Sunday, February 24, 2008

Mario Hates the Environment

The League of Conservation Voters recently released scorecards for Congress. How did Mario do? Poorly:

Mario Diaz-Balart (REP), 15%

Not only did all of the Democrats do better than all of the Republicans, With one exception, all of the Democrats did more than twice as good as all the Republicans. And most of the Democrats voted in favor of the environment more than four times as frequently as most of the Republicans.

I wonder how many of these Republicans own property that will be beachfront property when most of Florida is under water because of global warming? I'm just saying...

Friday, February 22, 2008

Joe Garcia the bulldozer

The first smashing political cartoon of this season has shown up -- in el Nuevo Herald. It shows Joe Garcia driving a bulldozer on the trail of a nervously sweating Mario Diaz-Balart. I haven't found a link to make it appear here, but you can see it here.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

The Economist takes note of our three Congressional races

It took Castro’s resignation, but the august British weekly The Economist has taken approving note of our three congressional challengers here in South Florida. We figured we could get national attention in the United States with three strong candidates, but it’s heartening to receive attention from the European press when the election is still eight months away.

Here's what they said about us:

Three districts in south Florida have long been the dominion of hardline Cuban-American Republicans. For the first time since 1992, the Democrats are mounting a strong challenge in the persons of Raúl Martínez, a feisty former mayor of Hialeah, and Joe García, a former spokesman for the Cuban-American National Foundation. They support the embargo but are campaigning against the travel crackdown and stressing non-Cuban issues. (A third Democrat, Annette Taddeo, a Colombian-American businesswomen, has also entered the race, but is a political unknown.)

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Castro resigns -- early coverage not satisfactory

Fidel Castro resigns, and the biased and ill-informed stuff flows. Not everything, to be sure. And this one blogger can only look at so much. But a fair amount of early media coverage in South Florida seems to be excessively Republican, excessively defeatist when it comes to Cuba.

UPDATE: This also is posted on DailyKos, where one of the commenters made known another post on DailyKos, a short while earlier, which was from someone in Cuba, and very good it is. The link.

NOTE: This was posted a day earlier at this site, where all the hot links are active.

Most surprising to me was the number of Republicans in South Florida who seemed to think nothing had happened. Main spreader of this line was U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (FL-25), who stood in Little Havana and told NBC Channel 6 at midday that all the Cubans were doing was changing titles, and that as long as Fidel was alive he was in power. “He can call himself the queen of England. He’s still in power.”

Well, yes, wise to be cautious, but Castro says he’s too sick to continue and he won’t run for office.

I prefer the thoughts of the challenger for District 25’s seat in the U.S. House, Joe Garcia, as much a Cuban American as the incumbent.

"We are witnessing the beginning of the end of one of the most oppressive regimes in history,” Garcia said in a statement. “Despite the symbolism of this morning's events, the world community should remain cautiously optimistic and accept nothing less than the absolute freedom of the Cuban people. The transfer of power between brothers is not change, it is nepotism. The Bush administration should act immediately with an effective foreign policy that leads to real change in Cuba, not just empty rhetoric. To help advance democracy we need to allow for the reunification of Cuban families and the direct sending of remittances to the island's brave dissidents. It's time to break from the status quo."

I looked in vain to find a comment like Garcia’s in the Miami Herald’s supposedly exhaustive wrapup of local reaction to the Castro news. The main story online at midday Tuesday had three bylines and 12 other reporters contributing, but no coverage of the Democrats challenging the three incumbent Republicans in the U.S. House. Joe Garcia had been on the Air America station commenting already at 7:30 a.m., and the statement above went to media outlets before 10:30 a.m.

Rather than the Democrats’ moderate plea to break from the status quo, the local media relied more on keep the same line. Mario Diaz-Balart, his brother Lincoln Diaz-Balart (FL-21) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (FL-18) are the main proponents in Congress of the Bushite hard line – some call it cruel – that bars most Cuban family visits and sending remittances to Cuba. This is exactly what the Democratic challengers as a team are proposing should be changed: to permit family visits and the sending of remittances.

I should declare an interest here as a member of Joe Garcia’s media team as well as volunteer communications director and blogger for the Miami-Dade Democratic Party. But I still think it’s pretty clear that much of the media in South Florida had a hard time finding anyone to buck the official hard line on Castro.

The Miami Herald’s Naked Politics blog did run a few paragraphs of the Democrats’ plea for more family visits and remittances, but more space on that blog went to U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen’s odd comment:

"It matters nothing at all whether Fidel, Raul or any other thug is named head of anything in Cuba," she said, in part. "What the people want is freedom to express their dissent from the oppressive regime. The community machinery is enslaving them so it does not matter who the thug of the moment will be.”

She rambled on demanding indictments against the Cubans for shooting down Cuban American fliers 12 years ago.

Again from Naked Politics: “In Tallahassee, House Speaker Marco Rubio, the first Cuban-American to be elected Florida House Speaker, compared Castro to a "crazy uncle" and brushed off the news that he won't seek re-election as nothing but "40-plus years of smoke and mirrors.”

That’s another Republican saying nothing had happened. It spilled over onto CNN, where Jill Dougherty strode around in Little Havana saying on camera that few Democratic Party figures were willing to suggest changes in U.S. policy.

But Jill, what about the three Democrats running for Congress from Miami? What about Sen. Chris Dodd and others in Congress who say the whole Cuba embargo should end?

Early in the afternoon the Florida Democratic Party arranged a conference call for reporters with the chance to question Joe Garcia and his two fellow challengers for Congress, Annette Taddeo (District 18) and Raul Martinez (District 21), along with Luis Garcia, a Cuban American from Miami Beach in the Florida House of Representatives.

We can hope that from this some wider coverage will result – not so monolitihic, please.

During the conference call one reporter asked about the overall embargo – should it be lifted? Joe Garcia responded by saying the embargo was not very strong, since the United States had sold $435 million dollars worth of food to Cuba in the past year. “But it shows we stand against the brutal regime,’ he said, adding that it would be “too big a bite at once” to lift the embargo without “first steps” and signs of improved conditions in Cuba.

As always I’m too hopeful in expecting fair and broad coverage, I guess. One phrase stands out in my memory, from a Latina who called in to Nicole Sandler’s early-morning show on the Air America station, WINZ. She said she had been leery of speaking with her Cuba-born mother about the Castro announcement “because she’s so emotional about it.”

To be kept in mind: Emotional – not rational.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Click here for video of Joe Garcia's speech launching candidacy

Since I haven't mastered a method of adding video to this blog, here's a link to the video on another site.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Lavish coverage of Dems in races for Congress

I had hoped to pump out a couple quick links to good coverage Sunday of our congressional races, but for some reason the Miami Herald and Channel 10 aren’t cooperating, though both revealed that Annette Taddeo is challenging Ileana Ros-Lehtinen for the U.S. House in District 18.

No links available to the news:
--Channel 10’s “This week in South Florida” program covered Taddeo, along with a live interview with Raul Martinez, challenging for District 21 against Lincoln Diaz-Balart; and a reprise of the Thursday coverage of Joe Garcia’s launch of his run for District 25 against Mario Diaz-Balart.
--Miami-Herald’s story “Ros-Lehtinen Challenged” at the top of the front page of the metro section. As far as I can tell, this was the first time Annette Taddeo was identified in the Herald as intending to run for the District 18 seat in the U.S. House.

Maybe links will come later, and I’ll change this post.

But meanwhile, there is some digital coverage available.

Andres Oppenheimer’s Herald column in the main news section reminds us of another reason to vote against John McWar with the headline: “McCain’s advice Miami-bred.” Yes, our friends the Diaz-Balarts and Ros-Lehtinen, along with Sen. Mel Martinez, are influential advisers on McCain’s thinking about our hemisphere.

Count me as agreeing heartily with Oppenheimer’s opinion that McCain “would face an uphill battle to convince the world that he represents change and would bring a breath of fresh air to Washington.” His advisers are toeing a line drawn 40 years ago.

And over on the Reuters wire Miami correspondent Tom Brown has a long piece asking whether the Republicans are “losing grip” on our local Cuban vote. Well, yes, I’d say. And the Reuters report seems pretty much in agreement. Here’s its kicker (that’s news lingo for the last words in a story):

"Unless they (Republicans) address the issues that are important to this community they may be in for, unfortunately, a rude awakening," said Jorge Mas Santos, head of the once powerful but now lower-key Cuban American National Foundation.

Me, I would have left out the word unfortunately.

Friday, February 8, 2008

It's official: Joe Garcia vs Mario Diaz-Balart in FL-25

OK, the battle commences. Weasly Republican words vs. solid Democratic challenges.

This is South Florida, and Joe Garcia, a Democratic strategist and progressive leader, launches his challenge to the three-term Republican rubber-stamper, Mario Diaz-Balart, for the U.S. House in Congressional District 25.

There was some pretty good and even-handed treatment of the Garcia announcement on Thursday, but I had to shake the old head at the local Fox outlet’s report on the 10 p.m. news Thursday night. Garcia was given his Democratic say, and then the Republican incumbent is shown sitting in front of a view of the Capital dome in Washington and intoning a load of hogwash about his supposedly fine performance in the U.S. House.

There’s not a link up to the Fox-7 report, but it was like what the Miami Herald used as boilerplate in its story 24 hours earlier previewing what it called a “grudge match” election.

More details emerged on Channel 4's version, in which reporter Gary Nelson showed the same video of Diaz-Balart speaking. Nelson said the Republicans had booked satellite time to feed the hogwash from Washington. We can be confident they will spend to the sky to hold this seat. So, Democratic donors, are you reaching for your checkbooks?

There's a handy donation link on the campaign website,

Diaz-Balart sent the Herald an emailed statement declaring: “Elections are a wonderful part of the democratic process.” (Said the master of gerrymandering who created the oddly shaped district himself while in the state legislature – perhaps not such a wonderful part of the democratic process.) And then went on: “As I have always done, I will base my campaign on my extensive record of cutting taxes on our families and small businesses while delivering hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funding for our community’s needs, including transportation, health care and education.”

Well, folks, there’s his sound bite: cutting taxes, bringing home the pork. Sounds strong, but it is oh so challengable.

His declared support for transportation must seem pretty meager to residents of the traffic-congested part of the district in the western suburbs of Miami who spend far too much of their lives in crawling traffic. Health care – are there enough fingers to count his votes against children’s health insurance? Why is education more and more expensive? And why have local taxes become so onerous?

District 25 includes most of the Everglades, one of the largest national parks in the United States, which needs aggressive defense by the federal government but receives hardly anything beyond operating expenses. Why? Ineffective representation in Congress, I’d venture. The state of Florida and the federal government agreed years ago to share costs of restoring more natural water-flow conditions in the Everglades, but the feds have been pikers even as the state has continued to pay and pay. Thank you, Rep. Diaz-Balart, for giving us another big reason to vote you out of office.

For readers not familiar with our politics in Miami-Dade County, there are two Diaz-Balarts in the U.S. House, Mario and his older brother Lincoln Diaz-Balart (District 21), and their fellow Cuban American Republican, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (District 18). This gives us three Republicans to go with presently two Democrats, Kendrick Meek (District 17) and Debbie Wasserman Schultz (District 20).

The two Democrats’ districts are so gerrymandered as to be impregnable, and Republicans don’t bother to send up challengers. The three Republican incumbents are increasingly vulnerable due to demographic shifts and the poor performance of the Bush administration, and polls show ample reason for Democratic challengers to rise and buckle up, though the battles will be tough.

For starters, I thought the broadcasters’ fairness doctrine had been abolished long ago. So it seemed from the poor treatment Democrats’ challenges received in the local media in the past. Now it seems that if a Democrat rises and declares a challenge, the other side gets to declare a full load of hogwash without any relation to reality – and then: Cut! Time to cover the departure of Shaq from the Heat!

So it requires courage and a thick skin for a Democrat to gear up for nine months’ campaigning on these terms. It is so heartening that we have those qualities now in three challengers to the three Republicans. To summarize:
District 21. Announced two weeks ago, former Hialeah Mayor Raul Martinez is running against Lincoln Diaz-Balart. Though his city is thoroughly Republican in voter registration, Martinez won election after election and remains highly popular. Republican prosecutors tried repeatedly to put him away on corruption charges without success, and those failed prosecutions seem to be the only ammunition against him now. He was in the room Thursday as:
District 25. Joe Garcia, chairman of the Miami-Dade Democratic Party and a leading national Democratic strategist, announced his run against Mario Diaz-Balart. Garcia’s Cuban immigrant parents were in the room, too, along with cheering Democratic activists. At 44, Garcia has an impressive record of public service both in the Cuban American community and the state of Florida, along with his national role as director of the Hispanic Strategy Center of the NDN think tank. He is a ubiquitous presence in some local Spanish-language media speaking for the Democratic viewpoint, and people increasingly know him by sight.
District 18. Look for an announcement next week that Annette Taddeo, a dynamic Colombia-born businesswoman, will run against Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who was elected in 1989 while her husband prosecuted Raul Martinez (see District 21 above) and thwarted Martinez’ intent to run for Congress. Now, that would be a grudge match – if Martinez were running against Ros-Lehtinen -- but the district lines no longer call for that.
Dear me, it’s complicated, isn’t it. And we haven’t gotten into the fact that the Diaz-Balarts are shirt-tail relations of Fidel Castro, whom they hate so much. Those in need of full explanations are referred to the book “Cuba Confidential” by Ann Louise Bardach; its subtitle is “Love and vengeance in Miami and Havana,” and there’s a lot of that to expose in her thorough book. The Diaz-Balarts get about a third of a column in the index.

Dear friends out there, if you’ve got some money set aside for politics this year, click on those three links after the bullets above and find a way to help. South Florida is ready to be part of a national landslide to make Congress progressive and veto-proof, and your help is needed.

Naples report on Joe Garcia's announcement

Joe Garcia took his campaign launch to Naples Thursday evening and spoke at the meeting of the Collier County Democratic Executive Committee. Here's a link to the report in the Naples Daily News. Part of Congressional District 25 lies in Collier County.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Early voting starts for Joe Garcia

It's silly, of course, but here's your first chance to vote for Joe Garcia. Thanks to Telemundo for offering the chance. You don't have to wait for November or to live in District 25.

Channel 10's report on Joe Garcia's run for FL-25

Miss the midday news? Here's the link to Michael Putney's report on Joe Garcia's announcing the launch of his campaign for Congressional District 25.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Channel 7 covers Garcia bid for Congress

You're not a Fox-watcher? Here's a little public service, then, from your blogger, who caught Channel 7 breaking the news on Joe Garcia's run for Congress on the 10 pm news.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Joe Garcia vs. Mario Diaz-Balart: coming soon

We’re close to the time, folks. Our future congressional delegation from Miami-Dade County will come closer to focus in the coming week. Yes, we have to get past the Super Bowl, past Super Tuesday. Finally, after these cosmic events, we can get back to local politics and think LANDSLIDE in the U.S. Congress.

We have to thank a chain of unknown people for sending this notice that our chairman, Joe Garcia, was talking about it the other day on Spanish-language TV. Here’s Mambiwatch’s take on it.

I searched around and discovered that the video is available in Spanish, and from having listened, I can say that Joe Garcia managed to get more than a few words in edgewise against the formidable Maria Elvira. Check it out. You also can vote there for Raul Martinez over Lincoln Diaz-Balart.

This approaching focus on congressional races will raise my morale after a couple weeks of defeat, a combination of walking pneumonia and John Edwards’ decision to drop out of the race. I’ll still try to be impartial in this blog until we have a presidential nominee, but let me just point you to Paul Krugman’s column of praise for Edwards in leading the way. If we’re the party of better ideas – and we are – John Edwards must be given credit for doing the early thinking and for hammering the drum.

And while we’re thinking about these big races, don’t forget the DEC meeting on Monday Feb. 11th, 7 pm at the American Legion off Biscayne Blvd, 6445 NE 7th Ave., Miami.