Wednesday, April 28, 2010

April 28: Courts Should Decide Florida Tuition Responsibility

By Sylvia Gurinsky

Former U.S. Sen. Bob Graham is doing what he does best - methodically working the system.

In this case, it's with a lawsuit to try to take all responsibility for setting college tuition away from the Florida Legislature, which took it away from the Board of Governors, which should have it.

A decade ago, Graham helped lead the citizen intitiative that created the board after the Legislature, with the blessings of then-Gov. Jeb Bush, eliminated Florida's Board of Regents, which had overseen the state university system for many years.

Since the Board of Governors was created, the legislature has done all it can to strip its powers - though it's given the board some power-sharing, which removed the board from being one of those involved as a plaintiff in this case. Bill Kaczor of the Associated Press reported this on Monday:

Graham and company are continuing with the lawsuit. Good.

The third branch of state government - its court system - should decide once and for all who has the power to set tuition for students. The feeling in this corner is that it shouldn't be the hyper-political Florida Legislature.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

April 27: Two Horrible Laws In Arizona

By Sylvia Gurinsky

Arizona, the state that inflicted Evan Mecham on an unsuspecting nation and was the last state to approve a day honoring Martin Luther King, Jr., has done it again.

Gov. Jan Brewer signed a bill into law that will essentially make anyone who speaks with an accent or has a non-WASP surname in the state a target of police.

Officially, the bill requires law enforcement to question people about their immigration status if there is even a suspicion that the people are in the United States illegally.

Gee, no room for error with that.

What Brewer sanctioned is nothing short of racial profiling. In a state with a 30 percent Hispanic population, that's ludicrous.

A court challenge, an economic boycott and a possible ballot challenge of the measure are being explored. Mexico is warning its citizens they could be harassed in Arizona. The Obama Administration will definitely challenge the law on the basis that the state is exceeding its legal boundaries.

And U.S. Sen. John McCain, who had always championed sensible immigration reform, has shown, with his support of this, that his desperation to keep his Senate seat has trumped his logic. Perhaps McCain should have done in Arizona what Gov. Charlie Crist will likely do in Florida - keep his values and go independent.

This horrible law points to a second horrible law in Arizona: The one that allowed Brewer to become governor in the first place.

Arizona has no lieutenant governor/ running mate for its governor. So when President Barack Obama picked former Gov. Janet Napolitano to become the United States Secretary of Homeland Security, Brewer, Arizona's secretary of state, succeeded Napolitano as governor. Brewer is a Republican who is catering to the right wing. Napolitano is a Democrat.

Ironically, Napolitano is in the position to fight this law from a federal level. All efforts should be undertaken to do so.

Two decades ago, Arizona cost itself with its foot-dragging on Martin Luther King Day. With this, the state's leadership has taken huge backward steps yet again.

Monday, April 26, 2010

April 26: New Hulu Show: "Greed"

By Sylvia Gurinsky, owned by NBC Universal, hit on a successful formula of showing television programs online. Its advertising method has made a profit.

That's not good enough for the company, though. Like everything else it's touched recently, particularly NBC, the parent company is primed to screw this up, too.

Starting next month, plans to charge almost $10 a month for subscribers to episodes beyond five or so that would be free. This is in addition to continuing to seek advertising. Presumably, this would apply to the classic television shows, such as "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" and "Magnum, PI," that it has, as well as PBS shows such as "Rick Steves' Europe."

As one can imagine, that decision hasn't been well received by consumers. Take a look at the postings under any article about Hulu's decision. Almost 100 percent of them are against this measure.

Hulu's argument is that it doesn't want to lose money on these programs the way the music industry lost money for years. Ultimately, it doesn't matter. On the Internet, those who are determined to get something for free will do so.

It seems the best business model for Hulu - and ultimately, many Internet entities - might be advertising - perhaps single-sponsored programs, as so many radio and television shows used to do.

It's not a good idea for Hulu to change its top-rated program to "Greed." Viewers may change theirs to "Turnoff."

Thursday, April 22, 2010

April 22: This Earth Day Brings Peril

By Sylvia Gurinsky

I've already seen one online posting today about the irony of the oil rig fire and collapse off the coast of Louisiana on this Earth Day.

At this point, 11 workers are missing, and the long-term disaster in pollution caused has yet to be determined.

This disaster - and that's exactly what it is - makes both President Barack Obama's recommended expansion of oil drilling and the Republican Party's "Drill, Baby, Drill" motto sound utterly ridiculous.

Monday night, the excellent PBS series "The American Experience" featured a documentary about the creation of Earth Day and the environmental movement, and the challenges that have occured since.

One of the most infuriating ones involves former President Jimmy Carter, who created the best environmental policy while he was in the White House, but has done nothing to advocate for it since then. (Too bad he hasn't spent his time lambasting Big Oil and his OPEC friends in the Arab world, instead of lambasting Israel for defending itself. Environmentally, this planet might be better off.)

With truly clean energy - wind, solar power and anything else that hasn't had an accident resulting in the loss of life - available, both the public and private sectors should concentrate solely on developing cheaper and accessible versions of those, instead of chasing expensive, dirty sources of energy that get this country into trouble, both here and overseas.

The lesson burning in the Gulf of Mexico right now should teach them that.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

April 21: How Do We Tone It Down?

By Sylvia Gurinsky

In an opinion column in Sunday's New York Times, former President Bill Clinton, looking back 15 years at the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Building in Oklahoma City, mentioned the current angry words going back and forth:

Well put. The next question is: How do we get politicians, broadcasters and others responsible for this angry rhetoric to tone it down?

Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes once wrote in a ruling that the First Amendment right of free speech does not extend to being able to falsely shout "fire" in a crowded theater - in effect, to say or do something that would cause a dangerous situation. We've heard plenty of people recently straddling that line.

Some Americans have begun "coffee parties" as an alternative to the hostile atmosphere generated by many of the "Tea Party" participants. It's a grassroots effort, and it and any other way to quiet things is a good idea.

Stronger efforts, however, need to come from the top down. When Clinton spoke about the demonizing of politicians, he was speaking of it being done by those with the power of a microphone or elected office, besides everyone else.

The nature of the hostility was reflected by one of the worst offenders, Rush Limbaugh, who proceeded instantly to blame Clinton for any future violence. That reaction illustrates exactly what's wrong - and what needs fixing.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

April 20: Wenski a Fine Choice For Archdiocese of Miami

By Sylvia Gurinsky

Bishop - now to be Archbishop - Thomas Wenski couldn't be a better choice to lead the Archdiocese of Miami.

Wenski, currently based in Orlando, was born in Palm Beach County and had spent much of his adult life working with the Archdiocese in various roles, most notably with Catholic Charities and with the Haitian community.

South Florida's many other ethnic groups know him well, too. Wenski succeeded Monsignor Bryan Walsh, one of the principals in Operation Pedro Pan, as the head of Catholic Charities before he became Orlando's bishop.

Wenski will replace Archbishop John Favolora, who has led the Archdiocese since 1994. Favolora has had his share of problems - most notably the scandal of priests who have been child molesters. Recent economic issues forced the shutdown of various local Catholic schools - most of them in poor areas - last year. He's also faced an increasing separation between the ideals of Pope Benedict and American Catholics.

Wenski is well-equipped to deal with these issues, as well as the ones South Florida typically faces.

Welcome home, Archbishop Wenski.

Monday, April 19, 2010

April 19: Crist Did His Job

By Sylvia Gurinsky

Florida Gov. Charlie Crist didn't quite take the entire week alloted to him to announce his decision on Senate Bill 6. He vetoed it last Thursday.

Given all the political noise around him, Crist listened to a majority of Florida residents, who already knew the conclusion he finally came to: This was a bad bill.

Never mind whether this will be good or bad for Crist politically. His decision to veto the bill was a great one for the students and teachers of Florida.

Crist did his job. Next year, the Florida Legislature must do its own job and come up with a common-sense education reform bill.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

April 15: Time To Re-Write Textbook Writing

By Sylvia Gurinsky

Among the elected officials who have recently been dismissive of public will are most of the members of the Texas Board of Education.

A majority of the board is getting set to approve changes to textbooks that would alter a view of history to one that is more favorable to the extreme right-wing. Taraneh Ghajar Jerven, a freelance writer, gives the bloody details in a commentary in this week's Christian Science Monitor:

What the board is doing illustrates part of what is wrong with textbook writing across the country when it can be hijacked by people with partisan agendas, whether right or left. For instance, there have been complaints about textbooks in California being too favorable to left-wing causes.

Aside from politics, there is a question of whose history is or isn't represented. Increasingly, minority groups stake a claim to that history. Just as troubling as putting Jefferson Davis - or Sen. Joseph McCarthy - on a par with or above Thomas Jefferson is a textbook that eliminates Hispanics - especially in Texas, where they make up a sizable part of the population.

There should not be one central organization or agency writing all the textbooks in the country; a look at Nazi Germany - or the current demonization of Israel in Palestinian textbooks - shows that. But neither should the education of American children be hijacked by the same partisan parasites who have contaminated cable television, talk radio and the Internet.

There are trusted historians across the country and in local communities who look simply at what happened and not who it benefits. They should take a much larger role in helping textbook companies write history accurately.

As for Texas' Board of Education: Don't mess with American textbooks.

(Full disclosure: I work as an educator at the Historical Museum of Southern Florida.)

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

April 14: Reordering the Court

By Sylvia Gurinsky

Get ready for another ulcer-inducing session of political back and forth, known as the nomination and confirmation process for whoever replaces retiring United States Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens.

There are always assumptions about whomever a president appoints. Sometimes those assumptions are broken: Earl Warren and David Souter were far more liberal than their appointing presidents, Dwight Eisenhower and George H.W. Bush, would have liked. Byron White turned out to be a relatively conservative (old-school conservative) appointment by John F. Kennedy.

There is a tradition of seriousness and studiousness in the way the Supreme Court goes about its work. Never mind that sometimes, the opinions are badly rendered (including last January's 5-4 campaign finance ruling). There is a dignity to the way justices discuss and decide their cases.

It's a stark contrast to the process that puts them on the Supreme Court.

Even the Founding Fathers believed that the governing and legislating processes were supposed to be messy; that's why they created three branches of government, so the judicial branch would tell the other two how they were supposed to do it.

But whoever winds up being the next person to serve on the high court deserves a lot better than he or she is about to get.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

April 13: Crack Down On Unsafe Mines

By Sylvia Gurinsky

The legacy of how seriously the Upper Big Branch mine took the documentation of its safety violations can now be seen in 29 funerals that are taking place.

Had the West Virginia mine done what it should have to repair its safety issues, families of the 29 miners killed last week would not now be in mourning.

The tragedy illustrates the laxity of enforcing state law. In an article released today by the Associated Press, reporters Lawrence Messina and Tim Huber say that West Virginia mines are now usually closed down only after a serious accident, though inspectors can order closures.

The profit-minded mentality of mine owners also plays a factor in these accidents. Should mines really have safety violations in the dozens, much less the hundreds? No.

Compare it to something more banal: Florida restaurant inspection law, which requires the shutting down of restaurants if there are basic health violations.

Mine safety enforcement should be just as tough, and tougher.

Both West Virginia and Congress will now investigate what went wrong and how to prevent future disasters. That will be the easy part. The most difficult part is the one that will actually save lives - enforcing stricter safety measures.

But no more difficult than seeing video and pictures of all those grieving families.

Friday, April 9, 2010

April 9: Gov. Crist, Veto These Bills

By Sylvia Gurinsky

Is four months of a political primary campaign worth handing Florida countless years of damage to its classrooms?

We'll soon find out Gov. Charlie Crist's answer to that question.

Crist has decisions to make on some of the worst pieces of school legislation conceived by the Florida Legislature in years. Those include Senate Bill 6, which would chain teacher pay to standardized test scores and leave teachers vulnerable to capricious firing; and Senate Joint Resolution 6, which would ask voters to begin a reversal of the class size restrictions they approved in 2002. There could also be bills expanding school vouchers and religion-specific prayers at school events.

Crist has more to decide.

As all except for the ants in the sidewalk know, Crist is struggling in the Republican primary for U.S. Senate against former Florida House Speaker Marco Rubio. Vetoing these bills won't help him in that primary.

But signing them and appeasing a noisy minority of Floridians won't help him in the general election against U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek, D-Miami.

For sure, signing them will hurt Florida's schoolchildren.

Yesterday, Crist said he'd listen to his bosses - the people of Florida. Most of them have been speaking loud and clear:

These are bad bills, governor. Veto them.