America, the Test

America, the Test
Filed under: Flotsam

The feds are going to pilot a new citizenship test (less history trivia, more focus on "fundamental concepts" and "basic values") in ten cities, including Miami. How would the average American Joe perform as an aspiring citizen? A preliminary sidewalk quiz of a few people in South Beach wasn't promising. A few samples:

Q: What is the name of the National Anthem?
ESL teacher at Miami Dade College: What is it? "God Bless America"?

Q: Name one U.S. territory.
Twentysomething guy wearing a Von Dutch trucker cap: Panama, right?

Q: Who was president during World War II and the Great Depression?
Teenage girl: I know that one. Ronald Reagan.

Q: What did the Emancipation Proclamation do?
ESL teacher, again: Apparently it freed the slaves. I don't know if it did it so well. Reconstruction was a disaster.

Q: When do we celebrate Independence Day?
Father of two small children: I get it. It's a trick question. On Independence Day.

Q: What group of essays supported passage of the Constitution?
Confused-looking woman wearing a fanny pack: Is this like some Howard Stern thing where you're supposed to look stupid?

Q: What was the main concern of the United States during the Cold War?
Teenage skate rat: The cold, man.

— Rob Jordan

A Question of Mayoral Might
Filed under: News

On January 23, voters will decide if they want to make Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Alvarez the second-most powerful politician in Florida, after the governor. For the past two years, Alvarez and a political action committee calling itself Citizens for Reform have waged a pitched battle to radically increase the mayor's powers.

If voters approve the measure, the mayor will have the authority to administer the day-to-day operations of county government, including the hiring and firing of department heads. It would drastically alter the way Miami-Dade has conducted business for the past 50 years. "This is all about voter empowerment," said Citizens for Reform chairman José "Pepe" Riesco. "We will have one official, elected countywide, who is accountable to everybody. That is a democracy."

Under the current system, county government is run by a nominally apolitical professional manager selected by the mayor and approved by the county commission. But under this system, if the mayor wants to can the manager, the manager would need only five votes (out of thirteen commissioners, all of whom are against having a strong mayor) to retain his job. So, Riesco argues, the county manager is beholden to fourteen bosses.

When a scandal hits, as it does almost every other day in Miami-Dade, voters don't have someone they can hold accountable, Riesco said. "Tell me which of the thirteen commissioners have taken responsibility for all the scandals? Not one."

Citizens for Reform is spending $300,000 on a media blitz that includes paid 15-minute spots featuring Alvarez on Spanish-language radio, as well as 30-second commercials on all the local network affiliates and Spanish-language TV stations.

Meanwhile two PACs recently formed to fight the strong-mayor amendment. One, called Truth in Government, is based in Jacksonville. Its chairman, John Law, did not respond to repeated phone messages left at his office.

Another PAC, Citizens for Unity and Common Rights, is distributing leaflets and displaying campaign signs throughout Miami-Dade. One flyer accuses Citizens for Reform of being a "secret group" that wants to give the mayor "unchecked" powers and the ability to hand out "big chunks of the county's $6 billion budget to political allies." In an apparent move to mislead voters, the PAC adopted the yellow and blue colors of Citizens for Reform. "It's all misinformation to terrorize and confuse voters," Riesco snarled. Calls to the PAC's treasurer, Vanessa Acosta; and chairman, Bernardo Bestard, went unanswered.

County commissioners and their acolytes are not the only ones who think the strong mayor is a recipe for disaster. Dan Paul, an 82-year-old litigator who, in 1957, helped draft the county's charter, agrees the mayor should have executive powers, such as hiring and firing the manager. However, he does not favor giving one elected official total control. "This amendment doesn't provide any safeguards against an abusive exercise of power," Paul said "The checks and balances are weak, and in some cases missing, in this present draft."

Paul suggested it's high time for a "complete revision of the charter." He added, "This amendment needs to be removed from the ballot. And a charter review board ought to be impaneled to smooth things out, to adjust the powers back and forth." — Francisco Alvarado

Dunnys for Dummies
Filed under: Culture

Carlos East, the straight actor who played gay character Alex Dominguez on the Telemundo soap Tierra de Pasiones, is not just a homosexual dreamboat: Along with twin brother Ernesto East, the Miami resident creates playthings for the cultish designer toy movement. Known as the Beast Brothers, the Easts have joined forces with other Mexican artists to produce an Azteca Dunny as part of a fifteen-piece series by collectible toy distributor Kidrobot.

What is a Dunny? It's a small vinyl rabbit. More important, it's a blank slate that gets customized by urban artists — whose backgrounds are in graffiti, fine art, industrial design, graphic design, and illustration — and then sold, traded, and collected in limited editions.

Azteca Dunnys are three inches tall and have been customized by Mexican artists such as Artemio, Carlos Dufour, and Ed Sison. Many of the figures appear to be malevolent, multihue marauders with stubby ears. The Beast Brothers' version sports a colorful headdress; El Muerto's wears dark shades and brandishes a spidery shield. Each toy retails for about six dollars.

Dunnys can be found at comics shops and Urban Outfitters, though a recent check at the store in Aventura Mall turned up an empty inventory. "They sell out as soon as we get them," an employee said. To mark the Azteca release, the Pink Ghost Shop in Fort Lauderdale is throwing a Dunny party Thursday, January 18, complete with coffee, cupcakes, a DJ, and, of course, toy trading. — Emily Witt

Ript from the Blogs
Fund in the Sun
The current system of county government is like its own solar system, with thirteen planets revolving around a single bright star: the campaign fundraising power of production home builders.... The housing bubble has been like financial crack cocaine to local legislatures in Miami-Dade County.
Taken from: Gimleteye at Eye on Miami (

More Riptide
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Francisco Alvarado was born in Nicaragua and grew up in Miami, giving him unique insight into the Magic City and all its dark corners. An investigative reporter with a knack for uncovering corruption, Alvarado made his bones as a staff writer at Miami New Times and remains in dogged pursuit of the next juicy story.
Rob Jordan
Contact: Rob Jordan
Emily Witt
Contact: Emily Witt