Tuesday, February 19, 2008

A Free Cuba Over the Horizon?

Today Fidel Castro announced his resignation as President of Cuba. This is certainly good news. But, with the appointment of his younger brother Raul as President, the future of Cuba still remains very much uncertain.

Nevertheless, Key Westers are debating the impacts of a future non-embargoed Cuba to Key West.

Key West is the closest point in the United States to the island of Cuba - only 90 miles across the Straits of Florida. That point is marked in Key West with the Southernmost Marker (pictured above).

Will Key West gain visitors interested in ferry boat travel to Cuba? Will Key West lose visitors who bypass our island to visit a new, and admittedly fascinating, destination? Will there be a wave of migrants - as seen during the Mariel Boat Lift? Will cruise ships skip Key West on their Carribbean itineraries? Will this open up a whole new world of Key West Cuba relations - something our islands have historically shared? Will real estate in Key West benefit or lose?

There are a large number of questions that, in time, will be answered.

Until then, let us today savor that Cuba is likely one step closer to freedom and prosperity. And we, as United States citizens, may soon gain back our right to free travel. Cuba Libre!
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Thursday, February 14, 2008

Paradise Has Its Worries

We all know the pleasures of living in the Florida Keys: great climate, fishing, history, lifestyle, acceptance, and inspiration.

But there is plenty to be concerned about with Key West and the Florida Keys lately, including:
  • Big budget shortfalls at the state and local level that will likely mean significant cutbacks to services.

  • Cruise ships could abandon Key West should Federal rules currently under review change as some have suggested. Cruise ships account for 12% of Key West's budget. Many local businesses are dependent on cruise ships for survival. If cruise ships abandon Key West, the city would be in dire financial straits. (Changing the cruise ship rules may actually be a good thing for Key West and the US, but that is a subject for a future post)

  • The Monroe County Commission is a bad joke - with three commissioners apparrently so devoted to developers that they appalingly let them write recent development agreements. Shame on you Dixie Spehar, Mario Di Genarro, and Mayor Charles McCoy. Their combined fiscal mismanagement is nothing short of sheer lunacy. Voters are very aware of the fiasco and should vote the two who are up for re-election out of office. And also worrisome - Key West's mayor, Morgan McPhearson (McFearsome?) is "best friends" with Digenarro, who's behavior on the County Commission more often resembles a thug than an elected representive.

  • Florida, for the most part, doesn't recognize evolution in its public schools. Egad. Do I really live in Florida? That's why I think Key West isn't in Florida - it really is different here. Applause to Monroe County for taking the lead - but it is embarassing that 80% of schools in Florida don't include evolution as part of the science curriculum.

  • The real estate market is overbuilt, overpriced, and collapsing. Affordable housing is nearly non-existant, and employees are moving away in droves. The community, for the most part, is dwindling.
But the biggest worry of all is rarely mentioned - global warming and its effect on the low-lying Florida Keys which could be profound. Key West's highest point is 16 feet above sea level. The rest of the Florida Keys rise only a few feet above the water.

According to a new study released by the University of Buffalo, "...the sea level rise estimated during this century could be twice as high as what they (United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) are currently projecting." The IPCC is currently estimating a 17-23 inch rise in sea levels over the next century. But if Greenland, whose massive ice fields are on land, melts significantly, sea levels could rise 20 feet (this is not currently projected for this century, but the data keeps moving and evolving).

Tuvalu, a tiny island in the South Pacific, spoke at the United Nations this week - appealing for help in the face of rising sea levels due to global warming.
According to the country's deputy prime minister, ""I only need to highlight the fact that our highest point above sea level is only four meters (a little over 13 feet) to emphasize our vulnerability to the impacts of climate change, especially sea level rise"

Today, Tuvalu is feeling the effects of rising sea levels. In a few decades, the islands could disappear.

One must consider if the Florida Keys are in real danger of disappearing under rising sea levels. In the long geologic history of the islands, it wouldn't be the first time.
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Friday, February 08, 2008

Bank of America - Our National Loanshark

Think my recent post about Pier One & Chase Bank's deceptive store-card program (and credit cards in general) was alarming? (all right, maybe I was the only one alarmed)

It's nothing compared to what Bank of America is up to.

Be warned - if you have a Bank of America credit card (they are among the largest credit card issuers), your interest rates may soon double - even if you've been a good borrower.

Business Week reports that Bank of America, apparently desperate for cash, sent letters to cardholders in January informing them that their rates are going to double but failed to give a reason for the increase. Cardholders were given a phone number to call for more information, but reportedly still didn't get an answer as to why their rates were doubling.

This is a troubling story and well worth a read.

Here are a couple particularly shameful cardholders' experiences mentioned in the article:

Michael Jordan, 25, a software developer who lives in Higganum, Conn., says he received a letter from Bank of America in late January advising him that his card rate would rise from 9.99% to 24.99%. The software developer, who earns $80,000 per year, says he was "shocked" because his payments had been on time and his credit score hadn't changed in the last year. In fact, Jordan says, he has only $4,500 in overall outstanding credit-card debt on two cards and that, on the Bank of America card in question, he had paid down his balance to $3,000 from $3,700 last August. "His rate increase seems unjustified based on his credit profile," says David Robertson, publisher of The Nilson Report, a credit-card industry trade publication.
Bank of America is trying to get ahead of Amanda Pennington, 29, of Euless,Texas. She says the bank raised her credit limit three months ago from $5,000 to $8,000 because of her strong payment history. Then she got the letter from the bank in mid-January notifying that her rate would rise from 15.74% to 25.99%. When she called, she says, the bank told her it was raising her rate because her balance was now too high, though it was still under the higher new limit the bank had previously granted.

Nice, Bank of America. You're a real class act. I won't cry when you lose $10 billion on your Countrywide bailout.

Once again I'll say it: Beware of the predatory lender in your wallet.
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