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229 posts from February 2008

February 28, 2008

Economist: Florida schools need help if economy going to get stronger

With the economy in the pits these days, there's increasing talk of hope on the horizon with Florida so focused on building its knowledge and technology based "innovation economy." Nice talk and good jargon but a recent report from economist Tony Villamil, the former advisor to Gov. Jeb Bush and current advisor to the Taxation and Budget Reform Commission, says it's time for more than just talk.

''We talk the talk but we're not walking the walk,'' he said. ``When I see the governor say we're going to increase education by $1 billion and the Legislature says we're going to cut education half a billion, I think we've got a problem. We need a consensus.''

In the report, commissioned by the United Teachers of Dade, Villamil concludes:

Floridians have the capacity to put more into education. The business climate tax index is ''one of the best'' compared to competitors such as New York, California, North Carolina, Virginia and Texas. ''Florida has significant potential to increase investments steadily in its education and workforce development systems without eroding its competitive position,'' the report says. Read more here.

Dade commissioners warned to quell the infighting

Dade commissioners in DC to find out why money for a Metrorail extension is imperiled were told that they better lay off the ethnic bickering or put the federal dollars further at risk.

The project could fail, Federal Transit Administrator James Simpson said, "if the community doesn't come together and you don't put down your political differences. . . . But you have to work together; there has to be one message from any region to D.C. that 'We are a region, a county that's united over what we believe is an outstanding project."

"We read in Washington, D.C., some of the politics that get involved with projects and all it does is slow down the process,'' said Simpson, who noted that he holds the job the late Art Teele once held.

The commissioners assured Simpson that they got the message. Any differences of opinion were later set aside at a reception at the Rayburn Office Building where chairman Bruno Barreiro kept his remarks brief.

"Miami-Dade is growing and we're going to need your assistance," Barreiro said to the gathering of House members, staffers and lobbyists.

He introduced a few members in attendance, including Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart and Kendrick Meek's wife, Leslie, and then thanked the sponors of the event.

The biggest applause: for the Distilled Spirits Council of the U.S., which provided the beer and the rum and Coke. Other sponsors: the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce and Zogby International, which is opening a Miami office.

February 27, 2008

Klein, Mahoney fend off attack ad

If al Qaeda strikes Capitol Hill, you can thank two South Florida members of Congress for skipping town before extending vital surveillance legislation.

That's the message of an attack ad funded by a counter-terrorism group that describes itself as a non-partisan, though the the blitz targets 15 of the most vulnerable Democrats in Congress, including Ron Klein of Boca Raton and Tim Mahoney of Palm Beach Gardens.

House Democrats objected to a provision in the legislation that gives legal immunity to telecommunications companies that provided private data to the Bush administration after the Sept. 11 attacks. Without the extension, the government will be able to continue monitoring approved targets, but probable cause would be needed to spy on new suspects.

"The ad is misleading,'' Klein said. "There is nothing hampering intelligence efforts in this country.''

Here's Mahoney's response, which he turned into a fundraising appeal: Download i_am_under_attack_by_a_shadowy_special_interest_group_who_is_practicing_the_politics_of_division.doc

Here's the ad by Defense of Democracies:

Gonzalez wants to keep most Cuban-trained doctors out of the Florida hospitals

Call it another way to stick it to Fidel.

State Rep. Eduardo "Eddy" Gonzalez, a Republican from one of Miami-Dade's most Cuban American cities -- Hialeah -- has filed the "Cuban Practice of Medicine Bill" which would prohibit any U.S. Citizen or resident who traveled to Cuba for medical school from practicing or being licensed in Florida.

Gonzalez said he drafted the bill in response to past speeches from El Comandante offering American students free medical schooling in Cuba.

"There's plenty of places people can go to practice medicine," Gonzalez said in a phone interview. "They can come here, they can go to the Dominican Republic, it doesn't have to be Cuba. If there's an embargo this shouldn't be allowed."

Gonzalez says the bill would not effect any Cuban exiles who received their medical training on the island nation before coming to the United States. "They didn't have a choice of where to go study," Gonzalez said.

Will the bill go anywhere? Gonzalez isn't sure. "I'm going to give it a shot," he said.

Right to Life calls Obama 'Callous in Cleveland'

The National Right to Life is lambasting Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama for saying in last night's debate in Cleveland that he should have tried to stop Congress from intervening in the Terri Schiavo saga.

Obama, an Illinois senator, said one of his biggest regrets was that he didn't speak out when Republican leaders tried to stop the severely brain-damaged woman's husband from removing the feeding tube keeping her alive in a Pinellas Park hospice.

"I think that's an example of inaction, and sometimes that can be as costly as inaction,'' Obama said.

Here's the statement issued by David N. O'Steen, the executive director of National Right to Life, which opposes euthanasia and abortion:

"Senator Obama's remarks show a callous disregard for persons with disabilities who are being denied the full protection of the law. Calling his actions 'costly' further adds insult to injury. 

"His comments demonstrate a worrisome trend with regard to treating persons with disabilities.  By applying a 'quality of life' test, disabled patients across the country are in danger of being denied life-saving care and food and water.  There is an assumption being adopted that if a patient is disabled and unable to speak for themselves, they would be 'better off dead.'

"People with serious illnesses and persons with disabilities should be fearful of Barack Obama ever being in a position to make health care policy for our nation."

Dade lands the Democratic heavyweights - and a scolding from Hastings

Miami-Dade county commissioners are in DC again this week, seeking federal dollars for the airport, the seaport and MetroRail.

Federal officials are warning it will be a tight budget year, but the delegation did score some high-level speakers at lunch: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Majority Whip Jim Clyburn and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, who has Miami ties: he attended Coconut Grove elementary and Coral Gables high school.

They all noted they were spurred to attend by Reps. Kendrick Meek, D-Miami, and Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston, loyal Pelosi lieutenants.

Pelosi sat next to commissioner Sally Heyman , a situation that Wasserman Schultz, who roomed with Heyman when the two were legislators in Tallahassee, said she found troubling as Pelosi and Heyman chatted, and laughed.

"Thanks to all the commissioners with stories to tell," Pelosi quipped when she stood up to address the group.

Wasserman Schultz said she's encouraged the Broward County Commission to "mirror and mimic" Dade's lobbying effort, which she credited with putting local issues front and center on legislators' agendas.

"I said 'Broward you better get your butts up here,' " she said to laughter. 

Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Miramar, left them speechless. He exoriated the commission - which met with federal transportation officials in the morning to ask for money for Metrorail - for spending money on a baseball stadium, rather than transportation.

"You build a stadium, I'll go to a baseball game," Hastings said. "But why isn't some of that money going to transportation. Somewhere along the line that has to change."

As the commissioners sat in a stunned silence, Hastings made his exit.

"If I made you all mad, that's deliberate," he said just before scooting out the door.

How the Media and Politics Fare in Campaign 2008

A panel of experts and executives talks about how the presidential candidates this year are harnessing communication technology to help in their campaigns.

Wexler defends Obama on Israel

When Democrat Barack Obama in last night's debate denounced the anti-Semitism of Louis Farrakhan, he pointed to strong support from the Jewish community. Exhibit A: the Florida chairman of his campaign, U.S. Rep. Robert Wexler of Boca Raton, one of the most outspoken defenders of Israel in Congress.

In today's Jerusalem Post, Wexler addresses the "poorly sourced smears and innuendos" that suggest Obama has ties to Muslim terrorists.

"If you're Jewish and spend any time on the Internet, you've read some outlandish things about the Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama,'' Wexler writes. "But the facts are clear: Senator Obama is a strong friend of the American Jewish Community and Israel, and will make ensuring Israel's security a high priority of his presidency."

Read the full column here.

Once an opponent, AFL-CIO endorsing Alvarez

Carlosalvarez Leaving behind years of animosity and legal challenges over executive power, the huge  South Florida AFL-CIO will endorse Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Alvarez for re-election on  Thursday.

"We will start immediately reaching out to over 100,000 union members and their  household members in Miami-Dade County at their homes, by phone and most importantly at their worksite to educate them on the mayor's stance on workers' issues, get them registered to vote and encourage them to get on an absentee-ballot program," said Fred Frost, the union's president, in a news release.

It is an incredible turnabout for a union that endorsed Alvarez's opponent, Jimmy Morales, in 2004 and then led numerous lawsuits the following years to block Alvarez's strong-mayor campaign. But Alvarez won on both fronts, and Frost said it has turned out well for workers.

"All those things were never about him -- it was about the form of government," Frost told the Miami Herald. "We still feel very strongly that putting too much power in one person's hands is not good for working people, but ironically, with him at the helm, things are getting better for working people."

He cited Alvarez's defense of county workers' salaries and benefits, especially as tax cuts and falling property values strain budgets. The union is also looking to Alvarez to push for living-wage and other worker friendly rules as local government begins building massive projects such as the new Marlins ballpark and underwater tunnel to the Port of Miami.

Alvarez has already raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for the Aug. 26 election. His only declared opponent is Helen Williams, a former teacher who often speaks at Miami-Dade School Board meetings.

Putting the White House in a bind

Cuban-American groups are demanding the US Justice Department indict Fidel Castro for the 1996 Brothers to the Rescue shoot-down, putting the Bush administration in a legal bind.

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen has written to Attorney General Michael Mukasey arguing for an indictment and she and fellow Miami Republican Reps. Mario and Lincoln Diaz-Balart are sponsoring a House resolution that condemns the shoot-downs.

But legal experts doubt the Bush administration - which has long courted the Cuban-American vote - will issue an indictment because other countries might seize on the precedent to prosecute U.S. officials.

Read more here.