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!