A True Story About Big Sugar and Political Corruption in South Florida: The Strange Suicide of Art Teele

May 28, 2015

In the accompanying picture, that’s me on the left. The year is possibly 1994. I’m standing next to the late Congressman William Lehman from Miami-Dade. Bill Lehman died in 2005. Next to Bill is the civil rights activist and Miami path breaker, Thelma Gibson. The sturdy, imposing African-American to the right was the star of the photograph. Arthur E. Teele Jr. (Sorry, I don’t recall the name of the woman to Art Teele’s left.)

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From left, Alan Farago, Rep. William Lehman, Thelma Gibson, Arthur E. Teele Jr. and an unidentified woman.

At the time, Art Teele was chair of the Miami-Dade County Commission. He died in 2005, too. A decade ago. A decade after this photo was taken. Twenty years after this photograph more or less, Arthur E. Teele blew his brains out in the lobby of One Herald Plaza, the home of the Miami Herald that also no longer exists. He did it for a reason: he believed he was being hounded out of existence by enemies including the powerful Herald.

In the photograph, Art Teele is caught looking off to the side. Bill Lehman is looking down. That happens, especially when photos are staged and there’s a lot going on around you. The moment the camera clicks you are inattentive. But as I look at the photo today, I recall Art Teele often looked that way when you were talking with him. Looking somewhere else. Restless. Read the rest of this entry »


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 »


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 »


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. Read the rest of this entry »


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 »


The Scramble for Cuba: Here comes Miami!

February 4, 2014

(Counterpunch) Consider it done: in the United States, the figurative hurricane barriers against access to Cuba are opening. Given they have been clamped shut for half a century, there is a lag time between turning the screws and actuating the gates. Put it this way: the lubrication is done.

On Monday, the conservative Capitol Hill Cubans blog hoisted a warning as the Washington Post published, “Sugar Tycoon Eyes Sweet-Deal With Castro”. Pay attention wherever Big Sugar surfaces. Cafecito is not the currency of the realm in Florida: sugar is. And not just Florida. Half of American health care costs are tied to the ill effects of sucrose in its various forms.

In June 2012 the blog, Eye On Miami, noted the first visit of Alfie Fanjul in Havana. Alfie is one half of the Florida Crystals family, the billion dollar brand that dominates anything related to land use, water management, agricultural subsidies and pollution control in the Florida legislature, Congress, and the White House. Read the rest of this entry »


The Reluctant Heretic: Clay Shaw, Big Sugar, and the Everglades

September 18, 2013

The Reluctant Heretic
Clay Shaw, Big Sugar and the Everglades

In obituaries, Florida Congressman Clay Shaw has been roundly praised as a moderate Republican and champion of the Everglades. A little too roundly. Shaw served 26 years in Congress, at a time when the GOP perfected polarization tactics as well as any southern Democrat. It is not enough to note, in passing, a Republican leader who stood up for protecting one of the most threatened ecosystems in the United States. How Clay Shaw was a friend of the Everglades deserves a closer reading and involves the story of a Republican who braved dissent of the Jeb Bush orthodoxy at the time and in a state that determined the outcome of the most contested presidential election in US history.

In June 2001, Shaw was in the entourage when President George W. Bush visited the Everglades. According to a New York Times report at the time, “Mindful, perhaps, that the president was not seen as having lavished sufficient praise on Representative Shaw at the Everglades event, speakers went out of their way to pay homage to him here. Al Cardenas, the state Republican chairman, singled out Mr. Shaw for “special recognition” as “someone who fights so hard for Florida every day in Congress.” (“Florida GOP sees Bush visit as latest slight”, NYT, 6/14/2001)

The fact of the Everglades as a political swamp could not have been lost on any of the participants. In a region where every developed acre of wetland involved the vigorous application of persuasion skills — from zoning applications, to sales, to mortgages and political contributions — , the sixty mile wide watershed of the River of Grass — stretching more than a hundred miles from the boundaries of Orlando and Lake Okeechobee to the Florida Keys — represented more a totem for platted subdivisions, strip malls culture, sugar cane and rock mining (for cement) than a herald for ecological harmony.

The vaunted balance between man and nature in the Everglades is often preached and more often breached. By that summer 2001, political leaders at the speaker’s podium were doing what they had been doing for decades before and since: promising to re-arrange the multi-billion dollar water infrastructure in one of the nation’s fastest growing states to give some chance of survival to the once-magnificent biodiversity of America’s only tropical wilderness, including iconic predators like the Florida panther roaming a shrunken, degraded habitat. Protect the environment and the economy. Read the rest of this entry »