Florida — the state with the prettiest name, part #678


As the Donald Trump candidacy has adulterated political discourse, so have Florida’s waterways become more toxic thanks to the Southeast’s biggest Trumpist, our governor Rick Scott:

We’ve got 450 tons of phosphorus a year flowing into Lake Okeechobee from farms, ranches, citrus groves and the Orlando suburbs. And, boosted by global warming, vibrio vulnificus, AKA “flesh-eating bacteria,” menaces swimmers in brackish coastal waters, especially when fresh-water releases (like from Lake Okeechobee), mess up the salt-water ratio. The bacterial infection killed 14 Floridians in 2015 and 5 so far in 2016.

The ERC voted 3-2 on July 26 to adopt new standards that include rules for 39 chemicals that had not been previously regulated. But the board, despite outraged public opposition, simultaneously loosened regs on the long list of other chemicals, essentially allowing state waterways to be used as an industrial sewer. “I have never seen so much public opposition to an ERC decision in the 25 years that I have been participating in ERC meetings,” said Linda Young, director of the Florida Clean Water Network.

Two members short because Scott wants to control any outcome, the Environmental Regulations Committee is rattled around in the pockets of Big Sugar like a half dozen pennies. But the voters of Florida won’t have to wait until January 2016 to suffer the consequences of a state government beholden to lobbyists. Forget Republicans: it’s malfeasance like this that puts the lie to libertarianism.

Big Sugar and its sweet Florida deals

During the Fourth of July long weekend, many Floridians on the Treasure Coast saw green more than red, white, and blue: a toxic algae bloom clogging canals and fouling beaches. Extreme heat was a factor (today’s our ninth straight morning with temperatures above 90). So was nitrogen and phosphorus run-off from farm land surrounding Lake Okeechobee. The culprits? Big Sugar, which has the legislature in a vise:

On issue after issue, regulators, legislators and governors have erred on the side of softening the impact of adverse rules and regulations on cane growers and other powerful and polluting agriculture interests, including cattle operations north of Lake Okeechobee.

The sugar industry beat back a voter-approved amendment that would have forced it to pay for cleaning up its own nutrient-rich runoff into the Everglades, instead shifting much of the cost to taxpayers. It won repeated delays of strict water quality standards. It has fended off calls for buyouts — even after one of the largest companies, U.S. Sugar, offered to sell itself to the state. And it has undermined attempts to use a second constitutional amendment, Amendment 1, to be used to buy farmland for Everglades cleanup.

“I can tell you, first hand, that the industry is directly involved with every decision this Legislature makes,” said Eric Eikenberg, CEO of the Everglades Foundation which for decades has fought the sugar industry over the causes and solutions of the Everglades and was a chief of staff to former Gov. Charlie Crist.

Hell, it won’t matter anyway. With a future in the next seventy years as a bed for crabs and sea slugs, Florida has suffered enough at the hands of the Fanjuls and the grifters who accept their checks.

It gets better…sometimes

The scariest moment of my sexual life occurred fourteen years ago when an unknown male person tapped on the back window of my SUV when I was in it with my lover at the time. I don’t know if he was a cop or passing stranger who — what exactly? Wanted to warn me? Was interested in joining? Acted like an asshole? I was aware that anyplace other than Miami this might have occasioned a beating. And in Miami it still does, as the fracas below details:

Surveillance video from the March 14th incident captured the fight take place as more than a dozen people waited in line to order food.

Miami Beach Police said the confrontation happened after Schaeffer and his partner, 25-year-old Eric Danko, engaged in a display of affection. The couple told police their kiss offended a man in a dark shirt and shorts, who confronted them and harassed them “using derogatory words.”

“The subjects in this case happen to be gay individuals and that’s part of our investigation to see what provoked that attack,” explained Miami Beach police officer Ernesto Rodriguez.

That led to things getting physical and within moments, the men were wrestling on the restaurant floor.

“Had some sort of exchange with victims, a verbal exchange which escalated into a violent physical attack,” Rodriguez said.

This happened last night, let me repeat, in Miami Beach, long the shorthand for “homo.” the Whopper Bar a block from South Beach’s longest standing gay bar. And this incident happened in Atlanta not long ago.

No matter how often I remind students that we South Florida gays have it good danger lurks everywhere, and rising sea levels got fuck all to do with it.

‘The water comes from six sides in Florida’

Why South Florida in the next century will look beautiful as a canal zone:

When the system was designed—redesigned, really—in the nineteen-fifties, the water level in the canals could be maintained at least a foot and a half higher than the level of high tide. Thanks to this difference in elevation, water flowed off the land toward the sea. At the same time, there was enough freshwater pushing out to prevent saltwater from pressing in. Owing in part to sea-level rise, the gap has since been cut by about eight inches, and the region faces the discomfiting prospect that, during storms, it will be inundated not just along the coasts but also inland, by rainwater that has nowhere to go. Researchers at Florida Atlantic University have found that with just six more inches of sea-level rise the district will lose almost half its flood-control capacity. Meanwhile, what’s known as the saltwater front is advancing. One city—Hallandale Beach, just north of Miami—has already had to close most of its drinking wells, because the water is too salty. Many other cities are worried that they will have to do the same.

And here’s what a modeller who works for the Water Management District says:

“We have a triple whammy,” he said. “One whammy is sea-level rise. Another whammy is the water table comes up higher, too. And in this area the higher the water table, the less space you have to absorb storm water. The third whammy is if the rainfall extremes change, and become more extreme. There are other whammies probably that I haven’t mentioned. Someone said the other day, ‘The water comes from six sides in Florida.’ ”

Elizabeth Kolbert’s New Yorker article deserves a read when you have a moment with your glass of wine after wrapping.

South Florida: advances ‘being made” to stop rising seas

Faint good news, I guess.

At high tide, flood gates installed decades ago on some South Florida canals no longer work. Saltwater is slowly killing freshwater marshes at the tip of the state. And after a recent king tide, one Key Largo neighborhood sat under a foot of water for three weeks.

It’s hard to avoid the doom and gloom of climate change.

But at the annual meeting of the Southeast Florida Regional Climate Compact in Key West this week, local, state and federal officials offered some rare good news.

Around the region, they said, advances are being made in the war on rising seas, and not just in Miami Beach where pumps have drawn national attention.

In Fort Lauderdale, sea walls are being built higher. Palm Beach County teamed up with Lake Worth to replace a crumbling sea wall protecting a municipal golf course with a “living shoreline” inhabited by wildlife. And in Miami-Dade County, new wastewater facilities are being built up to 17 feet higher to fend off sea rise and storm surge.

The last King Tide wrecked havoc on South Beach, so “faint” is the best adjective I can manage.

For the “Change We Can Believe In” file

006 Commission Meeting NEWS

Progress of a sort:

Miami-Dade County commissioners have passed a new ordinance that alters the county’s regulations for possession of marijuana.

Instead of issuing criminal charges, officers’ will now have the discretion to give a civil citation if the carrier is using the 20 grams of pot for personal use. Those cases would involve a $100 fine or two days of community service.

Previously, those caught were arrested and charged criminally, with the possibility of one year behind bars. Commissioners voted 10-3 in favor of the changes, which are set to go into effect in 10 days.

The stakes?

“We don’t want marijuana smoking on the streets. That’s still illegal,” Levine told Local 10 News. “It’s illegal to distribute or sell any marijuana or anything like that. But if someone’s caught with under 20 grams, we don’t want to ruin their lives.”

Commissioners voted 10-3 in favor of the ordinance Tuesday. The ordinance will go in effect July 10, 10 days after the June 30th vote.

Miami-Dade commissioners Rebeca Sosa, Estaban Bovo and Javier Souto were the only three commissioners who voted against the ordinance.

The part of me that feeds oats to rainbow-colored unicorns wants to believe in this coalition of conservative and liberal legislators working to change the cruelty of the criminal justice system shaped by Nixon, Reagan, Bush, and Clinton. Stories like this, in which a law and order hard ass realizes how blinkered he used to be as soon as he’s does time in the hoosegow, will be the norm for a while — call it a variant on the Rob Portman Rule:

There are whole areas of policy where bipartisan consensus remains far out of reach. Guns, for starters, are untouchable. (Norquist likes to provoke liberals with the creative theory that the crime rate has fallen because more Americans have concealed-carry permits.) For most Republicans, outright legalization of drugs, even marijuana, “is one we can’t touch,” Nolan says. The idea of restoring voting rights to ex-felons, which has the support of Rand Paul and Nolan as well as Bernie Kerik, appeals to many Democrats but terrifies most Republicans. “They have this image of hordes of criminals” flocking to the polls to vote for Democrats, Nolan said. Conservatives tend to look more favorably on privatizing prisons, prison services, and probation, a scheme that liberals view with deep distrust. The death penalty, which divides the right, is not on the shared agenda.

The most significant question is whether conservatives are prepared to face the cost of the remedies, from in-prison education and job training to more robust probationary supervision and drug and mental-health treatment.

But hey! In a city where Facebooking while driving are essential components of the driver’s license exam, mitigating the consequence of a marijuana charge is progress.

The state with the prettiest name

Why, if he’d had a gun he would’ve been OK:

Omar Rodriguez drove his car up and down the Kendall street where his son lives and he stared at Jose Rey. Then he parked on the swale and flashed his headlights.

A few minutes later, a shirtless Rodriguez, 66, was threatening to throw punches. But fists didn’t fly. Instead, police said, Rodriguez walked to his car, got a gun, and fired two rounds into Rey’s mid-section.

When Rey’s wife, Lissette, tried to comfort her husband, witnesses said Rodriguez threatened her, too.

Rodriguez is now in jail, charged with attempted murder and aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. His bond was set at $27,500.

Jose Rey is in Kendall Regional Medical Center, in critical condition, with stomach and spinal injuries, relatives said.

Rodriguez told police he was upset that Rey was walking his dog near the front lawn of his son’s home. He said he believed the dog would defecate on the property. Witnesses told police that Rodriguez did not like people walking on the sidewalk in front of his son’s home.

I’m done. Work on overruling Heller. Then confiscate firearms. Of course it won’t produce a gun-free society. But the federal government these guys fear will become more fearsome when fines and jail add steel to those threats.

The stupidity of Florida legislators

Hours after the Florida Supreme Court ruled that the Florida House violated the Constitution but stepped away from ordering them back into session for ending early, it’s time to survey the damage. No, Floridians won’t get horrifying legislation written to protect restroom users from mad molesters in wigs or allowing college students to pack heat on campus, but low grade medical marijuana won’t get approved in the meantime. Nor will a voter-approved land acquisition fund. Forget prison reform (read The Miami Herald’s exemplary coverage of the abuses). And, of course, forget what started this farrago: insuring poor Floridians after Rick Scott rejected Medicaid expansion, after saying in 2013 that he supported it.

But foregoing the time in Tallahassee saves money, right? Well. Fred Grimm:

Sure, we taxpayers might wonder just what we got for the $29,200 a year we pay legislators (plus $6,450 for meals and lodging during their fun time in Tallahassee). But imagine how shortchanged the town’s lobbying corps must feel. My Herald colleague Mary Ellen Klas reported that 1,826 lobbyists — 10 for every legislator — were roaming the Capitol halls this session, ginning up legislation.

In just the first quarter last year, Tallahassee’s lobbyists took in $30 million. It’ll probably be more this year. And surely their 3,559 paying clients want more for their money than “Sorry. Maybe next year.”

Yet, big spenders like the gambling corporations got zilch. The Seminoles didn’t get their compact renewed. The big boys out of Vegas and Malaysia won’t get a shot at destination casinos. All their lobbying money — not to mention campaign contributions — went for naught.

The rival gangs will be back in June to wrestle over the budget. That ought to be fun, although the Tallahassee Democrat reported that last year’s special session cost us about $70,000 a day, which makes for rather pricy entertainment.

Almost a hundred grand a day. Thank you, fiscal conservatives.

Beware of boas and Barack

If the weather holds, Barack Obama should touch down at Miami International Airport at 1 p.m. If the rains come down and West Avenue in South Beach floods, the president can learn the consequences of developing when Florida and sea level see eye to eye.

Last November, voters overwhelmingly approved a land conservation amendment to buy land for restoration projects, yet state lawmakers have balked at using the money to buy about 46,000 acres on a deal that expires in the fall.

Restoration work is also becoming more critical as impacts from rising seas begin taking a toll on the wetlands. This week, scores of scientists meeting in Broward County revealed new research that showed even more dramatic changes in store under climate change projections from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the United Nations group that predicts increases in temperature, sea level and ocean salinity.

Protective mangrove coasts could disappear, studies found, and soils collapse under increasingly salty conditions, allowing Florida Bay to grow and the Everglades to shrink. The wetlands, which provides much of South Florida’s freshwater, are already half their original size.

In another example of its talent for missing the point drawn with exaggerated whiskers and bullseye in front of its reporters, Politico laments how — get this — the presence of Barack Hussein Obama makes the once given bipartisan consensus that much harder. The option? Stay away.

The fear for some activists is that by hitching the Everglades to the polarizing climate issue, he could end up making Republicans less Everglades-friendly rather than more climate-friendly. It was notable that Florida Governor Rick Scott, a Tea Party Republican who has found common ground with Obama on Everglades issues and virtually nothing else, took to Twitter this week to question the president’s commitment to restoration.

Doing nothing has been the response of Rick Scott’s governorship when it hasn’t favored Big Sugar and pushed urban development boundaries. He sees no difference between climate friendly and “Everglades friendly.” On top of contributing nothing towards understanding what is happening in my state, it also embraces the twaddle that Democrats ruined bipartisan comity.

Coral reefs: canaries in the coal mines for climate change

Well, if Florida’s going to be underwater in thirty years or the next hurricane, whichever comes first, it doesn’t matter whether coral reefs will whiten sooner than expected:

The prediction comes from a just-released study by National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration climate scientists, who used a supercomputer to crunch piles of data on sea temperatures around the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean already identified as vulnerable to bleaching outbreaks. Their findings not only confirmed what they already knew — bleaching could be widespread by mid-century — but revealed it might start to show sooner in some areas than others, including swathes off the South Florida coast.

The findings are important because scientists consider reefs an important earlier indicator of more serious trouble.

“They’re the canary in a coal mine,” said the study’s lead author, Ruben van Hooidonk, a University of Miami coral expert and climate scientist at NOAA’s Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory.

On the other hand, according to the article, vacillations in temperature will give creatures time to acclimate to the changing conditions.

Florida: the state with the gayest name

So surreal that I can’t believe it. I had to reread the story:

On the first day of the New Year, a federal judge issued a landmark ruling that finally cleared the way for same-sex marriage in every county in Florida.

And, significantly, Attorney General Pam Bondi — Florida’s chief legal opponent to gay marriage — said the state would not try to block county clerks from issuing licenses, beginning as early as 12:01 a.m. Tuesday.

Specifically, U.S. District Judge Robert L. Hinkle, clarifying a previous order, ruled that all Florida clerks are bound by the U.S. Constitution not to enforce Florida’s gay marriage ban and that any couple seeking a license should receive one.

“The preliminary injunction now in effect thus does not require the Clerk to issue licenses to other applicants,” Hinkle wrote in an order released Thursday afternoon. “But as set out in the order that announced issuance of the preliminary injunction, the Constitution requires the Clerk to issue such licenses.”

Let’s get (gay) married!

Happy new year. Ring out the old with this bit of news:

An Orlando area official can begin issuing marriage licenses to gay couples next week, a Florida judge said, while the fate of same-sex marriage remained in limbo across most of the state.

Circuit Court Judge Timothy Shea issued his court order filed on Wednesday in response to an emergency petition by the Orange County clerk of court, one of many officials in the state confused about where gay marriage is permitted to begin on Jan. 6.

The U.S. Supreme Court earlier this month declined to extend a stay on a federal judge’s decision to strike down the state’s ban, allowing Florida to become the 36th state with legal gay marriage.

But a state clerks association has advised officials that the high court’s order, stemming from an August ruling by U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle in Florida’s Northern District, may apply only to one rural county named in the case.

It’s amazing how we have to wait until 2015 for the gayest state in the union after New York, Massachusetts, and California to recognize gay marriage; but I can go to bed expecting it will happen.