurance? Can't be.

Millions of those Americans discriminated against by insurance companies because of pre-existing conditions? Nah.

Last year's vision of President Barack Obama, both parties in Congress, health insurance companies and medical professionals ready to work on a viable plan? Just a mirage.

That's the case, isn't it, because of all those supposed polls that say health insurance isn't a priority for Americans these days?

What is all too real is that Congress managed to turn a viable plan rotten, and is cowering in fear.

What is all too real is that Obama, in trying to avoid the mistakes President Bill Clinton made on health insurance reform, went too far in the opposite direction - and didn't consult enough with grass-roots groups, who are usually the primary builders of successful legislation.

What is all too real is that the high cost of health insurance is one reason Americans have trouble paying their bills - and are often choosing not to carry it.

What is all too real is continued discrimination against patients with cancer and other pre-existing conditions.

There is no phantom of the uninsured. The crisis continues to be all too real. Having America's elected leaders turn their backs on it - again - won't make it go away.