Thursday, July 23, 2015

Grover Norquist on Big Sugar: "cronyism in its undiluted, inexcusable majesty" ... by gimleteye

For decades, conservatives have lamented federal subsidies in American farm policy accruing to Big Sugar. Strangely, the wailing falls silent south of the Georgia border. In Tallahassee, the glad-handing and back slapping by Big Sugar for its supporters is ubiquitous.

The application of sugar money to lobbyist and lawyers’ net worth statements, contributions to lawmakers, and entertainments like secretive hunting trips for compliant legislators has created a shadow government impervious to complaint, whether by Republicans or Democrats.

At a recent Palm Beach teach-in, Beyond Sugar by Sierra Club, a packed conference room was informed about Big Sugar’s predatory influences, including the most pernicious of all: the trillion dollar cost imposed by excess sugar consumption on public health.

The conservatives' opposition to sugar’s subsidies has neither to do with childhood obesity, nor Florida’s threatened Everglades, rivers and estuaries despoiled by inadequate environmental regulations, nor public health, ruined by consumption of too much sugar, and certainly not with the state of our democracy, made toxic by super-sized doses of sugar money.

A recent editorial by Bloomberg (“Grover Norquist finds a sweet spot”, July 22, 2015) remarks on the conservative icon joining the battle against sugar subsidies in the Farm Bill. Norquist opposes the sugar subsidy in the U.S. Farm Bill because it is “cronyism in its undiluted, inexcusable majesty.”

Norquist is famous for the firebrand ideology that burned the moderate wing of the Republican party to a crisp. He trenchantly warned, "I'm not in favor of abolishing the government. I just want to shrink it down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub.”

How Big Sugar controls the state legislature and Gov. Rick Scott, measured by the GOP's permanent war against water quality law and altering water infrastructure to its needs is not Norquist’s concern.

Bloomberg, too, strains the state from the federal: "The sugar industry lobby accounts for more than one-third of all lobbying funds spent by crop producers, even though sugar represents less than 2 percent of the value of all U.S. crop production. Most of the benefits of high prices flow to three firms that produce about 20 percent of U.S. sugar supply.” What Bloomberg ought to have added: two of those firms are Florida sacred cows: U.S. Sugar Corporation and Florida Crystals, owned by the billionaire Fanjuls' of Coral Gables and Palm Beach.

The profits guaranteed by sugar subsidies afford Big Sugar profits, deploying lobbyists to influence state legislators already softened by its campaign contributions, and push water quality and environmental regulations even further into the fetid ditch.

This puts Norquist and his radical extremist colleagues in the position of opposing in principle the cronyism it otherwise supports. For example, conservatives despise federal environmental protection mandates of the U.S. EPA. Conservatives who support knee-capping the EPA oppose subsidies that nevertheless accrue to their advantage. It is the same way with the Norquist “no tax pledge” committing elected legislators to undermine the government they serve.

In a logical world, the enemy of your enemy is your friend, but in the upside down GOP world; the friend of your friend is also your enemy. The cake baked for the American people by the conservative right ends up on all over our faces. It is a spectacle filled with too much sugar.

How much easier if Norquist, the Tea Party, Americans for Prosperity, the American Enterprise Institute, Cato Institute and the Heritage Foundation among other conservative entities embraced the mantra learned here in Florida: Big Sugar poisons people, poisons Democracy, and poisons the Everglades.

Can we say it all together? The time to end Big Sugar's implicit subsidies that enrich a few at the expense of many, that weaken environmental laws and protections that protect Floridians and future generation, is now.

Grover Norquist Finds a Sweet Spot
3 JUL 22, 2015 8:00 AM EDT
By The Editors, Bloomberg

Now that they have critically (and foolishly) wounded the U.S. Export-Import Bank, Grover Norquist and his allies in the conservative gadfly movement are taking aim at a far more formidable (and worthy) target: Big Sugar.

The U.S. has protected its sugar producers almost since it has existed. But those protections have long since lost any justification. U.S. consumers now pay close to double the world price for sugar; ending U.S. support for sugar producers could put as much as $3.5 billion a year back in consumers' pockets. This fiercely defended thicket of tariffs, price supports and quotas undermines U.S. development aid, corrupts the country's politics and distorts global trade. It also enriches a coterie of sugar barons at the expense of public health.

This protection racket for sugar producers is a worldwide phenomenon. The European Union's support of beet farmers means that Europeans pay a premium for sugar. Brazil, the world's biggest sugar producer, subsidizes sugar via ethanol programs. Price guarantees for growers and import tariffs are common around the world.

U.S. producers argue that dismantling U.S. protections would amount to unilateral disarmament, flooding the country with cheap imports of subsidized sugar. Yet the goal of dismantling U.S. protections is not to create more jobs in the confectionary business or get more sugar into the American bloodstream. (Americans already lead the world in that respect, to their detriment.)

But there are policy and market rationales for ending sugar subsidies. The global patchwork of protectionist measures has helped feed a sugar glut, with prices lower than they've been in six years. Perverse consequences abound: The EU's impending "reforms" of its sugar policies, for instance, will end production caps while doing nothing about subsidies; as a result, millions of sugar growers in less-developed countries could be pushed deeper into poverty. To take an example nearer and dearer to U.S. taxpayers and consumers, would you rather let Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador sell you more raw cane sugar, or give them more U.S. aid dollars?

In announcing his campaign against Big Sugar, Norquist called it "cronyism in its undiluted, inexcusable majesty." There's truth to that: The sugar industry lobby accounts for more than one-third of all lobbying funds spent by crop producers, even though sugar represents less than 2 percent of the value of all U.S. crop production. Most of the benefits of high prices flow to three firms that produce about 20 percent of U.S. sugar supply. The sugar lobby not only won new industry protections in the 2008 farm bill, but also ensured that they remained unscathed in the 2014 version.

Norquist can often go too far -- his quest to destroy the Export-Import Bank was unhelpful, as is his biannual no-tax pledge -- but this campaign is worthwhile. It could energize reformers in Congress who have long railed against sugar subsidies. It coincides with pressure on U.S. negotiators to allow Australia and other Trans-Pacific Partnership members greater market access on sugar. If it even partly breaks down the U.S. sugar wall, it would be a sweet victory for taxpayers and consumers alike.

To contact the senior editor responsible for Bloomberg View’s editorials: David Shipley at


cyndi said...

I feel like we should all be happy about this but I'm waiting for some other bizarre shoe to drop. How far will legislators go before they turn their backs on big sugar?

Anonymous said...

I laughed when I read this earlier today. If we get clean water out of it, I am not about to look a gift horse in the mouth. Further proof that politics make strange bedfellows.

nancysportia said...

I have fished the swampy areas south of Lake Okeechobee, and I have seen first-hand the destruction of the wetlands there by giving US SUGAR the power to determine how much water they will take out of Lake Okeechobee. I have stood in my boat in the quiet and then heard and seen the huge pumps start up and the water start flowing out of the lake. Good, clean water being pumped into the muddy shallows to irrigate the sugar crop. It is sad to watch. They are destroying the lake and the wetlands that surround it. It's all about money, and the sugar daddy buys loyalty to their destruction. As a native of Florida, I have watched sugar take control of the destruction, without regard to the future or the cost of the fix. Many Floridians oppose the sugar's actions, but the republican controlled legislature does nothing.