Monday, June 08, 2009

Changes At The Miami Herald Editorial Page? An Alternative View ... by gimleteye

The fault line between Eyeonmiami and the city's only daily newspaper runs directly along the issue of confronting advertisers and powerful special interests. I had been a regular, special contributor to the editorial page of the Orlando Sentinel before starting to write for this blog. You can find my views and others now printed on Counterpunch, at my webpage:

It is easy to be cavalier on a blog, but the bottom line is this: our unprecedented times are more difficult because Chamber of Commerce values are encrypted in the mainstream press. Those values have served citizens very poorly in the recent years as we bounce along the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. The wreckage is astonishing: Detroit, gone unemployment rising, consumer demand dropping, housing markets in disarray.

These crises were foreseeable in their key respects and under-reported by the mainstream media. On the issue of "balance" and the Herald, I've retrieved a few examples from my own experience with the paper.

Today, global warming and "green" countermeasures are everywhere, including the Herald. But for the longest time, climate change was radioactive in the mainstream media. Here is an example: the Herald published an editorial skeptical of global warming in April 2004. I wrote an alternative view, avoiding the environmental angle which Herald editors had viewed as a lower order of concern, if not anathema.

Temperatures Rising
Alan Farago
April 12, 2004

“This intolerable dependence on foreign oil threatens our economic independence and the very security of our Nation. The energy crisis is real. It is worldwide. It is a clear and present danger to our Nation. These are facts and we simply must face them.” President Jimmy Carter, July 15, 1979

Twenty five years ago, imported oil accounted for 28 percent of oil consumption in the United States. Now, more than 60 percent of our oil comes from foreign source and the United States only controls 4 percent of the world’s proven global reserves.

Americans who resent the rapidly increasing price of gasoline need to focus, clearly and quickly, the role of oil in creating imbalances in our foreign policy, risks to our democracy, and sacrifices of families whose children serve in our nation’s armed forces. There is nothing we can do about surging demand for oil in competing foreign economies and the defensive posture of oil producing nations: some of the reasons that high-priced gasoline may be in our future to stay.

What we can control is the highest component of oil usage: in the cars and trucks we drive.

In the 2002 model year, the EPA reported that the average fuel economy of the nation's cars and trucks fell to its lowest level in 22 years. Session after session of Congress has refused to raise gasoline consumption standards for cars and light trucks.

The predictable argument—that the “free” market determines how Americans choose to travel and in what vehicles—is a fallacy. There is nothing free in the way our transportation system is welded to the automobile, whose roots go back to the time when car manufacturers bought trolley car companies in cities and ripped up the rails to eliminate competition.

The only question that remains about America’s love affair with low mileage cars and light trucks is on whose terms it will end. Will it be a gasoline crisis like the early 1970’s that strand motorists, helps to trigger inflation, and divides our society into those who can and those who can’t afford to drive cars, or will we have the foresight to cushion a transition to fuel efficiency in the cars we drive? Even entrenched interests who have opposed this transformation must see the wisdom in lessening our reliance of unstable, foreign sources of oil.

Government policies can provide incentives to both consumers and car makers to shift to vehicles—using readily available technology—that get increased mileage without sacrificing comfort, safety, or purpose in a way that is dramatic and positive for the economy. These are prudent steps for America’s future.

According to a recent report by the Natural Resources Defense Council, achievable fuel efficiency in cars and light trucks would save nearly 5 million barrels of oil per day, almost twice as much as total current imports from the Persian Gulf and dwarfing the amount that could be extracted from the Alaskan wilderness.

Since Senator John Kerry announced his support for higher automobile fuel standards, he has been heavily pressured by political interests in states that build cars. President Bush has failed to develop a coherent energy policy that lessens the risks to our national security from dependence on unstable foreign sources of oil.

The American people need to go directly to their elected representatives in Congress and make the case: improving car and light truck mileage standards is of such compelling urgency, that Americans should not allow it to be held hostage to politics for a single day longer.

Some people argue that oil has nothing to do with the war we are fighting or terrorism. They say that it is about our values, which are good, and theirs, which are evil. With respect to the most radical haters, this is true. But the violent aims of a hard core few, scattered throughout the world, are protected by the sympathy of multitudes who view American values as rooted in their oil.

Showing the world that America does not require oil that pollutes, in more ways than one, will isolate those haters better than any weaponry.

As long as we are hostage to oil, we will never be free from terror. While there is no guarantee that freedom from oil will also free us from terror, the day when turning the ignition of our cars does not also spark suffering in distant lands cannot come soon enough for the United States.

The Herald editorial page responded that it would "like to consider this piece" and requested additional information. But the editorial was never printed. When I inquired a few weeks later, why the editorial had never run, the response was that it was an error: the editor had been on vacation.

Months later, in early June 2004, the Herald printed side-by-side editorials on global warming. triggered by the recent release of the Hollywood blockbuster, "The Day After Tomorrow", a film that depicted a doomsday scenario of sea level rise wrecking Manhattan.

The Herald editorial page had seen fit to provide "balance" by printing pro and con global warming editorials, as though the "con" side of the equation were equally valid and deserved equal space. I sent a note to the editorial page. (The Orlando Sentinel had just printed an OPED of mine on the theme, "Before the day after tomorrow".)

June 5, 2004
Dear Juan,

It is too bad that the Sat. Herald “pro-con” view—which balances points of view for your readership on the movie, Day After, itself-- was not directed to the more fundamental question: why has it taken Americans so long to wake up to global warming at all.

Although we are well beyond any credible scientific argument that global warming is a myth—and though the Herald “pro-con” does not address that debate specifically—putting the two editorials side-by-side promotes a popular view that the doubt on the other side of the equation warrants equal weight.

It doesn’t. And Americans have been much slower than citizens in other industrialized nations to wake up to reality, in large part because reporting the global warming story has been successfully influenced by special interests representing large utilities and energy producers and sympathetic members of the 4th estate.

Conservatives, like radio talk show hosts, have ranted about global warming with uninformed cant and charges of “liberal bias” of the print media, that the most important story of our lifetimes—climate change and the loss of biodiversity—has been skewed in favor of an illusory “balance” representing good journalism.

I suppose my point is that a debate on the movie, Day After, deflects attention from a more pressing concern: why did American journalism fail the public on the issue of global warming?


Mr. Vasquez responded tartly, "I get letters like this on EVERY conceivable topic, from the war in Iraq to genocide in Sudan to AIDS name it. It's ALWAYS the media's fault. Sorry, I don't buy it."

That summer anticipated the 2004 presidential election. I hoped that sprawl and its costs might emerge in the debates. Attacking sprawl and its costs was even more toxic to the Herald than global warming at the time. I never received a response to the following. The opinion was written during the gusher of the housing boom. At the Herald, it was all hands off deck.

Sifting through the costs of sprawl
Draft submission to Miami Herald
July 15, 2004

Across the nation, sprawl looks the same because it is the same: the only difference in Florida is that sprawl is stopped dead by the ocean and by a wilderness in the middle called the Everglades. These boundaries form a virtual acoustic chamber whose echoes would be familiar to sprawl’s early enthusiasts.

Consider the case of a road that once defined the western edge of development in Broward county: State Road 7/ US 441, formerly a two lane blacktop edging the Everglades wetlands to the west, far enough from the Gold Coast that residents thanked their lucky stars. In a recent Miami Herald story, “Reviving the corridor along US 441”, a local city commissioner groused that today US 441 is “an abomination”.

The American landscape has countless versions of abominations like US 441: feeder routes turned into major arteries, eponymously named Commercial Boulevard’s built crossways in evenly spaced miles, facilitating waves of tract housing, putting more people in more automobiles and more strip malls, people stuck in commutes to distant jobs, and always the Legion Hall or bar with the cloverleaf sign out front inviting people to swear in darkness at the bright world outside.

The Herald reports that business and civic leaders are trying to bounce life into US 441. A local community planner says, “developers have turned back to areas neglected during the frenzied, decades-long push west. ‘It’s like a wave hit the berm of the Everglades and now it’s washing back.’”

Washing back, perhaps, but washing over neighborhoods already eroded, where families are divided by commuting distances—places where nature changed from something you could show your kids in the backyard to program content on the Discovery Channel that competes with reality TV.

A decade ago one South Florida booster nick-named this washing back, “Eastward Ho!” But it hasn’t worked out that way: developers are pressing to breach the Urban Development Boundary in Miami-Dade, to build in wetlands providing a buffer to Biscayne Bay, in western Palm Beach county, central Florida and the gulf coast: the sprawl avalanche is racing forward even as the wave is sloshing back in the east.

In vetoing a recent super-sprawl bill, Governor Bush emphasized that “local decisions should be made at the local level. State oversight of growth management should be reserved for those issues of truly statewide concern, such as the protection of critical natural resources, ensuring adequate infrastructure, and preservation of our agricultural industry.”

Really? In eastern Collier county, Governor Bush strongly supports an enormous development, Ave Maria College—planned by Domino’s Pizza founder Tom Monagahan—which will insert a Christian college and town to include the country’s largest church on 4000 acres at the edge of the Everglades on land scientists have identified as “prime panther habitat” that should never be developed.

The Palm Beach Post has reported extensively on how the governor’s office played a major role in the controversial choice to site the new Scripps Research Institute on private lands bordering the Everglades. “The county commission has gone beyond its own urban services boundary, the line beyond which big development was supposed to stop. Instead, it pushed for expedited approvals that will open the door for thousands of homes to be built, for roads to be widened, sewer and water lines extended, miles of orange trees tossed into wood chippers and vast stretches of ranch land demucked and graded for construction. Regional planners wonder: Can Kendall or Pembroke Pines be far behind?”

No, it can’t. This sloshing back and forth of development will turn the Everglades into the equivalent of the oval inside a NASCAR race track. Even if the Everglades is not your top priority, here is one that is: your time.

Do the arithmetic for yourself: compare the number of hours you get for vacation, work and holidays, to the hours you lose commuting to and from work, sitting in traffic. ‘X’ hours per day in traffic multiplied by ‘X’ days of work per year.

In the upcoming elections, don’t let candidates for elected office get by, without holding them accountable to the costs of sprawl. Do the arithmetic and vote.

When the Herald found it appropriate to print an editorial on these topics, here is what it printed:

Saturday, May 21, 2005


Mega economies, one fueled by people and the other by barrels of oil, have propelled cities such as Shanghai and Dubai to the top tier of world-class cities in the 21st century. Both cities, one at the center of the world's fastest growing economy and the other in the heartland of the world's largest petroleum reserves, share an uncommon characteristic: There are more construction cranes than traffic lights; and, although the unparalleled growth has outpaced infrastructure services in many instances as well as the growth-management efforts to properly support and service this growth, all experts agree that the future of these emerging world-class cities is ahead of, not behind, them.

World city

Halfway around the world, Miami, the most international U.S. city outside of New York, is going through a similar transformation but without the oil or zillion people. This has some economists and bankers worried.

Lately, there has been more written about the "condo bubble" than the weapons of mass destruction during the Iraq war. There is a relationship in both phenomena: If you say it often enough, you actually start believing it, and soon enough you're on your way toward a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Miami is a great world city, and there is no going back. Build them, and they will come.
Just consider the following five points:

Other than Chile and Colombia, every major economy in South America has taken a turn away from democracy, sparking wave after wave of flight capital and migration of the professional and entrepreneurial classes to their ultimate destination: Miami.

In comparison to other U.S. cities such as New York, San Francisco, Chicago and Washington, D.C., Miami still offers an attractive price-point advantage. Along the Brickell corridor, new waterfront condominium properties average between $450 to $500 per square foot. Only a few Miami Beach projects have broken the $1,000-per-square-foot ceiling, which in New York City today would be considered "affordable."

U.S. gateway

Until the day that Fidel Castro falls and Cuba opens to worldwide trade and commerce, Miami will continue to be the Singapore of the Americas, serving as the place of choice for business exchange and the center of trade and commerce for the Caribbean Basin and Central and South America. Hence, Miami's positioning in the Western Hemisphere buttressed by excellent transportation and communication hubs such as Miami International Airport and the NAP of the Americas, make Miami the choice city for FTAA and forums for world and business leaders. More visitors entered the country through Miami last year than through any other city.

Further, the American Airlines hub in Miami today has a total of 248 flights (208 American Airlines and 40 American Eagle) fully recovering from the pre-9/11 days when American Airlines had 184 flights a day in Miami. No other U.S. city compares in this category.

Miami is hot, hot, hot. The news clips of cocaine cowboys, the Mariel boatlift and the McDuffie riots have been replaced with the beautiful skyline of CSI Miami; with Miami and Miami Beach becoming the preferred hangout for wealthy urbanites, recording artists, movie stars and sports celebrities. J Lo, Ricky Martin, Gloria Estefan, A-Rod, Shaquille O'Neal and Lenny Kravitz all have one thing in common: Miami.

Safe harbor

With the volatility of capital markets and in spite of last year's increases in the Federal Reserve's borrowing rates, which will continue their upward but moderate adjustment throughout the year, real estate continues to still be a safe harbor for investors, whether it be equity or the purchase of a condo in South Florida, where doubling of your investment in less than two years is commonplace. If you have euros or British pounds, then you buy with a built-in 30 percent to 40 percent discount.
Miami deserves its place next to Shanghai and Dubai. More important, it deserves our confidence. The bubble is not latex but stainless steel.

Willy Bermello is a Miami architect and developer.

It was nonsense then. It is worse, now.

Miami is at the epicenter of the nation's economic crisis, more so than Texas, or Nevada, or Arizona or California because it was here, in the past decade, that the mastery of local politics by the local builders (Bermello is a past president of the Latin Builders Association) tied together with large engineering firms and major corporate homebuilders perfected the formula of local control of zoning and permitting, that provided fodder for Wall Street mortgage backed securities-- or, financial derivatives.

The connection--a verifiable Ponzi scheme of epic dimensions-- never made it to either journalistic coverage or the editorial page of The Miami Herald (except for the outstanding work of Jim Morin, the paper's editorial cartoonist. In fact, if the Herald editors would like to track back, and not just from the record here, Morin's cartoons over the years show exactly where the Herald editorial coverage and reporting missed the boat.). These examples are not shared to shout out a grievance, but the reason why so many readers have abandoned the Herald. In accommodating values that played to advertisers and special interests, the Miami Herald lost its way and missed the biggest story of the century: connecting local campaign contributors from the Growth Machine to local zoning and permitting decisions, to the housing market and real estate crash, and Wall Street.


Geniusofdespair said...

Good one!

"Chamber of Commerce values are encrypted in the mainstream press."

youbetcha' said...

I agree.

Except, I think that Chamber of Commerce values are more of a reflection a political atmosphere that has prevailed for a better part of my adult life.

I find those values reflect a loss of a moral compass in business and government. There is also a lack of work ethic that projects a sense of entitlement in the work place. But, then again, the business community really squashed any desire for an employee to be loyal when they started shipping jobs overseas as they started considering bottom lines over human needs. The bottom line needs to be sustained by relationships, not greed. That is why one finds more loyalty in Mom and Pop businesses... a sense of someone "gives a damn" prevails.

sparky said...

It's too bad McClatchey couldn't have something like the DC bureau. But maybe it is asking too much of the Herald to go against basically the entire power structure. The NYT, for example, is no better on issues in its city.