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.


Sweet Poison: The Lethal Costs of Big Sugar

August 22, 2014

“Drastic Measures”, in the Financial Times (April 25, 2014) details a dramatic shift in health care priorities and the effect of putting the first significant, coordinated pressure on sugar consumption: “… governments are waking up to the rising costs of illnesses such as diabetes and cancer that have increased alongside obesity. ‘The discussion of sugar linked to dietary concerns has been has been gathering momentum,’ says Stefano Natella of Credit Suisse. “The related global healthcare costs are at an all-time high–the bill is $500 billion or over 10 percent of global healthcare spending — as are obesity and diabetes levels.”

The way that smoking leads to tobacco farmers, the path to the current health care crisis begins with sugar producers. In the United States, the obesity and diabetes epidemic point to Florida where sugar billionaires tied massive subsidies in the Farm Bill to subsidies for corn fructose. When earlier this year the World Health Organization reduced the recommended daily sugar intake by half, to the equivalent of six teaspoons of sugar a day, billionaire sugar barons in West Palm Beach and Coral Gables paid closest attention. Florida sugar producers have a global reach — with operations proliferating in low-cost labor nations like the Dominican Republic, but their intense focus is the Florida proving ground where a sophisticated mobilization of economic, social, and political resources maintains the aura of Big Sugar as good corporate citizen.

Big Sugar is quick to repel environmental and community indignation in Florida — as well as decades of lawsuits over its pollution of the Everglades — , but it hasn’t decided what direction to take with respect to emerging science on the crisis triggered by its products. While Republican members of Congress rant and rave about the costs of the Affordable Health Care Act, none complain about the toll on consumers’ health through excess consumption of sugar. Thirty years ago, 1 in 20 kids were obese. Today, it’s 1 in 5.

The Institute for Responsible Nutrition notes that 77% of grocery store items contain added sugar; “Food companies know that the more sugar they add, the more people buy.” In Great Britain, policy makers are considering a sugar tax. In Florida during the first Clinton term, when Big Sugar faced a tax that would have forced the industry to pay for polluting the Everglades, it enlisted among its chief supporters the churches and leaders in the African American communities of Florida, appealing to minorities disproportionately bearing its high costs.

A recent investigative series by the Tampa Bay Times disclosed that Florida’s top GOP politicians, including Gov. Rick Scott and senior Republican legislators, were flown to all-expenses paid hunting trips to the King Ranch in Texas by U.S. Sugar. Read the rest of this entry »


Drowning in Information: On Memory, the Internet, and Reading Comprehension

July 24, 2014

(Counterpunch) Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about memory. I’m sensitized by family members in their 90s. Each are in flagging health and suffering memory deficits; from dementia, Alzheimers, to simple cognitive decline.

It’s sad and I do worry about the road ahead, but I’m also troubled by the road I’m on.

On the way to writing this post, I went online for a New York Times OPED that had interested me; how reliance on the internet has diminished the ability of consumers to fully process what we are reading. I’ve noticed that when I read a newspaper online, my retention of information is qualitatively different from when I read a printed newspaper in my hands. It’s an unscientific result reached after many years of reading and writing to earn readers’ attention.

Before I could find what I was looking for in the Times, my attention was diverted by an interesting story on a public hearing about fish eggs and nuclear permitting on the Hudson River. When I couldn’t find on my laptop the OPED I meant to bring to your attention, I reached into my backpack for my iPad and logged on to see if the OPED was in the history bar.

There, open in my browser I had a yoga schedule, a Sun Sentinel article on Jeb Bush’s legacy (taking a huge hit!), a weather site (to rain or not to rain), a Miami Herald report (even now can’t remember what it was about), an article from the UK Guardian on climate change in Miami (drowning!), a coffee vendor website (have to order now), a friend’s blog (have to read now), another NY Times OPED (not the one I was looking for), an article on restaurants in Paris, 40 Genius Travel Tips That Will Change Your Life Forever, and Trouble Shooting Your Cable TV Connection.

I never did find what I was looking for — my memory was hazy, which doesn’t help when using search words — , but when I find it I will share the news: comprehension skills have declined with our reliance on the internet.

That we are drowning in information is hardly news. We are all in a turbulent current where brains don’t multi-task so much as substitute breadth of capacity for depth of understanding. Then, too, some evolutionary part of us believes that attention to lots of different pieces of information, as many as we can hold, will make life safer; the digital equivalent of sniffing the wind for signs of danger.

Take the daily blog I write (eyeonmiami.blogspot.com) and reader comments, for example. We get the most comments from short posts. We know (as paid newspaper editors do, too) that readers’ attention spans are foreshortened by so much freely available information. Blogs that cost nothing but a glance. It doesn’t mean our readers aren’t interested or don’t fully appreciate our longer reports, or for that matter longer investigative pieces in newspapers or magazines.

Who can absorb it all? And if we are not using the information we receive from the internet to become more educated, better humans, improving our condition, our health and welfare, and that of our family, friends, and communities; what in the world are we doing?


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