Sunday, May 31, 2009

Meek/Burns/Gelber US Senate politics at JJ meeting

Dan Gelber is stepping back. Kevin Burns is not. Kendrick Meek is confident of the Democratic nomination to run against whomever the Republicans put up for the US Senate seat being vacated by Mel Martinez.

UPDATE: Just learning at midnight Monday about a new entry in the US Senate race: Corrine Brown, U.S. Rep. from Jacksonville (FL-3) says she's considering a race for this seat.
ALSO: The Gelber campaign used my video of Gelber (see below) in a message to people in the Gelber Facebook group. Cool to be linked. It's also on the Broward New Times blog, where you also can see a snip on Corrine Brown.

That’s a bunch of names, and even more will enter the picture. Aside from the jockeying personalities and ambitions, the thing that stands out is a drive by many Florida Democrats to avoid divisive primaries in the 2010 elections – midterms in the presidential cycle but the year to elect the governor and the three other state cabinet officers. No incumbents seek re-election for the first time in over 130 years. Democrats are ambitious to grab all four so-called statewide offices – they only hold one now – and elect a Democrat to the US Senate.

This would be a tremendous state coup for Democrats on the heels of taking Florida’s 27 electoral votes for Barack Obama last November. But it goes against the typical history of midterm losses by the president’s party, and may not be possible anyhow unless the national economy brightens and makes voters more happy with Democrats. The Republicans, after all, also are trying to avoid tough primaries, though Marco Rubio, the deeply conservative former State House speaker, shows no sign of leaving the Senate field to Gov. Charlie Crist, the empty suit.

What do I know about the Republicans, anyway?

Here’s the way this played out among Democrats in public Saturday at the day of training and campaigning that was part of the Florida Democratic Party’s Jefferson-Jackson Day in the luxe venue of the newly renovated Fontainebleau Hotel on Miami Beach.

Dan Gelber, 48, my state senator (District 35), said he had walked a few hundred yards to the meeting from his Miami Beach home. Finding coffee at the GLBT Caucus room, he told this blogger he was likely to step back from the US Senate race and was talking to people about running for state attorney general. He’s a former federal prosecutor, one highlight in a busy resume of politics and public service, but his ambition in this direction runs up against another rising Democrat, state Sen. Dave Aronberg (FL-27), 38, who’s perhaps even more in need of a bigger job than Gelber. Gelber is early in his first state Senate term, while Aronberg is in his second and last. Term limits, Ta DA!

Some say Florida Democrats don’t have a deep bench of candidates. Gelber and Aronberg are evidence for the other view: that talent is abundant. Unfortunately, attorney general is a natural office for each of them.

Now I’ve mixed the race for state attorney general in with the US Senate. Let’s go back to the senatorial possibilities.

The hapless Mel Martinez announced last year, after being cashiered as head of the Republican Party, that he wouldn’t run for re-election to US Senate. The Democratic scramble started back in December when Gelber said he was thinking of the Senate. A month later Meek, 42, in his fourth term in the US House (FL-17), made the first official step into the race, and Gelber officially announced for US Senate soon thereafter. In February Kevin Burns, mayor of North Miami, launched his bid. This made the Democratic race an entirely Miami-Dade County affair, though the three are a diverse set, Meek being African-American, Gelber Jewish, and Burns gay, in a 26-year relationship and having an adopted, charming daughter. Hey, we’re Democrats. So what if it’s Florida and some parts of the state are still in the Deep South. I can’t help but think … Anyway. Get over it.

All three showed up at the Netroots Coalition training session Saturday morning and spoke briefly, setting wheels in motion. Here are video links to clips of their talks. Text summaries soon thereafter.

Key words from Gelber:

  • “Every time we get involved with divisive primaries, we lose.”
  • In recent election cycles, “there’s really only been one (Democratic) candidate who’s won, Alex Sink. Guess what – she didn’t have a primary. … I’m in this US Senate race. But I will likely be taking sort of a step back in this race….”
  • “I do think this cycle is going to be (about) how disciplined we are going to be as Democrats. Whether we can put together a group that delivers change, really changes the face of our state.”

Kevin Burns was the only enthusiastic proponent of primaries. “I love primaries,” he told the Netroots crowd, while cautioning that a primary should be “responsible.” He contrasted a good primary with the Republicans’ usual tactic of special interests anointing someone to be the nominee.

That doesn’t make Burns a front-runner, however. Meek seems to have that position. But it’s a long time before the primary in August next year.

Gelber and others talked about a 2010 slate – the US Senate, plus the state leadership offices of governor, attorney general, chief financial officer and commissioner of agriculture and consumer affairs. (The lieutenant governor is elected as a team with the governor.)

In the evening, at the banquet before over 1,000 people, Gelber made it more official, saying in his podium speech, “I’m going to step back from my US Senate bid and consider other seats in the (state) cabinet.”

This won the best ovation of the evening. There was prolonged applause and many rose to their feet. Neither Alex Sink, the gubernatorial nominee, nor keynoter Tim Kaine, governor of Virginia and head of the DNC, got prolonged applause. After Kendrick Meek spoke and didn’t acknowledge that Gelber had, in effect, withdrawn (What does “step back” mean, anyway?), Bob Graham, the wise old Florida Democrat, with vast experience as governor and prominent US senator, seemed to depart from his text to thank Gelber, and praised his “courageous, unifying and patriotic statement.”

Now came Alex Sink to the podium after Graham’s introduction. Unchallenged for the Democratic nomination for governor, she gave a speech rich in platitudes until she got to her growing up on a farm. The chatty audience finally hushed and seemed enthralled by her description of how she learned self-reliance and a “love of numbers” from helping her father with the farm accounts. She wrote the checks, and it seemed that soon she was head of the Bank of America in Florida, and now on the threshold of the governor’s office.

She’s facing Bill McCollum, whose distinguishing feature is having run for office a ton of times without seeming to become especially smart or effective. Now he’s the state attorney general, term-limited, so he’s up or out of office.

On Sunday morning Gelber sent an email to supporters announcing again that he’s “stepping back” from the US Senate race, and that he’d been talking with Bob Graham, Alex Sink and US Sen. Bill Nelson about a “slate of candidates” for 2010.

The text of his email:

As you may know I have decided to step back from my U.S. Senate bid. I wanted to let you know the reasons.

When Governor Crist announced he would be a candidate for US Senate, he created a domino effect that opened up every seat on the cabinet. At a time when our state is facing its greatest challenges, ironically, we have our greatest uncertainty and dislocation. But I believe this is also an opportunity – the chance to set a new course that avoids the mistakes of the past and tracks a better future for our families.

It makes little sense -- when we do face the prospect of real change in Florida -- for me to participate in a potentially divisive primary for U.S. Senate that will only serve to diminish our chances against a very formidable and well-known Republican nominee.

I also believe that we have a historic opportunity here in Florida to reshape the political landscape and more importantly, bring fundamental change to Tallahassee. I have had a number of conversations with Senators Graham and Nelson, and CFO Alex Sink, about how we can best unify our party and move forward with a slate of candidates that can communicate our vision for a better Florida, and I look forward to continuing these discussions. I would like to hear your thoughts as you have been a good supporter and friend, and I value your opinion. You can reach me at

Tim Kaine, in his keynote speech, promised to pay a lot of attention to Florida campaigns and said his DNC will “invest” in our 2010 Senate race. Kaine waxed philosophical in describing how hard it was to know when one’s political “moment” was in bloom and when it was past. “We’ll be measured by what we do in this moment ... You don’t know how long a moment will last … We’ve got to do as much as we can.”

A few more words on that slate for the state offices. Who might be in the other state cabinet slots? One delightful surprise was to learn that Annette Taddeo is considering a run to succeed Alex Sink as chief financial officer. Taddeo ran a strong campaign for US House District 18 (my district) but lost to the entrenched Ileana Ros-Lehtinen in 2008. Taddeo is a successful businesswoman in her own right and would be a credible occupant of the CFO portfolio.

She, too, appeared at the Netroots session and spoke after Gelber, Aronberg and Burns had left.

“This was not my idea,” she said of the CFO draft, but went on, “I am considering it. I am talking to people ... it’s a very difficult decision. I just went through a very grueling campaign.”

She said she’d never run again without party backing, as she did in the ’08 congressional campaign. This was something I saw from medium close-up, and while it was tough on her, it made me and many others admire her grit as much as her intelligence, talent and charm.

So, check it out, the website to draft Annette Taddeo for CFO.

And here’s a link to the Miami Herald’s story, which didn’t have any reporting from the Netroots meeting.

A link to an earlier post here on this topic.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Health Care Forum on Monday June 1

This is a time probably like no other in our lives to have an impact on policy regarding health care. We know there will be something new coming out of the federal government in the coming months, and the question is, will it be any good?

As one who’s on Medicare now for three years, may I say that this is not government health care like our pioneer and buffalo-hunter ancestors would have despised if they had known what the future would bring to those lifeless European socialist countries. Medicare is just like what I had before, though the copays and premiums are higher now. I get the doctors and pills that I choose and need. I don’t try for more doctor appointments – already there are way too many – and I fact I try to cut back and consolidate: my cardiologist also is my primary care doctor, so one appointment kills two birds in one bush, I like to think.

This is medical care to treat my ailments and also checkups to make sure I’m not coming down with something new – what tens of millions of our fellow citizens (and many mere resident taxpayers) need to keep their chins up and shoulders to the grindstones.

Yes, this is single-payer, or sort of. We all pay premiums throughout our working life and into retirement, and the system should provide checkups at appropriate intervals as well as treatment when we’re sick. (Let’s not forget dental! There’s an area that needs better care.)

In the Miami Herald today there’s a story about a new health plan coming in Miami-Dade County, said to be a model of affordable health insurance, perhaps a model for the nation. Wow, it says a healthy 35-year-old man could get coverage for $100 a month. What a deal for the insurer. A healthy 35-year-old probably needs one checkup every five years, costing about $100. Meanwhile, he’s paid $6,000 in premiums, and when he gets old and sick his premiums probably will skyrocket like one of those balloon mortgages.

This may be a deal for some people who are desperate, but for a society struggling with extremely high costs for health care and drugs, it seems here that the public option and single-payer are superior for this nation.

Here’s a commercial for our forum on health care. Y’all do come. You can say what you want, hear from experts some telling detail about our situation in Miami-Dade, and plan action.

When: Monday June 1, 7 p.m.
Where: American Legion Hall, 6445 NE 7th Ave., Miami (on 64th Street just east of Biscayne Boulevard).

Footnote: Single-payer is a big fat misnomer in the present state of health care in this country. I pay a monthly premium to Medicare (and did for decades while working), I pay a monthly premium to Aetna for my supplemental insurance, yet there are still copays and annual minimums for office visits, and out-of-pocket costs for medications rise more steeply than anything else, though I have insurance for pills.

Single payer? More like quintuple payer.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

NY Times on Cuba travel operators

Does it cost too much to fly from Miami to Cuba? This article in the NY Times says Yes, it costs too much. Should this be a surprise? Doesn't everything cost too much?

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Don't miss it: Obama campaign in Listening Tour for next phase

Some time ago one of the readers of this blog asked, “What are we doing to support the president?”

I suggested joining a Democratic club or similar to get more active. Here’s what I should have said: Get yourself to Organizing for America and sign up right away!

Night before last I was one of about 15 people at an OFA gathering in Miami called Florida Listening Tour (one of many stops in). The meeting was led by Ashley Walker, who was deputy director of the Obama campaign in Florida. Most people attending had worked in the campaign, one as paid staff, others as almost full-time volunteers. One woman had moved to swing-state Florida from a solid blue state to make a difference where it would count.

If you were an Obama volunteer, you’ll be familiar with the useful website, it’s dear old, or my-bo for conversational short. Plain also works. Your old log-in still works. Your old blog posts are still there. But now the site has morphed from Obama for America to Organizing for America. Clever, huh. Still OFA. But now we’re in office and taking on missions to get bills through Congress.

This, of course, is not new. My-bo has been active all along since last November. The difference now seems to be that the White House and Obama machine are gearing up to be in campaign mode full-time. This will not be like winning campaigns of the past that celebrated and partied on election night and inauguration day, and then dissolved. Three years later the old phones and email addresses would be tried again and campaigners would start to meet again. Now it will never stop.

Ashley Walker said she and John Bivona are doing the listening tour for now, traveling up and down Florida and holding similar meetings in city after city, town after town, to recruit, wake up old volunteers, listen, ask questions about what’s needed to make an impact in Florida.

Two priorities:

· Organizing support for President Obama’s policy priorities

· Building and strengthening the grassroots movement by empowering people to have an impact in their own communities.

A no-brainer for the Florida impact side: help with the redistricting petition drives to end gerrymandering. Beyond that, your friendly Obama volunteer leader probably already is organizing drives to help push the Obama program on health care, energy and education.

There are about 30 more Listening Tour events on the calendar for Florida, including two in Miami-Dade County in coming weeks. Make sure you get to one.

May 21 in Coral Gables / South Miami -->

June 3 in Miami -->

And by the way, this is gearing up in all 50 states. Expect to be asked to donate. And to make a ton of phone calls to recalcitrant members of Congress, entirely too many of whom will be Democrats.

Dr. Jeffrey Solomon launches for State House Dist. 115

Endorsed by (D) county Commissioner Katy Sorenson and (R) county Mayor Carlos Alvarez. After the speeches I asked Mayor Alvarez if this was his first endorsement of a Democrat and he responded that he'd done it before, also had voted for Alex Sink, our (D) state chief financial officer.

Like the governor race, US Senate race and others, the voters will speak on this in 2010. Good luck to Dr. Jeffrey Solomon, one of the early starters.

Steinberg: Senate race likely to be Meek vs. Crist

At the Miami Beach Tuesday Morning Breakfast Club, State Rep. Richard Steinberg was asked about the race for governor now erupting in Florida, and he gave a strong endorsement of Alex Sink, currently the chief financial officer of the state. Sink is a “brilliant woman,” he said, while the leading Republican, Attorney General Bill McCollum, is just a career politician.

Without being asked, Steinberg went on to volunteer that he thought the US Senate race would be between US Rep. Kendrick Meek (FL-17) and Gov. Charlie Crist. Hmm, methinks, what about Dan Gelber, Steinberg’s precedessor in State House District 106 and now State Senator for District 35? Gelber, Steinberg said, maybe would run for some other office.

This analysis jibes nicely with what’s on the front page of Tuesday’s Miami Herald, a story that says both parties are rallying behind supposed front-runners to avoid nasty primary fights. The Herald story is mostly about the Republican leadership all standing behind Bill McCollum but the Democrats do make some appearances, notably, regarding Gelber, as saying he might switch and run for attorney general.

My feeling is: what’s the rush? The primary and election are not this year – they’re way off in 2010, next year, a year and a half away for the general election. There’s certainly nothing wrong with politicians adjusting their sights as the targets on the firing range move and shake, but having the party load all its support onto one candidate at this early stage ignores the safety of waiting a while to see what develops.

Maybe someone’s slogan will really catch on and the race will look different in a year. What if this recession is really a depression and Charlie Crist takes a well-justified beating as Florida develops a 20-percent unemployment rate while he ignores his gubernatorial duties to campaign for US Senate? I’m fine with letting the Republicans make a strategic error by jumping early, but I’d prefer that the Democratic Party looks wise and patient.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Guest blogger: Why no prosecution for torture?

By John Dudley, a member of the Miami Beach Democratic Club

‘Words’ do have consequences. The former vice president of the United States, Dick Cheney, has been campaigning on Fox News almost daily claiming that American torture has saved American lives. To call him a liar would be too easy. Apparently Cheney’s torture couldn’t save the lives of the 4,294 American soldiers that have died in combat or the 31,249 American soldiers that have been wounded. So when he says that ‘torture’ has saved American lives, which is untrue, no one has asked which American lives is he referring to.

In a nice twist of words, he also states that America hasn’t had a domestic terrorist attack on our homeland. Do Americans owe this new found safety to Dick Cheney’s torture? In over 200 years, America has only been attacked on its homeland twice; once by the Japanese at Pearl Harbor in 1941 and second by Al Qaeda in 2001 while Cheney and the Republican Party were in office.

So for seven years thereafter, Cheney is claiming that ‘torture’ has kept Americans safe. As infuriating as these false claims are, Cheney recently added that former President George W. Bush approved it. What consequences do these words have?

Let’s start with ‘torture’. The 27 BC Romans used torture for interrogation. Yes, torture is over 2000 years old. More recently (nearly 200 years ago), torture was abolished by Frederick the Great in Prussia in 1740. Italy followed suit in 1786, followed by France in 1789 and Russia in 1801. America 2003? In 2009, under President Barack Obama and US Attorney General Eric Holder, torture has been abolished in the United States.

For goodness sake, torture has been illegal in the United States, at least, since 1882. Torture, according to the United Nations Convention Against Torture, is: "any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him, or a third person, information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in, or incidental to, lawful sanctions.

Signatories of the Third Geneva Convention and Fourth Geneva Convention officially agree not to torture prisoners in armed conflicts. Torture is also prohibited by the United Nations Convention Against Torture. The four Geneva Conventions provide protection for people who fall into enemy hands.

The Geneva Conventions consist of four treaties formulated in Geneva, Switzerland, that set the standards for international law for humanitarian concerns. Common Article 3 has been called a "Convention in miniature." It is the only article of the Geneva Conventions that applies in non-international conflicts.

It describes minimal protections which must be adhered to by all individuals within a signatory's territory during an armed conflict not of an international character (regardless of citizenship or lack thereof): Noncombatants, combatants who have laid down their arms, and combatants who are hors de combat (out of the fight) due to wounds, detention, or any other cause shall in all circumstances be treated humanely, including prohibition of outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment. The passing of sentences must also be pronounced by a regularly constituted court, affording all the judicial guarantees which are recognized as indispensable by civilized peoples. Article 3's protections exist even though no one is classified as a prisoner of war.

Nearly all 200 countries of the world are "signatory" nations, in that they have ratified these conventions. Clara Barton was instrumental in campaigning for the ratification of the First Geneva Convention by the United States; the U.S. signed in 1882. On August 22, 1864 several European states congregated in Geneva and signed the First Geneva Convention.

The United States Code is the codification by subject matter of the general and permanent laws of the United States. Crimes and Criminal Procedure, Title 18, Part I, Chapter 113C, Section 2340A states (a) Offense.— Whoever outside the United States commits or attempts to commit torture shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 20 years, or both, and if death results to any person from conduct prohibited by this subsection, shall be punished by death or imprisoned for any term of years or for life. (b) Jurisdiction.— There is jurisdiction over the activity prohibited in subsection (a) if— (1) the alleged offender is a national of the United States; or (2) the alleged offender is present in the United States, irrespective of the nationality of the victim or alleged offender. (c) Conspiracy.— A person who conspires to commit an offense under this section shall be subject to the same penalties (other than the penalty of death) as the penalties prescribed for the offense, the commission of which was the object of the conspiracy.

So why isn’t Dick Cheney being prosecuted for breaking the law and committing war crimes? US Attorney General Eric Holder is correct, “we (the United States) are a nation of cowards”. The top attorney is now guilty of his own words. He and the Democrats are the cowards. The Democratic Party as a whole is suffering from cowardice, which is the lack of courage to face danger, difficulty, opposition, pain, etc. Cowardice is the complete opposite of bravery.

The extremely unpopular Republican party motivates their members with ‘fear’. Unfortunately, it is the Democratic Party that is suffering from fear. Fear is a distressing emotion aroused by impending danger, evil, pain, etc., whether the threat is real or imagined; the feeling or condition of being afraid; apprehension, consternation, dismay, terror, fright, panic, horror, trepidation.

If the US Attorney General won’t prosecute and the Democratic Party won’t prosecute, who has the courage to prosecute former Vice-President Dick Cheney?