Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Friday December 16: Master Plan Needed For Little Havana

By Sylvia Gurinsky

Apparently, the current members of the Miami City Commission didn't learn the painful lessons that came to their predecessors who approved the old Miami Arena: If you build it, he may not come.

"He," in this case, refers to any high-end business owner who might have wanted to set up shop near the Miami Marlins' new ballpark. As with the Miami Arena during the late 1980s, city and team fathers and mothers hoped a new sports facility would trigger new businesses. But the devil was in the bureaucratic details.

One commissioner who obviously hasn't learned from city history is Frank Carollo. He evidently had the idea of making the area around the ballpark into another South Beach.

The Little Havana neighborhood, originally known as Riverside, was a middle-class area until after the Mariel boatlifts and Central American immigration of the 1980s. Today, the area has a mixture of middle and low-income residents.

Through the years the Orange Bowl stood on the land that now hosts the ballpark, there were a few businesses nearby - restaurants like Dairy Queen, among others.

Carollo - and for that matter, Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria - don't seem to understand that the majority of baseball fans who will go to the ballpark are middle-class families. Some will want a place to eat before or after the game. High-end cafes won't cut it - especially if families can't afford ballpark food, which is quite possible.

At its best, Little Havana is a neighborhood of mom-and-pop businesses, good for strolling and dining for people from all walks of life. It's never been exclusive, nor should it be (I should know: I grew up there.).

In recent years, charming and historic bungalows have been torn down for some ugly condominiums. But other bungalows and apartment buildings from various parts of the early and mid-20th century remain.

More than 80 years of high-profile sports at the Orange Bowl didn't change the atmosphere of the neighborhood, and the new ballpark shouldn't change it, either.

But a master plan is needed to restore Little Havana's historic buildings and streets. A classic neighborhood getting a new ballpark deserves the best for its residents and visitors.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

December 8, 2011: Wrong People Being Fired in Florida ALF Mess

By Sylvia Gurinsky

The mess that is Florida's administration - or lack thereof - of conditions in assisted living facilities illustrates perfectly the mess that is Florida's government in general.

As The Miami Herald, which has done an excellent job covering the ALF crisis, indicates, the good guys are getting fired:


Indeed, if there's anyone who deserves to be fired, for starters, it's ombudsman-in-name-only Jim Crochet, who is not fulfilling his duty to Floridians. He's been removing the volunteers who have been pointing attention to the problems.

Also on the "Must kick out" list are any members of the Florida Legislature - starting with State Rep. Matt Hudson of Naples - allowing ALFs to run roughshod over the rights of their patients. That also goes for Gov. Rick Scott, whose negative history with health care facilities is well known, but was ignored by too many voters last November.

Given its climate, Florida will continue to attract retirees. That's why both shoddy ALFs and shoddy administration must be cleaned up.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

December 6: Congress and the Post Office: Both Must Be Fixed

By Sylvia Gurinsky

Oh, the irony of watching the pivotal scene in "Miracle On 34th Street" when John Payne, playing the lawyer representing Santa Claus, is reading information into the public record about the glories of the United States Post Office.

There's not much that's glorious about the postal service today. You know things are bad when one of the few entities that can help you is the United States Congress, a body that's in even worse shape than the Postal Service.

Congress could approve reforms that would help the post office get out of its mess without having to slow down service, as it threatens to do next year, lay off workers or raise mail delivery prices every five minutes. The reforms could start with the proposals by U.S. Sen. Susan Collins of Maine - one of the few in Congress who still knows what her job is supposed to be - which include refunding the postal service money it overpaid in employee benefits.

Unfortunately, most of Collins' colleagues in the Senate and House are more interested in sticking to their political weathervanes than in doing anything for the good of the post office - and thus, the country.

Most of the Republicans in the House are busy being bullied by the unelected, no-tax gaulieter Grover Norquist. (Here, the word "gauleiter" is meant in the third definition given by Webster's, "a person with an arrogant, overbearing outlook or manner," which certainly describes Norquist.)

The Senate is not much better. There is weak leadership all around on both sides of the aisle.

It's going to take the experiences of businesses and customers who still rely on US Mail more than anything else to lobby for their congressional representatives to fix this. And a memo to Congress: Your jobs may depend on it.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Monday, November 28: Let Public Vote On Gambling In Florida

By Sylvia Gurinsky

Miami-Dade County Commission Chairman Joe Martinez had the right idea, but the wrong execution.

Martinez proposed a straw poll on the issue of gambling for the Jan. 29, 2012 Republican primary ballot. His colleagues have tabled the idea, for now. In any case, the primary would not attract a representative slate of Dade voters because it's for Republicans only. (By the way, more to come on the commission's wrong-headed decision of putting charter reform proposals on that ballot.)

And the gambling issue should not just be on a straw poll. Ever since Malaysian company Genting bought the land on which The Miami Herald building rests and announced its plans for a mega-hotel and casino, the debate has popped up about what such a project will do to the quality of life in the area. In addition, other companies are circling to try to build mega-casinos of their own around other parts of South Florida.

Those affected - voters - should have the final say - not just locally, but also at the state level.

So, whether the body is the Florida Legislature or the Miami-Dade Commission, the message is the same: Let the public vote on these projects.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Tuesday, November 22: Ethics Lesson, Continued - With BTU

By Sylvia Gurinsky

The Broward Teachers Union is now learning the bitter lesson United Teachers of Dade learned a few years ago: Don't mess with other people's money.

Actually, the lessons are being learned by the people at the top: Pat Tornillo of UTD, who funded a lavish lifestyle, went to jail in 2003. Pat Santeramo, president of BTU, may follow.

Santeramo is being investigated for the way he's spent union money, particularly on political campaigns. He's been temporarily suspended from his position and could - and should - be kicked out entirely next month.

The Miami Herald has reported on how BTU's democratic and oversight processes have broken down during Santeramo's tenure:


Unions are counted on to protect workers' rights, but their influence has been declining. Corruption and mismanagement in leadership ranks are among the reasons.

The Broward Teachers Union needs to completely clean house - not just Santeramo, but anyone connected to him who was also responsible for any misdeeds. The union's look at its practices should result in true reform - to change the flunking ethics grade of its leadership.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

November 1, 2011: NBA Should Learn From Baseball's Bitter Lesson

By Sylvia Gurinsky

It is a special irony that baseball should celebrate a most glorious time while basketball is enduring its most miserable time.

The most exciting World Series and postseason in years capped off a season with plenty of milestones for Major League Baseball. While it's never possible to know if testing technology is keeping up with the players, the sport seems to have shaken the clouds brought by steroids. In addition, it seems owners and players will quietly reach a deal to extend the collective bargaining agreement.

Not so with the National Basketball Association, which has already cancelled games through the next two weeks. The atmosphere between owners, who have locked out players, and the players' union is poisonous - and there are splits within the two groups themselves over whether to get a deal done.

As far as most of the public is concerned, the battle is billionaires versus billionaires. But the biggest cost is not to the owners, players or even fans: It's to the owners and employees of support businesses - hotels, restaurants, sporting goods stores and so forth - that feed off NBA teams. Those businesses could see layoffs and even closures because of the lockout. And no deal between owners and players will reverse that.

If owners and players think they can automatically gain back public goodwill when they finally do reach an agreement, they should look back 16 years. From August, 1994 to April, 1995, baseball endured a strike that cost a World Series and the future of baseball in Montreal, among other casualties - not to mention connecting businesses still recovering from the early 1990s recession.

The memory of that strike has lingered. Given the current economic crisis, the resentment of the NBA situation could go even deeper. Basketball's owners and players should learn baseball's lessons of 1994-95.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

October 25, 2011: Rubio, Birthers and Dolphins Star in "Silly Season"

By Sylvia Gurinsky

Hurricane Rina may soon provide a serious distraction from South Florida's "Silly Season."

The season has been punctuated by the birther movement's aim at U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida - and a blunder Rubio committed - and the circus atmosphere surrounding the once-great Miami Dolphins.

-The racist dunderheads who make up the birther movement, having embarrassed themselves by going after President Barack Obama, are now going after seemingly any non-WASP politician with national ambitions. That includes Rubio, who has been on some Republican lists as a potential vice presidential candidate next year.

They claim that Rubio isn't a "natural born" citizen of the United States - even though he was born at Miami's Cedars of Lebanon hospital (now part of Jackson Health Systems) in 1972. Their ludicrous argument is that Rubio's parents didn't become United States citizens until after his birth.

-Rubio, by virtue of being (to quote Bruce Springsteen) "Born in the U.S.A.," is very much a natural-born citizen. But he didn't do himself any favors in misstating the time his parents left Cuba.

Leaving Fidel Castro's Cuba as a refugee has always triggered higher political stock than leaving Fulgencio Batista's Cuba as a refugee - which Rubio's parents did in 1956, three years before Castro came to power.

Until recently, Rubio's biography on his campaign material and Senate site suggested that his parents left Cuba after Castro came to power. It's possible that he wasn't listening when his parents mentioned the date they left. But anyone who grows up with parents who came from Cuba usually knows, at some point, the exact date their parents left the island.

Rubio can help himself by making it official and releasing his parents' immigration records.


It's hard to know what was more embarrassing about the Miami Dolphins on Sunday - the way they blew the game, or the way owner Stephen Ross showed up his head coach and his players.

The nod here goes to Ross. In two seasons as the Dolphins' owner, he still hasn't figured out how to recreate the formula that was perfected by legendary founding owner Joe Robbie. Robbie hired good front office people who recruited young college talent such as Bob Griese, Larry Csonka and so many others, and then capped it off by hiring the brilliant Don Shula as head coach. The result was magical, including a perfect 1972-73 season that has yet to be matched in the National Football League.

All Ross has done is stack the ownership boxes with celebrities (The only celebrity during the Robbie era was longtime friend Danny Thomas.), watch team VP Bill Parcells go without a by-your-leave and keep General Manager Jeff Ireland, who hasn't impressed with any player selections and hasn't given Coach Tony Sparano, who led the Dolphins to the playoffs in his first year (the second-to-last year of the Wayne Huizenga era) anything to work with.

Then, after conducting a public search for someone to replace Sparano and reluctantly sticking with him, Ross really stuck his head in it during Sunday's game with the supposed honoring of the 2008 Florida Gators - whose quarterback, Tim Tebow, now plays for the Dolphins' Sunday opponent, the Denver Broncos, and whose coach, Urban Meyer, just happened to be chatting with Ross on the sidelines.

Even Florida/Miami Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria, who has made some boneheaded decisions, might not stoop that low.

A 1969 Sports Illustrated profile of Robbie - done before the Shula hiring and the glory years - shows some early mistakes on his part, but he certainly corrected them. Ross would benefit by taking a few moves from the Robbie playbook.

Monday, October 24, 2011

October 24, 2011: Abraham and Fariss: The Best of South Florida

By Sylvia Gurinsky

How should a South Floridian act? Try following the examples of Anthony Abraham and Wayne Fariss.

Abraham, who died at age 100 last week, came here from the Midwest in 1951 and truly established a second life - first as a car dealer, then as a philanthropist. He was the last surviving creator of St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee and he supported countless South Florida charities. Not just his name, but also his imprint is in such organizations as Big Brothers Big Sisters, Miami Rescue Mission and more.

Wayne Fariss, who also died last week, graced the airwaves of WCKT (now WSVN) Channel 7 for most of the years from 1956-84 as an anchor and reporter. He was the ultimate professional in covering stories ranging from the rise of Fidel Castro in Cuba to hurricanes to the Yom Kippur War. Here is a clip from WCKT's coverage of Hurricane Donna in 1960:


Good reporting should be giving the basics, and Fariss excelled at that.

Both men represented the best of South Florida. They leave many fans and a fine legacy to follow.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

October 18: What the "Other 99%" Needs To Demand

By Sylvia Gurinsky

So far, it's only a venting of steam.

The Occupy Wall Street and other protests, to this point, have opposed the current economic situation - class inequality, the disappearing middle class, an economic elite class that hasn't given or sacrificed enough of itself in this crisis, unemployment, the lack of justice concerning those who caused the crisis.

It's time for the next step - a plan of action. A list of demands for people in both the public and private sector:

1. That U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder open formal investigations of any criminal activity concerning the 2008 economic meltdown. If he doesn't, he should publicly explain why he doesn't.

2. That Congress approve, and President Barack Obama sign, the bill that prohibits employers from discriminating against job applicants who have been out of work at least six months.

3. That Congress and Obama consider legislation that would scale back the mega-mergers and other business hijinks that have led to so many layoffs.

4. That pressure be put on businesses to ensure that executives and management work in and understand every aspect of a company. It's a lot harder to lay off those you do know.

5. That tax incentives be provided for businesses to stay and hire in the United States - and tax penalties be provided for businesses that fail to do either.

6. That genuine housing reforms be done, including the curtailing or total banishment of strategies that make it more difficult for honest people to pay their mortgages.

7. A recruitment of intelligent and honest candidates for political office next year, challenging any incumbent - Republican, Democrat or otherwise - who doesn't support the above reforms.

Those who are protesting owe it to the entire "99 percent" to go for those goals.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Tuesday October 11: Use the Best of (Steve) Jobs To Restore Economy

By Sylvia Gurinsky

Steve Jobs was a great American creator, but not a perfect one. As a boss, he could be tyrannical. His all-American Apple products are made in China.

Still, he was a visionary and put ideas into practice that American business could sure use right now.

Imagination and creativity are sorely lacking in the executives who are still thinking quarter by quarter and still laying off reliable employees by the thousands. Those executives are a major reason for the "Occupy Wall Street" protests springing up across the country.

Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak began building the Apple I computer in 1975 - a time when the United States was just beginning to emerge from a crippling recession. They founded the Apple company in 1976. Many entrepreneurs have been inspired to create new companies during national economic crises.

Jobs endured failure, being forced from Apple during the 1980s. He began again, first with Disney Pixar, which has made films such as the "Toy Story" series and "Monsters, Inc."

He reclaimed his mantle at Apple during the 1990s and introduced the slender, multicolored Macbook.

Then, he faced mortality in 2004 with a cancer diagnosis. What followed was probably his greatest creative period since his design of the early Apple computers, with the creation of the iPod, iPhone and iPad.

The result: Apple has been doing very well in a very bad economy.

In the wake of Jobs' death, lots of people have referred to his 2005 speech at Stanford University's graduation ceremonies. It is most relevant for how to get out of today's crisis:

"Don't be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become."

Monday, September 26, 2011

Monday September 26: Sniglets On Ziff, Marlins and Villela

By Sylvia Gurinsky

Life happens. And mazel tov, I suppose, to Sanford Ziff for apparently finding happiness months after losing wife Dolores.

But that's no excuse for Dolores Ziff's name to be taken off the Sanford and Dolores Ziff Opera House at the Arsht Center for the Performing Arts in Miami in favor of Ziff's new wife.

Dolores Ziff's contributions to the arts in South Florida are beyond question. Her name remaining on the concert hall is a fitting tribute to that. The Arsht Center board - and any board that oversees tributes - should protect the legacy of those, such as Dolores Ziff, who have supported the arts.


To paraphrase Erica Kane in last week's televised swan song for "All My Children," this isn't the ending Marlins fans wanted for the team's time in what I still call Joe Robbie Stadium.

After a promising start in April and May, the season collapsed into one of a manager change, injuries, poor performances and even a pitcher who wasn't going by his real name.

Even the team's move into its new stadium has triggered questions; one rumored new logo resembles the Miami Dolphins' logo. (Why does the team need a new logo in the first place? Just replace "Florida" with "Miami.")

The Marlins' move to the old Orange Bowl site should be filled with optimism. But skepticism abounds - chiefly because the team is owned and run by two men - Jeffrey Loria and David Samson - who don't seem to understand that while they own the team, it's the fans who know best how a team should relate to the community it's in.


Finally, news late last week that Edward Villella, founding artistic director of the Miami City Ballet, will retire after the 2012-13 season.

After a glorious career as possibly the greatest male American ballet dancer to date, Villella worked with support from Toby Ansin to create the Miami City Ballet in 1986. In 25 years, the troupe has established itself as arguably one of the best in the United States and one that is celebrated internationally. On October 28, the company will be featured in PBS' "Great Performances."

Besides steering the Miami City Ballet to greatness, Villella is a class act. Years ago, as a college student on an internship at the late South Florida Magazine, I had the pleasure of interviewing him. The tough kid from New York learned to show Miami hospitality easily.

Bravo to him and his wife, Linda!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

September 22: Don't Blame Middle-Class Benefits For Crisis

By Sylvia Gurinsky

When did middle-class workers become the bad guy in this economic crisis?

Media - including entities that should know better, such as The Miami Herald and WPLG-Channel 10 - have been running a torrent of stories about how police, fire and other public employees have been making high salaries and getting lots of benefits.

Now, there's no question there have been abuses of the system, particularly in the upper echelons. But the rank-and-file who have risky jobs as a police officer or firefighter, or a postal worker who does the job through extreme heat and humidity, rain and nasty dogs, have every right to receive the best of health and vacation benefits.

Those whose benefits are worth questioning are CEOs who have continued to receive their millions while they've been laying off thousands of employees, as well as politicians who still receive full perks while they slash the health protection of those who work in the public sector.

It's also worth questioning why U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder did not prosecute those responsible for the 2008 financial collapses.

But picking on middle class workers is absurd. They're not responsible for this crisis. Making them the scapegoat won't fix it.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Monday September 19: Tea Party Congress Disaster Handling Is a Disaster

By Sylvia Gurinsky

No matter how once pronounes it, the Tea Party faithful have a lot of chutzpah. What they don't have is any compassion - or good sense.

Only they could deny people along the east coast of the United States disaster relief by saying funding must be cut for the needy elsewhere.

Only they could sic members of the U.S. House of Representatives to delay that disaster relief when the U.S. Senate saw sense and approved the relief.

Only they could disagree with members of their own Republican Party - including New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, whose state was battered by Hurricane Irene - over such a measure.

The rest of the United States - the majority of the United States - knows disaster relief is needed for the Eastern Seaboard. That majority needs to call, write and e-mail everyone in the House to approve that relief.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

September 13: Private Sector Must Show Congress How Not To Discriminate Against Unemployed

By Sylvia Gurinsky

Bills have been introduced in Congress that would prevent employers from discriminating against job applicants who are currently unemployed. But knowing how the Tea Party Blockheads in Congress are behaving - "Blockhead" is the appropriate word to describe what they're doing to legislation and the country - only a major public clamor can get such a law approved.

President Barack Obama could probably issue executive orders to a point. But American workers - and some American businesses - could do more to get Congress' ear:

*Organize marches and protests similar to the workers' marches of the 1930s.

*Campaign to prevent newspapers and job-listing sites such as Craigslist from listing any jobs that ban currently unemployed people.
If employers can't discriminate on the basis of race, religion, gender, creed, physical/mental ability or sexual orientation, they shouldn't be able to discriminate on the basis of employment - and the media shouldn't help them do so.

*Boycott companies that discriminate against the unemployed in their hiring practices.

*Lobby municipal and (where possible) state leaders to campaign against such discrimination.

The vast majority of men and women who have lost their jobs during this recession are not to blame - particularly in cases where their former bosses were only interested in profits at the expense of personnel. They need support - not suffering - in finding new jobs.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

September 11, 2011: Saddest 9/11 Legacy: America the Meaner

By Sylvia Gurinsky

For the most part, the experiences of the Great Depression and World War II turned this country, at least for a time, into something better than the ideal the Founding Fathers set out.

The experience of 9/11 - or how this country has reacted to it - has turned it into something far worse.

No thanks to deregulation and the proliferation of anything-goes cable television, the United States had already been lurching in a darker direction even before Sept. 11, 2001.

But the reactions to 9/11 - the lack of request by political leaders of anything even resembling shared sacrifice, the mistrust and hatred of Muslims that continues today and the dual lives of those who serve and those who don't - "Soldiers went to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan as America went to the mall" - has made matters worse.

So has the coarsening of culture, particularly on commercial television, polluted with so-called "reality shows" with people who have no transferrable skills, other than throwing around insults. And especially on so-called "cable news," which has made American politics their dirtiest since the Boss Tweed days.

So has the distintigration of American journalism, which no longer holds lying politicians to account.

We've lost our compassion. Oh, we can be generous when a natural disaster takes place in Haiti, Japan or Joplin. But as a country, we've lost the ability to work together on a daily basis.

Many who profess to be people of faith - including a lot of politicians - seek to divide, rather than unite.

All of that is no tribute to the more than 3,000 innocent men, women and children of different nationalities, religions, races and so on who lost their lives on 9/11.

They were united in living better lives. For their memories, when are we going to start to do the same?

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

August 16: Happy Summer!

By Sylvia Gurinsky

Sunshine Statements blog posts will be off until after Labor Day. Enjoy the rest of the summer!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

August 2, 2011: Symbolism and Perspective on the House Floor

By Sylvia Gurinsky

A little after 7 p.m. last night, some perspective showed up in the United States House of Representatives - in the person of U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz.

Giffords did much more than cast a vote to prevent this country from going into financial default.

During the debate over whether to raise the debt ceiling, Congress - the House in particular - has turned itself into something far below algae on the food chain and somewhere beneath Charlie Sheen and Wall Street bankers on the popularity level. The behavior of a number of members of Congress during the debate - including South Florida's own Allen West - was abominable.

By flying to Washington to cast her vote, Giffords, who is still recovering from a horrific January shooting in her Tuscon district, provided a quiet reminder of the cost of hatred and the dignity shown by those who overcome it.

The House managed to forget its differences for those few moments as its members cheered her.

Is it possible that such agreement can happen again in the next few years without such a powerful reason for it? Getting this country back to business requires its elected officials to work together.

Monday, August 1, 2011

August 1: Stop Foot-Dragging On Historic Preservation

By Sylvia Gurinsky

The economic, social and cultural benefits of historic preservation have been proven over and over. But in the City of Miami, some have yet to learn the lessons.

The city is haggling over naming rights money for what is already officially (and appropriately) named the Commodore Ralph Middleton Munroe Miami Marine Stadium. Of course, it's an unwritten law that everything has to have a corporate name today, because that's part of how things are paid for. The city wants most of the money from the corporate naming rights - after it and Miami-Dade County let the Florida/Miami Marlins get away with the money for the right to name its new version of Tatum Field/Roddey Burdine Stadium/The Orange Bowl.

Meanwhile, renovation of Marine Stadium is being delayed. With that delay comes fears that the city will let it go to neglect - and suspicions that Miami's political leaders still don't want to restore the stadium, but would rather have something glitzier on the Virginia Key site.

There is also mistrust on the matter of the Coconut Grove Playhouse, as this Miami Herald article indicates:


Despite progress in the historic preservation movement since the days when the battle for Miami Beach's Art Deco District seemed to be literally on a block-by-block basis, there is still not enough protection for significant structures. When the economy is tottering, as it is now, it seems difficult to remember that restored historic structures are usually profitable ones.

For the sake of the local economy and community, everyone - government and private - who has a stake in both of these structures should stop the foot-dragging and haggling. Get the fine print ironed out and get Miami Marine Stadium and the Coconut Grove Playhouse restored - soon.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

July 28: Obama Should Update Manned Spaceflight Plan

By Sylvia Gurinsky

President Obama's 2009 plan phasing out the Space Shuttle left many disappointed because of the lack of a specific future plan for manned spaceflight. Now that the shuttle program has formally come to a close, Obama needs to revise the spaceflight plan - even including the private sector.

In 2009, Obama let both the bleak state of the economy and his inexperience in his new job influence his plan. And for a man who frequently speaks inspiring words, Obama doesn't have a significant understanding of symbolism in American life - at least regarding manned spaceflight.

Yes, it's expensive and frequently ignored. But it's also important to American morale. Someone who is mentioned as an astronaut immediately gets the conversation changed - especially in a room full of schoolchildren looking for heroes.

Obama doesn't have to increase NASA's budget - not that he could right now, anyway. He does need to find the right private partners to announce the next generation of manned space flight.

Recently, The Christian Science Monitor published a number of articles about the privitization of flight:


Ideally, the next generation of manned spaceflight should be public-private. And Obama should get specific on it as soon as possible.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

July 26: Obama Should Go It Alone If He Has To On Debt Ceiling

By Sylvia Gurinsky

"The American people may have voted for divided government, but they didn't vote for a dysfunctional government."
-President Barack Obama, last night

You'd better believe it, Mr. President.

While Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives practice their debt ceiling strategy, unofficially titled "Make Sure Obama Doesn't Get Re-Elected At Any Cost," Obama will have a decision to make at deadline time.

If he has to, he should go it alone.

Actually, he's not alone in the type of solution he wants. He supports the plan approved by the United States Senate.

But during the last few days, House Speaker John Boehner proved he's more interested in keeping his job and raising his "street cred" with the Tea Party than he is in saving the country a lot of financial pain.

Such a strategy is even causing a split in the House, where Boehner seems not to have enough votes for his own plan. Meanwhile, the Senate waits. So does Obama.

So do the American people, whom Obama implored to contact Congress before next week. They will. The question is whether Boehner and Congress will listen.

Many House members who were elected last November came with the idea of blocking government. That's what they're doing.

Meanwhile, many who voted for them - or didn't vote at all last November - are waking up to the reality that blocking government isn't necessarily a good thing. Quite the contrary.

Meanwhile, Obama's job is to govern. He's had a lot of patience with those kindergarteners in the House, but he's given every indication his patience has run out. He should act on it.

Monday, July 25, 2011

July 25, 2011: How the War Against Terrorism Needs To Be Fought

By Sylvia Gurinsky

This time, it's Norway's turn for tears.

The hatred that resulted in last Friday's bombing in Oslo and murder of dozens of youths at an island camp about 25 miles away came from within. But it points to the need, in Norway and around the world, for everyone to grasp how the war against any kind of terrorism must be fought and won.

First, Norway needs to come to terms with its own security holes. Threats have been made against the country by Al Quaida and domestic extremists in the past. There was no excuse to have a situation on a street in front of important government buildings in which any non-official vehicle could be parked. Americans learned that the hard way after the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing.

The excuse for this terrorism was the growing Muslim population in Europe. Muslims are certainly not to blame for these attacks; in fact, some speculation during Friday's news coverage was reminiscent of the speculation after the Oklahoma City bombings.

It's been said before that conventional war tactics go only so far against terrorists. The common thread of most of them, whatever they support or oppose, is hatred.

That means those who are targeted - especially Muslims, who haven't done nearly enough to fight against the violence generated by radicals in the name of Islam - need to do more to speak out against it and act against it.

A majority of Muslims who move to other parts of the world do so because of the conditions - politically and economically repressive - in their countries of origin. They need to campaign to improve the situations in those countries, and make sure the so-called "Arab Spring" truly does blossom into openness across the region. European nations that once colonized many of those countries have an obligation to help in the campaign to fully liberate them.

Politicians worldwide who perpetuate hatred are also to blame (Yes, U.S. Rep. Allen West, R-Not Living In His District, that includes you.).

Norweigian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg and many of that country's residents made a good start over the weekend in paying tribute to the victims of Friday's attacks. Stoltenberg said, "We will retaliate with more democracy."

More democracy and more education. The best weapons for everyone in this 21st Century war.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Wednesday July 13: Keep Miami Central & Miami Edison Open

By Sylvia Gurinsky

Here's a chance for Gov. Rick Scott to raise that horrible 29 percent approval rating: By joining the campaign to keep Miami Central and Miami Edison high schools open.

Since 2008, both schools have been on what amounts to a probationary list by the state of Florida for consecutive FCAT scores of "F." Both schools have improved to a "C" by changing administrators, teachers and teaching policies. Miami Central even got a high-profile visit earlier this year from President Barack Obama, who was accompanied by former Gov. Jeb Bush.

Both schools are historic: Miami Edison's origins in Lemon City predate the incorporation of the City of Miami; its alumni include former U.S. Sen. Bob Graham. Miami Central's opening coincided with the beginning of the Space Age; its sports teams are named the Rockets.

The schools apparently had some FCAT fallback this year because of guideline changes.

Alternatives for the schools include closing them, privatizing them or turning them into charter schools. Entrepreneurs of the latter two are probably licking their chops at the possibilities, while parents, students, teachers, administrators and community members are agonizing at the possible marginalization of two central places in the Liberty City and Little Haiti communities.

To his credit, Miami-Dade School Superintendent Alberto Carvalho has vowed to fight to keep Miami Edison and Miami Central open as public schools. Will any of this influence Florida's Board of Education and interim Education Commissioner John Winn?

Some heavier hitters will be needed. For sure, Bush and Graham need to get involved in saving these schools. Miami New Times' recommendation of a student sit-in isn't a bad idea. Some legal help might be needed, too; the question of whether closing or altering the schools might be considered a discriminatory move in these communities is relevant.

But the person with the biggest influence currently lives at 10 Adams Street in Tallahassee. Rick Scott can gain a lot of goodwill if he persuades Winn and the board to keep the doors fully open at Miami Central and Miami Edison.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Thursday July 7: Dodgers Mess Is More Proof of Baseball's Mess

By Sylvia Gurinsky

Perhaps for the first time, Bud Selig, the man who sits in the baseball commissioner's office, did the right thing in trying to take control of the Los Angeles Dodgers from Frank McCourt. But the Dodgers soap opera illustrates once again the messes that Selig and Major League Baseball have made.

Giving a pass to McCourt, who came up short in his quest to buy the Boston Red Sox, by letting him have the Dodgers even though the financing wasn't fully in place was not the best idea in the world. It happened because Fox, which owned the Dodgers at the time, wanted to stick to televising baseball.

Meanwhile, the Texas Rangers played musical chairs with its ownership. Jeffrey Loria, a man whose management style would have gotten him tossed out of many businesses, has gone from nailing the coffin on the Montreal Expos to causing Florida Marlins fans plenty of misery.

No one is discussing the ownership of either the Dodgers or the New York Mets - whose boss, Fred Wilpon, is also in trouble - as an opportunity to diversify the collection of owners. Baseball needs more females in the top spot. And why can't the team that broke the color line on the field also break it in the owner's office?
The full details of both the Dodgers' and Major League Baseball's messes could be aired in a court battle between McCourt and MLB. Since public embarrassment - usually by Congress - has nudged baseball to clean up messes regarding steroids and labor issues, will it do the same for the ownership issue?

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Wednesday, July 6: The Village - Not the Jury - Failed Caylee Anthony

By Sylvia Gurinsky

If it does take a village to raise a child, as the old saying goes, that village - in fact, several villages - failed in the case of Caylee Anthony.

First, the local village: Besides the little girl's family, that includes anyone who came in contact with the family while Caylee was alive who could have reported any issues and didn't. Caylee was not entered into any day-care program or school in which a teacher might have seen evidence of any neglect. Florida's Department of Children and Families was never called about anything regarding the girl.

During the trial, the local village included a medical examiner, police and prosecutors in Central Florida who couldn't close those links that would have tied Caylee's death to her mother or anyone else in a conclusive way - or would have otherwise resolved how Caylee died.

Then, there's the global village - that teeming mass of hysteria in both public and media that spent weeks glued to the television set watching what, for them, is another reality television show. It's the people who physically fought for a seat in the courtroom as if they were fighting for a spot on a lifeboat. It's the snakes who will now offer everyone directly affected by the trial big money to spill their guts, the people who will cash in and the members of the public who will watch the show.

They did fail Caylee Anthony. The jury that reached a verdict yesterday did not.

If they'd been instructed to find Casey Anthony guilty or not guilty of being a bad mother, their verdict probably would have been unanimous for "guilty."

But they were instructed on a murder or manslaughter charge. And despite the lynch mob led by Nancy Grace and others, the evidence simply wasn't there beyond the legal definition of reasonable doubt.

For every person obsessed with a single verdict, there are, thankfully, many others who spend their lives as child advocates, trying to protect children like Caylee. Perhaps everyone who's wasting energy screaming about the unfairness of yesterday's verdict should turn that energy to helping those people. That would be the ultimate tribute to Caylee.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Tuesday, July 5: Regalado In the Lead On Bad Financial Decisions In Miami

By Sylvia Gurinsky

Norman Braman might want to turn his government reform attention to the City of Miami.

Mayor Tomas Regalado has been leading a recent collection of unwise spending decisions - especially when city policy dictates the opposite should be happening.

Want to get ahead in this bad economy? Just work as Miami city manager for a few months, then leave. That's what Tony Crapp did. After a forgettable six months in the post, he left to take a job at GrayRobinson law firm. Regalado made a lucrative offer, which Crapp turned down:


Of course, it wasn't like Crapp had much of a choice in saying no, since he was taking heat for the package he was giving to the city's chief financial officer, Larry Spring, who was also leaving. Of course, with eight years on the job - most of it under former Mayor Manny Diaz, whose leadership was productive - Spring made a better case for such a package.

Then there's the downright cowardice both Regalado and Crapp have shown regarding Police Chief Miguel Exposito after a series of shootings and other problems.

After a wishy-washy report regarding Exposito's actions as police chief, Crapp could have made the decision to fire him on the spot. Instead, he and Regalado offered Exposito money - at least $200,000, judging by a check made public; Exposito says it was $400,000 - to quit. Exposito refused to do so.

Meanwhile, the city has posted the police chief job as available, while Exposito vows to stay on. It's a situation that's unacceptable and demoralizing to the police department.

Miami needs leadership. Right now, the city isn't getting it - and not just because of the revolving door in the city manager's office since Regalado became mayor.

He took office with a promise to have a clean, open and fully accountable city government. He's got a ways to go to keep that promise.

Monday, June 20, 2011

June 20, 2011: Losing a Sense of Community

By Sylvia Gurinsky

Is it coincidence that one of the weakest communities in the country in terms of volunteering is one of the communities that has also seen the numbers of shootings of young people go up? Probably not.

It's been the start of a long, hot summer in Miami-Dade County, with recent drive-by shootings in Miami's Liberty City neighborhood. Police are responding with a reinforcement of a curfew for teenagers; Howard Simon, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union Florida chapter, suggested to WPLG-Channel 10 that the curfew unfairly targets minority teens. In any case, the Florida Supreme Court threw out a similar curfew in 2004:


There are a number of private and public efforts to get youths involved in productive summer activities. But it's easy to get the sense that efforts to do so have declined - in part because of the economic rough waters, in part because of leader changes. For instance, it seems as if former Miami Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones - legal troubles and all - was better at helping to finance and support productive activities for District 5 youths than current commissioner Richard Dunn.

If Hands On Miami goes under, it may get even worse. Last Friday, The Miami Herald reported that the 18-year-old organization, one of the groups created in the wake of President George H.W. Bush's emphasis on volunteerism, has a $200,000 shortfall, cannot get funding from either the United Way or government budgets and will likely fold on June 30:


How much local impact could be lost? Take a look at Hands On Miami's June calendar:


In 1989, Bush said: "Your work and the work of many others as motivated as yourselves is a testament to a powerful idea: that along with the many rights and privileges that distinguish us as Americans is the shared responsibility to look after one another.....You understand that helping the less fortunate is in everyone's best interest; that the most powerful gift we can offer anyone is a sense of purpose, a path to self-esteem; that the fabric of the family, like that of society, must forever be renewed and rewoven."

The Greater Miami area needs to understand and do more about that responsibility.

Update: Sad news about the Bertha Abess Center that proves the point even more:


Thursday, June 16, 2011

June 16, 2011: Dade Election Is About Quality of Life

By Sylvia Gurinsky

It hasn't been mentioned very much, but the urgency of the outcome of the special mayoral election in Miami-Dade County became more clear the day McClatchy announced the sale of the Miami Herald building.

That's because McClatchy sold it to a subsidiary of Genting Malaysia Berhad, a Malaysian company that operates hotels and casinos. There's a presumption that casinos will eventually take over not just that land, but a spot in the restored Fontainebleau Hotel.

Casinos have the potential to become a drain on Dade's quality of life. So does any easing of the Urban Development Boundary, which prevents developments that encroach on the Everglades. That's also been under discussion.

That's why it's important not only to listen to what candidates Carlos Gimenez and Julio Robaina have to say, but look out for the hidden messages. Those come through campaign contributions; the records can be accessed at


where you can click on "Mayor 2011" for Gimenez and Robaina's complete records of who has given.

Whoever wins will likely have a head-start on the 2012 election, and thus could have an impact on Miami-Dade for years to come. From the businesses the county has to the protection of its environment, the issues concern all residents. Voters cannot afford to sit this one out.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

June 15, 2011: Jumping Into the History Pool

By Sylvia Gurinsky

Comedians had a good laugh and conservatives a big groan recently over former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin's shaky memory of Paul Revere's ride.

But no one was laughing yesterday when the National Center for Education Statistics released its report card about history knowledge by American students. To paraphrase Sam Cooke in his song "Wonderful World," they really don't know much about history. At least they don't know enough to be successful in the workforce.

While the number of fourth and eighth-graders knowning basic history has increased since 1994 - thanks, most likely, to states such as Florida having certain requirements for particular histories at those grade levels - the number of students who are proficient in history is less than 25 percent and the number of students with an advanced knowledge of history hasn't budged very much from previous studies.

The history scores lag behind scores for other subjects, which sends the message that improvement comes for whatever is emphasized. Since the 1980s, emphasis has been put on students knowing math and science in order to compete on a global level. Therefore, those scores have been going up.

However, knowledge of history is just as important. For instance, in order to figure out how to deal with current economic problems, it's useful to understand that the 1890s brought similar issues to the United States in terms of what's known as a "transitioning economy."

A number of past political leaders - including former U.S. Sen. Bob Graham in Florida - have been actively campaigning for more and better history education. Education Secretary Arne Duncan has said the country must do better.

Indeed, President Barack Obama - who knows something about history, having made it - should label this as a major priority for America's schoolchildren.

For the future, this country needs to know about its past.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

June 7: Go Local, Florida

By Sylvia Gurinsky

A lot of people are justifiably angry at what's going on with Florida government. Some are so upset that they're using the "S" word - secession. Let's separate our part of Florida from the rest of the state, they think.

That won't happen, and it shouldn't. Those who really love Florida know the state is just going through a bad patch with its leadership and that will eventually change.

That doesn't mean Florida's 67 counties and thousands of communities not called The Villages have to sit and take what comes from the state capitol. At least until next year, when voters might be able to turn the Legislature into less of Rick Scott's lap dog, the alternative is a different kind of independence.

To repeat a motto that many newscasts have used: Go local.

That is to say, communities and counties will essentially need to fend for themselves and learn to be self-sufficient. Don't rely on Tallahassee.

This should be easier in a place like South Florida, which can frequently rely on international business. That's why it's so important for this region to diversify its economy and not depend so much on the types of business - housing and construction - that helped bring about the current recession.

More self-generated income in Florida's regions would mean a lot more money could stay in those regions - and a lot less go to parts of Florida that have nothing to do with them.

Ideally, Florida and its local communities should work in tandem. But Rick Scott has shown repeatedly that he isn't interested in working in the best interests of those communities.

It's time to take him seriously and look out for Number 1 to protect Florida's schools, environment, social and health services and quality of life. For the time being, Number 1 isn't in Tallahassee.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

May 31: Time For Miami Beach To Reconsider "Urban Weekend"

By Sylvia Gurinsky

What do you do when you're a city whose biggest profit-maker can also become one of your worst nightmares?

While the city of Miami Beach is asking itself that question after the early-morning shootings - resulting in one death - on the last day of Urban Beach Weekend, the city of Fort Lauderdale answered that question during the mid-1980s, when it regularly hosted spring break.

Immortalized by the 1960 film "Where the Boys Are," spring break, which takes place in mid-March, became Fort Lauderdale's most popular moneymaker. But by the 1980s, it had become a weeklong haze of booze, drugs, vandalism and arrests. The sight of thousands of partying college students scared off other vacationers.

City leaders finally decided enough was enough and stopped trying to lure the thousands to Fort Lauderdale for spring break. College students still come to the city, but in smaller - and far quieter - numbers.

The decision might be somewhat different for Miami Beach. While spring break was a moneymaker for Fort Lauderdale, that city's economy didn't depend as much on bars as South Beach's does on the hotels and nightclubs that attract the famous and the glitzy. And any attempt to end Urban Beach Weekend, which started as a Hip-Hop weekend a decade ago, may be seen as veiled racism.

Still, local businesses are among the complainers. The Clevelander on Ocean Drive was among those deciding to close early during the weekend. Plenty of tourists and numerous residents are also upset. (And never mind the appropriateness of having this event on a weekend that's supposed to honor this country's war dead.)

It's one thing to have a fun weekend. But shootings, vandalism and crimes that affect Miami Beach's quality of life, even for just a few days, are too much to ask. Beach government must get promoters, business owners and anyone involved at a high level in Urban Beach Weekend to cooperate in ensuring it's a safe weekend - right down to chipping in on the cost.

Otherwise, Beach leaaders should make the decision Fort Lauderdale's leaders did.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

May 25: PBS Needs New Direction

By Sylvia Gurinsky

When you've got powerful people who don't like you beating up on you, your strategy should not be to upset the powerful and less-powerful people who do like you.

That's what PBS - a constant target of funding cuts by the right wing - has been doing - usually with its frequently-inane programming for pledge drives, and now with an experiment to interrupt programming to run - well, they call it promotion/underwriting, but conventional wisdom calls it commercials. Four times per hour.

You know, similar to the networks PBS is not supposed to be like.

So far, PBS is arguing that it will be a one-night experiment to see whether the network can "improve the flow between shows." Oh, come on.

But that's a small problem compared to stations across the country complaining about PBS fees or being sold to entities that have dropped PBS entirely. Los Angeles lost the long-running KCET as a PBS station earlier this year. Orlando may lose WMFE, which is being bought (pending FCC approval) by a religious broadcaster. In or near both areas, as things currently stand, several stations could run various PBS programs, but wouldn't pick up the entire PBS schedule. There are good people in Orlando trying to change that city's situation.

But all the Andre Rieu marathons in the world won't solve those concerns. Unlike National Public Radio (now officially known as NPR), PBS doesn't have a single savior with big pockets. And those with the biggest pockets - especially Big Oil, one-time major sponsors of PBS programming - went off to get richer and greedier, essentially abandoning support of such PBS staples as "Masterpiece Theater."

PBS leadership, both at the national and community level, needs to come up with a serious action plan to reach the PBS goal of covering 100 percent of the country. It would be better to have one station do everything in a community, rather than having multiple stations not do enough. Also, the Internet is now a viable tool, both for programming and fundraising.

And for heaven's sake, leave the programs alone. Uncut and uninterrupted quality programs are what separate PBS from everyone else.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

May 24: Dade PBA Could Use Some Scrutiny

By Sylvia Gurinsky

Groups that lobby are sometimes a shadow government and need as much scrutiny as the governments the public elects. Locally, the Dade County Police Benevolent Association is one example.

The behavior of the organization leading up to today's Miami-Dade County special election for mayor has been troubling, to say the least.

During the last couple of years, PBA leadership has apparently been in a state of denial about the economic crisis, angling for raises for officers while plenty of salaries have been frozen or cut and layoffs of thousands of public employees have come about. Part of the voter anger at former Mayor Carlos Alvarez and various commissioners has been the result of the caving in on their parts to PBA and others on salaries.

The PBA's political action committee has had an attack flyer targeting mayoral candidate Carlos Gimenez; as District 7 commissioner, Gimenez voted against their contract.

One has to wonder how connected PBA might be to a television ad by the Accountability Project that targets not just Gimenez, but also former Mayor Carlos Alvarez. If there is any connection, it would be the ultimate act of betrayal to a former police officer - Alvarez, Miami-Dade's police chief before he was elected mayor - who did PBA's bidding.

PBA's mission statement (which could use a good editor for the math) says: "Incorporated in December 1963, the PBA is an aggressive, pro-active union of professional law enforcement officers seeking to protect your rights. For more the 30 years (sic) we have worked to promote professionalism among law enforcement officers."

Presuming that it actually means almost 50 years, John Rivera and PBA's other leaders currently aren't living up to that mission.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

May 19: Dade Charter Questions: Not Quite a Universal "No," But.....

By Sylvia Gurinsky

The Miami-Dade County Commission's attitude towards county residents in putting together the May 26 charter questions was similar to that of a teenager repeatedly told to clean up his or her room. A job done grudgingly is not a job well done.

Some community leaders, including Dade government button-pusher Norman Braman, have recommended a blanket rejection of the charter questions.

Uh, not quite.

The first question, relating to salaries and term limits, is chock-full of chutzpah on the part of those who put it there; while limits of three terms would be required, they wouldn't be retroactive to anyone currently on the commission. While that deserves a "No" vote, any commissioner who approved it virtually deserves to be term limited at his or her next election.

The question to undo the 2007 vote for a strong mayor also deserves a "No" vote. The system hasn't been given enough time to work. The problem was Carlos Alvarez' political tone-deafness, not the position.

And while the charter amendment loosening the requirement for petitions will probably be popular, it will also reopen the door to serious voter fraud. Those who vote for it will have short memories of Miami's absentee ballot scandal from the late 1990s. That measure also deserves a "No."

But the three other measures - a two-year lobbying prohibition for former county elected officials, a charter review task force and an independent inspector general office - deserve Yes votes.

They're not perfect measures; the lobbying prohibition isn't long enough (Five years would be a really good place to start), and there are some questions about the details of the inspector general measures. But they're worth voting for.

Dade commissioners made a half-hearted effort at reform. But their constituents can force them to go further by not being half-hearted about their message at the polls.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

May 17: Sunday Protests Showed More Than Israel's Fence Holes

By Sylvia Gurinsky

On Sunday, they paid.

Israelis watched nervously as people in every surrounding Arab country took protests to their front door - and beyond, in some cases.

Because the Palestinians haven't quite gotten the concept of nonviolent protest down, a number of them died. But the actions called attention to the holes in both Israel's peace negotiations and preparations for war.

Three months ago, I wrote that Israel needs to get its own house in order, given everything going on around it in the Arab world. Israel has not made those preparations; today's Jerusalem Post features stories about the state comptroller's report that branches of the Israel Defense Forces and Defense Ministry don't coordinate reports - and that Defense Minister (and former Prime Minister) Ehud Barak seems to have his own ethical hiccups - in addition to the big ethical hiccups Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman is being investigated for.

Incompetence and corruption issues set Israel up for serious problems internationally, in addition to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's intransigence. Stuck-in-the-mud attitudes by both Israelis and Palestinians are, no doubt, the primary reason former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell, who brokered peace in Northern Ireland, finally said "enough" to his involvement in the Middle East peace process.

It may be futile for President Barack Obama to appoint a successor to Mitchell as special Mideast envoy. One suspects Israel and the Palestinians may have to go to war yet again before true peace is possible.

Israel has to be strong. But the Israel the world is currently seeing - stumbling - makes many wonder and worry. As in ancient times, Israel's worst enemy could be itself.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

May 12: What Was Channel 23 Thinking (It Wasn't) In Dade Mayoral Debate Exclusions?

By Sylvia Gurinsky

Univision/WLTV Channel 23 has been trying to expand its reach even to people who don't necessarily speak Spanish.

That's why the decision to exclude two-thirds of the candidates running for Miami-Dade mayor from a forum at Florida International University yesterday may go down as one of the worst in Univision's history. One reason is because the excluded candidates do not speak Spanish.

The station's excuse wasn't so great, either: Selected candidates were the ones who have been leading in fundraising. When so many people are complaining about the influence of money in politics, is it really a good idea to have an open forum only for those who raise the most cash?

Florida International University (full disclosure: my alma mater), which hosted the forum, has been put on the spot, though those from FIU who have commented have stressed that Univision/Channel 23, not the school, organized the event. As a public entity, FIU does have the responsibility to do more detail checking to ensure the events it hosts do represent the entire community. Because of Univision/Channel 23, this one didn't.

The recall of Mayor Carlos Alvarez opened the door to a potential major setback in Dade's ethnic relations through a mayoral election that will likely divide voters along racial and ethnic lines. A television network and station that's been growing in influence hasn't helped matters with its behavior. Univision/Channel 23 owes the community, and the omitted candidates, an apology.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

May 10: Florida Legislature (and Governor) - Is There Any Grade Lower Than "F"?

By Sylvia Gurinsky

So, how's that "Let's Get To Work" thingy working out for you, Florida?

Or at least for the (almost) half of Florida voters who chose the current government last November?

For everyone else, it stinks.

Not only did Florida Legislature session 2011 give no sign that the state would get needed high-end jobs, but it catered repeatedly to the extreme right-wingers who don't come anywhere near making up a majority of the state's population.

The Tallahassee cadre of lawmakers and Rick Scott have managed to surpass some historical government lowlifes, including segregationists and elected officials bankrolled by the mob, to produce possibly the worst collection of laws this state has seen in recent memory.

From schools to the environment to the ill and elderly to - yes - job holders, there practically isn't a corner of the state this gang left undamaged. There are only a couple of instances in which things could have been worse, including immigration reform.

Organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union will be busy fighting the erosion by the legislature and Scott on Floridians' voting, privacy and other rights.

Every other Floridian should be fighting them, too. Every Floridian who got angry every day during this session at yet another harebrained - and often ideological - bill being considered and approved.

For anyone who genuinely loves Florida and cares for its future, this session was, by every stretch, a failure.

In the past, many media outlets have given state lawmakers and the governor grades for their actions during and after the legislative session. A lot of them skipped that this year.

That's probably because they're trying to find a grade worse than F.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

April 14: Sniglets On Legislature Shenanigans, Election Runoffs and Barry Bonds

By Sylvia Gurinsky

Once again, the Florida Legislature is overreacting to a tragedy - and compromising public safety and the public's right to know in the process.

In replicating the hysteria that closed all autopsy photos to public release after the death of race car driver Dale Earnhardt during the 2001 Daytona 500, lawmakers are supporting bills that would close all video depicting the killing of people after the deaths of police officers in Tampa and St. Petersburg.

The main argument against it is media sensationalism. Sensationalism is sickening. But it's even more sickening when an injustice can't be uncovered because of roadblocks.

With this law, it would have been a lot tougher to uncover the fact that in 2006, two state boot camp guards beat teenager Martin Lee Anderson to death. That revelation, via video, led to the closing of those camps.

That doesn't matter to State Rep. Luis Garcia, D-Miami Beach. According to Elaine Silvestrini of the Tampa Tribune, Garcia said: "For those of you that think there's a First Amendment...you've got to consider that there's a victim and sometimes the rights of the victim gets trampled for the First Amendment."

There is a First Amendment, Mr. Garcia. And sometimes victims' rights - and public safety - get trampled by elected officials who want to obscure it.


This week's Coral Gables mayoral election may provide a preview of the May 24 special Miami-Dade County election for mayor in one respect: The winning candidate, as in Coral Gables, might very well have less than 40 percent of the vote.

It's a good argument for implementing instant runoff voting in all state and local elections. Instant runoffs would mean voters wouldn't have to suffer through additional weeks of mean-spirited campaigning if the leading candidate doesn't cross the 50-percent threshhold.

Voters would simply rank all of the candidates in a race in order of preference; if the leading candidate gets less than 50 percent of the vote, the computer would go to work.

Money spent on either retrofitting current computers or getting new ones with instant runoff capability would mean money savings in the long run by communities that don't have to cough up for multiple elections. It could also mean a higher quality of candidates and winners.


Let history decide on Barry Bonds? It would be better to let Major League Baseball decide, much as it did with Pete Rose.

One of baseball's shining, if heartbreaking, moments was Major League Baseball's release of the Dowd Report in 1989. The report detailed Rose's gambling activities, including confirmation that he bet on baseball - an illegal action in the sport. Rose was banned from baseball, a ban that continues today.

Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig bears much of the blame for the steroids epidemic in the sport during the 1990s and early part of the last decade, in the sense that he didn't take definitive steps to stop it until Congress had gotten on his back. But he can take responsibility - and earn the goodwill of fans who believe in the game's honor - by enlisting an investigator to draft a report both about Barry Bonds and pitcher Roger Clemens, who soon will be going to trial.

Selig owes it to the fans, to players like Hank Aaron - still regarded by millions of baseball fans, including this one, as the official all-time MLB home run champion - and, yes, to Bonds and Clemens that the entire story comes out.

Baseball has faced up to its scandals in gambling. Such action is still needed to close the book on the Steroid Era.


This blog and the corresponding SunState tweets will be on hiatus until May 11. Happy Passover, Happy Easter and Happy Spring!

Monday, April 4, 2011

April 13, 2011: Miami Starting To Appreciate Overtown's "Roots"

By Sylvia Gurinsky

Miami's Community Redevelopment Agency seems to be starting to get the message: Let Overtown's garden grow.

Last week, CRA members met with retired Florida International University professor Marvin Dunn, who oversees Overtown's successful Roots In the City program, which includes a vegetable garden. There are still disagreements over money and other logistical issues, but some positives have emerged.

The biggest one is that Roots In the City will not be lumped together with a Liberty City garden that was in such bad shape at one point that nearby residents called it "the graveyard," according to the South Florida Times.

That suggestion had been the result of, at the very least, miscommunication by Miami City Commissioner Richard Dunn (no relation to Marvin Dunn) and the CRA. At the very worst, there was the suggestion that Richard Dunn was attempting to do the kind of strong-arming that's gotten most of his District 5 commission predecessors in so much trouble. He says otherwise.

There are still errors to be corrected. For instance, the City of Miami has no mechanism in place yet for supporting permanent farmer's markets, which Roots In the City definitely is.

But the city is finally moving in the right direction.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

March 30: Broward School Board Needs Outside Superintendent Search

By Sylvia Gurinsky

Jim Notter saw the writing on the blackboard.

If Notter, Broward County's school superintendent, hadn't announced his decision to retire, there would have been plenty of public pressure on the Broward County School Board to toss him out.

While Notter didn't cause the entire financial and ethical crisis currently in the school district, he was, as so many critics have said, an enabler. Also, he didn't follow up on the gains his predecessor, Frank Till, made academically.

The atmosphere in the school district is so poisonous now that promoting even an acting superintendent from within would be counterproductive. The Broward School Board must begin an immediate, national search for a superintendent who would lift the school district's fortunes, academically and ethically.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

March 29: Lots To Think About With Libya

By Sylvia Gurinsky

So who are these rebels in Libya?

What's their purpose? How organized are they to topple Moammar Khadafi and then govern?

Those are the questions President Barack Obama and his top foreign-policy officials have been pondering.

Unlike his predecessor, Obama thinks before he acts. He also thinks beyond the next election, which seems beyond the capacity of a lot of members of Congress on both sides of the aisle who have been second-guessing Obama's initial hesitation to OK military action until it was clear Khadafi was going to create a bloodbath.

What happens next? One thing, apparently, that the rebels don't want is to return to pre-1969 Libya, which was ruled by a royal family. There has been little discussion about that.

But what do they want? Some fear that they're a front for Al Qaida or other terrorist groups; they're insisting otherwise.

Egypt and Tunisia may flank Libya, but a better analogy for Libya may be what happened in Yugoslavia, when that nation broke apart into war during the 1990s. Then as now, NATO and the United Nations had a strong involvement in the war. And the United States, led by President Bill Clinton, had a strong involvement in the peace.

As Obama said in his speech last night, the United States is invested in protecting people around the world - and in defending American interests and values.

In this case, doing so will require some thought about what - and who - might replace Khadafi.

Monday, March 28, 2011

March 28: The Florida Legislature's Ethics Vacuum

By Sylvia Gurinsky

Ethics issues apparently mean little to the Florida Legislature.

Senate President Mike Haridopolos, who has had a few ethical hiccups regarding his finances recently, briefly yanked Senate Bill 86, which involves conflict-of-interest rules, from a hearing by the Senate Government Oversight and Accountability Committee last week. After lots of criticism, the bill will be heard Wednesday.

That criticism followed more criticism during the last couple of years about ethical lapses among former legislative leaders. But, as usual, many current lawmakers have apparently decided not to notice.

That's because they've brought back a blast from the past: The slush funds, officially known as "Leadership Funds," that their more ethically minded predecessors eliminated in 1989.

Here's a link to what I wrote about that last year:


Last year, Gov. Charlie Crist vetoed it. Last week, lawmakers voted to override that veto.

Voters have been restless in changing elected officials with regard to their pocketbooks. But with the exception of a few communities across the state - Broward County, with its recent history of criminal indictments, being one - they have yet to get really angry about elected officials who think they can bend the rules to their own wills.

Well, Florida, that rule-bending by your state senators and representatives is costing you money.

Ethics mean little to them. How about you?

Thursday, March 24, 2011

March 24: Unseemly For Trump To Fall Into "Birther" Dirt

By Sylvia Gurinsky

Donald Trump, who's mulling a run for president, certainly doesn't have a pristine life. He's had three marriages and two divorces, a couple of bankruptcies and endless jokes from David Letterman about how his hair looks.

But he would be seen as a credible candidate because of his business chops. He's gotten in the hole a couple of times, but he's gotten back out.

He's also been respected by many people for not caring much about conventional wisdom in making his decisions.

Politically, Trump has been a "Rockefeller Republican" - that almost-extinct breed of fiscal conservative and social liberal. One would think he'd be a breath of fresh air in a primary that seems to be going extreme right, more extreme right and totalitarian.

Unfortunately, it seems Trump is going in the other direction - trying to appeal to the Republican extremists instead of trying to lead them back to rationality.

The evidence lies in his adoption of that coded method of racism known as the "birther" campaign. For the sake of right-wing appeal, apparently, Trump has embraced the cause to persuade President Barack Obama to release his birth certificate.

Donald, Donald, Donald (as your friend Mr. Letterman might say). You're smarter than that.

Trump has made some valid points about the United States lagging in the world economically (although he hasn't put money where his mouth is with initiatives for businesses that aren't his own or for schools). But if, presumably, he wants to be taken seriously as a candidate by the majority of Americans, he should drop his dangerous waltz with the birther movement. For a man who really isn't like that, it sends the wrong message to voters.

Monday, March 21, 2011

March 21: U.S. Needs To Get Rid of "Our S.O.B." Foreign Policy

By Sylvia Gurinsky

Language advisory: The term "S.O.B." is used in the context of the topic.

A previous United States president reportedly once said of a foreign leader known for acting less than humane toward his own people, "He's an S.O.B., but he's our S.O.B."

That "Our S.O.B." policy has been in place at least since President Franklin Roosevelt was in office (The story goes that FDR coined the phrase.) and continues today.

The list of brutal foreign leaders the United States has supported or compromised with for its interests is long and includes the likes of Josef Stalin, the Shah of Iran, Sadaam Hussein, both Duvaliers in Haiti, Ferdinand Marcos....And that's just the start.

Of all these marriages of convenience, it can be argued that only one provided results that altered the course of history: The uneasy alliance with Stalin's Soviet Union during World War II, which both the Soviets and the Allies needed against the Nazis.

The list of "our S.O.B.'s" has also included recently deposed Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and many Arab leaders who are now in trouble. And Moammar Khadafi, the Libyan leader, started his waltz with Washington in the years immediately following 9/11.

Part of the United Kingdom, another of the nations whose planes are currently strafing Libya, has had a similar mentality: Witness the decision by the Scottish government in 2009 to release Abdel Baset al-Megrahi, the Libyan man found guilty in the 1988 bombing of a Pan Am flight over Lockerbie, Scotland, that killed 270 people. The argument at the time was that al-Megrahi was dying, but we all know that Mark Twain quote about reports of his death. The oil company BP may have played a role in the release to try to get oil contracts in Libya, so the decision turned out about as well as BP's drilling in the Gulf of Mexico.

Marriages of convenience almost never work, and current events are proving that.

President Barack Obama has proven himself ready to think about different ways for the United States to conduct foreign policy with his calls for countries to abide by the wills of their people. It's time to find out how this country and others would do if the United States stopped supporting "our S.O.B.s."

Thursday, March 17, 2011

March 17: What Miami-Dade Reforms Should - and Shouldn't - Include

By Sylvia Gurinsky

Man, did the voters in Miami-Dade County ever speak.

To have 88 percent of those who voted decide to throw out both Mayor Carlos Alvarez and Commissioner Natacha Seijas goes beyond a mandate. Everyone who has an opinion about this issue is mulling what it means.

Here's what it doesn't mean: Contrary to what WFOR-Channel 4 contributor Jim DeFede said the other night, it doesn't mean Dade voters will never support another funding increase. This is the same county that strongly supported The Children's Trust - a well-run program - not so long ago.

What it means is that taxpayers won't support most unwise funding decisions.

Alvarez and Seijas maintained support for salary increases for county staff through an economic crisis that has meant thousands of lost jobs and lost wages. That was a tone-deaf political position that failed to look at reality. Would there have been a recall if Alvarez and commissioners had supported a complete salary freeze? One has to wonder.

Certainly Norman Braman's repeated criticisms of the Florida Marlins deal might have had somewhat less steam in a recall drive if Alvarez and Seijas hadn't supported the staff salary increase.

Already, Braman and others want to go ahead with other reforms, including term limits and changes to the commission structure.

I'm not convinced about term limits for non-executive positions; one only needs to look at the Florida Legislature to see how poorly they've worked.

At-large districts - commissioners representing the whole county to counterbalance the single-member districts - are a much better idea. Taking away countywide districts did not help the Miami-Dade Commission, which has had plenty of people representing their small piece of territory and not understanding countywide interests. That's a reason Miami International Airport had so many problems with its expansion, and why Jackson Memorial Hospital is struggling so much now.

Another idea not being brought up, but necessary: A living wage for commissioners. Being a county commissioner is now a full-time job, and the $6,000-a-year salary approved with the home rule charter in 1957 is preposterous. A salary increase isn't immunity against corruption, as Broward County has proved, but it can be an incentive to attract better candidates for political office.

Perhaps the Good Government Initiative mentioned in this blog last week (http://sunshinestatements.blogspot.com/2011/03/march-8-2011-bringing-in-some-good.html) will be a significant help. In the meantime, there's likely another county election for mayor to go during the next couple of months. Hang on - and hang in there, Dade voters.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

March 15: Sunshine Week - Time To Discuss How To Fix Journalism

By Sylvia Gurinsky

Sunshine Week is generally a time to make sure that public access to government stays open or opens more.

While that should still be done, this Sunshine Week is also a time to discuss what has become of journalism, and how to fix it.

The three-decade long deterioration reached its nadir recently with the tactics behind revelations of political shenanigans by Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and partisan statements by former National Public Radio (officially NPR) Foundation head Ron Schiller. In both cases, Walker and Schiller's misdeeds were uncovered not by well-researched and upfront investigative journalists, but by partisan bloggers engaging in tactics unacceptable and unethical in conventional reporting.

By the way, the source of the stories is the reason I disagreed with criticism in the Walker case by the Society of Professional Journalists (Funny that SPJ didn't mention James O'Keefe's similar tactics in the Schiller case.). Are the Buffalo Beast or O'Keefe on the same level and do they have the same ethical standards as The Washington Post and the Associated Press?

No. And they don't pretend to.

Neither do the media companies currently setting up online content sweatshops (known more commonly as content providers) that have a "Heads I win/Tails you lose" economic mentality towards the people who write for them. In most cases, the writers literally earn small change.

Rather, the eyes of anyone concerned with ethical journalism should be fixed squarely on those media companies that profess to cover the world, or any given part of it, fairly and accurately - for everyone.

Those companies - by laying off thousands of capable, ethical journalists; by cutting back on their coverage of important government doings in favor of celebrity stories; by backing off the difficult news stories - created the vacuum currently filled by political hacks and stories-on-the-cheap websites.

There have been successful initiatives in serious journalism, but they are too few and far between for those who have lost jobs during the last few years and are still struggling to regain professional footing.

Recently, a lot of people have been saying that journalism is dead, or that the "yellow journalism" of today is the way it will be.

For the future of this country, it can't be. There have to be honest gatekeepers who publish the truth without fear or favor. They exist. It's time to find a way to bring them back.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

March 8, 2011: Bringing In Some Good Government

By Sylvia Gurinsky

There isn't a lot of confidence by many Floridians that the next two months - the session of the Florida Legislature - will bring much in good government, either from Rick Scott or lawmakers.

So more of the responsibility for promoting good government will rest on Florida residents.

Yesterday's edition of "Topical Currents," the fine interview show hosted on Miami's WLRN-FM radio station by Joseph Cooper, featured two of the best when it comes to good government: Bob Graham and Katy Sorenson.

Both have been building centers to train and encourage not just elected officials but constituents about being involved in the civic process.

The Bob Graham Center For Public Service at the University of Florida was created in part to improve the civic climate in the state, which is abysmal. Miami ranks the lowest among major cities across the United States in terms of civic participation.

The center's efforts are beginning to pay off. Starting with the 2012-13 school year, middle school students will be required to take a civics course and pass a civics test. Students in other grades will also receive various levels of civics education.

The Graham Center is giving the general public a chance to participate in the process, too. Think you can come up with a better budget than Scott and the Legislature? (You probably can, too.) You'll get your chance at the center's website, http://www.bobgrahamcenter.ufl.edu/home

Sorenson, who represented Miami-Dade County's District 8 from 1994 through last fall, is beginning the Good Government Initiative at the University of Miami. The initiative, whose official kickoff will be March 21, is to work with local elected officials and candidates on the mechanics of government, including understanding complex legislation, and on numerous issues relating to city, county, school and other local government bodies.

Here's a press release that previews the Good Government Initiative in detail:


During the WLRN interview, Graham mentioned the need for more firsthand engagement by citizens with the government.

These next two months will provide the opportunity. Here's the website for the Florida Legislature:


And the governor's office:


These are the places to follow their actions - and communicate your concerns.

Monday, March 7, 2011

March 7: Unions Must Fully Regroup

By Sylvia Gurinsky

The rallies currently taking place in Wisconsin and other states over union rights and benefits should be just the beginning.

There are plenty of legitimate arguments that unions, while funding plenty of mostly Democratic political campaigns during the last 30 years, haven't done nearly enough to protect and build on the employment and employee rights they were created to fight for almost a century ago.

Perhaps the death of union bulwark George Meany in 1980 and President Ronald Reagan's mass firing of unionized air traffic controllers who went on strike in 1981 gave unions some fears. The union management problems of the late-1980s and early-90s, including the incompetence that helped lead to the demise of businesses such as Eastern Airlines, didn't help. Neither has public opinion against sports unions, generally seen to represent millionaires and not the rank-and-file workers.

Weakened, the unions did not fight vigorously enough against trade pacts and deals with American businesses that led to millions of jobs being shipped to other countries, an increasing salary gap between workers and executives, the continuing lag in salary between women and men or the conditions that led to the current economic crisis.

Unions also did not keep up with the evolving technology as longstanding American employment mainstays collapsed.

Now, the unions will have battles in dozens of states to maintain the rights they still have. They need to be not just maintenance battles. They need to be the start of a new war to re-create, preserve and protect the rights of all workers to good American jobs with good benefits.

Right-wingers and big business are trying to put unions and protections for workers completely out of business. Unions must fully regroup and remember why they exist in the first place.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

March 3: Follow Motivations Behind Proposed JMH Deals

By Sylvia Gurinsky

It sounds like the proposed deal by Massachusetts-based Steward Health Care System to buy Jackson Memorial Hospital is starting to lose steam. One can only hope.

The proposal has generated plenty of questions - including one of whether Florida Gov. Rick Scott - he of the problematic career in managed health care - is a semi-invisible force around it.

That question was triggered by Scott's own question earlier this week of whether Miami needs a public hospital. Well, if Scott ever gets out of his own fantasy world in which no one is poor and needy, he'll see that the answer is a resounding Yes.

Jackson Memorial Hospital was around for 86 years before Scott ever decided to move to Florida; it was founded in 1917. For most of that time, Jackson has been a center for those who could find no place else to go.

It's also become a force of innovation through its numerous centers and partnerships with both the University of Miami and Florida International University.

More recently, though, it's been lacking competent people to stay away from financial ruin and competent oversight from either the Public Health Trust or the Miami-Dade County Commission.

But one thing is clear: A takeover by Steward - a company with no local connections - is not the answer. Neither is privitization, or the shutdown of services for Dade's poorest residents.

There isn't time to waste to save the complex before summer, when Jackson's money runs out. But there's certainly time to investigate Steward's motivations - and say no to a deal.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

March 1: Broward Grand Jury Wrong On Two School Board Ideas

By Sylvia Gurinsky

The outrage presented by the grand jury that examined the corruption and incompetence of the Broward School Board and the district's administration is right.

What's not right is a pair of proposals by the grand jury: Five school board members and an elected superintendent.

Currently, the board has seven members elected in single-member districts and two at-large, or countywide, representatives. The system was put in place in 1998. The idea is that at-large representatives, looking out for the entire county, are a check on single-member district representatives, who might put their own area first.

Broward County's population is approaching 2 million. Five school board members wouldn't be nearly enough to deal with the challenges of that population.

If the school board setup needs a tweak, it would be in the direction of more at-large representatives - maybe four to the seven district members.

Totally unacceptable is the idea of an elected superintendent, which would politicize a position that shouldn't be politicized. Just ask the residents of Monroe County, who voted last fall to switch the school superintendent from elected to appointed after a major scandal.

Broward had a top-notch professional educator - Frank Till -as superintendent until not-so-reform-minded board members threw him out and replaced him with yes-man Jim Notter.

There are now a number of new Broward School Board members. They have said they are interested in cleaning things up. They should be given the chance to do so - starting with replacing the incompetent Notter with a stellar education professional. Cleaning up the current system will be far more effective than overturning it.


Note on Twitter feeds: Sniglets - notes on interesting news items that won't change the world - will be included on Twitter as Snigs. This is in addition to SunStates.

Happy Reading!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

February 22: New Feature at Twitter

By Sylvia Gurinsky

I'm adding a new feature for Sunshine Statements: SunStates, which will be Twitter-only posts.

More extensive and detailed commentaries will still be published here at Sunshine Statements from time to time.

But SunStates will be published four times a week. Look for them starting tomorrow!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Feb. 15: Clean Up Red-Light Mess

By Sylvia Gurinsky

One red-light camera at a dangerous intersection is safety at work. Four within a three-mile area is ridiculous.

Miami Gardens is among the South Florida cities that have gone straight to ridiculous, with those four cameras in an area along 27th avenue ranging from what I call Joe Robbie Stadium (199th Street) to the messy entrance to the Palmetto Expressway at 167th Street. That's not counting the camera in next-door Opa-Locka at 135th Street.

A public notice by Miami Gardens states, "The City’s goal is to prevent serious injuries or deaths as a result of motorists running red lights in the City of Miami Gardens."

Fine and good, but the city has other traffic safety problems - like those jaywalkers who've been running for their lives across 27th avenue for decades. Does Miami Gardens have any plan to deal with them?

In any case, Miami Gardens' actions are symbolic of the actions of most cities that are posting red-light cameras at many intersections, major or not: While arguing that it's for safety, it's really for the money brought by those who run red lights.

At least those who haven't gone to court to challenge their tickets. Many of those who have, particularly in Miami-Dade County, have been getting those tickets thrown out for various reasons.

One of those reasons could theoretically be taxation without representation. The biggest campaigners for the red light cameras have been municipal governments struggling with their budgets. There is no conclusive proof as yet that the presence of the cameras has improved safety at intersections.

The Florida Legislature needs to go ahead and pull the plug on red-light cameras - for now. The problem is not that they exist. It's how cities are using them.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

February 8: Problem Is Anthem, Not Aguilera

By Sylvia Gurinsky

Christina Aguilera was not the first singer, nor will she be the last, to struggle publicly with "The Star Spangled Banner." She doesn't deserve the ridicule she's getting.

Rather, Aguilera's issues with the anthem at the Super Bowl reflect yet again that, while "The Star Spangled Banner" isn't going anywhere, it's a flawed national anthem.

Attorney Francis Scott Key wrote it as part of a larger poem about the Battle of Fort McHenry in Baltimore during the War of 1812, so the words don't cover the bigger themes of what it means to be an American. The tune is from a British drinking song and the words are about seeing the American flag in the middle of a war.

For more than a century, the Army and Navy adopted it as a national anthem. It became the official national anthem during World War I, declared by President Woodrow Wilson through an executive order, and then was signed into law by President Herbert Hoover in 1931.

It sounds best either when it's performed by a military band or classical orchestra, or when it's sung by a classically trained singer. One of the critiques of Aguilera's version came from a writer who indicated that pop singers get in trouble when they try to perform a pop-style version of "The Star Spangled Banner."

Alternatives have been discussed, but there are problems. "America," better known as "My Country 'Tis of Thee," has the same tune as the British national anthem. "America the Beautiful" is seen as too pastoral.

But there is a song that is more personal for Americans, already an unofficial national anthem during World War II and after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 - Irving Berlin's "God Bless America."

It is a quintessentially American anthem - written by a Russian immigrant who became an American citizen, first performed during World War I - it makes reference to the "storm clouds...far across the sea" - and when the preamble is sung, refers to freedom. If atheists have a problem with the title, well, it's no different from the reference in "O Canada."

Most Americans know the words. And it's a difficult song for a pop singer to mess up; Berlin himself sang it with Boy and Girl Scouts, who receive proceeds from it, on "The Ed Sullivan Show" during his 80th birthday in 1968.

It's certainly a better representation of what we want our country to be than "bombs bursting in air."

Monday, February 7, 2011

Feb. 7: Israel Must Get Its Own House In Order

By Sylvia Gurinsky

Obviously, Israel can't forget the constantly changing situation in Egypt. But the Jewish state has its own messes to clean up.

Never mind the 11 years of denial that center-right and hard-right governments have been living through with regard to their need to deal properly with the Palestinian issue and their place in the Middle East. If the Likud Party were to have an animal as its symbol the way American parties do, the ostrich wouldn't be inappropriate.

Until the past few years, Israel had never faced the steady stream of political scandals it now can't seem to shake. Since 2006, former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, former President Moshe Katsav and current Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman have faced various investigations; Katsav has been found guilty of rape.

Now, when tension over Egypt's future is high, Israel has a political drama that more closely resembles the Three Stooges than "The West Wing." The country has leadership problems in its two most critical entities, the Israel Defense Forces and Mossad, its main intelligence agency.

Both agencies are trying to get new leaders; the IDF has had problems with its previous selection having to withdraw over land zoning issues. The Mossad, known as a crackerjack intelligence agency, is having to deal with criticism for not predicting in advance what was about to happen next door. Meanwhile, Defense Minister and former Prime Minsiter Ehud Barak recently had a divorce with the Labor Party over his continued tenure in the government led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Not exactly the kind of actions to inspire confidence in Israel at this moment.

Netanyahu has expressed concerns about the leadership crisis in Egypt and the future of the 1979 peace treaty between the two nations. He should turn his attention, instead, to getting Israel's house in order. Whether that happens has just as much of a bearing on the peace process.