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 (http://sunshinestatements.blogspot.com/2010/07/july-27-bad-signs-in-miami.html) 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, childrensmovementflorida.org, 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.