Sunday, August 11, 2019

I am writing again. By Geniusofdespair

I will have a column in Biscayne Times. Also, our Facebook group (press the link on the right) is still alive.

Monday, November 26, 2018

Toxic waters linked to cancer and Alzheimer's dusted by Big Sugar in Florida mid-term elections ... by Alan Farago

On Twitter, former Reagan official Bruce Bartlett summed up the GOP response to climate change. He wrote: "There is no conceivable response to climate change that doesn't involve harm to the US economy. Therefore, we will do nothing until we all die."

That is, in fact, the GOP prescription that entraps taxpayers, citizens and voters. It is codified through hundreds of millions of political campaign contributions -- funded lies -- by fossil fuel producers and supply chains, their dark money pools, and stand-in trade associations like the US Chamber of Commerce and National Association of Manufacturers. "We will do nothing until we all die."

The same could be said of the microcosm that is sending Florida outstanding waters into a death spiral of toxic algae blooms and health hazards linked to cancer and Alzheimer's: the immobile, intractable profit imperatives of Big Sugar. In this case, we will do nothing until every last inch of Florida's waters are stripped of life to benefit the biggest recipients of corporate welfare in the US farm policy: Florida's few sugarcane billionaires. Sugar's defenders include the Associated Industries, the Florida Chamber of Commerce, and the state's big electric utilities.

I can hear the howls of protest from Big Sugar shills, but it is a sad fact: not a single policy devised through political compromises at the time -- not the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan, not Mod Waters, not the Tamiami Trail bridges, not underground injection wells, not Central Everglades planning, and certainly NOT the planned Everglades reservoir -- changes this equation: that sugar gets the water it wants, when it wants the water and wherever it wants it at whatever time of year and the rest of us get its toxic waste.

The one thing that sugar refuses to do: sell enough land for storage and treatment marshes -- even at taxpayer expense! -- to clean up its fouled waters and the legacy pollution it caused by using Lake Okeechobee as its cesspool. Big Sugar's attitude: "we will do nothing until we all die."

Just like the fossil fuel industries, Big Sugar buttresses its claims by hiring the best lawyers, consultants, engineers, scientists, and politicians that money can buy. Big Tobacco figured it out, until a cascade of multi-billion dollar judgments forced the industry to pay for the cancer it caused.

Will Big Sugar ever be held similarly accountable? Not by Republicans, for whom prohibiting "external costs" of pollution should be a core conservative principle. Not by Republicans, for whom corporate welfare embedded in the Farm Bill they support is a damning indictment. (Senator Marco Rubio, in the 2016 presidential primary, called support of the sugar subsidy program a matter of "national security". Excess sugar consumption, of course, being the leading cost component in $1T annual health care emergencies in the United States.)

Environmentalists don't like to talk about these matters in such frank terms. Instead, they soldier on, through the art of the possible. In 2016 they signed off on a disastrous piece of legislation that began as an effort by then Senate President Joe Negron, a Republican, to fix the horrendous pollution of the state's east coast rivers and bays during the extreme rainfall winter of 2015/2016. Big Sugar turned his bill into their Trojan Horse, by inserting a provision into the law -- passed by the legislature and signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott -- that prohibits eminent domain in the Everglades Agricultural Area. What they did was like the fossil fuel industry saying: we will agree to fix climate change so long as it does not involve impacting the consumer preference for gas, oil and coal.

At the time, Negron went to his Democratic colleagues, looking for help. He found only one in the state senate, Jose Javier Rodriguez, a Harvard educated attorney from Miami. Big Sugar has taken great pains to lock up Florida Democrats, shunting just enough money to state legislators and their political committees to make them appear competitive with the GOP. And if scandal should strike, as it did to former state senator Jeff Clemens -- the Democrat who blocked efforts to add storage and treatment lands to the EAA Reservoir legislative package -- there is always a cozy job waiting at the other end, as it has for Clemens with Florida Crystals, the billion dollar empire of the Fanjul family that maintains US Senator Marco Rubio, its chief ally in Congress.

Big Sugar sees the world just like Bruce Bartlett observed of Republicans and climate change: there is no conceivable response to fixing Florida's toxic water crises that does not involve harming its profits. "We will do nothing until we all die."

In Florida's case, doing nothing still involves the expenditure or waste of tens of billions of dollars. But don't count on the Fanjuls or descendants of Charles Stuart Mott and principal shareholders of US Sugar Corporation to do nothing. They are well along in their plans for power plants, inland ports, and new cities and suburbs in former Everglades wetlands. "An unstoppable force!" is how Bush campaign chairman and former developer Al Hoffman crowed to the Washington Post more than 15 years ago.

Unstoppable, because both Republicans and Democrats agree to do nothing or "something" so long as the money flows and the appearance of progress quells public discontent.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Matt Caldwell: don't let the door hit you on the way out ... by Ray Judah

Eye On Miami has written extensively on Ray Judah, a former county commissioner from Lee County who had served his community for 24 years when his 2012 reelection campaign was up-ended by a $1MM dark money hit job coordinated by a fellow Republican state legislator, Matt Caldwell.

Judah had the courage -- virtually alone among Republican electeds in Florida -- to challenge Big Sugar's dominance of water management practices and policies. The net result of successive legislatures and governors, mostly under Republican leadership, materialized as toxic algae blooms harmful to public health, to the environment, and devastating to coastal economies that depend on clean water.

For his courage, Judah was targeted by Big Sugar. (Our archive on Ray Judah can be accessed by clicking, here.)

For his part, Caldwell was rewarded. He assumed a leadership position in the legislature as the de facto majority whip for Big Sugar. Caldwell defended the outrageous extension of no-bid leases to Big Sugar of massive acreage already in public ownership, that is needed for additional storage and treatment development to prevent the trashing of rivers and estuaries and the Everglades. He opposed the involvement of the federal government in setting pollution standards for phosphorous (ie. nutrient runoff). In 2016, while his community buckled under the damage from pollution, he did Big Sugar's business by opposing then Senate President Joe Negron's effort to add 40,000 acres of marshes to absorb the impact of Big Sugar's toxic waste.

As a reliable capo, Caldwell was put in line by Big Sugar to succeed Adam Putnam as state agriculture commission, a state wide position that would have put Caldwell on the path to higher visibility when Putnam, as Sugar's political maneuvering expected, vaulted to governor when Rick Scott snapped up a seat in the US Senate.

Both Putnam and Caldwell were shot down by Florida voters, who had enough of their iron-clad support for polluters against the interests of taxpayers and voters. Ray Judah wrote the following assessment:

After eight years of sponsoring legislation designed to undermine water resource regulations, Representative Matt Caldwell’s trail of stench ended in his recent loss to Nikki Fried for Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services. Never has one elected official so blatantly sold out his community and left a legacy of destruction of our precious and fragile water resources.

Caldwell hid behind a veil of Republican conservatism while rising to power in the Florida Legislature with lavish support from notable industries, including petroleum, pharmaceutical, gaming, tobacco, and Big Sugar. Caldwell worked tirelessly to shift the cost of restoring our rivers and coastal estuaries from those responsible for polluting our waterways to the public taxpayers. Caldwell achieved favored status with Big Sugar by sponsoring legislation that led up to the 2018 water crises debacle.

In the 2013 legislative session, Caldwell sponsored HB 7065 to amend the 1994 Everglades Forever Act, under the guise of increasing the sugar industry’s funding commitment to Everglades restoration, when in fact, his proposed amendment was a smoke screen to ensure that the sugar industry limited their long term obligation of funding Everglades restoration. HB 7065 provided for the extension of the so-called privilege tax of $25 per acre that the sugar industry pays to continue their discharge of polluted runoff to the Everglades, rivers and coastal estuaries. This amounts to approximately $11 million per year in comparison to the billions required by the public taxpayers to restore the Florida Everglades. Caldwell's amended language suppressed the "1996 Polluters Pay" Constitutional Amendment that required those primarily responsible for the pollution in the Everglades Agricultural and Protection Areas to clean up their pollution.

In the 2015 Legislative session, Caldwell, in violation of the public trust, supported re-directing Amendment 1 funds, intended to protect the public's water resources and restore the Everglades, to balance the state budget.

In the 2016 State legislative session, Caldwell sponsored a 'Water Policy Bill" that undermines water resource protection from Appalachicola Bay to the Florida Keys. The bill greatly impedes efforts to cost effectively prevent water pollution at its source. The bill eliminated the regulatory permitting process that included performance standards for potential pollutant loading of lakes, rivers, streams and coastal estuaries. It eliminated a January 2015 deadline, which the state didn’t meet, for compliance with nutrient levels without creating a new deadline, thereby delaying cleanup of Lake Okeechobee.

Coastal communities on the west and east coast of south Florida have suffered tremendous economic and environmental devastation due to harmful algae blooms from land based nutrient runoff. The toxic brew of fertilizers, insecticides, pesticides and fungicides from the sugar cane fields around Lake Okeechobee have poisoned downstream rivers and coastal estuaries with toxic blue-green algae and red tide.

Caldwell constantly attempted to redirect government policy away from the polluters to further his own political ambitions. Inexplicably, a good number of local business men and women heavily supported his political aspirations despite devastation to our coastal resources and adverse impact to our tourism and real estate based economy. Fortunately, enough voters from the Florida panhandle to the Florida Keys recognized it was time to vote for clean water candidates and hold Caldwell accountable for his abdication of responsibility to represent the public interest.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Rick Scott, Adam Putnam, and Matt Caldwell: Part 2, Turbulent Waters For Florida's Toxic Trio ... by Alan Farago

Everglades Agricultural Area, algae filled drainage ditch
Before Florida's midterm election, the media filled with news reports and visual imagery, spanning network news to the Daily Show, of rampant red tides and toxic algae coating all of Florida's coasts.

After the election? A few pundits noted the impacts on political careers well-grounded in defending polluters.

Big Sugar's best laid plans for the Republican hierarchy came a cropper.

For the first time in Florida political history, Sugar's campaign contributions to state-wide candidates became a threshold issue for candidates and for voters who get it: Florida's water crises is the direct result of dark political money from billionaires turning our waters and Everglades into sacrifice zones for their profits. 

Credit is due to Bullsugar.org whose voter guides highlighted polluted campaign contributions from billionaires who have commandeered the state legislature.

Adam Putnam, whose political career benefited from family wealth derived from a water district funded farm acquisition -- and who has been a strong defender of Big Sugar -- was defeated by Ron DeSantis who made opposition to Big Sugar's cost shifting to taxpayers a central plank in his platform. 

Florida Democrats, again, proved susceptible to Big Sugar money and influence. Where and when they could have planted a flag on the outrageous exchange of Florida waters for corporate welfare, they largely declined or tip-toed through a perceived mine field. cf. Bill Nelson.

Big Sugar, you see, has a different way of forcing its echo chamber into Democratic party ranks. Chris King, Andrew Gillum's running mate, is a notable exception.

Matt Caldwell, who rose to prominence by orchestrating the upset 2012 defeat of Ray Judah -- a Republican commissioner in Lee County who eloquently supported more storage and treatment acreage in the EAA -- failed in his quest to step up the ladder to Agriculture Commissioner. He called Bullsugar, a "hate group", and attacked the group in ads but voters knew better. Look for Caldwell to find a sweet place, like former Democratic senator Jeff Clemens, on the Big Sugar payroll.

"Red Tide" Rick Scott slipped into the US Senate on a razor thin margin, bolstered by a personal investment of tens of millions. A sharper and focused Bill Nelson could have preserved his Senate seat if he had allied himself clearly and strongly against Big Sugar and for Florida's waterways, threatened tourism industries, and the Everglades.

While the punditry has dragged its feet on linking Florida's election outcomes to the toxic influence of Big Sugar, a few raised eyebrows indicate the industry is endlessly resourceful in preserving its prerogatives. It moved with lightning speed after the election, a show of political, legislative, and legal force.

A day after the election on November 7th, the very same day Jeff Sessions resigned as US Attorney General, Sessions signed an extraordinary memorandum providing new guidance to DOJ on federal consent decrees. Its key point: avoid them. Leave the messy business of fixing what is wrong to the states. A day later, the governing board of the South Florida Water Management District -- all appointees of Gov. Rick Scott -- voted to vacate the consent decree that governed relations between the state, the federal government and Big Sugar polluters for a quarter century. If you think the timing was coincidental, I have a bridge in Brooklyn to sell you.

The District timing on its intent to rip up the consent decree was a show of Big Sugar force. It had been supported by very expensive lobbying and lawyering for at least a couple of years. The votes from the 2018 midterm elections hadn't been counted, but Big Sugar really didn't care. 

Do you?


(originally published August 2, 2018)
In the winter of 2016, polluted water from Lake Okeechobee turned from brown to guacamole green, thick with toxic algae carrying cyanobacteria to downstream communities, putting people and businesses in harm's way. In the summer of 2018, it is happening again. Right before midterm elections.

Gov. Rick Scott. Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam. State Representative Matt Caldwell. All are seeking to move up the political ladder in November on the Republican side of the slate. Rick Scott is aiming to unseat Bill Nelson, the Democrat incumbent, in the US Senate. Adam Putnam is running to be Florida's next governor. Matt Caldwell, to take Putnam's chair in the state agriculture hierarchy. The ladder is real, and it is constructed carefully by the state's shadow government: Big Sugar.

There are a handful of Big Sugar players, and a much larger circle of influence peddlers, but there are two billionaire families who are the mainstay of the Big Sugar cartel; the descendants of Charles Stuart Mott who own US Sugar Corporation and the Fanjul family, owners of Florida Crystals and a vertically integrated, transnational sugar empire.

Both the Mott descendants and the Fanjuls spend heavily to make rules and regulations work their way while claiming a public benefit: "farming for families to put the food on your table". They never say that sugar is not a food but a substance more addictive than cocaine when consumed in excess. But that is another story.

Monday, November 19, 2018

Just when you thought you’d heard it all ... by gimleteye


Thursday, November 08, 2018

3rd rate hacks point the 🇺🇸 toward constitutional crises

https://www.desmogblog.com/2018/11/07/dark-money-donors-trust-trump-attorney-general-matthew-whitaker-jeff-sessions

Dark Money Paid New Trump Attorney General Matthew Whitaker’s Salary for 3 Years

Read time: 4 mins
Matthew Whitaker
Today, President Donald Trump announced on Twitter that Matthew G. Whitaker, who served as chief of staff for Attorney General Jeff Sessions, would replace his boss. Sessions was forced from office a day after the midterm elections, which were rough for climate and anti-fracking measures around the country.
Whitaker was appointed as Session’s chief of staff on September 22, 2017. Before that, he served for three years as the executive director of the Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust (FACT), which describes itself as “a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting accountability, ethics, and transparency in government and civic arenas.”
FACT has come under fire for its own lack of transparency, with the Center for Responsive Politics calling attention to FACT’s funding, which in some years came entirely from Donors Trust, an organization also known as the “Dark Money ATM of the Conservative Movement” and whose own donors include the notorious funders of climate denialCharles and David Koch.
In other words, an organization ‘dedicated to promoting accountability, ethics, and transparency’ gets 100 percent of its funds from a group that exists mainly as a vehicle for donors to elude transparency,” the Center for Responsive Politics wrote in 2016.
In 2014, FACT received $600,000 from Donors Trust — the only donation it reported that year, according to OpenSecrets.org. An additional $500,000 flowed from Donors Trust to FACT in 2015. And in 2016, Donors Trust gave $800,000 to FACTtax recordsshow.
In 2016, Whitaker earned $402,000 as FACT’s director and president, according to the organization’s tax filings. That followed reported compensation from FACT for Whitaker of $63,000 in 2014, and $252,000 in 2015.
His work included advocacy for causes backed by the fossil fuel industry.
As FACT’s executive director, Whitaker sought documents from the Attorneys General United for Clean Power Coalition, alleging in a 2016 op-ed that the Coalition “launched a campaign to silence many public policy organizations and even individuals for their work challenging liberal views on climate change, as well as private companies like ExxonMobil.”
That coalition, representing attorneys general from 17 states, included Eric Schneiderman, then attorney general for New York state, Maura Healey of Massachusetts, and Claude Walker of the Virgin Islands, who were all reportedly investigating ExxonMobil for failing to disclose what it knew about climate change to its investors for decades.
Whitaker labeled the probe of ExxonMobil, which has funded climate denial efforts to the tune of at least $33 million, “both unconstitutional and unethical” — but it recently led to charges against the company.
Last month, following three years of investigation, Schneiderman’s successor Barbara Underwood filed a 91-page lawsuit alleging that ExxonMobil had engaged in four counts of fraud.
Investors put their money and their trust in Exxon — which assured them of the long-term value of their shares, as the company claimed to be factoring the risk of increasing climate change regulation into its business decisions,” Underwood said in a statement, according to Courthouse News. “Instead, Exxon built a facade to deceive investors into believing that the company was managing the risks of climate change regulation to its business when, in fact, it was intentionally and systematically underestimating or ignoring them, contrary to its public representations.”
FACT has also come under fire for its right-wing partisan bent.
It’s perhaps worth noting that although FACT describes itself as a ‘non-partisan ethics watchdog,’ its ethics complaints are targeted overwhelmingly (though not exclusively) at Democrats, and it is funded entirely by an anonymous trust fund (a so-called ‘pass-through) favored by ultra-wealthy conservative donors, including Charles Koch,” the Global Anti-Corruption Blog wrote in September of this year.
As Acting Attorney General, Whitaker will replace Jeff Sessions, described as a “climate change skeptic” by the Washington Post for saying on the floor of Congress in 2015 that “Carbon pollution is CO2, and that’s really not a pollutant; that’s a plant food, and it doesn’t harm anybody except that it might include temperature increases.”
Main image: Matthew Whitaker in 2011 appearing on CSPAN. Credit: CSPANscreen shot

Monday, November 05, 2018

HUGE Election tomorrow ... VOTE~!~ ... Alan Farago

Tomorrow, vote like your life depends on the outcome.

Millennials: you stayed at home in 2016 and helped elect an illegitimate president whose victory owes to collusion with a hostile, foreign power. Russia. Tomorrow, vote.

Independents: this is your chance to express how you feel about the slide to authoritarianism under Trump and a Republican Party that bows to his whims.

Republicans: think. Read Washington Post columnist and conservative Max Boot: "Vote against Republicans. Every single one."
If you’re sick and tired, too, here is what you can do. Vote for Democrats on Tuesday. For every office. Regardless of who they are. And I say that as a former Republican. Some Republicans in suburban districts may claim they aren’t for Trump. Don’t believe them. Whatever their private qualms, no Republicans have consistently held Trump to account. They are too scared that doing so will hurt their chances of reelection. If you’re as sick and tired as I am of being sick and tired about what’s going on, vote against all Republicans. Every single one. That’s the only message they will understand.

And here is a personal wish: that Floridians will see through the Toxic Duo: Rick Scott and Matt Caldwell.

Both are Republicans. Both were selected by Big Sugar to move up the political ladder. Scott, to the US Senate. Caldwell, to the holding position: state agriculture commissioner.

The political careers of both Scott and Caldwell closely track the destruction of Florida's waters and Everglades. I've spent nearly three decades advocating for policies to protect Florida's economy and environment: these two have run hope off the rails. Whatever they claim to the contrary, is a lie.

Vote to remove Scott and Caldwell from Florida politics.

Yes, tomorrow vote against Republicans. Because they have not listened. Will not listen. And because they are arranging the legislatures and courts to remove the system of checks and balances that distinguished our democracy.

Help make America, America again.