Sunday, December 30, 2007

Southern strategy further explained

This is a history lesson, and one that I've featured here earlier this year, back when Harry Dent's obituary first appeared. Now he's again in the NY Times, taking up two pages in the Sunday Times magazine, as one of the notables who passed away during 2007. This is a man who worked in the Nixon White House -- that's 30-some years ago, but tell me: Is his work still being done in this Republican administration?

President Nixon rewarded Dent with a White House job as his keeper of those same regional code words, the man in charge of demonstrating to the South that the White House would not be working to enforce federal civil rights laws, while appearing publicly to endorse them. That move would soon be enshrined in the press as the "Southern Strategy."

Once again, one of his notable admissions was he regretted that he might have stood in the way of the rights of black people.

We've got to help people realize that earlier in life.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Blogger gone to Iowa

Ice on the Mississippi River near Hamburg, Illinois, Dec. 23

Dear readers:

Your blogger is away from the usual desk, for about two weeks, and output will be diminished for a while. I’m in Waterloo, Iowa, working as a volunteer on the John Edwards campaign. This website does not endorse candidates before the primary, so I’ll strive for neutrality in any comments here.

For starters, how about this photo I took the other day in Illinois of the icy Mississippi River. Two days before that I was in shorts and T-shirt in Miami Beach. I am kept fairly warm here by the energy of political action, but I still look forward to getting back to warm weather.

A few seconds after I took this photo, a great blue heron came flying down and landed on the clear ice near the shore. It looked bewildered standing there on top of the "water" with a barrier between it and the minnows.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Florida’s Financial Fiasco: Chapter Two

This could start out like the preceding post: So glad to have dipped into Florida Politics this morning. It’s a good blog that has two thought-provokers in the early going. Must do this every day: click on Florida Politics. Now, I’ll write myself a reminder if I can find the to-do list. Lord, the Christmas Cards!! Too late, anyway …

The very top of Florida Politics’ reading recommendations was this Bloomberg article, or at least its excerpts in the Pensacola blog, wherein “Beach Blogger” concluded of our former governor:

“It’s past time for Mr. Jeb Bush to disclose the details of his contract with Lehman brothers.”

For starters, Do I hear any Democrats demanding it?

Actually, there’s not much about Jeb in the Bloomberg piece, though as a critic says therein:

“Bush is a consultant to the company selling bad investments to the same agency on which he served as a trustee until January.”

Before launching deeper into a Bushian broadside, let’s step back. We’re talking about a fiasco that ripped some $2 billion out of the pockets of Florida taxpayers, and it’s hardly making a ripple. Maybe it’s my fault. I haven’t posted on this since Dec. 3 when my headline announced “Florida’s financial crisis.” The news then was a run on the equivalent of a Florida state money-market fund. Call that Chapter One of my meager attempt to foment rebellion.

Now in Chapter Two we have a lot more detail provided in the Bloomberg piece, also in the Miami Herald and maybe other outlets around the state.

Has anyone heard of this on TV, where most folks get their news? Probably not, no good video – until we get to the boarded-up schools and laid-off firemen. These are possible casualties down the line as local government agencies find they can’t get money they put on deposit with the governor.

Essentially, that’s the deal here: depositing your tax revenues with the governor until you need to write checks to pay your staff and bills. Banks aren’t good enough, you see. They don’t pay high-enough interest. The governor knows this guy, you see, who will give higher rates. And don’t ask about the risk.

Well, thank goodness they didn’t put all their – our – money in the subprime swamp.

Getting back to the kernel of Chapter Two: The problem for the governor is that folks didn't have to be financial insiders to be aware that subprime lenders were in trouble. Many months ago all it took was occasional glances at the headlines to see that they needed ever greater infusions of capital. If I’d had any spare money to invest earlier this year, I would have gone 180 degrees away from subprime lenders. No sir, those guys are in bad shape. But the governor kept on buying. And then bought some more. And more and more.

Of course, it wasn’t the governor alone. He and the attorney general and our top Democratic elected official in Florida, Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, make up the board that oversees the “state bank.” Until the run on the bank erupted in late November, they were advised by a former crony of Jeb’s, Coleman Stipanovich, with the title of executive director and a salary reported as $180,214 in 2006. Stipanovich was fired soon after the run forced closure of the fund.

In the Bloomberg article, Alex Sink explained why: The CFO thought that Stipanovich was getting independent advice from the big Lehman Brothers investment bank, when in fact Lehman Brothers was selling (unloading) dubious debt to Florida’s unsuspecting taxpayers.

We with suspicious minds may ask: Did Jeb Bush, in his role as consultant to Lehman Brothers, have any role in all this? Helping those paying him an undisclosed amount (Lehman) sell dubious debt to Florida taxpayers through a crony (Stipanovich)?

Bloomberg and the Miami Herald report Jeb’s not commenting.

In this corner, that’s not good enough. Nor is it satisfying to see Jeb’s big brother George W. in the paper today contorting his face when asked about those destroyed CIA videos of (probably) torture. “Let’s wait and see … no opinion from the podium.”

Disgusting stonewalling.

FOOTNOTE: The Bloomberg article reports that the “state bank” managed $184 billion. That’s about two years of the state budget, isn’t it? I know there are pension funds in there and all that, but isn’t it a lot of money to be stashed away with little public oversight? Call that a memo to anyone running for state legislature.

Jeb's biographer has a blog: Jeb watch

So glad to have dipped into Florida Politics this morning. An item as short as this one advises that S. V. Date, the Palm Beach Post reporter whose biography of Jeb Bush would not make the former governor happy, has a blog: Go and read.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Win in '08

Good images to be found here:
democrats 08: Fear | Ads of the World

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Want to see a dead blog?

Blogs may fade away. Blogs may go the cardiac-arrest way: sudden. This was one of the leading blogs in South Florida, and it went suddenly in a fight over anonymous blogging. I’ve got to wonder what this country is coming to if anonymous blogging is a big problem, but there you are. And I blog with my full real name, with hardly a thought about it.

Bye bye to Stuck on the Palmetto. Take a look at the valedictory post, titled “The Off Ramp,” click on the snowy vista and hear a little Western guitar embellish the mood. A passed-away blog.

Wednesday’s Miami Herald stunned me with the news back in the Metro section, p. 3B. The link.

“Online fight ends blog” was the headline. Reason given:

“Its author worried he’d be outed by a fellow blogger who knows his full name and job.”

The two who posted on Stuck on the Palmetto were Rick and Alex, no last names, and otherwise not much identified. As it happened, I had met Alex a few times as I was getting into blogging for the Miami-Dade Democratic Party early this year, so I called him and commiserated a little and confirmed that the Herald’s view was correct, at least as to Rick: Its author feared he’d be outed. Alex was not so worried and was more public, but he remained anonymous, too, since it would look odd if one of the two authors had a name and the other went unnamed.

Now let’s go to the side that may have been willing to out the Stuck bloggers. The Miami Herald says it’s a journalist from the Broward-Palm Beach New Times, Bob Norman, who writes a blog called The Daily Pulp for that weekly paper.

There are some posts there to explain: a bare paragraph in yesterday’s roundup (no link found to the individual item, so scroll down to the headline "Palmetto Shutdown"), and a longer post last Wednesday Dec. 12. Seems to suspect that Rick was a cop and that one could wonder how he did his job and had time to blog prolifically. Here’s that link.

Bloggers must worry what will happen when “people” get after them. As someone told me today, a blogger who works for a newspaper has a company for defense, while independent bloggers, like Rick and Alex, could get sued and have to pony up a lot for defense. Could be enough to make a blogger feel the pressure and take cover.

I would usually read Stuck on the Palmetto a few times a week, but unfortunately I missed the final battle entirely and am left wondering what is in the detail of the posts.

Note: For those not familiar with Miami’s geography, the blog’s title is a reference to the Palmetto Expressway, a beltway that veers straight west from I-95 north of Miami and then after a few miles turns south and eventually provides connection to the Turnpike and on to US 1 and Key West. Being stuck on it is a regular feature of a commuter’s day. Time to think and fume.

Register new citizens to vote -- on Thursday, too!

Abbie Cuellar, Delsa Bernardo and Gabrielle Redfern (l-r front row) with John Hornbuckle, BJ Chiszar and Joe Garcia.

There's a fun side to political work, and it comes out when I'm dealing with people who are happy to fulfill their civic duty by voting. It intensifies when people are brand-new citizens, and I'm the lucky guy with a clipboard helping them register to vote.

Maybe that's the reason for the smiles on these faces -- they're about to engage enthusiastic new citizens outside a naturalization ceremony Wednesday in Miami Beach. It's a non-partisan effort -- I signed up some new-citizen Republicans. But it's pleasing to report that by far the majority we saw at the first session were declaring themselves to be Democrats.

There's more to come on Thursday -- about 10,000 more new citizens are to be sworn in. If you want to help, be at David's Cafe on Meridian Avenue just off Lincoln Road at 8 a.m. Thursday for Breakfast On Joe and a briefing on how to do it.


Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Father fears for Pablito after SCHIP veto

This toddler captured hearts when we met him and his father, Pablo Urquiza.

In this post, Pablo tells the story of his son, costs of his epilepsy treatment, and the SCHIP veto.

Are you listening, Mario Diaz-Balart?

Last September, my three year old son Pablo was diagnosed with a form of epilepsy. Although this is very difficult for any parent to deal with (no one wants to see their child suffering from a disease) the situation was alleviated by the fact that at least my family had health insurance provided through my employer.

My son’s condition required hospitalization, visits to the emergency room, x-rays, various MRI’s, encephalograms, the intervention of doctors, paramedics, specialists and medication – with the cost of his treatment rapidly escalating to nearly $30,000. Fortunately, I had medical insurance and a job. Then I was told that I was being laid-off, and I was left without a steady job, but with medical coverage (for only a few more months).

That’s when I really became desperate. What do I do? What happens if I have to take my son to the hospital again? And what if he has to undergo more costly examinations? Just one MRI costs $4,000…A good option for someone in my situation would have been the health program for children, SCHIP. But at the same time, I learned that President Bush had just vetoed extending coverage to millions of children who are citizens and legal residents in this country. I also discovered that my Republican congressman, Mario Diaz-Balart, also voted against extending coverage which would have helped my son in the near future.

What excuse do these bureaucrats have to deny my son a basic human right – the right to have access to the best medical care possible? How can the richest country on the planet deny that right to my three year old son? What can I do as a father? I want Mario Diaz-Balart to explain to my son, face to face, the reasons why he has forgotten those who are helpless and innocent.

--- Pablo – Miami Lakes, Florida

Thanks to Isabel of Democratas de Miami for talking with Pablo and translating. Check out our blog in Spanish that she handles,

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Lincoln Diaz-Balart takes on the world

Our Republicans in the U.S. House are so vulnerable.

Here's a link to Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart (FL-21) acting up on the floor of the House.

This is a reminder that there's a movement to draft Raul Martinez to run against Lincoln Diaz-Balart (FL-21), and another to draft Joe Garcia to run against Mario Diaz-Balart (FL-25). Wish I was reminding you of yet another movement to draft a candidate against Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (FL-18).

Here's a link to some of Ms. Ros-Lehtinen's fanciful speculation about how the GAO might take on World War II. As you may imagine, she was rejecting the GAO's criticism of the way the war in Iraq was going. She nagged the wrong witness, for the GAO head reminded her that Defense Secretary Gates has no military experience. 'Nuff said.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Rudy: Corrupt and cavalier, and then more

If your Republican friends are trending toward Rudy, here’s something you should feed them: it's a link to The Real Rudy.

It's a news release from the Florida Democratic Party on why Rudy wasn’t paying attention much to the 9/11 Commission back in 2002 – he was busy getting filthy rich, and in dubious fashion. And there’s a neat Florida link to this story. Go check out the FlaDems news release and don’t neglect to follow the links therein to the Time Magazine and New York Times articles.

It makes me cringe at the way big money and fears of terrorism will work together with the industry devoted to data mining. The result could be a United States with a thoroughly controlled citizenry and a disastrous appetite for unending war.

There. Scary enough?

Friday, December 14, 2007

Yes to Torture, say Ros-Lehtinen and Diaz-Balarts

Our three Republican members of the U.S. House have voted for torture. Yes, let’s reaffirm that: Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (FL-18), Lincoln Diaz-Balart (FL-21), and Mario Diaz-Balart (FL-25) voted Thursday with 186 other Republicans on the Nay side of a measure that the Democratic majority put forward to bar CIA agents from using waterboarding while questioning suspected terrorists.

Thank goodness that the Republicans no longer are in the majority in the House – the measure passed in a 222-199 vote. Let it not be said that the Democrats are worthless in Washington.

That said, we don’t know what will happen when this measure hits the Senate with its lovely rules and scant Democratic majority.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Iran protest at Ros-Lehtinen office

Part of the group of 10 who
left a petition Thursday at
U.S. Rep. Ros-Lehtinen's office.

No war over Iran. That was the message as protesters working under the MoveOn umbrella left petitions at the Miami offices of two Republican menbers of the U.S. House.

Targets were Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, FL-18, and Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, FL-25.

No to Jan. 29 property tax referendum

Miami-Dade Democrats are against the property tax referendum that will be part of the Jan. 29 voting exercise. Explanation will follow, but first:

YES! Do vote on Jan. 29. DO NOT swallow any of the negative commentary trying to make you think that your vote for the presidential nominee will be worthless, just because of the fuss over primary dates.

As Nancy Pelosi and others have said: The person who emerges in the lead after the caucuses and primaries will become the party leader and will surely rule in favor of seating the Florida delegation at the Denver convention. Who would be so insane as to snub Florida at that point? Who would snub 27 electoral votes?

With that out of the way, we have to consider what else will be on the ballot, and the biggest item is the lightly considered proposal to amend the state constitution to change property tax rules. I confess that the full details escape me. Those who’ve looked at the verbiage that emerged from the legislature say it may be page after page on the voting screen. I’ll provide a link below to the full text. Here comes the news:

The December meeting of the Democratic Executive Committee voted to oppose Amendment #1 on “Property tax exemptions; Limitations on property tax assessments.” The DEC vote was largely on grounds that the result would be budgetary hardship for public education, first responders and public officials and services. And that most property tax-payers would save so little money that their financial burden would not be eased.

Chairman Joe Garcia said more thoughtful work needed to be done by the tax and budget reform committee in Tallahassee.

The decision to oppose the measure was made by a voice vote of over 100 people attending the Dec. 10 meeting.

Here, thanks to DEC Secretary Charlotte Klieman, who made the motion, is official information on the referendum proposal:





Link to full text

This revision proposes changes to the State Constitution relating to property taxation. With respect to homestead property, this revision: (1) increases the homestead exemption except for school district taxes and (2) allows homestead property owners to transfer up to $500,000 of their Save-Our-Homes benefits to their next homestead. With respect to nonhomestead property, this revision (3) provides a $25,000 exemption for tangible personal property and (4) limits assessment increases for specified nonhomestead real property except for school district taxes.

In more detail, this revision:
(1) Increases the homestead exemption by exempting the assessed value between $50,000 and $75,000. This exemption does not apply to school district taxes.
(2) Provides for the transfer of accumulated Save-Our-Homes benefits. Homestead property owners will be able to transfer their Save-Our-Homes benefit to a new homestead within 1 year and not more than 2 years after relinquishing their previous homestead; except, if this revision is approved by the electors in January of 2008 and if the new homestead is established on January 1, 2008, the previous homestead must have been relinquished in 2007. If the new homestead has a higher just value than the previous one, the accumulated benefit can be transferred; if the new homestead has a lower just value, the amount of benefit transferred will be reduced. The transferred benefit may not exceed $500,000. This provision applies to all taxes.
(3) Authorizes an exemption from property taxes of $25,000 of assessed value of tangible personal property. This provision applies to all taxes.
(4) Limits the assessment increases for specified nonhomestead real property to 10 percent each year. Property will be assessed at just value following an improvement, as defined by general law, and may be assessed at just value following a change of ownership or control if provided by general law. This limitation does not apply to school district taxes. This limitation is repealed effective January 1, 2019, unless renewed by a vote of the electors in the general election held in 2018.

Further, this revision:
a. Repeals obsolete language on the homestead exemption when it was less than $25,000 and did not apply uniformly to property taxes levied by all local governments.
b. Provides for homestead exemptions to be repealed if a future constitutional amendment provides for assessment of homesteads "at less than just value" rather than as currently provided "at a specified percentage" of just value.
c. Schedules the changes to take effect upon approval by the electors and operate retroactively to January 1, 2008, if approved in a special election held on January 29, 2008, or to take effect January 1, 2009, if approved in the general election held in November of 2008. The limitation on annual assessment increases for specified real property shall first apply to the 2009 tax roll if this revision is approved in a special election held on January 29, 2008, or shall first apply to the 2010 tax roll if this revision is approved in the general election held in November of 2008.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

New DailyKos post on Joe Garcia and Raul Martinez

Here's a new entry, Blue Cubano, for the list of bloggers talking about Joe Garcia and Raul Martinez running for the U.S. House of Representative. Blue's diary went up Tuesday evening with a lot of close analysis of opinion in the two districts, 25 and 21, respectively. I added a comment with details of the web sites backing Garcia and Martinez.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Achievement Award for Bennett Brummer

Retiring Public Defender Bennett Brummer (left) and Carlos Martinez, who is running to succeed him, with Joe Garcia, Democratic Party chairman.

The Honorable Bennett Brummer received a "Lifetime Achievement Award" from the Miami-Dade Democratic Party Monday for his "longstanding contributions to our community and for his enduring commitment and passion in upholding the principles of Democracy and of the Democratic Party."

Brummer has been elected eight times to be the county's public defender, and is retiring at the end of his term next year.

Also honored at the Democratic Executive Committee's monthly meeting and holiday party were James Willoughby, Kristin Wipior and Barbara Schwartz. They received plaques honoring them as Volunteers of the Year for many hours of work on Democratic business.

Your blogger, Larry Thorson, was honored as "Committee Chair of the Year for 2007" for work on the communications side of the Democratic Party.

Many thanks to all!

Monday, December 10, 2007

Hispanic strategy looks promising

Here's good news for those of us using the Hispanic strategy for at least part of our electoral campaign planning: The NY Times last week reported a Pew Hispanic Center survey showing "a strong preference for the Democratic Party" among Hispanic voters.

This is a reversal of the Republicans' strong showing among Hispanics in the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections.

Identified as strategic states are -- Guess who? -- Florida, Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada. All were carried by George W. Bush with narrow margins in 2004.

Here's a link to the Pew Hispanic Center report itself.

Our new blog in Spanish

We have a new companion blog in Spanish -- freshly minted today. What a thrill!

Thanks to our new blogger, an accomplished journalist posting as Isabel-Democratas de Miami, we will have the ability to cross the language barrier. So much for Tancredoism!

The URL is

Friday, December 07, 2007

A start to solving OUR Cuba problem

I like this idea.

Please note that nothing was said about solving Cuba's problem. It's about solving our Cuba problem, which starts with a lot of Republican demagoguery.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Please do go and vote on Jan. 29

I am giving Bill Nelson the benefit of the doubt and will consider his lawsuit a publicity stunt. Good. We need all the publicity we can get. Even bad publicity is useful, some say.

In any case, here is the word from Florida Democratic Party Chairwoman Karen Thurman following the dismissal of Sen. Nelson's suit against the Democratic National Committee.

It boils down to: Please vote in the Jan. 29 primary.

"The Florida Democratic Party remains committed to participating fully in the state-run Presidential Preference Primary on January 29, 2008. We strongly urge all Florida Democrats to get out and vote in this fair and open election.

"No matter what anybody says, Florida Democrats will make the primary count by going to the polls and casting their votes on January 29th. The nation will be paying attention, and Florida Democrats will have a major impact on the race.

"Accordingly, the Florida Democratic Party will respect the voters' choice on January 29th in determining the allocation of our delegates to the 2008 Democratic National Convention. We are confident that the Democratic Presidential nominee will seat Florida's delegation at the Convention."

There's for further information.

Also relevant is that it's time to start applying if you'd like to be a delegate to the Denver convention. You will be seated.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Florida financial crisis meeting on Tuesday

Do you see this in today’s paper? On TV?

Well, here are a few sound bites to catch your interest.

  • “…essentially the breakdown of our modern-day banking system…” (NY Times column).
  • “…decision that could disrupt the finances of dozens of cities and counties across the state…” (Miami Herald).

Talk about the Grinch!

Maybe that’s why they’re not telling us. It wouldn’t do to deflate our shopping mood as the Red and Green holiday approaches.

It’s not only that some poor people who swallowed hook line and sinker suffer from blocked throats as they must cough up more money for their homes. And it’s not only that some subprime lenders are seeing their stock prices plummet.

Now they’re having trouble paying the schoolteachers. The police and firefighters are next. Your mayor’s inflated salary, the public hospital staff.

I may be wrong, but it seems that Florida is leading the way into this new chapter of the financial crisis of the early 21st Century. My sources are the NY Times, Bloomberg and the Miami Herald, and they all seem to say the tipping point occurred last week in the Local Government Investment Pool in Tallahassee.

If you’re the financial officer of your local school board, you may know this Pool well. Otherwise, terra incognita. It’s where local government bodies park their money, with the full trust that they can withdraw it when time comes to pay salaries and bills.

Last Thursday there was a run on the Pool amid disclosures that it held some “downgraded and defaulted debt,” according to Bloomberg’s report .

Management stopped withdrawals. Management, it should be said, is Gov. Charlie Crist, CFO Alex Sink and Attorney General Bill McCollum, in their role as trustees of the State Board of Administration. That’s one more official body that’s little known but with great responsibility.

Well, it will all be OK. They will meet Tuesday and figure it out. Be warned, however, that the Bloomberg story reported that they already tried to get the affected agencies around the state to accept as little as 90 cents on the dollar. (The agencies meanwhile are scrambling to take short-term loans to make necessary payments.)

Hey, there goes your tax money, or 10 percent of it for starters. Wasted on the housing bubble.

That takes me back to the top of this post, where I cited a snip from NY Times columnist Paul Krugman’s Monday column. Here’s the full citation, itself a quote:

“What we are witnessing,” says Bill Gross of the bond manager Pimco, “is essentially the breakdown of our modern-day banking system, a complex of leveraged lending so hard to understand that Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke required a face-to-face refresher course from hedge fund managers in mid-August.”

That’s a stark factoid: Our lending system is so complex that the Fed Chair doesn’t have a clue!

I think I heard on the radio that Hillary Clinton wants a moratorium on mortgage foreclosures, and Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson also wants ways to avoid foreclosures. Perhaps useful ideas.

But what do we do about the absurd complexity of the lending system? And what about the joyful greed we all felt as real estate prices went crazy?

Holiday bubbles are not only in the Champagne.

Here are links to the sources, and be advised that they include more dire stuff than what I've quoted above. The Miami Herald story. The Bloomberg story. One more Bloomberg story. NY Times column by Krugman.

UPDATE: This post is also up on DailyKos, where it quickly got a number of useful comments. First up was a suggestion to follow the money to Jeb Bush, and the link was to a Forbes story with the delicious headline "Where was Jeb?" Turns out he has become a consultant to Lehman Brothers, which had sold some of the dubious paper to the Florida Pool while Jeb was governor and sitting on the management board. Wonder how much he's been paid (bribed post facto) for having done that deal?

Thanks to ThirstyGator for excellent info.

UPDATE II:He points out that Atrios is covering the subprime situation thoroughly.

A.P. to Reorganize Work

This link takes you to a NY Times report on my former employer for 25 years and how it's changing in the new media environment.