Thursday, December 31, 2015

Jerry Seinfeld takes President Obama for a ride in a 1963 Corvette



"See, I could call a nuclear submarine right here." ~ Barack Obama







Wednesday, December 30, 2015

All the people Donald Trump has insulted in 2015



“Are we really doing this Donald Trump thing? We’re really doing that as a country? He’s f—-d. I like to put my name in giant letters on everything I own as much as the next guy, but the only other people that do that are like 8-year-olds going to camp. It's like an Internet comment troll ran for president.” -Jon Stewart.

_____________






via Chris Cillizza


Worst red light running crashes of 2015

Here's a video showing some of the worst red light running crashes of 2015 according to American Traffic Solutions.

And, yes, Miami-Dade made the cut with crashes in North Miami, West Miami, Aventura and Opa-Locka.





Source: Forbes.com




Saturday, December 26, 2015

When South Beach became 'a victim of its own government'



"Government is inherently incompetent, and no matter what task it is assigned, it will do it in the most expensive and inefficient way possible." —Charley Reese, newspaper columnist

___________


A half century ago, not a whole lot of imagination was needed to promote the 7-square-mile sand bar known as Miami Beach as a sunny and inviting tourist destination.

Those who worked at the city's Visitors and Convention bureau simply waited until the first snowfall up north, and then sent off envelopes to northern newspapers that were stuffed with cheesy "cheesecake" photos showing pretty young girls frolicking in the Atlantic Ocean.

At the same time, advertisers were showing a Miami Beach that was hip, cool and young.




But by the early 1970s — at about the same time Disney World opened — Miami Beach's business leaders and elected officials were becoming increasingly concerned that the southern tip of Miami Beach, with its elderly Jewish population, wasn't nearly as hip, cool and young as they wanted it to be. So in 1973, they decided it was time to "redevelop" the area. What happened over the next nine years was a classic example of governmental incompetence on a grand scale.

In the 1970s, Miami Beach as a whole began to face a difficult situation. The opening of Walt Disney World in Orlando in 1971 began to shift the attention of Florida-bound tourists away from the Miami area, and new Caribbean resorts were attracting more visitors as air travel became easier. These new destinations elsewhere were drawing tourists away from Miami Beach, and the community had no other industry to rely on. The city’s newer hotels still attracted visitors, but South Beach had become almost entirely a retirement community for seniors, many of them Jewish and poor. The whole city was beginning to get a reputation as a retirement haven for those of modest means rather than a destination resort. The steady stream of retirees from the northeast coming to South Beach wouldn’t last forever, however, since younger generations didn’t have the same attachment to the place shared by those who remembered it from the 1930s, and retirees were increasingly beginning to move to other parts of South Florida instead. Over time the elderly population in the southern part of the city would necessarily dwindle as people died off, so something would inevitably have to change about the neighborhood, but no one was quite sure what that was or what it would or should look like in the future. Some people had ideas, however.

One idea, popular among local developers and the city commission, was that the city needed classic urban renewal involving the demolition of older, often smaller-scaled buildings and their replacement by new, often higher-density, modern developments. This urban renewal strategy was first embraced by the federal government as national policy in 1949, and over the next two decades many municipalities nationally had effected massive-scale clearance and new construction projects. Not surprisingly, some in Miami Beach embraced an urban renewal strategy as the means to revitalize the city. In 1973 the Miami Beach city commission created an independent redevelopment agency tasked with reviving the fortunes of the city. The obvious place for any redevelopment to occur was South Beach, with its aging population and old buildings, and in 1975 the commission declared the area south of Sixth Street “blighted” and imposed a moratorium on new building or major improvements to existing buildings in the area. This cleared the way for the redevelopment agency to develop a master plan for the area, which they named “South Shore,” and in 1976 the plan was ready. It was astonishingly ambitious and involved tearing down almost all of the existing buildings in South Beach south of Fifth Street and replacing them with soaring condo towers, office buildings, and an elaborate network of canals creating numerous islands. The planned luxury hotels, exclusive residences, and a convention center provided no place for the existing residents, few if any of whom would be able to afford the new housing included in the plan. There was little planning to relocate them either.

The renewal plan was controversial from the start, and the redevelopment agency was dogged by constant political problems that dragged the process out for much longer than anyone expected. As the 1970s wore on and the building moratorium continued, the existing buildings in the South Beach redevelopment area continued to deteriorate. The area’s blight designation, a considerable conceptual stretch when it was declared, became a self-fulfilling prophecy. As one state agency after another raised objections to the South Beach redevelopment plan, the revitalization it aimed to deliver—by demolishing the existing fabric and building an ambitiously scaled new neighborhood—seemed less doable and appropriate. [Source.]

In 1978 Dade County Circuit Court Judge Thomas Testa approved bonds for the redevelopment project, calling living conditions in South Beach "sub-human."

"Approximately 47 per cent of the population live in abject poverty, some of whom survive on a diet of cat food," Judge Testa wrote. (By the early 80s, Miami Beach would replace Las Vegas as the nation's  "suicide capital.")


________________



700 block of Ocean Drive in 1980. (Click to enlarge)


In 1976, a year after the Miami Beach City Commission declared the area south of Sixth Street "blighted," Mother Jones magazine dispatched a writer to take a look at the redevelopment project and the effect it was having on the area's residents.

Miami Beach Tries to be Venice

by Ann Banks

Sylvia Shapiro isn't especially worried. The latest plan to develop the South tip of Miami Beach into something "not unlike Venice" shows a canal where her apartment should be. But Shapiro - whose red hair is now graying - has seen plans before. During the quarter century he has lived in Goodman Terrace, an apartment building in Miami Beach's oldest public housing project, half a dozen development schemes has come and gone. This time might be different, Shapiro realizes, so she never misses an open meeting or a public hearing on the latest threat: the South Beach Redevelopment Agency has $377,000 to draw up plans that would transform the area into a network of luxury hotels and condominiums, all connected by an intricate system of canals.

South Beach in the 1960s.  (Click all images to enlarge)


South Beach is a 230-acre enclave at the lower end of the island of Miami Beach. It is home to more than 5000 old people, many of whom live on Social Security. They retired to Miami Beach from northern cities, bringing with them their urban habits of strolling, of schmoozing with neighbors on the front porch, of talking politics on street corners. In contrast to most of Miami Beach, where residents seldom venture beyond the cool confines of central air conditioning, South Beach has a thriving street life. The list of recent local issues reminds one of what life is like when there is no money to cushion the shocks of aging: Can opticians advertise competitive prices for eyeglasses? Will the city begin to charge 25 cents admission for the public dances in the park that have always been free in the past? Do traffic lights stay red long enough to allow someone with an arthritic gait to cross in safety?


Photograph by Flip Schulke (ca. 1970s)


For the majority of the elderly in South Beach, redevelopment is not yet a hot issue. It's too far in the future. Park bench conversations are more apt to center on whether or not to pay an 8% across-the-board rent increase voted by the rent control board.


Lady in Lummus Park. Photograph by Andy Sweet. 


Meanwhile the South Beach Redevelopment Agency keeps on planning. The latest scheme calls for leveling every building in South Beach, save for a few recently constructed high-rises. Although a Miami Herald puff piece on the redevelopment plan describes South Beach as a "blighted landscape," in fact it has unique architectural character. The three-and four-story white hotels with contrasting trim that most of the old people call home form the densest concentration of Art Deco buildings in the country. In their place the Redevelopment Agency proposes to construct an archipelago of seven islands connected by a pedestrian walkway and 20 acres of canals. Along with luxury hotels (one with a boat-in lobby), a sports complex, a 450-boat marina and the fleet of water taxis, the plan features a "fisherman's wharf area" of restaurants, shops and open-air cafes. If that sounds like Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco, it's not surprising. The firm hired to work these wonders was San Francisco's Wurster, Bernardi and Emmons. The planners jet in from the Coast every other month (on alternative months the South Beach redevelopment brass fly there), which helps explain how the plan alone is costing so much.


Photograph by Flip Schulke (ca. 1970s)


The architects' drawings are classics of the genre, replete with potted palms, rustic wooden signs hanging in front of posh shops and elegant power boats moored at the sides of the canals. Venice would blush. Although the Redevelopment Agency has made pious noises about "helping all those who now live in the area to remain if they choose," one looks at the drawings in vain for an old person among the chic couples strolling the plazas and leaning against the tastefully designed trash containers. 

Model of proposed redevelopment of South Beach. (1976)
via Miami Beach Digital Archives. (Click to enlarge)


The plan has all the earmarks of what the New Yorker's Calvin Trillin calls a Grand Urban Scheme. The main characteristic of a Grand Urban Scheme - as distinct from grubby piecemeal enterprise - is a central concept that is so bold and dramatic that its proponents can present themselves as visionaries, as people who dared to dream. For an idea of truly breathtaking foolishness, scissoring a hurricane-prone island with canals makes about as much sense as spanning downtown St. Louis with a useless Gateway Arch.

Another distinguishing feature of Grand Urban Schemes, at least as they are practiced in 1976, is that bulldozers are preceded by something going by the name of "community input." You want to Citizens' Advisory Board? You'll get a Citizens' Advisory Board. You want an Old Person on the Advisory Board? You'll get an Old Person.

.......


But for all the good it does, we might as well be back in the days of John D. Rockefeller rearranging the landscape of the town of Pocantico. In South Beach the numbers tell the story better than all the enlightened can about community participation in the relocation policy making.

The plan calls for a total of 7,300 luxury hotel rooms and upper- and middle-income residences. A planned low-income housing area (to be located in the least desirable section near the parking garage) will contain all of 750 apartments - only a few more units than have been allotted to boats in the marina.

For developers and the city fathers, the relative poverty of South Beach offers a welcome second chance to exploit the area. The northern end of Miami Beach, once the ruby in the navel of Florida's Gold Coast, has lost its glitter. The famous hotels are now faded and scruffy; cut rate camera stores have begun to dominate the commercial strip. For an area that has prided itself on being Big Time, that is indeed bad news.

As for the natural environment, there is hardly enough of a beach left to turn a cartwheel on. For years, the hotel owners have fought with environmentalists (in Miami anyone who stays outside longer than it takes to walk to the car qualifies as an environmentalist) over whether Miami Beach should sign up for federal aid to prevent beach erosion. Since the aid was contingent upon allowing limited public access to the reclaimed beaches, the hotel owners were mostly opposed. Better no beach than a beach full of non-paying riffraff. A belated compromise has been reached, and a $47 million restoration is about to begin.

But that is why it is especially ironic to hear what Redevelopment Agency Director Steve Siskind has to say about the plan. He told the Miami Herald that "Miami Beach has not actually taken advantage until now of the main elements here. The sun, the water, the air - these are the things we would utilize." The reason for the canals is to "develop the island image of Miami Beach." Now that the city fathers have finally discovered the natural elements, they hope that by enhancing them they can "stimulate private capital to invest and upgrade their facilities further north" on Miami Beach.

And all for a mere half billion, about three-fourths of which will come from private developers. The Agency plans to raise the rest through tax increment financing, a funding method that Steve Siskind calls "a revolutionary way of creating money." Under this plan, the tax revenues from the new hotels, etc. will go directly to pay for new development until the entire project is completed. What this means, in effect, is that the public subsidizes the developers by providing expanded city services at no cost. A state constitutional amendment that would mandate this Ponzi scheme is on the November election ballot. If the referendum could be defeated, alternate financing proposals are under consideration.

Meanwhile, the Redevelopment Authority wants to let Sylvia Shapiro's apartment house deteriorate. Redevelopment officials have asked the Miami Beach Housing Authority, which operates Goodman Terrace, to withdraw requests to the Department of Housing and Urban Development for money to modernize the public housing units. The Redevelopment Authority wants to acquire the Goodman Terrace property in exchange for "some other tract" it will offer for a new housing project. Sylvia Shapiro can't believe that HUD will let the developers get their hands on the property. "They've tried before," she says.

But in the long run Goodman Terrace doesn't have much of a chance. Surrounded on three sides by sand and water, it is too tempting a morsel for the second generation of Florida developers, the ones who are coming to realize that with proper Machiavellian planning perhaps it is not necessary to destroy the beaches in order to "save" them.

__________________


In 1982, six years after the Mother Jones article appeared, Michael Kranish, a 24-year-old Miami Herald reporter, was assigned to write a series of stories about the city's plan to raze South Beach. He spent four months talking to residents whose lives were in limbo because of the redevelopment plan.


Photograph by Gay Block. 


South Beach - Where Dreams Die

By MICHAEL KRANISH
Miami Herald Staff Writer
August 29, 1982

It is the south side, an unlikely collection of old buildings and older people, a landscape the hotelmen and politicians wanted to change -- forever.

Upset that the last 30 years have turned the south side into a mecca for thousands of elderly poor New York Jewish garment workers, city fathers in 1974 decided to tear down South Beach's decaying southern quarter, relocate the 6,000 residents, and restore the faded resort's lost luster.

It was to have been the biggest urban renewal project in America.

Today, reality mocks the dream.

A lethal combination of political infighting, governmental indecision and 20 per cent interest rates stopped the project three times in six years. A much less dramatic plan proposed this month, which eliminates a network of Venetian canals and doubles the number of new condominiums, would take another decade to complete. It will be debated Wednesday by the City Commission.

But nine years of planning and delays have eliminated one debate: The once-stable though poor neighborhood has been devastated, a victim of its own government.

Collectively, South Beach today is the sickest, poorest and oldest population in America.


Photograph by Gay Block.


It is a 1.74-square-mile-world that runs beach to bay, 21st Street to Government Cut, 232 blocks and 103 alleys, densely packed with 50,000 people. Fifteen thousand of them are elderly Jews, including 10,000 Tsarist-era Eastern European refugees, the greatest such concentration in the world. They mix today, uneasily, with 13,000 Latin American and 6,000 Mariel refugees, with little more in common than their shared dependence on a government check.

To stop "unplanned development" in the redevelopment area south of Sixth Street, the city imposed a building moratorium in 1973. Major repair of old hotels and apartments was banned. Buildings slid into decay, forcing out the elderly renters, bringing in an underclass -- criminals, dope users, the poor, unemployed Mariel refugees. Property values stagnated, increasing by only one-third the Dade average. Elderly condo owners couldn't sell. The crime rate doubled.

The city in effect pulled out.

Miami Beach closed most of the parks. The city stopped the Pier Park dances that drew 1,000 nightly revelers. It refused to disburse federal low-interest property improvement loans. It denied free federal medication to many residents.

Now, like a miracle cure that induces only a worsening sickness, the government-fostered decay has infected the other three-quarters of South Beach.

"It's a terrible thing, a tragic thing for these people," says Miami Beach City Manager Robert Parkins, who assumed his post four months ago. "It's the kind of thing that you look back on after nine years and say, 'How could that have been allowed to happen?'"



______________


By city order, nothing flows and nothing flowers

By MICHAEL KRANISH
Miami Herald Staff Writer
August 29, 1982

Since the day in 1976 when Miami Beach announced plans to redevelop its southernmost tip, many city services and most of the federal money that once flowed steadily into the area have stopped.

The city has allowed a public housing project to violate building codes. It has refused to fix a leaking roof at the police station. It has given only superficial maintenance to its streets and utilities.

It stopped spending federal poverty-prevention funds in its most poverty-stricken area. It denied federally supplied medication to half of the residents who said they needed it.

It has prohibited new construction and major repairs in the area, permitting apartment buildings and hotels to deteriorate.

The pattern is clear: In planning for and assuming redevelopment's success, Miami Beach has allowed publicly supported life in the area to fail. That, in turn, has driven away most of the residents and businesses able to leave.

The city has even stopped planting flowers.

"We've been holding off on anything south of Fifth Street since 1976 until we know what is going on with redevelopment," explains nursery foreman Frank Guarin, in charge of planting 500,000 flowers for the city each year.

It is the same in most places: Everybody is holding off.

But the city has no choice but to continue holding off until redevelopment is either declared a success or dies, City Manager Robert Parkin says. To spend money to improve an area destined for condemnation would be wasteful.

It started in 1973 when the City Commission, led by then- mayor Harold Rosen, declared a construction moratorium that still exists south of Sixth Street, later declaring the area so "blighted" that only redevelopment -- and the power to condemn all buildings at once -- could save it. Today Rosen admits the area wasn't that blighted then, but is now because of the construction moratorium.

A 1979 University of Miami study of the 372 structures in the redevelopment area found that 80 per cent of the buildings were in excellent or good condition, 14 per cent in fair condition, and only 6 per cent in poor condition. In fact, 20 new condominium buildings were constructed between 1968 and 1974. All but three would be torn down.

Rosen believes the area would "probably have come back on its own," but would never have developed into the wealthy playground that city leaders envisioned. Rosen said the "awesome power" of a moratorium has extracted a "tremendous price" from the area's residents and landlords.

The unusual impact of redevelopment is best seen on Biscayne Street.

Before redevelopment was planned in 1976, the street had a community center, a $1-million pier filled with fishermen, and a bandshell that drew 1,000 nightly dancers. It also had a movie auditorium, a children's park, a boys' camp, a handball court and a basketball court.

In the last two years, the city has closed all of those places.

The city administration, with approval of the majority of the City Commission, made a fundamental decision in 1976 to withhold many services from the redevelopment area.

Miami Beach gets $2 million per year from the federal government to "prevent or eliminate blight." But the city decided in 1976 it would be a waste to spend money in the officially declared most-blighted area, because it was slated for redevelopment. So the city excluded the redevelopment area from a "strategy area" that gets the Community Development Bloc Grant funds. The city's strategy area is roughly between Sixth and 21st streets.



______________


On Friday, Dec. 17, 1982 — three and a half months after Kranish's stories ran in the paper - the Miami Beach City Commission voted to kill the redevelopment project for good.


Beach building ban lifted, plan to raze South Beach abandoned

By MICHAEL KRANISH
Miami Herald Staff Writer
December 18, 1982

Admitting that nine years of planning to turn South Miami Beach into a world-class resort have only hastened the area's decay, the Miami Beach City Commission voted unanimously Friday to put an official end to the $1-billion project.

The commission voted 7-0 to lift the moratorium that has prohibited construction since 1973 -- a moratorium that was supposed to ensure the minutely planned development of a canal- laced "new Venice," to be the nation's most ambitious urban renewal project.

Instead, the moratorium furthered the 255-acre area's deterioration, because the 372 buildings south of Sixth Street could not be substantially repaired for nine years. Half the area's 6,000 elderly were gradually replaced by street criminals, refugees and other low-rent tenants.

The City Commission, which had steadfastly endorsed redevelopment, was forced to abandon the project because the Miami Beach Redevelopment Agency last week failed for the fifth time in six years to find a "master developer."

In place of the moratorium, the commission voted unanimously to impose a restrictive building code for six months. It, in turn, will be replaced by a zoning code that will be defined during the next six months. The action removes the six-year-old plan to evict the residents and demolish the buildings.

"The moratorium is now officially lifted," Mayor Norman Ciment said after the 7-0 vote. "Private enterprise can start the redevelopment of South Beach."

Commissioner Leonard Haber, a redevelopment supporter since 1973, said: "It was a grand idea that could not be implemented in time. A lot of people think we're going to have a wake here today...I think it will be a resurrection with private enterprise."

The commission promptly fired the board members of the Redevelopment Agency, including negotiator Stephen Muss, owner of the Fontainebleau Hilton Hotel, who originated the redevelopment concept in 1976 and tried unsuccessfully to attract a master developer for six years. Muss and members Marwin Cassel and Max Serchuk could not be reached for comment. Chairman Irwin Sawitz resigned last month.

"I'm glad to see the moratorium lifted," said agency member Norman Braman. "We certainly didn't get the job done. It can't get any worse down there, so I think it can only get better."

The commissioners retained the agency as an entity and named themselves as new board members. The commission still hopes to use the agency's power to set aside tax revenues to help build new sewers, streets and utilities on South Beach.

The commission ordered an audit of the agency's books and prohibited executive director Gideon Kellerman from authorizing expenditures. The agency has spent about $10 million since 1976 on planning and legal fees.

"This is the first time I've been happy in nine years," said property owner Robert Reilly, who unsuccessfully sued the agency three years ago to lift the moratorium. "After all these years, the residents don't trust the commission, so I just hope this means this is the end."

Joseph Kassoff, who bought a new condominium just as the moratorium was enacted and who has protested for nine years that he shouldn't be evicted from his oceanfront building, said he is worried that another moratorium will be imposed because the commission did not abolish the redevelopment agency. He noted that the original September 1973 moratorium was also supposed to be lifted after six months.

Property owners also expressed concern that the interim building restrictions would still prohibit construction.

But Arthur Courshon, chairman of the commission's ad hoc redevelopment committee, said the restrictions should be "interim in the most literal sense of the word. The moratorium clearly should be dropped, unequivocally, period."

After countless meetings on redevelopment that often were filled by anger and disagreement, the mood Friday was somber and businesslike. Commissioners said they had no choice but to kill the plan so long hailed as the city's savior.

It was to have been the nation's most ambitious urban renewal project. The area south of Sixth Street, surrounded by Biscayne Bay, Government Cut and the Atlantic Ocean, was to be razed for a canal-laced Venetian resort. Every building and every sign was supposed to be planned down to the minutest detail.

In writing the project's obituary Friday, the commission said it did not succeed because of high interest rates and political infighting. The project's fourth bidders, First Boston Inc. and The Rouse Co., pulled out of their agreement with the agency Oct. 8. The agency rejected the fifth and final bidders last week because none met the legal requirements to be a developer.

Former Mayor Harold Rosen, who helped set the redevelopment plan in motion in 1973, attended the Friday meeting. "It has been nine long years... the commission did the right thing. They had no other choice," he said after the vote.

By building a 400-slip marina on Biscayne Bay and an 18-acre park along Government Cut, the commission now hopes to spur private redevelopment in the area. They hope to provide further stimulus for private growth by auctioning off an 18-acre parcel of publicly owned bayfront for a restaurant/shopping complex.

The city's consultant, Dr. Robert Freilich, said redevelopment would now occur with the participation of the area's property owners but warned it would be a long process. Said Freilich: "It will be another 10 years before we have finished redeveloping South Beach."



Wednesday, December 23, 2015

'Burglars Just Want Tacos' just may be the best fast food commercial ever produced





Via KTLA:
A Las Vegas taco place that was burglarized a week ago transformed footage of the burglary into a commercial that has gone viral.

The security footage shows three men breaking into a closed Frijoles & Frescas Grilled Tacos establishment on Dec. 16 and sacking the restaurant.

Greg Carlson, the general manager of the family-owned and -operated restaurant, was alerted by an alarm system when the burglary occurred.

When he got to the scene, he saw that the glass door was smashed and two cash boxes were stolen. Fortunately, they were empty. “I thought to myself: ‘We’re going to have some expenses from this. I might as well turn this into something that will inspire people to come try our food,'” he told CNN. Carlson published a YouTube video the day after the robbery in hopes of getting the word out.




Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Here's a video of Donald Trump speaking with a British accent


Donald Trump doesn't sound all that offensive if he speaks with a British accent....




Bonus track: Donald Trump sounding like a little kid....





Sunday, December 20, 2015

Jovon Reddick tried to rob a store in Coral Gables, but he got his ass kicked instead


Jovon Maurice Reddick. 
(Click images to enlarge)



Jovon Reddick - who's all of 5'8" tall and 160 lbs. - walked into a convenience store at 5885 Ponce De Leon Blvd. in Coral Gables on Saturday morning, pointed his finger at some customers and tried to rob them.

He didn't get any money, but he did get his ass kicked as the video below shows.

And he got a free ride to the lock-up, where it's likely he'll be spending Christmas. And New Year's Eve. And the 4th of July...etc., etc., etc.


Via Local 10:
A man stormed into a Coral Gables convenience store apparently holding a gun at 4:30 a.m. Saturday.

The man demanded that everyone get on the ground and empty out their pockets, threatening to shoot them.

The store clerk ducked and hid, but the two customers inside seemed to comply, until the man in the black T-shirt said not so fast. He walked toward the robber and grabbed him. His friend joined in and the three of them struggled.

The man in black even wailed on the robber's head with a bottle of iced tea. They push to the back of the store and the robber ended up on the ground.

He was held down, and one of the men even tied the robber's shoe laces together until Coral Gables police arrived.

Two officers with long guns arrived, and another officer with his handgun.

Jovon Reddick, 32, was arrested and booked with his head bleeding from the iced tea bottle. He's charged with armed robbery and using a firearm during a felony.

Police said Reddick was only pointing fingers at the victims, but had a loaded gun hidden in his waistband.



Friday, December 18, 2015

Craig Pittman is the expert on Weird Florida


Some have likened Craig Pittman's desk to a "toxic waste dump," however
he prefers the term "compost pile of information."

(Click image to enlarge.)


My friend, Craig Pittman, writes about Florida's environment for the Tampa Bay Times.

Last year, Pittman and a colleague shook up Tallahassee with an investigation into trips taken by Florida Republicans to an exclusive hunting ranch in Texas...trips that were funded by the Florida sugar industry.

He's been on the environmental beat since 1998, so I guess that makes him an expert on the subject.

But being a Florida native, he's also an expert, and the go-to guy on all things Flori-DUH.

Two years ago he wrote about Florida weirdness in a series of posts on slate.com. 

His fourth book titled "Oh, Florida! How America's Weirdest State Influences the Rest of the Country"  was inspired in part by his slate.com posts. It hits bookstores next year.

I recently asked him to tell me about the book.

My fourth book titled "Oh, Florida! How America's Weirdest State Influences the Rest of the Country" is due out next July 4.

The book will offer readers a whirlwind tour through the craziest, kookiest tales of Florida Men and Florida Women stumbling, bumbling, and occasionally blowing things up. I recount such "only-in-Florida" tales as the one about the domestic dispute in which the weapon was a three-foot alligator; the wannabe mermaid who got in trouble with her homeowners' association because her costume violated the "no-fins" policy in the community pool; and the U.S. Senate candidate who admitted sacrificing a goat and drinking its blood. Longtime Floridians will recognize a lot of the characters -- crooked cops, dopey crooks, moralizing politicians caught with a prostitute, phony doctors inflating butts with unsafe substances,a developer who stole a customer's money to pay for a sex change -- just your typical Sunshine State crew.

But the book -- which grew out of my tweets that highlight weird stories by tagging them "Oh #Florida!" -- also shows that Florida Men and Florida Women have influenced life for everyone across the country. The guy who invented the computer, John Atanasoff, grew up in Polk County, where he was fascinated by the slide rule carried by his father, a phosphate mining engineer. Ray Charles, who revolutionized American music, learned to play the piano at the Florida School for the Deaf and Blind in St. Augustine. Billy Graham got the call to preach on an abandoned golf course in Temple Terrace. Floridians started everything from the '70s streaking fad to Indian gambling casinos to the sports drink industry.

Miami gets a lot of ink in this book, and not just for all the mayors who have been arrested. For instance, I spend time talking about the case that led to TV cameras being allowed in America's courtrooms and how it started with two crooked Miami Beach cops. There's a section on Anita Bryant's anti-homosexual crusade that made her the Bull Connor of the gay rights movement. Al Capone gets a shoutout, as do the two Miami residents currently running for president, Jeb! and Marco?!. And of course I cover the giant house-nibbling snails that were smuggled in by a religious cult.

The book also talks about how Florida is billed as a paradise but is constantly trying to kill us -- with hurricanes, sinkholes, shark bites, lightning strikes and the occasional poisonous tree. I also write about how the Florida voters who stood in line for seven hours to hand liberal Barack Obama the state's electoral votes also elected Tea Party darling Rick Scott as governor. 
And I cover our educational follies (how DID Pitbull wind up with his own charter school?), our environmental crimes and our ecdysiast industry with equal verve. 
Oh yeah, and I also go into why the Tallahassee cops once tried to Taser a llama. 



"Oh, Florida!" shows how all of Florida’s contradictions fit together to make this the most interesting state in the Union – not to mention the one that’s likely to determine who will be the next president of the United States. 
Ponder that fact for a while, and then go pre-order this book, pronto! But watch out for those giant snails.




Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine is the Putz Who Stole Hanukkah




Sometimes you have to wonder if Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine ever gives any thought beforehand to the crap that come out of his mouth.

Here's the tough-talking Levine in the Miami Herald this morning kvetching about a Hanukkah parade that snaked its way through the city on Dec. 7.
"It's a shame that they jeopardized the safety of the police escort with their behavior by not following proper directions and laws. Whether you're Jewish, Catholic, white or black, Miami Beach has laws to protect the safety of our entire community, and they must be obeyed."

__________________



__________________


The parade is a 30-year Miami Beach tradition, but Beach cops were ordered by Levine's World Class Police Chief Dan Oates, to cite drivers for minor infractions.

According to the Herald's Chuck Rabin, "Officers ticketed 30 parade-goers, including several rabbis — for running red lights and endangering pedestrians."

However, despite similar tough talk in the past from Levine, a Miami Beach police source tells me that Beach cops have rarely issued citations to Critical Mass riders — an event where thousands of bicyclists take over entire city streets.

In 2013, Miami New Times reported that Miami Beach police often go out of their way to "embrace" the Critical Mass riders. "Police in Miami Beach and Coral Gables have taken to blocking — or "corking" — intersections for the riders..." wrote New Times' Michael Miller.

Meanwhile, in Kansas City, this is how cops treat motorists during the holidays.  (It's enough to make a news anchor cry.)





Monday, December 14, 2015

Here are some videos of dogs (and a stray cat) helping TV weathermen make the weather a little less boring


"The greatest pleasure of a dog is that you may make a fool of yourself with him and not only will he not scold you, but he will make a fool of himself too." -Samuel Butler


Meteorologist John Zeigler and Griffey, the weather dog.


Surprise guest joins meteorologist Ryan Phillips

Ripple helps meteorologist Mike Sobel.


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And let's not forget the cats....






Sunday, December 13, 2015

Will Ferrell returns to SNL as George W. Bush to analyze the Republican presidential candidates


Will Ferrell showed up on "Saturday Night Live" in character as George W. Bush to offer up some insightful analysis of the Republican presidential candidates.

On his brother Jeb: “Poor Jeb. You gotta admit it's a pretty good plot twist that I turned out to be the smart one.”

"I wish he would have asked me about the exclamation point on the end of his name," he said. "Look, I don't like the taste of broccoli but it doesn't get any tastier if you call it 'Broccoli!'"

On Donald Trump: “Whenever I get in a bad mood, I just picture his big, fat, orange Oompa-Loompa face. I just piss my pants.”






Saturday, December 12, 2015

Terrorism now tops the list of Americans' fears. Fear of the police? Not so much.


Gold Cross Award winners, from left, Sgt. Richard LaCerra and Deputy
Peter Peraza stand with Sheriff Scott Israel during the Broward Sheriff’s Office
Awards Ceremony at the African-American Research Library in Fort Lauderdale
in 2013. Amy Beth Bennett / Sun Sentinel


Headline: Fear of Terrorism Lifts Donald Trump in New York Times/CBS Poll
Americans are more fearful about the likelihood of another terrorist attack than at any other time since the weeks after Sept. 11, 2001....

Another recent poll says that 58% of likely voters "think there's a war on police in America today."

But consider this headline: U.S. Police Killed More People in November Than English Police Have in 25 Years.

Unsurprisingly, in many U.S. communities, some Americans are more fearful and suspicious of the police than they are of ISIS.
Do police officers “routinely lie to serve their own interests?” Thirty-one percent of Americans believe they do, and that number rises to 45 percent among African-Americans, 41 percent among young people and 39 percent among Democrats. Republicans reject that charge three to one (60 to 20 percent).
____________________


There once was a time in Miami that police had a virtual license to kill.

Twenty years ago, one band of rogue Miami officers would plant guns called "throw-down guns" at police shooting scenes and later say they had to shoot because the person had a gun.
'To carry out this conspiracy, the officers would seize property, including guns, from people in the city of Miami and fail to submit them to the Miami Police Department property room,'' [U.S. Attorney Guy] Lewis said. ''The defendants would later plant the guns on the scene of police-involved shootings.''
Four former Miami police officers were ultimately convicted on the conspiracy charges in federal court.

These days cops no longer use throw-down guns.

Now they just say something like an officer shot a suspect "because he feared for his life," or the suspect made a "sudden movement" or "he went for his waistband."

And if you're a cop at one South Florida law enforcement agency, you might even get an award for shooting someone.

Yesterday, Broward Sheriff's Office deputy Peter Peraza was "indicted for manslaughter in the shooting death of Jermaine McBean, who was killed while walking home with an unloaded pellet gun he had just bought a pawn shop." Less than three months after the shooting, Peraza was presented with an award by Sheriff Scott Israel.
Broward County Sheriff's Deputy Peter Peraza — who was given a bravery award for the shooting by his bosses while it was still under investigation — surrendered early Friday and was expected to be released on $25,000 bond, prosecutors said. He was suspended without pay and faces up to 30 years in prison if convicted.
[...]
In videotaped statements to investigators, Peraza said he fired because he feared for his life.





Friday, December 11, 2015

Florida woman goes to DMV for two things: a drivers license, and to kick a cop in the balls. They were out of licenses.


Crazy woman gets into a fight with a Florida Highway Patrol trooper at the DMV in Deerfield Beach because Florida.





UPDATE: The woman has been identified as 31-year-old Eleanore Stern of Boca Raton.


Eleanore Stern. 




The Math Problem

Last night one of my Facebook friends posted this story about his visit to a fast food joint:

So I visit a drive through and my total is $9.20. I give the young lady $20.20, expecting $11 back. She hands me back $5.10. When I say that is incorrect, she asks me, "So how much do I owe you sir?" I tell her, "My change is short by $5.90 so take the dime back and give me an even $6.00." Her response after complying was priceless! She says, "Boy I'm glad you know this math shit!"




Thursday, December 10, 2015

Miami Herald theater critic Christine Dolen to retire after 40 years at the paper

Long-time Miami Herald theater critic Christine Dolen is leaving the paper after 40 years and thousands of reviews.

Here's what friend and former colleague Ellie Brecher had to say about Dolen in an email:
Chritine Dolen. 
"Christine Dolen can't be replaced. Period. She's as much of a South Florida arts institution as the brick-and-mortar venues that present the shows she covered. She has an encyclopedic knowledge of the American theatre and is the institutional memory of theatre in South Florida. Her reviews were always thoughtful and detailed, but accessible. Each one was a little bit of theatre education. They spoke to both the novice and the aficionado in ways that satisfied both. She could be sharply critical without ever being nasty or degrading. As a colleague, Chris was uniquely gracious, helpful and kind. Her beat wasn't just her job; it was her life."


And here's an email sent by Herald executive editor Mindy Marques to staffers last Monday:
Bittersweet news: After 42 years with us, Christine Dolen has decided to retire.

The daughter of an actor, Chris grew up reading theater reviews. Too shy to take to the stage herself, she found the perfect marriage of her two passions – writing and the arts – in theater criticism.

She took her first job at the Columbus Dispatch, where she was a copy editor and wrote freelance theater and movie reviews. In 1974, she landed a job at the Detroit Free Press as its pop music critic and a features copy editor. She joined the Miami Herald in 1976 and in 1979 became theater critic, a job she has held to this day.

She was a John S. Knight Journalism Fellow at Stanford University in 1984-85, and a senior fellow at Columbia University’s National Arts Journalism program in 1999. In 1997, she was a member of the Pulitzer Prize drama jury.

Over the years, her deep knowledge of theater and her incisive coverage have earned many accolades, among them the Green Eyeshade in criticism from the Atlanta Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists and first place in arts writing in the Missouri Lifestyle Journalism Awards.

In 2001, she received the George Abbott Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Arts. In November 2011, American Theatre Magazine named her as one of the country’s dozen most influential theater critics. Her blog, Drama Queen, appears on the Miami Herald’s web site, and she has contributed to both American Theatre and Inside Arts magazines. She has also been an editorial board member of Best Plays Theater Yearbook.

In the past year, in addition to her theater coverage, Chris has written and edited arts content for the Herald and handled the Thursday Tropical Life section.

​Her more recent honors include the Silver Palm Award (2014) for her many years of coverage of the theater community; the Remy Award from the South Florida Theatre League (2015) for service to the theater community; and a certificate of appreciation from the African Heritage Cultural Arts Center (2015) for many years of covering the work of the African American Performing Arts Community Theater.

​She was also the commencement speaker for New World School of the Arts in 2014.

Her long list of story subjects includes the top artists of our time – from Bruce Springsteen, Billy Joel, Smokey Robinson, Stevie Wonder and Led Zeppelin to Lin-Manuel Miranda, George Abbott, Agnes De Mille, Jerome Robbins, Cameron Mackintosh, Edward Albee, Tennessee Williams and Arthur Miller.

Over her career, Christine has seen at least 4,000 plays and musicals. On her all-time best list: the nine-hour "Nicholas Nickleby" with Roger Rees on Broadway; "Cyrano de Bergerac" with Derek Jacobi in Los Angeles; and this year’s "Hamilton" on Broadway.

​She has been at the forefront of South Florida’s burgeoning theater scene. She attended the first table reading at New Theatre of Nilo Cruz's "Anna in the Tropics," which went on to win the Pulitzer Prize. And she has tracked the careers of Miami artists who have gone on to receive national and international acclaim – the likes of Tarell Alvin McCraney and Raul Esparza.

Chris' sign-off quote: "I'm glad to have had the opportunity, story by story, review by review, to chronicle the history of South Florida theater for the past 36 years.​"

​None of these biographical notes capture Christine’s warmth and humility. Nor can they convey how much she will be missed. We wish her a rich and fulfilling retirement. We’ll give her a proper Herald-style send-off before her last day on Dec. 18.

Kendall, Rick & Mindy

Aminda Marqués Gonzalez
Executive Editor & Vice President
3511 NW 91 Avenue,

Miami, FL 33172


_________________


Aug 21, 1982: Play it again, Burt -- the theater is a success



Wednesday, December 09, 2015

An eagle named Uncle Sam attacked Donald Trump


During a TIME Magazine cover shoot last August, a bald eagle, the symbol of American strength, invincibility and freedom, attacked Donald Trump.

Any questions?









These dogs will definitely get you in the Christmas spirit


Here's a video from Hungary that's guaranteed to get you in the Christmas spirit.

It was put together by Nora Vamosi-Nagy, one of the world's top dog trainers.

Merry Christmas.







Tuesday, December 08, 2015

Listen to Donald Trump supporter Jean Keil spew some Trump-inspired hate


Trump supporter Jean Keil of South Carolina


That's Donald Trump supporter Jean Keil up there.

She's typical of the garbage that gravitates toward Donald Trump: racist, dumb-as-dirt losers.

CNN interviewed her last night as she waited in line to hear Trump speak in her hometown of Mount Pleasant, South Carolina where she works at a bank.

Now, Jean looks pleasant enough. But it's not until she opens her mouth do you begin to fully realize the kind of hate and ignorance Donald Trump inspires.

Asked by the CNN reporter, "Are you in favor of bombing terrorists' homes?" she responds, "Absolutely, absolutely....people will continue to reproduce and they will raise children in their beliefs."

Lovely. Gotta stop them from reproducing.

Watch Keil and some other Trump supporters in the video below.






Monday, December 07, 2015

Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine's 'Rahm Emanuel moment'


Click to enlarge.


It was supposed to be Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine's shining moment.

Art Basel is the one week of the year that the 1% beat a path to Miami Beach's doorstep.

One website reported that some 780 private jets brought the moneyed-class to South Florida for the art-filled weekend.

Had things gone according to plan, Mayor Levine would have been taking victory laps around City Hall today.

But all that changed on Saturday in the time it takes to squeeze the trigger of an AR-15 rifle.

Sometime shortly after 11 a.m., a Miami Beach police officer fired his weapon, sending two .223 cal. bullets into the chest of a deranged man, who we are told had attempted to hold up a bank a near 14th Street and Alton Road before barging into a barber shop a block away.

An hour or two later, cable channels worldwide were showing pictures of a silent and grim-faced Levine standing next to Police Chief Dan Oates as he attempted to explain how one of his officers gunned down a man who posed little or no threat to anyone, while dozens of onlookers filmed the entire thing.

After calling the shooting an "isolated incident" that was "horrible" and "tragic," Levine slithered off and out of camera range for the rest of the weekend.

Levine performs quite well when he's reading scripts. Not so well, however, when he's confronted with a crisis that doesn't come with a script.

Today on Facebook, Miami Beach-based filmmaker Billy Corben posted a scathing broadside that took Levine to task for his handling of the incident.

Is Mayor Philip Levine engaging in victim blaming? The man’s identity was unknown to police at the time of the confrontation, so it is irrelevant. It’s a political smoke screen. Nobody said he was an angel. We knew he was a bank robbery suspect. The fact that he has a swastika tattoo might appall the 41st Street corridor, but so too should the image of government authorities shooting a man in broad daylight at point blank range in the street. (Note: the suspect spent the last 12 years in prison, which means his body art could have been a survival mechanism rather than ideological commitment.)

Are you suggesting that his his prior criminal record justifies that action in Miami Beach during Art Basel when less than lethal force (Taser) would have sufficed and ended the situation expeditiously and heroically? The officers and public would have gone home safely and the suspect would have gone to jail. In the video, you can clearly see that one of the officers justifiably deployed his Taser, which for a fraction of a second appears to work. This footage could have been used for training (even marketing) by Taser International. A model for police worldwide. But then, less than a second later, the officer with the assault rifle uses lethal force. So, instead, it is yet another example of what appears to be a public execution by an overzealous law enforcement officer who, instead of deescalating and preserving life, turned a potentially dangerous situation into a deadly one. And, likely, considering the track record of Miami-Dade County — no police officer has been charged with an on-duty shooting in over 25 years despite a proliferation of these events — there will be no legitimate investigation, consideration of charges or accountability.

I know that there are real, justified, sometimes even essential uses of deadly force, but you, Mr. Mayor, have never acknowledged an unjustified use of force of any kind or taken genuine action against any. As we learned this year, in Miami Beach, cops have to write insensitive emails to get fired. Otherwise, even when caught on video abusing their authority and physically assaulting civilians, as with Detective Philippe Archer, they get a pass.

I encourage you to take a look at the video [here]. It's a wider angle, longer and more extensive than the original and shows the suspect was not lifting the razor against the police, but appears to be threatening only himself with it. Just because he may have wanted to commit "suicide by cop," as has been alleged, doesn't mean you have to oblige him. In fact, it actually speaks to the fact that the man needed help. Why use deadly force just because you can and you know you can get away with it? Is that how our police officers should be trained and conduct themselves? Isn’t it braver and in the best interest of the public (particularly those who are standing feet away across the street) to show restraint? If what you see on this video is within city policy, do you think we need to amend the policy?

You now have your very own Memorial Day 2011 incident. A deadly encounter that resulted in 115 shots fired, a man killed and 4 bystanders hit. That “investigation" ended earlier this year, on your watch, and no officers were charged, fired or even punished. The record of this police department during your tenure has been spotty, at best. This is your Rahm Emanuel moment, Mr. Mayor. Tread cautiously and thoughtfully.

The world is watching.




Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine calls Saturday's police shooting 'horrible'


Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, center in light blue shirt,
was uncharacteristically silent following Saturday's
police-involved shooting that left a man dead on Alton Road.


Here's some important news from the New York Times about this year's Art Basel:

Art Basel Miami Beach, Usually Sun-Soaked, Is Just Soaked This Year

At Scope, a huge satellite art fair in a tent on the beach, John Ferrère, co-owner of Galerie de Nevers in Paris, said there seemed to be fewer people at the fair on Friday and Saturday, but that he had nonetheless sold about $35,000 worth of art — a healthy amount given that his offerings of three artists’ works were in the range of $1,500 to $2,200 each.

“The weather was too violent here,” he said. “I know collectors in high heels who ruined their shoes on the flooded path outside.”

Now the Times is usually pretty thorough, so I'm not sure why their reporter, Nick Madigan, couldn't have worked the phrase "blood-soaked weekend" into his story.

I'm talking, of course, about the stabbing Friday night at the convention center, and the killing on Saturday of a "bank robbery suspect" by a Miami Beach police officer.

Mayor Philip Levine in
crisis mode.
At least one Miami Beach official, like Madigan, couldn't seem to come up with the words to adequately describe Saturday's horrific shooting

The best Miami Beach's Mayor Philip Levine could do — a man who was never at a loss for words when talking about the City's 100th birthday party — was this hollow statement about the killing of a man in broad daylight.

"It's a horrible, an isolated incident and it's tragic for everybody involved," Mayor Philip Levine said. "As we learn more about this incident from Miami-Dade police, from the state attorney’s office, we will make sure to keep everyone informed."

So, while we wait for the mayor to "inform" us, enjoy these photos of a rather lonely-looking Mayor Levine at Art Basel. My favorite is the first photo that shows hizzoner posing in front of a pixelated pornographic mosaic. 


Is Mayor Levine smiling because he's in a room filled
with pornographic art?

(Click images to enlarge)





Saturday, December 05, 2015

Bank robbery suspect shot and killed by Miami Beach police officer as camera rolls



______________


Miami Beach police confront bank robbery suspect
Saturday morning.  (Click all images to enlarge)
Image taken from video / Marcellus Johnson. 


Via Miami New Times:
Dramatic video captured by a bystander and uploaded to Instagram [Saturday] morning captures a man being shot by Miami Beach Police officers in the middle of Alton Road.

The man had just held up a nearby Bank of America, Miami Beach Police say, and had armed himself with a straight razor from a barbershop before he was shot.

The confrontation started about 10:30 this morning when a hold-up alarm at the 1414 Alton Road Bank of America alerted police; the suspect said he was armed with a bomb, the teller told police.

When officers arrived, the suspect ran into a nearby barber shop and grabbed a straight-edge razor, says Det. Kathleen Prieto. "Shots were fired and the subject is deceased," she says in a statement.

Police have not released the man's name yet.

A video, uploaded by Marcellus Johnson, a Miami-based event photographer, shows the disturbing story unfolding. The video — shot in front of a framing store near 15th Terrace and Alton Road — shows a shirtless man clad in jeans walking down the middle of Alton Road toward officers with their weapons raised. Shortly after the man puts his hands on a police cruiser, one of the cops fires, and the man falls to the ground clutching his chest.



Suspect falls after being shot by Miami Beach police.
(Click images to enlarge)
Images taken from video by Marcellus Johnson.


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Click here to see video in horizontal format. 

Click here to see longer version of video.

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When life imitates art...The Art Basel edition


This is real ife...not art.
Photograph by Rudy Perez. 

__________

Life imitates art far more than art imitates Life. ~Oscar Wilde
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It doesn't get any more Miami than this: A woman attending Art Basel on Miami Beach Friday night is stabbed by an X-acto knife wielding stalker

Witnesses to the assault think they're seeing performance art. (This is, after all, what passes for art these days.)

The aftermath is photographed by an artist who takes a picture of the attacker being handcuffed.

The cop doing the handcuffing is Miami Beach Police Chief Dan Oates.


Miami Beach Police Chief Dan Oates handcuffs Siyuan Zhao.
Photo by Rudy Perez. 


From the Miami Herald story:
The stabbing occurred in a corridor near an art installation entitled “The Swamp of Sagittarius,” by Miami artist Naomi Fisher.

Fisher said she was at her exhibit when she heard a scuffle and later saw a woman being wheeled away by paramedics at about 5:30 p.m.

“A guy walked up to me and said, ‘I thought I saw a performance, and I thought it was fake blood, but it was real blood.’”

She said an artist named Rudy Perez showed her a photo that he snapped on his cellphone, showing a woman dressed in white with blood stains on her clothes.

Fisher said the stabbing took place in front of booth N29, where Freedman Fitzpatrick Gallery from Los Angeles was exhibiting.

Police cordoned an area near the Washington Avenue entrance to the convention center. It was in a section of the show called NOVA designed to promote young artists.

“It's horrible ... I'm so freaked out,” Fisher said. “I feel nauseous.”

Art gallery representatives who witnessed the incident declined to give their names but said they saw a woman with what appeared to be a pen in her neck. One gallerist said she heard a scream and ran over and saw a young woman lying on the floor bleeding from her neck.
[...]
Inside the convention center, security guards and event organizers worked quickly to clean up the scene, and to keep public attention focused on the art and not the stabbing.

Siyuan Zhao.
Miami-Dade Corrections Department.