Author Archives: Michael Froomkin

2014 November Voting Guide (Part Two: Constitutional Amendments, Charter Amendments, and a Bond Issue)

This is part two of a two-part guide to the ballot in South Florida. Part One covered candidates on the 2014 ballot in Miami-Dade; this part looks at the three state-wide proposals to amend the Florida Constitution, at four proposals to amend the Miami-Dade County Charter, and a proposal for a bond issue.

Florida Constitutional Amendments

1- YES, 2-YES & 3-NO

No 1: Water and Land Conservation. (Full text.) Earmarking certain existing tax revenues for the environment. Vote for water conservation. We need it badly. This won’t directly raise taxes in that it just earmarks existing revenues. Money being fungible, it is of course possible that taxes might be raised to pay for something that these existing revenues might otherwise have been used for. Vote YES.

No. 2: Medical Marijuana. (Full text.) Very limited – too limited. Vote YES anyway.

No. 3: “Prospective Appointment of Certain judicial Vacancies,” AKA court-packing in some scenarios. (Full text.) The court appointment process ain’t broke: Vote NO

Seriously, why would we want a lame-duck governor doing the Florida Supreme Court appointments … here’s why and it isn’t pretty. As former Florida Supreme Court Justice Harry Lee Anstead explained, it’s a “partisan political power grab”:

In the past, Florida was hailed nationally as a model system for appointment of fair and impartial judges based solely on merit. It was perhaps the greatest legacy of the late Gov. Reubin Askew, who voluntarily gave up his sole authority to appoint judges in favor of a nonpartisan merit selection system based on his belief that “the judiciary is too important to be left to partisan patronage.”…

Now, instead of working to restore Askew’s nonpartisan merit system, the current legislative majority is seeking to accelerate a partisan political power grab of Florida’s judiciary at the highest level. They want to vest a lame-duck outgoing governor with the authority to fill three seats on the Supreme Court that become vacant after the governor’s term expires.

The sponsors of Amendment 3 say they are trying to eliminate confusion and an imaginary future constitutional crisis in the delay of a new governor making the appointments. Those claims are thin cover for continued improper political interference in our courts…

What Floridians are really being asked to eliminate is a critical protection Askew built into the system of merit selection and retention. When the system was adopted, it was built on two pillars of public input and accountability. In addition to requiring appointed judges to go before the public for merit retention at regular intervals, a governor seeking re-election could be held accountable at the ballot box for his appointments. That accountability vanishes if an outgoing governor makes the appointments.

The scheme proposed in Amendment 3 gives a departing governor the power to tip the scales of justice for partisan reasons on the way out the door — with impunity. And, therein lies the easily identified real intent of this amendment. Partisan advocates, frustrated by the public’s rejection of their attempt to remove these same three Florida justices in their retention elections in 2012, have audaciously found another scheme to achieve their goals of stacking the court politically.

It is a one-time gamble and a shortsighted strategy on multiple levels. First, it presumes Gov. Rick Scott is re-elected so that he can make the appointments at the end of his second term. More importantly, it cynically ignores the possibility that an informed Florida public will reject this blatant attempt to politicize the judiciary.

Of course if Crist wins in November and this passes, it will kind of blow up in their faces. I’d still be against it though, even if I knew that was going to happen.

County Questions

Vote NO on all four attempts to undermine Art. 7.

Amend Article 7 to allow Libraries in Parks? Sounds innocuous. But it could be the thin edge of the wedge on undermining green spaces in a town where every proposal is about less green space, or ignoring promises about old green spaces. Let’s fund the libraries we’ve got first. NO. Note also that Commissioner Esteban “Steve” Bovo proposed this – that can’t be good. And indeed it isn’t. No, indeed.

Exempt Miami Dade Regional Soccer Park from Article 7? Another attack on greenery. Well, actually this is about a former landfill that they want to open to a privately run soccer camp. So there’s less at stake here environmentally, but it seems a bit special-interest to me. NO, weakly.

Allow Campgrounds and Lodgers/Cabins in Camp Matecumbe? I couldn’t find much information on this other than this article which makes the development proposed in this County Question sound unattractive compared to the plan the locals want. Leaning NO, but I’m open to hearing the other side.

Exempt FIU from Art 7 to encourage their takeover of the Miami-Dade Youth Fair site? NO. Really, NO.

The whole local establishment is for this which tells you something not so wonderful about the establishment here. I’ve gotten robocalls and live calls too. But it’s a pig in a poke. To make this plan work work FIU would have to comply with a contractual requirement to find a new site for the Youth Fair – and there’s no obvious place for it. It would be folly to approve a project like this until we know where they are planing to send it And if anyone knows, they are not talking. Don’t encourage this sort of back-door governance. We have a right to know at least the basic facts about a deal before we are asked to OK it.

Funding new courthouse. This would authorize a $393 million bond issue, most of it for a new downtown courthouse. The old one is in terrible repair; it has leaks and mold. We need a new one. The price seems somewhat high; one could quibble as to how unrepairable the old building really is. But something needs doing, and this is something. I’m voting YES.

Posted in 2014 Election, Florida, Miami | 14 Comments

2014 November Voting Guide (Part One: People)

Absentee ballots are out, early voting begins this week, must be time for a South Florida election guide. (See your personalized sample ballot.) If your mind is made up on the headline races, skip down to the judges. My suggestions regarding the Florida Constitutional Amendments, and the County Questions will be in Part Two which will be up presently.


Hold your nose and vote for Charlie Crist. And enjoy that at least this means you also get to vote for Annette Taddeo.

The Governor’s race is painful this year, pitting a far-right-likely-criminal Republican Rick Scott against former Chain-Gang-Charlie Crist, a man whose journey from then-hard-right Republican Attorney General and gubernatorial candidate to soft-right Republican Governor to centrist Democratic gubernatorial candidate in 2014 has had at times a certain air of opportunism.

I for one will never forget, and find hard to forgive, Crist’s behavior as Attorney General, not least his behavior in one of the early sexting cases, where he personally argued an appeal arguing for further victimizing the female victim whose boyfriend shared her picture around by making her a sex offender. And I didn’t like his judicial appointments.

But give the man his due: he governed far more reasonably that he campaigned. (Yes, soft bigotry of low expectations.) He kept the polls open late in 2008, I think more on grounds of basic decency than calculation. If elected he’ll support expansion of medical care to the poor (if the legislature lets him), and ought generally to check the excesses of our very right-wing legislature. Plus we get Annette Taddeo as Lt. Governor, who’ll be a great voice for South Florida, and progressives generally.

The issue for conservatives is whether to stay home or vote for Libertarian Adrian Wyllie. The choice for progressives is whether to vote in this one at all, given the choice between two Republicans. The thing is, one is crazy, secretive, and possibly corrupt; the other is a bit of a weather-vane, but shows signs of humanity, and at least the wind is blowing more or less in the right direction.

Attorney General

They say Pam Blondi, the incumbent, will win because George Sheldon didn’t raise enough money. That means more years of bigotry and embarrassment for the state of Florida. She’s virulently, flailingly anti-gay-marriage (and, one suspects, anti-gay full stop). She’s unserious: Bondi really did get Gov. Scott to delay an execution to allow her to go to a fundraiser. George Sheldon on the other hand, is serious, and would do a fine job. What a pity it looks like he won’t get the chance this time. Vote for Sheldon.


Jeff Atwater (R), a big insider, is expected to romp against Will Rankin (D), who hasn’t made much of an impression.

Commissioner of Agriculture

This is actually also the consumer affairs portfolio, and it’s a pity for consumers that it remains in Adam Putnam’s Republican hands, but the state Dems haven’t done much for their ticket this year; I’ll vote for Thaddeus Hamilton because he’s not Putnam.

State Rep District 114

I’ve written about this before–Eric Fresen must go. Daisy Baez is a strong candidate. Ross Handcock is a good guy who unfortunately has persuaded himself he’s the people’s choice as an independent candidate, which looks to me like the best thing that could ever happen to Fresen. Certainly, if you’re a Republican and are disgusted by Fresen, but don’t want to vote for a Democrat, Hancock is your man. Otherwise, vote Baez. (Let me know if you need a yard sign.)

Three DCA Retention Elections

All three have sterling records – vote YES for all three.

Vote yes to retain Judge Barbara Lago (86% of bar respondents recommended Lagoa for retention), Judge Thomas Logue (91% of bar respondents recommended Logue for retention), and Judge Vance E. Salter (92% of bar respondents recommended Salter for retention).

Miami-Dade County Court Judge

Tough call. Go with the experience but dubious temperament of incumbent Jacqueline Schwartz (UM JD ’91) or go with the kinder, gentler but far less experienced attorney Frank Bocanegra? Bocanegra is on his second career after being a police officer for 30 years and then City Manager for the Town of Miami Lakes, which is why he has only seven years attorney experience without being a young ‘un. His campaign bio (more on this later) says he is currently an adjunct professor at Miami Dade College and St. Thomas University teaching Criminal Justice and Business Law. I know someone who says he’s a real nice guy.

First problem is, one of my basic principles for judicial elections is to prefer people with at least 15 years legal experience–and to demand at least 10 years–before voting for someone as a trial judge, a job that requires a lot of immediate evidentiary and procedural rulings from the bench and for which the State of Florida provides little support in the way of law clerks and the like. Bocanegra fails that experience test, and I gather that even in the few years since he left law school his court room experience has been limited. The Herald’s editorial says Bocanegra “currently” works for the Public Defender’s office, but if he’s ever worked there at all it seems that Bocanegra is embarrassed about it because this fact doesn’t appear anywhere on his otherwise-extensive campaign biography (he’s a Kentucky Colonel!), which I do not see as at all a good sign and is another reason I feel uncomfortable about suggesting you should be voting for him.

On the other hand, it seems Judge Schwartz has a temper, and being forced into a runoff by just a few votes doesn’t seem to have improved it.

The Herald endorsed Schwartz in the first round, then reversed field and endorsed Bocanegra:

Since the primary, the Miami Herald reported an incident at a Coconut Grove convenience store in which the owner said that Ms. Schwartz demanded that he remove an opponent’s oversized campaign sign from the parking lot outside or display hers, too, then cursed at him when he said he could not because he was not the property owner. The story continues that the judge called Miami code enforcement, which made the store owner remove the too-large sign.

This raises sufficient questions about the judge’s demeanor. The individuals interviewed at the convenience store — a cashier corroborated the story in a sworn statement — said they did not know she was a judge when she came in.

Ms. Schwartz has not responded adequately to the allegations. She told the Editorial Board that it would not be “wise” to talk about them in light of a complaint filed with the Judicial Qualifications Commission. She also referred a Herald reporter’s questions to her political consultant, Bob Levy. Mr. Levy told the Editorial Board this week that she denied, to him, that she directed unseemly profanity toward the store owner.

I too endorsed Schwartz the first time around, if halfheartedly, writing,

There are three candidates. Jacqueline Schwartz is the incumbent. She’s endorsed by the Herald – and by the Christian Family coalition. The challengers are Rachel Glorioso Dooley (17 years experience) and Frank Bocanegra (six (!) years experience). Again, I’m voting incumbent. Then again, Dooley has support in the bar and outpolled Swartz on competence: 39% saying Schwarz was not qualified but only 21% saying that of Dooley. Dooley was endorsed by the league of prosecutors. There’s some case for a change here, but not quite enough for me.

So here we are again, and meanwhile allegedly Schwartz has had a public blowup off the bench – a pretty serious one.

So I had a look at the Cuban American Bar Association poll of lawyers (I usually look only at the more inclusive and larger-sample Dade County Bar poll), and although it’s based on a small sample (n=229) it is pretty dire: Only 9.5% rated Judge Jacqueline Schwartz as “Exceptionally Qualified”, and only 31.4% rated her as “Qualified”; a whopping 59.0% rated her as “Unqualified”. Trouble is, Frank Bocanegra’s numbers were not much better: he got 11.1% Exceptionally Qualified, 33.3% Qualified, and 55.6% Unqualified. I don’t think there’s much difference to be found there although I suppose one might hope that Bocanegra might learn on the job.

I also reached out to some local lawyers I know. What I got was mostly hearsay: they hadn’t appeared in front of Judge Schwartz themselves, but they knew people who had, and what they heard ranged from not good to awful. It’s only hearsay, but it’s what I’ve got.

So, like I said, a tough choice. At this minute I’m leaning towards Bocanegra, mostly based on that hearsay, but this could easily change.

Update (10/31): I just learned of this Oct. 27 New Times article, County Judge Candidate Once Sued in Federal Court Over Harassment Allegations which reports on the City of Miami Lakes’s $21,000 settlement of a claim of a campaign of harassment:

In February 2007, when Bocanegra was a major on the county police department, Abella spoke at a Miami Lakes council meeting to argue against a mundane ordinance, proposed by Councilwoman Nancy Simon, concerning residents’ posting of signs along suburban streets. In the back of his truck, Abella also had his own sign: “Councilmember Nancy Simon wants to pollute Miami Lakes with signs.”

After leaving the meeting, Abella says, he was intimidated in the parking lot by police officers who didn’t like what he’d said. And then, he says, he was systematically harassed over months: He says that police stopped him and threatened to issue a citation if he didn’t remove the sign from the back of his truck, and that on several occasions other officers gave him bogus parking tickets and citations for ostensible violations like blocking handicapped parking spaces. Major Bocanegra, Abella alleges, used his officers to “make our life a living hell.”

Abella went to federal court, claiming he had been intimidated as retaliation for expressing his First Amendment rights. He named numerous defendants, including Bocanegra, Simon, and several officers, and the legal wrangling went on for years. Finally, earlier this year, the case was settled for around $21,000, says Dennis Kerbel, who represented the county.

A spokesman from Bocanegra’s campaign office referred comment about Abella’s allegations to Kerbel, who says the claims of harassment were frivolous.

Without knowing more, it’s hard to tell what to make of this story.

Property Appraiser

This one is a no-brainer: Pedro Garcia, who used to be the Property Appraiser until being turfed out in the previous election, may not be the change-maker we need in the job, but the alternative is a term-limited state Representative and, well, hack, named Eddy Gonzalez who is utterly unqualified for the post. Let’s not politicize the office. Back to the past, rather than forward into the deep end. (In a sign of strange bedfellows, or that all politics is local, or that principles don’t matter when your party is on the verge of forgetting you, Senator Marco Rubio endorsed Gonzalez. Ick.)

Next: Voting Guide Part Two: Florida Constitutional Amendments & Miami-Dade Charter Amendments.

Posted in 2014 Election, Florida, Miami | 5 Comments

John Oliver Makes Supreme Court Oral Argument Much More Interesting to Watch

Do not watch while drinking coffee.

Posted in Law: The Supremes | Leave a comment

Wonderful Layered Short Story

Sleeper by Jo Walton at crams in themes about dystopian spying, virtuality, how we create our pasts and our futures, and identity. All in just a few words.

When I grow up, I’d be happy to write something Jo Walton feels is worth re-reading.

Posted in Kultcha, Readings | Leave a comment

David Brin Epic Takedown of Fox’s Soros-Haters

Epic indeed:

Let’s illustrate the mad-right’s narrative machine, and how sadly incurious millions of our neighbors have become, nodding and swallowing anything that gets fed to them on Fox. 

Use this!  Ask your crazy uncle what he thinks of a man named… George Soros. 

Oh, any Fox-watcher will tell you about Soros! How he is a criminal mastermind with a huge media empire that has suckered millions of Blue Americans into raving socialist-communist frenzy. 

Never mind that Soros’s wealth and media “empire” are minuscule compared to the triumvirate of Rupert Mudoch, the Koch boys and the Saudi royal family, all co-owners of Fox. Folks following the narrative call George Soros a “super-leftist” master-demon.

A special moment: they nod in terror when Glen Beck howls “Soros toppled EIGHT foreign governments!” 

In fact, that’s true! For once, Beck ain’t lying at all. George Soros did help to topple eight foreign governments! He is, indeed, a formidable fellow. Alas, in a sign of how far GOP intellect has plummeted since days of Goldwater and Buckley, not one audience member of the Beck or Limbaugh or Fox riefenstahl-rallies ever lifts his head to ask … 

“Um… Glen? Rush? Sean? WHICH eight foreign governments do you credit Soros – the super leftist with toppling?”

 In ten years of daring these guys, none of the Fox-ites I’ve  confronted has ever been able to name even one of those toppled foreign governments. It just never occurred to them, to ask.

Are you ready to ask? Ready for the list? Here are those eight foreign governments Beck/Limbaugh/Fox credit George Soros with toppling.

The communist dictatorship of Hungary.

The communist dictatorship of Poland

The communist dictatorship of Czechoslovakia

The communist dictatorship of Romania

The communist dictatorship of Bulgaria

The communist dictatorship of Estonia

The communist dictatorship of Latvia

The communist dictatorship of Lithuania

And mind you it isn’t just uber-conservatives Beck and Limbaugh who credit Soros with this terrifying feat! The Heritage Foundation and AEI and most rightist pundit-castes have repeated it! Along with many GOP candidates. (Though sometimes the figure is nine since it rightfully should include East Germany.) Indeed, Soros’s relentless efforts to undermine the USSR and communism made up his core life’s work and even many sane political observers credit him substantially.

Let’s make this explicit. Glen Beck and all those other right wing mavens officially credit terrifying leftist George Soros with the toppling of the Iron Curtain and the end of the Warsaw Pact, the liberation of hundreds of millions and the victorious end of the Cold War. 

Huh. I thought it was that other liberal (compared to today’s GOP) Ronald Reagan. In fact, they both share equal credit with Michail Gorbachev and with the architect of our grand 1945-2000 plan — George Marshall. (With Jimmy Carter deserving more of an assist cred than you’d believe.)

Look, the crux here is not who actually tore down the wall. Hey, let’s credit the people of those nations, above all. 

No, the core point is this: why are the viewers of Fox and Beck/Limbaugh so cosmically stupid that they never — any of them — ask enough questions to notice the tsunami of ironies and contradictions and outright lies at their Nuremberg Rally? 

So… um… where does this ghastly example of looniness, incuriosity and knee jerk obedience to declared dogma leave the credibility of today’s monster that has hijacked the once intellectually solid American conservative movement?

Oh, pity Barry Goldwater. spinning 6000 RPM in his grave.

Posted in Politics: Tinfoil, Politics: US | 1 Comment

Anyone Interested in Data Anonymization or Differential Privacy Should Read This

Riding with the Stars: Passenger Privacy in the NYC Taxicab:

Larry Flynt’s Hustler Club is in a fairly isolated location in Hell’s Kitchen, and no doubt experiences significant cab traffic in the early hours of the morning. I ran a query to pull out all pickups that occurred outside the club after midnight and before 6am, and mapped the drop-off coordinates to see if I could pinpoint individuals who frequented the establishment. The map below shows my results – the yellow points correspond to drop-offs that are closely clustered, implying a frequent customer.

The potential consequences of this analysis cannot be overstated. Go ahead, zoom in. You will see that the GPS coordinates are terrifyingly precise. Using this freely-obtainable, easily-created map, one can find out where many of Hustler’s customers live, as there are only a handful of locations possible for each point. Add a little local knowledge, and, well, it’s not rocket science. “I was working late at the office” no longer cuts it: Big Brother is watching.

Even without suspicions or knowledge of the neighborhood, I was able to pinpoint certain individuals with high probability.

Differential privacy — blurring the info — can work here. Note however, that for differential privacy to work, it must be applied with a very clear idea of the future uses that could be made of the data. This is often not at all easy.

Posted in Surveillance | 1 Comment

Can’t Make This Stuff Up

Nobel-PrizeTSA Questions Scientist Trying to Bring His Nobel Prize Through Security:

“They’re like, ‘Sir, there’s something in your bag.’ I said, ‘Yes, I think it’s this box.’

“They said, ‘What’s in the box?’ I said, ‘a large gold medal,’ as one does.

“So they opened it up and they said, ‘What’s it made out of?’ I said, ‘gold.’ And they’re like, ‘Uhhhh. Who gave this to you?’ ‘The King of Sweden.’ ‘Why did he give this to you?’ ‘Because I helped discover the expansion rate of the universe was accelerating.’

“At which point, they were beginning to lose their sense of humour. I explained to them it was a Nobel Prize, and their main question was, ‘Why were you in Fargo?’”

Daily Telegraph via View from the Wing.

Posted in Law: Right to Travel | Leave a comment