CUOMO'S REPORT CARD: HE GETS A B FROM MEAnd that comes from an unabashed critic
A New York reporter sent me an email asking two questions about how Governor Andrew Cuomo has performed in his first six months. They were good questions that made me think, so I thought I'd post my answers:
Q: What letter grade would you give the governor and briefly give reasons why?
A: I would give Andrew Cuomo a solid B for his first six months, and that's a pretty good grade from a critic. He passed an on-time budget, didn't raise taxes, capped property taxes, and took steps toward cutting medicaid and other mandates. He also earned extra credit for conducting the legislature like Valery Gergiev at the Kirov - even the most subtle notes were precise and resounding - but that was no surprise.
Q: What does he need to do to either maintain or improve his grade?
A: While the Governor has accomplished more than I expected, he must do even more to save our state. New York's county property taxes are the highest in the nation because of decades of bad decisions in Albany. To relieve taxpayers, the Governor absolutely must cut state-imposed mandated services. He must cut deeper into Medicaid, eliminate the loopholes carved into the tax cap and challenge the unions more - especially on their gold-plated benefits which are crippling taxpayers. But Cuomo is at the end of his honeymoon; that's when the bickering begins. The legislature will fight him more and make these necessary reforms difficult, so maintaining or raising his grade will not be an easy task.
After running the campaign for his opponent in 2010, I get a lot of crap when I make positive observations about the governor of the Empire State. Some say I'm selling out; others actually accuse me of copping cash for my comments. That's flat out bullshit. I'm just being honest - the guy has done some pretty smart things and I'm not so blinded by partisanship where I can't give credit where credit is due.
Let's face it: Cuomo is comes from pretty liberal stock and conservatives aren't going to like what he does much of the time. But he does some pretty conservative things when he sets his mind to it, particularly in this legislative session.
And for that, I give him a B.
July 5, 2011
THE VERY BEST RESTAURANT IN THE WORLDIt's in Hamburg, New York - no kidding!
I left Buffalo 30 years ago. Since then, I've lived all around the world. From Moscow, to Seoul, to Honolulu, to Paris, to Barcelona, to New York City, to Miami - the list is longer than I care to admit. After so many residences I've come to categorize them by the restaurants they offer. I keep a list of the finest food I've ever eaten; I honestly dream at night of the top five restaurants on that list. I return to those top five cities sometimes just to eat: Barcelona, Paris, New York City, Tokyo and Moscow.
When I moved home to Buffalo last year I thought I'd put that list to rest. You know: carve it in stone, never add to it again. Not a bad thing, when you think about it, since you can't have everything all the time and I was excited to be home again. Besides, I really missed the Buffalo staples you can't get correctly made anywhere in the world: wings, beef on weck and Texas hots. Even kielbasa is better in Buffalo than Krakow.
Imagine my shock when I ate at a restaurant one half mile from my high school and it instantly landed in the number one spot. Hamburg, New York bumped Moscow, Russia clean off the list.
My wife and I were looking for a special place to celebrate our wedding anniversary. Like a typical tone-deaf husband, I had forgotten to get a reservation anywhere. I scrambled to make up for my mistake.
We live in the Southtowns and didn't want to head to downtown Buffalo if we could avoid it. So I called Andrew Galarneau, food editor of the Buffalo News and an old UB pal. He recommended Daniel's Restaurant on Buffalo Street in Hamburg. We had never heard of it before.
I called and the hostess managed to fit us in. I mentioned in passing that it was our anniversary and we were surprised to be seated at the best two-top in the house - on a little landing elevated above the rest of the dining room. Instant romance.
The restaurant is actually a former single family home, so when I say dining room I mean exactly that. There aren't many tables in the place, so it is no wonder weekends are booked solid weeks in advance. Weekdays, not so much.
The menu is succinct out of necessity, since chef Daniel Johengen creates every dish himself. The daily specials round it out really well, and we ordered from the list. Unfortuantely, I didn't take notes on the meal. Why would I - we were eating in a Buffalo suburb so what could possibly be noteworthy? I was dead wrong.
When the dinner rolls arrived it became quickly evident that we were in for a treat. I've never had rolls so well made; so light, unique and delicious.
My wife is a vegetarian, which can be a challenge in small town America. Not at Daniel's ‚?? the server, a consummate professional, organized a special dish for her. Maryna had an inspiring salad and an asparagus main course that she still talks about.
I ordered a soft shell crab appetizer that blew me away. Since I've caught and cooked soft shells on three continents, I was surprised by the finest rendition of the delicacy I've ever had. The sauce was so good there weren't enough rolls to sop it up. I'm salivating just thinking about it.
The desserts were equally impressive, baked by a top-notch pastry chef from Daniel's recipes. My wife had a chocolate mousse bathed in a pistachio sauce that was even better than the light and delicious feature. I had a medley of profiteroles that made the best choux √† la creme I ever had in Paris look like a day old TimmyHo's doughnut. (Not that there's anything wrong with that!)
Daniels should top your list when you compile it and you should check it out, personally. It is a wee bit pricey for Western New York, a special occasion kind of place, but it serves the finest food on Planet Earth.
I'm not kidding. And I'm not hungry. I'm just stating a fact: Daniel's Restaurant on Buffalo Street in Hamburg is the best restaurant in the world.
Not just in Buffalo.
In. The. World.
This article first appeared on the Web site of Western New York's leading network television news station, WGRZ.com
July 3, 2011
ERIE COUNTY NY REPUBLICAN LEADERS ARE ANTI-VETERANLangworthy, Grant have a record of disrespecting combat vets
Two weeks after Erie County, New York Republican chair Nick Langworthy lost a Republican Congressional seat to Democrat Kathy Hochul, a bellicose text message was sent from an anonymous cellphone to Army veteran David Bellavia of Batavia.
‚??You want to bury the hatchet, we‚??ll end it,‚?Ě said the message. ‚??If you want war, so be it.‚?Ě
That message from the embattled chairman's camp threatened the most decorated combat veteran of the Iraq War. But Langworthy should have checked his calendar: the battle started on February 9th, 2011.
That day, the thirty-year old Langworthy successfully engineered the selection of Buffalo-area Assemblywoman Jane Corwin for Congress just two hours after the resignation of Rep. Chris Lee. Working the phones through dinnertime, he told key Republicans his rapid reaction to Lee‚??s resignation was necessary decisiveness.
In the weeks after his cajoling, it became clear New York's youngest GOP County Chairman wasn‚??t decisive at all ‚?? he was reneging on a pledge and paving the road for a Corwin defeat.
An even younger Langworthy was a key player in a gambit to urge Bellavia out of the 2008 Republican Primary for the 26th Congressional District. Lee was the local Party‚??s favorite, chiefly because he could self-fund the race. Bellavia, who had just returned from Iraq as the most decorated combat veteran of his generation, was told if he dropped out to support Lee, he would be next in line for the seat.
Ever the good soldier, Bellavia followed orders. Former Congressman and GOP power broker Tom Reynolds embraced him for it and instructed Langworthy, then a Reynolds acolyte, to set up and run a political action committee to position Bellavia for a run. Langworthy never did - the first evidence of the future GOP chairman‚??s anti-veteran tilt.
Langworthy‚??s lack of respect for veterans became clear to me last year, when he told me the state Republican Party designee for US Senate Gary Berntsen was crazy, hyper-aggressive and likely to snap under political pressure. Gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino and I had grown close to Berntsen, a military and CIA veteran decorated for combat heroism in Afghanistan. Paladino backed Berntsen in the race.
Despite his friendship with Paladino, Langworthy quietly conspired with Chris Grant - the twenty-something chief of staff to County Executive Chris Collins who later managed the Jane Corwin campaign - to spend Paladino‚??s campaign cash on a Primary Day flyer promoting Berntsen's opponent. When the Buffalo businessman learned tens of thousands of handbills had been printed implying his support for Berntsen‚??s opponent, he was hopping mad. It was a mistake, we were told, a printing error. Still, the flyers were distributed across the state and Berntsen lost his race.
Months later, I learned it wasn‚??t a mistake at all: Langworthy and Grant had ordered the flyer to defeat Berntsen. I discovered an email exchange revealing this conspiracy that read more like a schoolyard prank: ‚??Wow eat that Gary!‚?Ě the smoking gun exclaimed.
Langworthy and Grant later italicized their disdain for war hero candidates with their brazen work to defame Bellavia when he stepped forward to remind them of the Party‚??s 2008 commitment. When I called Langworthy on Bellavia‚??s behalf, he said the combat veteran was crazy, hyper-aggressive and likely to snap. He told me the Medal of Honor nominee committed war crimes in the Battle of Fallujah. The young chairman who never served his country even said Bellavia was disloyal to his wife and woefully in debt.
Of course, as in the Berntsen case, none of this is true. But this did not stop the Langworthy-Grant dirty tricks machine from shoving a bona fide war hero out of another race.
Party loyalists left voicemails offering Bellavia bribes and sent emails to his wife‚??s workplace alleging the same fictitious foibles. Worse, they sent agents to urge Bellavia‚??s employer to fire him.
As Jane Corwin‚??s spokesman announced "We respect and value David Bellavia's service to our country and have not filed any objections to his petitions," Langworthy and Grant organized a quiet plot to do just that on her behalf. The two sent Corwin‚??s longtime Assembly legislative aide Rebecca Reville to collect the paperwork from state offices.
As if that wasn‚??t incautious enough, Reville then noted that she signed out the petitions for Ralph Mohr, the GOP commissioner on the Erie County elections board. And somehow, within one day an apolitical occasional voter filed a 50-page, ultra-detailed expert objection to Bellavia‚??s paperwork. Of course, the Albion man can be traced right back to the Erie GOP leadership.
Shortly thereafter, Rochester radio talk show host Bob Lonsberry announced that he was told that all the veterans who collected signatures for Bellavia were going to be investigated for criminal fraud. Bellavia folded.
The Langworthy Party‚??s low regard for veterans reared its ugly head again when he and Grant sent Jane Corwin‚??s Assembly staff chief to disrupt a veterans event, call US Marine Jack Davis a coward and then posted the whole charade on YouTube. Just like their Berntsen ruse, the video splashed back and soaked them to the bone. Unfortunately, it also drowned Jane Corwin.
The same na√Įvet√© and hubris that punctuates their work to hurt veterans set up Corwin for defeat. Jack Davis made it clear he would not have run if Bellavia were the GOP candidate. And, without a Tea Party candidate splitting the Republican base, Congresswoman Kathy Hochul could not have won and may not have run.
Langworthy and Grant lost Corwin thousands of vital votes by offending area veterans with their playground antics. Too busy posting tricked-up YouTube videos, they missed the Medicare issue completely, left her vulnerable on the issue and opened a troublesome can of worms for the national Republican Party.
And by managing the campaign of a rising star like she was running for Student Assembly, the thinly experienced duo sealed her fate.
The GOP is lousy with young men who never deigned to serve their country. They beat the drums for war, leave the fighting to better men and then screw them when they return from battle. Langworthy and Grant are the chief purveyors of this sentiment in Western New York Republican Party organizations. Now, County Executive Chris Collins has them leading his re-election effort like nothing ever happened.
That's a terrible mistake: Veterans, Tea Party activists and more experienced campaign hands won't jump on the Collins bandwagon as long as Langworthy and Grant are driving it.
This article first appeared on the Web site of Western New York's leading talk radio station, WBEN.com.
April 8, 2011
WHEN THE TEA POT IS CRACKED...WNY Tea Parties will have no impact on NY26
by Michael R. Caputo
With Iraq war hero David Bellavia out of the campaign, there is no clear Tea Party candidate in the special election to replace former Congressman Chris Lee. Worse, the Tea Party in Western New York is so fractured that the movement will have no impact on this important race at all.
In the Buffalo area, the Tea Party is split right down the middle. In fact, if one faction of the local Tea Party endorsed Jesus H. Christ for Congress, I'm pretty sure the other would find a way to trash their candidate.
The paralyzing disagreement between Buffalo-area Tea Party factions is a fairly typical problem in the movement nationwide. In many regions across the United States, Tea Party groups founded in early 2009 have come apart at the seams. Much of this can be blamed on bickering local leaders.
In the early 1980s, President Ronald Reagan's pollsters called today's Tea Party-types "rugged individualists" - independent-minded Americans of hardy stock who succeed in life by sheer force of will, in spite of government. What makes an individualist rugged also makes them strong-willed, and it is this willfulness that splinters today's Tea Party. Some coordinators can't get along.
I'm not a member of the Tea Party, but I know both local leaders who are warring today: Jim Ostrowski, on staff for Jack Davis for Congress, and Rus Thompson, who is backing Jane Corwin after Bellavia's exit. You will never find two more "rugged individualists" anywhere. They both march to their own drummers; both have done their level best to build the local grassroots. An attempt to unify failed in early 2010, and the two factions have been fragging each other ever since.
The fight between these two factions is so tumultuous that it disrupted Carl Paladino‚??s campaign for governor of New York last year.
With the Tea groups still squabbling six months later, their impact on the NY26 race will be severely muted. Hundreds of votes may follow Ostrowski to Davis; hundreds may follow Thomson and vote for Corwin. But there's a further complication watering down Buffalo Tea: Democrat Kathy Hochul.
Hochul, who is well liked Erie County Clerk, may draw the votes of pragmatic Tea Party supporters who are discontented with the Republican Party and can't quite bring themselves to vote for Davis.
Ask the membership of Laura Yingling's top-notch Buffalo 912 group what they think of Hochul; you'll be surprised what you hear in response. Many suburbanites, prevalent in Buffalo 912, have a strong positive opinion of Hochul dating from when she was a popular Hamburg elected official. Glenn Beck-inspired 912 groups don't endorse candidates, but I've talked to a few local members who are perfectly comfortable voting for Hochul.
My father is another great example. He's a small businessman in suburban Buffalo and a die-hard conservative Republican with Tea Party inclinations. But he's frustrated with the GOP and he has a longstanding affection for Kathy Hochul. If she plays her cards right in this race, she'll win a lot of votes just like his. And so far, Hochul is playing her hand effectively.
Meanwhile, Corwin couldn't muster the courage this week to endorse Republican House of Representatives Budget Chairman Paul Ryan's vision for a conservative 2012 budget. Much to the chagrin of the Tea Party, she wants to spend time "studying the proposal," as if she weren't running in dark red district. Many activists don't expect Corwin to pass similar conservative tests, so the Tea Party is no lock for her.
But I'm sure Corwin's camp couldn't care less, because it's a wash. Spread across candidacies, splintered and quarreling, the Tea Party will not play a decisive role in this race. That's deeply disappointing for many activists, considering how vigorous the grassroots movement is in the Buffalo-Niagara region.
Is Jim right? Is Rus right? Who knows - more importantly, who cares? Their battle has raged on for so long that I don't believe the Tea Party rank-and-file thinks the disagreement is so darn important anymore. But until these two bright and energetic men and their allies bury the hatchet, the local Tea Party movement might as well dump their ballots into Buffalo Harbor.
Michael Caputo is an East Aurora based political and public relations consultant who has worked with the David Bellavia campaign and various Tea Party or similar conservative grass roots groups statewide.
This article first appeared on the Web site of Western New York's leading talk radio station, WBEN.com.
March 28, 2011
HOW WOULD YOU FIX THE NEW YORK STATE BUDGET?Allow counties to opt out of Medicaid spending
by Michael R. Caputo
New York spends two times the national average on Medicaid and cost per capita here is 100 percent higher than the next highest state. Since nobody in the Empire State is arguing that we get anywhere near our money‚??s worth from this bloated program, deep cuts should be in store.
Every year since 2005, New York State Assemblyman Robin Schimminger (D-Kenmore) has trotted out the same draft legislation that directs counties to set their own Medicaid options and eligibility levels.
His point: providing costly optional Medicaid benefits should not be required in this enduring recession, so let the locals decide. It‚??s a good idea that saves real money in hard times.
Senator Michael Ranzenhofer (R-Amherst) has sponsored similar piece of ‚??opt out‚?? legislation in previous years and recently reintroduced legislation (S1813 2011) to complement Schimminger‚??s perennial bill in the New York State Assembly (A2285 2011).
These bills never pass. Unless something changes, they won‚??t likely pass this year, either - a year all New Yorkers are crying out for real mandate relief.
One thing is crystal clear: if the ‚??opt out‚?? legislation did pass, the savings to New York taxpayers would be enormous. In Erie County, taxpayers would see a 40 percent cut in county property taxes. That‚??s real savings in New York, where we pay the highest property taxes in the nation.
Schimminger and Ranzenhofer have rallied support across party lines and Erie County Executive Chris Collins amplified the idea at a January news conference. The popular upstate Republican called for passage of the Medicaid reform bills just as newly elected Governor Andrew Cuomo named his Medicaid reform panel.
Collins‚?? rationale: ‚??County governments are drowning in Medicaid costs. The least New York State can do is allow these same governments to build their own life raft.‚?Ě
New York is one of only a few states that forces local governments and taxpayers to fund part of the Medicaid burden - about 25 percent. Erie County‚??s local share of Medicaid was just over $200 million in 2010, 96 percent of the county‚??s entire property tax receipts. That‚??s $1,500 for every person in Erie County.
Federal law mandates much of this cost; there‚??s no way states can get around paying for basic Medicaid programs. But New York forces county property taxpayers to pay for more of the federal Medicaid options than any other state.
Among those ‚??Cadillac Plan‚?Ě options: private duty nursing; eyeglasses; optometrist services; physical, speech and occupation therapy; dentures and hearing aids. According to Collins, these optional services cost Erie County taxpayers $250 million more in state and local Medicaid share payments.
New Yorkers haven‚??t heard much about this reinvigorated opt out plan in recent days. In fact, Cuomo‚??s own Medicaid Redesign Team reported out in late February what former gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino called little more than ‚??broad-brush recommendations for legislation to allow bureaucrats wide discretion to set out new rules, which may result in cost savings.‚?Ě
Paladino may be right in his cynical assessment, since the $2.3 billion in savings found by Cuomo‚??s panel is a drop in the bucket of achievable cuts. But, as Collins told WKBW-TV in Buffalo, ‚??reforming Medicaid has proven incredibly difficult, in large part, because it is nearly impossible to get all the diverse but necessary parties to agree on statewide reforms.‚?Ě He thinks county opt-out reform is an ‚??easier lift in Albany,‚?Ě and he‚??s probably right.
Some say Collins‚?? advocacy is the kiss of death for opt out legislation with Cuomo, since the savvy Republican may run against the governor in 2014. But other county executives have talked about this over the years. The New York State Association of Counties has lobbied the idea, too.
Maybe Cuomo‚??s Medicaid Redesign Team should send the governor a message: Schimminger‚??s and Ranzenhofer‚??s bi-partisan perennial plantings are proof positive there‚??s enough credit to go around for a good idea that saves real money in hard times.
Michael Caputo is a 25-year political consultant, based in Buffalo, New York and Miami, Florida. He's worked for Ronald Reagan, Jack Kemp, David Lynch, and Boris Yeltsin. He also served as campaign manager for Carl Paladino, the 2010 New York Republican candidate for governor.
This article first appeared on the upstate New York public broadcasting Web site, InnovationTrail.org.
February 15, 2011
MIAMI LEGISLATORS: WHO CARES ABOUT TOURISTS?Diaz de la Portilla says let's keep dumping raw sewage on the beach
Wouldn't you know it.
It was only a matter of time, but Miami state legislators are pushing to gut the landmark law that forces them to stop dumping raw human waste in the waters just off Miami Beach. This, according to Reef Rescue, the premier organization behind cleaning up Florida's coastline:
DELRAY BEACH SEWAGE OUTFALL: Sh*t happens
I wonder what the tourists who travel to Miami Beach will think about this? I'm going to hook back up with Ed Tichenor of Reef Rescue to see how I can help let the tourists know those aren't Baby Ruth bars in the water.
My question to Sen. Diaz de la Portilla: how often do want your children to swim in shit?
More at Ed's blog, HERE.
February 11, 2011
ADIOS, HOSNI MUBARAKEgypt is free. Now comes the hard part.
Watching freedom unfold in Egypt has been a thrill ride. It brings back old memories of the 1990's, when I spent a lot of time in the region.
Cairo was a quick flight from Moscow, where I lived through the 1990's. In 1997, we traveled via tour bus to Luxor, an historic tourist destination where many Pharoahs are buried. The place was packed with thousands upon thousands of tourists. Soon after we departed for Cairo a busload of European travelers were attacked and dozens were killed. I remember that day vividly. They shut down all the highways around Luxor; we sat in traffic for countless hours on a desolate desert highway. We finally got back to our hotel at sunup.
Unfortunately, attacks like this are commonplace in Egypt.
Unlike whack jobs in other countries, Egyptian terrorists prefer to fire automatic weapons into crowds of tourists. They tend to target trains and buses. They're not much into self sacrifice; they fire at the tourists and run away.
I am concerned about the Egypt transition because this element has existed there for decades. Mubarak cracked down very heavily on terrorists and jihadists. Now that he's gone, I'm sure the fuse he never allowed lit will be sparked by the nuts who have been put down for years.
I think Egypt will likely burn out of control for a short while. I fear chaos, which always elevates fundamentalists. The Army is supposed to stop this kind of mess, but who the Hell knows. I hope to God we were thinking about this eventuality when we started training the Egyptian military.
That's another thing: the Egyptian military is trained and supplied by the US, lock, stock and barrel. Their senior officers are very close with ours. Heck, I even trained in Korea with a company of Egyptians. I hope that means something to the generals in charge today.
Between that and the billions in aid we give, we might just get lucky. But I sure hope to God we're in there deep right now with the right people. For some reason, I don't think so.
January 24, 2011
SOUTHERN FARMERS MARKET COOKBOOKAt 25-years old, I craved women. Nearing 50, I crave food.
After a ten-day fast, the anticipation of easing back into food is remarkable. Today we'll eat more of Sunday's incredible homemade vegetable soup - with Salt-Crusted Oven-Roasted Garlicky Fingerling Potatoes for dinner. You can find the exact recipe on a Google Books screen-grab HERE.
We love the Southern Farmer's Cookbook we picked up in Charleston during our tugboat trek up the coast. We planned our first meals as we fasted, leafing through nearly a dozen recipe books like teenagers fumbling with our first Playboy. Two dishes of the first three meals were selected from this great recipe book. Tomorrow we'll cook up Fresh Sweet Onion and Tomato Gratin.
Simple. Is. Delicious.
January 1, 2011
A NEW YEAR, A NEW FOCUSBack from the battle, I'm back to the blog
Happy New Year!
Seven and a half months later, I'm back from working in the 2010 New York Governor's campaign. I'm battered and bruised, but a better man for it. And I'll look back on that race on this blog in the days ahead - but not today.
The New York Times published a fair article about me this summer, which marked the beginning of some pretty brutal days. But considering it was published on page one of the bible of dogmatic liberalism, it wasn't a bad story. You can read it HERE.
Today, like many on New Year's Day, I'm focused on how I can make positive changes in 2011. I think New Year resolutions are trite, for sure. But the day is an opportunity for positive change - so why not? I make a few each year quietly, all designed for self improvement. And I try to keep them to myself, not to bore others with self-centered proclamations.
However, one I pass along to friends. This resolution I research quite a bit before I commit, because it isn't about me - it's about others.
In 2011, I've pledged modest financial support to Third World micro-entrepreneurs through Kiva.org, a non-profit Web site whose mission is to connect people, through lending, for the sake of alleviating poverty. Check it out by clicking HERE.
June 11, 2010
CARCINOGENS IN CAPE FEAR WATERWAYS?
We visited the Wilmington, North Carolina area on our tugboat trip of the Eastern seaboard and produced a video about the continuing battle to fix the sewage systems that leaked for decades into the Cape Fear waterways. During his investigations he found that the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority experimented using a known carcinogen - Anthroquinone (National Institute of Health report here) - to control odor and other problems with the area's raw sewage.
Here's what the US Department of Health and Human Services said about the chemical CFPUA put into Wilmington-area sewage, which often leaks into local waterways:
"We conclude that anthraquinone caused cancer of the kidney and urinary bladder in male and female rats and of the liver in female rats. The occurrence of some liver tumors in male rats may have been related to anthraquinone exposure. We conclude that anthraquinone caused liver cancer in male and female mice, and thyroid gland tumors in mice may have been related to anthraquinone."
Nice. In a region known for its recurring sewage line breaks - sometimes kept secret from the public - did the CFPUA's cancer-causing chemical leak into the popular pristine waterways? Did YOU swim in the water that same week?
May 6, 2010
EVERYTHING GIVES YOU CANCER...And according to research it isn't just a joke anymore
I wasn't surprised today to see a report from Reuters saying "Americans are being "bombarded" with cancer-causing chemicals and radiation and the federal government must do far more to protect them, presidential cancer advisers said on Thursday."
Cancer-causing chemicals are used by corporations and government agencies for a wide range of reasons - none of them good. In my research into the way we treat and dispose of human waste I've seen some shocking things, among them how carcinogens are used to treat odor and other issues with sewage.
I've always wondered: if the pipes burst or leak, are these dangerous chemicals released to affect the public? No wonder there are so many sick kids.
Read the full Reuters story HERE
May 4, 2010
DC-WASA: OPERATION CLEAN AIR KICKS OFFIt's about time... and it's because the locals fought hard
I was pleased to be invited by DC-area activists to the kickoff of DC WASA‚??s ‚??Operation Clean Air‚?Ě project on Thursday, May 20 at 1:30 p.m. It is sad that I can't take the time to go, but they have a lot to celebrate. This according to the invitation:
"Operation Clean Air is an odor-control project along the Potomac Interceptor that has been in the works since 1999 and is finally moving into the construction phase. It will involve the construction of six state-of-the-art scrubbing facilities and the sealing of vents along the line that have been the source of odors. Because the Interceptor runs along the C&O Canal National Historic Park, many neighbors and recreational users of the park are thrilled that this project is coming to fruition.
The May 20 groundbreaking, hosted by DC WASA and the National Park Service, will take place at one of the two first scrubbing facilities, near Fletcher‚??s Boat House in the District of Columbia. When completed, the building will also house restrooms for public use."
For more information on the Potomac Interceptor and Operation Clean Air, please visit the DC-WASA Web site HERE
April 25, 2010
OUR PLANS FOR A TEA HOUSE HIT A SNAGBuffalo non-profit will sue to kill our business
Maryna and I have been working for months to build a small business here in East Aurora - the Roycroft Tea Company - in a building on the historic Roycroft Campus. Our goal: to bring high-quality organic loose-leaf teas to Western New York, then open more stores outside the area.
We traveled to India and looked over some of the finest tea plantations in the world, searching for top notch teas. We've visited some of the nation's finest tea rooms to investigate the business. Now Maryna is nearly done selecting 24 teas we will offer "From Farm to Family."
Now we are ready to open!
Not so fast. A local group that claims to be a non-profit has decided to oppose our business idea. Never mind that the Roycroft is a part of history. Never mind that there are businesses across the United States that use the name. Never mind that we will employ at least ten local people.
The Wendt Foundation (no Web site - make you suspicious too?) says they own the rights to the name "Roycroft" just because they bought one of the buildings on the historical campus.
We have vowed to fight these bullies to the death, and you can read more HERE
March 20, 2010
SO IT'S INSURANCE NOW... GOODBYE POLITICSI've had enough of the bullshit - but I'll run just one more campaign
So I've finally moved back home to Buffalo to be closer to my family. Still a newlywed, I'm determined to find some peace in my life and get away from the bullets, slings and arrows of international politics.
I'm delighted to be able to work with my father and our family company, Wolf Agency. Some say I'll be bored selling insurance, but I've grown weary of all the crap flying around in campaigns, the disloyalty among thieves and and being so far away from my family.
I'm also joining one more campaign, this one as manager of Carl Paladino's run for Governor of New York State. He's a local hero here in Buffalo, and a sharp guy with a vision for saving our state. You can check him out HERE.
I'll try to keep up on this blog but my move home has been keeping me busy and working with Carl will likely be like drinking from a fire hose. But stop back now and then to see if I keep my commitment!
January 20, 2010
UPDATE ON THE MARIBELShe's coming along...
So I heard from the guys at Spring Cove Marina in Maryland and they are telling me my new engine has arrived and the work is starting. It sure is expensive - but what GREAT NEWS.
It looks like this new engine and restoration work will come out to costing more than $30,000 in the end. But Maryna and Augie and I are really looking forward to getting back aboard our floating home this summer here in Buffalo. Yes, we're going to finish the trip and dock her for the summer in Buffalo.
Want to head to sea with us? We're looking for deck hands for the late April trip up the ICW and across the Erie Canal!
October 26, 2009
Pipe Fight at the C&O CanalA salute to some remarkable people
50 MILLION GALLONS OF SEWAGE A DAY ON THE C&O CANAL
Stink drove Canal neighbors to act, change community
Neighbors living along the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal in DC, Maryland and Virginia smell it almost every day - the putrid stench of human waste wafting from the historic National Park. That's because 50 million gallons of untreated sewage flow every day down a huge pipe that runs for miles along the C&O Canal.
Millions of visitors to the popular National Park suffer that smell every year. Worse: the chemical compound causing the smell is eating away at the massive sewer pipe, now almost half a century old. It hasn't broken yet - but it could.
After a decade-long battle, local residents may have solved the problem. It took patience, alliances, hard work - and lawyers.
This month, the District of Columbia Water and Sewer Authority will accept bids from builders to construct several advanced smell-scrubbing buildings along the Canal.
But will DC-WASA's idea really solve the problem? Or will the scrubbers pump new chemical compounds into the air of surrounding neighborhoods? And will the pipe continue to crumble and soon break, sending hundreds of millions of gallons of human waste into the C&O Canal?
Click on my video above to find out - "Pipe Fight at the C&O Canal"
Thanks for watching!
August 15, 2009
DIAGNOSIS: THE MARIBEL HAS BLOWN HER ENGINENow we find out if I'm really the vagabond I claim to be
Today we learned the prognosis: the guys at the Maryland marina have called to inform me that our Perkins diesel engine threw a rod and pierced the engine block. In other words, it is a total loss.
Apparently, a remanufactured Perkins will cost us upwards of $25,000. So, our plans to buy a house are scuttled - or, we're going to have to sell The Maribel.
This will be a long, hard decision. For the next week we've got a lot to think about.
For several years, I've lived aboard The Maribel, floating at anchor and living my life at peace. When I grew tired of a place, I'd just pull up the anchor and move on down the coast to warmer climes. As a ghostwriter, there was no better place to work than such salty solitude. As a public relations guy, we were still wired when we were at anchor so being offshore never slowed me down.
Then, Maryna and I married and departed on our fateful trip north on the ICW. We had an incredible time and almost made it to our goal. We were five days ahead of schedule when we met our end. That morning, we had just decided that we would live aboard The Maribel for a few years. It was a life that agreed with both of us.
Now, we're headed to Cleveland to await the repair and win a campaign. After Election Day - who knows?
For now, we have to decide: Fix the Tugboat or Buy a House.
August 3, 2009
TRIP ENDS BADLY IN THE CHESAPEAKE BAYAfter 1100 miles up the east coast, disaster
Our honeymoon tugboat trip up the East Coast hit a few snags, not the least of which was blowing the engine in the Chesapeake. Unfortunately, we were also three miles offshore and just about to be hit by a major thunderstorm. Suddenly without power and with major mechanical crises aboard, we didn't take the storm so well. We spent two hours in life jackets while a fishing vessel nearby went down.
I shudder to think about it; we were both quite shaken up.
Needless to say, we happily survived but The Maribel took it hard, which ended the trip. I've got the boat in for a complete engine replacement. Our sponsored video project, as a whole, was scrapped. Instead, we've focused on just doing a video about the Potomac Interceptor in the Washington DC area. Quite scaled back from our ambitions but hopefully still a quality production.
I'll begin updating the Blog again in the days ahead. Sorry we've been out of touch since the storm, but we're fine and having fun.
July 22, 2009
THANK YOU COINJOCK, NORTH CAROLINATiny American towns teach big American lessons
After a rough Albemarle Sound crossing on Monday, it was time to take a break. The Sound was the worst water we've seen and it shook up my wife pretty good. We've spent two days in Coinjock, NC and we're leaving today. Maryna feels much better now and is eager to move on, too.
Coinjock Marina is quite a hospitable place, with nice people and delicious food. Even more, Coinjock is a town where we had a remarkable day.
Maryna and I have had precious little time to do anything but move the boat lately. She fell behind on deadlines for her green card paperwork and yesterday seemed like a good time to drop it all in the mail. The tiny town is just about 100 yards away, but across the canal. So we took the bikes down from topside and mounted up to ride a few miles and cross a 65-foot bridge over the Intracoastal Waterway.
It is important to note that Maryna is rather new to bicycle riding. I taught her in Miami but she's still a little wobbly. We were eager to get her papers filed, so she sucked it up and we headed out with the tall bridge in our sights.
Coinjock is an Indian word for mulberries, which used to be plentiful here. We rode past trailer park after trailer park and farm house after farm house as Maryna got her first close-up look at real America. Folks around Coinjock are pretty simple but live tidy lives. The trailers were old but nicely kept; the farm houses were small but the kids seemed to spend most their time outside. She commented that it reminded her of where she grew up in Ukraine - scrubby fields lined with tall trees and chicken coops fenced nearby paint-flecked barns.
People waved and smiled as we rode by and Maryna looked pretty content on the road. It struck me that I spent much of my youth in a place quite like this, too - Lima, Ohio. I spent a lot of time and energy running away from there.
We turned onto the bridge road and discovered it was actually a four-lane highway. As soon as we rolled toward the bridge a long procession of cars loomed behind us. I noticed all the car lights on and a hearse at the front of the line. As it passed slowly by, I could see a flag draped over the coffin inside. The first few cars were packed with young Marines and the Marine flag waved from the hood of a few vehicles. We stopped and I took off my silly hat to hold it over my heart. I could see the faces of the warrior's family as they rolled by. Tears streamed down the young girls' faces; the men looked somber but strong.
There must have been forty cars in the procession - this in a town with less than forty houses. I explained to Maryna what we were witnessing and she grew quiet.
The last car in the procession crawled up the steep hill to the bridge and we mounted our bikes again. I couldn't see much of a bike lane as the bridge climbed higher so we pulled over while still on the embankment to discuss what to do next. Should we ride and take our chances with her wobbly balance, walk the bikes across or return to the marina and borrow a car?
The traffic had slowed a bit and I noticed many passing vehicles were pickup trucks. Mind you, Maryna had asked me a few weeks ago why Americans drive pickups. I told her many use them for work, but around Miami many were driving them for fun. She couldn't understand why folks would drive a truck by choice - they were ugly and rather silly, by her measure.
Standing on that highway considering our options - and without telling Maryna why - I simply stuck out my thumb. The very first pickup pulled right over, driven by a young fellow returning from the beach. He invited us to load the bikes in the back and took us across the bridge. I thanked him for his help. He looked over and said "that's Southern hospitality, my man."
Maryna's first words since I hitched the ride: "That's cool!"
"Now do you see why some guys drive trucks?" I asked. "To help other people."
The look on her face said she understood completely.
We rode on into town, passing more trailers and farmhouses. Town was exactly one blinking stoplight, three gas stations and a barbeque joint. When we pulled up to the post office about the size of a chicken coop, we noticed it was closed for lunch. Returning to our bikes, a fellow standing outside the mini loading dock said he'd open up early for us. "I'm not doing anything but smoking a butt," he said. Minutes later, her paperwork was on its way to Chicago.
We decided to hit an ATM and get some lunch while we were out riding. As we passed the only barber shop, I decided to stop in and get trimmed up a bit after four weeks on the water. Inside was one chair and an older man watching network television. ("What do I need cable TV for?") He and I talked while his clippers hummed. Maryna just sat quietly. The topic roamed from weather to boating to politics, as we all know it does in local barber shops. He dusted me off and sent us along with a strong recommendation for the barbeque place. Outside, Maryna simply said "Cool!"
Now I don't have to tell you much about the North Carolina barbeque - it was out of this world. Maryna doesn't eat meat, so she just enjoyed a cool drink and a twice-baked potato. The folks inside were sweet as the tea and offered Maryna a tiny push pin to stick in their wall map to show where she's from. She was the third customer from Ukraine. When finished we rode off, me a bit rounder and her fully hydrated. For some reason, she insisted on crossing the bridge so we rode as far as we could and then walked the bikes across the high point. Safely across, we rode on back to the marina.
A ride through real America; a funeral of one of our heroes; a selfless hand from a man in a pickup; a smiling postal clerk opens early; a barber with strong opinions kindly put; a small town barbeque joint with real Southern hospitality. If there's a better way to spend the day taking your first steps toward citizenship in the United States of America, I can't think of one.
Maybe that's why we're on this trip: to teach Maryna more about our country and to remind me why I love it.
Thank you, Coinjock. We'll not forget you.
July 1, 2009
OUR CRUISE STARTS IN JACKSONVILLEVIDEO: Local Water Authority Stores Hydrogen Peroxide near High School
After packing our home into storage in North Miami, Maryna and I rejoined The Maribel at River City Marina in Jacksonville, Florida. There, I lugged a video camera out into the neighborhoods to show how the local water authority - JEA - does not properly secure over a half million gallons of volatile Hydrogen Peroxide.
Researching a video I shot recently in Delray Beach about the local water treatment plant, I crawled into a Google Black Hole. There, I read how many older water treatment systems still use Hydrogen Peroxide to cut the stench from sewage pipes and lift stations.
Sure, we've used low concentrations of the stuff to clean our scraped knees (3 percent) and dye our hair (15 percent) since the 19th Century. But this isn't your grandmother's bottle from under the sink - and this isn't her comfortable world anymore, either.
Since 9/11, terrorists have used Hydrogen Peroxide more and more as the basis for powerful explosive devices. Increasingly frequent news accounts detail how this substance has grown popular with terrorists. A few analysts I read called Hydrogen Peroxide the favorite mixer for an "Al Qaeda Cocktail."
Google Earth view of JEA's Mandarin High storage site
It sure looks like somebody's grandmother runs JEA. In one particular Jacksonville neighborhood, the utility stores 3,000 gallons of 50 percent Hydrogen Peroxide in a virtually unprotected compound - right next to Mandarin High School and nearby homes. Before I even showed up I could see the storage place clearly on Google Maps. On Google Earth, it looked unsecured all the way from Miami.
In fact, no private corporation would be permitted to store concentrated Hydrogen Peroxide like JEA does in neighborhoods today. Liability issues would make it absolutely impossible - even unthinkable.
Yet quasi-governmental JEA still stashes the stuff, even though they face similar liability. Preposterous.
Click the screencap above to watch the video.
We're off to Savannah for the Fourth of July and a story about how the non-profit Savannah Riverkeeper has fought to cut mercury levels in one of America's most historic - and abused - waterways: the great Savannah River.
June 26, 2009
1970 "Crying Indian" PSA UPDATEDClick below to see "Crying Indian" 2010!
June 25, 2009
REAL MEN OPPOSE HOMETOWN DEMOCRACYBound for the 2010 ballot, Amendment 4 will sink Florida
As was long-expected, Florida Hometown Democracy qualified this week to place their "Vote on Everything" amendment on the 2010 statewide ballot. Today, Floridians are officially on notice: if this radical constitutional amendment passes, the Sunshine State will tip into permanent recession.
That's what the extremists behind the Amendment 4 want, after all: zero growth.
Their idea is to require voters to approve thousands of tiny technical amendments to local land use plans every year. Pushing highly-technical planning decisions to the ballot seriously erodes the representative democracy designed by our founding fathers. And it is just wasteful - of voters' time, taxpayers' dollars and economic opportunities.
More importantly, as Florida grows in the years ahead, the amendment will push urban sprawl into Florida's remaining rural areas. That's why the Florida Audubon Society and 1000 Friends of Florida - our state's most respected environmental organizations - oppose the proposal.
As the founding executive director of Floridians for Smarter Growth, I am strongly opposed to this measure. Eighteen months after leaving the business-led group, I will help in any way I can to knock the legs out from under the "Vote on Everything" amendment.
Click on the screencap above for my satirical reprise of the famous 1970 Keep America Beautiful "Crying Indian" public service announcement. Sure, my version doesn't compare - but neither did my budget!
June 16, 2009
Tugging from Miami to BuffaloPart honeymoon, part media project - we're headed up the ICW
Our trip will take six weeks one way!
Marriage doesn't feel all that different from single life for me; I guess that's part of being almost 50 years old. One thing that is drastically different: I've now got a partner in crime.
And it seems Maryna is just about as crazy as I am. How else can you explain her agreeing to cruise The Maribel from Miami to Buffalo for our honeymoon?
I've been wanting to take the ICW north since I bought my tug-trawler. My father has done the trip twice and his stories of the voyages always interested me. And, while the Intracoastal is quite a compelling challenge, I was also intrigued by my dad's stories of the Erie Canal. So, we're trying the entire voyage - Miami up the ICW to Norfolk, Virginia. From there, we'll take the Chesapeake Bay around to New Jersey and take open ocean to New York City. A few days north on the Hudson and we'll be at the entrance to the Erie Canal.
The Canal alone runs 360 miles to Buffalo. At an average seven knots, the whole trip will take about six weeks.
So, we're heavily into planning the trip and organizing supplies. We'll likely stage The Maribel in Jacksonville, which is pretty close to the Florida border with Georgia and a nice place to start the adventure. A preliminary run up to the border will also help us understand if we truly desire to make the whole voyage.
I'm also thinking there must be many stories to tell along the East Coast - stories about water quality, environmental action and sensible activism. I'm going to sniff around and see if this could be a media project, too. A little blogging, a little vlogging - why not?
Sounds like an interesting trip to me. And, since Maryna is game for an adventure, it seems like the perfect honeymoon.
June 10, 2009
GREAT NEWS: I'M GETTING MARRIED SUNDAY!Don't send gifts or getaway cars, please
Okay, so this isn't a green-shaded topic, but it is reasonable for me to comment here about my imminent nuptials.
Taras Shevchenko watched us make out
Somehow, late one night, we ended up making out like teenagers at the bus stop in front of Kiev University's statue of Ukraine's poet laureate, Taras Shevchenko. I've long loved Shevchenko's poems; that night I found out he was born near Marina's hometown.
Later, after our co-worker and mutual friend was assassinated in front of his Borispol home, Marina and I met time and again in her adopted home: France. In September 2008, I proposed to Marina on the steps of romantic Fort Tiracol in northernmost Goa, India.
We'll marry aboard The Maribel in a small ceremony on June 14th. All your best wishes are deeply appreciated, but please do not send us gifts. Instead, please take your loved one/s out for dinner and have a good thought for us.
June 3, 2009
ANDRE PIERRE ELECTED MAYOR OF NORTH MIAMICampaign marked by chicanery at the polling place
Much to my chagrin, attorney Andre Pierre was elected mayor of North Miami, Florida on June 2nd. My good friend Frank Wolland - a local attorney and longtime community leader - lost the runoff election by 300 votes. Wolland congratulated Pierre at City Hall that night, wishing him good luck in his term as the City's chief executive.
As a strong supporter of Frank, I co-founded Change North Miami, an election communications organization registered with the City of North Miami. We quickly attracted more than 2,000 members with some pretty aggressive Web campaigning. You can see some of our email flyers here.
North Miami is more than half Haitian-Americans, and Willis Howard, an aggressive local campaign expert, ran a get-out-the-vote operation he mastered electing mayor Kevin Burns to two terms. Picking up voters and driving them to the polls - a robust and common campaign tactic - wasn't enough for Howard's operation.
In a shrewd parsing of Florida Election Law, Pierre's operatives actually accompanied hundreds of voters into the polling places. There, they "assisted" voters filling out their ballots at the box. Some of Pierre's people walked into early voting booths dozens of times.
Hundreds of voters were influenced this way, often by Pierre staffers brought in from out of town. You can see a short video I made about the system here, or by clicking the screencap above.
Is this illegal? I don't know, but lawyers tell me that as long as the "assistants" are not paid campaign staffers they can help anyone they want. If this is true, I'm betting the law was broken.
In fact, one clue might be finding out who the owner is of the staff car we caught on video: Pennsylvania license plate GWH-9090. Is it actually a rental car? Who paid for it? Was that money properly accounted for in Andre Pierre's campaign reporting?
North Miami early voting was a circus, all around. Local stalwart Al Kaplan was actually roughed up by campaign workers supporting councilman-elect Jean Marcellus - an act that has interested the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
My experiment in North Miami politics revealed one certainty: Haitian-Americans have gained a solid majority in the City, and will likely hold the mayor's office into the future. Still, I'm hopeful Mayor Pierre will "do the right thing" when it comes to redevelopment. It's time to throw the bums out and start anew with developers who have brighter ideas and greater resources.
Now, I'll go back to something safer and less dramatic - like cage fighting.
May 13, 2009
WHY I'M SO FOCUSED ON AMERICA'S WATER INFRASTRUCTUREInstalled decades ago, it is set to fall apart soon
For 25 years of my life I was focused entirely on foreign policy. From the Contra War in Nicaragua to the birth of democracy in the former Soviet Union, I've traveled the world and made spreading the American way of life my career.
In my twenties and thirties, I was a rabid anti-Communist convinced American-style democracy was best for the entire world. Sure, I was naive. But I meant well, and I worked very hard. After the Iron Curtain fell, I lived five years in Russia and returned to the US in 1999. Suddenly, American politics got stale for me.
In Russia, the facists want to kill you, the Communists want to starve you - and the democrats just want to steal your money for awhile. After five years of that, working US campaigns became boring for me. In reality, there is just a few shades of difference between American Republicans and Democrats.
When I moved to Florida in 2003 I was intrigued by Sunshine State water politics. Here, we wring our hands about the water supply but we use 50 percent of our drinking water for irrigation. Municipalities are too wrapped up in other issues to be bothered with laying out a re-use system. Places like Palm Beach County and, to a lesser extent, Broward County are getting it together. But Miami and many other older water utility systems haven't yet joined the 21st Century.
So, I started reading about it. Thankfully, the Internet is overflowing with sewage information.
I was shocked to find out South Florida has been dumping lightly treated sewage into the ocean for decades. Talking to my good friend and former Florida legislator Burt Saunders, I learned more about water treatment than I ever wanted to know.
But when Burt told me that America's water infrastructure is the second biggest investment in the country - eclipsed only by our highway system - I was intrigued. Then, when I found out that most of our water pipes and plants are falling apart, I was hooked.
In fact, the life-cycle of most of our sewer and water pipes is just about expired. And, according to the EPA, by 2019 we'll need to spend $650 billion to fix it.
Sniffing around, I noted much of America's water infrastructure is utilizing outdated technology. Somehow, most of the nation's utility work goes to former utility officials who retire and join big engineering outfits. The old boy network assures municipalities will pay for over-engineered solutions.
America wastes billions on this old boy network, but still our systems are falling apart. It is high time we shed more light on water infrastructure in this country - so I'm hooked.
April 22, 2009
THINK BLOGGILY, ACT LOCALLYNorth Miami's mayor race pulls me back in
I work so many big campaigns, when I'm home I prefer to remain quiet. But just when I think I am out... some hot local race pulls me back in. It was unrealistic for me to hope North Miami - my home of three years - would be an exception.
It sure isn't.
Sunset over North Miami
That's no fable. It was in the 18th century, 150 years before the Army Corps of Engineers opened a passage to the Atlantic. Somehow, the legacy of the City's vibrant coast brings North Miami to life for me.
Maybe I just enjoy the City's calming sunsets more than most, here at anchor in the Inlet. Or maybe I just like a fair fight.
I first met Frank Wolland, a candidate for mayor of North Miami (VOTE JUNE 2ND!), at a local function. In past months I've come to know him as a passionate advocate for the area's environment and a reliable community leader. He's from the other side of the aisle: I'm a staunch Reagan Republican; Frank's a Democrat in the Obama mold. But I was intrigued by his vision for our City.
At first, Frank and I discussed our shared love of boating, Haulover, Oleta State Park and other natural wonders in and around North Miami. We talked about the three manatees that frequent the mangrove swamps by FIU - how the mom and baby often swim up one shallow stream while the massive father awaits them at the deeper opening into Haulover.
Frank is a father of nine (yes, 9) children and introduced me to the nearby Enchanted Forest, a place my seven year-old daughter now loves to play. He and I both find as much beauty in an urban park as a quiet cove - as long as children are enjoying the place.
We also debated our polar opposite positions on Hometown Democracy. A longtime advocate of citizen-driven democracy, Frank feels North Miami is held hostage by the developers behind Biscayne Landings, a failed multi-use redevelopment effort on North Miami's waterfront. Also a part of the mess: North Miami Housing, Ltd., the redevelopment company led by Biscayne Landings and - until 2007 - Andre Pierre.
Pierre is Frank's opponent in North Miami's June 2nd mayoral runoff election.
Once a grand vision, Biscayne Landings has devolved into little more than a massive fill effort. While dump trucks laden with debris roll in and out of the property daily, local residents have lost use of the waterfront almost completely. Construction on the rest of the developers' dreams has stalled.
Frank opposed Biscayne Landings from the beginning. In those days I just drove past the iconic towers and complained about the smell; a nearby waste water treatment plant provides a sewage bouquet. But Frank was on this long before me.
Buried in the details of the City's exclusive development agreement are seeds of real trouble for the residents of North Miami. Frank's position: Hometown Democracy would fix this. Mine: so would grassroots democracy if people really cared.
Then in April a bogus ethics complaint was lodged against Frank with the Miami-Dade County Ethics Commission. Of course, it was anonymous - nobody dared put their name on an accusation which amounted to an anti-semitic slur. Then, the developers' footsoldiers in Andre Pierre's camp rattled the grapevine to politicize the false charge.
That was an immediate crisis - if the Commission didn't act fast, the trumped-up complaint might hang around Frank's neck like a noose. Luckily, the non-partisan panel moved with surprising speed and the developers' attack was scuttled. But not before the stink of their smear of a good man moved me to take Frank up on his challenge.
So Frank and I set out to find the truth: can local grassroots democracy really beat a "Big Developer" machine and stop misguided plans like Biscayne Landings? Or is Hometown Democracy a better way?
It's a tough challenge, but I'm not completely outmatched. As a longtime consultant to a top ten developer in metro New York City, I know how local folks have beaten back our redevelopment deals. Also, I was the founding director of Floridians for Smarter Growth, the industry-led campaign against Hometown Democracy in Florida. So I have a few ideas.
Frank and his wide-ranging group of supporters will put 110% into beating Pierre, the developers' candidate for mayor. And I will lend a separate but heavy hand in the classic local democratic exercise.
Those behind Pierre - developers who leeched millions from North Miami taxpayers with few results - will assure he enjoys a minimum 3-to-1 advantage in campaign cash. Even though Biscayne Landings and North Miami Housing are limping along financially, they cannot afford to lose this Mayor's race.
Meanwhile, Frank's ability to raise enough money to compete is limited in this down economy. Unlike local developers, most North Miami residents don't have ANY extra cash laying around for donations.
I'm already pretty intrigued by the race and I'm not yet sure how I can help - Frank's supporters are experienced municipal campaigners. But I'm sure I'll figure out a way to make an impact.
I usually do.
April 1, 2009
THE SYSTEM WORKS - THIS IS NOT AN APRIL FOOL'S JOKE!Delray Beach to shut down offshore sewage pipe today - forever!
What a great day for Ed Tichenor of Palm Beach Reef Rescue and his close allies, all who fought for years to stop South Florida governments' dumping of human waste into the Atlantic Ocean.
According to the Sun Sentinel, Delray Beach officials will turn off their outfall pipe today. Take a second to read reporter David Flesher's historic story in the paper here.
Ed and his cohorts changed Florida forever, working within the system with mainstream tactics to prove that dumping human waste into the Atlantic was killing the Florida reef. It took them several years, but they got it done.
Congratulations are also due for former State Sen. Burt Saunders, who pushed the law that made this practice illegal in the state of Florida. But you really must also give Delray Beach officials credit where credit is due. With foresight and cooperation, they have closed down their sewage outfall 18 years before the law required.
Indeed, the system does work sometimes. More often than we even know - let's hope.
February 17, 2009
WATER, WATER EVERYWHERE - WELL, NOT REALLYUS corporate executives to discuss water usage at Miami meeting
Dutch scientist Dr. Arlen Hoekstra
pioneered water footprinting
"It takes roughly 20 gallons of water to make a pint of beer, as much as 132 gallons of water to make a 2-liter bottle of soda, and about 500 gallons, including water used to grow, dye and process the cotton, to make a pair of Levi's stonewashed jeans.
Though much of that water is replenished through natural cycles, a handful of companies have started tracking such "water footprints" as a growing threat of fresh-water shortages looms. Some are measuring not just the water used to make beverages and cool factories, but also the gallons used to grow ingredients such as cotton, sugar, wheat, tea and tomatoes."
Alter also writes that "next week, representatives from about 100 companies, including Nike Inc., PepsiCo Inc., Levi Strauss & Co. and Starbucks Corp., will gather in Miami for a summit on calculating and shrinking corporate water footprints." Alter notes that the focus on water is moving corporations toward a voluntary "cap and trade" concept of offsetting water usage with water stewardship projects.
"Water-management experts have started to build models for "water offset" projects so that beverage companies and other heavy water users can soften their impact by funding water sanitation and conservation projects. PepsiCo recently piloted a program to help rice farmers cultivating 4,000 acres in India switch from flood irrigation to direct seeding, a planting method that requires less water and makes crops more resilient to drought."
This whole concept of calculating real water usage - and voluntary offsetting - really interests me. I'd love to crash those meetings, but the conference Web site wants hundreds of dollars from attendees.
Great - make a winning idea unapproachable in a recession. Hopefully, corporate execs won't be using their Obama Bailout cash to attend this gold-plated confab. Still, the attendee list reads like a Who's Who in American Business. I think companies who are seriously exploring water footprinting have their heads in the right place.
The guy who came up with water footprinting, Dutch professor Arjen Hoekstra, discusses some pretty compelling ideas on his Web site. Give it a read!
February 13, 2009
FT WALTON BEACH SHOWS MIAMI IT CAN BE DONEMayor, council of Panhandle town asks Obama for water re-use project
Kudos go to Ft Walton Beach leaders
According to the Daily News, "When completed, the city will be able to use effluent from [it's] wastewater treatment plant to irrigate the Beal Memorial Cemetery. Fort Walton Beach now uses drinking water at the cemetery and at some other city-owned properties."
Fort Walton Beach has been at this project for some time, hoping highly-treated sewage water will soon displace the fresh water used for irrigation. They do the same all over Florida - all over the world - except in Miami-Dade. We simply dump our sewage into the ocean, presumably because tourists taste better when marinated.
There's real leadership in Ft. Walton Beach. Like the leadership shown by City of Hollywood and Broward County officials, when they skipped over pet projects to ask Obama for $93 million to stop sewage dumping.
We sure miss that kind of leadership here in Miami-Dade.
December 10, 2008
MAYOR ALVAREZ: 'LET'S KEEP DUMPING SEWAGE INTO THE OCEAN!'Miami-Dade mayor's Obama stimulus wish list ignores sewage problem
WAIT! I know! How about a tunnel to the stadium?
Then, I read today's Miami Herald, where they report that Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Alvarez plans to use Obama's infrastructure stimulus to build a $280 million streetcar system, $100 million for a tunnel to the Port of Miami nobody wants, and a $180 million Metromover extension to the site of the non-existent Marlins ballpark in Little Havana. The mayor also wants a $10 million for an aquatic center at Virrick Park.
Meanwhile, Miami-Dade pumps more than 200 million gallons of barely treated sewage into the Atlantic every single day. Our county doesn't bother to clean the stuff up much with its 1950s technology - people who live near "treatment plants" in North Miami and Virginia Key know how horrible it smells. Why clean it up when you can just pump the stuff out to sea?
The county delegation strongly opposed a 2008 law that will require Miami Dade to stop ocean dumping. Why? It will cost Miami-Dade, the worst offender in the state, far too much to pay for upgrades to our antiquated and ignored water treatment plants. Okay, I get that.
Here's my question, Mr. Mayor: do you just not WANT to stop dumping human waste into the ocean? Because you could have asked Obama for the money and gotten moving on this now. The new president would likely have given the money to us when he realized how barbaric we are to swim in our own waste.
Thanks for nothing, Mr. Mayor. You ask for almost $300 million in controversial pet projects, but ignore our stinking sewage problem. Is that leadership?
Is it time to move to Broward, one of the last two counties to dump human waste into the ocean? It might be. According to the Herald, "the most expensive request for Broward County is $92.8 million to help Hollywood obey a new state law that seeks to stop the dumping of treated sewage into the ocean."
Shame, Mayor Alvarez - shame on you.
December 7, 2008
DELRAY BEACH DUMPS 10 MILLION GALLONS OF SEWAGE INTO THE ATLANTIC EVERY DAYBut Miami-Dade and Broward counties can learn from Delray Beach
I've been reading more and more about South Florida water quality in recent weeks. Why not? It sure beats watching the news about daily market meltdowns. Patient readers of this blog know I'm particularly aghast that Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties are dumping 350 million gallons of treated human waste into the Atlantic Ocean daily.
This practice is apparently strangling our ocean reef and causing periodic beach closings. Almost ten years ago, the diver-activists of Palm Beach Reef Rescue started working to provide conclusive proof the reef was suffering. In 2008, the Florida legislature and Charlie Crist put an end to it all - ocean sewage dumping must stop by 2025.
Click here to watch the video!
Of course, six months ago I knew next to nothing about sewage treatment. I'm still a real novice to this stuff, and I'm learning a lot. How we treat water, a precious resource, is actually pretty interesting. You might find Delray's ideas interesting, too, so take a few minutes to watch "Half a Million Flushes," a new ReasonableShadeofGreen.com video. Click on the video screen above!
November 11, 2008
OBAMA RUNS HISTORIC CAMPAIGN, WINS DECISIVELYFlorida went for Obama, but the state legislature stayed GOP
"So lemme git this straight - you ain't a Muslim?"
I didn't work for a candidate either. I served on three US presidential campaign staffs (Reagan 84, Kemp 88, Bush 92), so my friends always expect me to jump into the quadrennial. I didn't, and I haven't since I returned to the US in 1999 following five years in the Former Soviet Union. After working in Russian elections, US politics became quite pedestrian. There, the Communists want to starve you, the Fascists want to kill you, and the Democrats just want to steal taxpayer money for awhile. In the US, top-line candidate contrasts are tangled in the details of a tax cut.
It just doesn't get my blood up anymore.
However, it would be disrespectful not to take note of our historic election last week. Barack Obama wasn't my candidate, but I watched him closely and listened intently. I find him far too Liberal for my taste - like Ted Kennedy, Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi and all the rest. Still, he was a breath of fresh air on the trail and his campaign made electoral history over and over. I couldn't help but watch. And I heard many stories about him back in Illinois, some good, some bad.
+ For weeks, I talked with a former Chicago Mob lawyer who claimed to have the goods on the Senator. "Get me a few minutes with the McCain campaign," he implored. "They gotta use this stuff." Nobody was interested.
+ An old GOP pal of mine said his wife almost lost an important Chicago client to a Democrat competitor - until State Sen. Obama intervened to assure she kept the contract. Obama did that without being asked - and despite her party affiliation.
I listened to Obama's message; it resonated clearly to me and the rest of the nation. I searched for McCain's message, but the moment I found it - it would change again. I'm not going to join the post-election pile-on burying my friends who ran the McCain campaign. Everybody is tired and testy, so the sniping will continue. But the fingerpointing is fruitless. In ten years we'll look back on this election and realize Republican Senator Jesus H. Christ couldn't have beaten Obama - not after the economy collapsed under a Republican administration.
Meanwhile, the Florida legislature stayed in Republican control, despite Obama's historic win in the Sunshine State. By holding both the state House and Senate, the Republican Party of Florida proved Obama had the coattails of a Nehru jacket. Obama's victory here was an anomaly, more a measure of Obama's popularity than rejection of the GOP agenda. Anybody who says this election signals Florida is turning blue is smoking something good, for sure.
Today I'm not the least bit upset about losing the White House, nor do I fear for our nation. Frankly, our government rarely makes radical shifts regardless of who is President. And I don't see how the docile politics of the United States could ever evoke fear. Where else on the planet can two highly-polarized factions compete spiritedly and then, one day, just step back and let everything collapse into place. Later, after the dust settles, we plan a peaceful transition of power. It makes me proud to be an American.
I wish President-elect Barack Obama well. He and his team deserve all the accolades that accompany historic moments. And here's one Republican who's hopeful Obama can lead all of us - not just some of us.
October 15, 2008
HERE WE GO AGAIN: VIRGINIA KEY AREA BEACHES CLOSEDHealth departments suspect sewage at Broward, Miami-Dade beaches
Channel 4 News broke the news today of yet another round of beach closings in Miami-Dade and Broward counties. Particularly affected: Crandon and Key Biscayne beaches in Miami, both within a stone's throw of a county Sewage Treatment Plant at Virginia Key.
No sign yet of the fallback statement from water quality officials: "We can't pinpoint where the human waste is coming from." I'll let you all in on a secret - follow your nose. It is likely the enteric bacteria detected, both sewage-borne fecal coliform and enterococci, is backdraft from the millions of gallons of barely treated human waste dumped nearby at an Atlantic Ocean outfall.
DELRAY BEACH SEWAGE OUTFALL: Sh*t happens
Between the horrible smell from the Virginia Key Sewage Treatment Plant and the toilet backwash the same plant pumps into the ocean, who would want to spend any time in these polluted areas? It makes you wonder if Mayor Carlos Alvarez's dream of sprucing up Virginia Key will ever become a reality. His ideas are great, but the cart is before his horse.
Here's one resident's advice: STOP the gagging smell and STOP dumping sewage offshore. Then maybe we can talk multi-million dollar marina's and nature trails. Fix it before you finish it!
October 9, 2008
BISCAYNE BAY: OFF LIMITS, MOSTLYWriter details Bay public access in Biscayne Times
Rob Jordan paddled a kayak up a ten mile stretch of Biscayne Bay shoreline, from downtown Miami to Oleta State Park at 150th Street. In an interesting article in this week's Biscayne Times, Jordan details a water's edge view of public access to the Bay.
Jordan is a solid writer and describes Biscayne Bay with a local's eye. "The waterfront, after all, is synonymous with Miami," he wrote. "It is one of the main reasons millions flock here for vacations and new lives. It is a point of meditation, a source of sustenance literally and spiritually, an ecological wonderland."
An aerial view of Haulover Inlet, Florida
Back at work on the campaign opposing the Florida Sugar Tax, I was driving to debate Mary Barley of Save our Everglades on a Miami TV network affiliate. I had exited I-95 at Aventura to drive along the shore. Sunny Isles had few high-rise condos in 1996; it was mostly low-rise motels and low-rent 50s-era resorts. My kind of place, actually, but there were already signs of the coming building boom.
I crossed Haulover Bridge over one of just three cuts out to the Atlantic Ocean from the Intercoastal Waterway in South Florida. When I looked to my right, I fell in love: a bay bloomed crystal blue, dotted with salty boats and tiny islands. In a moment it was gone and I was in Bal Harbour, with its sculptured stretch of A1A, off-putting and sterile. But Surfside seemed a great little town and I stopped for a Reuben sandwich at Sheldon's Pharmacy.
I made a decision at that lunch counter: one day I would live on Biscayne Bay, north of Miami. Eight years later I moved here and I still drop my anchor in Haulover Inlet most often. I've learned that the North Miami enclave known as Keystone is probably the best place for an avid boater to live onshore in Florida. Just minutes from the Atlantic Ocean, Keystone boaters cast off and in a few minutes are at one of the most popular recreation areas in the country. Those of us who kayak enjoy endless canals and mangrove-lined waterways. Boaters anchor off Florida International University to swim without a current; others tie a "drunk line" to a palm tree on Beer Can Island or anchor at the sand bar to join sometimes hundreds of other local boaters relaxing chest deep in blue water.
You couldn't live in a better place than the Haulover/Oleta area, and Jordan makes note of how this area of Biscayne Bay still caters to the public. He also decries the dearth of public access to Biscayne Bay elsewhere but notes a trend toward mandating more in the future. His article is worth a read.
September 15, 2008
AL GORE'S HOUSEBOAT ROCKS!Hey Landlubbers - lay off the former Veep!
Former Vice President Al Gore is catching some heat from right wingers again, this time for his 100-foot houseboat Bio-Solar One. Now, I like to poke fun at preachy Gore as much as the next guy. But criticizing a man's boat is just as wrong as making fun of his mother. Maybe more so.
Gore's houseboat has 20 solar panels.
The Maribel has four.
My home and office, a tug-trawler called The Maribel, is a modest take on Gore's ambitious project. I installed four 130 kilowatt solar panels on the roof; I produce and store enough energy to sustain my personal and business activities. The engine still runs on diesel, but I rarely fire up my generator.
I put together a short video on the green systems of The Maribel. If you are curious, you can watch it here.
I give Al Gore credit for doing as much as he possibly can with today's technology to minimize the carbon footprint of his pleasurecraft. The self-styled father of the modern green movement often warrants criticism. In contrast, Bio-Solar One is worth admiring.
August 25, 2008
VIRGINIA KEY REDEVELOPMENT... AGAINBut a planned marina won't pass the sniff test
Twice a year, for more than 20 years as far as I can tell, activists, politicians and the Miami Herald get together to do a story to celebrate or wring their hands over Virginia Key. The scrubby lick of land northwest off the Rickenbacker Causeway has been a blacks-only beach, a fetid landfill, and a hangout for pirates and film makers. I go there regularly; it would certainly make my Best of Miami list.
Today you'll find the Miami Dade Sewage Treatment Plant there, too, dutifully pumping millions of gallons of raw human waste onto the nearby Atlantic reef. In fact, a search of Google News reveals an almost annual problem with pollution levels closing Virginia Key beach. Not surprisingly, the Sewage Treatment Plant would always pipe in quickly with its innocence: "Sure, we pump human waste into the ocean. But the spiked human waste levels can't be our fault!"
For a decade or so, some of those Herald stories were how the Key will-can't-should-won't be revitalized and put to good use. Today, there's a plan afoot to spend millions of dollars to develop Virginia Key into a marina, park and wildlife sanctuary. But there's problems aplenty with the project, as the Miami Herald pointed out today
One of those problems: the Miami Dade Sewage Treatment Plant stinks the place up horribly.
Nowadays, the few remaining pirates on Virginia Key hang at Jimbo's Place, one of the last remnants of old Miami. The sewage stench wafted through the shrimp shack and its shabby chic landscape on a recent hot September Sunday. My pals and I were trying to play bocce, but the smell was so bad it burned our eyes. Even a couple of Jimbo's ice cold beers didn't help take our minds off the stench. The fact is, some of Jimbo's denizens don't smell much better, so nobody complains.
For years, developers had their eye on Virginia Key and made many runs at local government, trying to build high-rises and a whole assortment of compromise condo complexes. Luckily, local activists blocked all the deals and today, Virginia Key is almost certain to be developed as a public park. Already the historic blacks only beach has reopened to great fanfare and locals are raising money to get the old-timey carousel running again.
The new Virginia Key plan is a centerpiece of Miami Mayor Manny Diaz's revitalization efforts, and its getting a big push from his office. But until they get the stench of the Miami Dade Sewage Treatment Plant fixed, I can't imagine yacht's pulling up to a new multi-million dollar marina.
Additionally, Miami officials should spend their millions updating the Plant so they can end the county's dirty little secret: we dump human waste in the Atlantic Ocean. We're one of only three counties of Florida still dumping. Catching up with the civilized sewage treatment practices should come first - long before we pour new cement over Virginia Key.
August 10, 2008
MIAMI-DADE COUNTY MAY CONVERT SEWAGE TO DRINKING WATERExcellent New York Times Magazine article on water treatment technology
According to NYT, Miami-Dade may
make sewage into drinking water.
The New York Times Magazine of 10August08 had an excellent feature by Elizabeth Royte entitled "A Tall, Cool Drink... of Sewage?" She's the author of a new book called "Bottlemania: How Water Went on Sale and Why We Bought It." I was so impressed with her article that I quickly ordered the book on Amazon, hoping to get it in time to read on my upcoming trip to India.
According to Ms. Royte's NYT Mag article, water shortages are forcing municipalities to rethink using sewage to make drinking water. I was especially interested in her article because it is apparently being considered in Miami:
"With the demand for water growing, some aquifers dropping faster than they're replenished, snowpacks thinning and climate change predicted to make dry places even drier, water managers around the country, and the world, are contemplating similar schemes. Los Angeles and San Diego, which both rejected potable reuse, have raised the idea once again, as have, for the first time, DeKalb County, Ga., and Miami-Dade County, Fla."
I had seen a mention of this a few months ago when Florida State Sen. Burt Saunders' law to end offshore sewage dumping was passed. Miami-Dade County fought like Hell to head off this legislation - thank goodness they failed. Suddenly, our County is so serious about treating sewage that we might drink it? I think this is incredibly interesting, especially since today we just dump millions of gallons of barely treated sewage into the Atlantic - every single day. The law says Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties must end this practice by 2025.
Ms. Royte investigated an Orange County, California plant that treats sewage with incredible technology to end up with water cleaner than drinking water. I still can't imagine drinking it. That is silly, of course - I've punished my body with far more foul brews for years. But it brings to mind what could be one of the most incredible PR challenges ever: convincing people that its okay to drink water from, well, the toilet.
According to another article in the Christian Science Monitor, It took four million dollars across ten years to convince Orange County citizens to drink recycled water. In fact, twenty percent of Orange County's drinking water is recycled, serving 2.3 million people. And the Fountain Valley plant is far under capacity, with lots of room to make more for anticipated population growth.
This really does work. If South Florida can stomach it, we'll be drinking recycled sewer water soon, too.
July 17, 2008
HERE'S THE ANTI-HOMETOWN DEMOCRACY AD WE'D LIKE TO SEEDefeating the
People start ballot pollution.
People can stop it.
Hometown Democracy advocates have launched a federal lawsuit to force their way onto the November 2008 ballot. They've got a hearing coming up, so I'm certain they'll be flying in out-of-state petitioners and buying tons of signatures in the weeks ahead to help make their case. This is another expensive legal sham from the extreme special interests behind the lawsuit - and it won't work. But they are sure to be on the ballot in 2010.
Motoring around South Florida on The Maribel over the last several months, a few friends and I shot a TV commercial we'd like to see in the upcoming battle to defeat Hometown Democracy. These scenes were all shot in Key West, some of it during Fantasy Fest 2007. This doesn't have the picture quality of my HD outfit, but you might like it anyway. Sometimes, dismal failure is darn funny. What the Heck - we tried.
PLEASE CLICK ON THE IMAGE to view the video.
July 9, 2008
2025: NO MORE DUMPING SOUTH FLORIDA SEWAGE OFFSHOREGOP Senator says we can all thank... Carl Hiaasen?
Congratulations are in order today for Gov. Charlie Crist, and not just because he proposed to his girlfriend. On Monday, the governor met with State Sen. Burt Saunders and the scuba divers of Palm Beach County Reef Rescue and signed Senate Outfall Bill 1302 into law.
The landmark law will end by 2025 the disgusting 50-year practice of dumping 350 million gallons of untreated sewage daily onto South Florida's reef. The bill is an important part of Sen. Saunders' legacy as chairman of the Senate Environment Committee, a real accomplishment for the people of Florida.
Additionally, Ed Tichenor and other volunteers from Reef Rescue can take credit for starting this ball rolling six years ago. Without their six years of hard work, this might not have come to pass.
As a boater living aboard in South Florida waters, this initiative will impact my daily routine and improve the quality of life residents enjoy in Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties - the last three Sunshine State counties dumping offshore.
Thanks to Crist, Saunders, Tichenor and others, by 2025 we won't be swimming in our own waste anymore. Many Floridians didn't even know we were, including me. So I couldn't resist inviting both Saunders and Tichenor out on The Maribel to discuss this initiative on camera - you can see the 30-minute interview by clicking on the screen shot below.
It was a hot and sweaty Miami afternoon when we pulled away from Bayside Marina to discuss Senate Outfall Bill 1302. This was also the first time I broke out my HD video production equipment, so it was a challenge setting up. But you can see from the video all ended well.
Sen. Saunders surprised me right off by giving the credit for his focus on the issue to Miami Herald columnist Carl Hiaasen. Apparently, at a symposium some time ago the writer and humorist challenged the notion that the sewage pumped out to sea was not a threat. If it was so clean, he asked, why not just pump it onto the beach so children could splash around in it?
Well, the sewage pumped out to sea isn't clean. In fact, the minimally treated waste isn't safe to even touch - and the nutrients in the effluent were killing off our beautiful reef, a favorite diving spot off South Florida's Atlantic coast.
We didn't yet know, as we floated at anchor, that Miami-Dade officials were preparing to close all county beaches due to unsafe levels of human waste in the water. The announcement came the next day.
According to Sen. Saunders, nobody paid much attention to South Florida's dirty little secret and the three counties were planning to continue the dumping forever. As his bill marched through committee, he noted the most stalwart opposition to the measure came from Broward County. Apparently, Ft. Lauderdale likes their Atlantic Ocean waters brown and aromatic.
Tichenor told us he was surprised when Florida's Department of Environmental Protection yawned at his proof the dumping was killing the reef. At times, the agency didn't even respond to his entreaties. Incredibly, he personally bankrolled early studies and tests that made an irrefutable case.
In the end, his group spent $75,000 across six years on research and relied on tens of thousands of volunteer hours. To me, this is true grassroots activism and thoughtful stewardship of our environment - and Tichenor is a very interesting fellow.
Sen. Saunders represents Collier and Lee counties on Florida's Gulf Coast and was a Collier County commissioner in the 1980s when the county cleaned up its act. Today, Collier reuses 100 percent of its sewage water and Lee is up to 93 percent. The state average for reuse is 60 to 70 percent - but Miami-Dade County reuses a paltry 6 percent and pumps the rest out for the enjoyment of bathers, boaters and fisherman.
Yes, fisherman. Sen. Saunders told us the waters just off the outfall are popular fishing spots. The "treated effluent" comes out in chunks (sorry, he said it first) and the fish eat it up. Think about that next time you order catch of the day at a South Florida restaurant.
The three offending counties fought the measure mostly because the cost of not being completely gross is formidable. Sen. Saunders said the governments must dip into dwindling budgets to pay for advanced sewage treatment practices and to install reuse lines across their jurisdictions.
These are valid arguments, he said, but what the counties are not telling us is that much of this cost will be offset by the money made selling the valuable resource - clean water for irrigation and other uses - instead of dumping it all offshore while it is still, um ... chunky.
Also, reusing this new source of water will offset the incredible expense of developing alternative water resources for a growing population.
If you have 30 minutes to spare, watch the interview. These are two Florida heroes who worked productively within the system to improve our state forever. Thank you both for all you do.
July 2, 2008
MOST FLORIDIANS SUPPORT OFFSHORE OIL DRILLINGReliable polling proves 61% are with Crist on drilling
Just as Florida Governor Charlie Crist's second annual Climate Change Summit opened in Miami, Associated Industries of Florida released results of a survey showing 61% of Floridians support drilling for oil off our shores. I don't find the results surprising; I think there is actually more support. But for some reason a TIME Magazine reporter wrote that McCain's support for offshore oil drilling will drag him down in the Sunshine State.
Few Florida reporters covered
the Insider Advantage poll
I think the survey deserves a closer look; I am sure staffers with Crist and Sen. John McCain are analyzing the new numbers. If a tracking poll were initiated by AIF/IA-PR, it would likely show support for drilling offshore grows with every price hike at the pump.
Of this I am certain: at $5.00 per gallon, all sacred cows will be gored. Drilling will increase on present US leases. Alaska's ANWAR will finally be explored. And out-of-sight offshore oil rigs will bring Florida into a 21st century reality: if we want Americans to drive here, enjoy our beaches and spend their tourism dollars, we better do our part to make that drive affordable.
June 27, 2008
SCHWARZENEGGER TERMINATES HIS WELCOME IN FLORIDAGovernator gives more reason we must never imitate California
Arnold dissed our governor;
let's not invite him back.
Governor Charlie Crist's second Climate Change Summit was held at the Miami Intercontinental Hotel on Biscayne Bay this week. Of course, I couldn't resist the opportunity to tie up The Maribel at Bayside Marina and attend the event - the most important annual meeting of the mainstream on the greening of Florida.
In fact, The Maribel - my tugboat home - is wired for multi-media production. I recently poured far too much money into HD video equipment and I was eager to try it out. I scheduled an interview with State Sen. Burt Saunders, who attended the two-day event as Chairman of the Senate Environment Committee. We set a time to break away from the Summit, hop on The Maribel and talk about his new law to end South Florida's shameful dumping of human waste onto America's only living reef.
When Saunders succeeded in passing the dumping legislation, I learned of Ed Tichenor and Palm Beach-based Reef-Rescue.org, the scuba diving activists who first told Floridians that pouring 350 million gallons of waste on the reef every day is choking life out of a fragile ecosystem. I couldn't resist the opportunity to sit the Senator down with the man who got this ball rolling, so Tichenor joined us for the interview. I'll post the video next week.
The Summit was a valuable discussion on climate change, bringing experts of all political stripes in from across the United States. Journalists paid special attention to the closing luncheon, where California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger was the keynote speaker. The Terminator is a huge draw for reporters and attendees alike; he rarely disappoints audiences with his Hollywood smile and easy speaking style. He sure disappointed me this time around, when he dropped respectful protocol and took a swipe at Crist, saying "anyone who tells you that this will bring down our gas prices immediately or anytime soon, is blowing smoke."
I came to the event already skeptical of Schwarzenegger and increasingly supportive of Florida's governor. Thursday, California's Republican governor took a needless shot at his GOP host and disrespected all Crist is doing to improve Florida's unique quality of life. Every single attendee at the event knew Schwarzenegger is opposed to offshore oil drilling. Similarly, everyone knows Crist recently changed his mind to support the idea. Schwarzenegger's backhanded slap at our governor was gratuitous and classless and showed once again (as if we needed further proof) that Florida must never emulate California.
I don't care how many times Schwarzenegger says "I'll be back," I sure hope Crist and his team - who are shrugging off his California-style classless criticism - don't invite him to Florida ever again.
June 26, 2008
LET'S DO MORE THAN DRILL!Drilling for oil offshore can boost Florida as energy innovator
(Published 26JUN08 in South Florida Sun-Sentinel)
Governor Charlie Crist transformed Florida politics forever last weekwith his call for offshore oil drilling. Critics of the governor's policy shift say he is brazenly cozying up to McCain to earn the vice presidential nod. If so, a McCain/Crist White House would be the most pro-environment in history.
But that's not the news here. What he did took guts, but in Gov. Crist's move is a glimpse of an overdue shift in Republican energy policy - we must dig deeper into domestic oil reserves, but we are obliged to do far more.
For almost two decades, flat-Earth science has driven the GOP's head-in-the-sand climate change policy. In contrast to this and Al
Gore's Chicken Little environmentalism, McCain and Crist are conservationists - a mantle worn comfortably by few Republicans since America's first green activist, Teddy Roosevelt.
FP&L's new alternative energy project in
Martin County will use parabolic solar collectors
like these in the Mohave Desert.
Both Crist and McCain, longtime opponents to drilling in pristine domestic areas, understand what Republican State Sen. Burt Saunders said when he, too, changed his mind on drilling: "It's something we need to do because of the bigger picture. We need more energy independence."
Today, we cannot afford to view offshore oil drilling the third rail of Sunshine State politics. Our refusal to allow drilling is Florida's obsolete sacred cow.
McCain has said offshore drilling should be a state decision, and states should reap substantial revenues. If so, then Florida should require lessees to fund paradigm-shifting alternative energy development. In a public-private partnership, Florida could break new ground:
- Develop solar farms onshore. Already, the state has put $8.5 million toward a solar power field at Florida Gulf Coast University. The field will generate enough electricity to power the entire campus during winter months.
- Surround offshore derricks with seaborne wind turbines. With new floating and fixed technologies, 1,000 of these modern windmills could power 4 million Florida homes 70 percent cheaper than solar.
- Drive oceanic energy research at our public universities. The temperature difference between the surface layer and the depths of the ocean is enough to generate power. Today, Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion development is stalled without support and capital.
- Convert landfills into energy. Natural methane gas produced by one of our 110 active landfills can fuel 1,000 homes. A Gainesville project powers 500 homes. In New Jersey, landfill-to-energy projects are providing substantial power to universities, municipalities, and more.
If national domestic oil resources were developed, US proven reserves would jump from 11th place to 4th in the world. But drilling in Florida now won't bring results for a decade; selling offshore oil to Floridians as short-term relief is disingenuous. Alternative energy projects funded by drilling would provide energy much faster, help accelerate the global move away from oil, and launch Florida into new energy leadership.
A new energy policy must not start with secret White House meetings with Big Oil, it should be based on expanding nuclear energy and ending our fossil fuel addiction. We must cut counterproductive energy subsidies and drive pro-competition regulatory reform. McCain's pledge to delete environmental regulations that impede energy innovation and the growth of the solar and wind industries must be honored.
Finally, a McCain Administration and governors nationwide must foster the flow of new energy technologies to developing countries through free trade. Florida, in particular, could lead this charge in the hemisphere.
Both McCain and Crist support a controversial cap-and-trade system where government limits emissions and allows carbon credit trading. While a national proposal recently died in the Democrats' Congress, Crist's Republican-controlled legislature green-lighted design of a system here.
Governor Crist's courage on drilling and cap-and-trade will continue to be rewarded with outrage and opposition. Similarly, opponents won't stop deriding McCain's independent thinking and his 10-year leadership on the environment. Both will face off with oil-drunk Republicans and thankfully, it won't stop either of them.
Teddy Roosevelt once said: "Whenever you are asked if you can do a job, tell 'em, "Certainly, I can!" Then get busy and find out how to do it." Cap-and-trade is worth a try under responsible leadership. In fact, Florida is better positioned to develop innovative energy solutions than almost any other state in the Union.
It is easy to miss courageous state leadership in the froth of a presidential election. Some may not like it, but Crist, McCain and a growing number of Republicans believe we should follow Roosevelt's wise words, and get busy.
June 16, 2008
LAWSUITS WILL COST FLORIDIANS MILLIONSSt. Pete, statewide radicals sue after the voters tell them NO!
In a shock to nobody, the special interest lawyers behind Florida Hometown Democracy filed federal lawsuits last week to force their constitutional amendment question onto the November 2008 ballot. This, after missing three different deadlines to collect the minimum 612,000 signatures to qualify.
Who would have expected Hometown Democracy's allies in St. Petersburg Beach to file lawsuits to block the results of a recent community vote on growth? Just about everybody, it seems. The farout fringe activists backing the "Vote on Everything" initiative share the same mindset statewide: if you can't gain grassroots support for your ideas, harass the community in court.
The Florida-wide initiative, founded by two lawyers who've made their careers - and in one case, a fortune - filing lawsuits against the government. Under federal law, Hometown founder Lesley Blackner loses her Quixotic cases but is still paid hundreds of thousands of dollars by US taxpayers for her hourly efforts suing us. Playing by Blackner's rules, losing is always a win.
That's why I wasn't the least bit surprised when she trumped up a lawsuit, following her third consecutive failed effort to place her amendment on the statewide ballot. In a state where 100% volunteer efforts have qualified crazy ideas like protection for pregnant pigs and great policy like banning dolphin-killing driftnets, Hometown can't create a grassroots movement behind their idea.
Why? Because Floridians care far more about pigs and dolphins than we do about voting on hundreds of technical growth plan changes every year. And because Floridians know the end result of Hometown Democracy is being played out in St. Pete Beach today.
Orange City, Fla. voters don't
like Hometown Democracy
The city, long dependent on tourist revenue, had grown decrepit; hotels were closing on the beach due to growth restrictions. In an effort to loosen these ties and encourage an update of the city's crumbling hotels, the city put four questions on the June 3 ballot. The gist: let our hotels rebuild and renovate, or our St. Pete will founder.
In the run-up to Election Day, anti-growth zealots led by wealthy backer William Pyle filed lawsuits challenging the four questions. Pyle's opposition to the measures put him squarely in the minority, as even the Tampa Tribune editorialized against him. The court refused to pull the language, and local voters passed the measures by wide margin.
So what have the farout fringe in St. Pete Beach done? They've sued, of course, to invalidate the results of the election on technicalities.
Both Lesley Blackner of Hometown Democracy and William Pyle of Citizens for Responsible Growth are rich people gaming the system to get what they want - at great expense to and against the clearly stated wishes of Florida taxpayers. The ultimate result of their Vote on Everything initiative has become crystal clear in St. Pete Beach: endless litigation, mounting legal expenses, and a dead stop to growth in the state of Florida.
Lesley Blackner's frivolous lawsuit alleges a vast conspiracy to keep her whacky idea off the ballot. I welcome the discovery phase of her most recent legal boondoggle - suing to get on the ballot, since she couldn't make the deadline.
It will be very interesting to know the answers to many burning questions. Like, where is all her money really coming from? And just how did her paid signature gathering operation work, since she says the out-of-state crews got her past the goal line?
One thing is for sure: this isn't the last lawsuit by the backers of Hometown Democracy. Their litigiousness will cost Floridians millions in legal fees, for certain. We ought to check the law books: will the taxpayers pay Lesley Blackner again when she loses this federal case?
May 15, 2008
SAUNDERS KNOWS EFFLUENT FROM SHINOLA!Senator's green legacy: massive sewage dumping on Florida reef will end.
Far-out fringe activists who say the Florida legislature is ineffective are eating their words today. The Republican-controlled Florida legislature sent a bill on to GOP Governor Charlie Crist that will end ocean sewage dumping by 2025. The bill was written and whipped to passage by retiring GOP State Senator Burt Saunders, chairman of the Senate Environment Committee.
That's a nightmare scenario for many green activists foresworn from working with business, industry and Republicans to conserve Florida's natural habitat. But it gets worse: Ed Tichenor, an environmental engineer from Exxon, got the whole idea going. As head of Palm Beach County-based Reef Rescue, the retired "bad guy" and avid diver noticed a red plume devouring his beloved reef. So he acted.
Rather than scream about the system being broken, he worked within the system to foment change. Initially rebuffed by surprisingly complacent state environmental regulators, Tichenor and his diving buddies simply gathered the data to prove their point. Faced with his inescapable proof, municipal authorities begrudgingly agreed the dumping should stop.
Soon after, Tallahassee started paying attention. Reporters like CBS-4 Miami's Jim Defede exposed South Florida's dirty little secret: by dumping sewage on our only reef within eyeshot of our beaches, we are literally dumping where we eat..
"I don't recall any legislator more effective on this than Burt Saunders," Tichenor told me. "But in the end, things really changed quickly when Governor Christ said this dumping must stop."
Let's face it: it is a huge victory to stop 300 million daily gallons of raw sewage from befouling the only reef in the USA. Florida's anti-business environmental activists don't talk much about it, though; because it shows how well the system can work to protect our fragile ecosystem.
And I'm sure it doesn't help them sleep at night to know that a Republican Governor, a Republican Senator, and an expert from The Dark Side made all this happen. The hand-wringing far-out fringe had absolutely nothing to do with it.
April 30, 2008
HERE'S WHY HOMETOWN DEMOCRACY FAILS
(Published 30Apr08 in the Tallahassee Democrat)
(Published 9May08 by the Miami Herald)
On April 23, a state appeals court ruled unconstitutional a law allowing Floridians who have signed an initiative petition to change their minds and revoke their signatures. The decision is a disappointment for Florida's business and community leaders who supported the new law to keep bad ideas out of Florida's constitution.
The ruling now goes to the Florida Supreme Court, but even if it stands, the decision changes nothing about the 2008 Florida ballot.
Even if the revoked signatures are restored, Hometown Democracy still missed its mark by a mile.
Why has Hometown Democracy failed to make the ballot three times?
Because the amendment has no grass-roots support, and mainstream green donors refuse to fund it. The environmental community is deeply divided over the proposal, part of a broader split illustrated by the national Sierra Club's recent sacking of its entire Florida leadership.
The 116-year-old national conservation group had never in its history fired chapter officers, and Florida members are reeling. Backstabbing and board brawling tore the Florida chapter apart. At the core of the fight is the growing trend of environmental groups to engage businesses for lasting change. Mainstream green groups view a working relationship with the business community as key to protecting our environment. But extremists such as those who seized control of the Florida Sierra Club chapter believe working with business betrays the cause.
This group helped foist on Floridians a proposed constitutional amendment that would require local residents to vote on hundreds of technical land-use amendments every year while creating a planning and economic train wreck. Florida Sierra leadership helped bankroll a strategy to bring paid petitioners from out of state to collect signatures.
When 1,000 Friends of Florida announced its opposition to the Hometown Democracy amendment, Hometown backers pilloried the state's most respected growth watchdog as a tool of big business. But opinion leaders recognized the stand as courageous. Newspapers editorialized against Hometown, the paid hawkers found fewer Floridians to sign the petition, money dried up and the amendment went down again.
Today, policymakers can take heart knowing that Hometown Democracy is not a popular uprising.
It is nothing more than a carnival-bus-style, paid petitioning effort. In fact, without the checkbooks of two or three people, Hometown Democracy would have died of natural causes years ago, along with dozens of obscure amendments filed every year that never go anywhere.
In Hometown's collapse, activists took an issue of abiding concern to Floridians (growth management) and thrice failed to put their idea on the ballot. Meanwhile, issues with narrower public appeal (such as pregnant pigs) make it to the ballot almost entirely through volunteer efforts. This illustrates how radical Hometown Democracy truly is.
Without mainstream support, Hometown's supporters reached further into Florida's fringe. Joe Redner, owner of Tampa's notorious Mons Venus strip club, is one of Hometown's biggest donors and most interesting public speakers. Similarly, in Daytona Beach, strip-club interests bankroll a local version of Hometown Democracy.
Why strip-club owners? According to one city commissioner, strip-club owners don't want local officials to use current land-use laws to rein in smut.
Another Hometown funder is a population-control group that wants to totally close America's doors to immigration.
Given the radical nature of the Hometown Democracy proposal and the fringe elements that bankroll it, is it any wonder most mainstream environmental groups try to stay as far from the entire issue as they can?
Florida is a beautiful and wonderful state; Floridians enjoy a unique quality of life. Everyone who lives here, native or transplant, wants to protect that for future generations and ourselves. The vast majority of us, green or not, also know complex challenges are best solved by people willing to work together for the long-term common good despite disparate immediate goals.
Florida's future would be better served by such a citizen's coalition than by the Hometown Democracy approach of everyone backing into his own corner, waging war and fighting to the death.
April 15, 2008
CHIEF IRON EYES CODY
In the 1970s, a self-proclaimed Cree-Cherokee Indian and activist, Chief Iron Eyes Cody, starred in a one-minute "Keep America Beautiful" television public service campaign announcement (PSA). "Crying Indian," the most successful PSA in history, was sponsored by an industry coalition of solid-waste disposal companies and firms producing glass, aluminum, paper, plastic, and tobacco.The ad showed the Chief paddling his canoe and surveying the wonders of Nature, only to find them filled with pollution. In a now classic closing shot, the camera zoomed into follow the trail of single tear that flowed from the Chief's eye as he lamented the scarred landscape.
Created by Burson Marstellar Inc. agency, this TV advertisement moved a generation to stop throwing garbage out of their car windows and sent the message that individuals must accept responsibility for the Earth. "The Crying Indian" spot - first aired on Earth Day in March 1971 - won two Clio Awards and was named one of the top 100 advertising campaigns of the 20th Century by Ad Age Magazine.
Keep America Beautiful, founded in 1953, is still best known for the famous "Crying Indian" PSA. This advertising campaign has been widely credited with inspiring America's fledgling environmental movement. Keep America Beautiful was the first organization to bring littering to national attention and made "litterbug" a household word.
In 1998, the Keep American Beautiful campaign created a follow-up PSA with more people littering an urban landscape. This time the camera zooms into a poster of Chief Iron Eyes pasted to a bus shelter and follows the trail of a computer-generated tear as it emerges from the eye of the Chief and rolls down his cheek.
Today, Keep America Beautiful is the nation's largest community improvement organization, with over 560 local chapters and over 15,000 participating communities in their biggest annual event - the Great American Cleanup.
Keep America Beautiful has worked closely with business and industry, and together they have:
|click below to watch the original TV ad:|
Collected 228,000,000 lbs of litter & debris
Cleaned 165,000 miles of roads, street & highways
Cleaned 1,900 miles RR tracksides
Cleaned 65,400 acres of parks & public lands
Cleaned 3,900 miles Hiking, biking & nature trails
Cleaned, restored, or constructed 3,900 playgrounds & community recreation areas
Cleaned 6,120 miles of rivers, lakes & shoreline
Dove into 185 underwater cleanups
Restored 1,100 acres of wetlands
Cleaned 10,200 Illegal dumpsites
Removed 18,100 Junk cars
Collected 5,600,000 lbs. of clothing for reuse
Recycled 38,500,000 lbs. of aluminum & steel
Recycled 28,000,000 lbs. of newspaper
Collected 2,550,000 tires for recycling
Collected 118,000 automotive batteries for recycling
Recycled 4,800,000 lbs. of electronics
Collected 37,600,000 plastic bottles for recycling
Planted 134,500 Trees
Planted 5,430,000 flowers & bulbs
Painted or renovated 2,300 homes & commercial buildings
Recovered 18,600 graffiti sites
Held 4,900 educational workshops
Educated 380,000 workshop attendees
Sued - nobody
In 1996 the New Orleans Times-Picayune published documentation saying Iron Eyes Cody was actually a second generation Italian-American from Louisiana, but Cody vigorously denied the allegations. On January 4, 1999, actor Iron Eyes Cody, who appeared in 200 films, died in Los Angeles. He was 94. Maybe he was Sicilian but, in partnership with American industry, he wore buckskin, beads, a woven wig, shed a tear - and changed America.
April 1, 2008
A REASONABLE SHADE OF GREEN
Screw sanctimonious celebrities; to Hell with meddling politicians.
I've had it with all these greener-than-thou folks who twaddle away
their lives and clutter up mine. But there is clearly room for action
on the environment, both as individuals and in coalition.
THIS is reasonable stuff we can all do:
1. Replace three standard light bulbs in your home with three compact
fluorescent bulbs and save $60 a year. But be ready to pay the 300%
price increase up front, which you really will recover in savings. And
you get to go to Whole Foods and cavort with the greenies for a bit.
Luckily, these bulbs last a lot longer, too, so you won't have to hang
out with them again for awhile.
2. A 10-percent decrease in your thermostat can lower your heating
bill by 20 percent. Turn your heat down when you leave home and when
you are sleeping. When relatives are visiting, this can result in
tremendous savings when they leave early to thaw out back home.
3. Unplug everything that is easy to reach, like toasters, coffee
pots, curling irons, hair dryers, electronic toys, and more.
Trickling power draws really add up and are easy to defeat.
4. Turn off your computer every night; don't just put it to sleep.
This is a pain in the butt in the morning, of course, but get over it
- you don't need a computer instantly available as much as you think
you do. Nobody is that important, not even you.
5. Use filtered tap water instead of bottled water. American demand
for bottled water requires more than 1.5 million barrels of oil
annually, enough to fuel 100,000 U.S. cars for a year. And you can do
all kinds of research and buy a nice water filter that lasts forever
to show off to your pious environeighbor next door. What a bonus.
6. Okay, so you don't like the Prius and you think only bona fide
chumps drive them. You are probably right, but give the growing number
of hybrid cars a look when you are buying a new vehicle - they are
getting better everyday. Meanwhile, keep your car and plan your
driving so your trips have a more direct route. Use public
transportation if available; walk or ride your bike more often.
Actually, who are we kidding: screw the bus. Just plan your driving,
since inconvenience is the number one reason most of us don't
7. Make sure your car tires are filled appropriately. But don't go to
a gas station that charges for this if you can avoid it. Tire pumps
that run off your car's cigarette lighter are really cheap. Buying air
is as wasteful and as downright silly as buying bottled water. Get
8. Don't make quick starts or gun the accelerator in your car. When a
guy cuts you off, it is far more cost effective to use your middle
9. Turn off all lights, TVs, and radios in your home when not in use.
Your dad was right - this saves money and really is reasonable. Its
like shutting doors behind you - were you born in a barn?
10. Seal your home, no matter where you live. Air leakage comprises
30-40 percent of a home's heating and cooling cost. The greatest areas
of leakage are around the top of the foundation and around the
penetrations into the attic, surprisingly not from windows and doors.
11. When using the dishwasher, do not pre-rinse. Use the air-dry
cycle instead of heat - unless you need heated plates for your special
dish. If you really must tell your guests "be careful, the dish is
very hot" - like in fancy restaurants - you are on the wrong Web site.
Don't forget your mani-pedi appointment.
12. In the summer, run heat-producing appliances, (dishwasher,
washer, dryer) at off peak hours. But don't do it when you have guests
so you can blather on about your commitment to the environment.
13. Buy produce in season and from local farmers, if you can because
transporting items long distance requires fuel. If you can't, then
don't. But think about it and do it whenever possible - you'll be
surprised at how easy it really is to buy local.
14. Receive and pay your bills online. Go paperless. It is far more
convenient, so don't tell us its like taking the bus instead of
15. Insulate your water heater and save $40 a year. Better yet,
replace it with an on-demand water heater and save hundreds. Europeans
have been doing this for 25 years - but don't let that stop you. On
this one thing, they were right.
16. Don't bother anybody else about their energy consumption unless
you are asked for advice. Being preachy about this stuff can ruin it
for all of us.