Wednesday, April 23, 2014

How the US Army Corps of Engineers manifests Congressional incompetence and the irresponsibility of American voters… by gimleteye

After all the attention directed to the incompetence of the US Army Corps of Engineers (cf. Michael Grunwald, Washington Post, 2005), it is remarkable that Congress has failed to reform the Corps. Consider just one case: Florida's dying Everglades.

The Corps is the principal federal partner in Everglades restoration, conceive as the most ambitious and expensive environmental project ever undertaken. But the Corps is not just the principal partner. Its role in management, planning and construction of projects makes the agency the key driver despite the fact that only the state of Florida, through its South Florida Water Management District, has taxing and revenue capacity for Everglades restoration.

Every major Corps project has to be authorized by Congress. Obtaining Congressional authorization is subject to all the whims of politics. And then there is the appropriations process, another chance for special interests to put their imprimatur on the sausage that emerges at the tail pipe of federal legislation.

The partner in Everglades restoration with direct access to the taxpayer -- the state's water management district -- is also the easiest to manipulate by the campaign contributors who control the state legislature (those would be, Big Sugar billionaires). At the annual state legislative session, insider interests excel in making sure that nothing is given to the Everglades without taking at least an equal part away, if not in Everglades protections then in state regulations protecting against rampant growth or upstream water quality or farm practices that indirectly impact the Everglades.

It was hard to imagine that insiders could top this dismal formula, but they did. Three years ago, their candidate for Florida governor, Rick Scott -- in one of his first acts as newly elected chief executive -- axed the science budget of the District, thereby eliminating the capacity of the state to measure and monitor the results of Everglades restoration.

So who are Florida's Everglades activists to turn to, with state government proving obdurate at every point?

The US Army Corps of Engineers? The partner that ought to be more balanced by virtue of distance from local and state influence peddling is bogged down in the Everglades by rules and regulations superimposed as its own form of adapting to Congressional pressures. The net result is "government designed to fail", and that suits Big Sugar just fine.

Environmentalists in Florida are caught between this rock and this hard place on so many levels. Nothing is easy when it comes to getting money for the Everglades. Because funding is threatened each and every year -- whether by competing interests, by ideologues, and by special interests like Big Sugar whose fingers are relentlessly on the scale of justice -- environmentalists are timid.

They are further intimidated by worry that voters aren't paying attention, and because voters aren't paying attention that any negative news could drive both legislative support and their own contributors away.

Then there is Big Sugar, its marketing budgets, tons of PR merchandising and hundred of tons of influence with legislative processes and opportunities to put the fixes in, whenever and wherever they want. The sugar spin machine would have you believe their motives are pure and white as driven snow -- they "welcome" collaborations with the environmentalists went one recent initiative -- , and even if they would have taxpayers believe their actions can't be cast in a moral light -- because they are corporations and corporations are people -- , that they conform with the letter of the law. Big Sugar spends tens of millions of dollars a year, along these lines of persuasion.

The hardest place for the public interest may be the Corps of Engineers, an agency whose supervision of Everglades restoration is turning into the mess predicted by some environmentalists nearly fifteen years ago with the first Congressional authorization of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan. At the time and with the 2000 federal Everglades plan, the White House could have put the US Department of Interior in place to be a third co-equal partner. That might have provided the single federal agency with a clear mandate to protect its national parks in a defining role. But the Clinton Administration and Senator Bob Graham caved to pressure from Big Sugar, that profits most when government programs to protect the environment are designed with built-in failure mechanisms. With Everglades "restoration". Big Sugar always exceeds its expectations along this line, notwithstanding an occasional set back in federal court.

Yesterday, the Corps could not support a plan to authorize a new piece of the Everglades puzzle because it did not meet Corps standards for quality. That piece of the puzzle is called the Central Everglades Planning Project. Although it would also take many years to complete, involving the creation of alternative engineered water flow pathways, CEPP at least gave some hope to angry, frustrated residents on both Florida coasts who have seen toxic algae blooms become so prolific that property values -- not to mention quality of life -- are being seriously impacted. A further irony is that most of the affected homeowners with the most to lose are Republicans who provably have voted against their own interests, time and again, by electing officials who do the bidding of polluters.

But these are distractions to the main folly. The US Army Corps may in fact be right to want to "go slow" on CEPP because of serious water quality issues. In other words, they may be able to engineer moving the dirty water south to the Everglades before they know if they can clean it up. The Corps' apparent concern is happening at the same time as its own inadequate contract supervision of important EXISTING Everglades restoration projects has unfolded in plain daylight.

Far out of the media spotlight in West Palm Beach, the District and the Corps have been battling over the result of the Corps' shoddy supervision of its subcontractors at one of the most critical Everglades restoration projects already authorized and funded by Congress: a water storage treatment area that is supposed to help water cleansed by man-made marshes flow into Loxahatchee national wildlife refuge. The refuge has been devastated by phosphorous laden water pouring off sugar fields for many years. As such, it is a bellwether for the remaining Everglades south and west.

The Corps' failure to adequately supervise a project that itself took many years to design and implement will cost lengthy delays and additional tens of millions in taxpayer contribution to its own ineptitude (I could but won't get into the Mod Waters project in west Miami-Dade county.)

I visited this water storage fiasco one clear Saturday in March. The lassitude of a failed project was visible -- hundreds of acres of scarified land served by faulty culverts was etched on a landscape that ought to have been humming with energy. Harmless foam barriers meant-to-do-what lazily floated by wading birds hunting for any piece of habitat suitable for feeding.

Meanwhile upstream from this man made cluster-of-mistakes, US Sugar just announced another bumper crop. The profits from sucrose just keep pumping along; from the veins of US voters straight to the healthy heart of Big Sugar. US Sugar is one of the two largest producers -- the other being the Fanjul billionaires -- expressed through Florida Crystals and various entities you can even find at Whole Foods -- and some 5.5 million tons of sugar grown in less than 200 days that poison democracy, poison the Everglades, and poison public health was extracted by US Sugar from the Everglades Agricultural Area south of Lake Okeechobee.

The purpose of the treatment marshes -- STA's as they are innocuously called -- is a work around of requiring Big Sugar to clean up its own pollution on its own land. Socialize costs, privatize profits.

One former director of Friends of the Everglades -- whose board I represent as volunteer board chair -- called Everglades restoration a test: if we pass, we may get to keep the planet. So far, we aren't doing well on either count.

Our elected representatives have the power to fix these deep, enduring problems. Instead, the airwaves are filled with talking points, bloaviating by the right-wing spin machine, and the frittering of national capital.

Public opinion poll after public opinion poll show how little regard voters have for Congress. Yet voters are ultimately responsible for the morass. The US Army Corps remains the manifestation of a bitterly divided Congress, voter apathy, and misdirection by wealthy special interests. For decades it has been clear: there has to be a better way to serve the American public's need for infrastructure protecting the economy and the environment than the US Army Corps of Engineers. But where to turn?

While do-it-yourself video editors overlay their personalized versions of dancing to Pharrell Williams hit song "Happy", Big Sugar, corporate interests and other wealthy campaign financiers freed to unlimited contributions by the Bush Supreme Court are prancing in real world, grown-up VIP rooms, thrilled how dysfunction accrues to their net worth.

Developer wants to take control of 3 Miami Streets West of the American Airlines Arena. By Geniusofdespair

Insanity: To give a developer control of 3 Miami Streets in the heart of the City but it is rocketing along in the City of Miami where insane ideas (LED Billboards) move swiftly forward if you have money. Read the Miami Herald story.

On Hope … by gimleteye

On a New York Times blog, Simon Critchley offered an Easter meditation that goes very much to the heart of what we do, or don't do, as citizens and temporary residents of the planet.

When it comes to the future, we live on the spectrum of hopefulness and despair. What I found most useful in Critchley's essay is its analysis of the Obama premise, "the audacity of hope". There has always been something, for me, a little off-putting in the premise and Critchley gets to the point, why.

Critchley writes, "The problem here is with the way in which this audacious Promethean theological idea of hope has migrated into our national psyche to such an extent that it blinds us to the reality of the world that we inhabit and causes a sort of sentimental complacency that actually prevents us from seeing things aright and protesting against this administration’s moral and political lapses and those of other administrations."

At Eye On Miami, we are neither sentimentalists nor idealists -- although it may seem so to some readers. We stick it out -- on the environment, for example, where all evidence points to our weakness and failures to protect what we mean to -- because we are pretty sharp-eyed realists. Read on and hope you understand …

Abandon (Nearly) All Hope
By SIMON CRITCHLEY APRIL 19, 2014, 2:30 PM 265 Comments
NY Times
The Stone

With Easter upon us, powerful narratives of rebirth and resurrection are in the air and on the breeze. However, winter’s stubborn reluctance to leave to make way for the pleasing and hopeful season leads me to think not of cherry blossoms and Easter Bunnies but of Prometheus, Nietzsche, Barack Obama and the very roots of hope. Is hope always such a wonderful thing? Is it not rather a form of moral cowardice that allows us to escape from reality and prolong human suffering?

Is hope always such a wonderful thing? Is it not rather a form of moral cowardice that allows us to escape from reality?

April 27th, Hear a Great Speaker in a Soothing Setting for Earth Day. By Geniusofdespair

The public is invited to attend Friends of the Everglades 45th annual meeting, April 27th, 1:30-3:30 in the Historic Entrance Building at Pinecrest Gardens, 11000 Red Road. Before and after the meeting you can enjoy the Garden's Earth Day, admission to the Garden is free.

Dr. Tom Van Lent, the Director of Science and Policy at the Everglades Foundation, will be giving a presentation entitled 'Everglades Restoration: Where It Stands, Where It's Going'.

Bike Festival April 26th in Homestead By Geniusofdespair

A Note From Homestead Councilwoman Judy Waldman:

In 2003, I committed myself to the vision I have had since I was a young girl, the Biscayne-Everglades Greenway, a 42-mile park-to-park trail way for scenic, recreational and non-vehicular travel between our two national parks.  It is time for this Greenway to be created and completed, especially with Homestead recently designated as “The Gateway to the Everglades National Park and Biscayne National Park.”  On April 26, 2014, I invite you to join me at the Homestead-Miami Speedway for the FREE 5th Annual Biscayne-Everglades Greenway Bike Festival to bring awareness and advocacy to this endeavor – the Biscayne-Everglades Greenway.  Gates open at 8:30 a.m. with a 10.25-mile fat tire bike ride at 9:30 a.m. from the track to Biscayne National Park, and utilizing the Greenway, returning to the track for the festival at 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.  Absolutely everyone and anyone can do this ride.  If you don’t have a bike, call our Parks & Recreation Department to rent one by April 24.  Even if you can’t make the ride, the festival promises lots of fun with live music, food trucks, vendors of all sorts, and an exciting interactive art project.  All participants, riders and vendors, must register with the appropriate form, but there is no charge for either.
Thank you for your support and participation!

No, Thank You Judy for your efforts on this!!!!!

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Let's Field Test our School Standardized Test in a Wacky Way - After All - We are FLORIDA, That's What We Do! By Geniusofdespair

Florida is paying $5.4 to field test their standardized test. Most States test in their home state. Not Florida, believe it or not.

They are testing in a State where 76.5 of the students are white. 15.9% are Hispanic and 1.3% are classified as Black/African American.

Yes, it is Utah, the State so much like Florida.

School Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said in a tweet:

Field test in UT ensures reliability and validity of test in FL? No doubt, the likeness of demographics inspired decision.
Typical kid in Utah. Looks a lot like a kid in Miami Gardens or Hialeah.

Senator Bill Nelson (D) leads sea level rise field hearing on Miami Beach … by gimleteye

“States need resources to deal with climate change. The national folks haven’t made it a priority,” said Rob Cowin, director of government affairs for the Union of Concerned Scientists... "We need leadership and we need help."

Perception is everything. US Senator Bill Nelson ought to come to the climate change issue naturally. One of his talking points has to do with his experience as an astronaut gazing down at the fragile skein of atmosphere that holds all life and differentiates our planet from everywhere else we can see in the universe.

But when it comes to going front and center? Let's just say it's taken his entire political career to get to this point in time: leading a Senate field hearing on the obvious.

Part of the obvious is the thorniest question facing Florida homeowners: national flood insurance. The other part of the obvious is that if the United States fails to lead on energy reform, we are condemning our grandchildren to a world of hurt.

What is remarkable is that Florida voters, with the most to lose from climate change in the nation, continue to tolerate public officials who are cowards on climate change.

The best answer to that problem is to vote for candidates and incumbents who aren't cowards.

Couples, Married or not. By Geniusofdespair

 Living with another person has responsibilities and trials and tribulations.

Do you ever jump on your significant other in the middle of the night because the ceiling is caving in and you want to protect him or her? What about putting your hand under their nose to see if they are breathing, waking them up with a start?  Is the most popular word in your house "What?"  Do you make believe you like what your spouse cooked to prevent a fight? Do you look at an injured body part and give sympathy when you don't really mean it because you are focused on something else? Do you say they look good when they have a pink roller left in the back of their hair.


Anything you do that you care to share?

Monday, April 21, 2014

New York Times takes on favored local Jeb! Bush … by gimleteye

Don't ask at EOM how Jeb! is filtering back into public life, after the mess he made of Florida as two-term governor. Jeb's "my way or the highway" allowed for the rapid back-tracking on quality of life issues like growth management and environmental protection. Education? Elections? But he had the wind of GOP tinker-ers like Karl Rove at his back. Even before even 9/11 he had financiers from the Growth Machine lined up to push him forward. (Check our archives for details.)

As to the New York Times article -- calling attention to the considerable wealth accumulation since Jeb! left office -- it is pretty clear that the reporters had a tough time filling in details. Jeb! is ever the boiled talking points kind of operation.

Too bad the Times failed to include the bit about Florida being the buyer of last resort for Lehman Brothers' crap debt instruments just before the firm's spectacular flame-out, just before Jeb! left office and signed on to the Lehman payroll. And what, exactly, did Jeb do for Lehman? And what does Jeb! do for Barclay's worth $1 million per year? Really?

Then there is R. Allen Stanford … The New York Times: get to Stanford about Jeb! quick. There's gold in them thar hills ...

Miami, moving into the 21st century like it or not … by gimleteye

“We need a site that can communicate to the whole world the beauty of Miami, the excitement of Miami. It needs to be downtown. It needs to be near the water,” Alschuler said (Beckhan's Lobbyist). “And we’re open to any alternative that can move this community in the 21st century.”

“We need a site that can communicate to the whole world the beauty of Miami, the excitement of Miami. It needs to be downtown. It needs to be near the water … And we’re open to any alternative that can move this community in the 21st century.” That volley by the Beckham soccer stadium forward was instantly blocked by the Royal Caribbean lobbyist who pushed Beckham's to the ground, “If you think you can come down here from New York and tell this community after 125 years that Beckham is going to help us go into the 21st century — I think that’s a little bit insulting."

Insulting? INSULTING? You want to know insulting, read Eye On Miami!

Where were they when I was coaching youth soccer at Bird Road and 120th, driving three times a week from Coral Gables at rush hour, cursing the county commissioners and mayors and other elected officials for the traffic, mind-numbing and robbing Miami of vitality, who turned a blind eye to the over-development, the congestion, latch-key kids everywhere, the moving the UDB and every other piece of nonsense, HABDI, the Performing Arsht Center, the Latin Builders Association promoting suburban sprawl at the expense of quality of life!? Baseball? They called soccer a third tier sport! Putas!

No one gets to play in EOM's stadium of "insulting" views without showing Respect. The nerve!

Sunday, April 20, 2014

My Easter Prayer: Pepe Diaz says "Del Pueblo...Para el Pueblo" I say NO WAY IN HELL (Or in your dreams Pepe)! By Geniusofdespair

Waiting for the Redemption of County Commissioner Jose 'Pepe' Diaz
Rescued from the brink of death
Pepe's a lucky man
God looks down upon him waiting
Waiting for the redemption of this fractured man
God waits for Pepe's glorious Epiphany
Months have passed, it has not come
God is patient but he wonders
When will Pepe care about all the people
And use his votes for the good instead of the connected
God thinks, Pepe's a selfish man
Or, maybe worse, just a stupid man
The rich get richer and God waits
and waits
For Pepe to become a righteous man.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Who is going to run against Mayor Carlos Gimenez in 2016 or SOONER? By Geniusofdespair

Chairman and CEO of Royal Caribbean Cruise Line - Richard Fain -- Marginalized by Mayor Gimenez.

Carlos Gimenez missteps are so numerous I can't even highlight them today. The one going on now, I think will be his downfall.  Let's go back to his fundraiser at Richard Fain's house on May 9th 2012, I video taped it. Richard Fain is the CEO of Royal Caribbean Cruise Line,  and his line is a member of the newly formed MIAMI SEAPORT ALLIANCE.

At 37 seconds on the video's counter he said "His guiding principle is what is best for the citizens of Miami Dade County."  A soccer stadium Carlos? Really?

In this video he talks about the port and the stadiums:

 Watch him talk about the port at about 3:27 on the counter.

Hasn't he learned his lesson about stadiums from Mayor Alvarez: Stay away from stadiums. He talks about the Port of Miami here. Saying it is our number 2 economic generator but he has no problem making unilateral decisions about the port, dismissing the giants that are there churning out the money and the day to day business.

Port interests (see their ad) should not be treated with a dismissive tone by him - like he is treating library interests. The Miami Herald reported about Gimenez on a radio show, where he took a rather odd and rude position against the Miami Seaport Alliance dismissing them as he has been dismissing all of us:
While Gimenez has not declared himself a proponent of the port stadium location, he made some of his strongest remarks yet against opponents on sports talk radio on Friday morning. Royal Caribbean and its industry supporters have formally organized a Miami Seaport Alliance in opposition, running a full-page ad in the Herald earlier this week welcoming MLS but calling a port stadium short-sighted for future growth.

On the Joe Rose Show on WQAM-AM 560, Gimenez dismissed the alliance as hardly representative of most cruise and cargo companies.

“One advertisement in the Herald doesn’t make a coalition,” he said. “Most of the people that I’ve talked to have been either neutral or in favor of it.”
It appears sports stadium appetites for perks at our expense are the thorn that never goes away for Mayors. If we can't afford libraries and staffing them, we certainly can't afford sports perks or subsidizing anything new. Don't we have about 100 billion or more in infrastructure cost just waiting? Let's catch up. When Gimenez only has one commissioner solidly behind him -- Lynda Bell, who he has to fund-raise for to keep her -- he had better look back and examine his behavior.

A strong Hispanic that can appeal to his fleeting Democrat support will win the 2016 race. And there is always recall if Gimenez gets hard-headed enough. I am sure Richard Fain or someone else with deep pockets like Norman Braman can step up to that plate. I am sure Richard Fain ain't feeling the love with the mayor's disrespect in the paper today. That is why a candidate should get ready now. We might be seeing an election sooner than you think if enough feathers are ruffled, and mine are ruffled big time from what happened to DERM, the libraries and the support of ultra-conservative Lynda Bell.  Let me leave you with one thought:

And as always, watch the damn videos.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Commentaries: Gov. Rick Scott running for election, courts his critics in GOP territory … by gimleteye

It is finally dawning on American voters that the United States has turned into a nation controlled by oligarchs. In Florida? Not so much awakening yet.

Depending on the state where you live, the names of the oligarchs change but their motives remain pure to the multi decade efforts to brand themselves as freedom loving citizens whose business interests and profit motives coincide with the people's.

Of egregious examples, Florida Gov. Rick Scott is in a class of his own. With no experience in government or public policy beyond the health care system where his significant personal wealth derived -- Scott bought his way to the Governor's Mansion in Tallahassee four years ago. To rank and file Tea Party enthusiasts -- his core supporters --, Scott seemed the epitome of the principle that the less qualified one is for public office, the more one belongs there.

Even GOP stalwarts were shocked at first by the emergence of a neophyte they had never blessed. Although he side-stepped most of them -- arriving in Tallahassee with scarcely a single advisor with any experience in government -- he found a helping hand from those who need government's help most: the community of Florida oligarchs.

In particular, Scott found favor with Big Sugar billionaires. They -- without explaining or even bothering to inform the new governor -- set about to eliminate environmental rules and regulations and land use planning measures that were the result of decades of hard, brass knuckles dealmaking; a process that had always tilted to their favor. It was not enough. They wanted more. For the legion of lawyers, engineers, and lobbyists whose salaries depend on the oligarchs, doing more is their principle motivation.

With Scott -- the most clueless governor in Florida's modern history -- Big Sugar finally got what it wanted: a governor who would do exactly what they wanted, when they wanted. In nearly thirty years I have tracked public policies relating to environmental protection, the political atmosphere in Tallahassee has never been more poisonous to the public interest than it is today.

The irony in terms of water management -- the key factor in Big Sugar's stream of taxpayer subsidized profits -- is that Gov. Scott was informed everything was fine at exactly the moment everything turned to shit.

The problem had been obvious to anyone paying attention. Water management practices favoring Big Sugar had been wrecking marine life and spreading devastating algae blooms for years through gorgeous estuaries and along the coasts.

The destruction began to accelerate thanks to a season of extraordinarily heavy rainfall in 2012/2013. More to the political point, environmental carnage began to energize GOP voters who had been silent on the sidelines as successive terms (Jeb! Bush) of leadership had piled into Big Sugar's corner.

It is an odd fact of human nature that when it comes to the environment, people don't stomp their feet and pound their fists until the rafters shake until they are literally on the receiving end of nature's fury.

So, at last, with a hotly contested election in sight, Gov. Rick Scott took the unprecedented step (for him) of reaching out to environmental critics who have been elevated in the public esteem for the simple reason: they were right.

So Scott went to visit some of his most prominent critics to hear what he had ignored for three years, rolling the dice that he could salvage support among a core group of GOP constituents whose interest sharply diverge from the Big Sugar oligarchy.

For more, read the OPED in the Treasure Coast Palm and comments by an Everglades scientist, Larry Fink, who has emerged as one of the strongest critics of the anti-environmental agenda of state regulators and the Great Destroyers.

Eve Samples: Gov. Scott pays an unusual house call in Martin County | Video

By Eve Samples

Thursday, April 17, 2014

The guest was unexpected, but Maggy Hurchalla played it cool.

Miami Dade Payout to the Private Sector: Read it in the Miami Herald. By Geniusofdespair

Douglas Hanks of the Miami Herald says:

Florida’s largest local government spends more than $6 billion a year, offering a lucrative source of dollars for hundreds of vendors, contractors and grant recipients.

See the entire list of 500 in the Miami Herald. (Hit on the short list and it will keep going)  It will make you sick when you think about Library funding.  Hanks says further:
The list captures the end results of the yearly budget decisions that are getting underway this spring as commissioners and Mayor Carlos Gimenez decide how to allocate tax dollars. The dollars go to churches and schools administering county poverty and Head Start programs, contractors building county projects, service providers equipping county workers with phones, fuel, and other goods.
Florida Power & Light has a comfortable hold on the top position. The for-profit utility received nearly $370 million in Miami-Dade checks over 36 months, or an average of more than $300,000 a day. If Miami-Dade has a massive electric bill, it also digs deep to purchase fuel. MacMillan Oil, a Hialeah company, snagged the No. 3 spot with about $240 million worth of payments from Miami-Dade.
Do you now see why I don't want CULTURAL ENTITIES TO GET MORE MONEY! Look at number 7 and 11.

Read more here:

Guest Blog: The Big Sugar Claim the Everglades cannot have both a more natural Water Quantity and Quality is a False Dichotomy

The following comments are reprinted from a Sierra Club Everglades list-serve. Eye On Miami, several months ago, commented on the same OPED that Mr. Fink is responding to, in his piece below. Click here for our reaction to Neal McAliley's Herald editorial at the time.

From Larry E. Fink, M.S.
Waterwise Consulting, LLC

Embedded below is an example of Big Sugar's advocates posing the false dichotomy of water quality versus water quantity and attacking the total phosphorus (TP) WaterQuality Standard as overly protective.

This ignores the modified Plan 6 Alternative: the spillway/flowway that breaches the Herbert Hoover Dike (HHD). This alternative can rehydrate the Everglades with water of higher water quality now, while relieving the stress on the HHD (Herbert Hoover Dike around Lake Okeechobee) and the imminent threat that poses to the public health, safety, and welfare, as well as the water quantity and quality stresses on the East and West Coast estuaries.