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:,specialevent

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.