Mr. President, use Everglades backdrop on Earth Day to shun Big Sugar money

April 21, 2015

(This OPED is available on the web through ContextFlorida.)  It makes sense for President Barack Obama to be in the Everglades on Earth Day. According to the White House, he will draw attention to both the Everglades and the massive economic consequences of global warming and climate change.

Obama is likely to echo what a former Friends of the Everglades director said over a decade ago: “The Everglades is a test. If we pass, we may get to save the planet.”

The difference between the time the phrase was first spoken and today is significant. Read the rest of this entry »


Yale, Hunter S. Thompson and the Social Contract: the Good Doctor in Drag

April 5, 2015

Part One

(Printed in Counterpunch) In December 1972, I was a college freshman at Yale in New Haven, Connecticut. Christmas break, one of my best friends invited a group of us to share his uncle’s condominium near the ski lifts in Aspen after New Year’s. We had grown up skiing together in New Hampshire. I flew into Denver, a cow town small enough you could roll a basketball down Broadway at four PM and it would roll to the other end of the city. The next day I took a bus to Aspen.

That night when we were fast asleep in the duplex, there was a loud banging on the door. My friend, the responsible party, went downstairs to see about the commotion. I gradually focused on a heated exchange between my friend and an interloper. It was late. We had smoked a little reefer. Who knew. The long and the short of it: the raised voice on the other side of the door was the manager of the US Women’s Ski Team. In the van behind him was the US Women’s Ski Team. They had flown in from Europe and driven straight to Aspen from Denver. Their race began the next morning, and they intended to take possession of said, same condominium they had rented.

After a frantic phone — rotary dial — call, my friend established that his uncle had sold his condominium a few months earlier. Although we had a key that let us in and his promise we that could use the condo, he had forgotten. We were on our own. We offered to share the condo for that night only. The manager of the US Women’s Ski Team gave us an hour to clear out.

Aspen in 1972 was a sleepy place that was home to a landmark: the Hotel Jerome. I knew about the hotel from the writings of Hunter S. Thompson. While my friends opted for a boarding house, I hauled my luggage, skis and boots through the frigid, alpine night down dark streets until I reached the front desk of the hotel where there was an indifferent night clerk and indeed a dorm bed for $35, through the bar and up the staircase.

I was still a little high and flushed from the ordeal of traversing from said condo, but I was an aspiring poet/revolutionary and happy to be right there. I awkwardly dragged my kit towards the bar, and — on bar stools — sitting next to the most famous actor in America, Jack Nicholson, was America’s chronicler in sunglasses at midnight: Hunter S. Thompson. The bar was empty. It was just the two of them gurgling whatever, and I was still too young to be served in Colorado.

Part Two

In 1973 I was a Yale sophomore and had moved from freshman housing to one of the campus colleges, Calhoun. In early September, a sign was posted by the college social committee inviting recommendations for guest speakers.

There was a budget to provide an honorarium including travel expenses for speakers of interest to the emerging generation of Yalies: Nobel laureates, powerful people, well-regarded artists and those generally fit to be recognized by the august institution. I sought out the upper classman who was head of the social committee — a prestigious appointment, though by whom I never knew — and recommended the invitation of a writer he probably didn’t know. He didn’t. It was the man I had seen at the bar in Aspen who I couldn’t drink with: Hunter S. Thompson.

He wrote for Rolling Stone, I said, and didn’t get into the colorful part. It was hard to discern if the counter culture played in the social chairman’s world at all. A few weeks passed. When I next bumped into the social chairman he told me, nonchalantly, oh by the way, Hunter Thompson had accepted our invitation and he’s coming in October.

Wow. The news set me back a step, further than my poetic self could reach. I asked to be included on the welcome committee or whatever. You know, meet and greet. The social chairman said, no we will take care of that. You’re not on the committee.

Not on the committee? It was my idea to bring one of America’s finest journalists not just to Yale but to Calhoun College. I glared at the social chairman, I imagined from Greenwich or Cleveland, shouldering me out of the way, barring me from shaking the great man’s hand and explaining I was not just any student from Yale: I dragged my luggage past him at midnight just last winter as he drank at the bar of the Hotel Jerome with Jack.

Part Three

It turned out that on the Saturday Hunter S. Thompson was to make his first and only appearance at Yale (unrecorded so far as I can tell in any history but this), I couldn’t be there. I played for the men’s soccer team and a game had been scheduled for that day, away from home.

I took my aggression to Dartmouth or wherever. On Sunday after the team bus had returned to New Haven, I made my way back to my dorm. Inside the quad, I met a friend and asked how the event had gone with HST. I don’t think there was an event, he said. Really?

The following day, leaving the dining room at Calhoun, I crossed paths with the social chairman. With information that HST had not given his speech, I was curious. Was it true, or, had my source been unreliable? The social chairman was livid. We went to the airport to pick up Mr. Thompson and he wasn’t there. He paused. She was.

The social chairman said, they were looking for Mr. Thompson — frantically as the plane passengers had all dispersed — when a woman appeared and said, “I’m Hunter Thompson.” He was in drag, wearing sunglasses “and everything”. We brought her back to Calhoun, we helped her to the guest suite, and then…

And then, what? I asked.

He leveled his gaze above reproach: she never came out. You mean, I said, he never gave his talk? I imagined a full room, a warm fire, students waiting expectantly forty five minutes, an hour, then melting away. The social chairman sputtered, he had a contract! Don’t bring me any more recommendations! I felt my connection as a recommender to the social committee slip away. We never spoke again.

A few weeks later, the dean of the college and I were walking together. Christmas was approaching. He asked, what was I doing for vacation? Skiing. Utah. Which reminded me and I asked him, what happened when Hunter Thompson visited a few weeks ago? The dean was philosophical. He locked himself in his room and did drugs for twenty four hours. When we opened the door, he had disappeared.

That is how my story ends of Yale, Hunter S. Thompson and the social contract.


The GOP’s Ten Commandments on Climate Change

March 24, 2015

(printed in Counterpunch and Context Florida)  In public, GOP leaders are climate change deniers. In private, they understand climate change perfectly well. The difference is that disclosure doesn’t serve the party’s purposes. Climate change denial – against the backdrop of accumulating science and fact – is like an electrical charge stimulating the Republican base. Here are the GOP’s Ten Commandments of climate change.

1) Climate change is like the weather: there is nothing we can do about it.

2) We are top predator. Others must adapt to us or die.

3) It doesn’t matter if climate change is man-made: whatever happens is God’s will.

4) Since our God in the only God, we know what is best for you.

5) As the party of limited government, any effort to strengthen environmental regulations is cutting our own throats.

6) As the party of capitalism, we are against any climate-driven protectionism unless it serves our interests.

7) If climate change requires subsidies, existing subsidies will be protected, first. Any additional subsidies will have to adapt to ours.

8) Dissenters on climate change within the party are psychological deviants, to be dealt with and isolated from decision-making.

9) If there is a dispute on climate change between constituencies the GOP represents, the leadership will side with that person who concentrates our political power.

10) We will adapt our behavior to impacts of climate change as they happen, not before.

Alan Farago writes the daily blog, Eye On Miami, under the pen name, Gimleteye. He is president of Friends of the Everglades, a grass roots conservation organization based in Miami, FL. A long-time writer and advocate for Florida’s environment, his work is archived at alanfarago.wordpress.com Column courtesy of Context Florida.


Jeb Bush stuck with anti-science bias

March 17, 2015

(printed in Context Florida) We know how Gov. Rick Scott feels about climate change: his administration refuses to allow the words to creep into any state policy documents.

And what about former Gov. Jeb Bush – the likely GOP nominee for president in 2016?

We know about his brother, George W., and climate change denial. The historical record is clear: lobbyists President Bush appointed to run the White House Council on Environmental Quality imposed changes on EPA policies, subjugating science to ideology.

Jeb says, “I am my own man”, in trying to distance himself from unpopular aspects of his brother’s presidency.

But when Jeb was governor, agency staff that interacted with journalists on the environment were also censored. Under Gov. Bush, for instance, the State Department of Health refused to discuss the most severe threat to public health from toxics in the environment: cancer clusters. Read the rest of this entry »


Travels in India conjure memories of priceless Everglades

February 18, 2015

(Published at ContextFlorida) Although I am at the end of my third visit to India, this is still a nation that feels more remote from my experiences than any other. In the far south, it took nine hours to drive the hill country from Tamil Nadu on the east coast of India to the edge of Kerala on the west. The roads wind through villages, tea and rubber plantations, groves of spices – pepper, cardamon, cinnamon and nutmeg – once worth their weight in gold in European capitals.

The wealth that slipped through India was once so vast that only 100 years ago young princes and princesses played in chests loaded with sapphires, rubies, emeralds and precious metals. Today, the suffering of the disadvantaged is dire. The dirt and pollution are ubiquitous. None of the deficits can obscure the fact that the nation is moving, propelled by two cylinder engines, nuclear power plants and the global economy.

But with so many unique languages and 29 strong and independent states ruled by their own congresses, to an outsider India can seem more a state of mind than a sovereign state. When President Barack Obama on his visit to New Delhi stated that there is no fixing climate change without success in India, I wondered: “How? Who? Where?” Read the rest of this entry »


Adam Putnam and the Great Destroyers: Deleting history (and Land) in South Florida

February 6, 2015

(Published by ContextFlorida and reprinted by Counterpunch) Fox News Florida branch, Sunshine State News, printed recently, “Putnam on Water Policy: Get Priorities Right From First, Then Spend Accordingly” (January 23, 2015). Some interpretation is needed for readers inclined to take the faux news source literally.

Adam Putnam is the telegenic, multimillionaire farmer and two-term Secretary of Agriculture for Florida. We last observed Secretary Putnam paving the way for the Cabinet to green light Florida Power & Light’s two new nuclear plants at Turkey Point.

So, it bears paying attention when Sunshine/ Fox surrogate reports what Putnam said to the Florida Legislature about water policy.

“Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam on Thursday urged members of the House State Affairs Committee – the lawmakers charged with increasing spending on water sources and sensitive lands – to first create ‘an overarching, already prioritized (water) policy’ that will keep the state on the right course for land purchase in good times and bad.”

The background for the story is the jockeying by politicians to grab the $20-plus billion in funding through Amendment 1, which 78 percent of Florida voters approved in November.

But wait: the basis of the story is that Florida has no “overarching, already prioritized water policy” for land purchases. Who says?

For decades, priorities for water policy and land purchases have been right at the tip of environmentalists’ tongues and clearly stated in state policies through Forever Florida – gutted by the GOP Legislature during Scott’s first term – and missions of FDEP and the state water management districts.

At the top of the environmentalists’ list has always been: Buy Big Sugar Lands For Restoration Into Everglades Wetlands. So why is Putnam deleting history?

The issue is – and has always been – that large property owners who control Florida elections have zero interest in setting their land prices so long as they perceive endlessly increasing values.

There are some well-publicized cases of state land purchases by willing sellers who recognized the importance of protecting Florida’s natural heritage. These are not, however, the extraordinarily wealthy farmers – supported by billion-dollar subsidies – who control state elections.

Those farmers – Big Sugar billionaires – take elected officials like Putnam on all-expense paid trips by private jet to the King Ranch in Texas where they discuss strategy, how to expertly game the system through delay, litigation and more delay.

The second paragraph of the Fox News affiliate’s story: “Putnam recommended a long-term plan that focuses on the state’s three areas of current emphasis: springs restoration, the northern Everglades and the Central Florida Water Initiative.” What, no land purchases in the Everglades Agricultural Area?

What about state purchases of significant acreage now in Florida sugarcane, beginning with the tendered US Sugar properties, the absence of which is bottling up Everglades restoration as completely as a waste water pipe stopped with feminine hygiene products? Nada. Not a word.

Sunshine State News added, “Nobody on the committee, chaired by Matt Caldwell, R-Lehigh Acres, had a question or comment for the commissioner during or after his presentation. Putnam later said he wasn’t surprised – “this is a lot to dump on somebody at one meeting.” Wait!

Now the bullshit meter is racing.

Putnam’s omission of buying Big Sugar lands with Amendment 1 funds is exactly what the sugar industry wants. No one had a question on Caldwell’s committee because the script did not call for questions. Just blank-faced nodding.

And what about the great unwashed public? Here is what Big Sugar tells you and me, through a press release reported by the Palm Beach Post a few weeks ago during the annual meeting of the Everglades Coalition:

“Surely the preference for Amendment One Funding will be the significant number of shovel-ready projects that will benefit the Everglades, estuaries, lakes, springs and beaches and other environmental priorities all over the state. While the SFWMD holds a legal option on U.S. Sugar land, Everglades restoration plans have taken a much different direction over the last several years… (W)e have not seen any serious interest in purchasing a large amount of land for which there is no plan or project.”

“No serious interest” is a lie, pure and simple, and that lie is at the heart of Putnam’s comments and its purpose is to do what Big Sugar has always wanted: push off the date to the infinite future when Everglades restoration might be finally addressed.

Environmentalists, and especially the Save the Indian River Coalition and its allies, have been clamoring for years about the need to purchase sugar lands to restore a semblance of natural fresh water flow to the dying River of Grass. Store more water and cleanse it, on Big Sugar lands, and less pollution will rip through the estuaries, the Indian River and Caloosahatchee River.

By the way, when then-Gov. Charlie Crist initiated negotiations to purchase US Sugar lands south of Lake Okeechobee, the largest sugar producer in the state – the Fanjuls of Coral Gables and Palm Beach – immediately jumped behind Marco Rubio’s campaign for US Senate against Crist.

You see: Big Sugar wants to complain that no one is demanding purchase of its lands, while making sure its proxies in the Legislature and the Ag Secretary-who-would-be-Governor keep any mention of buying Big Sugar lands out of sight, and any mention of eminent domain as far from the public forum as Pluto from Florida Bay.

The Fox Sunshine State concludes, “Several groups applauded Putnam’s address to the committee, including the H20 Coalition, an offshoot of one of the state’s largest business organizations, Associated Industries of Florida. AIF had recommended against Amendment 1 before the Nov. 4 election.” No kidding. Now they are at work to direct traffic on how funds are used for Amendment 1.

In other words, the Great Destroyers got Florida Wildlife Federation and Audubon of Florida to do the heavy lifting to pass Amendment 1, and now the black hats have moved in with legislative wire cutters and are in the process of hijacking the largest pot of money ever made available in Florida – some $20 billion – to protect the environment.

It’s a real life “Ocean’s Eleven” except instead of a casino that is getting robbed with hi-tech wizardry, it’s the do-gooders opening the vault doors for the black hats to come in, at the last minute. As they leave, they’ll hand out a few hundred thousand dollars to any of the groups who will put them on their board of directors or maybe give them an award at their annual meeting.

The do-gooders will get their own plaques featuring wading birds that went extinct despite their earnest efforts and a thank you note.

“Commissioner Putnam’’s recommendations provide an excellent framework to increase Florida’’s water supply and enact common-sense, science-based water quality reforms,” AIF President and Chief Executive Officer Tom Feeney said in a written statement. Wait, Tom Feeney?

Oh that Mr. Feeney, as the Tampa Bay Times reports, is a former state House speaker who, after election to the U.S. House, repeatedly was named one of the “Most Corrupt Members of Congress” by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.

Need to read more?

At the Davos World Economic Summit, former Vice President Al Gore said that along with putting a price on carbon emissions, “we need to put a price on denial in politics. People need to stop financing denial.” Snap.

People need to stop voting for denial, but Al Gore, when he had the chance as presidential contender in 2000 to put pressure on Florida’s Great Destroyers, couldn’t find his way to the microphone. He was advised by the same Florida Democrats who direct party traffic flow today. Yeats said it best in his 1919 poem, The Second Coming: “The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.”

Alan Farago writes the daily blog, Eye On Miami, under the pen name, Gimleteye. He is president of Friends of the Everglades, a grass roots conservation organization based in Miami, FL. A long-time writer and advocate for Florida’s environment, his work is archived at alanfarago.wordpress.com

Column courtesy of Context Florida.


GOP forcing Floridians to use Amendment 1 to conserve vital lands

October 6, 2014

(Published in Context Florida) The Tampa Bay Times is recommending a “no” vote for a constitutional amendment before voters in November.

The proposal put forward by conservationists would allocate one-third of the documentary stamp tax required of real estate transactions to be applied to acquisition of conservation lands. In 2016, the newspaper notes, more than $600 million could be allocated to this important purpose.

The Times makes two principal arguments: first, that a referendum should not be used to determine the state budget and second, what politics giveth (the documentary stamp tax), politics can taketh away.

I agree with the Times that the Legislature is responsible for the budget. Did Gov. Rick Scott and the majority of the Legislature reflect the will of the people when they radically cut Forever Florida, the state’s land acquisition program and a model for the nation? No.

What they did was to solidify the hammerlock of big campaign contributors, like Big Sugar, to thwart and delay and increase the price of the only reasonable chance for restoring the Everglades: land acquisition.

Example 1: in 2008, then Gov. Charlie Crist announced a bold plan to acquire the sugar lands owned by U.S. Sugar Corporation. His opponents killed the plan for two main reasons. Some said it was too expensive and others said it was not expensive enough!

Gov. Rick Scott, who knew zilch about land conservation or the history of bipartisan struggle to secure land protection through Forever Florida, killed the Crist plan in short order.

Instead of buying the U.S. Sugar land, Floridians are now watching the company roll out its demand for state approval for new development rights involving 18,000 acres it owns in Hendry County. The company’s efforts have been lubricated by outings to the King Ranch in Texas that the corporation provided to top GOP legislators and Scott. There, if gullible Florida voters are to believe it, they only discussed hunting not bid’ness.

Floridians are turning to referendums because the power of special interest money has deformed our democracy. The Tampa Bay Times does not like using the ballot box to legislate. And, yes, what politics giveth, politics may taketh away.

That’s what happened when Scott and the Legislature scuttled growth management and the Florida Department of Community Affairs, after environmentalists tried to use a referendum — Florida Hometown Democracy — to put the power of community growth in the hands of voters instead of land speculators and developers.

It is also what happened with Fair Districts, a referendum that passed with more than 60 percent of voters’ approval, and then devolved into years of intransigence by Scott and the GOP.

Remember: it takes a village to raise a child. It takes an army of voters to protect the village. The majority of Floridians have no other way to demonstrate their displeasure with an extremist Legislature other than at the ballot box. Vote “for” Amendment One.
Let Floridians act to save what the extreme right won’t.

Alan Farago writes the daily blog, Eye On Miami, under the pen name, Gimleteye. He is president of Friends of the Everglades, a grass roots conservation organization based in Miami, FL. A long-time writer and advocate for Florida’s environment, his work is archived at alanfarago.wordpress.com Column courtesy of Context Florida.


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