Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Nov. 23: Time For El Al Procedures In U.S.

By Sylvia Gurinsky

Why is what El Al does a violation of the United States Constitution while the ridiculously invasive new standards imposed by the Transportation Security Administration are not?

The procedures of El Al, Israel's primary airline, begin once someone buys a ticket. Employees do background checks and connect as many dots as possible.

If they don't find anything wrong with the background checks, the next step happens when a passenger gets to the airport. El Al agents - all with Israel Defense Forces training - ask about who packed the bags, whether anyone else has had them, and so forth.

Besides the answers, the agents are looking at the passenger's behavior and body language.

The background checks and the observance of physical behavior are where El Al evidently gets into a constitutional slippery slope here.

But with the current fuss over the full body scanning machines and patdowns - particularly affected are people with medical problems - El Al's procedures, successful for 40 years, are worth adopting. It's easier to justify profiling than it is to justify the patting down and exposure to radiation of people with prosthetic devices and fluid collection bags.

It's also likely better protection against terrorism.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Nov. 16: The $500,000 Question

By Sylvia Gurinsky

It's all in the numbers.

The debate over whether the so-called "Bush tax cuts" should be extended or dropped could shift on $250,000.

Not necessarily the $250,000 that President Barack Obama has been suggesting for two years as the demarkation line between those who get tax breaks and those who don't. Critics of that number have suggested it's too low because of the small businesses that would be affected.

That may be true. So Obama should raise that number another $250,000 - to $500,000.

Then, to quote the late U.S. Sen. Everett Dirksen, you're talking about real money.

It's half a million. Half a million even sounds different. When it comes to working for or running a business, it is different.

And it might be the necessary dividing line for Obama to offer a compromise on extending the tax cuts to stimulate the economy - and a way for Republican leaders in Congress to show whether they're serious about cutting into deficits.

Whatever they won Nov. 2 hasn't gone into effect yet. Once it does, it will run up against increasingly strident opposition in the Democratic party. Cutting into those deficits will require some sacrifice on the Republicans' part.

The many Americans still without jobs want a fair shake - and they want to know that the richer Americans will pay their fair share.

It can start with Obama and Congress answering the $500,000 compromise question with a firm "Yes."

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

November 9: Trying To Figure Things Out

By Sylvia Gurinsky

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to attend "The Truth About Florida: What We Really Should Know About Planning, Land Use and the Environment," presented by Florida Atlantic University's School of Urban & Regional Planning and the Scripps Howard Institute On the Environment.

It was a room full of intelligent people - municipal and state planners, teachers, students and a few journalists. The planners and teachers communicated the reality of what Florida faces: Continued population growth. Continued tough decisions on planning issues. Continued problems with rising waters due to climate change and lousy land-use decisions in the past.

And the big one: Continued concerns about the decisions of elected officials in both parties.

The most telling quote of the day came from Zhong-Ren Peng, chair of the University of Florida's Department of Urban and Regional Planning. He said, "We are planning for the next 50 to 100 years, unlike a politician who's thinking about the next election."

And usually unlike media who think about the next story.

This week - in this reporter's estimation, probably the worst week for ethical journalism in some time - provided some more things to think about.

Our job got harder for two reasons.

One involves the Florida governor's race, where a bare plurarity of voters elected Rick Scott, whose Florida ties are very new and whose legal past and future are unclear - despite the endorsements by Florida newspaper editorial boards of Alex Sink, a candidate with longer state ties and much stronger ethics.

Another reason involves MSNBC's slipshod handling of Keith Olbermann, first suspending him for donating to political candidates, then letting him off the hook when his supporters complained.

At a time when doing the right (that's "correct" right, not political right) thing is imperative, it seems fewer people are. Worse, it seems to matter less to many people.

Certainly it matters less to media companies who have laid off thousands of hard-working journalists with integrity while paying millions to egotistical blowhards whose partisan voices are as loud as their intelligence level and sense of honor and dignity are low.

That means those of us who believe in ethical journalism and commentary have to work a lot harder at it, and get a lot better at it.

There's a reason we respect Edward R. Murrow and Woodward & Bernstein, and the many journalists who covered the civil rights movement. At the toughest times, they stood their ground for what the press is supposed to do, not for what's fashionable or profitable or favored by the majority.

I'm going to spend the next few weeks trying to figure out how to do so with this blog, and probably incorporate some of the "newer" new media - Twitter, for one - in that effort. So I'll be in and out until January, posting on major topics when necessary.

And always trying to do so with integrity, and without fear or favor to anyone or anything, except the truth. That's what I owe you. That's what everyone deserves.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

November 4: A Thought For Haiti

By Sylvia Gurinsky

Haiti still needs us.

The country is still reeling from last January's earthquake, and now faces new danger from Tropical Storm Tomas.

Remember how you gave after the earthquake. Go back to that source and give again.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Nov. 2: Celebrating a Wordsmith

By Sylvia Gurinsky

Ted Sorenson was President John F. Kennedy's aide, speechwriter and close friend. Until his death Sunday at age 82, Sorenson also protected the Kennedy legacy.

It has been a parlor game to guess whether he or Kennedy wrote some of the most stirring lines of Kennedy's speeches, including the most stirring, part of Kennedy's inaugural speech: "Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country."

The exact source doesn't matter. The sentiment is what counts.

Sorenson was also a crucial advisor to Kennedy at a time when it really counted - during the days of the Cuban Missile Crisis, when Kennedy was trying to communicate the right messages to Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev. At one nail-biting moment, Kennedy ignored a letter from Khrushchev with a hard-line tone and responded to a softer letter; Sorenson is said to have been one of those who advised Kennedy to do so.

Sorenson knew plenty about messages. Those who will be elected to office today would do well to heed his lessons - and those words spoken by his boss on that cold January day in 1961.

Monday, November 1, 2010

November 1: "Hard Times, Not End Times"

By Sylvia Gurinsky

Thank you, Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert and the estimated 200,000 people who showed up at the National Mall on Saturday.

"The Rally To Restore Sanity And/Or Fear" actually served as a reminder that most Americans are sane people, despite the hysteria that contaminates cable networks that call themselves news channels.

"We live in hard times, not end times," Stewart, host of Comedy Central's "The Daily Show," said near the end of the rally.

It's clear that those who attended the rally - and millions more who watched it either on television or online - got that message. Now, it's their turn to spread it.