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.