Thursday, May 31, 2012

Your lunch hour time waster

Herpetologist Fred Boyce tried to catch an alligator in a North Carolina suburb recently.

Someone recorded the encounter and the video went viral. Then he got invited to go on the Today Show and be interviewed by Savannah Guthrie.

And that's when the fun started.
Boyce: "Don't take this personally, but i may have been more comfortable in the ditch with the alligator than I am right now."

Guthrie: "Fred , this is going to be a lot easier, let me tell you, because I don't bite."
Oh, yeah? Watch as Guthrie tries to get a word in edgewise.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

2012 Miami Beach Memorial Day Weekend arrest figures

Here are the 2012 Miami Beach Memorial Day weekend arrest totals as compiled by the Miami Beach Police Department. (The arrests occurred over a 5-day period starting Thursday, May 24 at 7pm and ending Tuesday, May 29 at 7am.)

The total number of arrests made this year by Beach Police and other assisting police departments, (AOA on the graph) was 373. That's 58 fewer than last year's total of 431 arrests.

This year, a total of 54 people were arrested for felonies. Twenty-two were arrested for drug felonies, four for carrying a concealed firearm and five for battery on a police officer.

But the majority of this year's arrests were for misdemeanors.

Heading the list: 114 arrests for drug-related offenses. Police also issued motorists 1,027 citations for moving violations.

A police spokesperson points out that the number of calls for service this year dropped substantially compared to last year: 2548 this year compared with more than 3200 last year.

Footnote: Two people got tickets for loud music this year. In 2008 police issued 113 citations for loud music.

Monday, May 28, 2012

A Memorial Day Story

Re-posted from May 31, 2010

Photograph by John Moore.
On Memorial Day 2007, photojournalist John Moore visited Arlington National Cemetery's Section 60.

There he encountered Mary McHugh, sitting at the gravesite of her fiance, James J. Regan.

Read about his encounter with Mary and how he came to make one of the most heartbreaking and widely published Memorial Day images of the past few years.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Matt Drudge: 'An idiot with a computer'

By now, everyone in South Florida over the age of 10 has heard of this tragic story.

From the Miami Herald:

Naked man killed by Police near MacArthur Causeway was ‘eating’ face off victim

It was a scene as creepy as a Hannibal Lecter movie.

One man was shot to death by Miami police, and another man is fighting for his life after he was attacked, and his face allegedly half eaten, by a naked man on the MacArthur Causeway off ramp Saturday, police said.

The horror began about 2 p.m. when a series of gunshots were heard on the ramp, which is along NE 13th Street, just south of The Miami Herald building.

According to police sources, a road ranger saw a naked man chewing on another man’s face and shouted on his loud speaker for him to back away. Meanwhile, a woman also saw the incident and flagged down a police officer who was in the area.

The officer, who has not been identified, approached and, seeing what was happening, also ordered the naked man to back away. When he continued the assault, the officer shot him, police sources said. The attacker failed to stop after being shot, forcing the officer to continue firing. Witnesses said they heard at least a half dozen shots.
And everyone over the age of 10 knows that the shooting and the incident that led up to it took place in Miami...not Miami Beach.

But that's not stopping one so-called "journalist" from fudging the facts - and the geography - surrounding a story that took place on the mainland side of the causeway in Miami.

After all, when you're right-wing blogger Matt Drudge, why let a few pesky facts get in the way of a sexy South Beach headline?

Here's how Drudge - himself a former Miami Beach resident - is playing the story today:

Click image to enlarge.

South Beach stand-off

This happened on South Beach yesterday.

The driver of a blue BMW refused to budge for the driver of a black Mercedes. Or was it the other way around?

Who will give in?


Friday, May 25, 2012

The way we were...Allan "A.C." Cohen, Miami's first food truck entrepreneur

Allan Cohen, owner of A.C.'s Icees, playing Frisbee
in Kennedy Park in Coconut Grove 30 years ago.
The Miami News, May 26, 1982.

These days in Miami, it's almost impossible to swing a dead cat without hitting a gaggle of food trucks.

They seem to be everywhere.

More than 30 years ago there was just one.

And it was always parked in the same spot: Kennedy Park in Coconut Grove.

In 2008, the Miami Herald's Jose Pagliery profiled Allan Cohen, a Coconut Grove icon and mainstay and owner of A.C's Icees.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

A.C .'s Icees, a signature treat in Coconut Grove, has turned 30 -- but the business owner's chill soul and sweet frozen lemonade have remained the same.

Since the groovy 1970s, Coconut Grove, some say, has lost part of its soul and reputation as the sweet vacation spot and artistic corner of Miami.

But the icee man's business on wheels has outlasted some of the concrete buildings in the Miami neighborhood.

On Saturday, the city of Miami and dozens of Groveites celebrated A.C.'s Icees' 30th year in business. The white-and-yellow truck, owned by Allan Cohen, known to the world as "A.C.," has, over the decades, become a signature spot in the Grove.

"We don't have many icons and things that are constant in this city. And there's something comforting about knowing that truck and yellow umbrella will always be there," said Robert Parente, director of Miami's Office of Film and Cultural Affairs and a friend of Cohen's. "We're honoring the fact that he's the first mobile concessionaire, and in a city with so much change, A.C. has endured."

The city placed and named a stone seating area close to the icee truck's usual spot in Kennedy Park in Cohen 's honor. As the first to receive a mobile concession permit from Miami, Cohen was credited by the city for being the Grove "institution." The free-sprited, bearded, 62-year-old A.C. wouldn't use that term.

"I don't know how to take that," Cohen said jokingly on Friday, his long gray strands framing the sides of his face.

He refuses to change his chilled and relaxed business model and works his one-man operation much like he started it -- on a whim.

"My life is fun. It's not about counting cups and icees and dollars," Cohen said, while mashing some of the whipped frozen lemonade. "It's being happy and healthy."

Born and raised near Detroit, a 32-year-old Cohen left a lucrative swimming pool business in 1978, when he became tired of the boss he called "abusive and a tyrant."

When money no longer mattered, he escaped without a plan to what was once his vacation spot: Coconut Grove.

It was at Kennedy Park, where he would frequently exercise, that he noticed fellow runners and Frisbee players would get terribly thirsty and have to walk to a store blocks away for a quick drink.

A.C.'s Icees was started soon thereafter.

Since then, Cohen wakes up every morning at 4 a.m. to start making his famously secret frozen lemonade concoction at his small warehouse. He's driven his truck into the same spot at the small park's lot, opening its window around 11 a.m. and closing it around 6 p.m.

Damon Rabin, who would bike to the park with his friends for hotdogs and 50-cent icees when he was 13 years old, met with Cohen during Saturday's celebration. He recalled gaining Cohen 's trust to the point where he and his friends would even run a tab up to $5.

At 22, Rabin worked for Cohen, relieving him a few days a week. Rabin now works with Sysco Food Systems, supplying Cohen with some his materials.

" A.C. would sit in his chair and read his paper between customers. We'd be winging the Frisbee back and forth," Rabin remembered. "It was life in the park. It was awesome. That's what it's about."

College kids still flock to the spot on their way back from Miami Beach to slurp the sweet frozen lemonade to cool off from a long day on the sand. Business types make a quick stop for hotdogs and icees, saying hello to the man who's served them since they were children.

Despite his reluctance to use computers, he has 806 fans in the online group " A.C .'s Icees." After sending soccer balls to orphans in Africa, there is now an A.C.'s Icees soccer team in Kigali, Rwanda.

A framed note from a 1983 graduate of Ransom Everglades School reads: "Your story continues to be an inspiration. Thanks for not settling for the status quo."

Random Pixels recognizes...

...Miami Herald staff photographer Charles Trainor Jr. for this great shot from last night's Miami Heat / Indiana Pacers match-up in Indianapolis.

Click here to see all the game photos.

Click image to enlarge.

Miami Beach Memorial Day Weekend 2012 Traffic Survival Guide

Here's an interview with Miami Beach police spokesman Bobby Hernandez, who describes what you'll have to go through if you insist upon driving to Miami Beach this weekend.

Video by Chuck Fadely/Miami Herald staff

Hernandez explains that traffic on the MacArthur Causeway will be reduced to one lane from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights.

Depending on where you're going, getting in or out of Miami Beach could take 3 to 4 hours this weekend.

Additionally, on Friday night, "drivers heading into Miami Beach will encounter a DUI checkpoint on the MacArthur Causeway east of the Palm and Hibiscus Islands intersection from 8 p.m. to 4 a.m.," according to the Herald's David Smiley.

Hernandez also tells me that there will be DUI saturation patrols on South Beach throughout the entire weekend. "We'll have officers out in force who are specially trained to spot impaired drivers," says Hernandez.

Still want to go to South Beach? You can't say you weren't warned!

Additional traffic info can be found on Miami Beach's website.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Canadians are coming! The Canadians are coming!

Miami Beach residents making final preps for Memorial Day Weekend 2012.

Here are some recent Memorial Day related quotes and a few from years past....


"But a different future body-slammed South Beach this past Memorial Day weekend. Namely that big black phenomenon known as hip-hop, which descended in an adrenalized surge. An estimated quarter-million revelers swamped hotels and restaurants, spilling into the streets in a bling-bling parade of ice, Lincoln Navigators, and Motorola two-way pagers, taking everyone by surprise. It all begs the question: Is South Beach ready to be thug paradise?" -Tristram Korten, writing in Miami New Times following the first Memorial Day Weekend in 2001

"Some Miami Beach police officers...decided to substitute the word 'Canadian' for 'black' in radio transmissions, as in, 'There's a large group of Canadians gathered on Washington and 14th.' " -Tristram Korten, Miami New Times, June 7, 2001

"We are a city that is being advertised as party 'til you puke, come to South Beach."
-retired lawyer and activist Frank Del Vecchio (2010)

"I would not want anyone that I know, a friend or visitor, to be outside on South Beach after 11 p.m. on this weekend because it is dangerous despite what seem[s] like thousands of police officers at every corner." -Miami Beach Commissioner Ed Tobin (2011)

"What we have done for you on the Venetian Islands is very unique. You guys will notice that you can move around....but tourists will be given the impression that they can’t get in." -Miami Beach Police Capt. Henry Doce (2012)

"I call it thugs paradise, that's what you are going to have."
-Rapper Luther Campbell (2012)

"I sat through the briefings and I heard the same conversations that were going on and nobody mentioned anything about a quota. What was mentioned was the fact that we'd be enforcing the most minor infractions and that this might bring our numbers higher than the year we made a thousand arrests." -Miami Beach police Sgt. Bobby Hernandez (2012)

"What will happen, I don’t know. Hopefully everything will be fine." -Miami Beach Mayor Matti Bower (2012)

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

ACLU and NAACP accuse Miami Beach officials of 'racial discrimination'

The ACLU of Florida and the The Miami-Dade NAACP fired off a letter today to Miami Beach Mayor Matti Bower and Miami Beach Police Chief Ray Martinez accusing the officials of "targeting, in a racially discriminatory manner, those who regularly attend Urban Beach Weekend."

The letter, signed by John DeLeon and Howard Simon of the ACLU, and Bradford E. Brown of the Miami-Dade chapter of the ACLU, accuses city officials of going out of their way "to make this event as difficult as possible for visitors to attend, creating the appearance that it is trying to discourage African Americans from visiting the City."

In the letter, (embedded below), the ACLU and NAACP slam city officials for a plan that would require "proof of residency to even enter residential areas north of 5th Street to Lincoln Road from Washington Avenue west to Alton Road, south of 5th Street to Government Cut, and Dade Boulevard to 41st Street and Pine Tree Drive."

The ACLU charges that the city's planned traffic loop "raises serious constitutional concerns" because it targets "a predominately African American event."

The letter also objects to an alleged order from top police department brass to rank and file officers that requires them to “meet an arrest quota of 2,000 arrests” over the long weekend.

The ACLU and the NAACP called the quotas "a prescription for confrontation."

Chief Martinez, in an email to Miami New Times, says "there is no arrest quota for Memorial Day Weekend or any other day on Miami Beach."

Can't wait to see how this ends.

ACLU NAACP Letter to City of Miami Beach

Miami Herald parent company McClatchy to begin test of pay model

No more free lunch.

Get ready to start paying to read the Miami Herald online. Maybe.


McClatchy vice president of news Anders Gyllenhaal tells employees that “after more than a year of experiments and analysis on pay models, McClatchy newspapers [owner of 30 daily newspapers including the Miami Herald]  will begin a robust test of a pay plan that looks like the right balance for our websites.” He writes:
After more than a year of experiments and analysis on pay models, McClatchy newspapers will begin a robust test of a pay plan that looks like the right balance for our websites. The approach will offer readers a new print-digital subscription that will include access to multimedia editions for a relatively small increase of home delivery rates. We’ll also offer online-only users a digital subscription that will be prompted after a set number of page views. We’ve arrived at this combination after a lot of research, involving McClatchy papers and others, which shows that a thoughtfully crafted, opt-out digital subscription is a good fit with our overall readership and circulation strategy. In the coming months, we’ll begin a final round of testing with a handful of McClatchy papers (first up will be Sacramento, Fort Worth, Modesto, Biloxi and Columbus). The experiences of these papers will determine how and under what schedule to extend to all papers.

Our experiments with pay approaches, starting with Modesto more than a year ago and moving to several other McClatchy papers, have taught us a number of things. The pay model is a complex move that has to be part of wider plan for how we distribute and value our content.
We’ve learned that many light online users are unlikely to become subscribers — but that our loyal print and online customers are willing to sign up in exchange for a multi-media subscription that would include the print edition, web, smart phones and the e-edition. Above all, we found that the impact of placing a clear value on our content is among the most important messages we can send as part of this transition.
McClatchy will work with Press+, the company developed by journalist Steve Brill that is handling pay model preparations for more than 300 newspapers. Almost as important as the specifics of the subscription is the way it is explained and presented to readers and users. (This is one of the reasons this plan will not be made public until individual papers are approaching the move, so please consider this confidential.) The extensive experience that Press + has makes the roll out one of its strengths. There are details yet to be finalized, including what the rate increase should be, which could vary by the community; what the number of free page views should be, which could also vary by markets. Those are the questions we’ll be working on and talking about in this next stage of the testing, which will begin in about 60 days at the first five papers. We’ll keep everyone posted as this moves ahead.
So, while the Miami Herald isn't one of the "first five papers," McClatchy's success with the pay model in other markets, could eventually impact readers of, who, up until now, have been paying nothing to read Herald content.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Owner of Mangos Tropical Cafe plans early closures this Memorial Day weekend

The owner of a popular Ocean Drive watering hole told Channel 7 News today that he's throwing in the towel and closing a part of his business this Memorial Day weekend.

According to Channel 7's Rosh Lowe, "some businesses will not even be opened for the weekend. Mangos Tropical Cafe, a popular hot spot on South Beach, plans to close its outdoor patio early, starting Friday night, to help ensure the safety of patrons."

David Wallack, the owner of Mangos told Lowe...
...[he has] planned...closures for Friday and Saturday night because of massive crowds that have flooded his business every year during the Memorial Day weekend. "Maybe Sunday as well," he said. "There is just a phenomenon that has been going on for, I would say, the last two years for sure. We call it 'Human Tsunamis'. They're a panic-run of literally hundreds of people."

Saturday, May 19, 2012

BBC camera crew gets up close and personal with meerkats

This is special. While filming meerkats for the BBC's Planet Earth Live, the camera crew experienced some unforgettable moments.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012


This photo and message was forwarded to me by a reporter at a local TV station who received it from one of his colleagues:

“Ur competition illegally parking at court after all their stories on county cars. Frickin hypocrites.”

Click image to enlarge.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Your early afternoon time waster

Just because you can afford a $200,000+ Lamborghini, doesn't automatically mean you're smart enough to drive it. Here's proof!

Lamborghini Driver Crashes Trying To Show Off In Chicago Suburbs, Lamborghini, crash, youtube

Sunday, May 13, 2012

The way we were...Yo No Creo en el Herald - 1992

I recently found this transparency in my files. I shot it for a St. Petersburg Times story that ran on Sunday, March 29, 1992.

St. Petersburg Times - Sunday, March 29, 1992

The vandals didn't care about the money inside the bright yellow newspaper boxes, only the words.

They painted communista on several of them and jammed the coin slots with glue and gum. They made sure the news stories and editorial opinions of the Miami Herald were sealed in their steel boxes.

To some Cuban -Americans in Miami, it is where the newspaper belongs unread, discredited and unbelieved.

They say the Herald ignores them, that it favors other Cuban -Americans with tamer politics. They say it is soft on Fidel Castro, the dictator they hate like poison. They even say the Herald is a tool of Castro's communist government.

In other cities, people cancel subscriptions and write letters to the editor. But in Miami, where an opinion can get you killed, a debate between the Herald and a powerful Cuban -American group has turned bitter, mean and ugly.

It is politics. It is personal.

It is war, to influence or control the way a newspaper reports the news.

One man launched it.

Jorge L. Mas Canosa, millionaire head of the Cuban American National Foundation and the exile leader most often mentioned as the post-Castro president of Cuba, is leading a methodical campaign against the Herald and its Spanish-language sister, El Nuevo Herald .

He fiercely attacked the papers on Spanish-language radio, urged people to cancel subscriptions, wrote hundreds of letters to local leaders and even called for some Cuban -American executives to resign from the papers.

In a tirade against the paper on Radio Mambi, reprinted in the Herald , Mas said: "The Miami Herald is the most powerful institution in the state of Florida. These are unscrupulous people, people who chop off heads, destroy people, families, put people in jail . . ."

In his column, Herald publisher David Lawrence wrote: "All the billboards in America, all the national TV that he can buy . . . all the huffing and bluster he can muster, still won't give him control of this newspaper. Ever."

As the fight heated up, someone sent death threats to Herald executives, including two Cuban -Americans. Someone phoned a bomb threat to the paper's downtown office.

Mas' organization has vehemently denied doing anything illegal, and says the vandalism of newspaper boxes and threats are not part of its campaign. Francisco Hernandez, foundation president, said his organization even bought radio ads calling for calm and condemning violence.

Miami's Cuban -American mayor, Xavier Suarez, personally asked the 51-year-old Mas last week to refrain from attacking the Herald for several days. Hernandez said Mas agreed.

In Miami, reaction to any deeply emotional issue cannot always be controlled.

"Accusing any institution in this city of being a tool of the Castro government is inciting to violence," said Bill Williamson, executive director of the Inter American Press Association (IAPA).

The editors and publishers who make up the IAPA were alarmed enough over the death threats and vandalism to send a mission into Miami last week. The delegation concluded that the threat was real.

"We urge the authorities to investigate them thoroughly and to prosecute those responsible," the IAPA concluded. "We also consider the tension in Miami between the Herald and some Cuban exile groups as a warning flag for all newspapers whose communities are undergoing major demographic change."

Such delegations are regularly sent to Latin America to investigate attacks on freedom of the press.

It was the first delegation ever sent to a newspaper in the United States.

It is emblazoned on the backside of 60 city buses. In black letters against a sunny yellow background are the words: "I DON'T BELIEVE THE MIAMI HERALD."

Some of the signs, matching bumper stickers, and a billboard busy Flagler street are in Spanish: "Yo no creo en el Herald."

It started Jan. 18, when the Herald published an editorial against a congressional bill to tighten the U.S. embargo against Cuba. The foundation ardently supports the bill, believing it would help destroy Castro. The Herald said it would hurt the Cuban people.

On the same day, a columnist in El Nuevo Herald skewered unnamed "impostors, opportunists and gigolos who have made their modus vivendi out of anti-Castroism."

That was it.

Mas went on the radio, saying the Herald manipulated the news, comparing it to Granma, the newspaper of the Cuban Communist Party.

In a letter to publisher Lawrence, he wrote: "For over two years, your paper tried to discredit my good name. . . . The Herald does not report facts or news. It reports gossip, innuendo and hearsay."

Lawrence wrote two columns responding to Mas, and the newspaper published a 4,000-word piece signed by Mas and titled 'Freedom of Expression Belongs to All of Us, Mr. Lawrence.'

Some of Mas' specific complaints are: The Herald failed to cover foundation leaders' meetings with foreign presidents; the Herald claimed he played a role in a criminal investigation of one of his rivals; the Herald was late in reporting the January arrest of pro-foundation dissidents in Cuba.

"Jorge Mas and the Herald can never agree because Mr. Mas will never agree with any news medium that is not willing to kill negative stories about him," said Mestre of the Herald .

The escalating feud with Mas has had an effect on the day-to-day coverage of the foundation. Although reporters and editors say they are not knuckling under to pressure, they say that higher ranking editors are showing a lot more interest in the stories.

"Prior to the campaign, the perception of Jorge Mas was of this blowhard who did not represent anyone in the Cuban community. I think he sensed that and has come out with guns blazing," said a Herald reporter who covers Hispanics.

The Herald has written favorably of Mas and the hard-line anti-Castro Cubans. In a 1990 column, Lawrence wrote of a hard-working family man, a patriot, the man behind the tough-guy image.

"I think (David Lawrence) has good intentions. He has to have them, because the Cuban community is a big market," said Ninoska Perez, director of the foundation's radio station that broadcasts to Cuba.

The Herald has lost fewer than 60 subscribers to Mas' campaign, Lawrence said. It has lost several hundred in street sales, partly because of the boxes.

Meanwhile, ordinary people are fighting it out in the cafes of Calle Ocho and the letters section of the Miami Herald .

"As a member of the Cuban community, I am embarrassed and disgusted by this anti-Herald campaign," Maria Garcia Stevens wrote in a letter to the newspaper. "Most Cuban-Americans have viewed Mr. Mas' tactics as an embarrassment. . . ."

But on the streets of Little Havana, nine of 15 people asked about the controversy say they "don't believe the Herald."


Cuban -Americans have been feuding with the Herald since the 1959 Cuban revolution, when they were only a tiny minority.

"The Herald for the longest time neglected to cover the Cuban community adequately," said Mestre, the member of the Herald's editorial board.

In 1976, angry that the Herald had disregarded a massacre inside Cuba's notorious Boniato prison, Mestre and several others chained themselves to the doors of the paper's building to protest. They later went on a hunger strike.

Miami has long since turned the corner from old Southern city to the international capital of Latin America.

The newspaper had to change with it.

To adapt, the Herald infused its staff with Cuban -Americans and other Hispanics, began a separate Spanish-language edition and began shifting its focus south, to the homelands of its fast-changing readership. In the past year it closed bureaus in New York, Atlanta and China and opened two in Latin America.

Some Anglo readers have complained that the Herald has gone too far, that it has pandered to Mas. Lawrence said the paper's changing focus is to serve the whole readership, not just Hispanics. What happens to the south is important to all Miamians, he said.

Liz Balmaseda, a Cuban -American columnist at the paper, said people like Mas don't represent all Cuban -Americans:

"They wrap themselves in words like 'Cuban exiles want this, Cuban exiles want that,' when what they are doing is presenting their own political agenda. We ( Cuban -Americans) are no monolithic group. About the only thing we have in common is that we all hate Fidel Castro."

She imagines a Cuba headed by men like Mas.

"To get a visa," she said, ". . . you would have to go through the minister of propaganda."

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Corruption in South Florida: Here to stay

"The situation has gotten so bad that it has sparked an unprecedented uprising of protests in the community. In the past several months, the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce and Mesa Redonda, a group of powerful Hispanic leaders, have announced that they are organizing to find ways to stop corruption . ``We have had it!'' began a letter signed by 24 members of Mesa Redonda." -Miami Herald, Sept. 20, 1998

Rick: How can you close me up? On what grounds?
Captain Renault: I'm shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!
[a croupier hands Renault a pile of money]
Croupier: Your winnings, sir.
Captain Renault: Oh, thank you very much.
Captain Renault: Everybody out at once!
-scene from the 1942 movie, Casablanca.

Miami Beach City Manager Jorge Gonzalez resigned last Wednesday.

He's the latest in a long line of South Florida public servants and politicians who have been ensnared - in varying degrees - in a web of greed, dishonesty, corruption and incompetence.

In Gonzalez's case, it may have been equal parts of all of the above that did him in. It may be months - or years - before we discover just how much damage Gonzalez did to the city he led for almost a dozen years.

But, Tim Elfrink at Miami New Times doesn't need months or years.

In a piece posted on New Times' website today, Elfrink concludes, "Thanks to Jorge Gonzalez, Miami Beach is now Dade's most corrupt town."
Gonzalez, who was paid more than the vice president of the United States and will draw a six-figure pension after he leaves office July 8, fostered the problems by creating a culture of fear in a hierarchy with few checks and balances.
So, why do South Florida taxpayers continue to fall victim to inept public servants and corrupt politicians, year in and year out? Is it something in our culture? Or is it something in the water?

Miami Herald staff writer John Dorschner attempted to answer that question in a September 1998, 5,000 word, page one story titled, "Corruption for the Love of Money."

Dorschner wrote:
Is there something about South Florida that tends to breed corruption? Do we have worse public officials than other places? Greedier business people willing to make deals by bribing public servants? These are the questions many are asking.

Alex Daoud has some answers. The ex-mayor of Miami Beach says he knows precisely when his own corruption began: He was sitting by the pool at a bayfront estate when a wealthy banker offered him $1,000 a month as a retainer. For this, he was to do favors, starting with putting the banker's son on a zoning board.

``The thought came up, `I should say no. I wasn't for sale,' '' Daoud says. ``But I looked at his mansion, his yacht, the chauffeur-driven limousine. He said, `You know, you could get a house like this.' I said, `Fine.' ''

Daoud eventually went to jail for 18 months for taking bribes. ``People say Alex Daoud was corrupt. Well . . . yeah! So were a lot of other people. I got caught. A lot of other people haven't been.''
Dorschner noted in his piece that Miami regularly shows up on lists of the most corrupt cities in America. But, he added...
Local officials think that's an exaggeration, but Joe Centorino, the top corruption prosecutor in the Miami-Dade state attorney's office, says: ``I am constantly amazed when I see people who don't have any ethical base, who see going to work for the government as like getting into any other business. That person is just motivated by greed and profit. And honestly, I think we've had more than our share of instances of that.''
(Today, Centorino heads the Miami-Dade Commission on Ethics and Public Trust.)

In his piece, Dorschner cited the factors that contribute to corruption:

Corrupt officials looking to enrich themselves.

The late Steve Clark, a veteran pol who was mayor of both Miami and Miami-Dade, may have summed it up best about how he and other politicians looked at elected office as primarily a place for personal enrichment. When told that Hispanics had become more than 50 percent of Miami-Dade's population, he responded: ``Let them have a chance at the trough, too.''

Alex Daoud says that when he began as a Miami Beach city commissioner, he wasn't thinking of personal enrichment, but from the beginning, he thought the economics were out of whack. Though commissioners were, and still are, paid only $6,000 a year, Daoud found himself devoting so much time to politics that he had little chance to build his law practice.

Daoud says his downfall began when, desperate for money , he was approached by Abel Holtz, a founder of Capital Bank, during his second term as commissioner. ``Abel Holtz seduced me. . . . He had me over to his . . . waterfront mansion, a magnificent location on the bay. One day after tennis, after everyone left, we were sitting down by his pool, and he said I had a bright political future. All I needed was some help from the right people.
Many disgraced politicians claim they slipped slowly into corruption , moving in minuscule steps so that they weren't aware ofwhat they were doing until it was too late. Not Daoud. ``I knew what I was doing. It starts like a cancer, a single cell, and then it spreads.''
Pay scale unappealing.
[Joe] Centorino, the prosecutor: ``Being underpaid is not an excuse. It certainly could be an argument for paying public figures a reasonable salary, but I don't think that's going to eliminate corruption .''
How often lobbyists bribe officials is debatable, but money is constantly passing from lobbyists to politicians in a completely legal way -- through campaign contributions.
The roots of corruption in South Florida run deep and can be traced back decades.

In 1925, a Miami Beach police chief named Damon Lewis was sentenced to 5 years in prison for running a "dope ring."

But, when the talk gets around to more recent examples of corruption in South Florida, the name Sergio Pereira is almost always mentioned.

In 1985, Pereira became the City of Miami's first Cuban-born city manager.

From the Miami News, March 28, 1985.

Pereira, was a former assistant Dade County manager who some called "Slippery Sergio."

He liked hand-rolled cigars, heavy gold jewelry - lots of it - and designer suits. A proclamation from the Metro commission also noted that Pereira could "be Cuban, look white and act black."

Six months after he became Miami's city manager, he was tapped to become Dade County manager. And that's when things started to get interesting.

A Miami News story noted that Pereira's county-leased car was equipped with a mobile telephone, a siren, and a "Kojak style portable flashing [red] light."

Soon after taking office in January 1986, Pereira drew criticism when the press learned that he had spent more than $31,000 in taxpayer money on furniture for his new office.

Topping the list of expenditures was $9,400 spent on a green marble desk. Other office goodies included a $10,000 oak credenza, a $9,000 custom made leather sofa, and a $1,500 leather arm chair.

From the Miami News, Feb. 14, 1986. (Click to enlarge.)

Pereira explained that he worked long hours and needed to work in a comfortable environment.

Pereira's executive assistant told the Miami News, the "expensive office furniture is needed to enhance the county's image when the county manager is entertaining foreign visitors who may want to do business with the county."

(However, Pereira was a rank amateur when it came to splurging on office decor. 

In 1987 the media learned that Miami City Commissioner Rosario Kennedy spent $111,549.71 - more than five times what the city first estimated - decorating her city hall office. The cost was "$10,000 less than the assessed value of her home," according to the Miami Herald. Incredibly, Kennedy told the paper, "Nobody told me anything about a budget. I was not involved in it at all. I was involved in the colors .")

Pereira suggested that news stories about the cost of his office furniture were anti-Cuban bias.

From the Miami News, Jan. 24, 1986.

But, Pereira was just getting warmed up.

Before he left office two years later in 1988, the egotistical county manager managed to keep his name in the news with various ethical lapses that included...
  • ...taking flying lessons in county police helicopters. In July 1987 the Herald reported, "If he had taken private lessons at the going rate of $350 an hour, his 29.4 hours in the air would have cost him $10,290. In an interview Monday, Pereira said he took up flying at the suggestion of county pilots. "I felt it would be good for morale," he said. "It's done wonders for them out there."

  • ...buying stolen suits. In Oct. 1987 the Herald reported "The Dade County Grand Jury indicted County Manager Sergio Pereira ... for buying stolen designer suits from a cut-rate haberdasher who peddled clothing from a rented Miami duplex."

  • In a line right out of Casablanca, the grand jury exclaimed, "We find it shocking that public officials and other prominent citizens did patronize this duplex." The charges against Pereira were dropped a month later.

  • ...failing to disclose a 1985 land sale that earned him an estimated $127,000 with no investment of money on his part. The Herald reported the deal on Jan. 27, 1988.
  • Pereira had run out of chances....and excuses.

    On Feb. 10, 1988 he resigned.

    According to the Herald, "his decision to leave came as the Herald prepared to publish a story that said he did not report his sale of two houses in Hialeah on his 1985 income tax return."

    Pereira, in typical fashion, once again blamed the "Anglo media" for his troubles. So did many in Miami's Hispanic community.

    "It is clear that the unrelentless and unethical actions of some members of the media have contributed to a serious and unhealthy situation for our community and county government," the Herald quoted Pereira as saying.

    But, at least one of Miami's media outlets came to Pereira's defense.

    The Herald's Celia Dugger reported...
    By late afternoon, rumors swept through the Metro administration building that Pereira would resign. Throughout the evening and night, television and radio stations interrupted their programming to announce the inevitability of Pereira 's resignation. Each cut-in was brief and followed by regular programming -- except on Spanish-language WQBA-AM.

    WQBA, which has vigorously defended the county manager in recent weeks, aired a special call-in program for listeners to express their outrage.
    The host of the call-in program was the station's news director - and future Miami mayor - Tomas Regalado.

    Friday, May 11, 2012

    Stuff we like

    Think you can surf a 78-foot wave?

    Garrett McNamara did, and broke the Guinness World Records for the largest wave ridden for more than a foot.

    But the 44-year-old Hawaiian pro surfer had no intentions to do so when he woke up that morning in Portugal, the Associated Press reports.

    McNamara soon changed his mind after some encouragement from friends. Luckily he listened, because the 5-foot-10-inch surfer made it through the ginormous wave tube just as the swell smoothed out.

    The Associated Press reports:
    “I knew it was big, but I didn’t know how big,” he said.

    McNamara said he didn’t care at first about whether the wave was a record, but was urged by the townspeople in Nazare, Portugal, to get some kind of confirmation. He said he sent the footage and pictures to surfing legend and Billabong judge Sean Collins, who guessed the wave was 85 to 90 feet tall. Collins died in December.

    A Message from Your Kids' Teachers


    "You have fat, dumb, kids."

    "Pandora is not a country."

    "Remember, we don't suck."

    jimmy kimmel, a message from your kids' teachers, we don't suck, you suck

    Thursday, May 10, 2012

    Caption confusion at the Miami Herald

    Note to Miami Herald editors:

    Next time you get one of those letters from a reader complaining about the left-wing media making up stuff; don't immediately dismiss it as a deranged rant from some right-wing, paranoid nut case.

    The writer may have a point.

    Consider this photo and caption that accompanies today's web story on the resignation of Miami Beach City Manager Jorge Gonzalez:

    Now, look at the same photo as it appears today on page 1A of the paper:

    The caption that goes with the first photo is 100% accurate. I know this because I shot a similar photo at about the same time Carl Juste shot his photo.

    But, for some reason, someone decided to rewrite the caption for the print edition of the paper to make it appear that Gonzalez was listening to a debate about his fate as city manager.

    What's really mind-boggling here is that a single, 8-word caption contains not one, but two instances of total fabrication.

    Number one: The photo was taken almost an hour after Gonzalez announced his resignation. The commission had moved on to other business.

    Number two: His fate was not being debated. He'd already resigned and the mayor and commissioners accepted his resignation "without discussion." Says so right here in the story. There was no debate.

    Yeah, I's a minor thing. Or, is it?

    After all, if you can't be trusted to get the little things right, how are we supposed to believe you on the big stories?

    It's something all of you may want to ponder next time you get one of those angry reader emails.

    Wednesday, May 09, 2012

    There's nothing to see here, folks...move along

    Miami Beach Commissioner Ed "Mad Dog" Tobin and City Manager
    Jorge Gonzalez are seen on Wednesday after Gonzalez announced
    he was resigning effective July 8. (Click on all images to enlarge.)

    I want my money back.

    I showed up at the Miami Beach City Commission meeting Wednesday afternoon expecting something resembling an MMA Extreme Fight Night Cage Match.

    Instead, I got Sesame Street.

    Yesterday, Miami Beach City Manager Jorge Gonzalez announced he was resigning after almost 12 years on the job. In an email to the mayor and commissioners, Gonzalez said his resignation was effective May 10, 2013.

    When Commissioner Ed "Mad Dog" Tobin heard that, he fired off an email to Gonzalez that one city hall insider called, "a humdinger."

    From Local 10:
    Miami Beach Commissioner Jonah Wolfson said that Gonzalez's delaying of his resignation until May 2013 was "a disrespectful slap in the face to the commission."

    "To say, 'We'll do it in a year,' cheats the taxpayers," said Commissioner Edward Tobin.
    At Wednesday's meeting, many expected that Gonzalez would be fired. And that's why I was there.

    But, shortly after 5pm, Gonzalez stunned a packed commission chambers by announcing, "After a great deal of thought, personal introspection, I've concluded that the time is now, so I will be resigning my position effective July 8, 2012."

    From the Miami Herald:
    Gonzalez changed his resignation date late Wednesday afternoon. The commission, after hours of sniping publicly, accepted the new date without discussion. “We’ve heard enough,’’ said Mayor Matti Herrera Bower.

    Bower and Commissioner Jerry Libbin voted against accepting the resignation.
    It was over.

    The much-anticipated fireworks never materialized.

    Dozens of pro-Gonzalez Miami Beach residents - many of them wearing lime-green  t-shirts given to them by the firefighters union - quietly filed out of the room.

    Outside the commission chambers, the residents milled about as TV cameras jockeyed for soundbites.

    With nothing newsworthy to photograph, I puttered about and shot pictures of what, at times, seemed like part class reunion, part carnival sideshow.

    Here are some of the images I made, both inside and outside the commission chambers.

    Lobbyist Eston "Dusty" Melton and political reporter Michael Putney.
    Prior to today, it had been about 3 years since I'd visited Miami Beach City Hall. In my absence, they apparently installed a luxury sky box. That's where I found Melton and Putney relaxing comfortably.

    Everyone knows who Putney is, but Melton is known to few outside government circles.

    Here's how the Miami Herald's Carl Hiaasen described Melton - a former Miami Herald political reporter - in a 1989 column.
    You remember four weeks ago when poor [Dade County] Mayor Steve Clark screwed up and voted the wrong way on a big airport construction project. No sooner had the mayor opened his mouth than his phone started to beep.

    On the other end was lobbyist Eston "Dusty" Melton, the mayor's chum, ghostwriter and moral compass. Melton is to Steve Clark what Edgar Bergen was to Charlie McCarthy.

    It just so happened that Melton was also a paid operative for the construction firm that stood to gain an extra $220,000 from a favorable vote on the airport project.

    Apparently the mayor was reminded of this connection during the frantic phone call. He immediately arranged a new vote, absented himself (as originally planned), and the airport funding squeaked through.

    If you know a Miami Beach firefighter; you may be
    able to get one of!
    At times, it seemed like every fourth person in the commission chambers
    was on a mobile device. Standing from left to right are Ed Tobin, Jorge
    Gonzalez and City Attorney Jose Smith.

    I was surprised to find that Miami Beach Mayor Matti Bower looks so much
    different in person than she does on TV.
    Filmmaker Alfred Spellman, right, poses with Miami Herald reporter
    David Smiley and Smiley's new haircut.
    Most exciting moment of the afternoon occurred when TV cameraman on
    left accidentally bumped into old guy in RECALL t-shirt. Old guy
    briefly threatened to kick the crap out of cameraman. 
    Filmmaker Billy Corben talks politics with former Miami Herald reporter
    Edna Buchanan. Buchanan was hoping that Gonzalez would be fired
    on the spot and escorted from the building.
    Photographer Jacob Katel, left, and Miami New Times managing editor Tim
    Elfrink, far right, pose with Alfred Spellman.

    Tuesday, May 08, 2012

    Miami Beach Commissioner Ed Tobin sends City Manager Jorge Gonzalez a love letter

    Ed "Mad Dog" Tobin
    Things are moving pretty quickly at Miami Beach City Hall.

    Two weeks ago, Miami Beach Mayor Matti Bower confronted angry residents outside City Hall. It didn't go well.

    This morning, embattled Miami Beach City Manager Jorge Gonzalez confronted angry residents at a meeting of the "Breakfast Club" at David's Cafe. It didn't go well. (Local 10 got shots of Mayor Bower balancing her checkbook - at 2:52 on the tape - as Gonzalez sparred with residents.)

    This afternoon, Gonzalez tendered his resignation (embedded below). He promised the commissioners he'd have his desk cleaned out by this time next year. That didn't go well, either.

    Commissioner Ed "Mad Dog" Tobin responded to Gonzalez in an email with the subject line, "Sneaky till the end." (Tobin's email is embedded below Gonzalez's resignation letter.)

    In his email Tobin wrote,
    Allowing you to continue to be in charge for 1 year after your resignation would leave you and your staff in a position of control without consequence. . . During this year that you are asking for you will punish those who have recently embarrassed you by calling into question your ability to manage. You will reward those that were loyal. . . I know you to punish your political enemies.
    All of this will be continued Wednesday at Miami Beach City Hall.

    None of this is going to end well.

    Jorge Gonzalez Resignation Letter

    Ed Tobin Letter

    Miami Beach City Manager Jorge Gonzalez confronts his critics

    UPDATED May 8, 2012 @ 5:30pm: The Miami Herald's David Smiley tweets:

    -via CBS4's David Sutta:
    Miami Beach City Manager Jorge Gonzalez "waded into an angry crowd Tuesday [at David's Cafe on South Beach] for what was to be an opportunity to defend himself against charges that he’s failing at the job he’s held for a dozen years.

    But in the end, he served mostly as a punching bag for residents angry about police misconduct, the disruption of Urban Beach Weekend, and a new scandal in the city code enforcement office. Residents angry with Gonzalez share that anger with the city’s mayor, Matti Bower, a Gonzalez backer.

    “We are not a lynch mob,” said resident Mike Burke. “We are the people, and we are exercising our first amendment right. Freedom of assembly and freedom of speech and we will not be intimidated no matter how many policeman Matti Bower travels around with as her personal body guard.”

    Monday, May 07, 2012

    SNL skewers 'Fox and Friends'

    “Saturday Night Live's” cold open absolutely skewered “Fox & Friends.”

    At one point Rupert Murdoch, their boss, couldn’t stand the sight or sound of Steve Doocy, Gretchen Carlson and Brian Kilmeade, who reside in a make-believe world powered by the noxious fumes of oversimplification, the stench of fear and the joyous tears of Christmas morning.

    At the end of the sketch, the trio tosses to commercial break. Before they go, though, the in-house fact-checking team corrects some of the errors from the first two hours of that day’s broadcast.

    • There are currently no bills before the House that would require a woman to have a transvaginal ultrasound before buying sunglasses.

    • The Taliban is not producing a cereal called “Honey Bunches of Goats.”

    • Kirk Cameron is not the voice of Siri.

    • Miss America is not third in the order of succession for the Presidency, nor is Miss Teen USA fourth.

    • Airplanes do not fly by flapping their wings.

    • Patricia Heaton did not win a Nobel Prize for her work on “Everybody Loves Raymond.”

    • Hail consists of frozen water; it is not “made of sins.”

    • President Obama does not plan to take the forwarding option away from e-mail.

    • Disney World is not planning to add Rush Limbaugh to their Hall of Presidents.

    • Nowhere in the Bible does it mention Garth Brooks or Chris Gaines.

    • Turtles do not have “tiny TV’s and sofa beds” inside their shells.

    • Pete Rose did not receive a lifetime ban from the Hallmark Hall of Fame.

    • “National Treasure” is not a documentary even though it feels very real.

    • Wisconsin is an American state and not “just a bit.”

    • Mormons breathe air.

    • Horses do not have “teeth so sharp you wouldn’t even believe it.”

    • Children raised by same-sex couples are not statistically more likely to let the American flag touch the ground,

    • “Psych” is a popular detective show on the USA Network, not a super-secret NASA Mind experiment.

    • It takes more than five to six months of medical school to become a surgeon.

    • Sour Patch Kids are a snack food and therefore physically incapable of pulling a knife on someone.

    • Congress has not declared a war on jean shorts.

    • It is unlikely that Fareed Zakaria is Willem Dafoe in character.

    • Babies tend to like hugs.

    • It is not illegal to discard a Christmas tree.

    • John Wilkes Booth was not wearing a hooded sweatshirt when he shot President Lincoln, nor were the Lincoln’s attending a staging of “The Vagina Monologues.”

    • There is no federal program called “Cash for Bees.”

    • You do not need a spaceship to get to China.

    • The Watergate is a hotel in Washington D.C., not a portal to an undersea kingdom.

    • The new World Trade Center does not transform into a karate robot.

    • Seeing-eye dogs are neither able to nor allowed to drive.

    • It is likely that immigrants do not feed on the blood of our cattle at night while we are all sleeping.

    • Baseball is a land sport.

    • It is widely accepted that ears are used for hearing.

    Saturday, May 05, 2012

    Orchids and 'true crime' come together at Books and Books

    Craig Pittman has written what may be the only book to
    combine gardening with the True Crime genre.

    You know how when you read a good book, the characters really seem to come to life?

    Tampa Bay Times environmental writer Craig Pittman pulled off something like that this week when he showed up at Books & Books in Coral Gables to sign his latest book, "The Scent of Scandal."

    Mitchell Kaplan and Craig Pittman.

    (Over the years I've worked with Craig on several newspaper stories. For just one story in 2003 we visited an abandoned Cold War missile base in the Florida Keys, tromped through a mosquito-infested swamp and hung out with a colony of stray cats at the exclusive Ocean Reef Club...all in one day.)

    Craig invited some of the characters in the book to show up too.

    His non-fiction book, subtitled "Greed, Betrayal, and the World's Most Beautiful Orchid," recounts the discovery of what's been billed as the most astounding orchid to be found in a century. The guy who found it thought he'd be hailed as a hero, but instead he wound up facing criminal charges, and armed federal officers showed up to raid his greenhouse looking for contraband plants. Turns out he smuggled it into the country via the Miami airport.

    One of the main characters in the book is a guy from Miami-Dade County named Lee Moore. His nickname is "The Adventurer," because he's been traipsing around South American jungles for a couple of decades and has cheated death and discovered a number of plants named for him.

    Pittman invited Moore to the signing, and recounted how he once made the mistake of calling Moore an orchid smuggler.

    "I never smuggled orchids," Moore said. "I used the orchids to hide what I was REALLY smuggling."

    From left to right, Lee Moore, Michael Grunwald, Pittman
    and Georgia Tasker.

    Craig also invited Georgia Tasker, who was the Miami Herald's gardening columnist. She broke the story about the discovery and the investigation, and according to Pittman became the first gardening columnist to ever get a front-page scoop on a criminal case.

    Also attending: Martin and Nancy Motes, founders of the Redland International Orchid Festival down in Homestead, where people were selling the newly found orchid under the table for $10,000 a plant.

    The event also attracted documentary filmmaker Alfred Spellman, who is more familiar with other kinds of smuggling ("Cocaine Cowboys" and "Square Grouper" are two of his films) and Time magazine senior correspondent Michael Grunwald, who wrote THE book on the Everglades, "The Swamp," and now has a new book coming out on the stimulus called "The New New Deal."

    Craig's reading didn't draw quite as many fans as E.L. James, the author of "Fifty Shades of Grey," did last week (500 people for mommy porn? What's the world coming to? Wait, don't answer that.) Still, store owner Mitchell Kaplan was pleased and even invited Pittman to return for the Miami International Book Festival in November.

    All in all it was a memorable night. Made me want to actually read the book, now that I've met some of the characters...

    If you weren't able to make Craig's signing, you can still hear him talk about the book on Eliott Rodriguez's News & Views, Sunday at 11:30 a.m. on CBS4, or watch on

    I tried to pay close attention to
    most of Craig's talk.