Christie: Is Gov. Rick Scott to blame for the worsening red tide, toxic algae blooms?

Lifeguards at Riviera Beach beach wear covering over their faces. The life guards (did not want to give names) said that if asked they would advise people not to risk a beach visit. Many beaches remains open Sunday morning while others remained closed to to Red Tide warnings. (Melanie Bell / The Palm Beach Post)

For years now, coastal Palm Beach County residents has been able to watch the environmental disasters caused by toxic blue-green algae and red tide from afar.

We’ve watched our neighbors to the north in the Treasure Coast have their lives buffeted; our fellow county residents to the west in the Glades have their way of life threatened; and our fellow coastal residents in Southwest Florida shutter businesses.

RELATED: Beaches remain closed due to ‘airborne irritant’

But that was before this weekend. Before the red tide we’ve all been reading about elsewhere in the state was suspected of making the air so bad here that local health officials in Martin and Palm Beach counties were forced to shut down 27 miles of beaches.

Health officials, on Monday, were still trying to confirm that it is indeed red tide that forced beachgoers — especially those with respiratory issues — to stay away, and had many complaining about burning eyes.

Jill Desplain brings her daughter Quinn in from the surf. She is visiting from Kentucky and and was unaware of the red tide warnings. Riviera Beach beach remains open Sunday morning while other beaches are closed due to Red Tide warnings. (Melanie Bell / The Palm Beach Post)

Apropos that at the center of it all is Gov. Rick Scott and his dismal environmental record of budget cutting and lax regulation. But will county residents blame Scott for if the red tide disaster has indeed made it to our shores?

If it is red tide, this may be a game-changer for Scott — who prides himself among other things on shamelessly promoting our state’s all-important tourism industry. The embattled governor, who has already been taking hits for weeks in every coastal community he deigns to visit, usually sees Palm Beach County as a sanctuary for the Scott train. In fact, he was just here a couple weeks ago raising money in Palm Beach with former President George W. Bush.

RELATED: Editorial: Scott must answer for environmental malpractice

That was then. Today, drivers can see signs for “Red Tide Rick” hanging from Florida’s Turnpike overpasses in the county. And again, if health officials confirm that red tide is the cause of the current “airborne irritant” at our beaches, Scott may have to scratch another coastal haunt off of his U.S. Senate campaign tour for a while.

Take our poll here, and let us know what you think: Is Scott’s handling of the environment to blame for the worse-than-normal red tide and toxic blue-green algae blooms?

Christie: Why our debate over banning plastic straws is really starting to suck

Because of sights like this, more and more people are open to banning plastic straws. (Photo provided by the Loggerhead Marinelife Center.)

The debate over single-use plastic straws is building up fast. But what really sucks is that there is any debate at all — especially in coastal counties like Palm Beach.

Do we really need to use plastic straws?

On Sunday, my wife and I ate lunch at one of our favorite spots, the Old Key Lime House in Lantana (two reasons: UF Gators, and shrimp and grits). Our waiter brought us glasses of water, but did not give us straws until we asked.

He explained that the iconic restaurant, which sits on the Intracoastal Waterway, is moving away from using plastic straws because of the environment and potential dangers to marine life — like our beloved sea turtles. Apparently, even if folks don’t intentionally throw straws into the water, many end up there through carelessness or error.

Diane Buhler uses this cup of straws to illustrate plastic pollution on the beaches during her lectures. (Palm Beach Daily News)

For, example, the waiter said straws drop on the floor and are then blown out into the Intracoastal. According to conservationists, sunlight and wave action then break the plastics down into rice-sized bits that are consumed by marine life and become part of the food chain.

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So the Old Key Lime House is phasing the plastic straws out over the next couple of years and going with biodegradable paper straws.

Turns out, they’re not the only local restaurant or resort that environmentally-conscious. Tired of waiting for local government officials to get their act together, outfits like the Breakers and Surfside Diner are taking the matter of purging plastic straws into their own hands.

“We are committed to the environment and sustainability and have been working along these lines for many years now,” said Nick Velardo, the Breakers’ vice president of food and beverage operations, told the Palm Beach Daily News’ William Kelly.

Even corporate behemoth Starbucks has said it will get rid of plastic straws in its 28,000 outlets by 2020.

But local government officials are indeed listening. Palm Beach Town Councilwoman Bobbie Lindsay plans to propose at the council’s Wednesday meeting that it refer the issue of banning single-use plastic straws to its Ordinances, Rules and Standards Committee for study.

“There’s no reason why we have to have these things,” Lindsay told the Daily News.

The lunch crowd at Daniel Ponton’s Surfside Diner use paper straws in their beverages. Ponton plans to provide only paper straws this season at Club Colette. (Meghan McCarthy / Daily News)

In Jupiter, the town’s beach committee unanimously recommended on July 23 a resolution to ban plastic straws to the City Council. The committee did not support an ordinance, as some people wanted, which would have fined businesses for using plastic straws. So the council instead unanimously approved a resolution to start a town-wide education campaign — which they hope will allow for a friendlier approach and emphasize education.

RELATED: The final straw: Jupiter council supports education, not plastic ban

The Delray Beach City Commission is considering phasing in a ban on plastic straws as part of a proposed ordinance requiring restaurants, bars and other beverage purveyors to supply plastic straws only upon customers’ request.

Miami Beach. Fort Myers Beach. Sanibel Island. An ever-growing number of Florida municipalities are seeing their role as protectors of the waters and environment that many of their businesses thrive on as something that needs to be taken a bit more seriously.

In St. Petersburg, business owners and elected officials in April unveiled a “No Straws St. Pete” campaign that asks restaurants and residents to voluntarily curb their use of plastic straws and utensils. As of early June, more than 100 businesses were participating.

And it’s not just Florida. The cities of Seattle as well as Oakland and Berkeley in California have all banned the straws, and similar legislation is pending in Hawaii.

So why can’t this be done everywhere; or should it be?… Take our poll and leave a comment here.

Christie: U.S. hypocrisy on human rights shows in Cuba policy ‘tweak’

Nelson Avila, center, joins anti-President Donald Trump protesters, calling for open relations with Cuba on Friday in Miami. Trump thrust the U.S. and Cuba back on a path toward open hostility Friday with a blistering denunciation of the island’s communist government. He clamped down on some commerce and travel but left intact many new avenues President Barack Obama had opened. (Leslie Ovalle/South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP)

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.

Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte.

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz… and lest we forget, Russian President Vladimir Putin.

All have been the subject of compliments from President Donald J. Trump during his infant presidency. From their strength in terms of silencing — even through violence — critics to their facility to write billion-dollar checks to the U.S. government, the president has not been shy about lauding these strongmen for their “leadership” in their respective countries.

President Trump has not been as willing to discuss their dark histories — former and current — when it comes to alleged human rights abuses.

That wasn’t the case last week, when the president made the grand announcement to reverse President Barack Obama’s opening of diplomatic relations with communist Cuba.

There, he drew a line of hypocrisy when it comes to what the U.S. will, and will not put up with when it comes to human rights by its partners.

President Donald Trump signs an executive order on a revised Cuba policy aimed at stopping the flow of U.S. cash to the country’s military and security services while maintaining diplomatic relations on Friday in Miami. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

“It’s hard to think of a policy that makes less sense than the prior administration’s terrible and misguided deal with the Castro regime,” Trump said.

“The previous administration’s easing of restrictions on travel and trade does not help the Cuban people. They only enrich the Cuban regime,” Trump said. “We will work for the day when a new generation of leaders brings this long reign of suffering to an end. And I do believe that end is within the very future.”
Trump said Obama’s policy has helped Cuba’s Castro regime rather than ordinary Cuban citizens. Of course, this is all about helping the Cuban people. Hard to argue against that. And the fact that the U.S.-Cuban thaw begun by Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro in 2014 hasn’t noticeably resulted in less human rights abuses — jailing of dissidents, imprisoning political opponents, etc.

A little more impatience about democracy isn’t such a bad thing.

But Trump joined a chorus of Cuban hardliners during his speech on Friday on stage at the Manuel Artime Theater who don’t bother drawing a distinction between our approach to Cuba’s Castro regime versus others of the same ilk.

Truthfully, Trump’s so-called “reversal” of Obama’s policies normalizing of relations with Cuba after 50-plus failed years of isolationism was little more than a “tweak.”

In this file photo, a tour bus along Havana’s Malecon. As President Donald Trump outlined a stricter policy toward Cuba on Friday travel industry representatives scrambled to decode new prohibitions and reassure clients that the island was not off limits. (Daniel Berehulak/The New York Times)

What remains: full diplomatic relations, including an embassy in Havana; reduced immigration favoritism for Cubans, otherwise known as the “wet foot, dry foot” policy; restored commercial flights and cruise-ship visits; enhanced cash remittances and visitation by Cuban Americans; and even removal of Cuba from the list of state terrorism sponsors.

What changes: tightening restrictions on tourist travel to Cuba — technically illegal already — and instituting a broad prohibition on financial transactions with companies significantly controlled by the Communist government’s military holding company.

The rest is mostly rhetoric. Questionable rhetoric that, while it sounds good on a campaign stump, won’t amount to much in terms of helping the Cuban people.

So why bother? Especially given how hypocritical it all sounds when compared to what he administration seems fit to put up with from other de facto dictatorships when it comes to human rights abuses.

Why didn’t we here the same compassion from the Trump administration for the Turkish people who are having their rights trampled on? Would the U.S. be wrong to demand the right to a fair trial for hundreds of alleged drug dealers shot down in the streets in the Philippines? Why didn’t we here the same for the thousands of Egyptians jailed and killed by el-Sisi? And was a $100 billion buy of U.S. military hardware enough to buy our silence on Saudi Arabia’s treatment of women?

Such selective ire makes the righteous indignation from Trump, Sen. Marco Rubio and Rep. Jose Diaz-Balart ring all the more hollow.

Human rights are human rights. You either care about them everywhere, or you don’t care about them at all.

Christie: American Airlines joins the unfriendly skies… Who’s next?

It appears that U.S. air carriers cannot catch a break these days.

You almost feel sorry for them … almost. Truth is, most air travelers, even if their flying experience has been 99.9 percent trouble-free are feeling somehow vindicated for the incident accounting for that .1 percent.

Video of almost every tense incident involving a passenger is finding its way onto Facebook Live, YouTube, Twitter, SnapChat or whatever. And then onto cable and network news, and so on.

RELATED: United Airlines changes policy after man dragged from plane

RELATED: Delray man says JetBlue crew told him to stop making phone video

An American Airlines passenger jet takes off from Miami International Airport in Miami. The company said it grounded a flight attendant who got into a verbal confrontation with a passenger after taking a baby stroller away from another passenger on a Friday flight from San Francisco to Dallas-Fort Worth. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz)

The latest involves Dallas-based American Airlines, which is now investigating after a video surfaced on social media showing a confrontation between a passenger and a flight attendant aboard one of its flights.

The video, filmed by another passenger last Friday, appears to be the aftermath of an incident during boarding of a flight from San Francisco to Dallas. It does not show what happened beforehand.
The video of the encounter starts off with a woman sobbing as she holds a baby. “Just give me back my stroller please,” she says tearfully.
A male passenger stands up and intervenes, apparently upset with how the woman’s situation was handled. He tells the flight attendant, “Hey bud, hey bud. You do that to me, and I’ll knock you flat.”
The flight attendant tells the male passenger to stay out of it, then later taunts him to “hit me, hit me … bring it on.”
From the video, it’s unclear why the woman is distraught. Surain Adyanthaya, who posted the video to Facebook on Friday, said that before the footage, the flight attendant had “violently” taken the stroller, hitting the woman in the process and narrowly missing her baby.
Adyanthaya later posted the airline had “escorted the mother and her kids off the flight” and let the flight attendant back on.
It doesn’t help that this incident comes two weeks after a United Airlines passenger was dragged from his seat and off a plane by Chicago aviation police. United was widely criticized on social media and by industry professionals for the conflicting statements it put out afterward, initially siding with its employees and appearing to blame the passenger.
American learned something from that. They quickly responded: “We have seen the video and have already started an investigation to obtain the facts. What we see on this video does not reflect our values or how we care for our customers,” it said in a statement.
“We are deeply sorry for the pain we have caused this passenger and her family and to any other customers affected by the incident.”
American said it upgraded the woman to first class for the rest of her trip and the attendant has been “removed from duty” as it investigates.
Good move.
But with the amount of flights and passengers, we’re likely to see one of these a week. How many of us haven’t been on a flight where an unruly passenger pushes things to the limit?
How long before a captain simply says, “We’re not taking off until the passenger in 15A peacefully allows a flight attendant to check their bag”? Then what?

Goodman: Trump’s “Buy American, Hire American” order smacks of hypocrisy

President Donald Trump, returning to a major theme of his campaign, has taken aim at foreign workers, signing an executive order on Tuesday that will, as he said, “protect our jobs and finally put America first.”

Wait, has he forgotten who works at Mar-a-Lago?

The cooks, the waiters and waitresses, the housekeepers — Trump got permission from the U.S. Department of Labor last year to hire 64 of them from foreign countries through the government’s H-2B visa program at $10.17 to $12.74 per hour. That program allows employers to hire foreigners for temporary, seasonal, non-agricultural work and is often used in the tourism and resort industries.

But there was the president on Tuesday in Kenosha, Wis., targeting the H-1B visa program, which the White House says undercuts U.S. workers by bringing in large numbers of cheaper, foreign workers and driving down U.S. wages.

This sure seems hypocritical — as Trump’s foes were quick to point out during last year’s election campaign, when the Labor Department permitted 69 temporary visas for Mar-a-Lago. Trump defended himself by saying there simply weren’t enough skilled American workers to take those jobs. “It’s very, very hard to get people,” Trump said during a debate in March 2016. “Other hotels do the same thing.”

But employment experts in Palm Beach County said then that there are plenty of workers ready, willing and able to do that work. And Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, then a Trump opponent for the Republican presidential nomination, said Trump uses the program to drive down wages.

“When you bring someone in on one of these visas they can’t go work for anybody else,” Rubio said during that March 2016  debate. “They either work for you or they have to go back home. You basically have them captive, so you don’t have to worry about competing for higher wages with another hotel down the street. And that’s why you bring workers from abroad.”

Trump’s executive order, signed with a flourish at a Snap-On Inc. factory in a state he narrowly carried on the strength of white working-class voters, actually isn’t all that muscular. It does little more than order U.S. agencies to propose rules to prevent immigration fraud and abuse in the H-1B program, and to propose changes to ensure that the visas go to the most-skilled and highest-paid applicants.

The tech industry argues that the program is crucial to their companies’ success, because it enables smart college students to stay in the U.S. after getting degrees in high-tech specialties. And they say they can’t always find enough American workers with the skills they need — an argument that sounds just like Trump the Campaigner’s.

The program, however, has been terribly abused. Walt Disney World, for example, fired 250 employees in 2015 and replaced them with people with H-1B visas through an Indian outsourcing firm. Worse, the Disney workers had to train their own replacements.

So yes, clamp down on the misuse of foreign visas that allows cost-cutting employers to improve their balance sheets at the expense of American workers.

But Donald Trump’s turn as a hero of this political theater he calls “Buy American and Hire American” rings hollow when many of his Trump-branded products, from ties to chandeliers to vodka, are made overseas.

And when the cooks, waitresses and housekeepers at his “southern White House” are shipped in from abroad, taking jobs that Palm Beach County people could be doing.

What do you think? Take our poll …

Christie: Rising tide of horse manure threatens Palm Beach County water, FAU prof warns

Frank Merlino of JH Hauling & Services Inc. in Wellington prepares a pile of horse manure for disposal. (Allen Eyestone/The Palm Beach Post)
Frank Merlino of JH Hauling & Services Inc. in Wellington prepares a pile of horse manure for disposal. (Allen Eyestone/The Palm Beach Post)

Only in Wellington and Loxahatchee Groves could horse manure be an issue.

And only this time of year would that issue be a topic of discussion.

As Post contributor J. William Louda, a research professor in Florida Atlantic University’s Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry and the Environmental Sciences Program, noted this morning:

“The equestrian season is once again upon us.

Catherine Sullivan rides Belladonna Z during a competition at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center in Wellington last month. The Winter Equestrian Festival starts this week, and runs to April 2 at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)
Catherine Sullivan rides Belladonna Z during a competition at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center in Wellington last month. The Winter Equestrian Festival starts this week, and runs to April 2 at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

This a fantastic industry that provides many jobs, financial gains for Palm Beach County and tremendous entertainment for observers, such as myself. However, it also comes with a huge environmental burden — hundreds of thousands of tons of nitrogen and phosphorus-laden wastes.

I have been studying phosphorus pollution from horse manure and bedding wastes for more than a decade, and can offer some simple math. The waters of South Florida need to have low levels of phosphorus for the Everglades, Lake Okeechobee and our coastal waters to function properly. The target for the Everglades is 10 parts per billion (10 ppb = 10 micrograms per liter).

One point source that I sampled was a nursery that has a lot of horse waste … “

Louda, who was quoted often during last summer’s toxic algae crisis, has also been a bit of a lightning rod for critics of the sugar industry’s alleged role in helping cause the pollution in Lake Okeechobee that spilled into the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee River estuaries.

But bringing Wellington’s high-minded equestrian community — during equestrian season — into the debate could be the last straw for some.

In fact, calling today’s Point of View op-ed “horse manure” may be the most appropos pun of all.

What do you think?

Christie: Tell us: How do we stop these mass shootings?

People take cover at the Ft. Lauderdale Airport after a gunman killed 5 people and injured many more on January 6, 2017. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)
People take cover at the Fort Lauderdale Airport after a gunman killed 5 people and injured many more on Jan. 6. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

What do we do now?

What do we do after another mass shooting by an alleged mentally ill individual takes the lives of so many.

Even more disturbing is how the Friday afternoon bloodbath at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport further exposes how our airport terminals are big, tempting — some say, soft — targets for armed individuals who want to terrorize or just kill other people.

In March, three coordinated suicide bombings in Brussels, Belgium – two at Brussels Airport and one at a metro station – killed 32 civilians and injured more than 300. The airport explosions were in a departure hall.

In October, three gunmen with automatic weapons and suicide bombs staged an attack at Ataturk Airport in Istanbul, Turkey, killing 45 people and injuring 230. Two of the attackers opened fire near a security checkpoint’s x-ray scanner, and detonated bombs when police returned fire. The third attacker set off a bomb in the parking lot across the street from the terminal.

And now, Fort Lauderdale. According to the latest reports, 26-year-old Esteban Santiago got off a Delta Airlines flight from Anchorage, Alaska, pulled his gun from his checked bag in the baggage area, loaded it in the bathroom and shot at least 13 people — killing five and sending eight people to nearby Broward Health Medical Center.

Santiago, who was discharged from the Army National Guard in August for “unsatisfactory performance,” served in Iraq for about a year starting in 2010. He was a combat engineer.

CNN reported that Santiago showed up at the Anchorage FBI office recently, and was checked into a mental facility after he said he heard voices telling him to join ISIS. And members of his family are now telling media outlets that Santiago “lost his mind in Iraq.”

Whatever his reason may be, our minds automatically go what we can do to prevent this from happening again on U.S. soil. A few ideas:

  1. Stop allowing passengers to carry guns and ammunition in their checked bags on airline flights.
  2. Beef up armed security at U.S. airports and ease restrictions on stop and frisk.
  3. Keep mentally ill people from owning and acquiring firearms in the first place.

But what freedoms would we be willing to give up as a result?

For example, American travelers are notorious for not wanting anything to slow down — read that, ruin — their vacations. We bristle, for example, every time we have to take off our shoes or belt at the airport security checkpoint.

What would you suggest? Tell us: How do we stop these mass shootings?

Christie: My Cuba ‘adventure’ hard to put into words

IMG_20160317_093852When I mention to folks that I’ve just returned from Cuba (visited March 16-20), invariably the response is one of surprise followed by the breathless questions: “You’ve been to Cuba? What was it like?”

You’d think the answer would be easy, but I’m often caught off guard by where to start. I usually give the knee-jerk response, “It was an adventure” or “It’s a very interesting place.”

I know; a real cop out answer.

Truthfully, it is a very interesting place that is quite an adventure. But does it start with just getting there (which was an ALL-DAY adventure all in itself)? Do I talk about the great food (like garlic octopus), the addictive coffee or plentiful rum (it’s about more than just Havana Club)? How about the fact that I wish I could bottle whatever allows Cubans to be so less stressed than us Americans?

As my Sunday column shows, I chose to focus on a few notable things that really defined the Cuban people and my trip for me; especially when it came to the U.S.-Cuba embargo. And it was capped by the arrival of President Barack Obama for his historic visit to the Communist island.

The following email from a reader is typical of the responses I’ve gotten:

“Airport window… Loved your column today. It described our feelings about Cuba exactly. What wonderful people and how little they make do with… Among other places we stayed was a bed and breakfast owned by a Dr… He worked in Havana all week and wife took in visitors… Immaculate. 3 pigs were slaughtered in the yard next to us… what a contrast… could go on and on.. Have been to many places but none like Cuba.

Our of our guide was the architect overseeing remake of old Havana and he said they are afraid the infrastructure will not be able to handle the influx of cruise ships etc. .. God bless Cuba.

Signed a spoiled blessed American. Again thanks for your column… I’m saving it.”

Same here.