August 1, 2012
In Miami-Dade County — Florida’s most populous and politically influential county– a billion dollars is needed immediately to replace just the most deteriorated and vulnerable sections of the wastewater system, according to a five month internal study. It is scarcely news. Miami Dade County government has been concealing its infrastructure deficits for years. County commissioners kept the crisis away from the sight of voters.
The purpose of the concealment was to make the region attractive to cheap development. The billion dollar infrastructure bill is the tip of the iceberg, and it is only emerging because a federal agency, the US EPA, had the guts to insist that Miami-Dade do something to prevent a catastrophic sewage break. At the height of the housing boom, cheap development and jobs servicing more cheap development ferried more than a thousand people a day to live in Florida, a state that boasted one of the highest growth rates in the nation. In 2010, Florida was home to one-third of all homeless families who have no shelter at all — people living in their cars, under bridges, in parks.
It is more than trickery to claim — as Florida’s Growth Machine does– that the ad valorem tax base has to be increased to cover infrastructure needs. The claim was spurious twenty five years ago,when I learned how local power brokers in the Florida Keys set their sights on development at any cost, enlisting the political class to its service. On face value, encouraging more development in order to fill in funding for infrastructure, like roadways, schools, prisons, and water infrastructure, is institutionalized fraud. Read the rest of this entry »
June 26, 2012
(Counterpunch) John DeGrove was the father of land use planning in Florida and the principal architect of the state land use agency, the Florida Department of Community Affairs. The agency was established in 1985 to oversee compliance with the Growth Management Act. Most Floridians are unlikely to know either what the Department of Community Affairs did or what its disappearance means. Fewer still understand the challenges to design and implement a regulatory framework for rationale growth and development in one of the nation’s fastest growing states, or, how DCA and DeGrove’s mission was a target of anti-government, pro-property rights zealots from the first.
Why this matters is simple. Presupposing the failure of government regulatory authority virtually guarantees it will happen. The notion that government cannot do anything that private industry can do better, cheaper, and faster including protecting public safety, health and welfare has spread its toxic roots far and wide. Florida provides more than its share of examples of government-designed-to-fail.
These didn’t happen overnight. DCA was caught up in a thirty year war against governmental regulation of land use and the environment. Initially, the agency’s work enjoyed broad bipartisan support. By the time the agency was frog-marched to the platform and guillotined by the Florida legislature and an indifferent governor, it had already mostly surrendered to “regulatory capture” by special interests. When the final blow was delivered, no one was quite so surprised as the insiders to watch decades of history simply wash away. Read the rest of this entry »
March 20, 2012
(Counterpunch, March 20, 2012) At two in the morning, the sleek, modern airport at New Delhi hummed with activity. Most travelers pointed westbound to European capitals and from there, mid morning connections to the Americas.
What piqued my curiosity at that ungodly hour: airport security worked at half pace while the crowds piled behind. For the most part, India’s bureaucratic indifference was far from sight during a three-week visit.
Here at the moment of departure, anxious lines pushed and security responded with its own laws of gravity, and I felt the curious pull of the familiar, something that reminded me of home. You know what they say about Schenectady: it’s not hell but you can see it from there?
The places that hold us, whether in Uttar Pradesh or New York, have their tell tales. For example, in Florida –my home–, the sign of the eternal, damning wheel is the predisposition of bureaucrats to work hand-in-glove with politicians and lobbyists to destroy the Everglades. Read the rest of this entry »
July 19, 2011
Marco Rubio has been in the US Senate nearly nine months. After a nine month gestation, last Sunday the junior senator from Florida emerged as tidy proof on “Face the Nation’.
Face The Nation host Bob Schaeffer led off with a question about the GOP stance on raising the debt ceiling. Rubio returned with spin: it is a problem of spending, not the debt ceiling. Spending cuts, spending cuts, spending cuts. Even rating agencies like Standard & Poors say so. Schaeffer asked the senator’s view of a compromise deal to allow the president to increase the debt ceiling without action by either party. Rubio stuck to his point: “it’s not about the debt ceiling, it’s about debt.”
Rubio used the phrase “credible solution” to the debt problem several times, including the rating agency’s emphasis on a credible solution in its recent report. When Schaeffer tried, twice– including a Rubio clip from a Fox News interview– to get the junior senator to acknowledge that not everything in the economy is President Obama’s fault, Rubio pushed back.
“People want to know when they will have a job. Until America has a credible solution to its debt problem, people will be afraid to invest in America.” Here, Schaeffer could have asked: name one investor who wouldn’t create a job in the US because of the national debt. Read the rest of this entry »
July 15, 2011
We have reached the nadir of the dumbing down of American politics. The path was cleared by ideologues: and why should the devastation not be delivered by the conservative right holding the Book of to their American flag lapels? I am half-tempted to go along with the Ron Paul wing of the Republican Party and let August 2nd come and go: just like Y2K right? (On Jan 1, 2000 apocalypse was predicted when computers would all shut down or short circuit because they had not been programmed to accept the millenium date. If you don’t know what happens on August 2nd, stop reading now.)
Republican brainiacs believe they can pin “this budget thing” on President Obama and the Democrats, but if there is no resolution to the budget and debt ceiling crisis, expect a stock market crash of at least 20 percent off the bat. No one thought home values could be worth only half of what they were, five years ago. Let the GOP masterminds like Karl Rove explain how it is the Democrats’ fault our savings turn out to be worth only half of what they were.
That the Republican Party turned into a party of unrecognizable extremists didn’t happen overnight. For those who thought Grover Norquist was just trying to shrink the size of government, look at the consequences of the decapitations that are working themselves out in slow motion. Turn, for example, to Florida’s GOP wrecking crew in the House of Representatives.
If you were too focused on Texas’ GOP initiative to save the incandescent light bulb, or the electric utilities’ decision to abandon investment to reduce man-made chemicals that cause global warming (because of regulatory uncertainty as a result of Republicans effort to kill environmental regulations), then you might have missed the Florida GOP delegations’ most recent tactic in the Holy War against the US EPA: to gut the Clean Water Act as revenge for the federal agency’s efforts (after decades of lawsuits and inaction) to clean up Florida’s filthy waters where the state refuses (thank you, Governor Barely Legal Rick Scott). Read the rest of this entry »
June 28, 2011
Drought, wildfires, floods. The first three minutes of network news is like a TV primer from the Book of Revelations. Al Gore, in Rolling Stone, was inventor of that line, but at some point in the not-so-distant future, destroyed drinking water wells in South Florida could be on Nightly News. And if Al Gore is still with us, the shot wells scattering chaos in the nation’s presidential bellweather state will not go unremarked. Florida’s threatened drinking water supply is a stark reminder of Gore’s 2000 loss in Florida. Fearing dissent in his own ranks on policies governing growth and the environment, Gore retreated. Today there is no doubt, none at all, that water management has put South Florida property owners into the path of fresh water at the price of gold or a modern Exodus. This is the dirtiest little secret in Florida and why the dying Everglades are a potent symbol of politics in America today.
For decades in Florida, elected officials supported more growth and development and agriculture than our aquifers could reasonably sustain. It is not conjecture. It is not smarmy, feel-good ethos. Within government agencies, scientists, policy makers and attorneys treaded on the subject like walking on egg shells. Early on, it was established that standing up to the destroyers on water supply or water quality issues was the fastest way to lose one’s job. Sugar billionaires, their lobbyists, builders and developers and trade associations like Miami’s Latin Builders Association had the inside track in the inside hallways of government: from the White House to the lowliest office of the county commission. It is still going on. Last week, Florida’s Jack-Ass-In-Chief Barney Bishop– the Associated Industries leader, a self-described “life-long Democrat” (who led the successful effort to dismantle Florida’s growth management agency), appeared on Fox News, calling out the U.S. EPA for “killing jobs faster than President Obama can create them”. Bishop, a carpetbagger if there ever was one, has prevailed on Florida Governor Rick Scott to push back against federal authority to regulate nutrient pollution where the state won’t: overwhelming Florida’s valuable rivers, estuaries and coastal real estate values. To round up the disaster, after so many decades, in a pithy “killing the goose that lays the golden egg” puts an unforgivable smiley face on abject corruption. Read the rest of this entry »
May 11, 2011
The worst legislative session in Florida history is over. The mad scramble to a remote state capitol is now emptying of lobbyists. But their work is hardly finished. Having engineered a radical evisceration of public protections, the lobbyists and state legislators are now headed home to counties and municipalities to make sure that the profits accrue to the benefactors: land speculators, ideologues, and private profiteers who are giving political campaigns money at an unprecedented rate to the GOP; in many cases, on the order of 10-1.
Last week the Florida legislature– the most conservative in modern history– wiped out more than 30 years of environmental protections with scarcely a debate in the Senate. Is this what Florida voters wanted, when they elected Rick Scott as governor and a legislature that clearly meant to use the economic crisis to impose a final solution on environmental rules? Those are the same special interests that pushed the economy built from housing and construction off a cliff with support for fraudulent growth schemes sold to gullible buyers as “what the market wants”. Florida has the highest level of at-risk properties in the nation. More than one in five mortgages are in some state of distress. In Miami-Dade, local courts dealing with foreclosures have a backlog of more than two years. Read the rest of this entry »
March 22, 2011
On the same day that Sergio Pino announced his resignation from the board of the bank he founded, US Century Bank in Miami had more bad news: the ratings agency, Fitch, withdrew its rating. In a public statement to South Florida Business Journal, Pino said his withdrawal had nothing to do with the severely deteriorating condition of the bank.
Pino, along with other bank directors, have been major Republican campaign contributors and lobbyists for suburban sprawl in Florida wetlands and farmland. They have strongly supported and pushed for the expansion of the Urban Development Boundary in Miami-Dade to include lands purchased as speculative investments for future platted subdivisions and sprawl. The bank they founded has been the recipient of the largest infusion of federal taxpayer moneys, through TARP, among all Florida banks. Read the rest of this entry »
January 14, 2011
(Counterpunch) The Service Employees International Union gave $20,000 to the political action committee to save long-time Miami Dade county commissioner Natacha Seijas from recall and political oblivion. Seijas is facing the second recall by petition in less that three years. The Hialeah commissioner– it is well known– is the de facto chair of local government in Florida’s most populous county. She has carved out a permanent incumbency in a Cuban American district that seethes with resentment against Fidel Castro but enforces political orthodoxy with the same exact ferocity. Seijas is a battle axe in defense of untouchable fiefdoms: mainly contracts at Miami International Airport, near the end of a $4 billion rebuild that is notable for chronic cost overruns– and zoning for development in farmland and outside the urban development boundary. Read the rest of this entry »