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 »
October 19, 2011
In Miami it is not considered polite or politic to criticize resident and former governor Jeb Bush, whose political career was fueled by the mad housing boom and its campaign money that is now crashed to cinders. Bush spoke in Chicago last week to the Mortgage Bankers Association annual convention.
These days, the speechifying of Jeb! can be interpreted for the direction of the Republican message machine. What was reported was that Bush urged the audience to climb out of their fetal position and go on the offensive. “Who better to advocate a policy to get us out of this mess?” Bush implored the same businesses that shipwrecked the economy on the reefs from which scavengers now ply their trades. Read the rest of this entry »
October 10, 2011
The GOP response to Occupy Wall Street recalls the way the 1960′s protests against the Vietnam War energized American conservatives. Until the demonstrations by assorted students and labor and political activists (socialists, communists, etc.), the right wing had been defined by racism (southern and Democratic) and the stigma of the John Birch Society.
The counter-response came from the US Chamber of Commerce and wealthy American industrialists. They invented a political machine that now, nearly half a century later, is the most successful in US history. It is a GOP dynamo incorporating the imperatives of the Christian right and the “free market”. The juggernaut owes its success to a message machine book-ended by Fox News and the Murdoch empire. Read the rest of this entry »
September 14, 2011
Reviewing for the New York Times the new book by Tom Friedman and Michael Mandelbaum, David Frum asks, “Does America Have a Future”? The backdrop for the question is a combustible mixture of news: more Americans are living in poverty than at any time in the past 50 years and another shocker– the moment during the Tea Party debate among Republican presidential candidates when the audience cheered the idea of letting uninsured patients die. America has a future, but we are heading in an unrecognizable direction without navigation aids.
I recall an American president, Bill Clinton, speaking at the Fountainbleau Hotel in Miami in the spring of 1995. Clinton was a fabulous campaigner. Even his adversaries– especially his adversaries — would agree. He looked over the crowd assembled and sang the virtues of place. He said along these lines, “In the future America is going to look more and more like Miami. Diverse and vibrant and filled with hope.” I marveled from the audience of adoring supporters.
At the time, I was a year into the struggle to stop the Homestead Air Force Base fiasco– triggered by the Miami-Dade county commission and powerful campaign contributors reconstituted as HABDI from the board of directors of the Latin Builders Association. (Their goal: to convert the destroyed military base into a privatized commercial airport with the aim of using their control of access, to control the re-supply of Cuba, after Castro. HABDI needed the quick blessing of the Clinton White House.) Some were big Clinton givers, too. 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 8, 2011
Civil War in Libya. Oil speculators crowding into the market. For nearly a week running, network TV news has led with the story of rising gas prices and the “threat to the economy”. Really? The Federal Reserve core inflation excludes food and energy, on the basis that price spikes moderate and in any event (barring revolutionaries gaining foothold in Saudi Arabia) speculators come and go, exchanging futures for paintings by Michaelangelo. The price of gas goes from $3.14 to $3.55, and suddenly we are atwitter about tapping the national oil reserve?
In the week before TV news began to focus on gas prices, the Administration announced the jobless rate fell to 8.9 percent. The emerging story line is that rising fuel prices are threatening the economic “recovery”. That’s not why the seams are coming apart. Read the rest of this entry »
December 31, 2010
(Counterpunch) It is hard to face the close of 2010 with an admission. I was wrong. For more than twenty years as an environmentalist and writer, I harbored the expectation that progress would come. But I did not believe it would come because we had somehow persuaded decision-makers it was time, finally, to abandon the Chamber of Commerce values that crashed the economy into a ditch. I believed that once in the ditch—an inevitability, from witnessing so much bad policy and bad results the past two decades—that people would awake. Rise and Sing!
I was wrong. I had been right about the threats. I started looking in the early 1970s in Florida, through a watery lens of water only a few feet deep covering hundreds of square miles in Florida Bay, the tail end of the Everglades ecosystem. By the late 1980′s, the magnificent efflorescence of nature had been severely injured by repetitive algae blooms. Even then, scientists were chasing changes happening faster than baselines could be anchored with facts. My small layman’s window on marine life in two feet of water, hosting crustaceans and shrimp and sea grass billowing out in glorious creatures from rays to sharks and tarpon and the whole coral reef, encapsulate the whole realm: oceans and a warming planet. Read the rest of this entry »
December 16, 2010
(Counterpunch) Up there in wintry Maggie Valley, North Carolina, the former county manager of Miami-Dade, Steve Shiver, is scrambling to salvage an amusement park investment that has taken down hundreds of local debt holders and $5 million in equity. It’s called Ghost Town and once sported live shoot-em up’s, a little tourist railroad up the mountain, and the goodwill of a town that desperately depended on the attraction for its economic wellbeing.
According to local reports, a new investor has been brought in to breathe life into Ghost Town, its 288 acres and a collection of amusement park rides gathering snow and ice in the freezing winter. The investor, Clint Walker, has a record in penny stock trade manipulation and an SEC violation tied to other Florida operators. The new scheme appears to rely on using a shell corporation and floating stock to attract new investors to the new venture resonant with the name of an old venture—owned by Miami businessman Allen C. Harper—called American Heritage Family Parks. Read the rest of this entry »
November 16, 2010
(Counterpunch) I am not going to read George Bush’s memoir. But who I do read is Jim Grant, of Grant’s Interest Rate Observer. This weekend, I found a copy of Grant’s weekly report dated October 12, 2001. Although the Bush wars had not been invented, the housing boom in Florida had already been lined up like pins in a bowling alley. Gov. Jeb Bush, propelled by homebuilders and the Growth Machine, had been in office for three years. Insta-grow suburbs like Kendall and Wellington had already proven out. Demand seemed endless. It was all scaleable: from mortgage hucksters to local zoning changes in farmland and wetlands like the Everglades, to the state legislature and the Governor’s Mansion where “free” market fundamentalism ruled all week but Sunday. Florida was the test tube state, and it sucked. Read the rest of this entry »