[freedomtowernight_edited.jpg] 26th Parallel: November 2005

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Gracias España

The title reads "Thank you Spain".

For what, you may ask?

For selling arms and other military equipment to Venezuela.

Here's the Miami Herald article which provides the details, with my comments interspersed.

CARACAS - Spain and Venezuela joined forces in defying Washington on Monday, signing several agreements that allow President Hugo Chávez's leftist government to receive a substantial amount of Spanish military equipment.

The deal, worth about $2 billion, is the most valuable ever obtained by the Spanish defense industry. It includes 12 naval transport and reconnaissance aircraft and eight patrol vessels, and according to Spain's Defense Minister José Bono, will support 900 Spanish jobs over nine years.

Eduardo Aguirre, U.S. ambassador to Madrid, recently made explicit Washington's opposition to the deal, which he described as a possible ``destabilizing factor in the region.''

It's a no-brainer, but of course, the U.S. are the bad guys.

Aguirre said the United States might withhold permission for the transfer of U.S.-licensed components that are part of the deal. The Spanish aircraft use U.S. technology in their communications and radar equipment. The patrol vessels could also use U.S.-designed components, depending on how the Venezuelans choose to equip them, Spanish officials say.

During the signing ceremony at the Miraflores presidential palace, Chávez called the Bush administration an ``imperialist elite which seeks to dominate the world.'' And he praised what he called Spain's ''majestic dignity'' in resisting U.S. pressure.

Leave it to Chavez to serve the B.S. nice and fresh.

''Much more than a commercial [deal], this ceremony is one of dignity, and a message to the peoples of the world,'' he said.

The Bush administration has repeatedly accused the leftist-populist Chávez of interference in his neighbors' affairs and of support for insurgent groups -- charges the Venezuelan government denies.

It has also expressed concern over what it sees as an unwarranted series of arms acquisitions, including not only the Spanish deal but the purchase from Russia of 100,000 Kalashnikov assault rifles and a dozen military helicopters.

In turn, Chávez has called Bush a ''genocidal murderer and a madman,'' and accused the U.S. government of planning to invade Venezuela and seeking his assassination.

Mini-fidel never sounded any better.

Chávez said the weapons purchases are purely defensive, adding that Washington has failed to honor contractual agreements to supply spare parts for F-16 fighters. U.S. officials have denied the accusations.

Spain's relations with the Bush administration have chilled since Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero came to power in April last year and withdrew Spanish troops from Iraq.

To smooth things over, Rodríguez Zapatero has dispatched almost a dozen of his top aides to visit Washington, including Bono and Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos. Spanish diplomats in Washington say relations have improved.

You can kiss that goodbye after this latest news.

However, the Venezuelan weapons sale has loomed large as a major irritant and, according to news reports from Spain, has led to tensions within the Spanish government.

''We've made clear to Spanish government authorities our view that contributing to the arms build-up in Venezuela, in light of President Chávez's anti-democratic and regionally destabilizing actions, sends the wrong message,'' said Terry Davidson, a spokesman for the State Department's European bureau.

Spain is publicly unrepentant.

''We are not in an age of empires,'' Bono said at the signing ceremony.

No, Spain remembers all too well what happened to their empire. Of course, they are willingly, or unwillingly, helping in the possible start of a new one in Latin America.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Be Careful What You Blog About

I'm sure that's exactly what local blogger Kyle at miamity.com has been thinking the past few days.

By the way and for the record...the entire UM football program shouldn't be crucified just because a few morons decided to record an obnoxious rap song that's probably not much different than what is heard and performed in many other college campuses. Oh, and it was recorded two years ago.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

More on the Marlins

Conductor over at Cuban-American Pundits has done an excellent analysis of the Marlins' possible departure from South Florida. I urge everyone reading this to go over there and check it out, as he did a much better job than I did in describing the complex factors involved.

Dan LeBatard of the Miami Herald decided that 2 columns in 4 days wasn't enough, so he decided to basically write the same column a third time.

If you want to read an piece that arrives at a similar conclusion, but in a more intelligent and balanced manner, read Dave Hyde's column in the Sun-Sentinel.

LeBatard's less-acerbic colleague in the Herald sports department, Greg Cote, did a much better job with one column than he did with three in putting this whole thing in perspective. It's more optimistic (some may argue that it's overly so), but there is a lot of truth and common sense to what Cote wrote.

Here is Cote's column in its entirety:

Silver lining in the bad news: Ditching OB site could lead to a better Dade one

BY GREG COTEgcote@herald.com

The announcement that had seemed increasingly inevitable arrived Tuesday draped in the doom and profundity you'd expect.

The Marlins' long-stalled deal to build a new stadium near the Orange Bowl had fallen irrevocably through -- and now the franchise would explore leaving South Florida altogether. It sounded like a death knell, like we were destined to be shamed to be the first U.S. metropolis in 33 years to watch its Major League Baseball team say thanks-for-the-memories and screech tires toward a sweeter deal in some other city.

That could happen, too. It could. It might.

But we'd bet it doesn't.

We'd rather bet that Tuesday's news could prove to be the best thing that could happen for the sport's long-term future here.

The Orange Bowl site, in an area of downtown Miami seldom featured in Chamber of Commerce ads, was a stadium location that didn't thrill many people. Evidently those people included City of Miami officials, whose support for the project always seemed propped on balsa wood stilts. The Marlins should be thankful to be rid of both the OB site and the waffling, dubious, buffoon support of can't-do Miami city officials.

Now, the Marlins -- who profess a strong preference to remain in South Florida -- are forced to finally consider a far more logical, preferable, centrally located site just south of the Dade-Broward line, adjacent to Dolphins Stadium.

Can it happen? Can a retractable-dome, baseball-only stadium grow there to rescue the team?

It can.

The Marlins like the site, and so do Miami-Dade County officials, who have proved to be more forward thinking, resourceful and committed in their support of the team and a new stadium than have their City of Miami counterparts.

Obstacles remain, including roughly the same $70 million funding gap that dogged the OB-site plan. But the newest targeted location has a real shot if there is sufficient help from an unlikely source:

Wayne Huizenga.

Hey, here's your chance, Wayne.

You have been a villain to local sports fans ever since you broke up the 1997 champion Marlins you once owned. You were even booed at the stadium retirement party you threw for Dan Marino. Remember?

Now is your chance to make amends, to refashion your image from ogre to hero. Now is your chance to help save the Marlins.

See, Huizenga owns the land around Dolphins Stadium where a new ballpark would be built. Selling it at a fair price would be a huge start in making this thing happen. Huizenga is like our Donald Trump, a deal-maker. Somehow, I think his full support of the Marlins' new park going up alongside his football stadium would be a huge step in it actually happening.

He would come off as magnanimous, even though his motives might be pragmatic. He'd get the Marlins out of his stadium, which would thrill the Dolphins, while maintaining another six-plus months of business for the promenade of hotels, restaurants and retail shops he envisions for that area.

It all makes sense. And, crazy to say, a shortfall of around $70 million is not a huge bridge to cross in the business of building new stadiums. It should not be enough to make a team leave a city.

Baseball doesn't want relocation. That's why it hasn't happened to a United States team in 33 years. Even MLB could step in with a loan to bridge a funding gap, if Bud Selig loves the potential of the South Florida market as much as he says.

Franchises have survived abysmal ownership (see Tampa Bay) and not moved. Franchises have survived spotty attendance and not moved. Franchises have survived perennial losing and not moved.

The solution -- almost always -- is a new stadium.

A new stadium will make fiscal sense for owner Jeffrey Loria and allow him to increase player payrolls without begging monstrous financial losses. A new stadium (and the larger payrolls that follow) will reenergize a sizable fan base looking for a reason.

The correlation is direct. The pending trade of Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell to Boston for minor leaguers, and the payroll cutting to follow -- what club President David Samson in corporate-speak Tuesday called ''a significant market correction'' -- would not be happening if ground had been broken on a new park. Period.

You cannot (or at least should not) blame Loria in all of this. He was -- is -- willing to put up $212 million of his own money, up front and in annual rent, toward a proposed $385 million cost for a new stadium. He also is willing (and this is not standard procedure) to cover all overrun costs. That's major, especially when you consider the public is paying millions in overrun costs for the Performing Arts Center.

Now it's up to Jeffrey Loria, Miami-Dade County, Major League Baseball and Wayne Huizenga to get together and make this happen. Because Tuesday's Marlins announcement felt like honest desperation and a ploy for leverage, all at once.

What it didn't feel like was a bluff.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Cool Weather

Just in time for Thanksgiving, or "Sangeebeen" as they say in Little Havana.

After a tough summer, this is the time of year most everyone in South Florida looks forward to, with cool nights and comfortable, sunny days. Check out my "26th Parallel Weather" icon on the right sidebar and watch it plummet into the 50s tonight and Wednesday night.

Fellow Miami bloggers have also been getting into the cool weather, including Critical Miami, Stuck on the Palmetto, Miamist. and of course, Val and his chicken soup odyssey (recipe included).

Marlins Might Leave South Florida?

That's the news coming out of the Sun-Sentinel and the Miami Herald this afternoon. Unable to sign a deal with the city of Miami and Miami-Dade County, the team may be looking elsewhere.

Being a big baseball fan and season ticket pool organizer at my job, this is not good news at all.

Who's at fault here? If you ask Dan LeBatard at the Herald, it's the "bad" baseball fans of South Florida. We deserve every bit of this, he says.

Well, it's not that simple Danny boy.

Could the attendance and fan support in the stands be better? Sure. But so can a lot of other things that LeBatard declines to mention or dismisses as "excuses". The weather here during much of baseball season is not the best, with rain and even the odd hurricane or two an ever-present threat. Add to this the location of the stadium, which is in the middle of the Miami-Ft. Lauderdale metro area but might as well be the middle of nowhere, and most potential fans just don't want to make the long, grinding haul in South Florida traffic to get to the stadium and get rained on. I live in Kendall, and it's an easy hour drive to the stadium for a weeknight game. A better location and a baseball-only facility would help tremendously. The proposed site, the Orange Bowl in Little Havana, would've been OK, but not ideal.

Dan LeBatard feels bad for owner Jeffery Loria because he's losing so much money. Cry me a river. Loria was given a loan by Major League Baseball to purchase the franchise a few years back. Does anyone actually think he's going to go broke because the team is losing money? All he has to do is either sell the team or move it, and he's good to go. Another option for Loria is to have the taxpayers foot most of the bill for a new stadium. When he bought the team, he was very aware of the awful lease which the stadium is under (thanks Wayne Huizenga). A new baseball only stadium would have the money flowing into his pockets big time. Apparently, the team is upset at city and county officials for not making up the gap in the funding.

About funding and money...the city and county have pledged enough, almost $50 percent. The rest needs to be handled by the Marlins. It's revealing to note that one of the big hangups in the deal early on was that the Marlins were reluctant to cover any over-budget charges to build the stadium. The city and county demanded that the team cover those costs, and they finally and
reluctantly agreed. By all accounts, except theirs, the Marlins have been grossly under-estimating the cost of the new stadium. They are unwilling to give another cent and are expecting the taxpayers to make up the difference. One problem, the taxpayers don't want to pay another cent, according to numerous surveys and polls. I agree.

Jeffrey Loria has the most to gain from a new stadium, let him pay the rest. We've already promised more than enough. A new stadium with all the bells and whistles in a good location will be a hit, I guarantee it. We have a lot of latent fan support here who simply can't go to many games because of location, economics, etc. The economic part won't change, but give someone a nice stadium with a retractable roof in an attractive location, and they will come.

The problem with baseball today is that owners pretty much hold their communities hostage until they get a good stadium deal (i.e. one in which they pay as little as possible). It's their product, let them pay for it.

OK, now that you know how I stand on the stadium issue, I am here to say that I as a season ticket holder would be willing to pay an extra few bucks per ticket to cover the stadium construction. If anyone other than the team should pay, it's the season ticket holders, the ones who will actually attend the games, although relatively little compared to the overall cost.

As a community, South Florida needs to have the Marlins leave as much as we need another hurricane. Sports add to the culture and quality of life, just as museums, art, and music do. Imagine New York without the Yankees, Chicago without the White Sox (you were expecting Cubs, weren't you?). Our already trashed reputation and perception would take another huge and undeserved hit.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Lessons From Wilma

As some of you know, I am in the weather business. More specifically, I am supposed to give preparedness information and advice to the general population on weather-related hazards.

As a result, the last few months have been quite interesting for me, to say the least. Specifically, the last 2 hurricanes to directly impact South Florida have served as fodder for plenty of discussion and job-related material.

In a post right after Katrina, I made some comments about the common misperceptions people had about that storm. With Wilma, there were also plenty of misperceptions, but in different areas.

- The most common misperception, especially from the media, was "a Category One Did This" (quote shamelessly stolen from the Herald's infamous headline a few days after the storm). The answer is: mostly yes! One of the perks of my job is that I get to ride helicopters and survey storm damage, and the Wilma survey revealed little significant damage to the vast majority of homes and structures. A few areas did see some heavier damage, with more substantial damage to roofs. The structures that consistently suffered the most damage were mobile homes. No surprise there, although the Herald in its infinite wisdom and effort to make and sell controversy, ran a picture of a mobile home with a tree sitting on its roof as the accompaniment to the headline quoted at the top of the paragraph. A Category 1 storm with sustained winds up to 90 mph will damage mobile homes and cause widespread power loss anywhere. The areas that did see more significant damage was due to stronger sustained winds possibly up to 100 mph, a Category 2.

- Another misperception: tornadoes caused the damage to the downtown high-rises and other areas with more extensive damage. The survey revealed that most high-rises fared quite well, with the damaged ones being the exception. It has been established that winds 10, 20, and 30 stories above ground can be at least a category higher than on the ground. Sustained winds on high-rises were probably an easy 100-110 mph. There were no reports of tornado sightings during the height of Wilma. The fact that Wilma passed after sunrise would have made it fairly easy for someone to see a tornado. None were seen as far as we know.

- People don't understand categories well. That's at least partially the fault of us meteorologists for not explaining the Saffir-Simpson Scale properly. I think people expect a Category 1 storm to produce minimal impacts. Minimal damage, for the most part, yes. Minimal impacts, definitely NOT. A hurricane is still a hurricane, whether it's a 75 or 175 mph storm. Hurricane warnings are issued regardless of category precisely because of the damage that even a low-end hurricane can produce. Category 1 storms typically knock out power for days, uproot trees, blow a few shingles off of roofs, but won't knock down or tear off the roof of a well-built structure. Wilma was that type of storm.

- Speaking of well-built structures, the survey revealed that newer homes fared better than older homes. This is a testament to the stronger buildings codes imposed after Hurricane Andrew 13 years ago. As far as the high-rises that had windows blown out, it may be reasonable to assume that they weren't built very well.

- People should have been better prepared. This goes into a few touchy areas, first of which is the unrealistic expectations that FEMA will come riding into town 24 hours after a hurricane passes through a metropolitan area of 5 million people and provide the basic necessities.

Bottom line - when the TV people tell everyone to have at least 3 days' worth of water, food, and other provisions, they mean it. We have all year from December to June to get ready for hurricane season, yet there were many people who were lined up for ice and water the day after Wilma. Being in Hurricane Alley and facing the prospects of more storms in the future, there is no excuse for not being ready, plain and simple. Wilma was a well-behaved storm. The track was very close to forecast, so people were and shouldn't have been caught off-guard. We also have to realize that we'll be without power for days. One can criticize FPL for many things, but I don't think the response to Wilma was one of them. Putting cables underground would help, but those cables have to come up somewhere. In a wet storm, flooding can create bigger problems with underground lines, especially in areas near sea level such as South Florida.
Power loss is inevitable even in the most ideal of situations.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Don't Blame USCG for Bad Policy

One of the big stories here in Miami is the boat filled with Cubans which capsized in the Florida Straits a few days ago as the occupants were being brought onto a Coast Guard vessel, with 2 women dead as a result. Central to this tragedy is the much-maligned wet foot/dry foot order which has been in effect for 10 years now.

Several of the people who were on board the boat are in Miami waiting (actually hoping) for the other passengers to be released into the U.S. so they can bury their relatives. They are pleading to President Bush to free those who are sitting in a Coast Guard vessel awaiting their fate. Bush is also the only one who can change the ridiculous wet foot/dry foot policy with a few strokes of his pen.

Why won't Bush reverse it? Who knows for sure. But one thing is true, if we're going to get the policy to change, it's by putting pressure on the right people (politicians), not by pointing fingers at the Coast Guard.

Unfortunately, an immigration attorney in Miami is pointing the finger at the Coast Guard in a lawsuit by those who made it back to the U.S. from the ill-fated mission.

I think it's wrong to charge the Coast Guard with negligence in the deaths of the two women. Were mistakes made during the rescue? Possibly. Was it negligence? They'll have to prove that they didn't care about the lives of the people they were saving.

Maybe I'm naive, but the purpose and duty of the Coast Guard is to protect our waters and save lives at sea. It's not their fault that they have to return Cubans back to castro. They are following orders, and when you're in the military, you follow orders. To imply that the Coast Guard is a cruel unit whose only interest is to punish those who are fleeing tyranny is simply wrong.

All the energy and efforts being wasted to file a misguided suit should instead be used to pressure President Bush to change the policy. Once that happens, you won't see any more of what tragically occurred earlier this week.

Veterans Day

In a humble yet sincere attempt to commemorate Veteran's Day, I'd like to offer links to a couple of posts originally published during last Memorial Day weekend.

Both posts came from stuff my dad sent me. He's a Vietnam Veteran, and these posts are in honor of him and the many brave Americans who served our country honorably and with pride.

- Guarding the Tomb of the Unknown Solider

- Freedom Isn't Free

Sunday, November 06, 2005

The Carnival of the Idiots

Photo courtesy of The Real Cuba

In response to the FTAA meeting in Argentina this weekend, the "uninvited" - people such as Hugo Chavez and Diego "Hand of God" Maradona decided to hold their own "summit", complete with a huge picture of Che Guevara serving as a backdrop. Read more about the meeting and other insightful comments from Daniel at Venezuela News and Views.

It was a farce, a comedy, but sad at the same time. Sad, because there are people out there who actually believe in the crap spewing from the mouth of Hugo Chavez. Here's a leader of a country who has no problem using mild cuss words such as carajo in his speechess (Cubans use this word to send someone to hell, or worse - but can also mean penis). He used it twice: "ALCA pal carajo" (to hell with the FTAA) and "viva el Che, carajo".

Speaking of lines, another leader of this carnival of idiots was Diego "Let's do another line while I score a goal with my hands" Maradona. Nothing else needs or deserves to be said about this guy.

Speaking of coke, another illustrious participant was Evo Morales, who's running for president in Bolivia. The snow must have been falling in Mar De Plata on Friday!

An absentee was Cindy Sheehan, who was schedule to appear but issued a statement saying that she stayed in the U.S. Her presence would've culminated the event in my opinion.

This "counter-summit" was supposedly organized by one of Argentinian President Nestor Kirchner's top aides. Just goes to show how serious Argentina is about its future.

Of course, no carnival of the idiots would be complete without the protesters who in the name of good will and camaraderie for the downtrodden, pillaged and destroyed businesses in Mar de Plata, thereby denying clerks, janitors, and other blue-collar workers their measly paychecks for the time being. But, hey, the protesters are fighting the big, mean imperialists, so it's OK.

I wonder if there's a Protest Warrior branch in Argentina. They would have had a field day with those morons!