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 »
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 »
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 »
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 »
July 5, 2010
(Counterpunch) I graduated with a degree in Chinese Studies in 1976 from Yale. By coincidence a neighbor was a Yankee trader and entrepreneur who secured one of the first visas to China a few years earlier, when President Nixon helped push doors open to a nation that had been as closed as North Korea is today. I was hired at the age of 22 to be his door opener to unknown, future business opportunities and, in the summer of 1976, crossed the border between Hong Kong and the mainland. The rail line was controlled tightly as Checkpoint Charlie in Berlin.
Through a college friend, I met a wealthy Chinese woman who lived in Hong Kong. Half of her family had emigrated to Hong Kong when the Communists consolidated control of China in the 1940′s; half remained in Shanghai where the family fortune had been established over many generations. In the intervening thirty years, the family in Hong Kong had built a new fortune in textiles. The half in Shanghai had been forced into poverty and oppressed as enemies of the state. By her description, they were prisoners in their own tiny apartments.
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May 11, 2010
Deepwater Horizon represents the first instant, large-scale defeat in the era of climate change hopelessness. Capitulations to come will bring far deeper misery and chaos; a real-time slaughter of the lambs. I’m not sure what to do with this despondent news, but I am not inclined to rousing speeches about national character and sacrifice. Not with so many thieves running loose. Read the rest of this entry »
May 3, 2010
Did we have to kill the Gulf of Mexico to stop, “Drill, baby, drill”? Before the spill from Deepwater Horizon is contained, Florida will see exactly the environmental catastrophe that kept offshore oil away from Florida’s coasts until the November 2008 elections. “Drill, baby, drill!”. The question arises: why must the American public “see” an environmental disaster before believing it represented an unacceptable risk all along?
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January 21, 2010
(Counterpunch) It was a gamble what time to leave Coral Gables. I would either make the meeting on the other side of the state or waste the day missing it.
A hundred miles away in Naples, Collier County commissioners scheduled a 9:00 AM public hearing on its growth management plan. Included, an item brought forward by Miami-Dade County commissioners: whether or not to amend their comprehensive growth map to create a recreational area for off road vehicles in the middle of the Everglades in land owned mostly by Miami-Dade County but on the border with Collier County and designated within the federal boundaries of the Big Cypress National Preserve. Read the rest of this entry »