Thursday, December 31, 2009

NY Times agrees with this blog on dirty money in politics

Check recent posts here for how Florida and the US Congress are subverted by corrupt money. The Times thinks the situation in NY state is so bad that the entire legislature needs to be voted out. Sounds like a real national problem.

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Wise blogger tries to capture the decade

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Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Ponzi schemer II: Scott Rothstein and his run at Florida's treasure chest

Here we are, two days in a row with fresh stories on Ponzi billionaires using their money trying to corrupt government. See the previous post for Allen Stanford's successful infiltration of the US Congress, as investigated by the Miami Herald. On Tuesday it’s the St. Petersburg Times’ story on Scott Rothstein and his run at Alex Sink’s office and the huge treasure chest of the Florida State Board of Administration.

The story also was the main lead in the Miami Herald, thanks to the news exchange partnership of the two papers. We’ve got to say the old mainstream media aren’t dead yet. The two stories mark tremendous effort on the investigative side. They tell complicated stories, especially the St. Pete paper’s story on the State Board of Administration, which is little known but is so big ($136 billion) that if it loses a couple billion on bad investments it’s only a few percent.

And yes, this blog has been aware of the SBA for many months, thanks to Jeb Bush, the ex-governor who became a consultant for now-belly-up Lehman Brothers and helped grease the way for good Floridians’ money to disappear from SBA accounts.

Read about that at this link to one of the posts on this blog.

But back to the issue at hand. Alex Sink is the highest-ranking Democrat in state government as chief financial officer, and the likely candidate for governor against a cabinet colleague, Attorney General Bill McCollum. Scott Rothstein was a generous donor to Republicans and not for the Democrats until this year when he gave $200,000 to the Florida Democratic Party, fulfilling a pledge made at a fundraiser for Sink, the St. Pete Times reports. Her office then was recruiting law firms for legal work, and Rothstein’s firm tried hard to get it – in vain, as it turned out. But still, what’s a Ponzi schemer likely to want to do with a big state legal job? Rip it off big-time, I’d say, to make a big profit on that investment of $200,000.

Couple questions:
  • Why does Florida have to pay “tens of millions” in fees for legal work?
  • Why doesn’t the Attorney General supply legal workers for some big part of these jobs?
  • Which firms got the work, and since three of them are reported as having donated to Sink, why aren’t we hearing more about their qualifications?

To Sink’s credit, she’s trying to raise the SBA as a campaign issue. Here’s the way the St. Pete Times puts it (this aspect doesn’t seem to be included in the print edition of the Miami Herald):

Sink has made reform of the SBA a campaign issue. She has suggested that the oversight board be expanded to include nonpoliticians, which Crist and McCollum have balked at. In a campaign e-mail, Sink recently said her reforms were being blocked by "career politicians who would rather protect their own political interests'' than the retirement checks of Floridians.

Should she and her two fellow politicians who oversee the SBA be barred from accepting campaign contributions from firms seeking business with the agency?

"I think the whole governance structure is not appropriate,'' she said. "It would suit me to have no elected official on the board.''
There’s another way to do it. As this blog said on Monday: Get money out of politics.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Miami Herald writes a big chapter on dirty money in politics: Allen Stanford

A few days ago I blogged a suggestion that progressives should take a new tack on national issues and go after campaign finance reform – get money out of politics.

So I hereby thank the investigative reporters at the Miami Herald for coming up with a whopper of an example of dirty money in politics. The lead story in the Sunday paper -- even though Florida’s sainted football coach, Urban Meyer, took up most of the front page by deciding to tend his health, and good for him, but, man, is that trivial – was about Allen Stanford and how he manipulated some members of Congress to protect his money-laundering/Ponzi-scheming empire.

Check it out. Even as Stanford was being charged he got a steamy email from US Rep. Pete Sessions: “I love you and believe in you.” So the Texas Republican is quoted as gushing to someone headed for jail for stealing a billion or more and giving a lot of it to our elected political leaders. Sessions was chair of the Republican National Congressional Committee, i.e. the recipient of a lot of Stanford’s largesse.

But the Democrats also are fat pigs in this picture, raking in $500,000 for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee in 2002. The Dems then had control of the Senate and Stanford needed to block a bill likely to bring his dubious brokerage under more scrutiny. No problem, Democrats apparently said. The bill went nowhere. That was reported as Stanford’s biggest single donation, and it went to my party.

This rant is bi- and non-partisan. Republicans and Democrats more or less equally lapped at the Stanford trough, as the Herald portrays it. In fact the article is a little faulty, I think, in not clearly putting party and state ID’s on the many members of Congress who took Stanford’s money. And let us not forget George W. Bush (R of Texas), whose 2001 inauguration raked in $100,000 to help celebrate, the Herald reports.

What really steams me in the Herald article is that in 1999 the State Department concluded that Stanford “helped create a money-laundering haven in Antigua.” Despite this big Con Man sign hanging around Stanford’s neck, our national leaders kept on taking his money, and, alas, quite a lot of his criminal activity took place in Florida.

Most wounding to this Democratic voter is that Florida Sen. Bill Nelson benefitted from a fundraiser at Stanford’s Miami office when he ran for re-election in 2006. So, Senator, in 1999 the State Department branded Stanford a money-launderer, and you took his money in 2006. Is anyone checking these obvious things?

Let us go back to the lesson of the day. We need to take money out of politics. This aspect of our political life attracts crooks and Ponzi artists. We little grass-roots donors are honest pips on a deck of marked cards. It is becoming more clear than ever that our political leaders are either crooks or deliberately oblivious to where a substantial portion of political money comes from.

This has got to change.

Note: This link goes to a sidebar with a bizarre story on how Stanford got a Democratic congressman to go to Venezuela and have Hugo Chavez sideline an opponent of Standord's fraudulent business. What next? A cake and a Bible?

For news of Iran check The Daily Dish

Andrew Sullivan's blog has a lot of coverage:

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Friday, December 25, 2009

Top 5 on-line journalism stories of the year, and Florida is in the mix

Here's one view of the top five on-line news accomplishments of 2009.

Check out the third entry, which includes a Tampa event in the string of tea parties that right-wing actors performed in.

Read about the list on Daily Kos.

The answer to post-health-care funk: Get money out of politics

It’s very concerning now. We progressive Democrats are demoralized by health-care passage in the Senate, while the Republican losers assert they’re happy campers and will go home to stir up more trouble than ever. This is exactly the reverse of the morale that ought to apply to these camps. There is, no doubt, some bravado and exaggeration on each side, but I think it’s generally a true portrait. Our side has to grow and change in a hurry, or we could slide down to a lower level for the next battle – the environment, which is even more important than health care. It’s the planet that’s at stake, not just a few million human beings and their crummy health.

For next steps I’m looking for tips from Organizing For America, from MoveOn, from Progressive Democrats of America; that is, from the Obama White House, from the grassroots liberal establishment, and from the PDA’s curious inside-outside mixture of being inside Congress (80-plus in the Progressive Caucus) and outside among people willing to demonstrate and occasionally be arrested.

As of this evening, OFA has sent out an email asking to thank the Senators who voted for the bill. still has Joe Lieberman on its front page. is boasting that it was named by The Nation magazine as the most valuable political group of 2008. Yes, not a typo, of 2008.

So, let’s agree that they haven’t issued quick advice on how to think and act in order to salvage the historic presidency of Barack Obama. We are, nonetheless, thinking about this vital mission. Even if it is Christmas.

I do not think the progressive side will have to drag Barack Obama, kicking and screaming, to do the right thing. If he can be convinced that he will be re-elected, he’s for it. But what will be the right thing? The Hawaii vacation may have come at exactly the right time to refresh the president’s thinking and morale. This should be a time for bold action, not mealy-mouthed compromise. Open thinking and debate, not disgusting deals on Nebraska Medicaid.

A forthright approach would be to start a new tack altogether – get money out of politics. This is what has left us in a post-health-care funk. Let’s start thinking about fixing the root problem of our health care, the environment, our wars, our corruption. The people will thank us.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Now the question: Was this American Airlines, or Miami? Fiasco, I mean

My friend Maria over at Sex and the Beach has a horrific tale of how she and her parents were stiffed from a flight to Hawaii. Read it at this link: sex and the beach: American Airlines Sucks

As it happened I saw her at a Meetup (Sorry, it was called a Freezup due to the weather) Monday night and was very surprised, as she had been on Twitter for several days enthusing about the coming trip to see her brother in Hawaii and have a big family Christmas. But there she was at Smith and Wolensky with Stoli helping to ease the pain of AA and MIA. Thank goodness she was amid a crowd of friendly social media icons and followers.

As I ask above, was this just American Airlines, or did this being Miami have something to do with a complete fiasco of customer service?

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

A challenge to Florida Democrats from a blogger

Is this a gauntlet thrown down, or what? Over at the best local blog, Eye on Miami, gimleteye is challenging us to distinguish ourselves from the Republicans. Read it and gnash your teeth.

A sample:
If the Rubio forces have their way, the Florida Department of Community Affairs will be history in the upcoming session of the legislature. And Democrats still can't tell what is happening. They are somewhere down the other side of the field, picking dandelions while the G.O.P. has driven the ball into the corner at the other end of the field, in a corner kicking each other's shins and ankles.

I agree with the New America Foundation and its assessment that in November 2010, the ballot referendum "Florida Hometown Democracy" will be the most important in the nation. It is a measure that strikes fear at the heart of the Florida G.O.P. But even on this clearest issue, Florida Democrats can't find a voice. Alex Sink, the Florida candidate for governor, won't even pick up a phone to discuss the issue. And so it goes as 2009 and a bad decade for Florida comes to a close.

There are a lot of good points. Any thoughts?

One that occurs to me is that some developers are Democrats, and they stand out by distinguishing themselves from those who get rich by over-development. If they were to take lead positions in debate on the issue of over-development, the public might decide to vote Democratic more often.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Benefits of the Senate Health Reform Bill

The Benefits of the Senate Health Reform Bill:

The United States Senate is on the verge of passing historic health reform legislation. Taken together, the provisions of this bill represent the most significant health reform since the creation of Medicare.

The Senate health reform bill will:

Extend coverage to 31 million Americans, the largest expansion of coverage since the creation of Medicare.

Ensure that you can choose your own doctor.

Finally stop insurance companies from denying coverage due to a pre-existing condition.

Make sure you will never be charged exorbitant premiums on the basis of your age, health, or gender.

Guarantee you will never lose your coverage just because you get sick or injured.

Protect you from outrageous out-of-pocket expenditures by establishing lifetime and annual limits.

Allow young people to stay on their parents' coverage until they're 26 years old.

Create health insurance exchanges, or “one-stop shops” for individuals purchasing insurance, where insurance companies are forced to compete for new customers.

Lower premiums for families, according to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office -- especially for struggling folks who will receive subsidies.

Help small businesses provide health care coverage to their employees with tax credits and by allowing them to purchase coverage through the exchanges.

Improve and strengthen Medicare by eliminating waste and fraud (without cutting basic benefits), beginning to close the Medicare Part D donut hole, and extending the life of the Medicare trust fund.

Create jobs by reining in costs -- fostering competition, reducing waste and inefficiency, and starting to reward doctors and hospitals for quality, not quantity, of care.

Cut the deficit by over $130 billion in the next 10 years.

Paid for by Organizing for America, a project of the Democratic National Committee -- 430 South Capitol Street SE, Washington, D.C. 20003. This communication is not authorized by any candidate or candidate's committee.

The voice of reason: What's going on in Washington

Our blogging leader, Markos Moulitsas, founder of Daily Kos, was on the tube Sunday morning, and I'm just catching up. Here's his take on where we are, and like Paul Krugman in the NY Times, he thinks the filibuster has to go/change.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Where we stand

Mon, December 21, 2009 5:49:52 PM
From: President Barack Obama

Early this morning, the Senate made history and health reform cleared its most important hurdle yet -- garnering the 60 votes needed to move toward a final vote in that chamber later this week.

This marks the first time in our nation's history that comprehensive health reform has come to this point. And it appears that the American people will soon realize the genuine reform that offers security to those who have health insurance and affordable options to those who do not.

I'm grateful to Senator Harry Reid and every senator who's been working around the clock to make this happen. And I'm grateful to you, and every member of the Organizing for America community, for all the work you have done to make this progress possible.

After a nearly century-long struggle, we are now on the cusp of making health insurance reform a reality in the United States of America.

As with any legislation, compromise is part of the process. But I'm pleased that recently added provisions have made this landmark bill even stronger. Between the time when the bill passes and the time when the insurance exchanges get up and running, insurance companies that try to jack up their rates do so at their own peril. Those who hike their prices may be barred from selling plans on the exchanges.

And while insurance companies will be prevented from denying coverage on the basis of pre-existing conditions once the exchanges are open, in the meantime there will be a high-risk pool where people with pre-existing conditions can purchase affordable coverage.

A recent amendment has made these protections even stronger. Insurance companies will now be prohibited from denying coverage to children immediately after this bill passes. There's also explicit language in this bill that will protect a patient's choice of doctor. And small businesses will get additional assistance as well.

These protections are in addition to the ones we've been talking about for some time. No longer will insurance companies be able to drop your coverage if you become sick and no longer will you have to pay unlimited amounts out of your own pocket for treatments that you need.

Under this bill families will save on their premiums; businesses that would see their costs rise if we don't act will save money now and in the future. This bill will strengthen Medicare and extend the life of the program. Because it's paid for and gets rid of waste and inefficiency in our health care system, this will be the largest deficit reduction plan in over a decade.

Finally, this reform will extend coverage to more than 30 million Americans who don't have it.

These are not small changes. These are big changes. They're fundamental reforms. They will save money. They will save lives.

And your passion, your work, your organizing helped make all of this possible. Now it's time to finish the job.

Thank you,

President Barack Obama

Paid for by Organizing for America, a project of the Democratic National Committee -- 430 South Capitol Street SE, Washington, D.C. 20003. This communication is not authorized by any candidate or candidate's committee.

Iran dissent arising anew

Twitter is aflame again with news from Iran. The death of the leading dissident cleric, Ayatollah Montazeri,, and his funeral have brought many into the street shouting anti-regime slogans.

Twenty years ago China went through many weeks of turmoil centered on a funeral that sparked anti-government protests. In that case the focus was on Hu Yaobang, who had been Communist Party secretary general and called for more reform than the rest of the leadership could tolerate. He died in April 1989 and younger Chinese who had backed his reform drive came out in long protests in Tienanmen Square in Beijing, culminating in the brutal squashing of the protests in June 1989. The turmoil lasted seven weeks.

Could the same thing happen in Iran, with the death of Montazeri? Six months ago it there were many protests about the flawed elections in Iran, and now trouble for the regime is rising again. If you're on Twitter, type Iran or #Iran in the search box and catch the quick links to follow developments.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

A little video from the Miami-Dade Democrats' holiday party

We called it Florida Blue and had some fun.

Looking forward to a powerful year of campaigning for the 2010 midterm election. We have a lot of good candidates and a new chairman, Richard Lydecker, who promises the party will be a valuable partner in getting Democrats elected.

Friday, December 18, 2009

How do they get the president to sign a Christmas card to me?

I did work like a dog to help get him elected, but I didn't expect to get a video showing Barack Obama signing a Christmas card to me.

How do they do it?

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Miami-Dade Water? I'm filtering it.

Is this the last straw I need to sign that recall petition for Miami-Dade Mayor Alvarez? It seems the water he's providing is not as good as it should be.

Read it in the Environmental Working Group's report, part of a national workup on how the whole country has many water supplies in dubious condition.

The NY Times today has a big writeup on this, focusing on how our laws are out of date, leaving us in a situation where the water we're getting may be legal, but it's unhealthy.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

I've given. Have you? Make Florida's politics more fair

This is about the last chance to donate to get all the petitions in on time to put an end to gerrymandering. That is, to put it on the 2010 ballot. Please click on the link below and do your duty.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Operation Green Leaves Weekly Internet Radio Program

On “Eco Alert with Nadine Patrice”, this Saturday December 12th, we will be discussing the climate change/Global warming issues as well current information on what is going on at the climate change conference in Copenhagen. You can’t afford to miss this show. We will have Dr. Jack Parker from Florida International University’s Environmental Department with us.

Just visit and click on internet Radio.

Nadine C. Patrice
Executive Director
Operation Green Leaves Inc.

Scoop: County changes plan for sewer tunnel under Government Cut

They do policy turns on a dime at County Hall:

• One day it was OK for the top aide to Mayor Carlos Alvarez to do private work in Panama while on the county dime, next day those trips to Panama were off.

• Last week Miami-Dade County Water and Sewer Department sent top officials and consultants to Miami Beach to explain a $197 million tunnel under Government Cut, this week the project is off. Have we saved a lot more than a dime?

• What next?

Why so nervous? That’s the next question. Something about that recall petition against Alvarez?

And the question from Frank Del Vecchio, the prime watchdog of Miami Beach city government, was what’s with “the disappearing act with the $197 million port utility tunnel gambit.”

Those of you who know anything about this either were at the Tuesday Morning Breakfast Club meeting on Dec. 1 or you read it on this blog a week ago. This is still a scoop for me. The Miami Herald may have bigger fish to worry about than $197 million of taxpayers’ money, I guess.

The short summary of this project as of last week was that the Water and Sewer Department had to relocate a sewer line under Government Cut because the waterway must be dredged deeper to accommodate much bigger cargo ships in the Port of Miami. The existing 54-inch pipe was to be replaced by boring a big tunnel 80 feet down to carry a sewer line and other utility pipes from Miami Beach under Government Cut, under Fisher Island and to the county sewage treatment plant on Virginia Key.

If they haven’t taken down the project Web site, you can see it at

Lotta work involved. Projected at $197 million. The 50-60 people at the Miami Beach breakfast meeting last week objected pretty unanimously against the likely plan to pay for it out of county-wide water and sewer bills, rather than for the Port of Miami – the beneficiary of bigger cargo ships – to pay for it out of its increased revenue, in the billions annually.

Miami Beach city officials started asking questions, based on citizen concerns cranked out from the committee of residents and experts mobilized by Del Vecchio and others. Noise, smell, cost, traffic, easements, environmental impact.

Wednesday morning I was surprised to have an email roll in from the Water and Sewer Department, addressed to the Miami Beach city manager’s office, with copies to lots of people on the residents’ committee, of which I’m a member. Along with the emailed reversal by County Hall came a long thread of emails between Miami Beach and the county Water and Sewer Department.

The new plan scuttles the big, bored tunnel and somehow will do the work from barges in Government Cut. That’s a busy place to have barges (plural) contending in the narrow waterway with cruise ships and cargo ships, not to speak of my 26-foot sailboat and other pleasure craft. And I wonder about the environmental impact. One of the pluses of the deep tunnel was that it wouldn’t disturb marine life at all, since it would be bored well below the bottom of Government Cut.

The email from Eduardo A. Vega, an assistant director in Water and Sewer, said it would still be a challenge to get the work done by August 2012.

“While this approach still represents a significant challenge in terms of the schedule, we feel that the overall risks of delay are significantly reduced with this less complex alternative,” Vega’s email said.

Frank Del Vecchio has a dim view of the moral atmosphere in our home county. Here’s what he said in an email to me:

This is evidence of the RICOH-type syndicate consisting of a sort of Adam Smith "invisible hand" where all the players know they will gain but don't actually have to sit in a smoke-filled room to cook up the scheme. Miami-Dade County is the equivalent of a smoke-filled room of politicos, government agency employees, consultants, contractors, lawyers, lobbyists all profiting off the public: taxes, bonding, government power.

That’s pretty tricky thinking, Frank. Miami-Dade is like a smoke-filled room. Well, now it’s our job to help clean it up.

Water and Sewer, by the way, still plans to keep the tunnel project on the drawing boards – just way off in the future when it may be needed.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Fela! Gotta see this show

Some blogs offer turndown service with a piece of music to get you ready for bed. This blog is into wakeup, and this is a piece to get your feet moving.

(I tried to do an embed of the video clip and it didn't work, so the link is second best.)

Monday, December 07, 2009

FL-18: Ros-Lehtinen still on the lavish junket list

My flawed Republican member of Congress, US Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, is high on the list of miscreants in this story about congressional junkets that leads Monday's NY Times.

As the Times says, they tightened up the rules in the wake of scandals associated with jailbird Jack Abramoff, but the lobbyists figured out ways to keep on sending members of Congress on junkets worth big sums. Read the details of Ros-Lehtinen's trip to Israel, and it looks like she went all-out on behalf of her benefactor.

Let us also record here that the Miami Herald Naked Politics blog has taken note of this, and we can hope that the Herald will pester Ros-Lehtinen until she explains what this was about. She stonewalled the Times.

Hello, Bret. Nice to see you doing well

Well down in this story from the Miami Herald business section we find our former chairman of the Miami-Dade Democratic Party, Bret Berlin. Sounds like he’s the right-hand man of Jeff Greene, whom the Herald calls South Florida’s latest billionaire. Greene looked out his windows and saw the overbuilding of Miami that would turn into a collapse of real estate prices, and he invested accordingly. And it was a good move to bring our former chair aboard, too.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Art Basel-Miami Beach: fine fadeout with the de la Cruz Collection

This is a fine place to see art, as well as a place full of generosity, one of the higher virtues. Think of all the greed we’re subjected to in South Florida and call it Minus 100. For the Plus 100 of generosity, go to the de la Cruz art space in the Design District. Thank you, Carlos and Rosa de la Cruz. You used to show your art in your home on Key Biscayne, and now you built this three-story museum on 41st Street just off Miami Avenue to show it. The collection opened to the public during this year’s Art Basel-Miami Beach, as well as by appointment. That’s generous.

And some of the contemporary art is generous, too. In my crude video you can see people taking parts of the conceptual works by Felix Gonzalez-Torres – pieces of candy from one, sheets of fine printed paper from another.

Did you see the string of lights on the floor? The Miami Herald reported spectators stepped on them twice in the early going after the building had its general opening on Thursday, and now pleasant attendants stand nearby to warn people away from the lights. They are more art by the late Felix Gonzalez-Torres.

The Herald had a story warmly accepting this new art treasure building for Miami, and also helped me understand that Jim Hodges was the artist who created the wonderful flower curtain that was my star of the days of Art Basel.

For more background direct from Rosa de la Cruz, kindly turn to this link to a video by the New York Times in 2007.

FORGOT TO INCLUDE: This link to the Web site with photos of the new building.

Your blogger appears briefly in this next video of the Shepard Fairey exhibit. Fairey created the famous Hope poster image of Barack Obama and is a practitioner of public art and graffiti, of which there was a lot showing during Art Basel – deliberately promoted for the art fair. Fairey and my former employer, Associated Press, are still embroiled in a dispute over the Obama photo that was his inspiration, so I’m not gonna go there. But I did go to see the wall of Shepard Fairey poster art at 2700 NE 2nd Avenue.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Art Basel-Miami Beach graffiti in Design District

Gone Global, it says. Must be about Wall Street.

Art Basel-Miami Beach in the Design District

In the background, Claudio Ethos is on the ladder painting on the wall
of the 101 Gallery, NE 40th Street at 1st Avenue, where his drawings
are hung on the inside walls.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Art Basel-Miami Beach -- what happened Thursday night?

I heard on the radio the feds raided some gallery exhibit and confiscated artworks because of a court judgment. But, hey, I wasn't there, though I see in the Miami Herald the marshals got some big-name artists. I managed to hit four widely separated independent events and made video snips of three of them. The fourth, the Sculpt Miami show in two open spaces on West 36th Street in Miami, needed more light to run my Flip camcorder, and I hope to be back there again to talk to Dimitri the sculptor/promoter about his display of huge works.

Meanwhile, here are clips from the NADA show in the Deauville Hotel on Collins Avenue at 67th Street. This was the first encroachment of Art Basel into North Beach, of which we locals are exceedingly proud. Look it up at this site.

I'll be adding more as soon as the lab finishes souping the film.

UPDATE: If you want to meet well-mannered pleasant young artists of the street variety, check out the show at Mamushka Gallery in Miami, 31 NW 36th Street, and quite a few other venues, too. I'm told there's a big show on 2nd Avenue Friday evening at 8 pm. Hope the weather permits.

Yet more to come. Hey, lab! Get moving.

UPDATE II: Dashed to South Beach and hit the National Hotel just as Laurence Gartel was finishing his speech introducing his new work called Auto Motion. I swear he said it was the biggest thing happening at this Art Basel-Miami Beach -- the world's first computer-generated sculpture. Well, there it is in this video -- after some comprehensible art work in progress, thanks to Robert D. Harris of San Francisco and his easel and a painting in the throes of composition. Mr. Gartel's red plastic-looking work showed three, I think, automobiles in a pile with a ribbon all around. A knowledgeable organizer of the event said it had been composed on a computer-driven printer of some sort that put one thin layer upon another thin layer to build up the work of art over a long period of time.

And then to bed.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

A tale of tolls and tunnels and water bills

When they calculate inflation, are tolls part of the basket? Why do I doubt it? Inflation stays low but the tolls are ever higher. Not long ago I drove the Venetian Causeway to Miami Beach and was stunned to see it was $1.50 for that short passage. Hey, I could drive miles north and cross the Broad Causeway for a dollar (was 50 cents couple years ago).

Some years ago they thought of removing a tollbooth on the 836 Dolphin Expressway where they were collecting 50 cents but instead kept the booth and raised the toll. Used to be that the Sunpass transponder, introduced about the time they didn’t eliminate that tollbooth, would beep at each toll, and the little window would indicate the toll paid. Now that’s gone. They don’t want you to know.

These days I-95, which we built with our tax dollars decades ago, is a partial tollway through the busy heart of Miami, and we can pay for it again. I-95’s new express lanes northbound have been tolled for some time, though drivers on intersecting I-195 and SR-112 continue to suffer delays due to construction on express lanes. Wouldn’t it be humane to wait until the end of construction delays to start charging tolls? Sorry, humane doesn’t pay the bills, buddy.

The ever-rising number of fabulously expensive message boards that jangle drivers’ nerves are warning of new delays as lane dividers are installed on southbound I-95 this week. Hurrah! They can start charging tolls there, too!

All this is by way of introduction to a complaint about how big business and the government will laugh behind their hands while we pay for a $200 million tunnel that will benefit ship traffic and the Port of Miami.

The ships are the end-users of this tunnel, as we drivers are the users of the tolled highways. But they aren’t being asked to pay for it. We are. And who’s this we? Everyone who turns on the faucet or flushes a toilet in Miami-Dade County. We will pay through our water and sewer bills.

This has been becoming clear through the past weeks as Miami Beach learned of a tunnel that’s going to be built at flank speed to carry sewage from Miami Beach to the Miami-Dade County sewage treatment plant on Virginia Key.

But – those with memories will declare – there’s already such a pipeline! Built around 1980. Punctured in 2000 by a contractor, resulting in stinky beaches for weeks. Yes, but it’s not deep enough. The shipping channel called Government Cut is going to be dredged to permit much larger freighters to reach the Port of Miami, and the new depth means the old pipeline must be pulled out and scrapped, and a new tunnel will be drilled at a depth of 80 feet – well below the bottom of the new channel – and carry water and other stuff as well as sewage.

Well, I hope they’ll put the sewage on the bottom of the tunnel.

The Miami Beach Tuesday Morning Breakfast Club, one of God’s gifts to the civic-minded, heard detail on the project and asked a lot of questions this week, with Frank Del Vecchio at his watchdog best and good help from city Commissioner Jerry Libbin and others. Describing the project was Norman Anderson, lead consultant with AECOM, which you can look up here.  It’s a big engineering and construction company, one of the largest in the country. With Anderson were officials from the Miami-Dade County Water and Sewer Department.

One of the officials said the tunnel project – and who should pay for it – was like what might happen when a road has to be rebuilt and Water and Sewer is liable to pay for revamping its pipes under the road. OK, but this didn’t fly well with the crowd paying water bills already and living on measly fixed incomes.

Del Veccio said the existing pipeline still had decades of useful life, so financing should fall more on the Port of Miami, the beneficiary of bigger freighters, than on those paying water bills. He suggested the port contracts needed to be renegotiated and reminded the officials that the county commission’s credibility was low following the decision to build the Marlins Stadium.

Pressed by Commissioner Libbin, Anderson said the Port of Miami estimates that the county will reap $18 billion a year in economic benefit from bigger ships. The huge figure stunned the crowd, especially because he first said it would be $18 billion of increased revenue. For what? The port? Then he corrected it to overall economic benefit. But still it seemed that the port would have plenty of new money to pick up the cost of the tunnel project.

Count on this: This will become an issue before the County Commission. They are happy enough to let fees and tolls be increased on the average member of the public to pay for services. But a ship or a shipping company isn’t presently expecting to be asked to pay for a superhighway to the Port of Miami.

Well, I’m asking and I’m not the only one. If I can pay tolls to use a highway I paid for with taxes, then a company that the Supreme Court thinks is like a human being with freedom of speech can pay tolls and tunnel costs, too.

And why bigger ships? Because the Panama Canal is being expanded and huge ships that carry 13,000 cargo containers will be able to pass. Currently, the canal can handle ships carrying 5,000 containers. The expansion is to be finished in 2014. They probably are laying keels now for the huge ships. Government Cut can't be dredged until the sewer tunnel is down there at 80 feet doing its job. Better get started on the tunnel, eh?

End note: After Tuesday’s breakfast meeting I drove down to South Pointe to see the “triangle” of open land amid condo towers and townhouses, close to Government Cut. An access shaft will be sunk there to meet the tunnel 80 feet down. It’s at Jefferson Avenue and Commerce Street. I took these snips of video, and then along came a rangy old guy who looked local. I asked him if he knew what this circle-like arrangement of concrete slabs in the triangle was for.

“Oh, they were the base of the old water tower here. I helped take it down years ago. Forty-six years I’ve been here,” he said.

And wow, isn’t that a pretty blue Mustang parked there.

New chairman meets party members informally

It was a pleasure to meet our new Miami-Dade County chairman, Richard Lydecker, and hear his aims for moving ahead. We are a group that needs moving ahead, if only from the unfortunate reputation of being dysfunctional. I’ll grant that meetings of our Democratic Executive Committee can be tiresome, but we are the people who made a big contribution last year to electing Barack Obama president and this year we have helped Democrats gain local office. This is a lot more than dysfunctional, and before Richard Lydecker was named to chair the DEC, there was considerable agitation to fire up the nucleus of the highly effective campaign arms of 2008.

Your blogger is not going to retell the individual stories that led to the decision by state party Chair Karen Thurman to replace BJ Chiszar as county chairman. It happened. By the luck of my surgeon’s schedule, I was under anesthesia when BJ was ousted and for most of the next week I was on my back with icepacks on the incision where my hernia was repaired, and so the temptation to mix it up, blogwise, was lost on me and my pain pills. Just as well. I have not wanted this blog to dwell on personal matters but rather on issues. On local matters, especially, I try to avoid gossip. The blog is open to Democratic candidates at any level, but I hope those who take up the offer will not attack Democratic primary opponents on these electrons. For the general election, all gloves may be taken off.

That said, it was a pretty happy group that got together Monday evening in the ground-floor restaurants where Lydecker has his law offices on Brickell Avenue in downtown Miami. The Steering Committee was the vehicle for the meeting but close to 40 people attended, as many activists had also been invited. No formal meeting ever happened; instead, people talked in groups, ate, drank, acted like Democrats and introduced themselves and their hobbyhorse issues to Lydecker individually. Finally, someone convinced him to talk to the group.

His main job, he said, was to develop a plan to go forward. He wants to help Democratic candidates gain office, to elect Florida’s first woman governor (Alex Sink), to elect the state’s first African-American US senator (Kendrick Meek), to elect a Democratic attorney general and thus control the state cabinet. And he wants to have good DEC meetings to draw out the membership and let them see leading Democratic candidates. His official message can be found on the DEC Website.

On the topic of more functional, Lydecker said the DEC office would be moved to Miami Beach to be a neighbor of the national Democratic campaign arm, Organizing for America, and the party should be able to provide tools like buses and polls to make things happen.

First up is the mid-December gala, Florida Blue Celebration, in a little more than two weeks. Let’s get up a big turnout for this event and launch ourselves to the election year of 2010. As first vice chair Daisy Black said, “I want to go into 2010 on a united front.”

One place for this to start is at the gala: Firefighters Memorial Building, 800 NW 21st Street, Doral FL 33122, 7 pm Friday Dec. 18. Sign up here.

UPDATE: From the content of this little blog post, it seems as if the elusive Blue in Miami blogger was at the same event I attended with Lydecker.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Heck of a rant on abortion: "If I ... shoot me"

After this I didn't need an afternoon nap. Thank you, Katha Pollitt, writing in the Nov. 30 issue of The Nation! Still, as a man, I'm concerned at the list of routine man things that she finds comparable to abortion. Well, it is a rant.

Reminds me of the lead essay by Jeffrey Toobin in the Nov. 23 New Yorker, which opens with news that when our Founding Fathers wrote the Constitution, why, abortion was "legal and commonplace." Take that, you originalists who want to go back to the early days of the Republic.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Too much

I made the mistake of clicking on the Flickr link to the White House photostream. Too much. On p. 2 we learn that the Oval Office has a deputy director of operations. He's shown holding the door open for the president. Too much.

Keep guns from terror suspects: A petition to sign

In the Issues Committee of our county Democratic Party we're proposing measures to keep assault weapons off our streets. I'm all for it. So I was pleased to see in my email inbox this petition drive on another aspect of the gun craziness that afflicts our country.

Check out the petition at I'd say it makes sense. The terrible slaughter at Fort Hood, as we're coming to see, was foretold repeatedly. And the suspect was a suspect before he got fully armed. How is this possible?

Further thoughts on this very disturbing event:
  • I don't see the Fort Hood shooter as a deranged madman. He was entirely too rational -- but only in the sense that he was following the rationale of a rigid ideologue whose twisted theology demanded murder to avenge the deaths of his fellow Muslims.
  • We need, in addition to strict gun laws, to ban hate speech. Yes, our beloved First Amendment needs to be brought up to date. Tell me the benefit we derive from letting anti-Semitic Nazis call for a new Holocaust. Tell me the benefit of letting Muslim preachers in our midst call for jihad against the World Trade Center. 
  • I have lived in countries where that kind of speech or publication is strictly illegal. They are democracies with plenty of civil liberties. But they recognize danger to society as a whole in letting citizens call for murder of whole groups. This is true in Israel. It's true in Germany. It's true in other countries. They have judges and courts to make the close calls as to what's over the line.
  • Spare me the inanity of that old chestnut that says: I hate what you're saying but I'll give my life for your right to say it. Not I! Free speech means something else to me. It stops well short of hate speech and incitement to murder.
Think about it. Meanwhile, check out that petition, which is also available at Mayors Against Illegal Guns. I believe I counted 35 Florida mayors as sponsors of that nationwide group including quite a few in Miami-Dade County and several members of our Democratic Executive Committee.

UPDATE: This also is featured above the banner on Daily Kos Wednesday morning. Let's roll with this!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Miami bloggers, some anonymously, get together

We weren't all there. One of the best of the Miami bloggers, South Florida Daily Blog, declared himself a family man with other obligations on Saturday afternoon, and was absent. Somehow his family obligations apparently included a tremendous amount of work putting up videos on Glenn Beck's crazy appearance in Central Florida. Well, that was up on Sunday. Anyway, otherwise it was a diverse, chatty, sometimes shy group that came together in a blogup that hadn't happened for a couple years.

Who was shy? One was Eye on Miami, who cherishes anonymity to keep doing a great job of investigating. Eye also was chatty. Nice to meet you, Eye. You won't see Eye, except for a name tag, in this exemplar of my usual crude videos:

Others in the video were the MiamiBeach411 couple, Gus and Michelle, Carlos Miller of fearless defense of the First Amendment, the very tall Michael Froomkin of, Annette Peikert of and, our Twitter friend Maria de los Angeles of Sex and the Beach, and about 30 others whose cards I didn't get. If I get a list I'll certainly update with it.

UPDATE: Shame on me for leaving out Mustang Bobby, who's Bark Bark Woof Woof in the blogosphere, And we drive the same kinda car.

More to come, I'm sure.

FL-18 Ros-Lehtinen: Saving the Atlantic and its fisheries is “unacceptable”

Talk about short-sighted. And this is my member of Congress, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-FL-18. As always, except for her very reluctant vote in favor of expanding children’s health insurance after numerous votes against it, she is on the wrong side of an issue. O woe, she bleats in the US House. If they impose these rules limiting fishing for grouper, her constituent in the Florida Keys will have to give up his charter fishing business. Exactly. Her constituent has been over-fishing since he was able to start an outboard motor, and it’s got to stop.

I don’t see that this foolishness has made it into the Miami Herald, so thanks to Keys newspapers  for bringing up Ros-Lehtinen’s willful neglect of the world we live in. She prefers the narrow interests of a few of her constituents to maintenance of the food chain we all inhabit. Check out the story linked above. She says it’s “unacceptable” for rules against over-fishing to drive commercial fishermen away from their boats. Well, that’s how she’s quoted, and it sounds like her.

Here’s a different analysis, from the Dec. 3 issue of the New York Review of Books, a review by John Terborgh, a Duke professor whose passion is preservation of the tropical world. Sorry to report that his trenchant article is available only to subscribers. He laments the failure of (no less than) modern democracy to protect natural resources.

“This is because both the regulators and the regulated are inextricably linked as each side pursues its self-interest. Fishers, many of whom are paying mortages on expensive boats and gear, fear a loss of income if limits are imposed. Staying afloat financially in the present takes priority over prospects of a more bountiful future. Thus, the industry reflexively resists any imposition of limits and makes sure the politicians understand this priority. In turn, the politicians fear losing their seats if their constituents rise up in wrath against them. The upshot is that the resource loses nearly every time.”

Did we all get that? “The upshot is that the resource loses nearly every time.”

The overall message of Terborg’s article is that the world is in overshoot in practically all areas. Too bad we don’t have wiser representatives in Washington than Ros-Lehtinen.

There are meetings soon of the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council to consider these rules on over-fishing. There still may be time for you to send in a public comment. Don't forget to send a note to Ros-Lehtinen.

Friday, November 20, 2009

So fine this evening

A corner of Biscayne Bay where Miami Beach meets Surfside.

Daily Kos speculates on Crist turning Democrat

With tongue perhaps in cheek, the mighty Kos blogged yesterday that Charlie Crist might as well switch to the Democratic Party in his quest for a seat in the US Senate.
Almost more interesting to me was the Daily Kos polling on the opinions behind the Republicans who favor the outgoing governor Crist or the former Florida House speaker, Marco Rubio, to be nominee for Senate. Turns out – surprise! – a lot of Rubio’s backers don’t think Barack Obama is a US citizen. That has been a quiet front lately. But the birthers are still lurking around the corner from all our polling places, and Rubio bids to be the one to set them loose.  What a strange state we inhabit. We can be certain that the nation and the world will be watching Florida closely through the 2012 election. We started this in 2000.
ASIDE: My first shot at posting this news of the Kos poll didn’t quite come off. It may be nuts for a blogger to confess this, but I was not even to the state of blogging while wearing pajamas at my computer; I was flat in bed browsing news through Google Reader on my iPhone, and tried to post with an email to the magic Blogger address that makes it all happen. But NOW I’m blogging while wearing pajamas at my computer …
For the record, all that was posted on the first attempt was this URL which sort of takes one on a loop to Google Reader and not much further into knowledge of the wider world.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The better way to fix health care. Essay by Santiago Leon

The health bill may be revealed in the Senate later today, which is appropriate for your blogger, who had a minor health issue that kept him away from the keyboard for a week. Namely hernia repair surgery. Thanks, Dan, for offering to do it with swizzle stix. Rough enough with proper instruments.

To commemorate my return to action, I asked my personal expert on health insurance, Santiago Leon, for one of his best essays on health. Sandy is head of the Democratic Party’s issues committee in Miami-Dade, and his profession is selling health insurance plans. As a Democrat passionate about health reform, he’s working to put himself out of business. Remarkable!

The following may seem dated since it refers to a June publication. But as we get closer to the red zone, shall we still try to get the legislation right? Yes, and here’s what he has to say:

By Santiago Leon
On June 8, the New York Times published an article entitled "Health Care Spending Disparities Stir a Fight," by Robert Pear. In the article, the writer describes an epiphany experienced by President Obama and the controversy he has provoked by sharing this newfound insight and demanding that something be done about it. Here is the gist of the insight:

Dr. Elliott S. Fisher, one of the Dartmouth researchers, diagnosed the problem this way: “Medicare beneficiaries in higher spending regions are hospitalized more frequently, are referred to specialists more often and have a much smaller proportion of their visits to primary care physicians.”

In his blog last month, Mr. Orszag wrote, “The higher-cost areas and hospitals don’t generate better outcomes than the lower-cost ones.”

This insight is important because it may explain as much as 30% of America's inflated health care costs.
The Times article has special relevance for Miami, which, as the highest-cost area in the country for the Medicare program, plays a starring role in the story. Moreover, in Miami, the problem of over-treatment does not affect only the elderly. Miami is also one of the highest-cost areas in the nation for private health insurance.

To its credit, the Miami Herald has published various articles making reference to the Dartmouth findings -- most recently on the soaring local rate of Caesarean deliveries. Unfortunately, the response, if any, has been muted. Have local employers, who are paying for Miami's medical extravagance in their insurance premiums, blown the whistle on over-treatment? Have our two largest employers, Miami-Dade County and the School Board, reacted to the current revenue crisis by looking under the hood at what is driving their health care costs? Have the academic leaders of the local programs that train health care professionals shared the Dartmouth findings with their students and urged them to take action on them? It does not seem so -- but, when you think about it, that should not surprise us.

Health care looms large in the Miami economy, and generates vast wealth and much employment. Think of an institution that might focus concern about the excesses of the system, and then think of where its leadership or revenues come from. Hospitals, pharmaceutical companies and other suppliers to the industry, insurers, diagnostic facilities and their owners and executives, as well as physicians and other providers of health care, are major beneficiaries of the excesses of the system. In turn, they are major benefactors of political candidates, universities, the media, employer associations and civic and charitable organizations. In a sense, those who perpetuate the culture of medical excess are indeed local heroes: medical overtreatment, while we may suffer from it, is also a major profit center for our community, pulling billions of dollars into the local economy- probably more billions than even Medicare fraud. It appears that so much money runs through the local health care system that it anesthetizes the doubts of all who might question the way it accumulates.

According to the Times story, not everyone in Washington is buying in on the Dartmouth observations. John Kerry is doughtily defending the teaching hospitals of Massachusetts, and Bill Nelson is defending the Medicare mills of Florida. However, even if Washington is eventually able to agree on the problem, the solution will not be easy. The problem is deeply rooted in the incentive structure of American health care.

Today, most health care is provided under fee-for-service contracts. This is a problem. Piecework may work reasonably well for sewing shirts, but it definitely does not work well in a situation where the same person bills you for telling you what services you need and then bills you for providing them. The financial incentive for the provider is obviously to decide that you need a lot of services. Reducing the price of the services is not a solution- the provider will simply bill for more complicated services or increase the frequency with which they are provided. Having someone looking over the provider's shoulder is also not effective -- a health care provider worth his (her ) salt can always come up with a good reason why a patient should have a particular service. Clearly, then, the solution is to change the incentive system. For example, one way that has been tried is to pay the provider a certain amount, per assigned patient per month, whether the provider treats the patient or not. Problem: under such a system, the financial incentive is to provide as little treatment as possible.

Lest we all simply give up, it needs to be understood that there is an answer to this problem. Moreover, it is not a theoretical solution or a scheme that works in some other country but might never work here. Rather, we are talking about a home-grown, American system which has been used for decades by American institutions like the Kaiser Permanente health plan, the Veterans Health Administration, the Mayo Clinic and the Geisinger Health System -- all of which are recognized for providing high-quality, cost-effective care. How they achieve that result is no secret. Rather, the system that has been demonstrated to work in all these organizations is simply this: pull together, under one clinical and financial roof, as many as possible of the people and institutions that provide the health care services we need, including physicians, hospitals, clinical laboratories, diagnostic facilities, pharmacies and other providers of health care. In all the programs mentioned, the organization is non-profit or governmental. The individual health care providers are on salary and are working as part of a team which, as a team, is accountable for both quality and cost. The incentives to over-treat or to skimp on care are absent because there is no profit in doing so for the organization as a whole or for any individual in the system.

Simple and effective as the solution is, to create the kind of health care system we need, in order to improve quality and reduce cost, is politically challenging. As Americans, we tend to have a deep and abiding belief in the private market: a practically religious conviction that, whatever the actual results, competition at every level must lead to the optimum result: on the other hand, we also believe in teamwork, and there is no reason that there could not be more than one integrated health care system in any community of a certain size.

Implementation of a new health care system will require a major change in attitude among providers (many of whom are quite comfortable with the present entrepreneurial system) and also among consumers (who like the idea of being able to see the provider they want, when they want). However, if the incentives are properly set up, it should be possible over a period of time to move in the right direction.

My prediction is that health care in Miami will change, as it must; however, we may be among the last to board the train.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Miami Beach election time brings out blogger's doubts

We’re in the middle of an election on Miami Beach right now -- runoff time over two seats on the city commission.  In the first round, on general election day Nov. 3, Mayor Matti Bower was re-elected easily, as was Group 1 Commissioner Jerry Libbin. In runoffs are Group 2 candidates Jorge Exposito and Maria Mayer and Group 3 candidates Michael Gongora and Gabrielle Redfern. Runoff day will be Nov. 17.  Those, like me, who registered for absentee ballots should get them in the mail soon.
Your blogger’s only preference is in Group 3, where I know Gabrielle Redfern from Democratic Party meetings, and both of us are on the county Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee. She’s a smart and effective advocate for interests of the ordinary folk. This is a severely under-represented group that needs someone like Redfern, with her heart in the right place and wide-ranging experience in public affairs.
The point of this post, however, is more to ask why anyone wants this sort of work. I’m drawing on two fresh sources here, so I’m calling this a rounded look at city government on Miami Beach.
The sources, and their grim views of the Beach, are:
·         Gerald Posner’s new book “Miami Babylon,” a chronicle starting in 1980 into crime, drugs, corruption and elections mostly on Miami Beach, though the mainland is a big, bad player too.
·         Victor Diaz, now leaving office after a year as an appointed Miami Beach city commissioner for Group 3 until the current election decides a successor to Richard Steinberg, who was elected in 2008 to the state House of Representatives. Diaz spoke to the Tuesday Morning Breakfast Club on Oct. 27 and implied that money was too big a factor in how city commissioners vote. TaDA! Is that the definition of corruption, or what?
I have only my sketchy notes of Diaz’s talk, and he didn’t name names, so he leaves more of an impression than an indictment. Leave that to Posner’s book.
Before going further, some Miami Beach numbers. Population about 90,000. Registered voters 46,178, of whom only 7,374 voted on Nov. 3. That’s a pitiful turnout of 16%. Still, 16% is important. It’s the share of health care in our national economy, and we know what a big deal that is. Candidates don’t have to send their expensive brochures to every registered voter – only to the ones who always vote.
Last time we had municipal elections, in 2007, the candidates together spent $130.55 per vote cast. A shocking big number, it comes from $1,301,763 reported spent by the candidates, and 9,871 voters.
Our nonpartisan municipal elections are always held in the odd-numbered years so no national or state issues draw out large crowds of voters. Why’s that?
Diaz complained that the commission indulges in “prepackaged” discussion, and he suspected that too many votes were cast at the behest of a lobbyist who had been the commissioner’s campaign consultant.
In the Q-A after Diaz’s talk, I asked about the role of money. He agreed with my drift that money was a big part of our problem and suggested we need a citizens’ PAC for good government and a grass-roots movement to transform city government.
 One of the most pernicious impacts of political money came from the so-called electioneering campaign organizations that send objectionable accusations to voters, Diaz said. The organizations’ filings aren’t due until after the election, so interest vanishes by the time someone could dig out who was behind the vile charges. After last week’s voting, dismissed candidate Sherry Roberts sent out an email saying she couldn’t endorse either of the two who finished ahead of her in Group 2, Jorge Exposito and Maria Mayer, because of such mailers with dubious sourcing and allegations. I’m hereby nominating Sherry Roberts for a big role in that good-government PAC suggested by Diaz.
Diaz said candidates have to be pressed on who’s behind these groups, usually described as shadowy in the media.
Now to Posner’s book, “Miami Babylon,  Crime, Wealth, and Power – a Dispatch from the Beach.” People packed into the furniture store behind Books and Books on Lincoln Road for the author’s talk and signing. In the crowd were a lot of Beach politicians including Mayor Matti Bower and ex-convict former Mayor Alex Daoud – my notes say Posner called him “charismatic but corrupt.”  Daoud got a speaking role in the Q-and-A portion, declaring to Posner, “I don’t give a damn about the criticism. I’ll throw a party for you anytime.”
Some had promised to throw parties for Posner but backed out when they read the book. Posner didn’t seem to think the book was too tough, saying, “Nobody’s going to jail because of this book, and that’s all right.”
But, Posner said, Daoud’s book, “Sins of South Beach,” published in 2006 after he finished his jail time, should have resulted in more prosecutions, because Daoud fingered former Mayor Harold Rosen as having paid bribes to Daoud.
In Posner’s book he puts it this way: “The most surprising thing about Daoud’s disclosure is that it caused no fallout at all. Not a single television or radio news program mentioned it. The Miami Herald assigned a reporter and photographer to interview Daoud and then killed the story.”
The excuse could be that Daoud’s book gives off an aura of unreliability. He prints page after page of old conversations in direct quotes. I never was able to finish the book, though paging through it now I see I missed the hot spots where he gets graphic about the sexual aspect of corruption.
Here are links to two Miami Herald stories on Posner’s book, one before the author’s talk, and the other reporting on that talk.  Note that neither one mentions Posner’s explicit criticism of the city’s flagship newspaper and its role in condoning some corrupt behavior. It must be said on behalf of the Herald that it does some important investigative work exposing corruption, though most of that involves Miami. And Posner used the Herald as source for a lot of his material.
 Miami Beach, Posner speculated, may escape closer attention because its happenings are treated like “neighborhood” stories for the twice-weekly Neighbors section of the Herald. Strange, considering that much of the outside world thinks Miami Beach IS Miami.
One of the good guys of Posner’s book is Frank Del Vecchio, who retired to Miami Beach with wide experience in municipal affairs in Boston and Washington DC and then became the most prominent watchdog of Miami Beach government. Del  Veccio finds it to be part of a badly flawed system in Miami-Dade County. Posner quotes him saying “public/private partnerships in Miami Dade are totally crooked. It is the most corrupt government, at almost every planning and implementation stage, I ever encountered.”
That’s a powerful criticism. And it’s in the air we breathe, apparently. “In Miami, there is no agency tradition, no fear of oversight by another body, and no judicial system that has real peer review standards,” Posner quotes Del Vecchio saying. “Instead, the dominant political constituency, Cuban, is bound by loyalty, not ethics. Even the corrupt politicians up north knew they had to deliver to the communities they served, or they would be out of office. Here, the political interests are not to serve the public good. It’s just all short-term thinking to help themselves. In Miami, the ingrained politicians have more control than the old ward bosses of the Northeast because here they control the banks and own the land. There are no checks and balances.”
One can only wish the best to any honest person who dares run against this environment.
And let’s not forget we’re part of Florida, where Ponzi schemers like Scott Rothstein are big political donors.  Check out the Herald’s latest story on him, In which Gov. Charlie Crist is bold enough to joke that something is going to cost Rothstein “another $100,000.” Brazen is the word for it.
PS: For more on Posner's appearance at Books and Books, go to and search for Miami Babylon. Someone put up a three-part video on the event.
Here's my little video on it:

Super crowd for DJ le Spam

And familiar faces from VoteFest a cool year ago. Nice to see Dave and Dara!

Red Bull going down by the pickup load, people taking on fuel for the whole night.

That concert earlier at the Lincoln Theater was superb. The overall title was "New York State of Mind: Sounds of the Times." Especially powerful was "Gotham," a composition by Michael Gordon, and a film, mostly historical images of New York, by Bill Morrison. The combination was deeply moving without ever being obvious, and our vaunted "orchestral academy" was excellent.

These guys are great!

But I'm heading five blocks up Collins Ave to see DJ le Spam and the
All Stars. Midnight now and the crowds and traffic are heavy and happy.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Sleepless Night gets started on Lincoln Rd

Next for me is a concert by New World Symphony.

Haiti in Miami Beach -- party time at Tap Tap

The Haitian restaurant Tap Tap is a gem in South Beach, and a resource for Democratic campaigners -- not only during the Obama campaign but continuing. A good place to have a little meeting or bigger ones. And Friday night it was party time for the restaurant's 15th birthday, coinciding roughly with the big Haitian holidays of Brav Gede -- corresponding to All Souls Day and All Saints Day, if I got it right. If not, try me again anytime. Wow, was the music loud and good! For that we thank Manno Charlemagne and the band, and for the party thanks to Gary the boss.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Take the stairs!

My next car. Just decided.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Don't be a Lieberman. Do the right thing on health care

For those whose juices are stirring because of the health-care legislation now emerging, could I suggest a pause to consider what the other side is planning? Take a few minutes and click on this piece with the title “Republican Guide to Undermining Health-care Reform.”

Don’t neglect to click on the link therein to Frank Luntz’ memo on the words to use. Who’s Frank Luntz? Think of Karl Rove and you’re in the same league.
My email inbox overflows with my progressive friends mad as hell at the “lying” Democrats in Congress who aren’t ordering from the progressive menu. Yes, you’re right. But what if at the end of the day your opposition to the bill helps to cause its defeat?
Yes, writing legislation is like making sausage. We’re going to have to live with it until we elect a better Congress. If this drive will increase coverage and stop the rise in health costs, it will be pretty darn good. If progressive opposition to the bill combines with clever conservative opposition and defeats it, will we be better off? Not in my best guess.
I’m with Paul Krugman’s message in today’s NY Times column. If you’re not with us, you’re being a Lieberman. 
Yesterday I saw MSNBC where Big Ed Schultz tried to get Rep. Dennis Kucinich to say he would vote against a health-care bill that didn’t have a state option for single-payer. Even Kucinich was – yesterday, anyway – not willing to go that far.
This is a signal to me to moderate opposition. Get ready to suck it up.
And PS: Thanks to Krugman for the tip on the existence of the blog at the White House Budget Office. Very sharp exchange therein between Peter Orszag, the budget director, and Fred Hiatt, editor of the Washington Post editorial page.  It seems pretty plain that Hiatt didn’t know what he was writing about. We have to be wary against being led astray.

Free public WiFi on Miami Beach?

This has been talked about for quite a while. First it was, then it wasn't. Now it is. At least, that's what it says on the banner of the Miami Beach city governnment Web site. Here's the skinny:

It's LIVE and FREE! Miami Beach WiFi Internet service is finally warming up. Last week, the city began a soft launch by neighborhood. There will still be a 90-day reliability period. Join us for the official "wire-cutting" on Friday, October 30 at 3:00 p.m. in front of Miami Beach City Hall, on the 17 Street side. There will be free giveaways.

My cell phone seemed to be showing a public WiFi net recently as I drove around Miami Beach. Not everywhere. Some places. This bears more investigation. I see the WiFi Web site is still under construction, at least in parts.

UPDATE: Behind the times again. The Herald had a story on this on Oct. 20.  It asserts that Miami Beach is the first city in the country to have this amenity.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

House health bill provisions that take effect in 2010

A couple posts back I put up a link to the full text of the House health bill -- 1,990 pages. Here's something more digestible: Speaker Pelosi's summary of the provisions that take effect in the first year.

Pool report on Vice President Biden in Miami Beach

 Vice President Joe Biden was at a fundraiser in Miami Beach Thursday evening, and here’s a pool press report from Tolu Olorunnipa of the Miami Herald
VPOTUS made his second stop on a South Florida fundraising tour at the house of longtime friend Michael Adler in Miami Beach Thursday night. 
Speaking from about 6:18 to 6:36 to a crowd of about 150, VPOTUS touted his decades of experience on the political scene in an attempt to assure his supporters that, despite the wide array of challenges facing the Obama administration, he and Obama were prepared and ready to take action. 
He spoke generally about most major issues, the economy, healthcare, foreign affairs focusing more on the economy than other topics (jobs, housing market, bailouts). He did not directly address the Afghanistan or Iraq wars. 
We inherited a pretty deep hole, we found ourselves dug in pretty deep beyond what I think we even thought or what most people even thought, VPOTUS said. By the time we raised our hands on Jan. 20 to be sworn in, already that month we had lost 700,000 jobs. And before we literally got our computers hooked up, almost before the White House's West Wing was functioning, we lost another 640,000 jobs in February.
 On housing, he noted that Florida, along with other states, has been hit particularly hard.
 VPOTUS said: For 36 months in a row, housing prices plummeted, losing 30 percent of their value. You’re still reeling down here. You and Nevada and Arizona and California -- the places that were at the top of the bubble. 
VPOTUS called the bailout of the banks the most unpopular decision he’s had to make. He said the bailouts were necessary to keep the economy from slipping into a depression. 
VPOTUS noted that there was a lot of good news, but also a lot of bad news to consider after the Obama administration’s first 10 months in office. One piece of good news, he said, is that we are beginning to forget how bad things once were.
The truth is, the good news is, we're forgetting, he said. We’re a long way from out of the hole, but the GDP did grow 3.5 percent this quarter. 
He added: We’ve got a hell of a long way to go, a hell of a long way to go, but we think the trajectory we set the country on is the right trajectory. 
More on good news and bad news:
The good news is the bad news, he said. The good news is it’s beginning to work. The ten largest banks in the country are all but one very healthy. They’ve already paid back 70 billion, We’ve already made 11 billion on that and we’re going to get another 15 billion paid back. The bad news is they’ve got $900 billion in capital and they’re not lending anything. And so, it’s a long way to go. 
He recognized Miami Mayor Manny Diaz by name repeatedly, calling him at one point, one of the best mayors in the country.  
VPOTUS said he speaks on a weekly basis with mayors and governors, who ask Where’s the next stimulus. VPOTUS said he’s not sure there will be another stimulus.
 I am absolutely confident that were going to come out of this. And when we come out of this we’re going to come out stronger than before, particularly, the middle class.
 He spoke about his father losing his job, when he was a 4th grader in Scranton, Pa. VPOTUS said that GDP growth would not be satisfactory unless the middle class was faring well.
The way we look at this is We’re not going to be satisfied even if the GDP is growing at 6.6 percent, he said. if middle class folks, the same folks who got clobbered, through no fault of their own, aren’t able to look their kids in the eye by the time we leave office and say Honey, it’s going to be okay.
 VPOTUS said we were at a defining moment in American history, calling it one of the most dangerous, but also one of the greatest opportunities to effect significant change for the future.
 We’re at one of those inflection points in history, he said. A non-decision today is a fundamental decision. A non-decision on energy policy is a fundamental decision. A non-decision on dealing with American education is a decision.
About 150 attended the event. Ticket prices ranged from $1,000 to $10,000. It was Biden’s second stop in South Florida on Thursday. He spoke at a lunch event in Boca Raton as well.
 In the crowd: Miami mayor Manny Diaz, Basketball star Isaiah Thomas, Miami-Dade Police Chief John Timoney.
Attendees dined on hors d’oeuvres and drank wine, water and soft drinks. Biden spoke outside in front of Michael Adler’s pool. Adler introduced Biden.
 VPOTUS left the state after the event.