Open letter to Rick Scott: Give Florida the bullet

By | February 19th, 2011 | 5 Comments

Dear Governor Scott,

It’s one thing for you to deprive Floridians of the comfort of knowing they have an earthling, eyelids and all, in the Governor’s Mansion. It’s quite another to deprive them of a really cool toy like a bullet train (see below) to appease the Tea Party. Do you not realize they won’t be happy until we retrogress to wagons and galleys?

Listen: I acknowledge the existential absurdity of a train that carries passengers between Tampa and Orlando — two places no human deserves to be — at 160 mph. But how does turning down $2.4 billion in federal dough for a project that will employ thousands of Floridians square with “Let’s Get to Work”? And I know you’re very concerned about the debt — that whole historic Medicare fraud thing notwithstanding — but how does forfeiting the $2.4 billion to California help balance the nation’s books? I can’t make sense of any of it without reaching the cynical conclusion that it’s simply a cold calculation made in the interest of keeping your own job. Which, you know, could backfire. And I don’t think there is a train out of Tallahassee, let alone a bullet.


A Lowly Lad of the Lidded Masses

Update: Eureka!

Proposal to close parks, preserves not in Scott’s budget

By | February 8th, 2011 | 5 Comments
Rick Scott unveiling budget

Rick Scott unveils his $65.9 billion budget proposal during a tea party rally in Central Florida. -- AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack

Following up on our Feb. 4 post about the 53 state parks and six aquatic preserves the Department of Environmental Protection proposed closing to slash its budget by 15 percent — everything I’ve read and heard from local activists suggests the FDEP proposal was not included in the 166-page budget Rick Scott presented yesterday. This does not mean the parks and preserves, including the Barnacle in Coconut Grove and the Biscayne Bay Aquatic Preserve, are safe. NB: This excerpt from

Scott’s budget does not make any specific recommendations about state parks to close, but his proposal to cut the DEP’s budget by 180 jobs and $148 million is severe enough to put at least some parks on the chopping block, said Audubon of Florida executive director Eric Draper.

“You get rid of the government that protects these places,” Draper said, “you turn them over to the pirates.”

Scott’s budget proposal includes cuts all around, including a $4.8 billion (that’s billion with a B, as in pinky-to-corner-of-mouth) slash to the state’s education budget. Having worked at a public elementary school in North Miami for three years, I shudder to think of our already deeply flawed school system trying to make do with less money. From the Miami Herald:

Read the rest of this entry »

53 state parks, six aquatic preserves might close

By | February 4th, 2011 | 4 Comments
Biscayne Bay

Deregulating Biscayne Bay can have potentially 'devastating' consequences for Miami, Reynolds says.

On Monday Florida’s new governor, Rick Scott, will release his 2011 – 2012 state budget proposal. Until then, environmentalists across Florida are holding their collective breath to see if Scott has incorporated a proposal to close 53 state parks and six aquatic preserves. The proposal to close the parks and preserves comes from the Department of Environmental Protection itself in an effort to cut its operating budget by 15 percent, something Scott wants all state agencies to do.

The 53 state parks include the Barnacle, a 120-year-old house that sits on five wooded acres in Coconut Grove. Built in 1891 out of the lumber of wrecked ships by yacht-designer Ralph Munroe, the Barnacle House looks out on the Biscayne Bay Aquatic Preserve, one of the six preserves the DEP proposed closing.

This morning, I talked to Laura Reynolds, executive director of the Tropical Audubon Society, about exploding sea grass, tar balls, and the potentially “devastating effect” of deregulating Biscayne Bay.

How will closing the Biscayne Bay Aquatic Preserve impact Miami?

LR: I don’t think this county has ever really understood what Biscayne Bay means to our economy. Everyone trashes it, takes advantage of it, but doesn’t spend the time [to protect it]. Some people are starting to realize that it is on the brink of crashing just like Florida Bay did a decade ago because of tons of algal blooms and too much nutrients. In fact, sea grass exploded and died, and that caused anoxic conditions in some areas.

If you ask any one who has lived here for a long time, you can’t catch fish anymore [in Biscayne Bay]. It’s not really as productive as it used to be. As far as shrimpers, the fishing industry, the boating industry — that’s an economy that we need to worry about.

Read the rest of this entry »

Op-ed Contributor Houck: Read Warning Label, Vote No on 4

By | October 27th, 2010 | 5 Comments

On Tuesday, Nov. 2, Floridians will vote on several potentially game-changing amendments, including Amendment 4. Activists for and against Amendment 4 say its fate at the polls will impact Florida profoundly, and both sides have spent millions of dollars in the run up to the election. Since many Miamians remain hazy on the details, we asked the leading group on either side of the A4 debate to explain its position to Beached Miami readers. Here, Ryan Houck, leader of the Vote No on 4 campaign, explains why a vote for Amendment 4 is a vote for high taxes, low employment, and nonstop litigation. (Click HERE to read an op-ed by Amendment 4 champion Lesley Blackner.)

You have probably seen those tiny warning labels on the side of pill bottles, cigarettes, and credit offers. Well, here’s the warning label on Amendment 4, straight from its official Financial Impact Statement: “expenditures cannot be estimated precisely.” It means that they can’t tell us what it costs—and you know what that means: They’re asking for a blank check.

The special interest lawyers who bankrolled Amendment 4 say that their idea is “really simple” and that they “just want to give the voters a seat at the table.” What they don’t tell you is that these same lawyers make money suing taxpayers—and that they stand to make millions from the passage of Amendment 4. In fact, the non-profit, non-partisan Florida TaxWatch reports that the litigation costs of Amendment 4 could exceed $1 billion statewide.

And who gets stuck with the bill? We do—with higher taxes, fewer jobs, and endless litigation at taxpayer expense. According to a study conducted by The Washington Economics Group (WEG), Amendment 4 would likely cost Florida over a quarter-of-a-million jobs. Professor Tony Villamil, the lead economist for WEG, stated, “Amendment 4’s passage will have potentially devastating consequences to Florida’s economy.” Villamil’s report indicates that Amendment 4 would further damage our economy by killing jobs and raising unemployment at a time when Florida’s working families and small businesses can least afford it.

Read the rest of this entry »

Op-ed contributor Blackner: Save Environment, Vote Yes on 4

By | October 27th, 2010 | 7 Comments
Lesley Blackner

A4 activist Lesley Blackner says she's fighting to give voters control of their own communities. -- photo by Eileen Escarda

If you’ve turned on a radio or television lately, you know on Tuesday, Nov. 2, Florida will elect a new U.S. senator and governor, fill its 25 congressional seats, and vote on several potentially game-changing amendments, including Amendment 4. If passed, A4 would require voter approval of certain changes to city and county guidelines that say, basically, what can be built where. It may sound dry, but proponents and opponents of the amendment have spent millions to sway public opinion. Both sides agree on one thing: the fate of Amendment 4 will profoundly impact Florida.

With many Miamians hazy on the details, we asked the leading group on either side of the A4 debate to explain its position to Beached Miami readers. Here, Lesley Blackner, president of Florida Hometown Democracy, explains why a vote for Amendment 4 is a vote for the environment, conservation, and against corruption. (You can read an op-ed by Vote No on 4 executive director Ryan Houk HERE.)*

We all know that stupid, reckless overdevelopment has paved over too many of Florida’s unique places: her beaches, waterways, uplands, and wetlands. But what can we do about it?

The 2010 ballot gives us our first real option to change the future, to end the overdevelopment madness: Amendment 4.

At stake is our quality of life and natural resources. You know all too well in South Florida what happens when we allow rampant overbuilding: a glut of condo units in Miami and development into sensitive areas of the Everglades, threatening that unique ecological feature and decimating Florida Bay with runoff and pollution. How much more can South Florida take before it collapses, both environmentally and economically?

The Florida Panther, which used to roam the entire state, will soon be extinct. Why? Because over the past 10 years, so much of its remaining habitat has been paved over in Lee and Collier counties, one of the epicenters of the bust real estate bubble. Florida’s “dead cat walking” is a reminder that politicians and bureaucrats have shown time and time again they can’t be trusted to protect our homes, our communities, our beautiful state, and it’s irreplaceable wildlife.

But it’s not just wildlife that is threatened.

Read the rest of this entry »

Didion’s Miami Part II: Francisco ‘Pepe’ Hernandez Interview

By | September 27th, 2010 | 1 Comment

Francisco “Pepe” Hernandez, president of the Cuban American National Foundation (CANF), is one of those figures who inspire intense reactions. Some call him a terrorist, or at least a benefactor of terrorists. Others call him a hero of the Cuban exile community. On his way to the White House, Senator Barack Obama called him host.

Francisco "Pepe" Hernandez, CANF President

What no one can dispute is that Hernandez, who left Cuba in his 20s after Castro took power, has been on the front lines of the Miami-based anti-Castro movement for 50 years, first as a participant in the Bay of Pigs Invasion (La Batalla de Playa Girón), then as a CIA operative running actions against Cuba, and then as a founding member of CANF, an uberpowerful voice for Cuban-American interests since its 1981 founding. (This 1993 article in The Progressive describes the sway CANF and its late founder, Jorge Mas Canosa, held in both Miami and Washington.)

As I wrote in an earlier post, I am working on a retrospective essay on Joan Didion’s 1987 book Miami, which chronicles the city during the roughly 25 years between the Cuban Revolution and the end of the first generation of Cuban exile. My essay will explore how Miami and its Cuban community have evolved since the end of this intense and violent period in the mid-80s.

On Friday I spoke to Hernandez on the phone for about 90 minutes to get his perspective. Here are several excerpts from the interview. I’ve lightly edited them for length and clarity.

Read the rest of this entry »

Does Joan Didion’s Miami still exist?

By | September 15th, 2010 | 6 Comments

Joan Didion’s 1987 book Miami chronicles the city during the roughly 25 years between the Cuban Revolution and the end of the first generation of Cuban exile. Didion portrays Miami as a sweltering locus of violence and vengeance where assassination plots and covert CIA actions constitute dinner table conversation in the exile community. In the words of a New York Times review, “Didion has turned so much sunny light into a murky underwater darkness full of sharks and evil shadows.”

As a Miami native born in the mid-’80s, I found Didion’s narrative astounding. From the violent reprisals – bombings, stabbings, shootings – hard-line exiles visited upon dissenters within their own community, to Miami’s status as the second-largest CIA installation in the world (with “the third largest navy in the western hemisphere”), to “guerilla discounts” offered at the Howard Johnson near the Miami airport, the incidents and details piled up until my hometown began to seem foreign to me. I had a similar experience watching Cocaine Cowboys, the surpassingly gruesome documentary about Miami’s drug wars, but somehow Didion’s lens proved more unsettling.

When I finished Miami, which, a few leaps in time aside, covers the period between 1960 and 1985, I found myself wondering how much the city has changed. Having spent most of my life here, I instinctively felt that Didion’s portrayal no longer held in its entirety, but I wanted to know to what degree Castro and the Cuban Revolution still cast a shadow over Miami. How much has it evolved from the seething city Didion described, having “the feel … of a Latin capital, a year or two away from a new government”? To what extent does the legacy of a vengeance never realized define Miami today?

These are the questions I am pursuing in a retrospective essay on the book. In the hopes of getting some answers, last week I contacted Dario Moreno, former director of FIU’s Metropolitan Center and an expert on Cuban-American history. A 52-year-old who left Cuba at age 3, Moreno is involved in Marco Rubio’s senate campaign. While I assume his political leanings influence his understanding of Cuban-American history, I never felt that our conversation got stuck in an ideological box. Moreno was generous with his time and insights, and I believe the interview illuminates a Miami very different from the dark city depicted in Didion’s book.

You can see an edited transcript below. Make sure to stay tuned for more posts on this topic as I continue researching for the essay.

Read the rest of this entry »