Urban Weekend in Miami Beach – A Solution

I briefly got a taste of Urban Weekend this Memorial Day Weekend in South Beach and I can tell you I was never more excited to get back to Broward County. My friend, his wife and their 10 month old daughter picked Memorial Day Weekend to literally come across the country to visit us, and then booked a hotel on Sunday in Miami Beach wholly unaware of Urban Weekend. Navigating Collins and Ocean Drive with a stroller Sunday afternoon was…..grating to say the least.

The problems that go along with Urban Weekend have been documented extensively elsewhere (trash, crime, destruction, etc) and are very apparent to the residents of South Florida. Yet the big question every year is what to do about it. The Miami New Times quotes the Mayor of Miami Beach, Matti Herrera Bower, saying:

“We are also up in arms… We have put up with this for 10 years,” Bower said, but “there’s not many options.”

Needless to say, that doesn’t sit well with many who expected a stronger reaction from the Mayor. The Mayor states that the ACLU hamstrings the city enforcement efforts and that a curfew is off the table. However, most importantly, the Mayor claims that because Urban Weekend is not formally organized that there’s nothing the city can do:

“There is no organizer, no event. It’s just there,” she said, emphasizing that the city does not control or issue any permits for any of the long weekend’s events.

The Mayor, though, also just names the solution and it seems self evident if one were just to take a more proactive approach to the problem instead of the resigned attitude that Mayor Bower seems to be exhibiting. If it’s a problem that there is no organizer to control, then have the city of Miami Beach organize Urban Weekend. Or, ideally, if there is another organization or promoter that would like to take it on, then allow them to do so but under restrictive permits.

Instead of the current anarchy that occurs on Urban Weekend, grab the “event” and control it. It would be very hard for the ACLU to target the city if the city is not only running it but also promoting it. Ideas that the city could implement under a permit setup include but are not limited too:

Gated admission which would help with crowd control.
Extra policing would be justified since it is now an organized and official event. As it stands now, it appears that the extra police are there because a lot of African Americans are expected which is obviously why the ACLU dislikes the current setup.
Instead of administering a curfew, the city could control the scheduling or hours of the Urban Weekend. Currently, Urban Weekend is just a mishmash of different clubs putting on marquee events and nights. The sanctioned Urban Weekend should shoulder events and could possibly coordinate more amongst the clubs. Therefore, hours could be softly imposed and avoid an authoritarian and counterproductive curfew.
More knowledgeable and creative minds could find other ideas that would help lessen the blow that Urban Weekend inflicts on Miami Beach. However, it is imperative that Miami Beach does not just accept the status quo and works to a solution.

Davie, FL Considers Counterproductive Local Vendor Preferences

The Sun-Sentinel reports here that Davie may enact a local vendor preference similar to Hollywood, Miramar, and Cooper City. No surprise there as one of the unintended effects of a local vendor law is to cause all of your neighboring cities to institute one as well. A local vendor preference, broadly, gives businesses in the “locale,” however defined, an opportunity to win a contract if it falls in the range of the lowest bid, usually around 5%.

In theory it sounds good: help local businesses, help local employment, perhaps increase tax revenue. Yet, when examined in practice and looked at beyond the scope of feel good rhetoric, there are serious problems. Davie would be wise to examine it thoroughly before blindly following through with its proposed local vender preference (from here out, LVP).

LVP are a burden on the local taxpayers NOT a boon, the following points are at issue:

Logically, the first slight against taxpayers is deciding to not give preference to the lowest price. This goes against the very free market/capitalistic beliefs that even the most liberal among us believe in. The local government should act as a good faith negotiator for the taxpayer with regards to prices.
The idea of increased tax revenue is a myth as local businesses suffer from reciprocity when other cities enact their own LVP. So a Davie business may benefit from contracts in Davie but will suffer in Hollywood, so where exactly is there a gain? The LVP become redundant if everybody enacts them.
The taxpayers face increased cost as the bureaucracy of implementing and enforcing the LVP becomes increased and cumbersome. As with any regulation, red tape ensues and is costly.
Finally, the city and taxpayers will inevitably get less outsider bids as a result of LVP and therefore the prices will edge upwards inevitably. The local vendor gets the opportunity of matching within 5% of the lowest bid, if bids stop coming in then the low bids will logically rise.
There is usually a true good faith intent by the cities that enact LVP, however, good faith does not translate necessarily into desired results. If Davie and other cities want to increase tax revenue, local employment, and do right by the taxpayers, then offering sweetheart deals for local businesses is not the right way to go about it and is typically counterproductive. LVP is another example of subverting the taxpayer’s interests for the almighty virtue of being “pro business.”

South Florida Mail in Voting: Why Not?

Amazing statistic of the day:

We get maybe 6 to 8 percent turnout.

That quote comes from Pembroke Pines Commissioner Angelo Castillo in this report by Ariel Barkhurst of Broward Politics. Castillo was describing the abominable turnouts in the Pembroke Pines municipal elections, though it could also be said about most municipalities in Broward.

Castillo proposes an excellent solution, mail in voting. He proposes shutting down the under utilized polling places but still maintaining some central locations to vote on election day. Every citizen would then be mailed an absentee ballot similar to how the State of Oregon runs their mail in only system. The main benefits are cost reduction and convenience to the voter which improves turnout. Pembroke Pines will pay nearly $250k for their next election. However, Castillo also brings up an excellent point that the government is failing the electorate as evidenced by single digit turnouts:

“What really bugs me is the outcome of the money we spend,” he said. “We get maybe 6 to 8 percent turnout. If our salary came from a nickel a vote, we wouldn’t have elections on a Tuesday.”

Sometimes ideas are very clear and very practical, yet it is still a herculean task to overcome the status quo. This is one of those cases. According to the article, Broward County Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes won’t return calls about the issue and Broward Mayor just says it’s not practical but offers no further explanation. It seems ludicrous to think that the State of Oregon can implement mail in voting but Broward County cannot. Worse though, is that they will not proffer a reason as to why.

This seattlepi.com article explains how and why Oregon’s mail in voting is so successful:

At its core Vote by Mail works and is wildly popular because it returns control of the act of voting to the place it belongs: the voter. As a voter, you know when to expect your ballot in the mail, you decide when and how you want to mark your ballot and you decide when you want to turn it in (as long as it is in by 8 p.m. on Election Day).

Oregon’s Vote by Mail system is simple and straightforward. Ballots are mailed 14 to 18 days before an election to the registered address of the voter; the voter has two weeks to return the ballot through the mail or by dropping it off at official drop-off sites. The voter must sign the outside of the envelope (the ballot is sealed in a separate envelope inside) and that signature is checked against the signature on file with the elections division.

The advantages of conducting elections entirely by mail are clear:

Voter participation: It increases turnout — 84 percent of registered Oregonians voted this year.
Convenience: People can vote according to their schedule.
Education: People have time to study issues and candidates before voting.
Fraud protection: It has built-in safeguards that increase the integrity of the elections process.
Built-in paper trail.
Voter eligibility: Built-in time to resolve disputes.
Actual results are released when polls close as opposed to unreliable “exit polls.”
Financial: It saves money.
84 percent turnout! So, I’m a little confused about why Mr. Castillo’s idea and proposals shouldn’t be considered a little more closely. At the very minimum, Broward County should explain the “practicality” issues that Mayor Gunzburger proclaims. If anybody can shed light on this issue further, please feel free to comment below.

“We Kill Innocent Children”

The above title is probably more fitting for this very uncomfortable short article in today’s New York Times, “For Second Time in 3 Days, NATO Raid Kills Afghan Child.” More importantly though, was its placement in the New York Times on the bottom left side of page 10. Almost a blurb rather than an article which apparently means it holds the national interest far less than the front page expose on Lazy Cakes.

America wake up. This is not abstract foreign policy talk, these are human beings that are suffering because of our collective actions. It’s important to be aware of the consequences that a policy of global hegemony and constant military interdiction lead to – innocent dead children. Yet this is nothing new, it’s been going on for a while. So long that even Glenn Greenwald, constant critic of American foreign policy, seems blase when he states, “There’s nothing much new here to say.”

Greenwald, however, does go on to say something insightful:

It’s the perfect self-perpetuating cycle: (1) They hate us and want to attack us because we’re over there; therefore, (2) we have to stay and proliferate ourselves because they hate us and want to attack us; (3) our staying and proliferating ourselves makes them hate us and want to attack us more; therefore, (4) we can never leave, because of how much they hate us and want to attack us. The beauty of this War on Terror — and, as the last two weeks have demonstrated, War is the bipartisan consensus for what we are and should be doing to address Terrorism — is that it forever sustains its own ostensible cause.

Ask the majority of U.S. citizens if they condone these “accidents” and most will undoubtedly say no, however, ask if it’s important to be strong on the War on Terror and most will undoubtedly say yes. The linking of our War on Terror policies and the consequences of those policies to real concrete examples is not occurring. This is a failure of our media sources, like the New York Times, who subtly note these items on page 10. Yet, it’s also on all of us that don’t push for it to become part of our national dialogue.

These events have global significance, our foreign policy affects the world and not in some abstract way but in a real human to human way. Most importantly though, somewhere in the world there is a family without their son because we killed him by mistake. They are suffering greatly and now hate us for it.

Sunday Night Link Dump 5.15.11

There’s a voluminous amount of good writing and articles out there, here’s my weekly link dump to notable items.

Here’s a very good article on PJ Crowley and parrhesia, the ability to speak one’s mind even when doing so involves social risk. The highlight of the article is comparing Crowley to Obama’s inability to overcome worn political speak.

Boston.com has a great take on how it’s easier to shape children’s behavior through bribery. A must read for any parents out there.

TheAwl.com tackles David Brooks’ repugnant article on unemployed males in “their working prime.”

The Sun-Sentinel has an interesting visual comparison of crime sketches to the eventual real photos. Worth taking a look if you’ve ever wondered how effective sketches are.

Finished the Donald Rumsfeld memoir, Known and Unknown. Regardless of your thoughts on him, there’s no doubting that he was one of most influential men in government and American policy in the last 40+ years. The memoir is detailed and compelling but ultimately a probable whitewash, at least for the Bush years.

Perhaps one of the better reads all week was this Ezra Klein piece asking why the GOP hates taxes so much.

Might have a part II for later tonight. This will probably become a weekly thing on Sunday nights. There’s just too many good pieces floating about that deserve to be recognized.

Koch/FSU Issue is Overblown

The villainous Koch brothers are in the sights of liberals again and this time in our great State of Florida. Tampabay.com reports here that Charles Koch has pledged $1.5 million to fund two faculty positions in the Economics Department of Florida State University with the condition that he is allowed to screen the faculty. Uproar followed as many accused Koch of tampering with academic freedom and “buying” our public institutions.

In many ways, this reminded me of this story about the UConn football donor that wanted to revoke his donation because he did not have say in the hiring of a new football coach. Both situations raise the question of to what degree does a donor has a say over how the donation is spent, if at all? Ideally, a donor would just give the money and request that the university uses it how it deems fit, however, large egos and large bankrolls rarely if ever combine for an ideal outcome.

Universities often depend on donations and fundraising, and that is somewhat unfortunate but the reality. So when a conditional donation is offered, serious thought has to given to the matter. It’s arguable whether Florida State should or should not have accepted the donation, but the argument that this donation is tampering with academic freedom is lackluster. The Koch brothers are very deserving of criticism and are in general abhorrent, but this donation is benign.

A few key points as to why:

1) The donation is for the addition of two new faculty members of the Economics Department. So, it is not to replace faculty members or to take over the department. It is simply to create two positions that had not existed before. FSU will now be able to offer 8 additional courses a year.

2) Koch obviously believes that the university is lacking in the area of free market economics, and he’s probably right. Therefore, expanding the department to broaden the doctrines and ideas being taught is a plus for academic freedom, not a loss.

3) Many will point out that the ideology that Koch wants to promote or the faculty he wants to hire are not necessarily up to par with current academic thought. However, ideas usually have a way of policing themselves, and in the long run good ones tend to beat out bad ones regardless of how much money you throw at it. So ultimately this will be a wonderful test of the academic free market. The FSU economics department will increase or decrease in prestige largely by the reception of the faculty’s publications and by the success of its graduates. Accepting this donation will probably be more of an affront to the school’s prestige rather than their academic freedom.

Finally, it’s a tad ludicrous to think that almost all donations do not have some implied condition. If a person donates millions of dollars to build a library, the condition IS the construction of a library. There’s also an desire to please donors even if there is no explicit condition. If Warren Buffett donated millions to a university unconditionally they wouldn’t plow it into the Lacrosse team but rather a finance or economic institution instead. The outrage over this issue is not about the actual donation, but instead it’s about who is donating. Academic freedom is not at all being threatened in this instance, however, it can be argued that FSU’s credibility might take a hit.

Death of Osama Gives Obama Much Needed Political Capital

On April 26, 2011, Michael Cohen of DemocracyArsenal.org wrote an insightful article, “The Courage of Obama’s Convictions,” which painted a portrait of a meek President in foreign policy matters. Cohen writes:

On multiple issues, from Afghanistan and Gitmo to Libya and the Middle East peace process, Obama has laid out a policy, either publicly or privately, and then steadily backed away from it in the face of opposition, either from foreign governments, domestic political constituencies or his own military.

Cohen goes on to give several examples of Obama’s reluctance to stand strong in the face of political criticism and instances when Obama has meekly pedaled away from his initial stances. President Obama has campaigned and primarily governed on a domestic agenda and has always been on the defensive about his foreign policy experience. Combined with the domestic agenda, he’s also a Democrat and vulnerable to charges of being weak on security which explains, but does not justify, his weakness to stand up to political attacks on foreign policy.

However, on May 1st, 2011, everything changed with the death of Osama Bin Laden by the United States. Morale across the nation has dramatically risen and the President is being is being portrayed as a courageous leader who made a tough decision to order a daring raid into another sovereign country to capture the most wanted man in recent history.

The political capital that the President has gained is incalculable but deep. It gives him the footing to stick by his foreign policy stances and not risk being demagogued by his political opponents. We are currently at war on three different fronts and have some calling for intervention on a fourth country. President Obama needs to examine the wisdom of the positions that we have taken, some of which he has inherited and some which he has initiated, and decide on the future policy. If there’s ever a time to change the course, now is that time.

Marco Rubio Offers No Solution on Syria

Florida Senator Marco Rubio, my own Senator, penned an article for ForeignPolicy.com today titled “How America Must Respond to the Massacre in Syria,” yet does nothing to seriously answer the question. Before addressing the actual article, it’s important to note that the GOP’s tactics are to oppose this administration on every front regardless of what action is taken. If you have any doubt see the below quote by Rubio on Libya:

At an early point in the Libyan struggle, when a clear U.S. policy could have achieved significant successes at lower costs, the president failed to act.

So to paraphrase Rubio, now the GOP screed is that Obama didn’t intervene early enough and therefore was weak on Libya as well. Assuming that Obama took every word of advice that Rubio proffers in this short article, I have no doubt that the GOP would still criticize him for not acting quickly enough.

So, though it’s evident that this is the usual anti-administration barrage, does Rubio have any credible alternatives? Clearly not. Rubio offers the following advice:

Revoke the U.S. Ambassador to Syria.
Expand Sanctions to “include persons identified as authorizing, planning, or participating in deplorable human rights violations against unarmed civilians.”
Yet Rubio fails to explain how those actions will improve the situation in Syria or help further American interests. The reason that Rubio fails to give a credible solution is because the U.S. lacks any leverage over Syria. They’re already under heavy U.S. sanctions, as Rubio notes, and the threat of entering our 4th Middle East war is not politically viable, nor in our own security interests.

Toss aside the question of whether “America has an obligation to weigh in strongly about the situation in Syria,” as Rubio states in the article, and instead ask: What is America capable of doing in Syria? Until Rubio offer a credible alternative to the administration’s current course of action, his opinion is nothing but typical GOP anti-administration pulp.

Florida Takes Step to Reintegrate Felons

Here’s the quote of the day (via ACLU of FL):

“The United States military grants waivers to ex-offenders, trains them, arms them and sends them overseas to defend us but the state of Florida won’t let any get a license to kill termites,” Hamilton Henry said.

As it stands now, there are hundreds of thousands of Floridians that are unable to obtain occupational licenses through the State of Florida because of previous convictions. Ignore the fact that most licensing mandates are unnecessary and serve as barriers to entry for the already established, for that read Yglesias (here are two examples: link and link). Even assuming that licensing is desirable, excluding ex-felons is fraught with undesirable effects.

While we obviously don’t want dangerous sex offenders to serve in a child welfare office, there’s no reason that some guy who stole a car at 19, served his sentence, and has stayed out of trouble should be prohibited from spraying my house for termites. Barring ex-convicts from finding work is the worst possible action we as a society can take, as gainful employment is one of the sharpest tools against recidivism.

SB 146 will now proceed to the full Senate for a vote. SB 146 takes a dramatic step of decoupling occupational licensing from past convictions and is a great step forward for the reintegration of felons into the work place and into society.

However, what’s most important is that with the Stake taking the lead, the private sector will be more apt to follow. It’s crucial that ex-convicts have a full spectrum of equal employment opportunity including the private sector jobs. Restrictive employment policies hurt both the employer and prospective employees by narrowing the pool of candidates needlessly. This Craigslist job wanted ad would be hilarious if it weren’t actually for real:

Cemetery Maintenance (North Lauderdale)

via craigslist | general labor jobs in south florida on 11/21/10

Accepting applications for immediate opening for a cemetery maintenance position. You MUST have experience in landscape/irrigation/tractor operation. Backhoe experience is preferred. This is required to be considered. Applicants should have solid employment history, must possess a VALID driver’s license, and have a clean criminal background. In-depth driver’s license and criminalbackground checks will be performed. Job duties include but are not limited to opening/closing graves for funeral services, placing memorials, general grounds upkeep, and limited irrigation/equipment maintenance, lifting up to 50 pounds on a regular basis. Guaranteed 40 hours per week and your schedule must be flexible to include weekends. If you would like to be considered to become part of our team, please respond with resume, or complete employment history. Inquiries not containing a resume or complete employment history will not be considered. We are an EOE.
Anything else necessary to dig graves? Perhaps a Harvard Masters Degree? I don’t want to diminish the job of cemetery maintenance, in fact, any honest working person should be proud of any job they hold. Yet, it still strikes me as silly to have so many restrictive conditions, including a criminal background check, for what I assume to be a basic labor job with no real possibility of public endangerment by a person in that position. As the State loosens its hiring policies, ideally the private employers will follow suit. Unfortunately, the issue of hiring policies will be somewhat moot if steps are not taken to create more jobs.

If we continue to convict and incarcerate a large part of our population it’s imperative that we find solutions for reintegrating those convicted of crimes. Taking a hard line by barring convicts from employment is counter productive as both society and the ex-convict are best served by legitimate employment.

Senate Nomination Morass

The amazing statement of the day from this New York Times article:

“Eighteen months into the Obama administration, 25 percent of his nominees were still unconfirmed,” Mr. Lieberman said. “This is not an aberration.”

That’s correct, one quarter of Obama’s nominees have not been able to go and work for the administration because of the bureaucratic process of Senate confirmation. It would seem that a general consensus of people would not disagree with the statement that the President should be able to choose the people to work under him and agree that it’s absolutely necessary to govern effectively. Comparing the government to the business world is an oft used tactic by conservatives, yet no one would expect a CEO to be able to run a company without being able to put the personnel in below him. So it’s mind boggling to see how inane the process has become.

It’s important to note though, that this is not an idea that Republicans are obstructing. In fact, this will be one of the very few times that Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell agree with each other. Also, staunch conservative Donald Rumsfeld, in his new memoir Known and Unknown, frequently mentions that the confirmation process is a hindrance to running the Department of Defense. Page 292-293:

It took months and months — almost a full year — to have many of the President’s nominees confirmed by the Senate. “The process is outrageous,” I lamented to the Joint Chiefs. We suffered from the absences of secretaries of the Army, Navy, Air Force, the undersecretary for defense for policy, and the asisstant and deputy assistant secretaries. These were people needed to carry out the work of the Department.

Yet, ironically, Dick Cheney’s former Chief of Staff is leading the charge against the reform, calling it unconstitutional. It’s hard to think that the opposition to this reform is for any reason but to be obstructionist to the current administration. The type of obstructionism that is dangerous and harmful to our entire country. If the Department of Defense cannot function correctly without it’s staff, then our security is threatened unnecessarily.

Furthermore, the nomination process is becoming antiquated. In our current times, information is cheap and fast and we have an engaged press and society to police problematic nominations. Obviously, when the Constitution was drafted it was important to prevent against spurious nominations but that’s no longer an issue. Also, let’s be clear too, that a large number of these held up nominations are for positions that are not highly sensitive. A bi-partisan effort to clear this process up will be a small legislative victory but will have a large impact , not only on this administration but future Presidents as well.