Wednesday, September 14, 2016

"Glades Lives Matter" to Big Sugar, except when they don't ... by gimleteye

Big Sugar is in the midst of a multi-faceted counterattack against the civic uprising in Florida triggered by massive pollution of Florida's waterways in the winter of 2016. It took the results of the GOP presidential primary -- and the dismal showing of its key spokesman, Senator Marco Rubio, who garnered scarcely 15% of the Republican vote -- to kick the billionaires into gear. Today, they are most certainly revving all their engines in anticipation of the November election where protecting Marco Rubio and down-ballot hirelings like state representative Matt Caldwell is Big Sugar's primary concern.

The context for the upcoming elections is different this election cycle than perhaps ever before. In 2015, through its control of the Florida legislature and the South Florida Water Management District, Big Sugar succeeded in stopping the effort by environmentalists to acquire through an early option to purchase more than 45,000 acres of lands owned by U.S. Sugar Corporation. It was a classic battle where Big Sugar prevailed through sheer force of campaign contributions. Environmentalists had been buttressed by a 2014 constitutional amendment they had promoted to secure a dedicated funding source that will generate billions of dollars of revenue for land acquisition. The point of the amendment was to do what the Florida legislature has refused: create enough spatial extent for water treatment and cleansing marshes out of Big Sugar lands to solve the riddle of restoring the Everglades and Florida Bay. For its part, Big Sugar isn't opposed to selling its land so long as it can achieve the maximum possible profit by doing so. Although certain parcels have been put into public ownership over the decades, Big Sugar continues to hold out for its biggest payday from taxpayers. In other words: not yet.

In 2015, the Florida legislature -- under the guidance of Gov. Rick Scott, deeply beholden to Big Sugar -- firmly rejected the intent of the referendum that passed with 75% of the popular vote. In the past, Big Sugar always complained that money wasn't available to purchase its lands. Now the money was available -- totaling billions of dollars -- but Big Sugar still prevailed in delay. Political backs were patted all around, and then -- in December 2015, normally dry season -- the rain began to fall.

It is nearly biblical how the 2016 winter rains drowned the celebration of political insiders who believed they had succeeded in killing off public support for acquisition of U.S. Sugar lands. If the lands had been acquired in 2011, after the purchase agreement had been signed, it is possible that the political upset of 2016 would never have occurred. As it turned out in January and February, the awful pollution of Florida's waterways magnetized public support where Big Sugar believed it had politically disappeared.

Big Sugar's chief anxiety is that urban populations on Florida's wealthy east and west coast -- more Republican than not -- will organize to challenge Big Sugar's political control of Florida. Its fear materialized in 2016 with a Black Swan event: historic rainfall in dry season.

The rainfall caused water managers, whose primary goal is to prevent flooding, to release trillions of gallons of contaminated water into waterways feeding east and west. Moreover, the rainfall might have been a consequence of climate delamination, but the energized public response was not from Big Sugar's traditional enemy: the state's environmental community dedicated to restoring the Everglades and improving water quality rules and regulations.

Big Sugar's strategy never changes: preserve the prerogatives at the local, state and federal levels that make the production of sugarcane one of the richest commodity crops in the world. Its tactics don't change either. One: to match civic unrest with pushback from minority communities in the region where sugarcane is grown, south of Lake Okeechobee.

Long ago Big Sugar perfected the art of divide and conquer among Florida's environmentalists. Some state water managers snidely refer to traditional groups pressing for change; the "green-greens", differentiated from the "brown-greens". In other words, fighting environmentalists is all a matter of message pushing. The 2016 rainfall, though, triggered a movement of citizen engagement (I called it, "Florida's Arab Spring") that drew energy from ordinary taxpayers and voters organized through social media like its counterparts in the Muslim world. In other words, and groups like Captains for Clean Water and the Southwest Florida Clean Water Movement materialized at exactly the moment Big Sugar imagined it had defeated the environmentalists.

"Glades Lives Matter", drawn from minority communities in Hendry County -- where sugarcane is grown -- emerged as a way of piggy-backing on the public outrage of police violence elsewhere against African Americans in the early summer. As a single tactic, "Glades Lives Matter", might have seemed a poor mirror reflecting the gathering of hundreds of thousands of signatories to the Now or Neverglades Declaration, but the few were matched synergistically through attachment to business and political entities at Big Sugar's beck and call. Groups like the Martin County Economic Council and the Florida League of Cities tag teamed, in recent months, to push back hard against the civic call for land acquisition in the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA).

Earlier in 2016, when protests against the South Florida Water Management District began to gain traction with the mainstream media, governing board members of the district -- one of the most significant taxing agencies in Florida -- rallied its own counter protesters, culled from actors in Miami and Fort Lauderdale. It was brazen and unprecedented, given how the District had historically adopted the posture of a neutral, science-driven state agency even when its policies chiefly served Big Sugar.

Throughout the summer of 2016, the District persisted, deploying its public relations department to attack social media and citizens directly. The new tactic paralleled personal attacks against leaders of the and its allies.

The hypocrisy comes in at a different level. This week, the Journal of the American Medical Association, JAMA Internal Medicine, disclosed that Big Sugar:
"... paid scientists in the 1960s to play down the link between sugar and heart disease and promote saturated fat as the culprit instead, newly released historical documents show. The internal sugar industry documents, recently discovered by a researcher at the University of California, San Francisco, and published Monday in JAMA Internal Medicine, suggest that five decades of research into the role of nutrition and heart disease, including many of today’s dietary recommendations, may have been largely shaped by the sugar industry. “They were able to derail the discussion about sugar for decades,” said Stanton Glantz, a professor of medicine at U.C.S.F. and an author of the JAMA paper." ("How the sugar industry shifted blame to fat", New York Times, Sept. 12, 2016)

Big Sugar -- and its main components, the Fanjul's Florida Crystals empire, U.S. Sugar Corporation and the Florida Sugarcane League -- are key players in the trade association, the Sugar Association, responsible for subverting US nutrition guidelines and the impacts of excess consumption of sugar. A 2013 report by Credit Suisse estimated that excess consumption of sugar costs the US health care system a trillion dollars per year: "... 30% – 40% of healthcare expenditures in the USA go to help address issues that are closely tied to the excess consumption of sugar.” Credit Suisse Report – Sugar: Consumption At A Crossroads"

"Glades Lives Matter" is an updated version of an old tactic. In the run-up to the 1996 presidential election, Florida sugar billionaires enlisted African American church leaders and prominent representatives like Alcee Hastings and Jesse Jackson to demonstrate against a penny-a-pound tax on sugarcane produced in Florida. The tax proposal, incorporated in a ballot referendum to amend the Florida constitution, was to force Big Sugar to contribute a fair share of the costs of Everglades restoration. That sugar is a substance as addictive as cocaine was never part of the message that reached either the church goers or President Clinton. At the time, the Orlando Sentinel reported, "At a Baptist church in Eatonville ... (Reverend Jesse) Jackson urged Floridians to vote against the tax. An estimated 80 percent of sugar industry workers are minorities, and amendment opponents are targeting black voters with hard-hitting radio ads."

Today, as twenty years ago, the effect of excess sugar consumption wreaks havoc on the public health of especially those minorities by the very industry, Big Sugar, that professes concern through "Glades Lives Matter". Diabetes, according to the website, SugarScience (The Unsweetened Truth)
"... is strongly associated with coronary artery disease and Alzheimer's disease. It's also a discriminatory disease: compared to white adults, the risk of being diagnosed with diabetes is 18% higher among Asian Americans, 66% higher among Hispanics and 77% higher among African-Americans."

A 2013 report by Hendry County, the locus of "Glades Lives Matter", cited a survey by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin, finding that the County, the center of the sugar industry ranked 63rd out of 67 Florida counties in its Health Fact metric. "72.9 percent of Hendry County residents are overweight or obese. This is higher than the state rate of 65.0 percent and much higher than the percentage for Hendry County in 2007 (62.3 percent). Excess weight is considered to be a strong factor and precursor to serious health problems such as diabetes, hypertension and heart disease." According to the 2009-2011 statistics, the rate of diabetes in Hendry County is nearly two times higher than the average for the rest of the state.

Marion Nestle, the New York University scientist and expert on nutrition and the harmful effects of excess consumption of sugar consumption, told Reuters: "I thought I had seen everything but this one floored me... It was so blatant. And the ‘bribe’ was so big.” “Funding research is ethical... Bribing researchers to produce the evidence you want is not."

Not much has changed since Paul Roberts wrote for Harper's Magazine in 1998:
Sugar has always been on intimate terms with government, for without it the industry could not enjoy its current size and wealth. For example, until recently, growers like Fairbanks and the Fanjuls relied on a federal “guest” worker program for a steady supply of cheap, docile Caribbean cane cutters. And although that particular embarrassment is gone, cane producers remain absolutely beholden to other forms of governmental intervention. Nearly every acre of sugarcane in south Florida is irrigated and drained via a costly, tax-supported system of pumps, dikes, and canals that effectively prevents the Everglades Agricultural Area from reverting to swamp while keeping Lake Okeechobee, to the north, from flooding. Unfortunately, this system, in combination with the heavy fertilizers sugar farmers apply to their fields, has degraded the remaining “pristine” Everglades downstream, yielding years of litigation and an environmental catastrophe that will cost taxpayers $8 billion to fix. But not sugar. Although Florida cane farmers are footing part of the cleanup cost, their small share is all but buried under another, more pervasive government handout: a federal sugar program that keeps the domestic price of sugar some 50 percent above the world market price. This sweet protectionist deal not only adds a nickel profit to every pound of sugar produced by large U.S. cane farmers but has abetted the Everglades’ decline by encouraging farming in marginal swamplands that could not be profitably planted otherwise.
Today, the price of sugar is roughly double what the cost would be on the free market, and the incidence of diabetes is twice in Hendry County than the rest of Florida, where Glades Lives Matter except when they don't.

The appropriate context for Glades Lives Matters is as a tactic, combined with others; deforming water policies, hiring elected officials, creating false news outlets to parrot their lines, all with the same chilling effect: to protect their profits at the expense of public health and to shift the costs of cleaning up pollution to the taxpayers whenever possible and to the maximum extent practical.

The hypocrisy of Big Sugar is blinding. It is as blinding as the effect of pixie dust cast by Big Tobacco, that invested millions of dollars to deter citizens from the scientific fact that smoking kills. Sugar also kills, but that's a message that will take a long time to filter into the communities fearful of losing jobs. Just like in coal country, Glades lives matter except when they don't.


Kendall Realtors said...

There's no doubt that there are sincere segment of people who are fearful of losing their jobs or property. Although much has been made about Big Sugar and it's paid trolls there are definitely people out there who are vulnerable and would be impacted negatively, the should definitely have their opportunity to speak.

H Lovett said...

I'm guessing there are many more lost jobs due to declining tourism, loss to fisheries, etc. due to the pollution Big Sugar has caused. There are so many other financial hits the taxpayers are taking. There are many more positive ways those funds could be used -- improved job training and resources to help people who might lose work, is just one of many. Restoring the environment could mean more eco-tourism jobs. How about using the funds that are going to pay to clean up Big Sugar's mess for more "green" jobs? Fund mass transit, fund solar expansion. There is so much good it could do.

Larry said...

Every political agenda must have an enemy to point a finger. We want to save that which is already loss. The Everglades are lost to foreign plant and animal species, non native fish are destroying native fish, exotic snakes; bacteria and spores introduced into Florida are destroying unique tropical plants; constrictors are destroying mammals and native reptilian species al alarming rates. Native vegetation is being deminished by foreign species. So the question is, What are we trying to save the Everglades from? My supposition is that we have lost the Everglades and there is no means available to regain it.