[freedomtowernight_edited.jpg] 26th Parallel: February 2008

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Interesting Immigration Study

Here's an interesting study that's sure to raise an eyebrow or two:

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Immigrants are far less likely than the average U.S.-born citizen to commit crime in California, the most populous state in the United States, according to a report issued late on Monday.

People born outside the United States make up about 35 percent of California's adult population but account for about 17 percent of the adult prison population, the report by the Public Policy Institute of California showed.

According to the report's authors the findings suggest that long-standing fears of immigration as a threat to public safety are unjustified. The report also noted that U.S.-born adult men are incarcerated at a rate more than 2 1/2 times greater than that of foreign-born men.

"Our research indicates that limiting immigration, requiring higher educational levels to obtain visas, or spending more money to increase penalties against criminal immigrants will have little impact on public safety," said Kristin Butcher, co-author of the report and associate professor of economics at Wellesley College.

The study did not differentiate between documented immigrants and illegal immigrants.

The question of what to do about the millions of undocumented workers living in the United States has been one of the major issues in the U.S. presidential election. Mexico, which accounts for a high proportion of illegal immigrants in California, was deeply disappointed at the U.S. Congress' failure to pass President George W. Bush's overhaul of immigration laws last year.

When Butcher and her co-author, Anne Morrison Piehl, associate professor of economics at Rutgers University, considered all those committed to institutions including prison, jails, halfway houses and the like, they found an even greater disparity.

Among men 18 to 40, the population most likely to be in institutions because of criminal activity, the report found that in California, U.S.-born men were institutionalized 10 times more often than foreign-born men (4.2 percent vs. 0.42 percent).

Among other findings in the report, non-citizen men from Mexico 18 to 40 -- a group disproportionately likely to have entered the United States illegally -- are more than eight times less likely than U.S.-born men in the same age group to be in a correctional institution (0.48 percent vs. 4.2 percent).

"From a public safety standpoint, there would be little reason to further limit immigration, to favor entry by high-skilled immigrants, or to increase penalties against criminal immigrants," the report said.

(Reporting by Duncan Martell; Editing by Adam Tanner and Bill Trott)

Although I'm not crazy about illegal immigration, my reasoning has never really involved illegals and an alleged propensity for criminal activity while in the United States. It is important to reiterate, however, that the above study makes no distinction between legals and illegals, so we can't draw a definite conclusion on illegals and criminality. Nevertheless, the data does at least suggest that it's risky to make the illegal immigrant/criminality link.


Monday, February 25, 2008

South Florida History: Cape Florida and Fort Dallas

This is Part 2 in the series on South Florida History. You can check out Part 1 here.

(Much of the information contained below courtesy of the book Miami: Then and Now by Arva Moore Parks and Carolyn Klepser).

Although Miami wasn't officially incorporated until 1896, the first-known permanent structure was built back in 1825 on Key Biscayne. Most of us know it as Cape Florida Lighthouse, although to Cuban-Americans it is affectionately known as El Farito (the little lighthouse).

Lighthouse circa 1923 (picture courtesy of USCG)

The lighthouse has had a tumultuous history. The Seminole Tribe, much more aggressive than the native Tequesta, burned the lighthouse down in 1836 in protest of American occupation of Florida. After it was rebuilt from 1847-1855, Confederate guerillas destroyed the lens during the Civil War. The beacon remained dark until 1867 when it was restored. The lighthouse was eventually retired from "official duty" in 1878 upon the installation of Fowey Rocks Light about 5 miles to the south. The structure was put on the National Register of Historic Places in 1971, five years after it was purchased by the State of Florida. Dade Heritage Trust began a restoration process in 1988, which was delayed and almost completely undermined by the devastation of Hurricane Andrew in 1992. Andrew completely leveled the non-native Australian Pines that once inhabited Cape Florida, and an extensive restoration and re-planting project was undertaken. The result is native vegetation and a much nicer area. The lighthouse reopened to the public in 1996, just in time for the Miami Centennial. The beach surrounding the lighthouse is one the best local beaches, IMO, due in large part to a more family-friendly atmosphere and lack of wave action.

A few years after the lighthouse was built, another structure was built in response to the Seminole uprising. Fort Dallas was initially established as a military post in 1836 on the north bank of the Miami River.

Map of Miami in 1849 with Fort Dallas (courtesy of University of Miami History Photo Archive)

The U.S. Army eventually added two stone buildings after taking over the facility in response to the Second and Third Seminole Wars in 1849 and 1855. Interestingly enough, the first use of one of the buildings was as slaves quarters. Some of the buildings on the barracks suffered fire damage and were eventually destroyed. However one of the buildings still remains, a coral rock building believed to be Miami's first such structure, which was moved from the original site to today's Lummus Park on NW 3 Street in Miami in 1925.


Sunday, February 24, 2008

Oppenheimer on Cuba

I don't always agree with Andres Oppenheimer. In fact, I often have issues with his opinions on matters such as immigration and Latin American policy.

Oppenheimer does has it right on Cuba, however. In the latest in a series of columns on Cuba, he puts to rest the tired argument that fidel castro has done some good for the people, despite the effects.

Here it is, in its entirety.
Cuba's Revolution Not Worth Price

MEXICO CITY -- Now that Mexico is officially describing Cuba's newly retired President Fidel Castro as an ''outstanding figure,'' the Brazilian president calls him a ''mythical'' leader and the world media are doing verbal pirouettes to avoid calling him a dictator, it's a good time to take a dispassionate look at Castro's record.

Will he be remembered as a well-meaning strongman who raised health and education standards? Or will he go down in history as a selfish tyrant who clung to power for half a century and left his country poorer than ever?

A joke I heard on the streets of Havana in the late 1980s said that the Cuban revolution's three biggest achievements were health, education and national sovereignty, and its three biggest failures were breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Maybe so. But the Castro government's list of shortcomings has grown substantially since.

For fairness' sake, let's not dwell on reports that the Cuban government considers unfair, such as Forbes magazine's estimate that Fidel Castro has a $900 million fortune, or the New Jersey-based Cuban Archive ''Truth and Memory'' report, which says it has documented 4,073 Castro regime executions and 3,001 ''extra-judicial'' killings since 1959.

And let's set aside for a moment the undisputable fact that Castro has been -- by any dictionary's definition -- a dictator, and that nearly 20 percent of the island's population has left the country since he took power.

If we just look at the Cuban government's favorite ranking, the 2008 United Nations Human Development Index, which ranks countries around the world with special emphasis on their health and education standards, Cuba ranks sixth in Latin America, behind Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, Costa Rica and the Bahamas.


When it comes to some specific health and education figures, Cuba does very well: it has a 99.8 percent adult literacy rate and a 77.7-year life expectancy. That amounts to the best adult literacy rate in the region, and the third best life expectancy rate, after Costa Rica and Chile.

But then, Cuba was already one of the most advanced Latin American countries before Castro's 1959 revolution.

According to the U.N. 1957 Statistical Yearbook, Cuba's 32 per 1,000 infant mortality rate that year was the lowest in Latin America, and Cuba ranked fourth in the region -- behind Argentina, Chile and Costa Rica -- in literacy rates. Cuba also ranked third among Latin American countries with the highest daily caloric consumption rates, U.N. figures show.

Granted, Cuba was a de facto dictatorship when Castro took power, highly dependent on the United States.

But nearly five decades later, Cuba expressly prohibits opposition political parties and independent media, and there is a huge economic dependence on Venezuela's foreign aid and nearly $1 billion a year in remittances from Cubans exiles.

On top of it, Cubans earn an average of only $12 a month (the generous $6,000-a-year U.N. figure includes government subsidies for food and healthcare), there is an economic apartheid system on the island that doesn't allow Cubans to enter hotels or restaurants frequented by tourists and people can go to prison for reading foreign newspapers that are deemed ``enemy propaganda.''

Even the Cuba-friendly 2008 U.N. Human Development Index places Cuba among the world's most backward countries in cellular telephone and Internet use.

Cuba has an average of 12 cellphone users per 1,000 inhabitants, compared with Haiti's 48, Mexico's 460, and Argentina's 570.

As for Internet access, Cuba has 17 Internet users per 1,000 inhabitants, compared with Honduras' 36, Haiti's 70, Argentina's 177 and Mexico's 181.


My opinion: Castro admirers say that Cuba's shortcomings are due to the U.S. economic embargo. While I'm no fan of the U.S. embargo, I don't buy that. All dictatorships justify their actions citing domestic or foreign threats, and Cuba is no exception.

To his credit, Castro took pride in improving the good health and education standards he inherited, but at the cost of imposing a dictatorship that cost thousands of lives, separated millions of families, made the country poorer and ended up leaving it more economically dependent than before.

In the end, the key question may not be whether the Castro revolution was justified, but whether it was worth the price paid by the Cuban people. It clearly wasn't.


Friday, February 22, 2008

Play Ball!

Well, it finally looks like the Marlins have their new stadium. This is great news for us baseball fans, and it should be equally great news for those who want Miami to continue its slow but steady rise into the ranks of American cities that have something to offer for everybody.

But what about all the problems we have? Shouldn't those be solved before we invest in a new ballpark? I'll let Henry explain this one to us:
I've heard a lot of arguments for not building a ballpark based on the idea that we could find better uses for the money. Does anyone honestly believe that NOT building the ballpark will solve any of the major problems we face in the area? Really? Is our broken school system going to be fixed if we don't build a ballpark? Are our streetlights going to be synchronized for more efficient flow of traffic if we don't build a ballpark?

The city, the county and the state have all had revenue booms in the last 10-15 years and all of these problems have gotten worse not better. So let's fix what needs to be fixed but lets not blame a ballpark for it. Let's also add to the quality of life in the area.

We have a performing arts center that that costs the county millions and for which the county is on the hook and provides entertainment to far fewer people. I'm happy we have a PAC. Private entities profit from the PAC. But let's not be snobs. Sports is part of American culture. And like it or not most cities in America did pony up public funds for their sports teams' facilities. We can't complain about payroll and the owner being cheap if we don't give him the same tools other cities have given their owners. If we're always complaining about how Miami is inferior to other places maybe we should start acting like other places.
The other big argument anti-ballpark folks use is that, after the novelty of the stadium has worn off, people will stop showing up for games. Not necessarily.

I'm firmly convinced that South Florida is a hotbed of baseball. By hotbed, I mean an area where baseball is played year-round by people of all ages. Go to your nearest park on any weekend, even in December and January, and observe the number of people playing baseball versus other sports. I've seen kids here playing baseball on Christmas Day and Super Bowl Sunday! It's in part because of this that South Florida has produced incredible talent throughout the years. Marlins TV viewership, while not spectacular, is competitive with similar markets around the country.

Major League Baseball realizes all this. That's why they are willing to invest in the South Florida market. Otherwise, the Marlins would have had their bags packed for Las Vegas, San Antonio, Portland...fill in the blank, a few years back.

The Marlins' attendance problems have been a confluence of questionable moves/decisions by ownership which have inspired a lack of trust, current stadium issues, weather and the usual lack of civic loyalty among a fair number of our residents. Notice I didn't mention the location of Dolphins Stadium. Why? I don't think it's in that bad of a location. Could it be better? Yes. Is it better than the Orange Bowl site? It depends on where you live, but I think the answer is no. Still, if you put a dome on a modern ballpark at the current site, and have complementary entertainment options nearby, it would be a different story.

The OB site, while not ideal, offers the prospect of becoming a place where it's more than just showing up for the game and going home afterwards. Sure, it will likely be that way at the OB site at the beginning. But baseball belongs in an urban setting, which the OB site delivers in spades. It sits in an area where there are LOTS of baseball fans. That's how a ballpark atmosphere, both inside and out, develops. Given a chance, I think the area surrounding the OB can develop a rich baseball atmosphere. Also, you have proximity to downtown (only 1 mile away), Coconut Grove and SoBe. Right now, Dolphins Stadium is close to....Pembroke Pines? Nothing against the Pines, but it's strictly a residential, bedroom community. Nothing to make it stand out.

Once again, I'm excited that we'll have major league baseball as an family-centered entertainment option for us and our future generations.


Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Still Stupid The Second Time

In a comment to my previous post regarding Michelle Obama's "for the first time in my adult life I'm proud of my country" remark, Rick challenges me to post on her explanation behind the statement.

OK. I'll play along.

Here's the article Rick provided:
Michelle Obama Clarifies "Proud" Remark

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — The wife of Democratic presidential contender Barack Obama sought Wednesday to clarify her comment that for the first time she's really proud of her country.

On Monday, Michelle Obama told an audience in Milwaukee that "For the first time in my adult life, I am really proud of my country. Not just because Barack is doing well, but I think people are hungry for change." Cindy McCain, wife of Republican presidential contender John McCain, later sought to capitalize on the remark, saying "I have, and always will be, proud of my country."

Asked by WJAR-TV if she would like to clarify her comment, Obama replied that she has been struck by the number of people going to rallies and watching debates, as well as record voter turnouts.

"What I was clearly talking about was that I'm proud in how Americans are engaging in the political process," she said.

"For the first time in my lifetime, I'm seeing people rolling up their sleeves in a way that I haven't seen and really trying to figure this out — and that's the source of pride that I was talking about," she added.

When asked if she had always been proud of her country, she replied "absolutely" and said she and her husband would not be where they are now if not for the opportunities of America.

Obama himself gave a similar explanation during an interview Tuesday with WOAI radio in San Antonio, Texas. Expressing frustration that his wife's remarks had been taken out of context and turned into political fodder, the Illinois senator said, "What she meant was, this is the first time that she's been proud of the politics of America, because she's pretty cynical about the political process, and with good reason, and she's not alone. But she has seen large numbers of people get involved in the process, and she's encouraged."

Michelle Obama was campaigning in Rhode Island two weeks before the state's March 4 primary. She planned a rally later with her brother, Craig Robinson, the coach of the Brown University men's basketball team.

Sorry. That was lame. Just as Barbara Bush's comments regarding Katrina victims being better off in Texas were stupid, this one is right up there. They can spin this until they get dizzy, but you really have to be an Obama fan-boy/girl to buy her and Barack's clarification. I've been around the block enough to know that when you have to clarify something you said the day before, there's a high likelihood you stepped in it, and big time. Not good for a potential First Lady and Prez. Michelle Obama meant what she said the first time, and that's just something Democrats are going to have to live with.

Not that they would particularly mind, of course.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Michelle Obama Proud To Be American

From Real Clear Politics, Michelle Obama says that for the first time in her adult life, she's proud of her country.

Too bad it's taken her so long to feel that way.

You think her hubby being in the lead may have something, just a little something to do with this?

I think she's plain selfish. But that's just this conservative hack thinking out loud.

castro out, castro in

The consensus on today's news of fidel "officially" stepping down is that it comes as absolutely no surprise. It's more of a formality than anything else. I agree with these statements.

How significant is this news? How will it trigger real change, if any, in Cuba? In the short term, I'm not very optimistic. After all, it's another castro in charge now. It's still the same regime that's been in control for 5 decades. There's not much optimism contained in those facts.

On the other hand, this will likely be the first test of fidel's "cult of personality" image and it's hold on the Cuban people. Actually, it's more of a quiz, because the real test will be when he finally kicks the bucket. Still, I wonder if the official nature of fidel stepping down will indeed trigger some kind of backlash against the regime on the part of not only average Cubans, but even those inside the regime. The big boss isn't around anymore, and that fact right there could be enough motivation to embolden those with desires to bring about change.

Again, I'm not optimistic, nor do I expect any kind of significant revolt to take place in the coming days. But maybe, just maybe, the first big seed has been planted today, one that could grow to be the change that Cubans so desperately need.


Monday, February 18, 2008

South Florida History: The First in a Series

How many times have you heard someone say, "there's no history in South Florida"? Perhaps you've uttered that phrase yourself.

Well, that's just plain incorrect. Sure, we don't have the 400+ year history of New England and other parts of the eastern U.S. Nevertheless, that doesn't mean that there's "no history", nor does it mean that our relatively short history is insignificant or not worthy of study.

One of our duties as responsible residents of South Florida is to be at least reasonably knowledgeable of our local history. Too many of us haven't been here long enough and/or don't care enough to stop and consider what this place was like 50,100, 200, 300 years ago. Also, South Florida hasn't always been good stewards of our history, but there are lots of historical places out there if you look long and hard enough. Schools don't do a good job of teaching local history, either.

Why is it important to know. First of all, history can teach us lots of things about the times we live in now. Secondly, it helps us establish roots and relate ourselves to the past. In other words, history puts us in perspective.

It is with this spirit that I am going to kick off the first official 26th Parallel series: South Florida History. I will attempt to make this a weekly feature, with occasionally more frequent postings on historical items of note.

I will also ask for reader participation. If I post something that's not 100% accurate or missing detail, please leave a comment.

I will kick off the series with a logical start, the first known inhabitants of South Florida.

I present to you the Tequesta Indians, the creators of the well-known Miami Circle. Wikipedia (that's right, Wikipedia) also has some good information here.


Monday, February 11, 2008

What Part of Democratic...

do you NOT understand?

That's my reaction to a comment Ana Menendez made in her latest piece on an art exhibit in Miami featuring works by castro-supporter Wilfredo Lam. The comment in question refers to Miami's "maturation" (read: less cigar-chomping old folks protesting):

Pockets of anti-democratic resistance remain, of course. But they are small and shrinking.

In the last years, Miami has made immeasurable progress toward building a civil and tolerant society here at home.

It's been an often-painful process and the results are not always easy to measure. But they are there for anyone who wants to see them. They are there in the challenges to the old political order.

And they are there in the startling and beautiful images on display today in downtown Miami.

Since when did protesting a controversial artist become "anti-democratic"? Only in Ana's Miami, of course. Protest Posada's "freedom"? Surely that's a bellwether of democracy in her view.

Ana, you can't pick sides here. It's a good thing when a controversial Cuban artist can present his works in town without being harassed. I agree with Ana there. But since when was it "anti-democratic" to protest against that same artist? Democracy applies to all. That's a trap that I see too many Cuban-American liberals fall into. Not all, or even most...but too many in my opinion.

And I love the "challenges to the old political order" comment. Ooooooooh. Imagine that! The Big Three Miami Republican congress-people are facing challengers in this year's elections. Earth to Ana: it's not the first time these people have run a campaign. Thought I'd let you know. Besides, when all 3 sweep their opponents in November, what will your excuse be this time? Miami's regressing because we vote for backwards-thinking Republicans who are responsible for Cubans being held hostage in their own country?

Spare us the agony, please.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

A Contrast of Colors

Consider the following:

Courage in white:

Lunacy and hypocrisy in pink:

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Americans Cool Towards Latin America

I usually copy Herald letters to the editor that I feel are wrong, short-sighted, or just plain ridiculous. Today, however, I read a very good one from Robert Genovese of Miramar regarding a recent Andres Oppenheimer column about Americans not caring that much about Latin America. It pretty much mirrors the thoughts that entered my head when I first read the column.

Re Andrés Oppenheimer's Feb. 3 column, Do Americans care about Latin America? Not really: If Latin America is to be of any interest to the average American, Latin America and its leaders have to make themselves relevant and take responsibility for their role in world affairs. Although the international trade numbers are interesting, we all know that Latin America will continue to buy what the United States has to sell regardless of how much Americans care about Latin America.

To think that the sizable Hispanic population in the United States is a reason for the average American to take notice of Latin America is silly. What most non-Hispanic Americans, Hispanic Americans and recent immigrants from Latin American have in common is that they are all part of U.S. society and share common struggles and goals in the United States.

Once Latin America decides that it can do better than Hugo Chávez, Rafael Correa and Evo Morales; embraces transparency, accountability and education; and gives Americans reason to care, the survey numbers will change.


Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Not Again

Via Rick and Mambi Watch, courtesy of El Nuevo Herald, comes news that our favorite pink-clad ladies from San Francisco are returning to Miami to organize another protest in Little Havana. It's this Saturday at 11 AM in front of Versailles.


Money quote from Medea Benjamin:

"Unfortunately, Miami has a long history of tolerating attacks against free speech. We are decidedly certain that this time our rights of free speech and assembly will be respected."

Surely, Ms. Benjamin. Your repeat venture into the belly of the beast has little to do with advocating your desire that Posada Carriles be tried as a terrorist, nor does it have anything to do to with the excellent sopa de platano at Versailles.

Admit it. You want to finish what you tried to start on January 12. You want to be victims, martyrs even. We all know how easy it is to provoke and instigate a bunch of elderly people who suffered greatly through the system that you love so much.

Anyone with an iota of reason and logic would acknowledge that you're not going to convince Cuban-Americans that Posada is a terrorist. Especially, and specifically, when you yourself have expressed support for the same terrorists, thugs and criminals that made those people's lives a living hell.

Of course, we're not dealing with reason and logic here. We're dealing with a group of moonbats that are dying for a confrontation. After the first demonstration, I was quite adamant about my displeasure at the behavior of a few counter-protesters. My feelings haven't changed, and I hope things don't get out of hand Saturday. However, how many times do you get poked in the eye, just for shits and giggles, before even a reasonable person decides that he's had enough?

In the end, I stated this before and I'll state it once more: Codepink isn't worth it. They're just not.

This will never happen, nor should it, but I wonder what the pinkos' reaction would be if they showed up at the corner of 36th Avenue and Calle Ocho on Saturday morning, and no one was there to greet them?

I think that would be the last time we would ever see them in Miami. Good riddance.

Super Tuesday - The Day After

Well, it looks like the front-runners are still in front after Super Tuesday.

Here are some thoughts from the Republican side:

- All the talk and poll results about the conservative base being against McCain and supporting Romney hasn't exactly panned out, to say the least. Every time I hear a talk show host or pundit state that the conservative base supports Romney, I feel like screaming. Not because I didn't wish it was true, but because it goes against the results. It can also be proposed that the ultra-conservative anti-McCain base is split, with Huckabee gaining the support of Southern social conservatives and Romney gaining the support of fiscal upper-class conservatives. Super Tuesday's results illustrated that, in this hack's uneducated and unprofessional opinion.

- What this tells me is that once you go outside of the hard-core conservative and talk radio constituency, the average Republican voter isn't necessarily looking for the candidate that stands farthest to the right on the issues. Most people shun the extremes and look for someone that in their minds appeals to a more moderate base, where most people are situated. I'm not implying that McCain is indeed the person that fits this bill, but the election results show that the perception most definitely exists.

- The influence of talk radio on voters is overestimated. That much is perfectly clear. Despite the millions of people who listen to Rush Limbaugh on a daily basis, they're either not that big in number compared to the general electorate, or they're not taking his advice. Take your pick. Same for us cyberspace pundits.

- The Republican field is filled with competent individuals, giving voters a wide range of quality choices, IMO. Some of those have dropped out of the race, but they were there at some point. Naturally, this has created the split we're seeing now. There are a lot of bitter feelings now, but I believe most Republicans will rally around McCain in the general election. The question is, how many will sit it out? James Dobson says he is, and any portion of the base that sits out will no doubt hurt McCain and the Republicans. How many Democrats will sit out if Hillary is the candidate? That's another good question.

- What IS important to Republican voters? Based on some polls I saw a few days ago, it looks like it's the economy, war on terror and illegal immigration, in that order. Republican voters have a wider range of opinions on these issues than you may be led to believe. They might all be on the same side of the issue, but differ on some of the details. Perhaps what's most important is a combination of the three, and the person that can garner the broadest support on these issues is the man to beat. To most people who reside away from the far-right, that man appears to be McCain. Better yet, that man DOESN'T appear to be Mitt Romney, despite the support from the farther-right conservatives.

- Huckabee can stop dreaming that he's still in the race. Unless he's the front-runner to be Vee Pee.

In closing, this isn't an endorsement of moderate conservative values on my part, although some issues deserve more moderation than others. It's simply an attempt to realistically portray what the election results have shown.


Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Montaner On U.S. Primary Process

Carlos Alberto Montaner has an interesting opinion on how Americans should select their presidential candidates in an editorial published in today's Miami Herald.

Basically, he wants the American voters to stay out of the process. Complete editorial to follow with comments afterwards:
The New York Times proposes that Hillary Clinton and John McCain should be the candidates who reach the finish line alive. A surprise might pop up, but if they're the final two, the choice is not bad. Both are intelligent, moderate and experienced. Besides, both are prudent, and that's the essential virtue of a true statesman.

What seems to be a bit scatterbrained is the American way of selecting the nation's leaders. The U.S. primaries are set up not to choose the best candidate or the potentially better president but the candidate who has or amasses greater economic resources, a better campaign organization or shrewder strategists, or who pummels a challenger the hardest most strenuously. The debates are not very persuasive, either. They're much too rigid and leave no time for argumentation. There is a feeling that we're looking at a show where the better actor ''wins.'' In any case, the fundamental task of a chief of state or government is not usually a brilliant exposition but the selection of the better (or less bad) option when dealing with diverse conflicts or causes of action. That's an ability that is very hard to find amid a mountain of mottoes, slogans and hollow words.

Naturally, there is no perfect way to select the right candidates, but some specialists lean toward a kind of hybrid between the College of Cardinals, which elects the pope, and the Hollywood Academy, which selects the movies and actors that deserve the Oscars. In both cases, the people who choose are specialists, and the selection process consists in gradually discarding those who receive fewer votes in successive ballots.

Let's look at this in practice. The Green Party, with a million members, envisions in its statutes the creation of two large electoral committees. One of them will select the candidates who will compete for the nomination, while the other chooses who will finally represent the party. Why two different committees? Obvious: to limit the leaders' ability to manipulate. The defense of individual rights, which must be the objective of societal organization, consists in fragmenting the authority of those who hold power.

Who forms these committees? Literally, thousands of people selected by vote within the party. Let's give them numbers. The party elects a 300-member Selection Committee, which is given 100 nominations -- i.e., the names of 100 candidates. The committee holds nine consecutive ballots; in each, it eliminates the 10 percent least-favored candidates. At the end, only 10 candidates remain.

At this point, the other committee comes into play, repeating the process but with only 10 finalists, who will be eliminated one by one in nine secret and consecutive ballots, until the official candidate is elected. Who will it be? No doubt, the candidate who provokes the least rejection. The candidate who generates the broadest consensus. His party colleagues have selected that individual because they know his or her credentials, not because of the candidate's wealth or fundraising prowess or potential success in debates.

A procedure of this kind, though in no way guaranteeing the selection of the best candidate, limits (never eliminates) three very dangerous ills:

Unhealthy deals between the economic interests and the politicians.

Ill feelings among the various hopefuls, which seriously affect coexistence within the party.

The feeling among the unchosen that they were the victims of injustice.

In essence, democracy is a method to make collective decisions that are rationally legitimate, but the form is as important as the content. When the form is deficient, the parties break and discredit themselves. And that, as everyone knows, is not good for anybody.

©2008 Firmas Press

At first I was ready to dismiss Montaner's method as out of touch with the American tradition and just as likely to be plagued by cronyism and inequalities. However, it does offer some interesting insight and it's always good to reexamine the way we do things from time to time.

Montaner himself admits his solution isnt' perfect. He wants people in the know, people inside the parties and most likely at high levels to make the call on our candidates to run for president. Sure, financial inequalities, internal bickering and often lifeless debates turn many people off from the current process. However, most Americans would still want to be involved in the process. The current system is far from perfect, but by going through the traditional process of campaigning in primaries, voters learn a lot about the candidates' character. We get to see them day in and day out, ad nauseum, but we see them nevertheless. The educated voter will usually make an intelligent choice on primary election day, and that's something we should never take for granted. Besides, money doesn't appear to be playing that big of a role so far, with Obama and Romney, the candidates with the most $$, trailing in the polls.

In the end, the American electoral process is about giving the voters their say from the very beginning. Letting party big shots select the finalists may have its merits, but who's to say that there wouldn't be internal bickering and cronyism in that process? In fact there would probably be even more infighting, and it likely wouldn't be transparent to the public which would be very difficult for Americans to stomach. We like our political candidates out in the open, which is the way it should be.


Monday, February 04, 2008

Still The Only ONE

Eli Manning, Plaxico Burress, Tom Coughlin and the rest of the New York Football Giants...

Thank you. Gracias. Merci!

Not only did you keep the 18 and ONE New England Patriots from matching (surpassing, really) the 1972 Miami Dolphins' achievement of a perfect season, but you showed that on any given day, will and execution can overcome superior talent. Not to mention that it shuts up Bill Belichick and the obnoxious Patriots Nation for at least a day or two.

On behalf of all Dolfans and these guys, the only ONES to finish a season undefeated, I'd like to express my deepest gratitude to the NY Giants.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Miami: Not All It's Cracked Up To Be

I could have written this article even without the supporting data, but here are the results of a Zogby poll on how Americans view Miami. I couldn't agree more with pretty much everything.

Brief commentary following the full article.
Poll: Miami Haters Don't Know The Place

By: Andres Viglucci
Herald Staff Reporter

Here in a nutshell is what most Americans think of our town, according to prominent pollster John Zogby: Miami, not so nice.

Sure, it has sun'n'fun, beaches and tourism, respondents told Zogby. But there's also lots of crime, hurricanes, public corruption, racial and ethnic tension, overpriced housing and illegal immigration, they said.


What Americans don't know about Miami may be the real news, said Zogby, who recently opened a local office of Zogby International and says he's bullish on the city.

About half the survey's respondents have never been here. Of those who have, most haven't been in the area for five years or more. In many cases, a quarter or more didn't know enough about Miami to answer a question. Very few were aware of Miami's principal cultural or entertainment events.

And they ranked illegal activities like drug trafficking and prostitution as the second most important economic sector after tourism. (Tourism is still big, of course, but far outsripped in the aggregate by professional and financial services, education, health care, transportation, trade and finance, according to various studies. As for crime, it's way, way down, and cocaine cowboys are old hat).

What all that suggests, Zogby said, is that public perceptions of the city are somewhat dated, and still shaped to a large degree by stale news and popular entertainment like Miami Vice and CSI: Miami.

''People know there is a Miami, but there is a time warp,'' Zogby said in an interview. ``We found anywhere from confusion to a lack of knowledge. It's not understood that it's a global business center, the 42nd largest metro area in the world. It just means Miami has to get its story out better.''

Miami Mayor Manny Diaz, who said he asked Zogby for the pro-bono survey, agreed.

''We may all think locally we've made advances, but clearly there are some issues that still linger out there, where the reality may be different, but perception remains the same,'' Diaz said. ``That's something we have to deal with.''

Still, some popular perceptions of Miami appear based on solid information -- high housing costs, for one, and the persistence of crime, which hasn't exactly gone away.

And whether accurate or not, those perceptions may have real consequences, a survey summary -- posted Thursday at www.zogby.com -- suggests.

Only 6 percent of respondents opted for Miami as a place to visit among eight major cities, including New York (17 percent), San Francisco (19 percent) and Orlando (14 percent).

Miami ranked last on the list as a place people would move to; it was chosen by just 3 percent of respondents.

About half the respondents had an unfavorable view of the city, compared to about 43 percent who were upbeat about it. Only one-third rated the quality of life here as good. And fewer than 1 in 10 rated Miami as a good place to raise a family.

But there was some gilding in the survey. About half of respondents in business regard Miami as an excellent or good place for doing business.

And 55 percent rated Miami as good or excellent for young single adults.

''Young people are enthused about Miami, which bodes well for the city,'' Diaz said.

Zogby conducted the online survey of 7,106 adults across the country both to help drum up business and as a public service. The interactive online survey, which has a margin of error of plus or minus 1.2 percentage points, was conducted Jan. 18-21.

''If Miami is misperceived, and leaders want to do something about that, the best place to start is with some data,'' Zogby said. ``Perhaps Miami needs some kind of rebranding -- the new Miami, the global city, where maybe people are thinking of Miami 25 years ago.''

Diaz said he will make sure that happens.

''There is definitely some strategy that will come out of this,'' Diaz said, adding that he has already met with business and civic leaders to outline the survey findings. ``I am looking for the business community to step up.''

If it happens, it would be the answer for prayers at the Beacon Council, Miami-Dade's tax-funded business-development organization. Its leaders have complained about the paltry $1 million the county spends on marketing Miami as a business place, compared to $23 million in Atlanta and $10 million in Toledo, Ohio.

For one thing, Beacon Council president Frank Nero said, respondents who rated job prospects in Miami poorly seem unaware of its diversified economy and the fact that the local unemployment rate is lower than Florida's and the country's. A recent study found South Florida is home to 1,200 multinational corporations with more than $200 billion in revenue, he said.

''We have to be mindful of what the respondents are saying,'' Nero said. ``It's no wonder. People still don't know about this city.''

Frankly, South Florida promoters put way too much emphasis on fun, sun and more fun. Sure, those things are great and NEED to be advertised, but man can't live on those two things alone. It's way past time for Miami to be promoted as an international, diverse region (that's right, region) where people actually lead normal, successful lives. I know, it's hard to believe that normal people actually live here, but those who think Miami is all fluff and no stuff need to turn off the TV or take the McArthur Causeway mainland-bound every once in a while. A place where (gasp!!) many families decide to raise their children because of the diverse cultural opportunities available. A place where people attend church, enroll their kids in the Boy/Girl Scouts and Little League sports. Absolutely shocking!

Here's another shocker: Orlando has a higher crime rate than Miami, yet ranked more favorably in the poll.

The negatives should never be discounted or ignored, but neither should the positives, and neither should the fact that there are many people who actually LIKE living here. A more diverse PR campaign is needed. For example, how about promoting the Miami area as a place where more Hispanic and African-American children take college-level Advanced Placement classes in high school than any other metro area in the country? Can anyone argue the significance of that?