Saturday, July 23, 2011

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen's Cold-War Cuba View Out of Step with Florida Keys

How out of whack is the Florida Keys' representitive Ileana Ros-Lehtinen when it comes to Cuba policy?

She, along with the rest of the hardline, anti-Castro community, want to repeal the rights of Cuban Americans to travel to Cuba to visit their family, along with their ability to send money.  Somehow she is convinced this will help Cubans and punish Castro.

Locals in the Florida Keys - by informal polling - are overwhelmingly in favor of greater relations with Cuba and freedom to travel - the opposite of what Ros-Lehtinen wants, which is to repeal the Obama expansions of travel for family, remittences, and cultural exchanges.

Maybe it is time that the Florida Keys look to a new leader in the House, one that supports their opinion on this matter.  Enough with the hard line, radical right policy of the hardliners.  The majority of younger Cuban-Americans want more openness, travel, and freedom.  And while we are at it, the majority of US citizens want the right to travel and trade with Cuba.

Unfortunately for those hoping for a lifting of the embargo, she is now the Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee?

Below are the latest news items from the Foreign Affairs Committee website.  The first item is about a Facebook photo contest being held by the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, which invited Cubans to submit photos, some of which apparently showed them having fun and enjoying themselves.  To Ileana, this is tantamount to encouraging tourism. The second item has her browbeating the Secretary of State for cultural exchanges that are permissible under current regulations and just the thing that should be encouraged for change in Cuba.  Read 'em and weep:

Monday, July 18, 2011
Ros-Lehtinen Calls on Treasury to Enforce Regulations on Tourism to Cuba
(WASHINGTON) – U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, sent a letter today to the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control regarding efforts by certain travel agencies to circumvent U.S. law by promoting tourist travel to Cuba. Statement by Ros-Lehtinen:
“In accordance with its mandate and mission, the Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control must immediately take decisive measures to thwart ongoing efforts by some to undermine, and potentially violate, U.S. law regarding tourist travel to Cuba.
“Last week, we learned of a photo contest being held by the U.S. Interests Section in Havana which essentially promotes tourism to the island. This week, we see a local travel agency in the U.S. soliciting travelers for pre-packaged tours of Cuba.
“Not only is the Obama Administration easing sanctions on the Cuban regime, but it would appear they are also ignoring the regulations in place. It is critical that the Office of Foreign Assets Control strictly enforce U.S. regulations on travel to Cuba and duly impose the corresponding penalties.”

July 18, 2011
The Honorable Adam J. Szubin
Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC)
U.S. Department of the Treasury
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20220

Dear Director Szubin:
I am writing to express my concern regarding efforts by certain travel agencies to circumvent U.S. law by promoting tourist travel to Cuba.
A recent piece in the Monroe News Star entices readers to travel on a seven night pre-packaged tour to Cuba by Monroe Travel Service, stating that the “first wave of pure tourists from America will hit the friendly skies Aug. 11.” The article offers an egregious misrepresentation of the current guidelines regulating travel to Cuba and is indicative of potential schemes by other travel agencies to encourage the participation of U.S. citizens in illegal tourist tours of Cuba.
With this in mind, I would like to request, within all applicable rules and guidelines, information regarding what measures OFAC may be taking to prevent or correct for this type of activity by travel agencies.
Thank you in advance for your consideration of this matter.

Ileana has represented the Florida Keys since 1989.

November 2012 is the next time she'll be up for re-election.

She is hoping for a 12th term.
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Thursday, July 21, 2011

Key West's Borders Bookstore to Close

Border's Bookstore, which entered bankruptcy in February of this year, was hoping that a buyer would step forward and save the company.  

No buyer has emerged.  The auction scheduled for this week has been cancelled. 

As a result, Borders has announced they are closing all stores - including the Key West location.

The local Borders, actually a scaled-down version named Borders Express, was a sad statement on the state of the public's appetite for books.  The inventory was focused on mass-market fiction, $5 coffee table books, and seemingly aisles of "________ for Dummies" books.

Was it the eBook or the poor store execution that doomed Borders?  Maybe both.

Either way, if you are looking for literature, or an inspiring, curated collection of good reads, here are your best bets:

  • Key West Public Library - 700 Fleming Street
  • Key West Island Bookstore - 513 Fleming Street's
  • Voltaire Books - 330 Simonton Street.
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Tuesday, July 19, 2011

When to See the Last Shuttle Flight Over Key West

Key West is one of the few places in the United States where you'll have a chance to see the last flight of the space shuttle as it travels in the night sky.

The shuttle may be visible low over the horizon and only for a few minutes.

Here is the schedule for viewing here:


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Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Spiderman to Face Charges in Key West Court Today

Call it one of those "only in Key West" stories.

Spiderman is due in court today to answer charges that he violated local Key West ordinances.

According to a City of Key West complaint, Spiderman is being charged with interfering with the passage of a vehicle and bringing his performance out on the street.

What did he do?  Apparently Spidy attached himself to the side of a tourist electric car that was driving past the famous Sloppy Joe's bar.

A Key West Code Compliance officer snapped this photo of the alleged offense:

Click on the image to see a larger version of Spiderman hanging onto the side of the vehicle.
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Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Woman Plans to Paddleboard from Cuba to Key West!

Tomorrow, June 15, 2011, Cynthia Aguilar will attempt to be the first solo person to paddleboard non-stop from Cuba to Key West.

If successful, the 130-mile route will be the world record for the longest distance ever travelled by paddleboard by a single person.  In 2003, a four-woman team known as The Millennium Woman Paddleboard Team successfully paddled from Cuba to Key West, in a combined 25.75 hours.  In 2000, an all-male team led by Michael O'Shaughnessy crossed 105 miles in 19 hours, 19 minutes - the current fastest time.

Aguilar is a South Beach lifeguard and endurance athlete who attempted to paddle from Cuba last year, but ocean currents and winds had blown her too far off course.

She expects this year's attempt to take 36 hours of continuous paddling.

Aguilar already has international paddling experience - having paddled from Bimini (Bahamas) to Dania Beach (Florida) - a 58 mile paddle.

Key West wishes Cynthia the very best of  luck, calm seas, and a following wind.

Meanwhile, another incredible athlete, Diana Nyad, will soon attempt to swim from Cuba to Key West, and is currently "waiting for an exact date."

Other Noteworthy Crossings of the Straits of Florida
Over the years, there have been quite a few different crossings - mostly for fun, but some born of desperation.  Here they are, with pictures from the actual events:

September 10, 1978 - Sonny McCoy - a former Key West Mayor, famously water skied to Cuba in 3.5 hours.

January 1984 - Arnaud de Rosnay, a wealthy French adventurer,  rides a windsurfer from Key West to Cuba in 7 hours.

September 10, 1997 - 34-year old Sean McCoy, son of the water skiing Sonny McCoy, para-sailed from Key West, Florida to Cuba in 6 hours and 55 minutes.

June 2, 2000, Abad Rosa rode a waverunner from Key West to Cuba and back!, covering 109 miles each way, taking 5.5 hours to get to Cuba and 4.5 hours to return to Key West.

July 16, 2003 - 1951 Chevy Pickup built with ingenuity and desperation crosses the Straits of Florida and is interdicted by the US Coast Guard.

February, 2004 - 1959 Buick constructed by the same group that made the 1951 Chevy boat/truck, crosses the Straits in a vessel that still worked as a car.  With wheels still attached, they planned, once they reached land, to remove the boat parts and drive to their relatives homes in South Florida.

June 8, 2005 - 1949 Mercury station wagon carrying 13 passengers is stopped just short of Key West by the US Coast Guard.
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Saturday, May 28, 2011

MTV Real World: Key West House For Sale

Real World: Key West.  Who doesn't remember it?  Alright - do you even remember it?

Filmed at an uber-swanky waterfront home on Key Haven, the show featured a cast of island newcomers who were oddly tasked with opening a spray-on tanning salon in one of the sunniest places: Key West, Florida.

Yes, it does get cloudy in Key West - at least 10 days a year.  And tanning is a lot of work - with all the lying about and flipping over.  And what about all those non-tanning nighttime hours?

Anyway, the tanning business was a flop, and, for the most part, so was the show.  The cast usually isolated themselves on Key Haven - a few miles drive to Key West.  Maybe they should have named it Real World: Key Haven.  That might have been more "real".

Yes, the spray tan business was a bust - but the house that MTV rented at $25,000 per month - is looking like a blockbuster. Thumbing its nose at the housing crash and Great Recession, the Real World: Key West house is offered at a price 4 times what it last sold for in 2002.

Currently listed for a $7.9 million real dollars, this oceanfront home is grand, especially if you'd like a hot-tub in your quasi-living room. And at $975 a square foot, you'll feel like you are on the 2005 production - since you'll be paying prices not seen then.  Plus, each time you pay the estimated $29,000 in annual property taxes, you'll feel like a real MTV star making it rain money.

Here is how the realtor describes the property:
This isn't just a house, this is your own private mini resort in Key West, Florida. THERE IS NO OTHER PROPERTY THAT COMPARES TO THIS IN KEY WEST- 500 FEET OCEANFRONT- 6000 SQ FOOT LIVING-ACTIVITIES-SECLUDED This is the property used by MTV to film the 2006 Real World Key West. 500 feet of oceanfront, 7 bedrooms (sleeps 14 to 20) , 4 1/2 baths, 8 plasma TVs, pool table (and ping pong), tennis court, hammocks, 3 paddle boards, 4 bikes, 4 kayaks, basketball court, 30 car parking, 60 foot long deep boat dock, 100 foot shallow boat dock, plus secondary protected dock for storms and weather.
Below is a photo of the hot tub in the living room - no doubt once filled with a hearty MTV broth.

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Thursday, May 26, 2011

Woman Plans to Swim from Cuba to Key West

Sure, you can fly to Key West.  Or drive.  Or even arrive by boat, cruise ship, and ferry.

But swim?

Sometime this summer, when conditions are determined to be perfect, Diana Nyad will attempt to swim from Cuba to Key West - a distance of 103 miles, across the Straits of Florida and the Gulf Stream.

It is estimated that this unbelievable journey will take two days of continuous swimming and requires a specially-designed swim suit that minimizes abrasions.

Nyad, arguably the greatest endurance swimmer of all time, previously attempted this swim last year.  But  after nearly 50 hours of continuous swimming, strong winds and large seas had blown her far off course and she had to abandon the attempt.

So, can she do it?

If anyone can, it is this amazing athlete.  In 1979, she made the longest recorded swim in history - covering 102 miles from Bimini, Bahamas to South Florida.  She was 31 then.  Today she is 61, and just as bold and determined as ever.

Key West wishes Diana fair winds, following seas, and the very best of luck.

You can read more about her and the upcoming attempt at her website
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Sunday, May 01, 2011

Key West's Schooner Western Union to Become Florida's Official Flagship

Schooner Western Union sailing from the Key West Harbor
A bill to designate the Schooner Western Union as the official state flagship has passed in the Florida Senate.

The magnificent ship is the current official vessel of Key West, its home port.

By unanimous vote on April 29, the Florida Senate passed bill SB726, detailed below:

 Florida Senate - 2011                                     SB 726
       By Senator Bullard
       39-00897-11                                            2011726__
    1                        A bill to be entitled                    
    2         An act relating to state symbols; creating s. 15.0465,
    3         F.S.; designating the schooner Western Union as the
    4         official state flagship; providing an effective date.
    6  Be It Enacted by the Legislature of the State of Florida:
    8         Section 1. Section 15.0465, Florida Statutes, is created to
    9  read:
   10         15.0465 Official state flagship.—The schooner Western
   11  Union, a 130-foot historic sailing vessel of the tall ship
   12  class, built in Key West and first launched in 1939, is
   13  designated the official state flagship.
   14         Section 2. This act shall take effect July 1, 2011.

This is the only sensible thing the Florida legislature has done since Rick Scott took office and launched Florida into the deep end of the tea party.

Who's up for hoisting him up the mast of Florida's next flagship?
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Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Key West Real Estate Market Update - February 2011

What a wild, wild ride Key West real estate has been on for the past 10 years. Speculators drove prices through the roof, realtors sang the praises of an invincible real estate market, and locals were either swept up or swept away in the frenzy.  The Key West Chronicle blog warned in 2005: Speculative Bubble in Key West Real Estate Due to Pop. No one believed it.

Thankfully, it all came to an end before the beloved little island was consumed by the Real Estate Monster. After all, there really are many more interesting things to do in Key West.

Below is a chart showing the market mania and crash that happened in Key West, as measured by Median sale price (according to Zillow):

So where are we today?

Things are looking brighter for Key West residential real estate.

The glut of homes for sale has been greatly reduced, thanks to lower prices.  And local workers, artists, and families are again buying homes.

If you are looking to buy a home in Key West, there are fewer on the market, as shown in this chart of data from the Key West Multiple Listing Service (MLS):

Location Property Type Properties for Sale - January 2009 Properties for Sale - February 2011
Key West All Residential 922 635
Key West Single Family 417 277
Key West Condo/Townhouse 400 206

Key West residential real estate sales continue to increase.   Here is the data for Key West only, from the Monroe County Property Appraiser records:
  • year 2010: 317 sales of residential single family property (minimum price of $5000)
  • year 2009: 286 sales of residential single family property (minimum price of $5000)
  • year 2008: 273 sales of residential single family property (minimum price of $5000)
  • year 2007: 252 sales of residential single family property (minimum price of $5000

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Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Florida Is Only Snow-Free State, Including Hawaii!

If you are looking to avoid snow there is only one state in the United States without the white stuff on the ground: Florida!

This map is from the NOAA website - showing current snow coverage for the United States.  Check out all-green Florida.  Doesn't it just look warm and inviting.

Of course it has never snowed in Key West.

Not even close.

The lowest temperature ever recorded in Key West was 41 degrees.  More typically - the temperatures are downright balmy (see average Key West temperature, rain, and water temperature stats).

As a result, Key West is categorized in USDA's Hardiness Zone 11, a subtropical climate where the average minimum temperature is above 40 degrees.

The only other place in the US in Zone 11?  Hawaii.  Where today it is predicted to snow 12-18 inches at elevations above 11,000 feet on the big island.  Making Hawaii the 49th state to have snow on the ground.

And making Florida the only snow-free state.
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