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Thursday July 12, 2012

Critical Miami Podcast, episode 1!

critical miami podcast Here it is, finally: the inaugural episode of the Critical Miami Podcast with me and Steve. We talk about How Rick Scott closed Florida’s last tuberculosis clinic just as the worst TB outbreak in 20 years was hitting the state, whether there should be a casino on the Miami Herald site, pit bull laws, and Don Rickles. If you’re, like, sexy-nerdy and you know what to do with a podcast feed, here it is. iTunes feed coming soon (like, tomorrow), all ready to rock but meantime you can listen here, or download the mp3.

Episode Links

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Tuesday July 10, 2012

What's up with Pit Bulls?

pit bull miami referendum

“Shall the ordinance repealing the county’s 23 year old law prohibiting the ownership of pit bulls as a dangerous breed of dogs become effective?”

That’s on the ballot for Miami-Dade residents on August 14th. We’ve got one of the oldest of the municipal bans on pit bulls in the country, and now it’s up for reconsideration. Let’s put aside the typically idiotic language of the ballot and consider the the matter. Despite the blowhard arguments made by some pit bull advocates (see image), it seems to be not obvious what the right thing to do here. Banning anything is an invasive government action, and it needs to be well justified before it can even be considered. Are pit bulls more dangerous than other breeds? And if so, is a ban the correct response?

Statistics

Here is a report of dog bite statistics by breed covering almost thirty years. Scrolling through the list is sobering. For “attacks doing bodily harm,” most dogs are in the single digits. Some are notably higher: Boxers, 48; German Shephards, 89; Labradors(!), 45. But pit bulls stand head and shoulders above them all with 1970 attacks. But wait, there’s also information about the percentage of the dog population some of the breeds account for, and pit bulls, at .033, are actually very high up in that sense. Well, luckily I’ve crunched the numbers for you. Here’s a handy dandy Excel spreadsheet (csv) which includes only the breeds for which the species percentage is given, sorted by the score (column H) that weighs the number of attacks against the prevalence of the breed. According to this chart, Rottweiler’s are far and away the most dangerous breed, followed by Wolf hybrid, followed by Pit bull terrier, Bull mastiff, Akita, Boxer, and Chow. Labradors, German Shepherds, and Great Danes round out the top 10.

But even within the top 10 there is a fast and significant drop-off. A pit bull is 10 times as likely to attack a human as a German Shepherd. A Rottweiler is 13 times as likely to attack as a Boxer. Taken on its face, the statistics show that the top few breeds are indeed much more dangerous than all other dogs, per individual animal. Together, pit bulls, Rotweilers, and Wolf hybrids account for 77% of attacks that induce bodily harm.

There are two big problems with these numbers. First, they don’t take into account total populations. They compare breeds against each other, but say nothing about how dangerous, statistically, a given animal is. If you’re confronted by a pit bull, what are your chances of being harmed? Or to put it another way, for an individual pit bull, what are the chances that it will bite a human in its lifetime. 1 percent? A tenth of a percent? A thousandth of a percent? It seems crazy to consider banning anything without this information. Perhaps just as important, the statistics are compiled in a way that’s not quite scientific. They’re based on media reports. That means they’re subject to all kinds of bias: people underreporting bites by smaller or less “threatening” species, people assuming that a dog was a pit bull in part because it bit someone, and other issues concerning identifying a breed. The Center for Disease Control has pointed out that these studies are unreliable.

Owners

And yet those studies are the best information we have. They may be substantially flawed, but it’s hard to believe that they’re so flawed as to invalidate the basic trend they point to. Let’s address a few of the other arguments that get made in this debate

Q. “It’s not the dog — it’s the owner!” Any species of dog can attack a human, and most of the so-called “dangerous” dogs are perfectly loving and well-behaved companion animals. Some people raise dogs either incompetently, or in a way that makes them deliberately aggressive. Don’t punish the dogs and the vast majority of responsible owners.

A. We’ve tried punishing the owners. In some cases, owners have been fined as much as $7 million, and any dog that seriously bites someone is destroyed. We’ve tried education. And yet attacks by pit bulls and other dangerous breeds are on the rise, despite laws banning and restricting the dogs in areas around the country. It may be the owners’ fault, but that’s just as much of a reason to ban the dangerous breeds.

Q. “Pit bull isn’t even a real breed” The term can refer to a number of different breeds, and legislation usually adds the phrase “and similar dogs.” How can you pass a law when the situation is such a mess?

A. All dog breeds are a human construct. Some are better defined and some less well defined. Strictly speaking, when we talk about pit bulls, we usually are talking about the American Staffordshire Terrier, the Staffordshire Bull Terrier, The English Bull Terrier, and the American Pit Bull Terrier. You identify a pit bull the same way you identify a more strictly defined breed: a casual identification by sight, and verification by DNA test.

Q. Here, let me show you some tragic stories of children maimed and killed by pit bulls Isn’t any death tragic?

A. Of course it’s tragic. But we’re trying to have a society here, and we’re dealing with lots and lots of people. Look at how many people die in car accidents. What if it turns out you could save more lives by banning car radios (on the logic that car radios distract drivers and contribute to accidents)? What if it turns out you could save more lives by banning the use of car radios just on Sundays from 2 to 5 pm?

Think of the doggies

Neither side in this debate makes a good case. The pro-species-specific bans throws out deeply flawed and incomplete statistics and emotional accounts of individual cases. The pro-pit bull side argues that most dogs are harmless, and spend time refuting “myths” that nobody actually believes and ignoring the evidence that some breeds are more likely to bite, and more likely to injure and kill when they do bite.

In the end though, the conclusion is simple. 207 people were killed by pit bulls in the study we cited (the study from DogsBite.org, a pro-ban website). That’s 11 people per year, in a country of 300 million. Your chances of dying in a dog bite in a given year are somewhere in the range of 1 in 27,000,000. But actually there’s more to it than that: 75% of dog attacks occur on the owner’s property. Only 1% involve pit bulls being walked on a leash in public. Don’t like pit bulls? Don’t go to people’s houses that own them, and call the police when you see someone walking one without a leash.

The Miami referendum

The referendum to lift the Miami-Dade pit bull ban is worded terribly. It’s a result of the State of Florida threatening to overturn the ban, which is pretty irritating. And it may seem counterintuitive — even if the ban is wrong, it’s been in place so long, so why lift it now? But the ban was wrong when it was enacted, a knee-jerk reaction to news events. Lifting the ban is the right thing to do.

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Wednesday June 20, 2012

Photographing the Herald: answers revealed!

Miami Herald no protography private property zone

Last week I had a run-in with Herald security guards in which I was told that photography of the Herald building from the sidewalk is not allowed. Well, Bill over at Random Pixels called up the Herald and got some answers. It turns out that the Herald does indeed own the sidewalk and the street in front of their building. I’ve marked in blue their private property in the picture above. They do, in fact, have the right to not allow protography, to ask anyone to leave, or do anything else you could do to someone standing in your driveway. (Well, technically they sold the building last year and are now just leasing it temporarily, but that’s not really relevant to the issue.)

As far as I’m concerned, that settles the matter. It’s their property and they can do whatever they want, including not allowing photography. Do I think this is a dumb rule? Yes, I do; there are dumb rules all over the place, so has it ever been. Do I think the Herald should post “No Photography” signs or “Private Property” signs? No, I think that’d be ugly and even dumber. Do I regret being a jerk to the security guards at the Herald? No. I was a jerk to the guy who was a jerk to me first. He very clearly said that photography was “not allowed” and didn’t say shit about the sidewalk and street being private property. I was perfectly polite to the second security guard, who came closer to explaining the situation correctly but still only made vague reference to “the Herald’s area” (although he knew it also included the street). I do think the security guards could be better informed about why they’re enforcing the rules, but I also understand the point that they’ve got a lot of other things to worry about, and I don’t think it’s that big of a deal. I’m cool with the Herald again, and I wish them well in their move to Doral or wherever, where presumably they won’t have to worry so much about pesky people with iPhones photographing their building.

Previously: Photography of the Miami Herald building is “not allowed”? / Update/Correction.

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Sunday June 17, 2012

Correction: In the Photography of the Miami Herald building is “not allowed”? post, I got the link to Carlos Miller’s blog wrong. The story of the other link is here. Apologies to Carlos, and bigups to sloppy blogging!

Update: And here is Carlos’ post about my post and the incident. Carlos contacted a couple of Herald reporters, and it sounds like they were disturbingly nonchalant about the whole thing. Some people have stuck up for the security guards in this situation, and I absolutely agree that the problem is with head of security or whoever set the policy, and the managers of the paper who allow it to continue. Total bullshit, and yes, we should go down there with cameras. Name the day.

Update: Facebook discussion.

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Thursday June 14, 2012

Photography of the Miami Herald building is "not allowed"?

miami herald

Wow, wait till you hear this one. So I’m out for an early morning bike ride, and snapping a few photos, and I end up in front of the Miami Herald building for this one. Out the garage comes a guy in a Volkswagen Beetle (with a white “Un-Beetle” decal, so, you know, clearly a douche) comes out and tells me “no photography.” I laugh him off, but he’s quite serious. “I’not allowed to stand here and take pictures?!” says I. “No, you’re not.” says him, now puling a badge out and waving it at me, without identifying himself as any particular law enforcement. “What’re you going to do, call the cops?” say I. “Yeah, I will!” says him. “So call them,” says I. “Just don’t take any photos!” says he and pulls away.

So I circle around and talk to another security guard, who is very nice about it and somewhat equivocal, but he says yeah, photography of the building is not allowed. “But it’s a public street” say I. “Well, they consider this Miami Herald area” says him, pointing at the street with a completely straight face. “If you want to go across the street, that’s something else…” He also says something about how it’s because it’s a landmark(!) and that they’d like me to get a permit if I’m going to be photographing. I mentioned something about how I’d like for them to cut me a check for a half a million dollars, and I guess at that point he realized he had a wise ass on his hands and said something about just being cool about it.

So, first of all, what a sorry pair of backing-down-ass security guards, right? But more to the point (and I actually wonder whether this needs to be said) how fucking ironic is it that in this era when photographer’s effective rights are being chipped away, and the job of news photographers like Carlos Miller* to do their jobs is getting harder and harder (to speak nothing of our civil liberties), the Miami Herald is contributing to this extra-legal “no photography rule” nonsense. Do the reporters and editors know about this “rule”? How far are the security guards actually trained to go in enforcing it? (And do they have clear boundaries?) And when will the idea get into the popular consciousness that “rules” happen on private property and on public property the only “rules” are laws, and it’s very poor policy to have your security people confuse the two and try to represent one thing as another?

* I originally got the link to Carlos’ blog wrong. The original link went to a … I’m not sure what the fuck it is, actually. The story is here. Thanks to Carlos for the correction.

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Wednesday May 7, 2008

The results are in from the Broward citrus canker class-action lawsuit: $11.5 million to be split between several tens of thousand residents. It’s not clear how much each person/tree will get, because some have already gotten money, yadda yadda, but sounds like upper three digits to me. Good news for former citrus tree owners in other counties, where similar lawsuits are ongoing; bad news for the State (uhh, that would be us). Someone should start talking settlement, no?

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Tuesday April 29, 2008

Your State government watch: mandating ultrasound scans for women before they can get an abortion in the Senate, undermining evolution in the House. (Neither bill is a law yet.) Attention Republicans: how do you sleep?

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Monday April 28, 2008

Let them believe

I believe Florida license plate

Ahh, Florida legislature, how we love thee. Just in the last year you’ve screwed us out of having our votes counted, debated what can hang from the back of a truck, and now this: the good folks in Tallahassee are considering the ‘I Believe’ license plate.

Now, this is an easy opportunity to engage in a little open Christian-bashing — and believe me, I’ll get into that in a second — but let’s consider the central argument against the plate. Sayeth Howard Simon, executive director of the ACLU of Florida,
“[it] sends a message that Florida is essentially a Christian state” and, second, gives the “appearance that the state is endorsing a particular religious preference.”

Well no, it doesn’t do that. Florida has some 200 different specialty tags. Does anyone think the state legislature in any meaningful way “endorses” the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Florida Memorial University, or NASCAR? Of course not. What we have here is the highly dubious enterprise of the state raising revenue through its vehicle licensing arm. You can question the whole enterprise, but letting it go for the last 200 plates and then suddenly deciding that this one is somehow extra-contemptible is absurd. Of course there is no shortage of folks ready to do just that. But sorry, the state isn’t forcing anyone to get this plate or making it the default choice. And a quick glance at the list of current specialty tags makes it clear that yes, this plate will soon be followed by plates for a plethora of other religions, and maybe even one for us atheists (several folks have suggested a Flying Spaghetti Monster plate). The state’s policy has been clear: it’ll print a plate if it thinks more then a couple of dozen people are interested. No sane person would infer any sort of approval.

There are certain areas where the state should draw the line. I’m personally still horrified every time I see the “Choose Life” plate. Does one of the most agonizingly troubled moral debates of our time need to be reduced to a license plate? Should the Florida Transportation department be used as a revenue collection agency for assholes who harass pregnant women? Don’t I have a right not to be reminded of abortions of all things, when I drive down the road? By any reasonable, objective, standard this plate is a universe more offensive then some silly deceleration of faith.

Oh, about those Christians. Well, honestly: what can you say about folks who want to proclaim their religious belief through so tacky a means? Have you guys read the bible? You know it wants you to stone adulterers and gays to death, right? You’re cool with that. You know your precious pope is helping the cause of AIDS by opposing condom distribution in Sub-Saharan Africa, right? What, you don’t support those things? So, the bible is the word of God or is it not? Yeah… I believe there is a word for you: hypocrite. (That’d make a good license plate!)

As for the rest of us, let’s take a deep breath and go with it, as well as with the other religious plates that are sure to follow. The “endorsement” is non-existent, and remember that separation between church and state is a balance. It says that you trust in God on your money, after all.

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Tuesday April 22, 2008

The Florida State Senate just passed an amendment to a transportation bill that bans Truck Nutz, the metal dangling testicles you’ve seen hanging from the hitches of classier pickups around town. The final vote is Thursday. For the first time in my adult life, I am proud of my state. (via kottke)

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Tuesday April 15, 2008

State shall pay for cut-down trees

The first of several huge class-action lawsuits against the state’s past Citrus Canker policy has come home to roost. The Miami Herald article deals primarily with the legal technicalities of the case, but here’s the point: The state based its decision to cut down healthy trees growing within 1,900 feet of infected trees on junk science, and didn’t sufficiently compensate owners. Well, now comes the penalty phase — we’re talking hundreds of thousands of trees, and the plaintiffs are talking as much as $5,000 per tree. Tim Farley, who’s quoted extensively in the article (and you can hear audio of him talking some more!) says the Florida citrus industry should pay, “but unfortunately that’s not how the system works.”

Actually, a tax on the citrus industry to pay compensatory damages in these cases would be just a wonderful idea. But they’re not the really really real guilty party here — industry looks after its interests, right? That’s what they do, that’s what they have lobbyists to do, that’s what we expect them to do. The real criminals here are the people that put the 1,900 foot rule into place — the government officials who failed to stand up to the industry, to stand up for residents with trees.

So, what do you do to ensure this doesn’t happen next time, with the next situation? Nothing. You take it, and the next time you take it again. There’s your moral. Now, get out there and plant some citrus trees — they only take a few years to get to fruit-bearing age.

Update: Clarifying the compensation per tree. First of all, that’s what the trial is going to determine. $5,000 is the pie-in-the-sky figure the plaintiffs are starting with, a number to be compromised from, and even then it’s intended to be the upper range. Actual amount would be determined by the size/age/value of the tree, with the majority in any case being under $1,000.

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Tuesday February 26, 2008

In an effort to “beautify,” North Miami’s city government removed New Times’ and Sun Post’s distribution boxes. I guess they’re taking their slogan seriously, and intend to continue to make improvements like this. Wow.

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Tuesday February 19, 2008

It’s sort of funny how we negotiate our co-existence with semi-domesticated animals living in the city. New laws passed in North Miami prohibit roosters, but a last-minute change allows people to feed feral cats, which they were considering outlawing.

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Tuesday January 29, 2008

The Miami Condo Investments blog is being sued for $25 million. Seems that an allegation that Developer Tibor Hollo went bankrupt in the 80s is the sticking point, along with some predictions that his current projects are headed for failure. Doesn’t this sort of alternate-revenue-seeking lend credence to the latter assertion, though?

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Wednesday November 21, 2007

I frankly don’t understand the pros and cons of Charlie Crist’s gambling deal with the Seminole tribe. (And I’m not sure I have much sympathy for the whining pari-mutuels.) The Miami Herald, on the other hand, is vehemently opposed to the pact. Update: But certainly not everyone agrees.

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Tuesday November 20, 2007

Orlando school sues critical parent

The New School Preparatory in Orlando is suing a parent for publishing a blog critical of the school. This is just exactly the heartwarming story of censorship and corporations pushing around anyone who dares to say anything critical about them that warms my heart.

Basically, Sonjia McSween’s daughter attended this school (doesn’t anymore). She had some unpleasant experiences, and her mom started a blog about the school’s alleged practices. Yadda yadda, the school SLAPPs her with a lawsuit. Which is to say something like “We don’t like what you’re saying. We may not be right, but we can make your life so difficult that you will be forced to stop.” Of course this works like a charm, and the Sonjia McSween’s blog, here and here is long gone, unretrievable by Wayback Machine or Google Cache.

But the internet, the court system, the media . . . these things sometimes have a peculiar poetic justice sometimes. See, the court documents the school filed, by necessity, need to substantiate their claims, and so must reproduce the blog’s content. Read the entire pdf of the complaint blog lawsuit complaint.pdf, or just click the images below to see the blog’s content, as captured and reproduced by the school. And if what McSween says isn’t enough to convince you about New School, ask yourself whether you really want your child to attend a school that uses the courts to silence its critics. Judge for yourself whether her statements rise to the level of “slander” against the school. You may also note that it appears from the lawyer’s letters intermingled with the below that McSween complied with every obnoxious takedown request the school’s henchmen threw at her.

New School Orlando blogger lawsuit complaint

New School Orlando blogger lawsuit complaint

New School Orlando blogger lawsuit complaint

New School Orlando blogger lawsuit complaint

New School Orlando blogger lawsuit complaint

New School Orlando blogger lawsuit complaint

New School Orlando blogger lawsuit complaint

New School Orlando blogger lawsuit complaint

New School Orlando blogger lawsuit complaint

New School Orlando blogger lawsuit complaint

New School Orlando blogger lawsuit complaint

Update: from the Orlando Sentinel story:

David Simmons, an Orlando attorney representing New School, said the lawsuit, filed in late October, was prompted by McSween’s postings suggesting a possible kickback scheme between a psychologist and the school. Simmons described that allegation as “ludicrous” and “damaging.”

“We’ve only asked that she tell the truth if she’s going to make any kind of statements,” Simmons said. “No one should be able to hide under the cloak of freedom of speech by making false statements.”

This is pretty transparent bullshit. The wording on McSween’s website makes it extremely clear that the “kickback scheme” is a suspicion, not an allegation. What’s more, she provides some pretty convincing evidence for her suspicion, based on her conversations with other parents and the school’s administration (see second page of the above documents).

To boot, contrast “we’ve only asked that she tell the truth,” the line David Simmons gave the press, with “in order to avoid incurring and additional damages in the future, we hereby demand that you and/or your representatives cease and desist,” from his letter to McSween. “You or your representatives”? What a mocking asshole.

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Wednesday November 7, 2007

Jorge Rivera, P.A., Immigration Law Office. I love this building.

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Monday October 15, 2007

Opa-locka bans exposed underwear

Consistently ranked among the highest violent crime rates in the United States, the government of Opa-locka is understandably always on the hunt for practical solutions, but boy have they put their foot in it this time. How about a law that bans baggy pants and exposed boxer shorts. Yeah, the crime rate should be plummeting any second now.

Commissioner Timothy Holmes, the law’s sponsor: “Instead of getting their education, these kids are picking up a style that came from prisons . . . And if they keep it up, although I’d hope not, two-thirds of these people with the pants below their butt will end up in prison.”

This doesn’t even pass the laugh test. I mean, so, the height of your pants determines where you end up in life? I guess Mr. Holmes has his pants up way high, over his belly button, with some tight suspenders. (Not sure, the picture on his official bio page is broken. But note that the bio describes him as “powerful, gifted, and compassionate.”)

Now, I’m glad we have a government that’s not afraid to think outside the box when it comes to keeping our kids out of prison, but I think this law is really just the first step. Next they need a law to ban oversize t-shirts, cornrows, and extravagant jewelry, no? But that’s still a half-measure. I think the only way to guarantee these young people a successful future is city-ordained uniforms and crew cuts.

What’s particularly disturbing is that the law’s framers have practically admitted that it does no good — the only enforcement if a cop tells you to pull up your pants and you refuse is that they can remove you from public property. Yeah, that shouldn’t lead to anyone getting unduly harassed by police.

Civil liberties, Mr. Holmes. Look it up. If you can’t come up with any real solutions for the citizens of your city, do them a favor and resign. Laying down idiot laws to criminalize something that doesn’t hurt anyone is deeply, profoundly wrong. It’s worse then attacking the symptom rather then the root of a problem — it’s an attack that’s sometimes near the problem. And I’d note that this is another law that would only stand a chance in Bush’s Fascist America 2.0 (“When you’ve surrendered the big rights, you hardly notice the little ones”).

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Wednesday October 10, 2007

Condo litigiousness

What with the current state of the condo market, it’s no surprise that lawsuits are flying back and forth with reckless abandon. Jared Beck uncovers two interesting strains of such suits. One surrounds situations in which condo projects were not completed within the promised 2-year period. In the other, a developer has refused to return $10 million worth of deposits for a project he apparently has no intention to build at all.

I’d say that the primary impact of these sort of suits is independent of the result — they will first and foremost fuel buyer’s suspicions, fears, and caution, and push the overall market further into the hole.

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Tuesday September 11, 2007

None of your business?

Oh, so, I don’t know if you’ve heard, but there’s a big custody case going on in a Miami court involving a 5-year old girl and her Cuban father. It seems he wants custody of her back after letting her come to the US . . . well, whatever. But so anyway, yesterday, the father was testifying, and one of the lawyers asked him to name all the women he’d ever had sex with. What type of crap is that? Someone asks me that and I’ll tell him to go fuck himself straight up; from the witness stand if that’s where I’m sitting. Seriously, isn’t that the kind of intimidation questioning they’d use in Cuba? I mean, if there’s a child in the house and you want to know what’s going on, ask for a number or something, but names?

Judge: “If he went out with other women and had sex with them, I don’t care . . . Quite frankly, if you go out and look at everybody who’s had sex with everybody, you are going to have to take a lot of kids away . . . People have sex, and they lie about it, as we all know.”

So the judge had a problem with the it too, but It’s unclear from the article whether the question ever got answered. (Damn you Carol Miller — setting up a question in the first paragraph and then not answering it!) I sure hope not.

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Thursday September 6, 2007

Ye olde charter review update. So far, the panel is shunning major changes.

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Wednesday August 29, 2007

Michael Lewis is disturbed by the surveillance cameras that are going up all over downtown. I’m with you, Michael, but as far as the cameras go, I think that battle is lost.

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Thursday August 23, 2007

The no-fault law is sunsetting, but yes, you still have to have insurance.

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Tuesday July 24, 2007

More on the cockfighting trial: “The website’s backers defend it as an exploration of cultural traditions . . . the argument over cockfighting’s cruelty [has expanded] into one that involves the First Amendment and, its defenders say, cockfighting’s cultural significance in other countries.”

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Monday July 16, 2007

The odd case of Tough Sports Live, a locally based website that broadcasts cockfights from Puerto Rico (where they’re legal) on the internet. David Oscar Markus of the Southern District of Florida Blog is defending the site in court. The Herald’s coverage of the case links to the site, which Bob Norman points out is unusual, and may be a sign of some shifting realities in how the newspaper deals with the internet.

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Thursday July 12, 2007

“Memo to the U.S. Department of Agriculture: You have better things to do with our tax dollars than harass Key West Hemingway House owners over the ubiquitous — and welcome — presence of 47 six-toed cats.” (Just added a Herald RSS feed to my collection: Editorials.)

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Wednesday July 11, 2007

Florida marrige ammendment

“Inasmuch as a marriage is the legal union of only one man and one woman as husband and wife, no other legal union that is treated as marriage or the substantial equivalent thereof shall be valid or recognized.”

Those words will appear on the November 2008 ballot, a proposed amendment to the Florida state constitution. It’s intended to ban domestic partnership benefits that some cities and counties grant to gay couples (Broward County, Miami Beach, Key West, and West Palm Beach). These bans have passed in 28 states, and have failed nowhere except Arizona.

Now, I disagree with the so-called social conservatives on almost everything, but I grant them that some of their issues have complicated moral and other issues surrounding them. But their opposition to homosexuality has no such complexity — it’s plain and simple wrong. It’s a small-minded fear of the different, lazily tied to a gross misreading of Genesis 19 (which features a condemnation of homosexual rape, and which just as a kicker has the guy offer his daughters up for rape to protect two angels visiting him; but I digress). It’s an attempt to stop people from doing what they very much want to do, when said actions do absolutely no harm to anyone. The fact that a majority of Americans support these bans is abhorrent and, frankly, a little incomprehensible.

Well. Florida Red & Blue is an organization put together to fight the amendment. Because some argue that it could be interperted to stop all domestic partnerships, the group has chosen straight couples to represent them. They have a pretty good shot of success, in part because constitutional amendments require a 60% majority to pass.

But really, can’t we get past this already? Wouldn’t it help the anti-gay crowd to realize that they’re on the wrong side of history, that in the very near future these laws will look the way Jim Crow laws from the 1950s South look today? Wouldn’t it be nice to relax a little bit and, you know, live and let live? What do you say, guys?

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Opium Garden decided to make a federal case out of its right to blast loud music all night (something about having their right to due process under the 4th amendment violated, if you must know), and well, it got knocked down by the 11th Circuit Court.

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Thursday June 28, 2007

With 16 of its 21 seats filled, the Miami-Dade County Charter Review Task Force can get to work. Not joking: four Miami-Dade commissioners (Carlos Gimenez, Sally Heyman, Barbara Jordan, and Javier Souto) appointed themselves to the committee. I suspect that if anything positive comes from this it will be despite their participation, not because of it. In any case, the task force is supposed to submit its final report at the end of October.

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Wednesday June 27, 2007

State anti-ballot-initiative law vetoed

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Wednesday June 13, 2007

Miami Beach nude cycling event. One arrest, but no actual nudity. What I want to know is how it’s illegal to organize a group of people to ride bicycles down Lincoln Rd.

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Thursday June 7, 2007

Glimpse from inside the Vamos a Cuba appeal. The ACLU is all like, “All a publicly elected body has to do to ban a book is utter the word inaccurate? If that’s the case every library administrator and library association in the country should be worried.” And the judges are all like, “[what about] a book about Adolf Hitler that would credit the Nazi leader with creating the Volkswagen and bringing Germany out of the depression — but not mention the Holocaust.” Also, for the sake of posterity, I’m mirroring the court documents posted at the Herald: School Board’s Complaint [PDF]. ACLU’s response [PDF].

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Thursday May 24, 2007

Miami Beach mayor sues Dade over petitions

claim (pdf) “It shall be unlawful for any person, entity, or elector intentionally to make or cause to be made any false statement concerning the contents or effect of any petition for initiative, referendum, or recall submitted pursuant to Article 7 of the Miami-Dade County Home Rule Charter to any person who is requested to sign any such petition or who makes an inquiry with reference to any such petition and who relies on such statement.”

So reads a law passed November 28, 2006, by the Miami-Dade County Commission. Pretty straightforward: the law makes it illegal to lie to someone to get them to sign a petition. Who could have a problem with that? Well, your suspicions might be raised when you hear that the law was passed by an embattled commission facing the strong mayor proposal, opposed by Katy Sorenson (widely held as the sole voice of reason on the commission), vetoed by Mayor Carlos Alvarez (veto overridden), and that Miami Beach mayor David Dermer is now suing the county over the law (here’s a (.pdf) copy of the claim, which includes the oridnance).

Here’s the counter-argument: let’s say you’re getting signatures to help the manatees by restricting boating speeds in canals. I’m a boater and I hate the idea. I call the cops and tell them you’re “making a false statement” about manatee populations. Next thing you know you’re in the back of a squad car, hauled off to MDPD headquarters. Even if my claim turns out to be bogus, you’ve had one unpleasant afternoon, and are going to be pretty discouraged from going back out on that corner. (And forget a countersuit — you’d have to show malicious intent.) So basically, the argument goes, this is just another attempt by the commission to consolidate their power by making it more difficult for citizens to get referendums passed, this time at the expense of first amendment rights.

Keep in mind that the referendum process is governed by the county charter (check it out, it’s a real page-turner), which by definition the commission cannot overrule. Keep in mind also that actually lying to someone in the process of collecting petition signatures is fraud, which is of course already illegal — the difference is that I can’t call the cops down to slap handcuffs on you then and there.

And keep in mind that getting a referendum on the ballot requires getting something like 100,000 signatures, which is hard enough without these bullshit obstacles. I hope the commission’s power-grab gets slapped down by the courts. But more importantly, I hope you people vote some of these turkeys out of office soon.

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Monday May 7, 2007

Carl Hiaasen has a column about Alan Crotzer, who spent 8 years in prison after being wrongly convicted of rape. He reprehends the Florida state legislature for not compensating him with money ($50,000 per year). My problem Hiaasen with this is that he never generalizes the argument — if he’s going to write about compensation for wrongful conviction, why not argue it should be automatically awarded to everyone?

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Wednesday May 2, 2007

Price gouging (again)

gas Once again, our friends over at Metroblogging are outraged by South Beach gas prices, and throwing around accusations of “price gouging.” I corrected them on this when the same thing happened last year, and got an earful from our friend Biscayne Bystander:

It is illegal in the state of Florida to sell gas below your competitors.

The Florida Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association (yes they do exist) does not tolerate price discrimination. Infact, this little known and well organized lobbying group had the Motor Fuel Marketing Practices Act enacted into law in 1985.

With all due respect, “The MFMPA prohibits below-cost selling at retail . . .” does not mean it’s illegal to sell your gas cheaper then the guy down the street. It means it’s illegal to sell your gas for less then what you paid for it. This prevents large retailers from undercutting local competition at a loss to themselves for awhile, until the competition is driven out of business and the big guy gets 100% of the market share.

Let’s say you’re a mom and pop gas station. Actually, nevermind — let’s say you’re a mom and pop doughnut store. I’m a big ghastly doughnut empire, and I move in next door to you. Well, my massive nationwide profits allow me to sell doughnuts for less then it costs me to make them for a few months. All your customers come to me, and after a few months you have to close down. Then I raise my prices back to normal, and I can go about my business without any of your annoying competition. That’s what the law prevents.

Once again: expensive prices ≠ price gouging. Gouging is when prices go up to take advantage of a civil emergency. Expensive is when prices are high because of other factors, like the cost of taxes and insurance on South Beach. I explained all this back in 2005 in the original price gouging article but nobody was reading then.

The gas stations on the beach are for emergencies and for the carelessly rich — everybody else buys their gas on the mainland. (BTW, that photo is from downtown — on the beach it’s much more expensive!)

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Wednesday April 11, 2007

A poorly written update on the County Charter review from which I can’t figure out what’s going on.

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Charlie Crist is considering pardoning Jim Morrison for indecent exposure in Coconut Grove in 1969.

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Tuesday April 10, 2007

Miami blogger receives bizarre letter from lawyer of Miami Herald columnist

Here’s something! Last November Henry Gomez did a post about Marifeli Pérez-Stable, an FIU professor and Miami Herald columnist. The post links to a report and quotes an e-mail by an Indiana University professor that makes some pretty serious accusations against Pérez-Stable:

In 1993, I wrote an academic study entitled “Academic Espionage: U.S. Taxpayer Funding of a Pro Castro Study“ for the Institute for U.S. Cuba Relations in Washington, D.C. The report was translated into Spanish and published in Miami’s “Diario las Américas” newspaper. I used only one quote from the Pérez Méndez debriefing, which indicated that one of the participants of that project, Professor Marifeli Pérez-Stable, “was a DGI agent who responded to Cuban intelligence officials Isidro Gómez and Jesús Arboleya Cervera. Pérez-Stable, who had organized another DGI front group called the Cuban Culture Circle, was receiving $100 for every person that traveled to Cuba through that organization. According to Pérez-Méndez, Pérez-Stable replaced DGI agent Lourdes Casal after her death in Havana, and the DGI and ICAP prepared the yearly plans for Pérez-Stable.”

. . . wherein DGI is the Cuban intelligence agency. Good, right? Well, I guess word was slow to get around, but two weeks ago Henry got a letter from Pérez-Stable’s lawyer basically claiming that posting the accusation consisted of slander, insisting that it be taken down, and making veiled references to monetary damages:

Please provide me within thirty days of receipt of this letter or April 28, 2007 the name of your insurance carrier with information of all available limits.

Oh, and the letter came headlined “Not for Publication.” Henry, to his credit, talked to a lawyer who assured him that not only did he not have to take down shit, he could go ahead and post the letter, because NfP requests are just that — requests, not legally binding.

Now, I have no idea whether Pérez-Stable is guilty of any of this — I rather doubt it. But I think baseless accusations are best answered with openness and information (possibly information along the lines of why your accuser might have other motives), not with legal threats. It sounds to me from reading the EFF FAQ on Online Defamation Law that Henry is very much within his rights here:

A public figure must show “actual malice” — that you published with either knowledge of falsity or in reckless disregard for the truth.

Obviously Henry made it clear that he was repeating the words of somebody else, and that individual would seem to have at least reasonable credibility. What’s this lawyer thinking, anyway?

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Tuesday March 6, 2007

“[David] Barnes also used nearly $900,000 budgeted for witness protection to build a firing range in the Miami federal courthouse . . .” (via SDoF)

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Monday February 12, 2007

What's up with a trans-fat ban?

idiotic anti-trans-fat icon I can’t possibly begin to explain how much this crap bugs me. For those not following along, there’s been a wave of anti-trans-fat legislation sweeping the nation. It started when New York City banned it in December, and now Miami-Dade is getting in on the act.

Trans fat (aka Trans fatty acids) is some nasty stuff. (The 2¢ version of the science is that hydrogen atoms are added to existing fats, changing their molecular structure. Hey look, now they’re partially hydrogenated.) Restaurants and especially fast-food joints love the stuff, because it lasts forever without going rancid like other oils, and because it makes stuff taste deeee-licious. The bad news is that it’s a completely artificial food-like substance, and it will hasten the death of you. Trans fats pretty much stick around in your arteries forever, causing coronary heart disease and probably contributing to cancer and diabetes. Plus, ingested regularly, it will make you fat beyond your wildest dreams.

So, let’s get rid of it, right? We’ll save millions on public health costs, and all the kids complaining about slightly-less-delicious fries will thank us later. We’ve banned smoking and heroin, and those were way more fun then stupid artificial fats.

Not so fast. Trans fats are different. I would personally love to ban them from my diet, but passing a law against them crosses a creepy line. There is a very reasonable argument that smoking hurts people standing around the smoker. Even when you’re outside and it sounds silly, at least there a theoretical possibility of second hand smoke. No such luck with trans fats — you can stuff your face with them in my immediate presence and my exposure risk is nil. So this is strictly about looking out for our fellow humans, and the aforementioned public health bill.

But the public health argument doesn’t lead to a slippery slope — it falls off the edge of a cliff. We’re well into the territory of telling you what you can and can’t eat if we go for this ban. This opens so many doors that our self-appointed protectors won’t know where to turn next. How about how much sugar is in certain foods? How about things that pretend to be vegetables and aren’t? How about that other artificially-created horrible-for-you food-like substance, high fructose corn syrup? But you know, it’s not any one food you eat in isolation, it’s really the sum total of you diet that is or isn’t healthy. So really we should be keeping up with everyone’s whole diet.

The other reason this ban is an idiotic idea is that there is an equally effective and much less intrusive alternative: mandatory labeling. It’s the American way! As of January, Food sold in stores must list trans fats content (reports have food makers reformulating foods like Oreos to replace the dreaded stuff). Let’s just require restaurants to indicated which foods contain trans fats. Say, with a skull and crossbones icon.

Consider that an outright ban is a ban on certain types of food. Have we come so far in this country since September 11 that we’re ready to try to protect ourselves by banning food? And don’t kid yourself, only in a post-9-11 world America this be thinkable. We’ve gotten so used to the government taking things away “for our safety” and without any logical justification that this actually doesn’t sound unreasonable. “Sorry comrade, but you can’t take that water bottle on the plane.” What?! New York City should be ashamed of itself, and nobody who cares about freedom should emulate their example.

Update: In the New Times, Tamara Lush surveys locals about trans fats. The overwhelming majority miss the point and say shit like “well if they’re bad, then ban ‘em!”

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Thursday February 8, 2007

Citizens Property Insurance is being class-action sued because supposedly they are required to replace hurricane-damaged windows with high-impact glass. Here’s an anti-Citizens homeowners’ group.

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Monday January 22, 2007

Do I believe the Florida Legislature needs to pass a law that increases moving-violation fines and points for slowpokes who lollygag in the far left passing lanes? You bet your ass I do. But more importantly, I think police forces across the state need to re-prioritize which offenses actually get enforced: start pulling over people who don’t use their turn-signals for a change. And by the way, no, you’re not allowed to change lanes without signaling.

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Monday January 15, 2007

WOW! How much did this cost? Looks nice, can me and a couple hundred of my homeless friends live in it?” Don’t miss the video.

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Talk about microblogging: the Justice Building Blog, about the Richard E. Gerstein Justice Building.

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Thursday January 4, 2007

Cure/TE

Old school at Miami Graffiti. More favorites: 1, 2, 3. They also helpfully link the Florida statutes on graffiti. (via rakontur)

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Wednesday January 3, 2007

All newly issued US passports now contain RFID chips, arousing some justified paranoia. Wired magazine to the rescue! How To: Disable Your Passport’s RFID Chip: “Hammer time. Hitting the chip with a blunt, hard object should disable it. A nonworking RFID doesn’t invalidate the passport, so you can still use it. . . . But be careful – tampering with a passport is punishable by 25 years in prison.”

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Tuesday January 2, 2007

The Seminole tribe is being sued over their $965 million purchase of the Hard Rock chain. The suit alleges that they made a deal with the Hard Rock to keep the management team on board in exchange for a low price. Come to think of it, less then a billion bucks does seem kind of cheap, when you consider you’re getting 124 restaurants, 4 hotels, 2 casinos, two concert arenas, and the world’s largest collection of music memorabilia.

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Tuesday December 26, 2006

In Miami-Dade it’s illegal to sell a dog or cat without a microchip implanted in it. Not to get all “our children are next” on you, but doesn’t this seem a little fucked up? I understand the motivation, but . . . ok, what if you have, say, religious objections (mark of the beast and all)? Or what if you think it’s just weird to have a microchip implanted in your pet?

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Monday October 23, 2006

Allow me to clear up a certain amount of confusion: Charging too much during a civil emergency is price gouging (the wrongness of which is established by law, though debatable). Charging too much all the time is called having a business in a free motherfucking country. Gas prices on South Beach too expensive for you? Drive over to the mainland, or open up your own gas station, charge less, and make a killing.

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The Miami-Dade Election Reform Coalition. Since what goes on a polling places here is still sort of messed up, getting in touch with them and volunteering to observe (film?) polling-place closings during the upcoming election would be a most excellent idea.

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Thursday October 5, 2006

“Prosecutors in the case of accused Israeli drug lord Ze’ev Rosenstein want Israeli undercover agents testifying at his Miami trial to wear disguises and use numbers instead of names to protect their identities.” And not everyone’s happy about it.

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Friday August 11, 2006

I hate billboards. You hate billboards. Now we can do something about them. Go download the petition [PDF] and distribute far and wide. (via Transit Miami)

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Friday June 30, 2006

The Palm Beach Post’s Frank Cerabino on the recent Liberty City terror arrests. “So don’t worry about the usual legal problems with entrapment and flimsy evidence. We are in a ‘detain indefinitely’ mode these days. And we can certainly work around all your constitutional deficiencies and elicit confessions through water-board torture, if necessary.” Related: “Miami Groups Cry Double Standard In Terror Arrests.”

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Pie: the State of Florida legislative session is 60 days per year, which is too much fucking time.

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Wednesday June 7, 2006

I say we solve all of our legal disputes with “one (1) game of ‘rock, paper, scissors.’

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Tuesday June 6, 2006

“The Ethics Commission found that through 1999 and 2000, only 36 officials in every municipality in Miami-Dade, 12 of them elected, reported gifts of $25 or more.” Government officials are required to disclose significant gifts they receive, but they’re either getting very few gifts or choosing not to disclose them.

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Tuesday May 23, 2006

The City of Miami Shores Springs is sending out a flier which, among other Bird-Flu releated stuff, threatens a $50 fine for feeding “wild” birds.

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Saturday April 29, 2006

YOU get over law

Hey, I have an idea! Why doesn’t the state pass a useless (and possibly dangerous) new law that requires drivers to do something they’ve never had to do before, and then keep ticketing every single person who “breaks” it, until they learn. Oh, nevermind: they already thought of that.

Here’s the deal: if any police, fire, ambulance, tow truck, etc. has it’s emergency lights on and is standing by the side of the road, you have to get out of the MBPD logo lane adjacent to the stopped vehicle, or slow down to 20 mph under the speed limit.

So, picture a routine traffic stop on, say I-95. Say, on the left shoulder. Suddenly, everyone in the fast/carpool lane has to merge with the next lane or slow down to 35 mph. Am I the only one to whom this sounds like a recipe for a massive pile up? If the previous situation was dangerous for police officers, how is this not going to be 10 (100? . . . 1000?) times as dangerous for the regular drivers driving by?

Well, that would only happen if drivers actually followed the law (I find it extremely difficult to remember, even though I’ve known about it for months). And as they begin to, things are going to get dicey, and probably the law will be revoked. But not before police departments get some serious play out of all the tickets they were writing. I passed by that “operation” on MacArthur friday (by the sheer will of God I wasn’t in the right lane, otherwise this would be a much crabbier piece), and there must have been 30 cops on motorcycles there, just pulling over one mark after another.

If police want to be safe during traffic stops without causing mayhem, why not use those PA systems they have in their cars and instruct the poor sap to pull all the way off the highway before stopping? (via Miami Transit)

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Sunday March 26, 2006

Immigration snafu

'Immigrants Arrive' USPS postage stamp I strongly disagree that illegal immigrants deserve whatever they get. Our nation’s immigration policy is completely totally wack, and the difference between a “legal immigrant” and an “illegal immigrant” is determined by that policy, not by the immigrant’s choice. By definition, an immigrant is someone who’s left everything they know behind for a life, usually, of hard work and some degree of permanent outsider status. For an illegal, this status is augmented by the knowledge that they could at any time be sent back to an uncertain fate in their home country. (And don’t make me lecture you on the role immigrants have played, and continue to play, in the US economy.)

Criminals who prey on illegal immigrants (who are at the most vulnerable point in their lives) deserve our contempt. The US should ease its immigration policy (if not open its borders altogether). I direct the reader to John’s comment in the first link, above, and to the excellent movie Life and Debt.

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Sunday October 30, 2005

Price gouging?

All this talk about “price gouging” post-Wilma has got us thinking. Actually, it started when we saw this guy on TV, charged in court and tar-n-feathered on the news, for selling cases of water for $10. How much is a case of water supposed to sell for? Critical Miami recently bought a case of water at BJ’s for $5. Mind you, this was well after the hurricane, and at a discount membership superstore. Was David charging more for the water then Publix? Yes. Was he getting rich off the suffering of hurricane victims? Unless he had a very high-volume operation going, it’s unlikely he was getting rich. Look: there’s a reason economists don’t get worked up about price gouging. Heck, even Wikipedia has some trepidation about it.

This price-gouging stuff started up after Andrew, when people were buying generators in upstate Florida, driving them down to Kendall, and selling them for twice the original price. Whether this is exploitation or free-market economics comes down to a matter of perception. As a society, we have made the collective decision that the former is the case. Is the unavailability of, say, gasoline, a consequence?

Say I’m a gas station owner. I see the reports of rowdy 3-mile lines and ornery customers. Am I going to bust my ass getting out of bed to open my shop for you assholes? Not for $2.83 a gallon, I’m not. Our guess, though, is that if you were one of the poor bastards who really needed to fill up last Wednesday, you’d gladly have paid $4.50 a gallon; all the more so if the line was shorter for all the people who suddenly realized they didn’t really need fuel so bad. So the price gouging law is what made fuel extremely difficult to buy.

Florida saw 246 price gouging reports during Wilma. Some are from assholes looking to make a quick buck, and some are from people looking to cover their costs while providing needed supplies to people in need.

Whatever. David Brown explains the idea better then we’re going to. Report price gouging if you must; just remember that that paying too much for something may be better then not having it at all.

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