Florida’s Fraudsters: The Toxic Lies of the Growth Machine

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 »


All the world in a grain of sand: How the Growth Machine ate Florida

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 »


Banker Boyz Blues: Jeb Bush’s Advice to the Mortgage Bankers

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 »


The GOP and Occupy Wall Street: The Cantor Code

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 »


The Dismal Future of America: Hostage to Fraudulent Elections

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 »


Florida: Winning the Race to the Bottom, or, A State of Liars

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 »


Victims of the Free Market: Predatory Speculation

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 »