Archive for April, 2008

Time Crunch
April 30, 2008

You are granted five minutes with a man who has a one in three chance of becoming the next leader of the free world (that is what the President of the United States is still considered, right?)


Ready? Go.


How do you spend those five minutes? Do you try to cover a wide range of issues? That would leave time for soundbites and talking points.  Do you stick to one issue and try to drill down? 


A few reporters got those five-minute segments for one-on-one interviews during John McCain’s visit to South Florida this week. My long-time friend and colleague Michael P., our consummate Political Reporter, had personal commitments that day so the assignment fell to me. The interviews were scheduled after McCain’s visit with parents of children with serious medical issues – a fact-finding trip to learn how, for so many families, crucial medical insurance falls dangerously short or is just plain out of reach.


Such events, when the cameras are called in, are staged and scripted.  You know this because a copy of exactly what the candidate will say is handed to you before the candidate shows up to say it.  And he doesn’t divert from the script.  And the script sounds good, but doesn’t reveal much.


I was second in line for the one-on-one time, behind another long-time friend and colleague Michael W., one of the finest reporters in this market. As we changed out microphones, I asked him how it went.


“Fast,” he said. Coming from a smart, insightful guy, I took a “fast” to be a mix of interesting and frustrating.


I calculated that five minutes of Q&A, allowing for any kind of meaningful A’s, meant only five or six Q’s.


For the few moments photographers were changing out equipment, I chatted with the senator off-camera, maybe not off-guard, but certainly off script.


I acknowledged his first-hand experience with raising a child with medical issues. The McCain’s adopted a daughter with a cleft palate.


“It was different for us,” he said. “Money wasn’t an issue.” He said it quietly, reflectively, as if it were an admission. Here’s a guy with the resources to save a child, vying for a job with the resources to save millions.


And here is a guy who walked the walk of the parents he’d just met. If anyone was going to be sensitive to their plight, you would think he would be it. Yet when the five minute clock started ticking, McCain stuck to talking points, concepts that sounded sensible, but few details about how to achieve them.


A crisply efficient timekeeper tapped me on the shoulder when time was about up. I think I got in all the Q’s, got some interesting A’s. 


“So, does any reporter ever get any meaningful dialog in five-minutes?”  I asked.


“Not really,” he said with a smile.


I guess I like that candor.


The senator suggested I ride along on his campaign plane. I would love to — aboard Clinton’s and/or Obama’s, too. Campaign coverage takes place at great heights. And it takes longer than five minutes.







For Sale Signs
April 21, 2008

Esther is bored.

I ran into my usually ebullient friend Sunday as she and her long-time guy strolled along one of the most beautiful streets in my zip code with their two dogs.  She had every reason to be having a sublimely wonderful time soaking up the afternoon sun, under a brilliant blue sky flushed by a fresh seabreeze.

But Esther didn’t say she was relaxed.  She said she was bored. 

Bored is not good for a realtor on a Sunday,  typically a busy day of the week for the type of realtor who makes selling houses seem like an endless cocktail party.

Esther is one of those only-in-South-Florida personalities.  She has a big ready laugh, endless good stories, a colorful style and that “je ne sais quoi” that makes her feel like an old friend after, oh, a few minutes of meeting. All that has served her well in an industry of matching fabulous homes in fabulous zip codes to fabulous people.

But on Sunday, the wild mane of hair was tucked back in pins. The usually big personality was quieted. She said she opened a little store in the design district with some friends – so she’d have something to do.

It’s nothing you probably don’t already know. The latest stats shows South Florida home sales down some 25% from last year, selling prices down 15-to-20%. There are analyses ad nauseum – the trickle down of the subprime mortgage meltdown, recessionary cutbacks, the readjustment of a hyperinflated market. First quarter numbers, monthly reports from the Florida Association of Realtors – all those are well and good as resources.

But, really, all it takes to know South Florida real estate market is in a grim state is to see Esther on a sunny Sunday and ask how she’s doing.

If she says she’s bored, it’s bad.

Storm Watch
April 11, 2008

A few years ago, I wowed the guys in my husband’s football pool by picking winning teams for an entire season.  I had The Perfect Season (with all due respect to the ‘72 Dolphins).  The guys were wowed not by my insightful analysis of the teams, talent and statistics, but because I managed to pick winners having little knowledge (and little interest) in football.  I’d go with team colors, a love for their home cities, and sometimes I’d just throw out an answer to get back to more interesting activities.
That perfect season, I earned a title.  They called me Swami.

And with that accomplishment on my resume, I’d like to make my predictions for Hurricane Season 2008.

Dr. William Gray issued his this week. The preeminent forecaster and science professor at Colorado State University has been prognosticating numbers and intensities of Atlantic hurricanes for a quarter century, based on years of experience and critical analysis of atmospheric conditions.
Mine are total guesswork.

Dr. Gray’s predictions are anxiously awaited, then picked up and reported by news outlets around the nation.

Mine will be confined to this page.

Dr. Gray typically revises his predictions midway through the seasons; in the last few years he has downgraded the numbers after a few storm-lite months.  Isn’t that like revising a bet as the horses head into the home stretch, or the fourth quarter of a football game gets underway? 

Anyway, as the experts say, hurricane predictions should have no bearing on the importance of preparedness.  
So on with my unscientific experiment to see how a guess stacks up to statistical analysis, as in that Season of the Swami.
Dr. Gray predicts 15 named storms, eight hurricanes, with four of them becoming “major”, Category 3-to-5.  

I’m going with 12 named storms (up to the “L” name), six hurricanes, and two that reach Category 4 or 5.

I won’t be revising, so we’ll see how it all tallies on November 30th.

By the way, I was only Swami for one season.

Plato Azul Especial
April 6, 2008

Remember that scene in “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory” when Charlie finds a golden ticket in his candy bar? The look on his face says it all.  That shiny piece of paper represented golden opportunities and promises of a better life.

Havana, circa summer 1993, the U.S. dollar was that golden ticket. That summer, Fidel Castro blessed the Yankee dollar as legal tender. He knew families in exile and abroad would send them by the eventual millions to help their loved ones better their quality of lives on the island, and by default, bolster his government that had lost its benefactor when the USSR broke apart.

The Cuban citizens who had a dollar pipeline could shop in the stores for tourists (if someone inside allowed them in), buy toothpaste, cookies, more soap, utensils, extra meat .. anything their government-issue ration booklets didn’t provide, which, by U.S. standards, was close to everything.

There were other ways to make dollars.  Otherwise law abiding citizens created a black market, “finding” supplies of merchandise, like boxes of Cuban cigars, to sell to tourists.   That summer, one family we met used their black market earnings to buy shiny black patent leather shoes for their young daughter. Their refrigerator was older than I was, and had three items inside.

Fast forward, spring 2008. In an effort to quell what might become a summer of discontent, Raul Castro has legalized cell phone ownership (though service might cost a few months’ peso-based salary), DVD players (finally, a respite from government programming) and made microwave ovens available (cooks a month’s chicken ration in less than four minutes).   People lined up opening day at some of the stores this week well supplied with wonder and curiosity, not money to spend.

Those who can buy, will.   They’ll be the ones with a pipeline.

And those who can’t?  

The Castro brothers’ decade-apart dance with the dollar and commu-capitalism can’t help but create a population of Haves and Have-Nots.

Isn’t that the very inequality La Revolucion promised to eliminate?