OND: News That Could Only Happen Here. . .today’s
peerfearless reporter casts a jaundiced eye on America’s most hap’ning city and environs, the crossroads of four continents, home to everything and everyone under the tropical sun, where, when it’s not some scandal, it’s all Fidel all the time. If it’s going on, it’s going on here.
WARNING! What follows is a toxic take on the news; it may be addictive and offensive to some readers, so be sure to get hooked and enjoy the thrill of revulsion. Schooled as I am by journalists Dave Barry (2008 candidate for president) and Carl Hiassen (author of such novels as Basket Case, Sick Puppy, Tourist Season and Strip Tease), irreverence is the by-word in the following compilation of Important Stuff making headlines along the 25th N x 80th W parallels.
Tonight's Meanwhile is my farewell tour of the headlines from South Florida and further south. I've enjoyed coming into your CPUs and wish you all many happy upcoming summer evenings spent lazily in hammocks all across this great country. I'll be at the ball park.
We've seen momentous events go down while I've been on duty lo these many Saturday nights -- from the DNC's snitty-ass behavior over the Florida primary (Seat the delegated, Howard Dean, or on your head be the loss of Florida to the Republicans!), to the exit stage left of Fidel Castro (Is it really true?), to the on-going panties-in-a-wad emotional outburst of Daily Kos front-pagers regarding Debbie Wasserman-Schultz's and other Florida Democrats' principled disinclination to endorse at least one Democrat who is running against on of the despised Diaz-Balart brothers, convicted felon and corrupt ex-Hi-ja-lee-ah mayor, Raul Martinez. Yuck! I'm a Democrat, but I know better than to think that rumbling extortionist represents a good opposition candidate -- assault pix would be here -- in spite of his grass roots popularity. (As if that was the yardstick for judging character!)
What better way to bid farewell than to shine some light on the stories titillating my neighbors and by venting my spleen in my usual acerbic fashion? Then I shall join the strike/boycott of certain Daily Kos diarists who are tired of the Daily Krap. I shall not be missed.
It's All Terrorism All the Time Dateline: Guantanamo, 3/15/08. The CIA giveth and the US military taketh away. A third "high-value" alleged al-Qaeda terrorist has taken up residency in his new private hell in Camp 7, Guantanamo Bay Prison.
The arrival of Mohammud Rahim al Afghani, labeled a "tough, seasoned jihadist" by CIA director Gen. Mike V. Hayden, raises to 16 the number of ''high-value detainees'' in U.S. custody.
Arriving freshly water-boarded and sparkling Muslim, Mr. Afghani is preceded by his reputation.
"Prior to his arrival at Guantánamo, he was held in CIA custody," said [Pentagon spokesman, Navy Cmdr. Jeffrey] Gordon, who referred to the intelligence agency questions about where he was held. He was captured in 2007.
Gordon said the latest addition to the prison camp's population of about 275 captives "was a close associate of Osama bin Laden and had ties to al Qaeda organizations through the Middle East."
He also called him one of bin Laden's "most trusted facilitators and procurement specialists."
According to Hayden, Afghani sought chemicals for one attack on U.S. forces in Afghanistan, and tried to recruit individuals with access to American military facilities there.
He joins his other "most trusted" buds and fellow masterminds, Messers Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the reputed mastermind of the 9/11 attacks and self-confessed personal beheader of Daniel Pearl, and Abu Zubaydah, who once ran a rival training camp to bin Laden's in Afghanistan in spite of being mentally ill.
And we can't beat these guys. One begins to doubt the worthiness of our masterminds, doesn't one?
FARC You! -- No Offense Dateline: Colombia, 3/14/08. Why leftist rebel leaders should always keep their laptops shackled to their wrists when shopping online for anti-aircraft missles.
According to a source within the Colombian judiciary that had access to files found on the laptop computer of a recently fallen FARC guerrilla leader known as "Iván Ríos," the rebel sent an e-mail to supreme commander Manuel "Sureshot" Marulanda saying that anti-aircraft weapons were "an urgent necessity."
"Sureshot" -- Gee, their nicknames sure are swell, aren't they? I've got to admit, such a tactic as securing one's personal PC to one's corpus realosum is pretty useless if they kill ya.
Files found in computers belonging to another killed FARC leader, a man known as Raúl Reyes, also suggest the rebels are looking to obtain anti-aircraft missiles.
According to intelligence reports obtained by El Nuevo Herald, the FARC may already have a few U.S.-made Stinger surface-to-air missiles or possibly the Soviet version, SA-14 Gremlin and SA-16 GIMLET.
Citing U.S. intelligence and independent investigations, the report says that "There are strong indications that the FARC have these weapons at their disposal and that they have not been used because they are being reserved for a strategic operation."
The report suggests that primary targets for the use of these weapons could be Colombian President Alvaro Uribe's plane, surveillance and recognizance aircraft and bombers and fighters that have recently proven very effective in strikes against FARC jungle camps.
Maybe Good Buddy, Hugo Chávez will buck them up with a little saber rattling. [See later story.]
Them Republicans Sure Do Have Their Homeland Security Blankets Wrapped a Little Too Tight Dateline: Washington, DC, 3/15/08. Florida Republican Reps. Connie Mack and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, and eight other legislators resolve that the Bush administration should put Venezuela on the U.S. list of countries that sponsor terrorism. That's right, what this country needs is more enemies. Let's see: Cuba, Iran, Syria, North Korea and Sudan. . .
Hugo, picking up Fidel's mantle, is lovin' it.
A defiant President Hugo Chávez, speaking on Venezuelan television, said all the talk about putting his country on the list was part of a Washington campaign against his socialist government.
"We shouldn't forget for an instant that we're in a battle against North American imperialism and that they have classified us as enemies -- at least in this continent they have us as enemy No. 1," the Associated Press quoted Chávez as saying.
"Let them make that list and shove it in their pocket," Chávez reportedly added.
More accurately translated: "Put it where the sun don't shine!"
Some more of those peripatetic FARC computers wandered away from their owners and betrayed more rebel secrets.
Files found on four computers belonging to the FARC and captured by the Colombian military during a March 1 raid into Ecuador suggest ties between the FARC and Chávez were deeper than previously believed, and could involve payments or promises of cash.
The Bush administration has asked government lawyers to look at the legal implications of declaring Venezuela a state sponsor of terrorism.
Maybe it's time Americans start asking themselves. . .
. . .If Colombia and Venezuela Went to War, Who'd Win? Dateline: Washington, DC, 3/14/08. Ineptitude as the agent of foreign policy is not the exclusive territory of the Bush Administration it appears. When you compare their militaries, it's no wonder Colombia and Venezuela may appear to some observers to be itching for a showdown.
Colombia's military recently had one of its finest moments: the killing of a senior leader of FARC, a resilient guerrilla group that had never lost a member of its top leadership in combat.
At the same time, U.S. officials and military analysts say, Venezuela fumbled an effort to rush troops and tanks to the border with Colombia in response to the deadly March 1 attack, on a FARC camp in Ecuador.
In this case it is better when your advisers are living American military trainers rather than ex-Soviet has-beens. At least the Colombians haven't amassed a flotilla of tanks to fight in mountainous jungle-covered terrain. What were the Venezuelans thinking? (They still have air superiority, though.)
Colombia, with U.S. help, has assembled a nimble infantry-based and intelligence-reliant counterinsurgency force capable of striking at guerrilla units and leaders deep in the jungle.
The Venezuelans have done just the opposite: They've spurned all contacts with the U.S. military and instead opted mostly for big-ticket purchases of Russian jet fighters, attack helicopters and submarines while forming, training and arming reserve and militia units loyal to Chavez.
Don't get too complacent; the igniting spark of a border war between the mineral rich and oil-rich nations that have cordially hated one another and conspired against the other for years can be someone as lowly as an over-eager ambitious young war-want-to-be-lord on either side of that imaginary line separating them.
Ambition and self-aggrandizement as motives for attack are, by now, familiar to Americans.
Homegrown Horrors: Harvests of Shame or Florida Bean Pickers Earn Nada Dateline: The Redland. 3/13/08. Miami-Dade is the snap bean capital of America and growers get $2 a crate more for hand-picked beans over machine harvested same, taking in $141.8 million and 272.7 million pounds reaped in fresh beans statewide. A little greed'll do ya.
In recent months, the broken, lawless state of bean picking has spawned federal investigations into unfair labor practices and extortion. Two lawsuits filed in recent months charge workers are paid less than minimum wage; one suit asserts they are poorly insured. And community leaders have loudly complained the workers' lives are at risk. "The crew leaders pay the fine," says Arturo Lopez, who heads the Coalition of Florida Farmworker Organizations, based in Florida City. "Then they continue to [break the law]."
• Bean crew leaders were cited for violating state farm labor laws 166 times, according to records from 2003 to 2006. Infractions included cheating on taxes, not keeping payroll records, failing to pay workers' compensation, and using uninsured vehicles.
• Nearly two-thirds of Miami-Dade farm labor citations in 2007 involved bean bosses. None involved growers, who often make the bulk of the profit but by state law are never fined. Infractions included failure to show payroll records, unsafe vehicles, and unclean conditions.
• Pickers have earned as little as $100 a week, or about $2 per hour if working a 40-hour week, while bean bosses can bring in 50 times that, or $5,000 a week, agricultural officials estimate.
• Despite rising unemployment that has reached four percent, hundreds of bean pickers have been imported to Miami under a special visa program backed by President Bush. Those workers are to be paid $8.56 per hour and about $2 more than minimum wage.
If you've stopped eating tomatoes to support the mostly Mexican Coalition of Immokalee Farm Workers, you may want to add pole and string beans to your list of banned-from-your-table vegetables.
Conditions for the imported Haitian bean pickers is nothing short of Federally encouraged slavery. Wage theft from often illiterate Haitian laborers is the norm, not the exception.
The cycle of lawbreaking worries advocates. Last year, a state investigator cited 16 bean crew leaders in Miami-Dade 23 times for carrying pickers in unsafe buses, working without licenses, and not keeping payroll records. Fisteac was nabbed breaking two laws in June. In September, Hyppolite's company was nailed for three violations.
They could face hundreds to thousands of dollars in fines, but the cases are still unresolved. A sole state investigator is charged with policing county fields, and cases are backlogged. Federal labor officials who could punish growers rarely even make rounds.
What's a vegetarian with a conscience to do?
Remembering Jack Abramoff's Other Partners in Crime Dateline: Miami, 2/28/08. The story isn't the latest breaking headline, but it just won't go away. Seems that when you kill one guy, the next is a little easier. Paul Brandreth, one of Konstantinos "Gus" Boulis' gangland assassins is writing letters to the Miami New Times talking about his relationship with the Mafiosi hit men who, are all facing the death penalty in that case.
Let's play that Kevin Bacon game.
Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff's best bud and SunCruz Casinos business partner, Adam Kidan, hired three "consultants" to remove "Gus" Boulis, former owner of SunCruz Casinos with whom he'd (Kidan) been fighting for control of the gambling operation, in a make it look like an accident drive-by shooting. One of the three consultants, Anthony "Big Tony" Moscatiello, or Anthony "Little Tony" Ferrari, or James "Pudgy" Fiorillo, tasked Paul Brandreth with driving the truck Boulis swerved to avoid in the ambush.
Abramoff and Kidan were indicted [in August of 2005] on charges of wire fraud and conspiracy in connection with a $60 million loan they obtained to purchase the casino company.
Jack's doing 10 years for bank fraud. Adam Kidan sang his head off and sprained his pointy finger regarding the slaying.
In May 2006, Adam Kidan told authorities that Moscatiello and Ferrari confided in Kidan that another Gotti-associate, John Gurino, killed Boulis. Gurino himself was killed in October 2003, and he wasn't part of the investigation before Kidan gave authorities the name. Wikipedia
During their business dealings, Boulis had claimed Kidan had links to organized crime. Duh.
Paul Brandeeth, the LTE writing goon, is facing the death penalty for his role in another murder.
"Everyone down here is a rat," Brandreth sighs. "To be honest with you, I wish I had never come down to Florida."
So do others, I imagine.
Governor Charlie "Just Call Me 'Weed'" Crist Supports Florida Drug Law Dateline: Tallahassee, 3/15/08. Yep, Florida's ganja governor is a staunch supporter of tough state legislation that is contributing to overcrowding in the prison system.
State officials estimate Florida's prisons will swell to 100,000 inmates by year's end, with about 20 percent serving sentences for nonviolent drug offenses. Each prisoner costs more than $19,000 a year to incarcerate, and at the current pace, Florida will have to build two prisons a year through 2013 to keep up.
Wonder if each of those non-violent drug offender's crimes amount to $19K worth of damage, pain, and suffering? Defending diminishing returns, the white-haired deeply tanned symbol of What's Right about Florida said:
"I feel that our laws are good in Florida. They were thoughtfully put in place. And I know there is a budget crunch. But I don't want to sacrifice public safety."
$19K worth of "public safety.
Signaling just how compelling public safety is, Crist's budget includes $28 million for substance abuse treatment, up from $7.7M in 2007-2008
Here's What I'm Not Telling You
It's the Economy, Stupid I Near-riot over Boca Raton housing vouchers sends 9 to hospital.
It's the Economy, Stupid II South Florida's inflation rate at 5.3% is highest in nation.
It's the Economy, Stupid III At South Florida hotels, room rates to rise despite decline in occupancy.
They're Coming To America!And landing in my backyard, well, Bay Harbor Islands.
Speaking of Warm Welcomes Politics was set aside and the Cuban Under-23 (soccer) team tied the U.S. 1-1 before a crowd in Tampa that included many boisterous Cuba supporters.
Embrace the Inner Crocodile You're just gonna have to learn to live with that five-foot-long American crocodile that swims near the mangroves by the Coconut Grove Sailing Club.