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.