Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Big Sugar, Marco Rubio, and Florida's water crisis ... by gimleteye

True conservatives rail against Big Sugar's command of Congress, through Farm Bill subsidies and the political contributions they shed freely as the hair of a shaggy dog. No less an authority than Grover Norquist is making opposition to sugar subsidies, supported by Marco Rubio, a GOP litmus test for presidential candidates in 2016. (For a reasoned explanation, read Robert McElroy, publisher of ThisWeekInCongress.com:
"Rubio's sugar support doesn't match his conservative credentials".)

Multiple, six-figure campaign contributions have been shunted Rubio's way by the Fanjul billionaires and by US Sugar, the other branch of the Big Sugar cartel, owned primarily by the 'environmentally sensitive' Mott Foundation.

The Fanjuls summoned Rubio to run against then-governor Charlie Crist in 2010. They were outraged when Crist in 2008 had offered to buy US Sugar lands -- more than 125,000 acres at a projected cost to the state of about $1.2 billion -- without consulting them. The reason for the fury: if government built wetland marshes using US Sugar lands to store and cleanse filthy agricultural waters, then the state would be a step closer to key parcels owned by the Fanjuls in the Everglades Agricultural Area.

For the public, the end game is to provide connectivity between Lake Okeechobee and the Everglades, building a solution toward cleansing Big Ag's toxic mess of Lake Okeechobee. Halting toxic releases to tide -- measured in trillions of gallons -- would eventually provide clean, fresh water to the remaining three million acres of Everglades, owned in perpetuity by the public thanks to the national park and other public entities.

The cycnical, deadly chess game between Big Sugar and government is set out on a board called Lake Okeechobee. The lake is one of the largest fresh water bodies in the United States.

Why is it deadly? Because government use of massive pumps and lock infrastructure, to control Lake water height -- called "schedules" by the US Army Corps of Engineers -- is calibrated to dike safety. Possible breaches would endanger lives in downstream communities: places like Belle Glade and Clewiston that, thanks to low labor wages of Big Sugar, are also among the poorest in the Florida.

From the background -- where they operate like Florida's version of the Koch Brothers -- the Fanjuls pushed Marco Rubio into the US Senate seat. Today Rubio -- thanks to Big Sugar's early support -- is a contender for the GOP nomination to be president. At the same time the Fanjuls also moved to block any future plans to use their land for cleansing the toxic mess they created in Lake Okeechobee by pushing at the county and state level for zoning changes to allow massive new developments like "inland ports" in the Everglades Agricultural Area. (When pushed to answer for his support of Big Sugar, Rubio defaults to a rote response: "sugar subsidies are a matter of national security".)

Tic-tac-toe, the public is the schmoe. That is a brief caption to the historic rainfalls in South Florida this winter and the outrage of citizens on both Florida coasts.

To keep the Lake from bursting, the Corps opened the floodgates of hell into the St. Lucie and Indian River, opening to the Atlantic, and the Caloosahatchee River, opening to the Gulf, until public outrage -- from mainly Republican districts -- became so intense that the politicians begged for relief. Groups like Bullsugar.org on the east coast of Florida and Southwest Florida Clean Water on the west coast have been driving the point home, but Florida political leaders led by Gov. Rick Scott and Ag Secretary Adam Putnam found a way to relieve their pressure: don't buy the land south, move the pollution south.

The net result: as of yesterday, filthy Lake Okeechobee water has been diverted through public lands toward other, more distant water bodies like Florida Bay and the Florida Keys. State officials claim the water will be "clean" although what none will confess this is an uncontrolled experiment for the purposes of political expediency.

Miami-Dade County, the most politically influential in the state, deserves some credit. Last year, the county commission unanimously passed a resolution by Commissioner Daniella Levine Cava, urging the Florida legislature to allocate hundreds of millions of dollars to acquire Big Sugar lands. The resolution by the county commission fell on deaf ears including Miami-Dade's own state delegation.

The public has been arguing for many, many years that the only solution to the Lake Okeechobee crisis: BUY THE LAND SOUTH. Create surface water storage, a rigorous water quality regime and conveyance adequate to deal with the toxic mess. And not just arguing. Voters went to the polls in the 1990's and agreed that Big Sugar must be primarily responsible to clean up its pollution. Hasn't happened. Voters went to the polls in 2014 to pass a constitutional amendment -- approved by more than 75 percent of Floridians -- to buy environmentally important lands like those owned by US Sugar and the Fanjuls. Hasn't happened.

In November, Florida voters will have a chance to vote on candidates for public office according to their own litmus test: do the candidates support Big Sugar's domination of the state's landscape or not. Republican voters will have a chance even sooner: the March presidential primary in Florida.

In an excellent OPED in the Treasure Coast Palm, Robert McElroy also tags Marco Rubio on his support for sugar subsidies. But he does glide past the key ways how Big Sugar (and Jeb Bush) created Marco Rubio. Why aren't these views in the Miami Herald?

Rubio’s sugar support doesn’t match his conservative credentials

By Robert McElroy
Treasure Coast Palm
Feb. 11, 2016

If you live in South Florida, you know the sugar industry. It began in earnest in 1959 when Alfonso Fanjul, heir to the sugar empire in Cuba, fled the incoming Castro regime for Florida; politicians got in the game, and he ended up with a business that grows sugar cane on land not suited to grow it, pollutes the Everglades and, because of government subsidies, produces sugar more expensive in the U.S. than elsewhere.

Florida's sugar industry wields political power so strong the wish of the taxpayers for clean water is, at best, grudgingly acknowledged while sugar industry price supports and other assistance costs the taxpayers nearly $2 billion yearly.

Is it any surprise that U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio — a "free market," "cut spending" presidential candidate — supports the subsidies even when conservative icons such as the National Review and the Heritage Foundation have voiced opposition to them? No, not really, because he has that "Cuba thing" going on, along with an apparent unwillingness to admit he is wrong. Those things, combined with his, um, repetitiveness in the New Hampshire debates give us a pretty clear picture of where candidate Rubio is coming from.

He's unyieldingly vindictive if he doesn't get his way. Last year, when relations with Cuba were renewed, an enraged Rubio railed against the idea. Though it was reported that more than 60 percent of young Cuban-Americans supported the new arrangement, Rubio opposed the move.

"I don't care if the polls say that 99 percent of people believe we should normalize relations in Cuba. I don't care if 99 percent of people in polls disagree with my position. This is my position, and I feel passionately about it," Rubio said, as reported in U.S. News & World Report.

The deal went through, U.S. businesses are looking at new markets on the island and families are being reunited — so you would think the senator would go quietly into the night on that one. Not so; less than a year later, he blocked the president's nominee for ambassador to Mexico, Roberta Jacobson. Both parties in the Senate, the administration, and Mexico want to install Jacobson quickly because of her notable credentials, but that apparently didn't mean anything to Rubio.

The L.A. Times reported Jacobson "led negotiations with the government of President Raul Castro aimed at opening a U.S. Embassy in Havana last summer, easing restrictions on travel and business for Americans and, most recently, establishing mail service between the two countries." The Times noted those are among the reasons Rubio objects to her nomination.

At the New Hampshire Republican debates, Rubio was given the "full New Jersey" from undercard presidential candidate New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (who has since dropped out of the race). Christie's reasons for attacking Rubio were aimed to inch himself up in the polls and capture more delegates. Rubio's response is what matters, and we saw him repeatedly turn to his canned sound bites; that tells us there may not be a lot of depth to his positions if he can't muster up real answers.

After a surprising third-place win in Iowa, Rubio saw his future as the establishment candidate the Republican Party is seeking in a field of pretty extreme characters. A bit presumptuous, as revealed by his fifth-place showing in New Hampshire on Tuesday.

After Iowa, Rubio made promises; to bring disparate elements of the Republican Party together and to expand and improve conservatism. He needs to work on that, because his actions tell us his brand of conservatism is loaded with exceptions.

Robert McElroy is a former resident of Jensen Beach who publishes TheWeekinCongress.com.


Anonymous said...

What exactly is "the Cuba thing"?

Can you imagine what would happen if you wrote, "the Black thing" or "the Jewish thing"?

Anonymous said...

The Fanjuls live in Miami right? Protesters should picket outside their home(s) and let their neighbors know what terrible neighbors they are being to all Floridians. Literally polluting us for their own financial gain. Little is more despicable.

Anonymous said...

Of course they don't live in Miami! They are Spanish citizens and winter in Palm Beach.

Anonymous said...

Alfie Fanjul lives in a Coral Gables gated estate. His helicopter can often be heard by neighbors as he commutes to his private jet or to Palm Beach.

Anonymous said...

Pepe is the Republican. Alfie is the Democrat, and a big Clinton supporter. Hint, you Bernie Sanders and Trump voters!

Anonymous said...

Everytime I read this blog there's an "environmental crisis." Why don't you just give it a rest and move to California or something?

Anonymous said...

Re anon above, take a long walk off a short pier.

Anonymous said...

Pepe does not live in Coral Gables! He has a small pied-a-terre there.

Anonymous said...

Is there a brand of sugar that I could buy that wouldn't help support these people? And don't tell me that sugar is bad for me. I know that. But I do use it occasionally and would rather buy a responsible brand.
Last time I looked in store it all seemed to be from Florida.