Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Hillary Clinton Has A Sugar Problem ... by gimleteye

Hillary with Pepe Fanjul, Florida Crysals
History is a bummer. My experience along these lines was deeply imprinted by the 2000 presidential election and its aftermath. In Florida, Democratic candidate Al Gore, campaign manager Donna Brazile, and top Florida advisors steered the candidate away from taking a position on an environmental crisis I helped elevate to a fever pitch: the apparent intent of the Clinton administration to turn over the Homestead Air Force Base to a group of Miami-Dade lobbyists and insiders.

During the summer of 2000, the air base issue percolated through the presidential campaigns the same way that toxic pollution of Florida's estuaries has bubbled to the surface in this election cycle. Then, like today, powerful, monied insiders sought to suppress the visibility and priority of the issue. Then, it was powerful Cuban American businessmen who persuaded Democrats that Miami-Dade County was in play. Today, it is one of Florida's most powerful insider players, Big Sugar.

Gore, throughout the campaign, was silent on the air base issue. It was a tragic miscalculation, as Ralph Nader pointed out. Nader, running an independent campaign, not only stated his opposition to the insider deal, he also featured the issue in Florida campaign stops.

Gore was stunned and inarticulate on questions drawing contrasts to his mantle of leadership on the environment. When asked, later, about the impact of the air base on the outcome -- the victory of George W. Bush over Gore by only a few hundred votes -- Nader quipped it was one of a dozen banana peels Gore haplessly mistook for solid ground.

Hillary supporters are hoovering campaign cash from South Florida. This strange election cycle issues have taken back seat to the cult of personality. That will change once the party conventions are over, and when it does change, there is one issue where Hillary will have to take a stand. Hopefully, Hillary won't screw it up like Al Gore did with Homestead Air Force Base.

The Bill Clinton affair with Big Sugar is a strong enough factor to sway a significant part of the Florida electorate: taxpayers outraged how Big Sugar uses corporate welfare to buy off Congress and the state legislature while dominating water management practices and policies and enforcement in the state.

In Florida, Big Sugar --  the Fanjul billionaires and U.S. Sugar Corporation, controlled by the Charles Stuart Mott Foundation based in Flint, Michigan -- gets what it wants, when it wants it. Coastal real estate property owners, tourism-related businesses, and anyone who treasures the state's estuaries, rivers, Everglades and bays, are Big Sugar's sacrifice zone.

Last week, U.S. Senator Bill Nelson called for agencies to start eminent domain proceedings to legally take significant acreage in sugarcane production for the purpose of storage and treatment marshes that would eventually stop the toxic discharges from Lake Okeechobee and deliver clean, fresh water south. Nelson's statement was extraordinary. It was the first time a senior Florida politician had uttered the words. Nelson's 2018 reelection campaign is likely to include a challenger -- Gov. Rick Scott -- who is fully bought and paid for by Big Sugar.

Where does Senator Nelson's support for eminent domain in the EAA leave Hillary in Florida this November? We don't know. What we do know is that the Fanjuls have courted the Clintons over many decades.

Have the Clintons been entertained, separately or together, by the Fanjuls at their Dominican Republic hideaway, Casa De Campo, a convenient off-shore base for entertainment and recreation of politicians tired of scrutiny in the United States? Does Hillary Clinton support eminent domain proceedings against Big Sugar in the Everglades Agricultural Area?

Hillary should support eminent domain. After all, it will make the beneficiaries even richer than they are today, and everything for them is a question of money.  Hillary should support eminent domain because nothing else has worked to protect Floridians and the natural resources that are the foundational base for the economy. Not the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan, championed by Bill Clinton's environmental chief, Carol Browner, and not billions of dollars of taxpayer investment while Big Sugar manipulated the Farm Bill.

Where is Hillary Clinton on the sugar program in the Farm Bill, what Grover Norquist calls "cronyism in is undiluted, inexcusable majesty"? Hillary should support reform, too.

Hillary Clinton has to address her Big Sugar problem. She has to step away from her husband's record in the Everglades. She must speak clearly and block out insiders whispering in her ear the way Al Gore's did in Florida to history's consternation.

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/news/local/environment/article88992067.html#storylink=cpy

JULY 11, 2016 7:53 PM

Sugar’s decades-long hold over Everglades came with a price
The industry spent more than $57 million over 22 years to influence Florida campaigns
Records show Big Sugar was consistently one of the largest contributors to both Republicans, Democrats
Industry’s clout helped it to transfer clean-up costs and postpone deadlines

Herald/Times Tallahassee Bureau

Fifteen years after Jeb Bush and Bill Clinton reached a landmark accord to revive the Everglades, billions of dollars have been spent but not much marsh has been restored, and the River of Grass continues to cycle through the same familiar struggles.

Disastrous algae blooms foul coastal estuaries. Seagrass die-offs plague Florida Bay. High water threatens the Lake Okeechobee dike. Everglades marshes drown under too much water or wither under too little. All the ecological crises of this summer are just déjà vu, all over again.

But a review of the key decision points by Florida policymakers over the last two decades shows that one key player in the fate of the Everglades has grown healthier and stronger: Big Sugar.

The industry, one of the largest producers of phosphorus-laden pollutants in the Glades, has rung up a string of political successes while recording bumper harvests in recent years. That influence has not come cheaply.

$57.8 million in direct and in-kind contributions was made by the sugar industry to state and local political campaigns from 1994 to 2016.
Between 1994 and 2016, a review of state Division of Elections records by The Miami Herald/Tampa Bay Times Tallahassee bureau shows, the sugar industry — led by United States Sugar and Florida Crystals — has steered a whopping $57.8 million in direct and in-kind contributions to state and local political campaigns. (The total does not include federal contributions.)

It appears to be money well spent. On issue after issue, regulators, legislators and governors have erred on the side of softening the impact of adverse rules and regulations on cane growers and other powerful and polluting agriculture interests, including cattle operations north of Lake Okeechobee.

The sugar industry beat back a voter-approved amendment that would have forced it to pay for cleaning up its own nutrient-rich runoff into the Everglades, instead shifting much of the cost to taxpayers. It won repeated delays of strict water quality standards. It has fended off calls for buyouts — even after one of the largest companies, U.S. Sugar, offered to sell itself to the state. And it has undermined attempts to use a second constitutional amendment, Amendment 1, to be used to buy farmland for Everglades cleanup.

“I can tell you, first hand, that the industry is directly involved with every decision this Legislature makes,” said Eric Eikenberg, CEO of the Everglades Foundation which for decades has fought the sugar industry over the causes and solutions of the Everglades and was a chief of staff to former Gov. Charlie Crist.

Florida’s decision makers “always err on the side of agriculture,” Eikenberg said.

But for the legislators who defend sugar and other farmers, “it’s all a matter of perspective,” said Rep. Matt Caldwell, R-Lehigh Acres.

The 35-year-old three-term lawmaker was in middle school when the Everglades Florida Act was passed in 1994, but he has made his mark as a champion for agricultural interests. He helped pass a sweeping water policy bill in the first week of the 2016 legislative session that eased restrictions on polluters, and he said that residential development is as much to blame for the phosphorus-laden run-off into the Everglades as the sugar industry.

“Since 1947, the farmland has been urbanized, and 3 million people live west of I-95 on what used to be sawgrass,” he said. “If all sawgrass is equal, the homeowner in Hialeah should have as much chance of his land being condemned for Everglades clean-up as the farmer does. But the farmer lives under the fear that will only happen to him.”

Caldwell was among the many well-positioned state leaders, from legislators to Gov. Rick Scott and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, who have been the guest of U.S. Sugar at the company property on King Ranch in Texas, one of North America’s premier hunting grounds. He doesn’t dispute the sugar industry’s clout but says it is justified.

“The sugar industry has been involved in stakeholder politics, but it’s equally true their opponents have been myopically focused on the industry’s demise,” he said. Indeed, the Everglades Trust, the West Palm Beach non-profit aimed at protecting the Everglades, has called for an end to the sugar industry in Florida.

In the last 20 years, the political climate has worked to benefit sugar. In 1998, the state’s already-powerful sugar industry was capitalizing on loosening campaign-finance laws and the growing Republican clout in Tallahassee.

Between 1994 and 2016, United States Sugar, the Clewiston company controlled by the Flint, Michigan-based Charles Stewart Mott and the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital, contributed the most: $33.3 million. Florida Crystals, owned by the Palm Beach-based Fanjul family, and its affiliates were next with $12.4 million over the same time.

A pivotal moment came in the 1998-99 election cycle, when Big Sugar, which had long been a contributor to Florida Democrats, became one of the largest benefactors of the Republican Party of Florida.

The RPOF was completing its takeover of the state Legislature. Jeb Bush was the party’s nominee for governor. And the sugar industry bankrolled the party with checks totaling more than $9.7 million — a stunning amount in an era before Super PACs and unlimited contributions commonplace.

Decision point: ‘Polluter pays’

The industry was still reeling from the passage of the 1996 “polluter pays” amendment to the state Constitution in which 68 percent of Florida’s voters supported requiring the industries contributing to Everglades pollution to be “primarily responsible” for paying their share of the damage.

Sugar had steered $19.4 million to a group that unsuccessfully attempted to defeat the plan, Citizens to Save Jobs & Stop Unfair Taxes, state records show.

While the amendment passed overwhelmingly, there was one problem with the amendment: It was not self-executing, and the 1997 Legislature refused to implement it.

Then-Gov. Lawton Chiles asked the Florida Supreme Court for an advisory opinion on whether the law could take effect without “without the aid of legislative enactment,” but the court ruled that it couldn’t.

It took the Legislature seven years to implement “polluter pays” but it found a way to effectively neuter it in 2003. Lawmakers capped the 1994 Everglades Agricultural Privilege Tax that was imposed on sugar-cane growers at $25 per acre, or $11.3 million a year, and declared that it satisfied the constitutional requirement.

By 2012, a study by the Everglades Foundation found that 76 percent of the phosphorus entering the Everglades Agricultural Area comes from the agricultural lands south of Lake Okeechobee but through the agriculture tax and phosphorus-reduction programs they have financed, the industry has paid only 24 percent of their share of the clean-up costs — about $200 million.

Decision point: Water standards

For the last three decades, every governor has had his Everglades moment. For Jeb Bush it came the same December day in 2000 that the U.S. Supreme Court was deciding Bush v. Gore. He stood at the White House with an assembly of Republicans and Democrats and agreed to a federal clean-up known as the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan.

The 30-year plan was essentially a big water storage project aimed at advancing the goals of the 1994 Everglades Forever Act by using of thousands of acres of sugar land to store and clean polluted water from Lake Okeechobee in storm water treatment areas. The plan also created a regulatory program that would require farmers in the EAA to implement best management practices to reduce nutrient waste. The state and federal governments would share the cost of the program, estimated at $13.5 billion.

If all went as planned the project would be well underway by 2016, relieving the phosphorous load on Lake Okeechobee. It did not go as planned.

In 2001, the state agreed to goals set by the Everglades Forever Act, reducing phosphorus in water to natural levels — 10 parts per billion — or face federal sanctions. But, by 2003, regulators determined the water quality in Lake Okeechobee wasn’t going to meet the standard so they recommended pushing back the deadlines.

Late in the 2003 legislative session, leading lawmakers developed a bill to establish a new deadline: 2026. The sugar industry’s donations for the 2002-03 cycle: $673,320, including $286,831 to the Republican Party of Florida.

By all accounts, the industry has since worked hard to reduce the phosphorous levels from its farms, especially since 2009 when it ceased routine back pumping of nutrient-laden water into the lake. According to a 2015 report by the South Florida Water Management District, 37 percent of the phosphorous comes from from cattle ranches, citrus groves and suburbs to the north that drains into the Kissimmee River, while only 5.8 percent comes from the sugar fields.

“What the environmental activists won’t tell you is that today, 90 percent of the water in the Everglades is meeting highly stringent federal water quality standards of 10 parts per billion,” said Malcolm “Bubba” Wade Jr., senior vice president of corporate strategy and business development for U.S. Sugar. “Farmers have invested $400 million in cleaning the water heading south to the Everglades, and have reduced phosphorus through best management practices by an annual average of 56 percent over the last two decades.”

Decision point: Buying sugar land

On June 24, 2008, on the cusp of the onset of the Great Recession, U.S. Sugar made a stunning admission intended to turbocharge Everglades clean-up efforts: It would suspend all sugar operations, sell its 187,000 acres of agricultural land to the state and the land could be used for the long-sought effort to restore the historic connection between Lake Okeechobee and Florida Bay while also safeguarding the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers and estuaries.

The timing was important. Sugar prices were in decline and the sellout price was a staggering $1.34 billion.

But as the recession wracked Florida’s finances, and U.S. Sugar’s chief rival, Florida Crystals, fought the plan, the state balked at the price. By May 2009, the governing board of the SFWMD approved a revised proposal to acquire only 73,000 acres in the Everglades Agricultural Area but retain an option to buy another 46,500 acres in 2015.

The state bought only 27,000 acres and by May 2015 sugar prices had risen and the land was producing record profits for Florida’s cane growers. Under pressure from U.S. Sugar, Scott and the SFWMD board rejected the option to buy the land south of Lake Okeechobee for clean-up.

Contributions from sugar to Scott’s Let’s Get to Work political committee by that point were $1 million.

Decision point: Amendment 1

Environmentalists mounted one final effort to force the Legislature to buy land for Everglades clean-up. In 2014, Florida voters approve Amendment 1, the Water and Land Conservation Amendment by 75 percent of the vote requiring that more than $700 million a year to pay for land acquisition to “restore, improve and manage conservation lands ... including the Everglades.”

But the Legislature refused to use any Amendment 1 money for land acquisition, including the purchase of sugar land to restore the water flow to the south of Lake O. In 2016, lawmakers passed the Legacy Florida Act, which dedicates up to $200 million a year from Amendment 1 to finance Everglades clean-up projects, though not necessarily land acquisition.

Decision point: Budget cuts, revenue streams

Finally, the sugar industry has persuaded legislators to allow it to rely on “best management practices,” industry-set water quality and land management standards that are often not subjected to state verification and monitoring. Cuts to district budgets, imposed by Scott’s cap on property tax collections at water management districts reduced industry oversight.

At the SFWMD, budget and staff were cut by more than $140 million — 30 percent — further delaying monitoring, oversight and development of Everglades clean-up. The district was forced to spend down its reserve funds, further reducing the likelihood it will have the money to buy agriculture land for restoration efforts.

By 2013, with the economy rebounding, Scott and the Legislature approved a $880 million water pollution cleanup plan known as “restorations strategies.” The measure capped the Agriculture Privilege Tax for another 10 years and required that $32 million in clean-up funds come from SFWMD reserves. As property values rose another $21 million in 2015, the former head of the SFWMD, Blake Guillory, proposed the practice of cutting back taxes and suggested leaving the tax rate alone to keep the district from dipping into reserves. Scott was not happy.

Within two weeks, the board of governors reversed the decision and Guillory was forced to resign, to be replaced by Scott’s general counsel.

Mary Ellen Klas is Tallahassee bureau chief. She can be reached at meklas@miamiherald.com and @MaryEllenKlas


Geniusofdespair said...

Look at Hilary's hands blocking Fanjul's hand shake. He is coming towards her she is tightly wrapped, elbows dug in towards her body. I like to read body language. Her face says one thing, her body says another.

Anonymous said...

Funny, when I saw the picture, before I read the post and before I read your comment, I saw something completely different. I see Hillary "melting" in front of Fanjul. I think she looks coy, flirtatious and melting with admiration.

mickisuzanne said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
mickisuzanne said...

Not a fan, but regarding the obvious admiration in that photo, it's obviously an OLD pic. Let's hope she will see the political power in doing what's right for Florida.

Zwoman said...

Let's hope Hillary gets the message, you can't court Sugar Daddies and the Florida voters, we are mutually exclusive. But that is a great pic of her. Pres. Clinton took gobs of moola from the Fanjuls. Remember, the Pres. answered the phone for Alfie Fanjul while Monica was "under his desk" Now that's power and influence.

Anonymous said...

Couldn't we wait until after the election to trash her? We don't want to discourage Florida voters and lose like we did in 2000, do we?

Anonymous said...

I see two power brokers checking each other out and trying to figure out how they can use each other, in stylish southern gentile fashion.

Anonymous said...

Politicians have to be very careful who they take pictures with. But I am sure the sugar people had cameramen ready for a photo. Given the positions she has had, her training, and the kinds of things she had to deal with in various roles, the only gracious thing to do was to greet him cordially, smile, and treat him warmly. That does not mean she will support Big Sugar legislatively, or administratively. It is just basic protocol when meeting people at these affairs.

I know it is difficult for regular people to understand, but they cut each other's throats, and gouge the oppositions' eyeballs out when it gets down to legislation, and action. But socially they are civil, and enjoy being with each other in these social settings. However, the next day they are ready for battle. It is just the political culture, and political ethos. So I wouldn't form any opinion about how she feels about Big Sugar by a photo of them talking at an event. It means absolutely nothing.

Anonymous said...

Hillary is a hypocritical POS. I was with Bernie, and I am now voting for Trump.

Anonymous said...

Anyone see the photos of the green slime coming from Big Sugar polluters? Public Enemy Number One - the Fanjuls. The Fanjul's are perfect for Trump. Trump hates regulations and it appears Trump hates the environment?

Anonymous said...

@ a previous anon: being with Bernie and now voting Jill Stein makes some sense, but anyone voting outright for a neo-fascist like trump is beyond help or contempt

Anonymous said...

When people meet her at these affairs, they see her as the embodiment of the United States of America. First as First Lady, then as US Senator, and finally as Sec. Of State. She has been meticulously trained in proper etiquette, generally accepted protocols at various levels and the like. While some everyday people can afford to be rude and display distain for others in social situations, at this level of American Government, you won't see that kind of behavior.

That is why a person like Trump does not fit.

Anonymous said...

I am not fond of Trump ... But, Democrats better wise up! Hillary cannot win with only the left liberal vote. There are 35% of the people who will vote Republican no matter who. There are 40% of the people who will vote Democrat no matter who. The 25% of people in the middle who are religious, or gun owners, or who believe government wastes tax dollars, or are against letting 100,000 Muslim immigrants who can't be properly vetted enter this country, or who believe that NAFTA has screwed the poor working people, or who see the violence in Chicago and unemployment in Detroit as representative of liberal values, ... ... That 25% in the middle may swing over and vote for "you know who"!
Wake up Democratic Party. You have to serve all the people. Sign me "a registered Democrat afraid of Democratic better than thouism.

Anonymous said...

Well, if people are stupid enough to vote for Trump, they deserve to get what will come. Anyone who is completely dependent on a job or this economy for basic needs will suffer under his Presidency. After the 11 million immigrants are deported, the economy will take a big hit. People will lose jobs by the droves. The rich like Trump can buy everything for pennies on the dollar. You can buy lots of houses that people will lose because they lost their jobs and can't pay the mortgages. Want a Mercedes? You can get one cheap, for pennies on the dollar. It a rich man's dream. . . . Recession, depression, and you are the only ones with cash, and you buy everyone's property for little or nothing. So go ahead, shoot yourself in the foot. . .