Letters from the Issue of September 30 - October 6,2004

Confusing breastfeeding with lawyering, and getting there by bus

Prominent Lobbyist Exposes Breast

"If successfully suckling at the public teat is a crime, then consider me guilty!" As a lawyer who is well past his early development years, I was a little surprised by Rebecca Wakefield's statement in "Rage Against the Machines" (September 23) to the effect that I have been a "successful suckler at the county commission teat." I was not aware that the practice of law involved such intimate interaction with my government.

Alas I think Ms. Wakefield must have been confused by the fact that, when I served as a member of the Florida legislature, I sponsored and passed what is known as the "Breastfeeding in Public Act," a bill that made clear no woman in Florida can be harassed or threatened with any enforcement action for the simple and natural act of nurturing her child in a public place, even though such conduct may involve the incidental exposure of her breast. Permit me to clear up this misunderstanding.

The practice of law -- a noble but maligned profession (much like journalism) -- bears little resemblance to the act of breastfeeding. Breastfeeding is not adversarial. The child does not pay a retainer for the mother's services. The mother does not have to complete any studies, take any Bar exam, and is not required to be licensed. She seldom wears a suit and tie to perform this activity.

Please understand, I do appreciate the fact that the statement was meant to explain that I am a successful practitioner, and for that I thank you. One should never shun free publicity. But as an advocate for and defender of breastfeeding mothers, I would respectfully suggest that you leave such a beautiful and loving activity out of the hardball world of law and politics.

Miguel De Grandy

Pinecrest

Preserve Liberty: Buy an AK-47

It's the only sure-fire insurance against tyranny: Tristram Korten's column about assault weapons ("Loaded," September 23), is a classic example of biased, misinformed, misleading, and one-sided reporting. The assault rifle (AK-47) used against Miami-Dade Police Ofcr. Keenya Hubert was more than likely fully automatic. With very few exceptions it has been illegal to possess fully automatic weapons long before the assault-weapons ban of 1994.

Another glaring omission is that George Bush Sr. initiated the ban on importation of assault weapons during his reign. Manufacturers abroad responded the same way domestic manufacturers did when their weapons were banned: They made design changes so their products would not qualify as assault weapons.

The United States Constitution's Second Amendment is clear: "The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed." Had "assault weapons" been banned prior to 1776, we still would be enjoying tea and crumpets, and curtsying to the queen. The founders of this (so-called) republic never dreamed of imposing a weapons ban after Shays' Rebellion (1786) or the Whiskey Rebellion (1794).

The Second Amendment was created strictly to deter tyrannical rule. Mr. Korten finds it necessary to mention one weapons manufacturer's nation of origin: "Cuban-born Coral Gables resident Carlos Garcia." Though I'm sure it was not Mr. Korten's intent, a quick review of history would show that one of Cuban tyrant Fidel Castro's first actions was to disarm the Cuban population. Today it's perhaps too late, but Cubans know exactly what those weapons could have been used for.

Hopefully Americans won't give up their right to own and possess "assault" weapons so easily, and hopefully they will never be needed. But it's always better to be safe than sorry. Just ask 11 million Cubans, a billion Chinese, or millions of European Jews.

Emiliano Antunez

Miami

Bus People: Don't Be Duped

Oops -- too late: In response to Francisco Alvarado's cover story about the Miami-Dade Transit Agency ("Critical Mass Transit," September 2), I ask: Is the People's Transportation Plan a sham?

I recall in 2002 the Miami-Dade government's ads boasting about this thing they called the People's Transportation Plan. The promise to would-be supporters? Traffic relief. The promise to users of public transportation? Service improvement. The slogan? "It's all about choices."

I did not buy it. Miami-Dade Transit can't possibly deliver on this, I thought. How can they be trusted to reverse an old trend of nonaccountability? How can their projections about ridership be verified? Now, almost two years and more than 50 unresolved MDTA complaints about poor service later, I can honestly attest that voters were duped big time. Same old, same old.

Can sales taxes be repealed?

Name Withheld by Request

Miami

Bus People: Don't Expect Perfection

Yes, there are problems, but you can help solve them: Francisco Alvarado's article on the county's bus system was disturbing. It asked fundamental question that should make Miami-Dade Transit explore solutions to nagging problems.

One would hope that most of the allegations cited were untrue. One would also hope that whatever incidents did occur would become fewer in number. There is no way to countenance poor service, bad attitudes, or a lack of effort. Yet I wonder if it is realistic to expect such a complex operation to run perfectly, especially when it must interact with so many outside variables it cannot control.

MDTA user Stephanie Hammer said she would see three buses pull up simultaneously, all of them for the same route. I too have observed this in a number of locations. Common sense would be to have route supervisors spread out these buses. Failing to do so creates the potential for overcrowding. There have been occasions when I've been on buses with more than 70 people. That gets uncomfortable.

It does no good to advertise fifteen-minute intervals if they are chronically unkept. With traffic accidents, inclement weather, fire and police activity, and breakdowns, it must be expected that runs will be late at times, especially during rush hours. But delays should be the exception to the rule. You cannot tolerate the problems spelled out by Barry Robinson. He claimed he was sanctioned at work three times in two weeks because a scheduled Metro bus failed to appear.

Rider Bruce Clapp stated that if a bus driver gets one complaint, he or she should be fired. He also thought some drivers were too fat. It is clear there must be a performance minimum and measures of decorum and politeness. But one complaint, which may not be legitimate, is a bit too strict. Sitting hours in stressful situations can work against svelte physiques. Besides, at times drivers don't get the proper breaks and the food options at hand may not be the low-calorie kind.

The purpose of the half-cent sales tax was to make public transit a more attractive option for commuters. To that end, Miami-Dade Transit maintains an Office of Public Involvement that is eager to improve the operation and correct shortfalls. All are encouraged and welcome to use its services to correct faults and make things better. In addition, a group of citizens, the Miami-Dade Transit Citizens Advisory Coalition, meets monthly to review transit changes, take reports on service experiences, and offer ideas that can improve service and conditions in the Miami-Dade Transit system. Again, all are encouraged to join in and help.

Ollie Lee Taylor

Miami-Dade Transit Citizens

Advisory Coalition

Miami

Bus People: Don't Get Angry

It's not always the driver's fault: I've been using the Miami-Dade transit system since I began attending FIU in the fall of 2003. I have also used it to go to a variety of different places, including Aventura, downtown, and the beach. I was very glad to read the article because I could relate to it.

During my experiences using the public transit system I have noticed that I shouldn't get mad at bus drivers for coming a little late because they are in traffic. The fact that the buses sometimes come so infrequently is not the driver's fault but rather the administration's fault for not having enough buses on that route.

I have also noticed that buses meant to serve tourists run much more frequently than those serving residential areas (as is the case with the S bus). Another observation: Bus drivers in Miami Beach are frequently ruder than those down south and out west. Overall, though, I have found more bus drivers to be very friendly and helpful than rude and violent. Some even show concern for you.

Here's an issue I think really needs to be clarified: There are no regulated procedures for signaling a bus to stop. Some drivers say I need to flag them down, but others say they should stop or slow down if they see someone at a bus stop. I understand, however, that the latter option can affect a bus's punctuality.

Generally speaking, passengers need to take a more active role in making the transit system work, and not act as if they are in a communist state where everything is handed to them.

Carlos Olaechea

Kendall

The Final Insult

After years of polluting the Everglades, the Fanjul family is poised to administer the coup de grâce: Eric Alan Barton, in his story about the sugar-baron Fanjul family ("From Bitter to Sweet," August 26), reported that José Gallardo, a Mexican immigrant employed by the Fanjuls for seventeen years, had his arm ripped off by sugar-processing machinery. Did the family come to Gallardo's aid after the accident? No. And why did the richest farmers in the United States, grown fat on the public dime, do nothing for their long-time employee? According to Gaston Cantens, the Fanjuls's new lobbyist: "We could never figure out where he was." Only after New Times began asking questions did the great despoilers come out from hiding.

We know where Mr. Cantens is, and we know why he is where he is. It is appropriate for all Floridians to know as well. Cantens, a Republican state representative from Miami's District 114, was the driving force in the 2003 legislative session for a bill that provoked a major outcry against the Republican majority and Gov. Jeb Bush, who signed it into law.

The new law ensures that large landowners in lightly populated areas of Florida, people like the Fanjuls, will never have to face angry neighbors in court when their rural tracts wither under the Miracle-Gro of tractors and low interest rates, pouring more suburban sprawl into the approving arms of state agencies. It was a neat trick that benefits the Republicans' biggest campaign contributors. A noteworthy provision of the law is that it targets for special treatment and exclusion from the administrative-court process the one organization most likely to sue the State of Florida -- the Sierra Club.

Mr. Cantens, who is retiring from the legislature (presumably so he can spend more time assisting the Fanjuls), is now well qualified and in the right position to execute the Fanjul family's plan for developments that will turn polluting old sugar fields into new residential disaster areas. Which is what happens when property rights are inserted into flood zones that need to be wet for the Everglades.

Make no mistake: Once the Fanjuls' polluting interests plant cul de sacs and building pods in the Everglades Agricultural Area, restoration of the Everglades will never, ever happen. The costs will be incalculable, and New Times is right to indicate that the profits to the Fanjuls will be on the order of many hundreds of millions of dollars. Maybe more.

In anticipation of all that is now coming to pass (as detailed in Barton's excellent story), earlier this year the Sierra Club withdrew its support for the charade called the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan. The only thing comprehensive about it is how thoroughly the Everglades is being trashed.

The appropriate thing for the Palm Beach County Commission to do is petition Jeb Bush to enact a building moratorium in the Everglades Agricultural Area until government agencies do what they promised years ago: develop a contingency plan for adequate surface-water storage to restore the Everglades. Instead we have "aquifer storage and recovery," a plan to drill 333 wells, located in drinking-water aquifers, that will "save" wasted water. No one, not even the sugar industry, believes the plan will work, yet the entire Everglades game is based on it.

So let's find out how much of the Fanjuls' vast holdings need to be put into conservation before allowing them to turn their property into zero-lot-line housing.

The development permits now moving through the system are the cynical fulfillment of the kind of tortuous delays and politicking at which the Fanjuls and other sugar barons have excelled. The Everglades have paid the price. We taxpayers have paid, and we will continue to pay.

Jeb Bush may have succeeded in shutting Sierra Club out of state courts. For that he and the Fanjuls can thank people like Gaston Cantens. But they will never succeed in shutting us up.

Brian Scherf

Everglades Committee Co-Chair

Florida Chapter

Sierra Club

Hollywood

Errata

Owing to a reporting error in Lee Klein's review of the Michael Collins Grill in Miami Beach ("Craic Heads," August 19), one of the restaurant's owners was misidentified as Michael Collins. The owner's name is Jim Collins.

In the September 9 "Night & Day," an editing error resulted in the incorrect photograph being used to depict artist Patrick Boucard's Coloured, part of "Lespri Endepandan: Discovering Haitian Sculpture," now on display at FIU's Frost Art Museum. Instead the photo showed Pierrot Barra's Sen Jak. (For more photos from the exhibit, see Alfredo Triff's article "The Unseen Haiti," in Culture.)

New Times regrets the errors.

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