Wednesday, February 07, 2007

During the Superbowl, the Miami Herald mostly stuck to script. In the letters to the editor section, Gihan Perera of the Miami Workers Center wrote about a Miami different from the distracting spectacle.

The paper noted protests, but omitted mention of those seeking to elevate public awareness of Global Warming, standing outside Joe Robbie Stadium on Saturday because no permit would allow Sunday to be marred by mere climate change.

Today, Columnist Ana Menendez tees off on the Superbowl hype that made life miserable for ordinary residents, like epic traffic jams that stuck thousands on the causeways to Miami Beach. Sure was fun while it lasted.

Now, the Herald can get back to the rest of us. Corporate jets have safely spread their contrails into the distance. We watched them taxiing at Opalacka Airport and stacked liked by fancy toys at MIA. (And we wondered why there is not a climate change tax on jet travel, proportionate to the amount of pollution generated per profligate passenger.)

There was an outstanding editorial on Umoja Village, “Poor and homeless in Miami” by Elizabeth Aranda in today’s paper. “Miami may not have maquiladors, but the expansion of luxury hotels and condos results in similar mechanisms of displacement.” Miami’s perfume is cheap as the perfume sold in flea markets throughout the global South.

But, for our money the best story in the Miami Herald was the lead story on political corruption in Key West, an island so densely packed with wealth and merchandising and allure that it ressembles a Petri dish filled with spectacular bacteria.

It is the story of one city dominated by one special interest: Ed Swift of the Conch Tour Train fortune who imposed his profit motive as a monopoly involving the domination and control of local government—from the police department to the city attorney’s office to the influence of the US Magistrate—all to further the interests of mass market tourism that delivered passengers to his particular wallet.

After a decade of litigation—brought by a competitor who had the temerity to use the court of law to press his legal rights—the City of Key West is on the hook for millions in damages and Ed Swift is also wriggling like a hooked eel to keep his monopoly and influence on local government.

There are several aspects of this story that reflect equally on Miami and other Florida regions and cities where local character has been mercilessly bulldozed into a flat plain of homogeneous, bland character.

The aspect that strikes us sharply is how the legal system does work in the end to protect the public interest as it was meant. The problem is that the damage inflicted in the meantime—while laws and public policies adjust to new realities—can’t be rewound.

In her opinion piece, Elizabeth Aranda is half-right: “Those who have been elected to invest in the common good and to help level the playing field for marginalized groups have, instead, pursued their own interests by catering to those who are guided by the maximization of profit.”

The other half is this: the powerful know that the system can be gamed. To maximize profit, laws and regulations can be modified, clipped, turned from a bowl cut to a bouffant and by the time the courts say you can do this, or can’t do that, what we were fighting over has been lost, never to return.

And that’s why so much of what we value as “democracy” disappears like a magic trick.

Put your name on it: the conversion of neighborhoods to freeway overpasses, wetlands into “safe” rock mines, affordable housing into parking lots, comprehensive land use planning into board games for wealthy land speculators, farmland into tract housing, failed condominiums turned into hedge fund assets, quiet two lane roads into four lane gridlock.

These mechanics are the real story of what happened in Key West. Soon, the 3rd District Court definitively rules against the City, but the charm of Key West has long been chased into algae coated waters, milked into the pockets of city commissioners, city attorneys, the high and mighty, and all through the funnel of one special interest—a f---ing Conch Tour Train.

It’s an obscenity. Yes it is.

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