[freedomtowernight_edited.jpg] 26th Parallel: March 2008

Monday, March 31, 2008

Play Ball!

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Summary of Past Few Days

It's been an interesting last few days in the Cuban-American blogosphere, to say the least. Insults hurled, followed by accusations of revealed identities, followed by hysteria by the person whose identity was supposedly revealed (including a suicide wish for Val), followed by indignation by third parties, followed by indignation by yours truly, followed by a reanalysis of what happened.

I don't want to trivialize the situation at Killcastro before knowing all the details (which we may never truly find out), but it does seem a bit odd that KC himself reveals quite a bit of information about his family in Cuba, including the double dealings of a cousin in Havana who is personally informed by the CDR that "something weird was going on". A relative of his wife is arrested on the other side of the island in Oriente, and they can't confirm why. Sounds like someone who is supposed to keep his identity hidden and worried sick about his family in Cuba has shared quite a bit with us. I assume KC knows what he's doing. I'll leave it at that.

In the meantime, a new anti-Babalu blog is started by an Alex Hernandez, and is so ridiculous and over the top that it ends up being more funny than insulting (better go back to the drawing board, Mr. Hernandez). This fellow also did an internet radio show which featured countless physical threats directed at Val. The end result is accusations of physical threats coming from both sides.

In summary: a lot of chest-thumping, a lot of indignation, a lot of pride on display. And I was a part of it, I have to admit. I don't regret getting involved in the comment thread at South Florida Daily Blog because I felt as if the entire story hadn't been told (which is still the case). I DO regret allowing myself to getting thrown off on tangents which were based mostly on long term pent-up feelings rather than the subject at hand. In the end, the original message was lost amidst an array of "You did, I did" exchanges which end up going nowhere.

We all end up in blog turf battles from time to time, but I don't know of one where one side has ended up converting over to the other side. It's necessary to stand your ground and say what you think is right, but there's a fine line between standing your ground and getting into meaningless tit-for-tats.

It's tough to remain civil when emotions take over. Still, cooler heads (including mine) should have prevailed. But I guess that's part of life. No one said this blogging stuff was always going to be fun and games.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Three Years

I just remembered that I was getting close to my blog-iversary, and sure enough...today is the 3rd anniversary of this blog's first post. I'm not really big on anniversaries (except my wedding one of course), that's why it almost slipped past me.

Anyway, here's one of my first posts, and a sign of sorts of spring in South Florida.

I'd like to thank my co-contributor Jonathan for his support and solid posts and pictures.

And most definitely a Thank You to all my readers, past and present, for putting up with our infrequent posting schedule.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Obama/Wright and Redirecting Shame

If you believe some liberals out there, and we certainly know who they are, you would think that conservatives are taking advantage of the Obama/Wright issue to deflect from the shortcomings of their party and president, as well as avoiding talking about the "real issues".

If only that was the case. More on this at the end.

Honestly, most conservatives would rather Obama be judged on the big issues of the day and his accomplishments (or lack thereof). See Jonathan's post for details. Also, the prospect of a president who belonged to a Wright-led church for many years is a scary (there's that word again) prospect to most conservatives.

The mental gymnastics being performed by liberals to try to justify Obama's relationship with a bigot AND accuse Republicans of similar "crimes" has been nothing short of entertaining. Bob Jones University, Pat Robertson, you name it. Fine. The comparisons are weak, and even if they weren't, it would prove that conservatives indeed have a solid point about Obama/Wright.

This whole thing has shined a bright light on something that conservatives have been complaining about for a long time. The party and ideology that is supposed to promote tolerance, acceptance and equality has for a long time now patronized minorities, especially blacks. How dare conservatives judge a black person? Of course, liberals think they are the only ones equipped with the knowledge and moral decency to judge black people (and everyone else for that matter), and know what's best for them, while conservatives are ordered to shut up because of their lack of understanding, compassion and humanity.

Meanwhile, the majority of conservatives continue to hold their desire and strive for a society where everyone is judged on their individual merits. Funny how that gets confused for racism, right?

It's amazing what "white guilt" will do to an otherwise well meaning group of people. Perhaps in a weak moment of reflection, they will realize what they're really doing. Aside from stifling real talk about race in America, they are probably contributing as much, if not more, to the racial division than anyone else. A speech by a uniter that was supposed to unite did absolutely nothing to bridge the gap. Remember, Barack Obama said we have to understand the source of the outrageous and downright insulting comments. When conservatives make racist comments, liberals suddenly aren't willing to cut them slack nor consider the source (neither do most conservatives, which makes us remarkably consistent in that respect).

Where's the liberal outrage over Wright's comments? It's quite muted, if found at all (that's what happens when many liberals actually believe what Wright said). Of course, there's plenty of liberal disappointment, angst and outrage over lack of mention of the 4,000th U.S. soldier to be killed in the line of duty in Iraq.

Which leads to my final point: why should conservatives be perceived to care less about the important issues than anyone else? Why does having a different viewpoint somehow imply a lack of concern towards our troops, for example? The answers are plainly obvious. For liberals to suggest or outright state that conservatives should be ashamed for not mentioning the 4,000th dead American soldier in Iraq is quite shameful in its own right. For liberals to use the "racism" card to prevent real and open dialogue about race and equality is just as shameful.

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More South Florida History

In the spirit of Robert's recent posts, my friend Brooke Roberts-Webb emailed to say that two documentary films that she made about Miami Beach will be shown at local film festivals:

"Miami Beach: Fabulous Fifties" and "War Comes to Miami Beach" are screening with the Women's International Film Festival, South Florida at the Wolfsonian Museum, Sunday March 30 at 1pm


"War Comes to Miami Beach" is screening with the Palm Beach International Film Festival
at Mizner Park, Boca Raton, Monday April 14 at 3pm.

You can see the trailers for these films at Brooke's Myspace site.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

South Florida History: Miami is Born

I apologize for skipping a week in this series, but I hope to get it back on track with this post. The previous post in the series was a memoir by Spanish captive Hernando De Escalante Fontaneda in which he describes a string of islands he called "The Martires", or the martyrs. Apparently, he was referring to what we call today the Florida Keys. I assume he was referring to the entire string of keys, not just one or two, but I could be wrong.

Anyway, let's talk about the official birth of Miami. When people talk about the relative lack of history in Miami, they often fail to mention that it's because of Miami's short timeline. Let's take a look at a few American cities and the years in which they were incorporated.

Chicago - 1833
Los Angeles - 1781
Atlanta - 1847
Dallas - 1841
Tampa - 1849
Orlando - 1875
New York City - 1898 (this was the year the 5 boroughs were joined, but settlers have lived in the area since 1625).

Miami was incorporated in 1896. Barely over 100 years ago. About 400 men voted for incorporation in a building located at present-day South Miami Avenue and 4th Street, just north of the Miami River. Miami's diversity was evident even back then; a third of the incorporators were African-American and Bahamian.

Speaking of blacks, Julia Tuttle helped to lay out "Colored Town" between today's NW 6th and 12th streets west of the railroad tracks, in what is today's known as Overtown.

It didn't take long for Miami's status as a resort to become known. Henry Flagler built a luxurious resort - the Royal Palm Hotel - the following year in 1897. No doubt Miami's subtropical climate was as appealing back then as it is today.

(courtesy of University of Miami History Photo Archive)

To view each installment of the series, click here.


Monday, March 24, 2008

Quote of the Day

From FOX News.com

Raul Castro won’t relax the rules of the totalitarian political game. Until he does, the U.S. shouldn’t remove its primacy sanction. The embargo remains as much as ever a matter of basic principle, a proportionate response to Cuban repression.

Read the entire article here.

Friday, March 21, 2008

View from William Powell Bridge

(Click image for larger.)

Another Take on Obama's Big Speech

I wanted to comment on Robert's excellent post, but my comment expanded so much that I decided to put it up as a separate post.

I wasn't planning to vote for Obama, and his speech confirms my impression of him as a socialist and weak. Wright, a racist, anti-American demagogue, is the guy Obama chose as spiritual leader? (Or maybe Mrs. Obama chose him. Same problem.) And white Americans are supposed to accept Wright as perfectly OK because some black Americans do? I don't see this happening. What I see is a serious problem in the political culture of black Americans who think Wright and others like him are anything but destructive, and I think that the Wright controversy has made many white Americans aware of this problem for the first time. The "national discussion about race" in this case looks like it may be evolving into a public discussion about black racism.

I doubt that any of this will help Obama's campaign unless he cuts Wright loose in every way, as he has refused to do. Most whites nowadays are not racists and would be happy to elect a competent black person President, which is one reason why Obama's campaign has done so well. But most whites nowadays are also too young to be tainted by or guilty about racial discrimination. They are probably going to look at the controversy about Wright and think: He's your problem, not mine.

There's also the socialism. Obama doesn't acknowledge the possibility that excessive government is the cause of the problems he discusses. Bad schools, healthcare issues etc. are all problems caused by discrimination or victimization, usually by big business, and are to be remedied by government action. He blames international trade for moving jobs overseas, an argument that reveals either economic ignorance or dishonesty. Obama is, ideologically, a throwback to the 1940s and 1950s, when markets were discredited and mainstream thinking favored extensive government involvement in the economy. I don't think he can be elected President unless he can somehow convince voters that he's not a leftist. So far he's been remarkably consistent in his leftist rhetoric, so I doubt that he will be elected unless McCain gets caught wearing a dress (or the political equivalent).


Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Obama's Race Speech

I've read and seen Barack Obama's race speech today. It was a classic Obama speech, in many ways good. He mostly said the right things; about how we should all come together, black, white, everything else and in between, to solve our problems. On that no one can argue with Obama. His pointing out of the harsh language used by both blacks and whites in dealing with controversial and hurtful issues was honest and correct. His assertion that blacks can and do succeed was right on the money, as was his acknowledging of the white resentment that exists in some circles.

Not all was good about the speech. In fact, the more I read it and see it, the more the bad parts really irk me. Where Obama failed big time, ironically, was in distancing himself from the hateful rhetoric that keeps us divided. Ironic because he sees himself, and is seen by others, as a uniter. I believe him when he says that he vehemently opposes the statements made by Jeremiah Wright. But his defense of Wright, as admirable it may be from a purely friendship perspective, I can't accept. I'm sure Wright and his church have done many good things. We also know Mussolini made the trains run on time. Obama's usage of his white grandmother and her alleged racist statements to make a point about our contradictions as human beings was weak. You can't disown family, Mr. Obama, but you can certainly disown a bigoted preacher whom you chose to be your pastor and spiritual advisor. The fact that he hasn't disowned his pastor ought to raise concern about his judgement, if not his deep-down commitment to this country. If Obama is having a hard time distancing himself from an un-American and un-Christian pastor, imagine how difficult it would be for him to make the really hard decisions he would have to make as POTUS, not to mention that it goes totally against his whole "unity" theme.

Also, this comment about the cause of the Reagan Coalition and the fodder used by conservative talk show hosts:
Anger over welfare and affirmative action helped forge the Reagan Coalition. Politicians routinely exploited fears of crime for their own electoral ends. Talk show hosts and conservative commentators built entire careers unmasking bogus claims of racism while dismissing legitimate discussions of racial injustice and inequality as mere political correctness or reverse racism.
does nothing more than draw lines in the sand. Criticizing political correctness and pointing the finger at affirmative action isn't racism, it's having an open and honest discussion about race and how it affects all of us. First Obama said that was good, but now it's bad when conservative talk show hosts do it? Hmmm.

Speaking of honest discussions about race, this is one really good thing we can take out of this. For once, the race issue is laid out bare for all of us to see. The thought that many (not most) black churches use Wright-style rhetoric is a real eye-opener for me. We know all about white racism, we've heard about it for years. But if blacks really want a seat at the table (and who's to say they can't already sit down, just ask Obama), they're going to have to do their part, just as whites and others have to. We realize the sad and tragic history blacks have faced, but we want to work together, don't we? These are different times, aren't they?

Finally, I want to address comments made by Rick and others who have criticized conservatives and Republicans for dwelling on this issue. When a presidential candidate and his family hold a personal relationship with someone of the likes of Jeremiah Wright, you can bet that we're going to harangue and wring our hands and pull our hairs out over it. It's simple. The presidency of the United States of America is at stake here. Character and judgement (and character judgement) matters. This isn't about a crazy uncle or a neighbor or your hairdresser. A pastor and spiritual advisor is a very important person in one's life. Obama himself admits this.

Ask yourself this question tonight: would you feel comfortable with the POTUS having a special relationship with a bigot? Then ask yourself another question: would you feel comfortable with this same POTUS making the tough decisions on key issues such as foreign policy, healthcare, the economy?

Indeed, this is something I will be dwelling on for a long time.


The ACLU Strikes Again

Here's another ACLU hit job courtesy of the Palm Beach Post:

ACLU Sues Palm Beach County School District Over Low Graduation Rates.
More than 71 percent of white students graduated on time in the county, but the number for black students was much lower at 55 percent, according to the school district. The ACLU puts the overall graduation rates much lower.

The three high schools with the highest percentage of black students - Palm Beach Lakes, Glades Central and Boynton Beach - also had the three lowest graduation rates in the county last year.

"If Palm Beach County is not graduating a third or more of its students, it is by definition providing an inadequate education," said Chris Hansen, a senior staff attorney with the ACLU. "Unfortunately, this is just one example of a larger disturbing trend of poor graduation rates across the country."
The county is apparently doing a decent job of graduating non-minorities, but not minorities. Therefore, the county is at fault. I don't get it. I really don't. Discrimination, implies the ACLU? Prove it with more than just graduation rates, I respond.

BTW, some of the comments following the article are just downright nasty (wonder when PB Post will require commenters to register a la Miami Herald).

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Daily Kos Links 26th Parallel

You never know when you're going to get a Kos-alanche.

I just discovered that none other than The Daily Kos linked to a post I did last October regarding the S-CHIP bill and the proposed increase in taxes on cigars. They naturally liked my ribbing of Mario Diaz-Balart (I really do like Mario, but he deserved the dig), although I seriously doubt that the Kos readers will like much else about this humble blog.

You see, I'm one of those nasty conservative Republican Cuban-American indoctrinated (c)astro-haters.


Welcome Daily Kos readers! Make yourselves at home. Leave me a comment or three.

(Warning, I will respond back.) ;)

Of Preachers, Pulpits and Presidential Candidates

After being without internet access for 2 days, a hectic week at work and a full day away from the computer, I'm back with my usual "day late and a dollar short" analysis of the latest happenings.

First off: it's perfectly understandable why the Cuba U-23 football team was able to tie the U.S. team early this week in pre-Olympic qualifying...you're at your best when you have something to look forward to. Freedom can do that to someone. My buds at Babalu are all over this story, so go there to check out the latest news and analysis.

Now to the fun part of the post. Dealing with bigoted preachers.

A couple of weeks ago, John McCain accepted the endorsement of John Hagee, the corpulent, fire and brimstone pulpit-pounder who sees the end of the world in everything and everyone. OK, maybe I'm exaggerating a bit. Naaaah. But that's no big deal. What is a big deal are Hagee's anti-Catholic and anti-gay statements. McCain understandably faced some questioning about his ties to Hagee. McCain denounced Hagee's controversial statements while still accepting his endorsement.

Fast forward to last week. Barack Obama is grilled over controversial anti-American and racism-laced remarks uttered by his church's pastor, Jeremiah Wright.

Predictably, many on the left are pointing to McCain's acceptance of Hagee's endorsement to come back at Republicans and conservatives who are criticizing Obama for his ties to Wright (they're doing something similar regarding Spitzer and his call girls). Of course, by doing so, they are acknowledging that Obama stepped on doo-doo big time. Thanks for the admittance, guys and gals. I knew it was in ya.

The real issue, at least for me, is the significance of each "relationship" and what it could mean. McCain is doing what any politician in a heated race would do: accept endorsements. Let's be realistic here. As Redstate astutely points out:
To be sure, I would rather McCain completely disassociate himself from Hagee, but his failure to do so (no doubt as a matter of political prudence) is not nearly enough for me to sit out an election that may, among other things, decide who gets to fill as many as three Supreme Court vacancies in the next four years.
Who reading this doesn't think Hagee would endorse anyone on the right who's running against either Hillary or Obama? Hagee would endorse a cut-out of Ronald Reagan at this point. He typifies the very ugly right (as if left or right really matters when referring with people like this). If you think Hagee represents rank and file Republicans and conservatives, think again. Then again, just think.

OTOH, Obama has what is undoubtedly a close and personal relationship with Jeremiah Wright. He married Mr. and Mrs. Obama. He baptized Obama's two children. He is the pastor of Obama's church. He is Obama's spiritual advisor and mentor.

I think you know where I'm going with this. McCain is using Hagee for political gain (while still denouncing his statements), while Obama has a close relationship with Wright (while still denouncing his statements). Which one is worse? I believe Obama when he says that he considers Wright a "crazy uncle" who sometimes says crazy things. If so, then why wait until the crapola hits the fan to denounce the guy's ridiculous, reckless and dangerous statements? The fact is, I believe Obama was willing to downplay his spiritual mentor's anti-American and bigoted remarks because....I have no idea.

Actually, I do. Read on.

If it was me, and my pastor was an anti-American bigot, I would drop him like a bad habit. No looking back, no questions asked. To the Obamas, however, it's just "crazy uncle" acting up again. Until Barack's presidential candidacy is as stake, however. Then it matters.

You know what? What I'm about to say may be unfair, and if it is then so be it. Michelle Obama's recent comment about "being proud to be an American for the first time in her adult life" makes perfect sense now when you put it in the context of the spiritual and moral guidance she and her family has been receiving for the past 2 decades. I may not be an intellectual, but I can put 2 and 2 together. You don't belong to a church, listen to a pastor's sermons for the better part of 20 years, and NOT have some of the pastor's values and thoughts seep in at some level. I'm not saying that Barack (or even Michelle) Obama hates the United States. I'm not saying that he faults the United States for 9-11. I'm not saying he's a bigot. But at some level, even if it's way below the surface, he must find some common ground with Wright's ideology.

For McCain, Hagee is someone he can use for his political gain. As dirty as it is (it is politics after all), it's just politics.

For Obama, Wright means much more. And that's scary.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Fat, Dumb and Happy

Well, I don't know how dumb or fat, but there's no doubt that many Miami-Dade County school district employees were happy in late 2006. An audit by the Florida Auditor General discovered that over 400 district employees made over $100,000 in 2006. That would be great news if teachers made up a good portion of these people. Unfortunately, less than 1 percent taught in classrooms, according to the linked article above. In addition, $1.4 million in bonuses were given to administrators last year.

What's the big deal? The school district is threatening to cut supplies, substitute teachers, non-essential hourly staff and overtime, according to a report by Local 10 two days ago. I'm all for cutting where it's necessary, but why are teachers getting the short end of the stick when administrators get the big bonuses and walk around with fat wallets?

I'm not a big government type of guy, but I do support public education. It provided me with a solid education all throughout my school years, and I know and visit enough schools to know that there's a lot of talented educators and students in the system. Unfortunately, we have an administration that cares too much about their own well-being to take care of those who make up the backbone of our kids' educations. In other words, the return on our investment isn't what it should be. I think Rudy Crew has done a lot of good when it comes to accountability and focus on school performance, but it appears obvious that when teachers are getting meager salary increases, while administrators and other personnel are raking in nice money, there's something wrong.

South Florida History: The "Martires"

I was planning on doing this installment on the incorporation of Miami in 1896, but while doing some online research I found a fascinating memoir by Hernando De Escalante Fontaneda, a Spaniard who shipwrecked in Florida and was a captive of the native Indian tribes for 2 decades. His accounts of the geography and customs of the local Indian tribes are must reads for anyone even remotely interested in Florida history.
The Islands of Yucayo and of Ahite fall on one side of the Channel of the Bahama. There are no Indians on them, and they lie between Havana and Florida.

There are yet other islands, nearer to the mainland, stretching between the west and east, called the Martires; for the reason that many men have suffered on them, and also because certain rocks rise there from beneath the sea, which, at a distance, look like men in distress. Indians are on these islands, who are of a large size: the women are well proportioned, and have good countenances. On these islands there are two Indian towns; in one of them the one town is called Guarugunbe, which in Spanish is pueblo de Llanto, the town of weeping; the name of the other little town, Cuchiyaga, means the place where there has been suffering.
Can you guess what those west to east islands are called today?
These Indians have no gold, less silver, and less clothing. They go naked, except only some breech-cloths woven of palm, with which the men cover themselves; the women do the like with certain grass that grows on trees. This grass looks like wool, although it is different from it The common food is fish, turtle, and snails (all of which are alike fish), and tunny and whale; which is according to what I saw while I was among these Indians. Some eat sea-wolves; not all of them, for there is a distinction between the higher and the lower classes, but the principal persons eat them. There is another fish which we here call langosta (lobster), and one like unto a chapin (trunkfish), of which they consume not less than of the former.
There's also references to a large lake called Mayaimi (today's Lake Okeechobee). Yes, Miami takes its name from that lake.

You can read the entire memoir here.

On a related note: Dr. Paul George of the Historical Museum of South Florida is hosting a Julia Tuttle, Mother of Miami: Walking and Metromover Tour this Sunday from 12-2 PM. The timing is a bit unfortunate since it coincides with the Calle Ocho festival, but it ends early enough for people to go straight to the party from downtown. Anyway, it sounds very interesting and Dr. George is a local treasure. Check here and go about halfway down the page for more info.


Monday, March 10, 2008

Vicki Huddleston on Cuba Sanctions

On the heels of George Will's pro-sanctions column (which I posted at Babalu yesterday), comes an anti-embargo piece by Vicki Huddleston, ex-chief of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana. I must say that the Herald has done a good job recently of presenting both sides and making people think about something that's worth discussing.

I will post parts of it below with interspersed comments by yours truly.

If I were a betting woman, I would bet that if The Miami Herald were to ask Cuban Americans what U.S. foreign policy has been the least successful over the last half century, the overwhelming answer would be none other than: Cuba.

No matter how much we may wish it to be otherwise, there is no denying the fact that Fidel Castro and the Cuba Revolution have survived and to some degree thrived, despite all our efforts to the contrary. If we had any doubt, it should have been removed when Fidel handed over power to his hand-picked loyal successor -- his brother Raúl.

True. But why? That's the key point which we'll get to below.

There can no longer be any doubt that our isolation of Cuba did not and cannot bring about the end of the revolution. What will bring about the revolution's demise are old age, illness and death. More important, the revolution will evolve as it loses its founding fathers and becomes increasingly less isolated from its neighbors though the Internet, television, travelers and the flow of information.

But how fast and how far the revolution evolves depends upon U.S. policy. If we remove the barriers to communication, we will speed the forces of change. Just as was the case in Eastern Europe as a result of the Helsinki agreements, the Cuban people will be empowered by human contact, the free flow of information, and the support and encouragement of Americans and Cuban Americans from Florida to California.
Isolating Cuba CAN help bring about change by putting economic pressure on the regime. Unfortunately, the United States is the only one playing that game (and not very well, at that). Ms. Huddleston is correct in stating that flow of information can be a big help. But whose fault is it that Cubans can't travel and have free access to media and internet? The United States? Of course not. It's the regime itself. This argument can be easily and more accurately turned around by asking: Why hasn't the free flow of European and Latin American tourists helped open up Cuban society? Why hasn't business deals with Spain, Mexico, Italy, etc. helped? There's most definitely human contact and flow of information between those countries and Cuba, so what's the problem? That's a question Huddleston and like-minded folks set aside because it squarely defeats their argument.

If U.S. policy can deal with Cuba -- not as a domestic political issue -- but as one sovereign state to another, then we will resume official diplomatic relations with the exchange of ambassadors and begin -- once again -- to talk about matters that affect the well being and security of both our countries, namely migration, anti-narcotics, health and the environment. Starting a dialogue will allow us to press Cuba's leaders to respect the principles that we and the region hold dear: human rights, rule of law and freedom.

Removing the barriers to communications and to normal diplomatic relations are not concessions as some would claim. Rather, they are practical initiatives that will reduce the dependence of the Cuban people on the Cuban state by providing them with alternative sources of information and resources to improve their daily lives.

More critically, a policy based on helping the Cuban people succeed would enable them to build civil society and begin a process of growing democracy from the bottom up.

But the Bush administration is standing by its policy that Cuba must change first, tying any modification in our unilateral embargo to the end of the Castro regime. This does us and the Cuban people a disservice because it ties our policy to that of Raúl Castro's. By waiting for the Cuban regime to act, we make policy initiatives that would bring about change, dependent on the actions of the Cuban government.
Ms. Huddleston means well, and it's obvious that her heart's in the right place. But to think that dialogue with the castros without demanding concessions will make them respect democratic principles is something you will only see in a Disney movie. We have 50 years of proof to support this. Myself and other pro-sanction folks have said this a million times, and we'll say it a million more times: the fault for Cuba's current state lies with a despotic, criminal regime which has refused to grant even the smallest concessions to its own people.

Sanctions against Cuba are a democracy's way of saying that we will not support anti-democratic and anti-liberty forces in our hemisphere, let alone our backyard. It is a moral AND rational approach that the rest of the free world ought to join us in. Alas, that's also something that could only happen in a Disney flick.


Sunday, March 09, 2008

Where's The Beef?

This commercial is what I think of when I hear one of Barack Obama's sweeping speeches.

Still Here

What can I say, except life frequently gets in the way of blogging for me.

I'll be back with some of my usually infrequent postings, but in the meantime, please get off the computer, go outside and enjoy the beautiful weather, for crying out loud! ;)

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Same Ol' Same Ol'

Fellow Florida Residents,

Worried about a property tax system that needs serious reform?

How about those big insurance premium cuts promised to us by Governor Crist?

Or what about local government spending?

Well, it appears that our representatives in Tallahassee don't share our concerns.

Say what you want about House Speaker Marco Rubio. He may act like a bull in a china shop sometimes, but he's one of the few politicians in Tally who seem to understand our concerns and has the courage to speak up.

Senate President (and fellow Republican) Ken Pruitt? Not so much.
No ''major'' insurance revisions or tax-cut plans. Big budget cuts. Money for the wrongfully incarcerated. More legislative control of state universities.

Don't expect a whole lot more out of the Florida Legislature during the 60-day lawmaking session that begins Tuesday.

Technically, the modest agenda is just Senate President Ken Pruitt's and not that of the full Legislature. But as Pruitt goes, so goes the Senate. And as the Senate goes, so goes the Florida Legislature.

Even last year, when Florida House Speaker Marco Rubio of West Miami set the agenda, the final decisions were ultimately made by the upper chamber, which has longer-serving members who have more political acumen, an institutional spirit of bipartisanship and is allied with Gov. Charlie Crist more closely than the House.

This year, talk of Rubio -- and therefore the House's agenda-setting prowess -- was conspicuous in its absence.

Last year, Pruitt couldn't praise Rubio enough as a ''star'' and chief ''architect'' of ideas that the ''master builders'' in the Senate would refine. But this year in a pre-session chat with reporters, Pruitt skipped any mention of Rubio, whose hardball politics in pushing for steep and politically unfeasible property-tax cuts estranged senators from both parties last year and during three tense special lawmaking sessions.


Pruitt now wants to see the effects of two tax-cut measures -- one approved by voters, the other by the Legislature and Gov. Charlie Crist -- before doing anything more significant.

''I'll be clear with you: There will be no concerted effort from the leadership of the Florida Senate to do anything more,'' said Pruitt, a Port St. Lucie Republican. ``I'm not going to stop anybody from filing a bill. But if we shared with them that there would be no leadership assistance, hopefully they'll know there's no appetite over here.''

Monday, March 03, 2008

South Florida History: Founders

For Part 1, click here.

For Part 2, click here.

Part 3 will focus on a few key people who started Miami down the path to where it is today. These names are familiar to all South Floridians, even if some have never heard of the people behind the names.

Julia Tuttle: the name that graces one of our causeways (a.k.a. I-195) connecting the mainland to Miami. Julia Tuttle, a widow, moved with her children to Miami from Cleveland in the 1890s. She purchased a citrus plantation, which would eventually be the key to bringing the ever-important railroad to South Florida (more on that later). Legend has it that right after a bad freeze in 1894, Tuttle sent Henry Flagler a bloom from one of her citrus trees to show that the freeze hadn't affected Miami. To make a long story short, the railroad eventually came to Miami, and the city was incorporated in 1896. Tuttle died in 1898. Her dream of turning a wilderness into a "prosperous country" indeed became true.

William Brickell: Miami's Brickell district, including Brickell Avenue, is named after another Clevelander. William and his wife Mary arrived in Miami in 1871 and opened a trading post and post office on the south side of the Miami River where the Brickell district currently resides. They eventually bought tracts of land from Coconut Grove to the Miami River. Brickell and Tuttle are known as the co-founders of Miami, and their land purchases opened the door for Flagler to bring his railroad down to Miami.

Henry Flagler: Flagler Street divides north and south streets in Miami-Dade County, but if it wasn't for the man himself, Miami's founding would have been delayed significantly and its progress altered. Flagler, coincidentally enough another resident of northern Ohio, was already well-known for being a founding partner in Standard Oil. He eventually became involved in the railroad and hotel resort industry, opening up resorts farther up the Florida east coast as far as the railroad tracks went. After that fateful 1894 freeze, he was convinced to bring the tracks all the way down. Shortly after Miami's incorporation in 1896, he opened the Royal Palm Hotel, Miami's first resort. An interesting side bit: city leaders wanted to name the fledging city "Flagler", but Henry Flagler declined and offered up "Miami".

Royal Palm Hotel

Flagler deserves a post dedicated entirely to him, and I'll eventually get to it.

John Collins: The original Mr. Miami Beach, and yes the Beach's main drag is named after him. Miami Beach 411 has a nice write-up on Mr. Collins here.


Crandon Park

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Miami In Need of Better Español

A topic of particular interest to me...and one that gets constantly misrepresented and misinterpreted in the media and in mainstream thought...is the issue of bilingualism in Hispanic-heavy areas such as Miami. It is because of this that I found today's feature Miami Herald article on the Erosion of Spanish in Miami by Enrique Fernandez particularly interesting.

It's a long article with a few side stories, but please take the time to read it if you have any interest in how assimilation really works in the USA. Forget about everything Tom Tancredo and Newt Gingrich have told you.

I have written posts related to this topic here and here. A common theme in these posts is a strong desire and pull for English to become the dominant language of second and third-generation Hispanics, even in Miami. The common perception is that in Miami, one can get by without speaking a word of English. I suppose that's true in many areas of town, but where does lack of English skills get someone? Not too far. That's why English ends up being the primary language of the younger generation, along with the typical peer pressure and pop culture issues that dominate every group that comes along.

The fact that proper Spanish...spoken, read and written, is faltering somewhat in Miami is not the least bit surprising. This has been known and documented for more than a decade now. This definitely runs counter to xenophobes who claim that Hispanics are a threat to the English language.

The problem is exactly the opposite, and one that will surely surprise many people:

What do we do to make sure we keep up our Spanish fluency in Miami?

That's right, you read that correctly. It's not English that failing in Miami, it's Spanish.

Of course, there are and will likely always be plenty of Spanish speakers in Miami, simply due to our geographic location and business culture. I may be exaggerating the state of Spanish proficiency in Miami, but not by much. The Herald's Fernandez mentions several examples of companies in Miami having problems hiring local fluent Spanish speakers, and having to resort to hiring people from places such as Puerto Rico to find someone who can speak, read and write formal, business Spanish, not just the "kitchen" Spanish spoken at home in informal settings.

Being born in the United States, I can personally relate to the stories in the article. I am proud to say that I can not only speak Spanish, but read and write it as well, but it took effort and practice not to mention insistence by my parents and family. I will never be at the level of someone, say, born, raised and educated in Colombia, but I feel comfortable enough with Spanish that I can talk to someone from any Spanish-speaking country.

Our schools need to do a better job of teaching Spanish. It's that simple. Miami-Dade County only has a virtual handful of bilingual schools, way too few for our area. If we're going to be a truly bilingual community, local officials, high-powered CEOs, and the rest of us need to encourage and support any and all efforts to increase bilingual proficiency. More resources need to be allocated to our schools to ensure that the new generation learns proper Spanish. English won't be a problem, as this post alleges and is supported by the Herald article and others. Our economy depends on Spanish speakers to not only deal with locals, but most importantly to continue our links to the Latin American business community. Otherwise, companies are going to start looking to other cities. Miami can't afford that.

We have a natural edge in the bilingual world. Let's keep it.

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Saturday, March 01, 2008

Change From Within Is The Only Real Change

Just got back from a week-long business trip to the beautiful front range of Colorado. The weather was actually quite mild by their standards, but after a week of very low humidity my lips are very chapped (forgot to bring the Chapstick) and I'm very happy to see greenery once again.

The Miami Herald published an interesting pro-con piece on travel sanctions against Cuba. The "pro" side is given by Mauricio Claver-Carone of the U.S. - Cuba Democracy PAC and is located here for your reading pleasure.

The "con" side is given by Cuban independent journalist and dissident Miriam Leiva. The full article is here, and I'll post some noteworthy excerpts below.

The New York Philharmonic has performed in Pyongyang, capital of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. That's the North Korea that has been immersed in major conflicts and the home of the totalitarian dictatorship of Kim Il Sung and his heir, Kim Jong Il. A beautiful initiative!

Let us remember that, at the end of World War II, the Soviet Union occupied that zone, while the United States occupied the area to the south, both being separated by the 38th Parallel. In 1948, separate elections were organized. Kim Il Sung took over in Pyongyang and two states were established. But in 1950, the north invaded the south and started a war that ended in 1953 with an armistice. American soldiers fought, were imprisoned under terrible conditions, disappeared and died in a bloody confrontation -- and the belligerence between the two countries has not officially ceased.

While North Korea became one of the most repressive regimes in the history of mankind, causing the deaths of millions of people, even from starvation, South Korea initially flourished under military dictatorships and eventually achieved democracy.

Ms. Leiva goes on to explain how talks with other countries regarding North Korea's nuclear program led to the halting of said program. That's true, but it was borne out of necessity. In other words, our national security and the security of eastern Asia. Other than that, the outreach of diplomacy towards North Korea has done little to remove Kim Jong Il and his brutally oppressive regime.

Ms. Leiva continues:

All of which raises a question: Why can the United States come to an understanding with a bloody dictatorship that has lasted for 60 years, on a land where American citizens have died, yet it is not capable of assuming an intelligent position toward a small island 90 miles from its shores, to which its businessmen sell an appreciable quantity of food?

The policy of isolation and unilateral embargo maintained for 49 years against totalitarianism in Cuba has only encouraged the hardening of the regime and the repression of oppositionists, under the pretext of the danger posed by ``Yankee imperialism.''

The Cuban people share with the Americans similar tastes and affinities in many aspects, such as music, baseball, dancing, and, most recently, words in the colloquial vocabulary, influenced by the images shown on movie and television screens. They also feel the desire to travel and find better living conditions, which they believe their relatives found on the other side of the Straits of Florida, home to about a million and a half Cubans.

Friendship, democracy

It is impossible to understand why the U.S. government restricted family contacts to once every three years; why it bans cultural, academic, sports, scientific and other exchanges; and why it forbids its own citizens to visit Cuba. Washington is eliminating an injection of friendship, experiences and democracy.

The Americans arrived in China with ping pong and in North Korea with the exquisite music of one the world's most prestigious orchestras, which began its performance with the national anthem of the United States. A wise and friendly outreach to an oppressed people who greatly need to know what's happening beyond their borders. Undoubtedly, if the absurd prohibitions on Cubans and Americans were lifted, the links between the two countries would flourish, to their citizens' benefit.

Perhaps I'm looking at this at a way too basic level, and I have nothing but the utmost respect for Miriam Leiva and her courage. If we're going to use China and North Korea as examples of diplomatic outreach, we must also analyze it's end results. China and North Korea are still societies that don't respect basic freedoms. An infusion of tourists and tourist monies to Cuba has achieved virtually zero as far as advancements towards freedom are concerned. I can understand Ms. Leiva's desire for increased contacts between Cuban exiles and Cubans on the island. I for one think the travel restrictions are a bit too draconian. But being the bottom-line person that I am, what exactly can we expect from increased visits by Cuban-Americans to visit relatives? Can we rationally think that it would lead to the end of the regime? There's absolutely no precedent that suggests the likelihood of this happening.

The only way to promote true change is to support brave people like Miriam Leiva and her fellow dissidents. Cubans need to stand up and demand change, and no amount of money and stories from Cheito and Manolo from Westchester will bring that about. Contrary to popular belief, Cubans already know what they have, and don't have. What they need isn't dollars that eventually end up in the regime's hands. What they need is the courage to stand up for what they already know is right.

We can surely help there.