[freedomtowernight_edited.jpg] 26th Parallel: January 2008

Thursday, January 31, 2008

McCain Gets Strong Cuban-American Support

Quick post to show article from St. Pete Times (I'm in St. Pete this week, that's why I saw it), regarding the Cuban-American vote in Tuesday's primary election.
Also crucial to McCain's win were Hispanic voters in South Florida. While McCain and Romney were tied among non-Hispanic Republicans, exit polls showed Romney won just 9 percent of Cuban-American Republicans, compared to 54 percent for McCain and 32 percent for Rudy Giuliani.
This supports what I saw on the Miami-Dade elections site.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Florida Propels McCain...and Other Thoughts on Election

Now that the dust has settled a bit after yesterday's Florida election, here are my rather brief thoughts:

- McCain won Florida because Romney couldn't grab enough of Giuliani's votes. This was no more evident than in South Florida, especially in Miami-Dade County, where Romney finished third BEHIND Rudy. This was my thought late last night upon analyzing the results by county. Were Cuban-Americans a major factor in this? No doubt whatsoever. The final numbers show McCain winning by 95,000 votes statewide. In Miami-Dade County alone, McCain beat Romney by 51,000 votes. That's more than half of the winning margin in one county alone. It doesn't take a genius to figure out that Cuban Republicans made up a big portion of that margin. Even the Miami Herald came to that conclusion. The Sun-Sentinel apparently doesn't recognize the large county to the south of Miramar, broad-brushing the analysis by stating that McCain had the support of Hispanics statewide.

So then, why did Cuban-Americans support McCain? I sincerely believe that he made himself much more visible to the community from an early stage, even before the election process began. His stance on Cuba is rock-solid, and of course that's going to carry big weight here. Anyone remember the CAMBIO bracelet McCain wore at the Univision debate in Coral Gables a couple of months ago? He's also made appearances on popular Spanish-language shows such as A Mano Limpia about 2 years ago. These things cannot be overlooked. Quite simply, C-As trust McCain. Even Rudy was able to make some inroads in the community, as he garnered 16,000 more votes than Romney. Why Romney didn't hit the Cuban community harder, I don't know. Maybe Al Cardenas can explain.

UPDATE: I would be remiss not to mention this article from Weekly Standard which generally supports my analysis above. Thanks to rsnlk at Babalu for the H/T.

Last point on the presidential primary: Why did we make such a big deal about ex-pat New Yorkers supporting Rudy? The vast majority of South Florida New Yorkers are Democrats! The results reflected that, especially in Broward County (the 6th borough), where Rudy finished THIRD.

- Property Tax Amendment easily passed. Another disappointment. I guess people want some kind of relief, no matter whom or what it negatively affects. You can bet local and state governments are going to overreact to this by cutting some essential services, instead of cutting fat. Take it to the bank.

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Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Election Day

It was 7:20 AM. I made the very short drive over to my polling place to vote this morning. I walked in with a smile on my face, and the handful of people inside the room must have either thought I was crazy or wanted to kill me for being so chipper at sunrise.

Why was I happy? Simple. We get to have a say in who we want to lead our communities and our country. It's something I NEVER take for granted (too bad the Democratic Party rendered today's Florida primary to be invalid. Perhaps they don't take democracy as seriously as they should).

I got my "I Voted" sticker too! Must drive my liberal friends crazy.

Alberto at Babalu shares similar thoughts here.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Huckabee: Let's Expand I-95

One of the more memorable moments of last night's GOP debate in Boca was the comment Mike Huckabee made regarding Floridians stuck in traffic.

His solution? Add two lanes on I-95 from Bangor, Maine to Miami.

Well, what are we waiting for? Let's do it and get the problem solved.

In all seriousness, Gov. Huckabee, if only it was that easy. Just ask us South Floridians who have seen every major highway expanded 2 and 3 times over in the past 20 years. For his sake, let's hope that's not the way he approaches every problem, but it appears as that's Huckabee's style.


Shootdown - The Movie

Mad Hatter was kind enough to alert me of the theater screenings of the movie Shootdown, which chronicles the tragic Brothers to the Rescue downing of 2 planes by castro's thugs. The fact that the perpetrators haven't been charged with crimes is almost as sad as the event itself.

Anyway, the movie is showing in several markets in the U.S. Check here for theatre locations.

You can also check out a post I wrote in 2006 from a Miami screening.

Best of luck to Cristina Khuly and her staff. They deserve it, and the truth about this terrible incident deserves to be shown.

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Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Wait and See

The upcoming race U.S. Congress race between incumbent (R) Lincoln Diaz-Balart and (D) Raul Martinez will be a time when Cuban-Americans will finally be able to express themselves without the specter of fidel looming over. We have two high-profile anti-fidel, pro-embargo candidates; one a long-time representative of the establishment and the other a popular mayor of the most Cuban city in the United States. castro and Cuba won't be an issue because they're both cut from the same cloth.

For once and for all, Cuban-Americans will have the opportunity to unleash their inner Democrat and vote for the things they really believe in (pro-immigrant, pro-science and pro-social programs). Lincoln Diaz-Balart is in for it.

At least that's what Ana Menendez thinks and prays might happen.

I won't offer my opinion and analysis of the race right now. Let's just wait and see what happens in November 2008 and the values Cuban-Americans hold close to their hearts.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Perspective on Housing Market

I apologize for the "tease" in the headline for my previous post which indicated that real estate would be one of the topics of that post, but the post got too long and I decided to break it up into 2 separate posts.

As anyone living in South Florida knows, the real estate market has been a huge roller-coaster the past several years. Much of the ups and downs were driven by speculators who thought they knew what was coming down the road in a few years. One thing that has been sorely missing from the vast majority of real estate/housing market pieces written is historical context and how it can be used to forecast the next several years' performance.

I'm far from being an expert in this matter, but I've been a homeowner long enough to know that investing in real estate, in the long term, is profitable. I also know that the bubble burst we're seeing now is something we haven't seen in quite a long time. Some experts say the market will rebound in 2009, some say later. So, who's right?

Edward Schumacher-Matos, the Miami Herald's ombudsman, wrote a very good and balanced piece on the real estate situation, tackling both sides of the argument and coming to the conclusion that the Herald needs to do a better job of analyzing the pros and cons of each theory.

During the South Florida real-estate bubble of 2003-2007, some readers criticized the paper for being too much of a cheerleader, inflating the bubble. Cynics grumbled that The Miami Herald was in the pocket of realtors, who are major advertisers.

Today, with foreclosures rising, prices dropping and a flood of new condo units about to hit the market, the opposite is heard: The Miami Herald's coverage is too negative, stoking a crisis atmosphere that undermines the value of all homes; buyers are being scared away. ''Why does The Miami Herald seem to love reporting doom and gloom about South Florida's real-estate market?'' Sylvia Cherry of Coconut Grove wrote. What's the truth?

I have reviewed The Miami Herald's real-estate coverage over the past three months and talked with opposing experts, including realtors. It is hard to separate the coverage from the truth about the market. What I found was that many of the paper's real-estate stories have been excellent and fair, citing competing views. Realtors, understandably, are sensitive about negative articles, but there is no denying that there is a problem.

My complaint actually takes The Miami Herald into a riskier direction, but one that I think better serves us as readers if done right. Herald reporters and editors have been too scrupulous, in that they have been too timid. They have done the timely major stories and done them well, but they have not followed up with enough analysis or perspective of their own.

We need to better understand where the value of our homes is heading tomorrow -- as opposed to what it is today -- and how we might influence that. No coverage is more important to us than real estate, and The Miami Herald could be doing more than it is.


I have read all of the coverage and am frankly confused except to say that unsold inventory is way up, asking prices are sharply lower, actual sales prices in each sector differ, and the condo sector is especially threatened, depending partly on neighborhood and project. But veteran realtors such as Ronald Shuffield, president of Esslinger-Wooten-Maxfield Realtors in Coral Gables, are correct in saying that while the median price of a home sold today is $350,000, down from $390,000 last spring, it still is more than double the $155,000 it was in 2002.

In other words, prices are rolling back, as they have every 10 years, but your home is still worth a lot more than it was five years ago. This is scant comfort if you bought more recently, or borrowed against your home at the higher value, or, worse, if you were unwise or suckered into any of a number of mortgage schemes that are about to hit you with higher rates.


The Miami Herald has reported extensively and well about the dramatic issues of mortgage fraud and corruption in public housing. But what should the government do, if anything, about the middle class who might lose their homes in the vice of a correction or a crash? What are the options, their pros and cons?

Finally, there is the long-term perspective versus the short-term turmoil. The housing market will pick up again, you can bet on it.

The question is when. The bottom feeders already are moving in to buy distressed properties. There is only one shoreline, one South Florida, limited hinterland, and it is all becoming part of an international economy -- at a still relatively cheap price.

I would hope to see not just stories that deal with these issues directly, but with more of such perspective making it into everyday stories, giving them sense and context.


Sunday, January 20, 2008

Herald on Amendment 1, Slots and Real Estate Coverage

Today's Miami Herald offers up its recommendations on Amendment 1 and Vegas-style slots for Miami-Dade County.

Starting off with their editorial on Amendment 1, they are against it, for many of the same reasons as I stated in the previous post. However, they don't explore far enough into the issue of lack of significant improvements in local government services disproportionate with the increase in tax revenues. Nevertheless, they are on the right side of the issue as far as I'm concerned:

This isn't genuine reform. It is a Band-Aid approach to the problem of fixing Florida's property-tax mess. Voters are fully aware of the large increases in local tax revenues in recent years, but this proposal does nothing to reverse those increases.

Voters want something better

The amendment would provide ''portability'' for those who already enjoy the Save Our Homes tax benefit. This is an undeniable bonus for owners of homesteaded properties, and could improve the dismal real-estate picture, although not enough to make a big difference.

Even so, some will argue, a tax cut is a tax cut. Agreed, but in exchange for a small measure of relief, residents are guaranteed deeper cuts in local services. Meanwhile, the state's creaky, inefficient and archaic tax system will remain in place. They say that it is bad manners to look a gift horse in the mouth, but this is an exception to the rule. Give this nag back to the Legislature and tell lawmakers that voters want something better.

On the Jan. 29 primary ballot, on Amendment One relating to property tax exemptions, The Miami Herald recommends a vote of NO.

Next up: Vegas-style slots for Miami-Dade County? The Herald recommends NO. This one I don't have as strong of a feeling on.

Voters in Miami-Dade County said No to expanded gambling in 2005, and they should say No again when they go to the polls next week. If anything, an expansion of gambling to include slots at the Miami Jai-Alai fronton, Calder Race Course and Flagler Dog Track is a worse deal today than it was three years ago.

Here's why:

Since the 2005 vote, Gov. Charlie Crist has signed a deal with the Seminole Tribe that -- if ultimately upheld -- would give the Indians an unfair advantage over other gambling establishments, including the fronton and dog and horse tracks. That's because the Indian facilities, which already are bigger and more-luxurious than the Miami-Dade facilities, not only would have slots but card games, too, such as baccarat and blackjack, that can attract out-of-state tourists. The Miami-Dade facilities are in a tough position -- their businesses are dying -- and we empathize with them. But more gambling isn't the answer.

Today, given Broward's example, Miami-Dade voters know that the expansion of gambling next door hasn't delivered what was promised. Broward approved the gambling expansion in 2005, but the slots there have generated less than initially projected. State-revenue forecasters had to lower their estimates by $83 million this year.

Moreover, the promised boost to education from expanded gambling is minuscule at best. This is because the $200 million or so expected from Broward slots is a mere drop in the bucket of Florida's $20-plus billion education budget. And most of the education money generated in Broward doesn't go to Broward schools. Most of it goes to schools in Panama City, Gainesville, Tallahassee, Orlando and other places that reap the gambling largess without having to suffer its social ills, increased traffic and addiction.

Even if slots were to generate what they predict, the impact on education in general and on our local schools would be small. And Florida would still be near dead-last in education funding.

The Broward experience also shows that the jobs produced by expanded gambling aren't all that they are cracked up to be. Slots generate few professional, high-paying jobs and far more that are low-skill and low paying. Our communities can do better by going after better-paying jobs in medicine, technology, communications and other fields.

Finally, for those who simply enjoy the thrill of long-shot bets, there already are plenty of options, including the Florida Lottery, Indian casinos, off-shore casino ships and, of course, Broward slots.

On the Jan. 29 primary ballot, for County Question No. 3 relating to slot machines for existing horse and dog tracks and the jai-alai fronton, The Miami Herald recommends a vote of NO.

I share the Herald's concern about revenues not reaching the levels anticipated, as well as actual revenues being mostly used to fund other communities in the state. I believe if voters are going to approve and support slots in their community, any revenues that result should stay in the county. On the other hand, I don't lend much credence to the belief that an increase in gambling outlets will create "social ills", as the Herald put it. There's no documented proof that slots in neighboring Broward County have led to an increase in gambling addiction, crime and other related problems. The Herald's other main concern is the mostly low-paying low-skilled jobs that slots would create. Sure, but any job is better than no job, especially in these economic times. We should be finding ways to create high-paying professional jobs, but this is not related to slots whatsoever. Finally, slots would provide a reasonable alternative to the Indian gaming enterprise, and as they say, competition is good. Balancing all this, I am leaning towards voting YES.

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Friday, January 18, 2008

Florida Taxes and Government Services

A lot of stuff is being published in newspapers all across the state regarding the upcoming vote on Amendment 1 which would provide some small relief in property taxes. For more info on the Amendment, check out Henry's posts at Babalu here and here.

The big issue is whether the tax cuts would be enough to kick-start the economy and alleviate the housing market woes. My answer to that is: no, it wouldn't. It's simply not enough. Granted, the portability option would give incentive for those trapped in their homes due to high property taxes to get back in the market. While that would help to stabilize the real estate market freefall, so to speak, it's not the cure to the disease. Unless serious property tax reform takes place (not just this band-aid), the housing market will continue to struggle and young, productive people will leave the state. The 1.35% cap being passed around in petitions would be a bigger help, but event that doesn't go far enough in my book. Get rid of the Save Our Homes, all exemptions, and tax at 50% of market value. It would represent an increase in taxes for many folks, not just right off the bat but on a year-to-year basis, since it would be tied to market value and not held artificially by Save Our Homes. However, it would also make it easier for new buyers to get into the market and for current owners to upgrade/downgrade, and would level the playing field significantly. Honestly, if I were king for a day, I would push for 25% or even 0%, but I realize these are unrealistic in today's political climate.

Local governments, of course, don't like Amendment 1 one bit. Check out this story in the Sun-Sentinel on how Broward County officials are already talking about cutting services, etc. etc. Never mind the fact that county has received a big increase in revenue from, you guessed it, property taxes:
Broward County and its 31 cities reaped an increase of $1.4 billion in taxes because of the rapid rise in property values between 2001 and 2006. When the Legislature last year ordered them to roll back tax rates to help bring relief, the county and cities reduced tax collections from property owners by just less than $62 million.
Government spending is out of control, and it's hard to say that improvements in services have followed at the same rate. Again, government has shown that it can't be trusted to handle our money appropriately. The Sun-Sentinel's sister newspaper, the Orlando Sentinel, is in favor of Amendment 1, but it's reasoning is interesting:
Amendment 1 isn't just about cutting taxes. It is about controlling government spending. It is a reality check for local governments that feasted on escalating property values over much of the past decade instead of lowering tax rates.

As property values rose, tax collections soared. Levies doubled between 1997 and last year, including 42 percent in just three years. Property taxes grew three times faster than growth in population and inflation combined. At the same time, government services didn't seem to get any better. What a waste.
I hear you, Orlando Sentinel, but we're putting too much faith in government to make the right cuts (fat), which they've proven time and time again that they can't or won't.

Finally, there's the Miami Herald article which has Governor Charlie Crist promising to offset tax cuts by increasing school budgets.

The proposed budget includes $138 million to offset the potential lost revenue if voters approve Amendment 1. It also includes $125 million more for teacher merit pay, $100 million for middle-school physical education, and $847 million for new teachers and new classroom space to meet class-size requirements.

But the spending package relies on local school districts to collect an additional $337.8 million in property taxes next year to pay for the hikes. Under that plan, if property values continue to decline as they have the past couple of years, school boards might have to raise their tax rates.

Crist would not say how he would find the money to increase school-district budgets at a time when the state economy is faltering and there could be a $2 billion shortfall in the overall budget for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1.

The governor has previously said he will make $350 million in cuts in the $70 billion budget and raise another $870 million in new revenue by taking money from the endowment devoted to healthcare spending from the tobacco settlement, increasing gambling revenue from the Lottery, and collecting $100 million from the casino deal with the Seminole Tribe.

Hmmm. Goes back to the point I was making at the top about government spending. I thought taxes for school districts were exempt from Amendment 1 (I could be wrong). I also thought that state government could decide what percentage of taxes is taken out for schools, regardless of how high or low the overall tax rate is. It's not a set value forever and ever. This shows how local and even state government can turn what's a savings into more taxes. They could increase the millage rate, for example, to offset the lower property tax values.

Very interesting, to say the least, and for now I plan on voting NO and pushing for bigger and better tax reform.


Monday, January 14, 2008

Oppenheimer Loses Touch

Andres Oppenheimer's latest anti anti-illegal immigration column is up at The Miami Herald. Unfortunately, instead of adding to the complex debate, it really dumbs down the issue to a huge populist pulp that's impossible to swallow.

Oppenheimer mentions 5 myths of anti-illegal immigration talk.

- Myth No. 1: ''We are only against illegal immigration. Undocumented immigrants should get in line for visas.'' That's deceptive because you can't demand that people get into line when, for the most part, there is no line to get into.

While the U.S. labor market is demanding 1.5 million mostly low-skilled immigrants a year -- and will demand many more in coming years, as the U.S. population becomes increasingly educated -- the current immigration system allows into the U.S. an average of one million legal immigrants a year, and most of them are already here.

''There is a huge mismatch between what the U.S. labor market needs and the supply of immigration visas,'' says Frank Sharry, head of the National Immigration Forum, which advocates both secure borders and a path to legal residence for many of the 12 million undocumented immigrants in the United States.

On top of that, most anti-immigration groups want to reduce legal immigration. The Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), a favorite of radio and cable television Hispanic immigrant-bashing news shows, wants to reduce legal immigration from the current 1 million a year to about 300,000, with a 20-year cooling-off period.

Oppenheimer ought to be smart enough to know the difference between someone being against people entering the country illegally and being in favor of people going through the proper procedure to enter and stay in a country. What part of "respect the law" doesn't he understand? All reasonable Americans want is for people to follow the proper procedures and play by the rules. It doesn't make on "anti-immigrant".

Myth No. 2: ''Anti-immigration advocates are not anti-Hispanic.'' Maybe many aren't, but when was the last time you heard anti-immigration Republican hopefuls or cable television talk show hosts lashing out against illegal immigrants from Canada?

In addition, the escalating immigration hysteria has created an ugly environment that affects all Hispanics -- both legal and undocumented -- in many parts of the country, as recent studies by the Anti-Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center have shown.

''We are seeing more discrimination and harassment,'' says Michele Waslin, of the Immigration Policy Center. ``Anybody who is Hispanic-looking or has an Hispanic last name is being treated as an undocumented immigrant.''

This one left me amazed. Andres, open your eyes! The traffic is pretty much one-way here, and it sure as hell ain't from Canada! For the rest of the debunking of this myth, please see Myth of Myth 1.

Myth No. 3: ''We are a nation of laws, and the law says you have to enter the country legally.'' Yes, but we are also a nation of immigrants. And, by the way, nearly half of all undocumented immigrants enter the country legally, and overstay their visas.

If Myth 2 made me scratch my head, Myth 3 made me fall off my chair. You have got to be kidding me. The first sentence should have ended after "enter the country legally". We are a nation of immigrants who abide by and respect the law. Overstaying visas is even worse than crossing the border because it takes advantage of the generosity of the host country. This is unbelieveable that this point has to even be brought up.

Myth No. 4: ''Building a border fence will solve the problem.'' Wrong. As long as the per capita income in the United States is five times bigger than that of Mexico, and as long as U.S. labor market demands millions of low-skilled jobs that Americans won't fill, people will jump over the fence, dig tunnels under it or come through Canada.

Anything that makes it harder for illegals to cross the border works for me. Have you ever heard of a deterrent. Sure, some will try to sneak across the fence, but good luck to them.

Myth No. 5: Those of us who criticize anti-immigration groups are ''amnesty'' and ''open borders'' supporters. Baloney. I, for one, support both border protection and an earned path to legalization for millions of undocumented workers who pay taxes and are willing to learn English.

Mr. Oppenheimer, if it quacks like a duck and walks like a duck, then it must be a duck. Just admit that you're for open borders and amnesty, and we can hash out the other details.

I won't go as far as people such as Tom "Miami is Third World" Tancredo who wants to round up all 12 or 20 million illegals and ship them back immediately. Nor will I go as far as Mike Huckabee's latest stance which includes shipping children of illegals back with their parents (whatever happened to giving them a shot at college scholarships, Mr. Governor?). Kids of illegals shouldn't be punished for the sins of their parents, plain and simple. And to say that the practical task of rounding up and sending 12 to 20 million people back home is daunting is like saying that the North Pole is cold in January.

Do I support an earned path to legal status? You know what... I do, but only under one condition: that ALL current legal applicants are processed. Fine 'em and fine 'em hard too. Fine companies that willingly hire illegals. Make them learn English. Do I support more visas for legal immigrants? Yes. My ideas are most certainly flawed in some ways and unpractical, but it hardly sounds like a xenophobe, right? Since when did respect for the law turn into being a racist? Only in the world of Andres Oppenheimer, who unfortunately has had to fall for the same demagogue-laced arguments he accuses anti-illegal immigration folks of.

Mr. Oppenheimer: If you're going to accuse all those who are against the failed immigration bill as anti-immigration and xenophobes, then I can turn around and call you someone who doesn't respect the laws of a sovereign nation. Don't like it, right? The fact is, there are just as many illegals who hate the United States and wish for a Mexican invasion as those who are truly bigoted and racist against Hispanics. The vast majority of people want immigrants to play by the rules. How do you think those who are trying to enter legally would feel if they got skipped in line by someone who felt like overstaying their visa? You would be mad as hell, right? Once you realize this, then you start to understand how most mainstream Americans feel.

The column feels like someone who's run out of intellectual arguments and is running on fumes.


Sunday, January 13, 2008

Funny But Sad

Gotta hand it to CODEPINK: they certainly are committed.

Not only that, but they actually have a dry sense of humor. Check out this from their Most Wanted page on their web site:
We will launch the Campaign in Miami on January 12-14. We will produce 5,000 Posada WANTED postcards addressed to the FBI, and will spend several days doing outreach on the streets of Miami (including Little Havana) asking people to sign the cards. On Sunday, January 13, we will do a 24-hour vigil at a symbolic location. On Monday, we will go to the FBI at 9am to turn in the cards and demand the arrest of Posada Carriles. We will also protest the FBI destruction of five boxes of evidence related to the case. At noon we will go to the office of Cong. Ros-Lehtinen to demand that she stop supporting terrorism.

The next phase will be our billboard campaign, based on the FBI campaign. Our billboard, with a profile of Posada Carriles and text Wanted for Terrorism, will encourage people, if they see him, to call the Miami FBI. We will attempt to put several billboards up in downtown Miami, starting in February.

In Washington DC, we will pressure members of the Congressional Judiciary Committee and Homeland Security Committees to call for Posada’s arrest. We will do vigils out side the Justice Department, calling on Attorney General Michael Mukasey to enforce U.S. anti-terrorism laws. We will follow the Federal Grand Jury proceedings in New Jersey on this case to see if it produces results.

We will also organize a mock trial in Miami that will include legal and academic experts, as well as victims’ families.
There's a certain innocence behind their hypocrisy and shamelessness that is quite interesting. "Hey Marge, I saw someone that looks just like that guy Posada on Collins Avenue last week. Let me call the FBI". And exactly HOW MANY cards they expected to be signed in Little Havana?

And here's an equally humorous section on traveling to Miami to encounter those dangerous militant right-wingers:
Yes, those who live in Miami know that there are elements of the Cuban community who are very violent. They have bombed and beaten people who dared to criticize their positions. But if the US. is going to have moral standing in the world, we must be consistent in opposing all violence against civilians and holding all terrorists accountable. It’s up to us to force our government to stop holding a double standard of condemning some acts of terrorism and supporting others.
That's classic. The part about opposing all violence and holding double standards is so embarrassing that it's funny.

Like I said, CODEPINK has a game plan, and they're following it to a tee.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Pinko Protest

In light of the protests at the CODE-pinko demonstration in Little Havana today:

For those of you chomping at the bit to broad-brush Cuban exiles as violent, foam-mouthed individuals, here's an El Nuevo Herald article leading up to the demonstration in which Radio Mambi personalities and exile groups exhorted the community to refrain from violence. I won't translate the article, but the CALPC group (support committee for Luis Posada Carriles) and Radio Mambi both called for demonstrators to not be provoked into violent acts.

Of course, most of the people present behaved. A few got a little rowdy, which is inexcusable and shows lack of class, IMO. Maybe I'm being a little hard on a group of individuals who have been through hell and are being figuratively poked in the eye by a small group of radicals who reveled in parading through their neighborhood in order to incite and provoke.

Dialogue with the Cuban community, as Medea Benjamin stated? Yeah right. And the Dolphins will win the Super Bowl next season.

Still, want to bet what will get the headlines? Not the majority of peaceful protesters, but this. And here I go again having to explain it all. When will some people learn that six dorks from San Francisco precisely looking to be provoked don't deserve the reaction that they seek? I obviously understand the deep frustration and pain Cuban exiles feel. But the bad PR we get when even a small minority acts even a little out of hand hurts just as much.

Le ronca el mango.

Braman Not Against Using Public Land

I have criticized Norman Braman's opposition to the Downtown Miami mega-plan here, so you all know where I stand with regards to Mr. Braman.

I just noticed a very interesting post by NBC 6 reporter Hank Tester on Braman's previous interest in having public land donated, yes donated, to him for a new stadium in Philadelphia back in 1993.

From Tester's post:

The Philadelphia Eagles' owner, Norman Braman, says he will finance an open-air, grass-field football stadium if the city donates the land once occupied by John F. Kennedy Stadium.

"If the city would give me the land, I have the ability to swing it financially," Braman said, according to today's editions of The Philadelphia Inquirer. "I think it's something that could be built rather rapidly," Braman said. "And I'd like to do it without costing the city of Philadelphia 5 cents." The field would "have to be somewhere around here; it doesn't have to be the old J.F.K. site," Braman said.

Is there a difference between public land and taxpayer dollars? I don't know, perhaps we should ask Norman Braman.

Gloomy Economy? And Who's To Blame?

All this talk about a possible recession looming is certainly enough to make anyone feel pessimistic. We can argue whether we're indeed headed to a recession, and I'm a bit skeptical myself, but that's a topic that's way over my head and would take forever to digest all the data.

There's no doubt that the slumping housing market, higher insurance costs, wages that aren't catching up with inflation, property taxes and gas prices are more than enough to make one worry about their financial future. And we can pin the blame on all the usual targets: government over-spending, political corruption, high medical costs, predatory lenders pushing subprime loans, the Iraq War, hard-line Cuban exiles...you get the picture.

However, there's one element missing above, a big one.

Us. All of Us.

I think we've become greedy as a society. Too many of us buy the biggest house, the latest I-Phone, the nicest car, take that nice vacation, send our kids to the best schools, etc., without considering what our financial outlook will be 5 or 10 years down the road. I'm all for personal freedom, and if one wants to buy a house worth 5 times more than their salary with a disgusting ARM, then go for it. However, don't blame the economy when you put your house up for foreclosure in 2 years flat because you can't pay the rapidly rising mortgage. After all, no one put a gun to your head to buy that house, right?

And, please, don't come crying to the government (read: taxpayers) to bail you out.

Even the "poor" in this country have at least 2 cellphones, a PC with high-speed internet, and the latest X-Box, so what's going on?

As we all know, personal accountability is something of the past, something our grandparents and parents practiced. We ought to have the right to spend our money as we please with little government interference. But with that we gain the right to be responsible and shoulder the blame when bad planning results in a shortfall.

Obviously, there are some things we have little control over. I would love, however, to hear and see people start to take back control of their lives, their wallets, and "Cowboy Up", to use an outdated cliche. This may sound bad, but in some ways a recession is exactly what our society needs to wake us up and see what's really important. I'm not saying that I want the recession to come, but perhaps a little dose of reality will snap us out of this funk we're in.

Ana Veciana-Suarez touches on some of these points here.

Thursday, January 10, 2008


People such as Medea Benjamin really disgust me.

The founder and co-director of CODEPINK is at it again, rallying her troops (Heh Heh) in Miami for a double bill: protesting the Iraq War and the "freedom" of Luis Posada Carriles.

From the El Nuevo Herald article translated into English:
Anti-castro militant Luis Posada Carriles will be the target of national anti-terrorism campaign which kicks off next Saturday and organized by a women's organization opposed to the Iraq War.

The Most Wanted campaign is being promoted by CODEPINK, a coalition with more than 150,000 members which calls itself "the most active pacifist group in the country".
CODEPINK and Benjamin's goal: to have Posada placed on the list of most wanted criminals and terrorists.

Quote from Benjamin:
"It's inexplicable that the government is on the hunt for terrorists hiding thousands of miles away, when they have one of the most noted terrorists living freely in Miami."
Cuba Journal is on board with CODEPINK. Figures.

This isn't all. On Monday (after a nice weekend sipping mojitos on SoBe), they'll be picketing another "sister", Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.

It's not her view of Posada as a terrorist that bothers me. It's just the blatant hypocrisy she and others like her display on a regular basis.

You think CODEPINK is a pacifist group? Why then haven't you heard of them demonstrating in favor of the Ladies in White? Where were they when castro's goons sunk the 13 de Marzo tugboat, or shot down the Brothers to the Rescue flights, as Posada lawyer Arturo Hernandez rightly points out in the article?

It's quite easy to explain. Medea Benjamin loves Cuba, especially those in charge of the gulag. Her love of leftist Latin dictators doesn't end with the bearded bastard, however.

Medea hearts hugo, too.

By the way Ms. Benjamin: I'm still waiting for your reply to the two letters I wrote to your august organization.

With pacifists like Susan "Medea" Benjamin, who needs warmongers?


Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Huck's WOW Factor

In light of the results of the New Hampshire primaries, I've been thinking about the reasons for Mike Huckabee's success in recent weeks.

Before I get to those reasons, one comment/question: Why are people making such a big deal out of Huckabee's 11% in NH? I mean, he was 3 points away from finishing 5th, and barely beat out Rudy Giuliani who basically ignored the state.

Anyway, I think Huck's success has a lot to do with his WOW factor. What exactly is that? It's simply the way he comes across at first glance. First impressions are powerful, and Huckabee's a master at making clear statements and tugging at one's emotions. In essence, he's a powerful communicator. I was myself quite impressed initially with the H-man. Of course, once I got to see him a few times and his record started to get greater exposure, my opinion of him changed.

There are still many undecideds out there who are getting their first glance or two at Huckabee, and he likely appeals to them as a refreshing change from the other candidates. Unless you dig a little farther, you're left with the impression that Huck is most definitely The Man.

Another issue is, once people figure Huckabee out, who else do they turn to? My hope is that it's to Fred Thompson, but I'm afraid the WOW factor tilts too heavily in Huckabee's direction versus Fred. Fred may indeed receive many Huckabee refugees, but many more are temporarily blinded by Huckabee to make a significant upward difference for Fred. I think we're going to have to accept the fact that while Fred is by many accounts the most solid conservative in the race, he just doesn't have the "reach out and grab you" factor that many seek. He'll probably be better-suited in a role as an advisor or administration staff, perhaps even VP. Nevertheless, Fred Thompson is an asset to the Republican Party of 2008.


Saturday, January 05, 2008

Braman Wants Cars, Not Downtown Development

There HE goes again.

OK, so I don't really know what's behind luxury automobile dealer Norman Braman's latest drive to stop the massive downtown plan proposed last month by Manny Diaz and Co. But considering that the last time we heard from him, he was pumping money to sink Alex Penelas' 1% sales tax increase that would have eliminated those hideous tolls from county roads and added funding for mass transit, I can't help but wonder (neither can Transit Miami which posted on this back before Christmas).

The issue here isn't that Norman Braman isn't entitled to his opinion and to be loud and brash about it. He most certainly has that right. But Braman's attitude and approach strikes at one of my biggest pet peeves: complaining without offering alternative and viable solutions.

Braman is also deceiving the public when he makes statements such as this one:
'Dolphin Stadium was built without taxpayer dollars,'' (Braman's ad) says. ``The Marlins should do the same. These property taxes were intended for the poor. The Marlins are not poor.''
Please, Mr. Braman. You know the stadium money is coming mostly from hotel bed taxes most certainly NOT intended for the poor. Stop lying.

I hold deep respect for folks who put their money where their mouth is and stand up for what they believe in. Norman Braman starts in that direction, but then stops short when asked what HE would do to improve transit and quality of life in South Florida. It would be nice if Mr. Braman, who undoubtedly has profited nicely from South Florida's car culture, would actually tell us what he wants instead of shooting down projects such as these with deceptive comments. Nothing wrong with making money, as I'm an evil capitalist, but it's also fair to question motives based on someone's line of work.

Perhaps he doesn't have an answer because he likes what he now sees.

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Showing Her True Colors

For those familiar with the Cuba issue, Silvia Wilhelm is one of the better-known castro-apologists supporters in Miami. As is the case with people such as Wilhelm, however, they are usually careful not to explicitly show their true feelings in public (there ARE exceptions to this rule, as Francisco Aruca and Magda Montiel Davis have shown).

Nevertheless, it seems as Wilhelm had a moment of weakness. Check out this letter to the editor she wrote which was published by the Miami Herald today. No commentary to follow, as the letter speaks for itself.

Thank you, Ms. Wilhelm, for finally showing Miami and all of South Florida who you really are and what you really stand for.

Change in Cuba

The fact that Fidel Castro says that he will not stand in the way of the wishes of a new generation of Cuban leaders is extremely important, for he understands that the future belongs to them.

Cuba, without a doubt, is undergoing a transition, one that I believe will be in the direction of redefining its socialism, not necessarily in the direction of copying our way of life.

U.S. policymakers should have learned decades ago that Cuba is a sovereign nation. It is up to Cubans to determine their destiny. On the other hand, Cubans living abroad should understand the importance of the moment and fight for the right to travel to the island, visit relatives, engage with their compatriots and become relevant to the process.

SILVIA WILHELM, executive director, Puentes Cubanos and Cuban American Commission for Family Rights, Miami


Flocking To Fred Thompson?

Yesterday, Henry posted a comment I had left in a previous post over at Babalu concerning the results of the Iowa caucus on Thursday and what it meant for Fred Thompson.

My reaction to the results was that Mike Huckabee benefited from support that was largely Fred Thompson's for the taking. Why has Thompson not capitalized from the same type of surge Huckabee is enjoying? Several pro-Fred blogs think the media has something to do with it (so does Fred himself). Check out some pro-Fred blogs here.

I am supporting Fred Thompson in this race, although I can't say I've been 100% sure of that all the time. The deeper we get into the race, however, the more I realize that Fred Thompson is the one that agrees with my views the most, therefore it only makes sense to support him.

It's interesting, because the prevailing wisdom appears to be that Fred is most people's second choice behind whomever they're supporting. In other words, he's solid and doesn't turn people off, but doesn't set them on fire either. Unfortunately, that's not the place to be in when you're trying to win a presidential nomination. Many pro-Fred bloggers believe that once people find out enough about their #1 candidate, they will come to the realization that Fred Thompson is indeed the only consistent, across-the-board conservative, and eventually head to Fred's camp.

That scenario is certainly possible, especially if Romney continues to take hits like he did in Iowa. Increased scrutiny of Huckabee may very well lead his supporters to realize that he's not what he may appear to be. This leaves Fred against Giuliani, who's a moderate, and McCain who has strong moderate leanings as well.

All Fred has to do is somehow channel the "I'm the only rock-solid conservative" attitude and convince people that he's the guy. He's not far off as he enjoys at least lukewarm support. He's been missing the fire that's necessary to rally people to his side. Perhaps now's the time Fred realizes this and goes on a serious offensive.


Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Happy New Year

To all my readers, all the best in the New Year! Hard to believe that we're already in the final stretch of the first decade of the 21st century.

Most of all, thanks to all of you reading this for putting up with my infrequent ramblings. I'll do my best to keep the posts coming in 2008, if not as frequently as I'd sometimes like.

Feliz Año Nuevo!