Archive for October, 2007

Atlas Shrugged and Florida’s middle class
October 31, 2007

They said they were leaving and sure enough they did. All the window shades were up. I could see into my neighbor’s house. The rooms were bare. The kids toys were gone from the back yard, no car, no van, the white picket fence gate was ajar. Smokey the dog was nowhere to be seen nor heard.

My mind flashed to Ayn Rand’s classic 1950’s novel, Atlas Shrugged. The books plot line includes the world’s brightest minds, industrialists, scientists, entrepreneurs, philosophers, disappearing, simply vanishing as government imposed more taxes, more curbs on creativity and the ability of expand economically. The elite went away and the country went into economic doldrums.

In the case of my neighbors it is the disappearance of middle class professionals. It is something we are seeing more and more in South Florida. Ayn Rand, the sometimes described elitist, probably would have never written a novel about the middle class “worker bees” disappearing. Never the less it is a pretty good story.

These folks are medical professionals. They held good jobs at high profile South Florida facilities. Active in their community they have three kids in elementary schools.

They had to get out.

Taxes, insurance, mortgage, unhappy with the local schools, gas and food prices soaring the list of issues plaguing this otherwise happy family of five.

I was a bit taken back when they told us they had found new jobs, bought a new home, and had checked out several school options and were moving as soon as possible. The biggest shocker: their home sold in 22 days, a huge bit of luck in this slow real estate environment.

They are, I guess, getting settled out west, a state a good distance away from South Florida.

Moving companies claim that they are hauling more people out of Florida than they are bringing in. I remember well during a Florida Keys hurricane evacuation talking to a guy who had a U-Haul trailer hitched to his pick up. “Hell, I am not evacuating, I am leaving town for good,” he told me. “Can’t find a house, don’t make enough money, car insurance is killing me.” That was three years ago, not much has changed. People are still leaving, not only to the Carolinas, Georgia, but now Tennessee, and Texas.

Eventually in Atlas Shrugged the nation’s greatest minds emerge from their self imposed exile as the government oppression collapsed from lack of economic and political leadership. The question is will my neighbors ever return? Will the thousands of other Floridians who have fled the Sunshine State return? I doubt it. Again they are not the economic elite but they are the professional middle class that makes the economic engine move. And who will replace them?

Our neighbors were in the medical field. Check the classifieds and see how many medical sector jobs are available. Hospitals and clinics are begging for help.

Atlas Shrugged and they are leaving town.

Breaking: Mediation in Cuba Girl fight-Breaking
October 28, 2007

We have been informed by a juvenile court spokesperson that phase two of the custody trail involving the five-year-old Cuban girl has been postponed. It was scheduled to begin Monday morning October 29th. The reason given is both sides in the issue are continuing with mediation. This is the case of the girl who is in foster care with well known Miami businessman Joe Cubas and his wife Maria. The Cubas family has adopted the girls half brother and seek to adopt the girl. The girls father, Rafel Izquierdo, wants to take her back to Cuba. After a lengthy trial he was found to be a fit father by Juvenile Court Judge Jeri Cohen. The proceedings have produced a nasty legal battle.
The Judge’s ruling declaring Izquierdo a fit father had been appealed and the second phase of the trial had been halted, however Judge Cohen said she was going forward with the case in the best interest of the child. She did however urge the two sides seek mediation and that in fact happened. The question tonight is there any progress and is the postponement of the trail an indication that the legal teams are working their way towards a solution? We will be working on this story.

Fast Talk and a Cafecito saves the day!
October 17, 2007

Lester Sola always seems to have just finished one of many cafecitos. He talks fast and moves quicker. Lester is the Supervisor of Elections for Miami-Dade County. It is a job that has taken down more than a few bureaucrats during the last decades or so of election turmoil in South Florida.
Actually Lester is a pretty smooth dog. He has been around the mine fields of county government for sometime. Read his bio on the county website and you see that he’s dipped into the very bowels of county government, the airport, minority-based procurement programs, a county consultant to such projects as expansion and construction at the Seaport, Airport, Performing Arts Center, and the American Airlines Center. Always in he background, now in probably one of the highest profile jobs in South Florida
Sola has been through the debate on electronic voting machines and optical scan machines, oversees a $20 million dollar budget, a staff of 121 and scads of part-timers hired to help out during the 30 some elections held every year.
So when candidates and incumbents in the Miami City Commission Elections started getting calls about wrong absentee ballots Lester knew exactly what to do.
Lester called the media, invited in the TV cameras as his computer team straightened out the mistake., right there on camera. What had happened? A human error while encoding a computer program. Bottom line, the correct envelopes reached the voters but the ballots were wrong. District Two ballots went to district one absentee voters and vice versa.
Incumbents Marc Sarnoff and Angel Gonzalez cried foul, got critical, Gonzalez hinted at the possibility of a conspiracy, Sarnoff was concerned about of the oversight and both schedule a press conference. Guess who else was there? Lester Sola.
By the time the two incumbents had their say the wind was out of their outraged sails. Lester had explained the problem, said there would be discipline, described how the error occurred, explained how incorrect absentee ballots would be rejected by electronic bar code and how voters would have a new and correct ballot by three days after the error was discovered. All that before Sarnoff and Gonzalez got to the microphone.
Lester had turned the mistake into what news reporters call “a one day story.” It was over. No comment from County Mayor Carlos Alvarez nor County Manager George Burgess.
A good bureaucrat knows how to diffuse and ugly situation especially when politicians are on the hunt for a scalp. Lester has been around the race track, he knew what to do, go public.

Why "Going Green" works.
October 15, 2007

In the late 1980’s I dismantled our environmental reporter beat. That was when I was involved in the operation of several television stations out west. Viewers told us in focus groups they had grown weary of the stories about recycling, saving water, planting zero scape gardens, putting their thermostats up to 78 degrees. The viewer did not see any real payoff in the reports, they just were not interested anymore. Earth Day had worn thin.
Fast forward some thirty years. Going Green is all the rage. It is a movement that TV has jumped on and driven home with some decent success. Do we thank Al Gore, it it because of the cost of gasoline, is it due to power bills rocketing out of sight?
I was a bit skeptical when NBC6 launched the “Going Green” segment fronted by the bright and talented Patricia Andreu. I didn’t say much when we launched the project. I just hoped it wasn’t a passing fad and that Patricia wasn’t stuck with a turkey.
I was wrong and I have figured out why this time around the Eco-Beat, as we used to call it, works.
It is all about money!
You see all these major corporations jumping on the Green band wagon? There is a reason for their sudden hugging of trees and becoming sensitive about conservation, recycling. It is about bottom line. You can really save in the long run and that’s what is powering this reconnect with what we used to call the environmental movement.
It came to me a few months ago when I realized that our summer power bill was almost $75-100 dollars a month lower than the average over the last few years. We were using less power at our house, a 1940’s 3-2 that was never designed for air conditioning.
What had we done? Ok here is a list, some of it occurred by accident and other changes were inspired by going green:

Three years ago the old A/C unit was fried by a electrical surge. A New efficient unit installed.
We updated a number of our windows.
FP&L offered to add additional insulation in our attic. We took ’em on the deal.
Tired of the noisy A/C air handler were bought a new quiet efficient model
We have a new program able thermostat just like Patricia suggested in one of her reports.
We installed a number of those energy saving florescent lights.
The new toilet we bought is water efficient.
The shower heads are water savers.

Sure it is going to take some time to recoup some of the cost with the savings but much of what we changed involved maintenance issues that would have been an expense we would have normally ac rued. But we did go after the most efficient products possible.

It did not take me long to realize that, in contrast with our viewers way back in the late 1980’s there is a pay off for watching our Going Green segments. It makes good financial sense and to quote my old news pal, Tony Marino, “if we show ’em how to make money, they will watch!”

Now if Patricia can tell me how to save on my gas bill, Going Green will be a total success!

This and that from the streets.
October 4, 2007

The sport fishing boat “Joe Cool” has been removed from the dock at Coast Guard Station Miami. We are told the boat had been taking on water. It has been moved to a shipyard in the Miami area. The four person crew still missing.

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Slot operators in Broward County have to be sitting on pins and needles as the Governor negotiates with the Seminole Tribe. A misstep and a failure to reach a compact with the Indians could result in the Department of Interior allowing Las Vegas Slots and table games at the local Indian Casinos. Besides the state losing out on huge revenues the Broward slot operators would be faced with offering a limited product, just Vegas Slots and Poker. The slot operators remember well when, for a week, the Seminoles offered ultra high stake poker games. The Hard Rock operation sucked hundreds of customers out of the Mardi Gras, Gulfstream, and Pompano Race track slot barns.

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Political race to watch: in the Keys former Key West Mayor Jimmy Weekly set to take on current Mayor Morgan Mcpherson. Weekly is a political powerhouse on Bone Island but his supporters, sure he would win, stayed home during the last election. That won’t happen this time we are told. Jimmy is out of the butcher shop and ready to do battle. The Key West Mayor’s job is high profile especially during hurricane season when the Mayor spends lots of time on national TV.

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Want to see global warming for real. Local scientists tell me that during a full moon and high tide the water that flows over roads and parking lots at Matheson Hammock is because of the rise in water levels in the Atlantic due to global warming. Matheson Hammock did not flood like that 30 years ago they say.

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The Joe Cool Case: "The Face Of Evil"
October 3, 2007

You sit in court and wonder what makes the accused tick. That is certainly what I have been doing as the drama of the Joe Cool case unfolds in Federal Court. Kirby Archer and Guillermo Zarabozo charted the fishing boat, Joe Cool, for what was essentially was a taxi ride to the Bahamas. On the way the four person crew disappeared and Archer and Zarabozo were found in the vessel’s life boat with all their luggage and cash, just miles from Cuba. The boat was spotted and recovered a day earlier near a remote southern Bahamian Cay.

Zarabozo and Archer are now caught up in the Federal Judicial System. Archer wanted in Arkansas for stealing $92-thousand dollars from a Wal-Mart where he worked. Zarabozo busted for lying to a federal agent. They are not charged in the case of the missing crew, but the feds say those charges are on the way.

Zarabozo is a 19 year old kid, how he got hooked up with the much older Archer is still a mystery, murky at best. Archer, a Spanish speaking ex-military cop might have met Zarabozo’s father at the Guantanamo Naval Base in Cuba when Cuban Rafter were detained at the base. Early reports were that the younger Zarabozo was also there as a child but now his mother disputes that story.

It is Kirby Archer that is most interesting. Some what of a drifter, he went AWOL from the army, he worked as a security guard, an investigator, an assistant store manager, he’s been involved in several relationships with women, divorced, he has fathered two boys. He is accused of having a mixed sexual orientation and “..had a relationship with a boy who was still in high school…according to documents filed in a nasty divorce case. His exact relationship with the younger Zarabozo is not defined.

I have watched Archer during two courtroom appearances. He has a military manner and haircut to match. He mirrors the picture local TV stations show with Archer in his Army dress uniform. He moves confidently and with a measure of comfort as he is shuttled through the jury box waiting his turn in front of the Judge. During his first appearance he was all set to represent himself until a public defender persuaded him otherwise. He was verbal, spoke well, and frankly seems at ease with the surroundings. In the last hearing the judge called his name and when the guards could not move him quickly the judge called his name again. “On my way sir,” Archer said with a smile. Pretty calm and cool for a guy that might be in huge trouble.

As the hearing went on long-time courtroom sketch artist Shirley Henderson was capturing the moment for the network and local TV stations. She was shading eye brows, putting highlights on foreheads, darkening lips, the chalk making a faint squeaking sound on on the rough paper. Shirley has been doing court sketches for years. She has drawn pictures of some of South Florida’s most high profile crooks. She knows her faces. What she said next jarred me. I don’t know if Kirby Archer is guilty in the disappearance and likely death of the Joe Cool crew but Shirley words are unforgettable: “he’s got the face of evil.”

What did she see that eluded me? Something for sure. This is a courtroom artist whose work hangs in some of the most prestigious law offices in town, not to mention having images published and broadcast world wide. “The face of evil,” that’s the take from the artist who has seen plenty of them. I am still sizing him up as I remind myself that a person charged is “innocent until proven guilty.” Zarabozo and Archer are at this writing are not charged with anything to do with the specific disappearance of the Joe Cool crew.

Maybe that is why Archer is so comfortable in court….. for now, but he might not be fooling one of the nation’s best courtroom artists.