Like Phosphorus In Your Water? With Trump’s EPA, You’re In Luck!

Like Phosphorus In Your Water? With Trump’s EPA, You’re In Luck!

Soon after being confirmed as the new chief of the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt said this to a conference of conservative activists: “I think people across the country look at the EPA the way they look at the IRS.”

Pruitt’s remark makes clear the sort of people he’s listening to and aims to serve. Corporate polluters look at the EPA the same way corporate tax cheats look at the IRS — as the enemy.

Regulation can be burdensome even for good companies trying to do the right thing.

But for those dumping waste into rivers or spewing toxins in the sky, the slightest shadow of oversight is threatening and therefore despised, for obvious reasons.

The good people of Flint, Michigan, whose tap water turned undrinkable, likely hold a different view of the EPA than, say, coal lobbyists. If you live in Flint, you might wish the agency were stronger, not weaker.

As Oklahoma’s attorney general, Pruitt, in league with gas and oil companies, made a sport of suing the EPA. So far, he seems content with the White House notion to whack the agency’s budget by 24 percent and fire 3,000 employees.

Polluters have been whining about the EPA since it was signed into existence 47 years ago by that radical environmentalist Richard Nixon. The idea was that the American families have a right to breathe clean air and drink clean water.

This concept lay at grave odds with the prevailing operating practices of copper mines, coal-burning power plants, plastics factories, and industrial farms. Conflict was inevitable, and the EPA was regularly vilified for meddling in local matters.

Here in Florida, the agency became a key player in the complex, politically fraught effort to clean up the Everglades. Progress has been halting and uneven, but without the EPA — and the eye of the Justice Department — there would have been almost no progress at all.

The federal role in Everglades restoration was expanded by U.S. District Judge Alan Gold, now retired, who had become increasingly exasperated by the stall tactics of Florida officials and the weakening of pollution limits for farm runoff waters.

In a 2011 order, Gold irritably concluded that the state and the South Florida Water Management District, “have not been true stewards of protecting the Everglades in recent years.”

He was dead right.

Pruitt’s takeover of the EPA is happy news for Big Sugar and other industrial agricultural interests that have been trying for decades to shake free of federal scrutiny.

They eagerly await the day when anemic state agencies — not the EPA — are the ones in charge of regulating levels of phosphorus, mercury and other chemicals in the farm runoff that flows into public waterways.

The reason for that preference is simple. State politicians are much easier to manipulate than federal bureaucrats. All it takes is money.

Showered with campaign donations from Big Agriculture, Gov. Rick Scott and GOP lawmakers have obediently labored to deliver control of water policy to major landowners and user-groups, with the exception of ordinary Floridians.

Last year’s gift-wrapped water bill placed the state’s farming and ranching companies on a laughable honor system, allowing them to self-monitor their cleanup efforts with only occasional state inspections.

Of course, if the honor system worked and industries cleaned up their own mess, there would have been no need for an EPA all those years ago.

Recently, seeking to shed all federal oversight, Florida officials distributed maps intended to show that water quality throughout the Everglades has improved to the threshold of almost-clean.

This sunny report came from the South Florida Water Management District, whose board is stacked with the governor’s surrogates. The good news puzzled the Miccosukee Tribe, which says phosphorus levels in some reservation waters are seven to 10 times higher than legal limits.

The nutrient-loaded runoff comes from canals transporting farm effluent south to tribal wetlands bisected by Alligator Alley. A spokesman admitted the district has quit monitoring pollution in those canals, saying it was part of a research program that ended.

How convenient.

The state is now safe to shrug off those alarming phosphorus readings from the Miccosukees and promote its own selective, upbeat water data.

There’s a receptive new audience at the Justice Department, and the EPA. Scott Pruitt will probably be delighted to abandon future custodianship of the Everglades to Gov. Scott and Big Agriculture.

It’s true that water flowing off the vast farm fields below Lake Okeechobee is much less polluted than it was 20 years ago, but that’s because federal judges kept kicking the plan forward.

The feds haven’t been perfect partners in the restoration epic, but without that pressure the hacks in Tallahassee would have bailed a long, long time ago.

IMAGE: Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt testifies before a Senate Environment and Public Works Committee confirmation hearing on his nomination to be administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency in Washington, U.S., January 18, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts/File Photo

In Florida, Lawmakers Fight To Kill ‘Gun-Free’ Zones

In Florida, Lawmakers Fight To Kill ‘Gun-Free’ Zones

Florida lawmakers convene this week in Tallahassee, an event traditionally kicked off by a barrage of wacko gun legislation.

This year, some of it actually stands a chance of passing.

The worst by far is a bill filed in both the House and Senate that would eliminate all “gun-free” zones in the state. If passed, persons with concealed-weapons permits would be able to carry firearms to pro sports events, bars, police stations, K-12 public schools, public colleges and universities, courthouses, polling places, government meetings, seaports, and airport passenger terminals.

To single out just one of the many pathways to random bloodshed, Republican lawmakers seem determined to make handguns accessible wherever mass quantities of alcohol are being consumed.

What would normally be a sloppy fistfight in the stands at a Dolphins game could literally be a .45-caliber shootout next season. And if you think campus keg parties aren’t lively enough, throw a couple of loaded Glocks into the mix.

Polls show widespread opposition to abolishing gun-free zones, a view shared by college officials, business leaders, and many in law enforcement.

But the politicians pushing for more firearms in public are serving a higher master: the NRA.

Its unabashed darling in the Senate is mild-mannered Dennis Baxley, who is, fittingly, an undertaker by trade. His Ocala funeral parlor could see an uptick in business if guns are allowed in bars.

On the House side, Speaker Richard Corcoran insists criminals and mass shooters are attracted to gun-free zones because they know civilians there won’t be armed. Lawmakers say the Pulse nightclub massacre in Orlando and the shooting at the Fort Lauderdale airport might have been prevented if the victims had been carrying weapons.

This Charles Bronson fantasy is avidly promoted by the NRA. It relies on the false premise that anyone with a concealed-weapons permit is both calm enough and skilled enough to fire a handgun in crowded mayhem and actually hit the right person.

The airport mass shooting, committed by an unhinged legal gun owner, took less than 90 seconds. The victims, some on their way to meet a cruise ship, had just gotten off a Delta flight.

Even if any of them had brought a weapon, it would have been packed inside their checked luggage, as was the shooter’s semiautomatic Walther. The killing was over before many of the bags landed on the carousel.

So much for the Bronson scenario.

It took an army of cops to bring down the Pulse shooter (another licensed gun owner), yet we’re supposed to believe he could have been taken out by a single armed club patron, pointing a handgun in dimly lit clamor at a fast-moving assailant firing an assault rifle.

Well, maybe in the movies.

NRA-backed lawmakers won key committee assignments in the new Legislature, which means that several of this session’s bad gun laws have a better-than-usual chance of passing.

One such bill, opposed by prosecutors, makes it easier for shooters to claim a Stand Your Ground defense. It resurfaces now, as a retired Tampa police captain is on trial for fatally shooting a man during a confrontation in a movie theater.

The victim was armed with a bag of popcorn and a cell phone.

Even if the state’s gun-free zones are abolished, companies and private business owners can’t legally be required to allow customers with weapons on their property. Never fear — one GOP senator has a devious compliance tactic.

Sen. Greg Steube of Bradenton, a favorite pet of the NRA, has filed a bill aimed to punish the many retailers, restaurants, nightclubs, theme parks, movie theaters and other businesses that prohibit firearms. Among the big names potentially affected would be Disney, Costco, and Whole Foods.

Steube’s measure would allow anyone holding a concealed-weapons permit to sue a gun-banning establishment if he or she gets shot, or otherwise assaulted, on the premises. The legal claim would be that they could have protected themselves had they been armed.

It’s a tort lawyer’s dream. If your drunken stepbrother sneaks a stolen pistol into a bar and shoots you in the ass, you get to sue the bar because you were deprived of the chance to shoot him first.

That scenario fits Will Ferrell better than Charles Bronson, but it’s closer to reality than the NRA can ever admit.

Trump’s Spokeswoman Kellyanne Conway Returns From Exile

Trump’s Spokeswoman Kellyanne Conway Returns From Exile

For a whole surreal week, Kellyanne didn’t appear on television anywhere. Apparently the gag order came straight from the top.

It was so unfair, not to mention untimely. Yanking her off the air robbed the country of a burgeoning comic icon at a time when we desperately needed to laugh.

Kellyanne had always been there for us, on practically every network newscast — day or night — spouting easily disproven falsehoods with glazed conviction. She was reliably unreliable, and her appearances became an improbable source of humor and comfort.

We were amazed how swiftly she was able to dash from one live interview to the next. She seemed to possess a supernatural sixth sense that alerted her whenever a TV camera crew was in the same zip code.

It was Kellyanne who first described the administration’s daily lies and misstatements as “alternative facts,” a fantastic concept hatched in what is obviously an alternative universe.

It was Kellyanne who introduced us to the “Bowling Green massacre,” a terrorist attack that never occurred, despite her repeated references to it. (In 2011 a pair of Iraqi men were arrested in Bowling Green for plotting to ship money and weapons to al Qaida in Iraq. There was no attack on the Kentucky city, except perhaps in Kellyanne’s imagination.)

It was also she who declared that soon-to-be-fired national security adviser Mike Flynn had “the full confidence of the president.” No one but Kellyanne was remotely surprised when Flynn got canned soon thereafter.

For sheer entertainment, though, it was hard to improve upon Kellyanne’s spontaneous on-air pitch for Ivanka Trump’s fashion products after Nordstrom announced it was dropping the line.

“Go buy Ivanka’s stuff is what I would tell you,” Kellyanne chirped on Fox & Friends, adding, “I hate shopping. I’m going to get myself some today.”

She proudly characterized her riff as a “free commercial,” a clue that she was hilariously unfamiliar with the ethics rules prohibiting White House staff from endorsing products or companies.

But that’s exactly the sort of carefree jabbering that makes her so darn fun to watch.

We were crestfallen when Kellyanne got blackballed by CNN after her Bowling Green hallucinations, and we were elated when they let her back on the air. Then we were crushed again when she was banished from MSNBC’s Morning Joe for habitually saying false things.

Talk about a double standard. Kellyanne’s boss says false things all the time, yet he’s never been barred from any TV programs.

Just a few days ago the president stood before a pep rally in Florida and denounced a non-existent terror attack in Sweden. The folks in Stockholm were just as baffled as the folks in Bowling Green.

It was reported that the Trump pulled Kellyanne out of circulation because she’d strayed “off-message.” This is like Keith Richards firing a roadie for rolling a messy joint.

Sources are now telling reporters that Kellyanne had become a pest by calling up producers and trying to book herself as a guest on news shows, instead of waiting for an invitation. Evidently, all the attention she received during the presidential campaign left her addicted to the bright lights of broadcast studios.

Being silenced by the White House must have been devastating. We are left to wonder if, deprived of video contact with Mika Brzezinski and Jake Tapper, Kellyanne suffered clinical symptoms of withdrawal.

We could almost picture the poor woman reeling and adrift, cornering strangers in Starbuck’s and delivering a feisty if not factual defense of whatever the president happened to say or do that day.

It’s better to imagine that she remained stoic during her week-long exile. Radiant in Ivanka’s Mother of Pearl fan bracelets, or perhaps the Rainbow Moonstone pendant, Kellyanne would have posed defiantly in front of the bathroom mirror.

Interviewing herself, and believing every muddy answer.

But now she’s back on television, flashing that lovable rictus grin and denying that the White House kept her off the air. The queen of alternative facts is all fired up, and totally “on message.”

America is ready to laugh again.

IMAGE: Counselor to U.S. President Donald Trump, Kellyanne Conway prepares to go on the air in front of the White House in Washington, U.S., January 22, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

The Fight Over Enterprise Florida Is A Power Play With Millions At Stake

The Fight Over Enterprise Florida Is A Power Play With Millions At Stake

You don’t often see two conservative Republicans in a sloppy cage fight, but Gov. Rick Scott and House Speaker Richard Corcoran are swinging at each other even before the Legislature convenes in Tallahassee.

The big issue is Enterprise Florida, the agency tasked with luring new companies to the state. Traditionally, this is accomplished by wildly throwing buckets of money, most which comes from public funds.

Corcoran calls it “corporate welfare.” Scott says it’s a swell program that is essential to bringing new jobs, and he is asking lawmakers for $85 million.

The governor wanted the same thing last year and got roasted. His new strategy is staging doomsday press conferences in the home districts of GOP legislators who oppose Enterprise Florida.

Corcoran is fighting back with a slick video highlighting — actually, lowlighting — some of the infamous corporate backfires that have cost taxpayers dearly.

The video opens with the inglorious story of Sanford Burnham Prebys. In 2006, the California-based medical institute received about $360 million in state and local incentives to open a research facility in Lake Nona, near Orlando.

In exchange, the firm promised to provide 330 high-paying jobs within a decade. It came up 64 jobs short.

Last year Sanford Burnham tried unsuccessfully to have the University of Florida take over its Lake Nona operation. Now Scott’s administration is trying to retrieve almost $78 million in incentive funds.

Good luck with that.

Then there’s the case of Digital Domain, a painful digital experience for both employees and taxpayers. The cinematic special-effects company opened a studio in Port St. Lucie in early 2012, a deal sealed with massive local and state giveaways.

Nine short months later, Digital shut its doors and then went into bankruptcy. About 300 local jobs were lost.

A court settlement awarded the state a pitiful $3 million of its $20 million investment, while the town of Port St. Lucie got back only $3.2 million of almost $52 million in incentives.

The ex-CEO of Digital fared much better. The court gave him $8.5 million to pay down a mortgage on a big house in Colorado that he’d put up as collateral for a loan to the company.

The Digital deal was hatched under Gov. Charlie Crist, and Scott says his version of Enterprise Florida is more careful about dispensing our money. Most incentive agreements now require companies to meet performance levels before receiving any public funds.

Corcoran and other Republicans seeking to gut Enterprise Florida have found support from Americans For Prosperity, the Tea Party group funded by the ultraconservative Koch brothers.

It’s not only the concept of corporate handouts that offends opponents of Enterprise Florida. It’s the idea of giving select large companies a competitive advantage over others.

Another factor is Enterprise Florida’s overhead. Until last spring, it had 90 employees, offices abroad and a payroll of $9 million. It was forced to shrink dramatically after the House rejected Scott’s request for $250 million in “recruitment” funds.

Many states offer money and tax breaks to woo out-of-state companies. Proving those expenditures really pay off is difficult.

According to the Orlando Sentinel, Florida’s Department of Economic Opportunity tracked eight research companies that got $444 million in state incentives between 2006 and 2008.

Only one of those firms has met or surpassed its promised number of new jobs. That’s a lousy (and very expensive) batting average.

Corcoran and other critics of Enterprise Florida say the money being spent on corporate giveaways would be better invested in schools, roads, and other public projects. Scott has intimated that Corcoran is posturing because he plans to run for governor.

It’s an amusing complaint, because Scott himself is running for the U.S. Senate in 2018. His campaign identity has been styled entirely around job creation, and he’ll claim credit for every new WaWa and Taco Bell that has opened in Florida during the nationwide economic recovery.

Which is what politicians do.

What they don’t do, usually, is tangle openly with powerful members of their own party.

Scott says the resistance to Enterprise Florida is an attack on business, while Corcoran says it’s an attack on government waste. At stake is at least $85 million of state money, which most Floridians would rather not gamble on another Digital Domain.

That’s what makes the fight between the governor and the House speaker worth watching. It’s a political power play about something that actually matters.

IMAGE: Florida Gov. Rick Scott addresses an economic summit in Orlando, Florida, June 2, 2015.  REUTERS/Steve Nesius

A ‘Spicy’ Memoir: How To Lie With A Straight Face

A ‘Spicy’ Memoir: How To Lie With A Straight Face

Anonymously mass-mailed proposal for a blockbuster new book:

Dear [fill in name of editor],

As you devour the explosive details of this book manuscript, you’ll understand why I need to withhold my identity at this time.

I currently work at the highest level of government in Washington. My official job description is “press secretary,” though my real duties are much more sensitive.

My boss (let’s call him “Thump”) is an impulsive, vain, petty megalomaniac, but I accepted this job believing I could make him appear thoughtful, caring, and poised.

What the hell was I smoking? Every day there’s a new train wreck, and I’m the one lying bloody on the tracks.

In only three weeks, I’ve compiled enough shocking “insider” material for a surefire bestseller. It’s possible I won’t be employed here much longer, so I’ve been hurriedly working on this memoir in my spare time.

The first chapter kicks off with my job interview, an unforgettable morning. I was summoned to midtown Manhattan and escorted to a bright atrium, where a crew of painters perched on scaffolds was applying industrial bronzer to my future boss.

“Spicer!” he bellowed. No, wait, scratch that.

“Dicer!” he bellowed. “The position of press secretary requires one essential skill: Can you lie and keep a straight face?”

“Excuse me, sir?”

“You’ll be my front man with the scum-dog media. Some of the things I’ll order you to say will be so outlandishly false and silly that you’ll want to burst out laughing. I need somebody who can keep a straight face, no matter what.”

“I can do that, sir!”

And thus began my grim descent.

On my first day at work, “Thump” spoke at a large public event. The aerial photographs showed several hundred thousand people there — a very respectable turnout — but the boss told me to report the crowd as a whopping 1.5 million.

Which I did, loyally, without cracking a smile.

He also instructed me to bash the media for questioning the crowd size, so I bashed those suckers big-time. Seriously, I was IN THEIR FACES! It’s all laid out in Chapter Two.

Every day was a new battle, and I thought I was doing fine. Every night, standing in front of the bathroom mirror, I’d practice my disdainful stare and scolding tone. For pointers I even studied old tapes of Ron Ziegler, Richard Nixon’s press secretary, scoffing at the Watergate break-in.

What I didn’t know, until later, was that my boss — who watches like 23 hours of TV a day — was replaying each press conference, rating my performance.

The feedback was crushing. He said I wasn’t tough enough, slick enough, or dapper enough. I write about this, sadly, in Chapter Seven.

Then a certain Saturday-night comedy program featured a sketch about me totally losing my s–t at a press conference. I’d thought it was pretty funny, until Thump hauled me into his office.

“The actor who played you was really a chick!” he hollered.

“What? No way!”

He put on the video and we watched it nine times. He was right — a movie actress named Melissa had been made up to look like me.

No fan of parody, Thump was furious. He said being impersonated by a woman made me look weak, and that made him look weak for hiring me.

I innocently asked if he didn’t have more important stuff to worry about, such as Iran’s missile tests or his daughter’s troubled line of designer handbags. He responded by throwing a golf ball at my head, a scene I chillingly recreate in Chapter Eleven.

Last week was the worst. In defending Thump’s views on Muslim immigrants, I was told to mention the terrorist attacks in Boston, San Bernardino, and Atlanta.

Except it turns out that the only bomber to go after Atlanta was a Florida-born redneck who targeted the 1996 Olympics — definitely not a jihadist.

Yet, somehow I named Atlanta in three different interviews. So, when the blowback began, I got the brilliant idea to say I was actually referring to the city of Orlando.

Except it turns out the Pulse nightclub shooter isn’t an immigrant, either. He was born in New York. The media sure drilled me a new one after that, as you’ll see in Chapter Thirteen.

Still I’m hanging in there, faithfully saying whatever whacky made-up stuff the boss wants me to say, regardless of facts. I might not have a job by the time you read this book proposal, but at least I’ll go out with a straight face.

Can we work that into the title?

IMAGE: White House spokesman Sean Spicer holds a press briefing at the White House in Washington, U.S., February 3, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

Rick Scott Figures Some Dictators Aren’t So Bad — If They’ve Got Money

Rick Scott Figures Some Dictators Aren’t So Bad — If They’ve Got Money

Florida Gov. Rick Scott is now dabbling in foreign policy, trying to look like a tough guy in advance of his U.S. Senate run in 2018.

He recently warned Florida’s seaports that they could lose critical state funding if they make any shipping deals with Cuba. Scott later told reporters: “I don’t believe any port in our state, none of them, should be doing business with a brutal dictator.”

These would be stirring words if they didn’t reek with hypocrisy. The governor has been a gushing supporter of free trade with China, where human rights are trampled daily by the government.

In fact, under Scott, lots of Florida taxpayer dollars have been spent trying to drum up more business with the leadership in Beijing.

Here’s a peek at what goes on there, as detailed in Amnesty International’s 2015-2016 report:

Start with a “massive nationwide crackdown” on human-rights lawyers, whose homes and offices got raided. More than 240 attorneys and activists were detained or questioned by Chinese state security agents, and 25 were still in custody or “missing” at the time the report was compiled.

In a narrower purge, five women were arrested for “picking quarrels and provoking troubles” because they tried to start a national campaign against sexual harassment. Meanwhile, in the province of Zhejiang, Chinese authorities continued a very public program of destroying churches and tearing down Christian crosses.

And if it’s government brutality that really disturbs Gov. Scott, he should be aware that torture remains “widespread” in Chinese detention facilities, according to Amnesty and other groups.

One case cited was that of human-rights lawyer Yu Wensheng, who was abused in a Beijing prison from October 2014 to January 2015. He was handcuffed in a “restraint chair,” interrogated for 15 to 16 hours every day and denied sleep.

Horrifically, human-rights investigators also reported last summer that the Chinese government has been harvesting organs from thousands of executed prisoners, including many who were jailed for religious or political reasons.

Of course, China remains a key trade partner of the United States, and owns a jaw-dropping $1.2 trillion of our national debt. For years we have, for the sake of profit, overlooked Beijing’s suppression of dissent and persecution of activists and journalists.

President Trump complains loudly about Chinese monetary policy — not the treatment of political prisoners.

Enterprise Florida, a controversial pro-business consortium that gets 90 percent of its funding from state taxpayers, opened offices in Shanghai and Hong Kong in March 2014.

Its press release boasted that China was “Florida’s No. 1 largest import market” and “the No. 1 customer for the Port of Miami in overall tonnage.”

The board of Enterprise Florida is chaired by Gov. Scott, who at the time clearly had no qualms about our seaports accepting cargo from a communist regime.

Not long after Enterprise Florida opened its doors in Hong Kong, police in that city began rounding up pro-democracy protesters. In all, 955 people were arrested.

Not a peep of outrage was heard then from Scott. Yet now he surfaces, bristling with phony alarm because Port Everglades and the Port of Palm Beach were hosting a trade delegation from Cuba.

Officials at those ports had planned to sign memoranda opening future business discussions with Havana. “Disappointed some FL ports would enter into any agreement with Cuban dictatorship,” Scott tweeted. “I will recommend restricting state funds for ports that work with Cuba….”

Both Port Everglades and the Port of Palm Beach quickly backed away from signing cooperation papers. Last week the governor submitted a budget that included a threat to withhold infrastructure funds from any port that expands trade with Cuba.

The ports wouldn’t be breaking any laws. Exports of certain commodities and medical supplies to Cuba are legal, and since 2010 U.S. companies have shipped 4.8 million tons, about one-sixth of it from Florida ports.

How odd that Scott hasn’t confronted the major airlines that are now flying direct to the island from Florida, or the cruise lines seeking berths in Havana Harbor.

Maybe he forgot about them, or maybe just doesn’t want to piss off big corporations that might donate to his Senate campaign.

The same sort of human-rights crimes that occur in Cuba are happening throughout China and other countries with which we freely do business. For American politicians, lambasting Chinese leaders is risky, because China has lots of money, and manufactures lots of stuff we want: computers, clothes, sneakers.

It’s much easier to act indignant about the Cuban government, because Cuba is poor and doesn’t have much to sell us.

Thus appears Rick Scott, intrepid crusader for human rights.

But if there was serious money in old Havana, you can bet that Enterprise Florida would put an office there.

Carl Hiaasen is a columnist for the Miami Herald. Readers may write to him at: The Miami Herald, 3511 N.W. 91 Avenue, Doral, Fla. 33172; email:

IMAGE: Florida Gov. Rick Scott speaks at a press conference about the Zika virus in Doral, Florida, U.S. August 4, 2016.  REUTERS/Joe Skipper

Mar-a-Lago: Such A Sweet Deal At Twice The Price

Mar-a-Lago: Such A Sweet Deal At Twice The Price

Welcome future members!

We here at beautiful Mar-a-Lago appreciate your enthusiasm at the prospect of joining our luxurious club, located on the almost-private island of Palm Beach.

Since November, we’ve been swamped with so many applications that we’ve decided to increase our initiation fee by 100 percent. Contrary to numerous fake news reports, we’re not doing this to cash in on Mr. Trump’s being elected president. That would be greedy and low-class.

The real truth is that we’re planning some amazing new services and breathtaking renovations. When you see what we have to offer, we think you’ll agree that paying $200,000 for the Mar-a-Lago lifestyle is actually a bargain.

Those of you who’ve visited our website know that one of our most popular “six-star” amenities is croquet. This is the sport where you dress up like Jay Gatsby and whack a hard ball through a series of bent coat-hangers that have been whimsically arranged on a wide green lawn.

Raising the club’s initiation fees will allow us to upgrade our famous croquet operation. The traditional wooden balls will be replaced by ones made of authentic elephant ivory, supplied by Mr. Trump’s older sons.

Another exciting change is coming to our renowned lunchtime bridge games. Each deck of playing cards will soon feature a hand-painted likeness of Mr. Trump as the king of hearts, and of Mrs. Trump as the queen of diamonds.

Winning bridge teams will be allowed to take home one of these special decks, which will also be on sale for $49 in the Trump Boutique.

Tennis is another beloved pastime here at Mar-a-Lago. In the months ahead we plan to re-surface our seven-star courts with bright new clay chosen by Mr. Trump’s personal colorist. In addition, we’ll be installing adjustable nets that will be strung at varying heights during the season, depending on the state of Mr. Trump’s forehand.

For those of you who don’t play tennis, bridge, or croquet, be assured that Mar-a-Lago still has much to offer for $200,000 — elegant suites, eight-star dining, and a service staff whose visa status is unassailable.

And let’s not forget the magnetic presence of Mr. Trump himself.

Many prospective members have inquired about club protocol when the new president is in residence. Obviously, because of security issues, life at Mar-a-Lago is a bit less carefree during Mr. Trump’s visits.

The tanning salon is closed to members and guests, though all other spa facilities operate under normal hours. Our nine-star beach club across the street also remains open — don’t be too surprised if you see big Bill O’Reilly on his paddleboard!

Throughout the compound, the Secret Service is a visible presence. We discourage members from interacting with the agents. Please don’t try to buy them drinks. Don’t ask to see their guns. Don’t tug playfully at their ear buds.

We are a social club, but these agents have a serious job to do. We expect our members to use common sense. When Mr. Trump is on the property, leave your croquet mallet on the croquet lawn. Do not bring it into the bar.

If you happen to see Mr. Trump in our 10-star restaurant or 11-star lobby, please don’t try to shake his hand, pat him on the back, or touch his hair. We advise you to wave from a distance.

In the event Mr. Trump comes over and speaks with you, keep the conversation light. Golf is always a safe subject. For instance, he loves talking about the killer slope of the 18th green at Trump International, or that crazy dogleg on the 16th at Doral.

Come on — how many other private clubs give you the opportunity to schmooze with the leader of the free world? Not that we’d ever use that as a sales tactic, because it would be tacky and wrong.

Mr. Trump envisions Mar-a-Lago as a resort for all the people, including those Rust Belt voters who got him elected. And while we’d love to offer them a patriotic discount to join our club, it really wouldn’t be fair to all our millionaire members who shell out the big bucks.

So, for one and all, the post-election price is $200,000. We do take personal checks.

An absolutely true news item: The initiation fee to join Donald Trump’s private club, Mar-a-Lago, has been doubled from $100,000 to $200,000 since his election to the presidency.

IMAGE: Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks about the results of the Florida, Ohio, North Carolina, Illinois and Missouri primary elections during a news conference held at his Mar-A-Lago Club in Palm Beach, Florida March 15, 2016.   REUTERS/Joe Skipper  

Big Orange Trumpster Is Very Much A Story Of Hope

Big Orange Trumpster Is Very Much A Story Of Hope

Pinch yourself. Slap yourself. Go howl at the moon.

It’s not a dream. Donald J. Trump is in the White House.

Say what you will, but no other candidate in our nation’s history has overcome such daunting obstacles on his way to winning the presidency.

Never has a human personality seemed more ill-fitted for political campaigning — a bombastic, thin-skinned egomaniac, incapable of humility, grace, or introspection.

Hardly any journalists, myself included, thought he could pull it off. His quest seemed doomed by the weight of multiple character defects.

The surprise triumph of the Big Orange Trumpster is very much a story of hope. The message is simple: These days, anybody — absolutely anybody — can become president.

You don’t need facts. You don’t need experience. You just need a good act.

Many past candidates had been born into wealth, but almost always they’d made an effort at public service. Not Trump.

He bragged about being rich and getting richer. He bragged about his hotels and golf courses. He bragged about his cheesy beauty pageants and reality shows. He even bragged about his bankruptcies.

Any other candidate with such motley credentials would have been laughed off the stage way back in Iowa. Not Trump.

As a hot-button issue he chose immigration reform, characterizing Mexicans who illegally cross the border as rapists and criminals. The cruel slur offended many Hispanic voters throughout the country, and it could have been fatal to any other campaign.

Trump, unapologetic, marched on.

He publicly belittled Sen. John McCain for getting captured in Vietnam — an audacious insult from a man who’d ducked war duty by claiming “bone spurs” in his foot, an injury that didn’t keep him off the tennis courts while McCain was being beaten in a POW camp.

Again, any other candidate would have been repudiated for doubting the senator’s heroism. Not Trump.

After a disabled reporter asked a question Trump didn’t like, Trump made fun of him with savage mimicry. And after Megyn Kelly of Fox News asked a question he didn’t like, Trump retaliated with an interview suggesting she was menstruating.

Jeb Bush wouldn’t have gotten away with that. Nor would Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, or any of the other men running for president.

True, they would never in a million years have said such a thing. No stable, half-sensible person would.

But that illustrates the magnitude of what Trump had to overcome — an almost uncontrollable impulse to spew (or tweet) the most offensive thoughts that popped into his twitchy brainpan.

Every time you thought he’d hit a new low, he’d go lower. Top Republicans abandoned him, and the imminent demise of his campaign was predicted on a weekly basis.

Name one other candidate who could have survived telling black Americans to vote for him because their schools and neighborhoods are so awful that they’ve got nothing to lose.

Name one other candidate who could have survived the notorious “Access Hollywood” tape, in which the recently married Trump boasted lewdly about groping women. He made Gary Hart look like a Franciscan monk.

Name one other candidate who could have proclaimed a man-crush on Vladimir Putin, and still swept the primaries.

No presidential contender has ever done more than Trump to damage his own image, and still won. No other candidate has so casually demeaned so many key voter segments, and still won.

What Trump accomplished was amazing. Evangelicals stampeded to cast their ballots for a self-proclaimed p—y grabber. Lots of women did, too.

This big-city billionaire who pays no income taxes somehow convinced rural working-class Americans that he felt their pain. Today some people still think there’s going to be a giant wall along our southern border, and that Mexico will pay for it.

I’m serious. They really believe this.

It’s a tribute to Trump’s stage skills. Never have American voters been inspired to overlook so many startling deficiencies in a presidential nominee. Even his own staff expected him to lose.

Although he fell almost 3 million votes short of Hillary Clinton, Trump won enough states to seat himself in the Oval Office. The fact that his popularity ratings are higher in Moscow than here at home shouldn’t diminish the significance of his electoral upset.

Imagine how many votes he might have gotten if he’d behaved like a grownup.

IMAGE: U.S. President Donald Trump hosts a meeting with business leaders in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington January 23, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

Big Sugar’s Slime Flows North To The Capitol

Big Sugar’s Slime Flows North To The Capitol

The paid soldiers in Gov. Rick Scott’s war on the environment are aligning to block state efforts to purchase any farm lands south of Lake Okeechobee, which means Floridians can look forward to more summers of slime.

Nightmare algae blooms, vile and job-killing, are destined to be one of Scott’s legacies. Next June, when the St. Lucie estuary again turns puke-green and the oyster beds die, the light-footed governor will be nowhere in the vicinity.

Neither will the tourists.

The blooms are caused by billions of gallons of fresh water that are pumped from Lake O during the rainy season. Loaded with phosphorus and other pollutants from surrounding areas, the lake discharges are mainlined toward both Florida coasts, bringing ruin to saltwater habitats.

Senate President Joe Negron, who lives in Stuart — basically Slime Central — wants the Lake O outflows diverted, cleaned in reservoirs and sent south to the Everglades.

The plan, supported by many scientists and conservation groups, would require purchasing 60,000 acres from agriculture. Only eight years ago, U.S. Sugar embraced such a concept, calling it a “monumental opportunity to save the Everglades” and struck a deal to unload 187,000 acres.

The company infamously reneged, and it owned enough lawmakers to kill the deal. It definitely owns the governor, who’ll need Big Sugar’s money when he runs for the U.S. Senate in 2018.

As Senate president, Negron is one of the most powerful figures in Tallahassee. He’ll need all the clout he can muster for this battle, to which he arrived late and as part of the problem.

Negron has displayed little resistance as his party’s leaders have subverted Amendment 1, which 75 percent of voters approved in 2014 for the purchase conservation lands. And he was all-in last year when the Legislature and governor neutered water-quality laws to allow agricultural corporations to monitor their own pollution on the honor system.

Negron now needs Amendment 1 funds to buy farm acreage for conversion to reservoirs. He’s under heavy hometown pressure from Treasure Coast residents, who are getting clobbered financially by the algae outbreaks.

Meanwhile Big Sugar has mounted a PR campaign framing Negron’s land-purchase plan as an attack on farming and the communities near Lake Okeechobee. This is industry-scripted melodrama; not all cane acreage is highly productive.

Opposition to Negron’s plan also comes from the South Florida Water Management District, which at one time relied on actual experts on water management. Real scientists, if you can imagine such a thing! Those were the days.

Since taking office, Scott has loaded the boards of all Florida’s water districts with lawyers, developers, Realtors, agricultural and industry advocates. Funding has been cut, and experienced staff members canned.

For instance, the previous executive director of the South Florida water district had worked in that field for two decades. He was replaced by lobbyist/lawyer Pete Antonacci, who’d formerly worked as Scott’s special counsel in Tallahassee.

It is Antonacci now leading the district’s fight against Negron’s cleanup plan. Last week he told a Senate committee that buying more land to hold Lake Okeechobee’s overflows would only slow down current restoration projects.

He also said state and federal authorities should focus cleanup efforts north of Lake Okeechobee, such as replacing residential septic tanks with sewers.

That is, almost word-for-word, Big Sugar’s position — yet it’s coming from the chief of a state agency that’s supposed to act in the interests of all Floridians.

Eight million people are affected by the decisions of the South Florida Water Management District, but Rick Scott has turned it into a naked political lobby for the sugar barons, who are already rich from government crop subsidies.

Big Sugar is one of the biggest donors to the governor’s PAC, so it’s no shock to see him sell out. He’s been doing it since Day One.

Ironically, Negron, too, has benefited from the calculated generosity of the sugar industry, which over the years has showered him and his political action committees with hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Unlike the governor, though, Negron owes his seat to constituents in one geographic district. Unlike the governor, Negron can’t hop on his jet and vanish when there’s a manmade environmental catastrophe in his back yard.

He’s got to come home and face the folks whose lives are upended by it.

And those folks don’t want a repeat of last year’s nightmare. They want all that lake water pumped south through the glades, not to the coasts.

Which leaves Negron uncustomarily at odds with Scott and Big Sugar. How hard he fights will show what he’s made of, and where his true loyalty lies.

The green that runs through Tallahassee is a different shade than algae, but it’s just as slimy to the touch.

Eight Years Later, ‘Yes, We Can’ Became ‘Yes, He Did’

Eight Years Later, ‘Yes, We Can’ Became ‘Yes, He Did’

This is the lull between presidencies when we traditionally debate the issue of legacy.

Those who hate Barack Obama rant about all the awful things he’s done, while those who like him praise all the great things he’s done.

Obama himself is understandably concerned about edifying his legacy, which will be attacked with relish by the new president and the Republican-led Congress. That’s the politics of our day, and Obama can’t do much about it.

Ex-presidents are helpless to choose their places in history, a process that unfolds with time and perspective. Obama needn’t worry. He’ll be treated well.

When he entered the White House in January 2009, he basically was handed a steaming bag of crap — two endless and costly wars, skyrocketing national debt and an economy skidding toward a doomsday cliff.

He also faced hostile Republican leaders who, even before his first full day on the job, had met privately vowing to fight everything he proposed — including policy ideas that had originated with the GOP.

That’s the unwelcoming scenario that greeted the first African-American president eight years ago. Yet, in less than two weeks he’ll leave office with popularity ratings comparable to those of Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton.

Most of our troops are home from Afghanistan and Iraq. Much of the al Qaida leadership — remember the maniacs who attacked us on 9/11? — has been decimated by drone strikes.

Oh, and Osama bin Laden is dead. (If a Republican president had ordered that raid, he would have been coronated.)

One other thing that happened during Obama’s presidency: The economy didn’t tank. In fact, a major recovery began.

More than 15 million new jobs have been added since 2010. Unemployment is way down, and so is the poverty rate. Incomes are rising even for the middle class. Gas prices are low and, for the first time in decades, America isn’t dependent on foreign oil.

The U.S. auto industry, on the brink of bankruptcy when Obama took office, is now roaring. Most of the bailout money has been paid back.

And lots of people have gotten richer on Wall Street, as stock prices soared with corporate profits.

Obama shouldn’t get credit for all of this, but the people who hate him give him no credit for anything. Some of them never came to grips with the fact there was a black guy in the White House. They just couldn’t deal with it, and still can’t.

History will.

It will also deal with the frightening rise of ISIS (should Obama have left more troops in Iraq?), the carnage in Syria (should Obama have sent arms sooner to the moderate rebels?) and the surge in mass shootings in the United States (should Obama have worked harder on gun control?).

It’s fashionable to say Obama’s “signature” achievement was the Affordable Care Act, which he did a terrible job of explaining and defending. That’s a big reason the Democrats lost the House of Representatives in the 2010 mid-term elections.

At the time, Republican leaders thundered that Obamacare would destroy the economy. It didn’t, of course.

It also didn’t work nearly as well it was supposed to. Now Donald Trump and Congress must figure out how to fix it without eliminating health insurance for 20 million working-class people (lots of whom probably voted for Trump).

For the first time in years, Republicans must shed their obstructionist mission and actually pass a few laws. The pressure is huge; only Charlie Manson has lower public approval ratings than Congress.

Now it will be the GOP’s turn to scramble for a miracle way to help all those Americans who haven’t been lifted by the economic recovery. Many of them abandoned the Democratic ticket in November, out of a justified frustration.

That’s the paradox of Obama’s resurgent popularity. It couldn’t save his party, or its presidential candidate, from a rural wave of disillusion they never saw coming.

(Republican bigshots didn’t see it coming, either. Look what happened to Jeb Bush and all the other “serious” candidates.)

At the end, when it mattered most, Obama couldn’t bring the country together. The politics of fear, hate and division cashed in.

As a result, the keys to the White House are being handed to a man who couldn’t be more different from his poised and deliberative predecessor.

Trump is starting with a much stronger hand than the one dealt to Obama. There are many challenges ahead, but nothing like the dire mess that confronted a new young president eight years ago.

That will be Obama’s legacy, the steady way he worked through it. The country is dramatically better off now than it was in January 2009, and that’s what the history books will say.

IMAGE: U.S. President Barack Obama speaks on the third night of the 2016 Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S., July 27, 2016.  REUTERS/Jim Young
19 Things Trump Would Rather Do Than Attend Intelligence Briefings

19 Things Trump Would Rather Do Than Attend Intelligence Briefings

Nineteen things President-elect Donald Trump would rather do than attend the daily top-secret intelligence briefings:

1. Chat with Sean Hannity. Or Joe Scarborough, or Matt Lauer, or even Wolf Blitzer. Anybody who’ll put me on the air.

2. Hang out with my good friend Kanye West at Trump Tower. Get a photo taken with him in our spectacular lobby. Tell him how honored I am that he dyed his hair blonde, just like mine.

3. Sneak into Barron’s room while he’s at school and watch “Saturday Night Live,” which I secretly Tivo every week, even the reruns.

4. Go on Twitter and rant about how much I can’t stand “Saturday Night Live,” how incredibly NOT funny it is, especially the sketches where Alec Baldwin is supposedly playing me.

5. Call up my good friend Vladimir Putin to innocently inquire if he is aware of any wayward emails belonging to one “A. Baldwin” of midtown Manhattan. Also extremely important: Remember to thank the Vladster for recommending Rex Tillerson of Exxon Mobil to be my secretary of State.

6. Take Mitt Romney to dinner at another fancy restaurant, just to watch him grovel. Promise him he’s still in the running for a key post in my Cabinet.

7. Just for fun, go on Twitter and say how much I respect and admire Romney, and would be proud to have him on my team.

8. Call up Schwarzenegger to tell him he’s doing an amazing job on the new “Celebrity Apprentice.” Ask him if any of the contestants want to be in my Cabinet. Tell them they’ve got a better shot than Romney.

9. Jack up the rents in Trump Tower before the Secret Service signs its lease. Throw in a free gym membership for the agents assigned to protect me. Pence’s guys can use the Gold’s down the street.

10. Work on my official Enemies List. So far I’ve got Alec Baldwin, that loudmouth Carrier union guy from Indiana, some smart-ass college chick (no more than an 8!) who implied I didn’t respect women, and the 2.8 million people (most of them illegals, I bet!) who made me lose the popular vote to Hillary.

11. Continue my sincere outreach to worried minorities by asking Sofia Vergara or possibly Selena Gomez to drop by Trump Tower for a photo-op in our spectacular lobby. And if they want to do the blonde thing, like Kanye, that would be so amazing.

12. Attend my regular morning briefing about the occupancy rate at the new Trump hotel in Washington, D.C. Investigate why it’s not already booked solid for the next four years. Also extremely important: Leave a standing order that if Megyn Kelly ever checks in, put her in the noisiest room, the one next to the freight elevator and the ice machines.

13. Call up random foreign leaders and tell them how terrific they are. Remind Ivanka to help me with the pronunciations. Also, a map of the world might be useful.

14. Go on Twitter to rant about Boeing spending too much money on the new Air Force One 747s, since the damn things won’t even be finished in time for me to fly in them.

15. Pay Steve Bannon the five bucks I owe him after Boeing’s stock dropped like a rock. Ask him to make a list of other companies I should trash on Twitter late at night, when I can’t get to sleep.

16. Conduct regular staff meetings about my final Cabinet appointments. Ask if there are any remaining jobs I can pretend to discuss with Mitt Romney, just to jerk him around some more. See if we can get him to dye his hair blonde.

17. Continue talks with Donald Jr. and Eric about independently running my far-flung business empire while I’m president, to make sure there won’t be any conflicts of interest. Ha! Who am I kidding? I’m fond of those boys, but they’re not going to buy a box of paper clips without consulting me first.

18. Research the measurements of the Oval Office, to see if my tanning bed will fit.

19. Finish the guest list for my “Drain-the-Swamp Inaugural Ball.” Rent an 18-wheeler to deliver all those invitations to Goldman Sachs.

Also extremely important: Don’t seat those hicks from “Duck Dynasty” at the same table with Tom and Giselle Brady! Melania would cut me off for, like, ever.

IMAGE: Donald Trump greets supporters during his election night rally in Manhattan. REUTERS/Mike Segar

‘Tool Of Energy Industry’ Will Run Trump Administration’s EPA

‘Tool Of Energy Industry’ Will Run Trump Administration’s EPA

A man named Scott Pruitt received some exciting news last week: Donald Trump has chosen him to “lead” the Environmental Protection Agency.

If you were the attorney general of Oklahoma, you’d be thrilled to go to Washington, D.C. — and not just for the opportunity to gut a federal agency that you despise.

A bonus benefit of leaving that part of the Midwest is getting away from the many earthquakes caused by oil and natural gas operations. These days the only seismic activity on Pennsylvania Avenue is non-geological.

Up until 2009, Oklahoma was averaging about two earthquakes a year that exceeded 3.0 on the Richter scale. In 2015, the state experienced 907 quakes measuring 3.0 or higher.

It’s now the “induced” earthquake capital of the continent, thanks to the industry for which Pruitt proudly shills.

The outbreak is being caused by massive deep-well injections of salty wastewater from oil and gas drilling operations, including fracking. Hundreds of billion of gallons are shot underground using high pressure, destabilizing the core rock layers.

Not being imbeciles, Oklahomans have made the connection between the spread of subterranean disposal wells and the quakes.

Last month, residents of Pawnee filed a class-action suit against 27 energy companies seeking damages for a 5.8 temblor that throttled the town.

The oil and gas industry hasn’t publicly admitted responsibility, saying the science is inconclusive.

It’s the same line Pruitt uses when questioning the reality of climate change, although he hasn’t gone as overboard as Trump, who called it a “hoax” perpetrated by China.

On both issues, scientists are in solid agreement. A 45,000 percent jump in earthquakes during a six-year period is not natural in Oklahoma or any state, just as the rapid melting of the earth’s glaciers isn’t natural.

These are man-made cataclysms, and Pruitt is the ideal man to deny it.

As Oklahoma’s top legal officer, he has made a crusade of suing the EPA to help energy companies avoid regulations on how much arsenic, mercury and other toxins they dump into the environment.

Pruitt made a deal with other Republican attorney generals to sue the Obama administration over its climate rules, even before the rules had been written. That lawsuit is still in federal court.

It’s hardly shocking that an Oklahoma politician would be a tool of the energy industry, a huge engine for that state’s economy. However, Pruitt’s devotion is exceptionally slavish.

In 2011, he fired off a stern letter to the EPA complaining that U.S. regulators had overestimated the amount of air pollutants being emitted during the drilling of natural gas wells.

Pruitt’s three-page letter was printed on official stationery and bore his signature, giving the impression that he actually wrote it. He didn’t.

The letter was composed by attorneys for Devon Energy, one of Oklahoma’s biggest oil and gas exploration companies, and delivered to Pruitt’s office by Devon’s top lobbyist.

Pruitt’s staff made a couple of minor word changes and then sent it to the EPA, prompting a grateful email from the energy firm’s lobbyist: “Please pass along Devon’s thanks to Attorney General Pruitt.”

That wasn’t an isolated incident.

The New York Times found that energy lobbyists drafted other letters that Pruitt sent under his own name to the Interior Department, the Office of Management and Budget, and even President Obama.

Pruitt, who has a law degree, knows how to write. Evidently he prefers to let Big Oil put the words in his mouth, and on paper. The payback has been a gusher of campaign donations.

Now he’s been selected to shrink and enfeeble the EPA, which has existed since 1970. The president who signed the agency into law was Richard Nixon, a Republican with no burning passion for environmental causes.

Still there was a bipartisan understanding in Washington that most Americans believed government ought to do something about pollution. They wanted clean air and clean water, whether they lived in Flint, Michigan, or Everglades City, Florida.

Pruitt says he’ll be faithful to that mission, which has historically conflicted with the practices of the industry that owns his soul.

It would be more earthshaking than the all quakes back in his home state if Pruitt’s moral fault line suddenly shifted, and he morphed into someone who put the public good ahead of his own fevered loyalty to the energy companies.

IMAGE: Attorney General of Oklahoma Scott Pruitt (L), a critic of the U.S. government in the King v. Burwell case, speaks to reporters after arguments at the Supreme Court building in Washington, DC, U.S. March 4, 2015. Also pictured are the plaintiffs’ attorneys Sam Kazman (C) and Michael Carvin (R). REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst/File Photo

Trump The Showman Takes Center Stage

Trump The Showman Takes Center Stage

Our long national IQ test is over. We failed.

Donald Trump, chosen by fewer than half of those who voted, will enter the Oval Office in January as one of the most shockingly unqualified, unprepared presidents in American history.

There is reason to be afraid. There’s also reason to wait and see what happens, before you start shopping for a house in Quebec.

Yes, the Trump we saw on the campaign trail — the one who sickened so many Republicans I know, as well as Democrats — was really him. Or at least the “him” of the moment.

He was petty, profane, proudly vindictive and perpetually unarmed with real facts. He was comfortable standing as a florid caricature of a blowhard billionaire.

When rattled, he went off like a Muppet in a microwave.

But he’ll be our next president because he’s very good at giving a performance, whether he believes what he’s saying or not. The white working-class people that he sought to galvanize bought his act, big-time.

Trump figured out the pandering formula early. He also understood that the currents of discontent dividing this country run so deeply that he could get away with saying and doing things that would have doomed any other candidate.

Remember Gary Hart, once a luminous star of the Democratic Party? He might have been elected president in 1988 if he hadn’t been photographed with a young woman who wasn’t his wife on a yacht called Monkey Business.

Hart behaved like a Trappist monk compared to the lecherous Donald, but in 2016 it didn’t matter.

None of Trump’s heavy baggage weighed him down, and in the end the same sort of folks he’s been stiffing and stepping on for his whole business career were the ones who sent him to the White House.

Also racing to the polls in startling numbers were closet racists and online paranoids excited by Trump’s cynically coded promise to “take America back.” They, too, have been suckered.

For those fearful of a Trump presidency, here’s why it’s too soon to panic. People who’ve known him a long time will tell you that, first and foremost, he’s an actor.

He has no real ideology beyond advancing his brand and fluffing his own feathers. Ironically, this might actually work to the country’s advantage.

Not so long ago, Trump the businessman was a Democrat, who in the abortion debate presented himself as pro-choice.

He also spoke out for a ban on assault rifles and in favor of longer waiting periods for firearm purchases.

He has spun 180 degrees on those conservative issues, but on others he’s hard to pin down. There were moments during the campaign when he expressed very un-Republican views about raising the federal minimum wage, for example.

Trump’s GOP opponents in the primaries mocked him for flip-flopping, saying he was basically a liberal at heart, but those accusations didn’t bother Trump’s supporters one bit.

Every established conservative ideologue that ran against him — from Jeb Bush to Mike Huckabee to Ted Cruz — got crushed.

This fact shouldn’t be overlooked by Republican Party leaders who are now gloating. They had nothing to do with Trump’s astounding victory last week. It was all him.

If you can get past the vicious, venomous rhetoric he saved for his campaign rallies — and that’s difficult to do — you detect a different tone in some of his one-on-one media interviews.

He talked about being flexible, open to compromise and negotiation. Did he mean it? Does he mean anything he says?

Trump the showman now takes the biggest stage in the world. His true personality can’t be changed, but his persona must.

Paradoxically, his monumental ego and vanity could actually move the country toward healing. Trump wants to be widely popular, and he knows he isn’t.

You can be sure he’s been watching the mass street protests on TV.

If not for the archaic Electoral College system (which Trump once scorned as a “disaster” for democracy), he would have lost the election because he got 234,000 fewer votes than Hillary Clinton.

Trump might be incapable of humility, but he’s not immune to the fear of going down in history as a divisive, ineffective president.

Like all performers, Trump loves being cheered. The question is if he’ll revamp his performance to appeal to a much broader, more diverse audience. Will he strive to appear more humane, tolerant and thoughtful?

It would be a much better act than the one we’ve been seeing.

And if it doesn’t change soon, something else will:

The price of real estate in Canada.

Carl Hiaasen is a columnist for the Miami Herald. Readers may write to him at: 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, Fla., 33132

IMAGE: Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump signs autographs after a rally with supporters in San Diego, California, U.S. May 27, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Donald Trump Makes It Easy To Vote For Her

Donald Trump Makes It Easy To Vote For Her

If this presidential election was an airplane flight, we’d all have barf bags on our laps. Just when you think it couldn’t possibly get any worse, it does.

Next Tuesday the nation is being forced to choose between Hillary Clinton, a calculating liar, and Donald Trump, a clumsy liar, proud tax dodger and serial sex creep.

These are the national standard-bearers of the Democratic and Republican parties. No wonder the rest of the world thinks we’ve gone crazy.

Clinton and Trump are two of the most unpopular figures ever to run for the White House, leaving millions of dispirited Americans to vote purely with the hope of minimizing the damage.

On one side is Hillary, who in a more sensible time would have lost in the primaries because of her mishandling of State Department emails and the shady stewardship of the Clinton Foundation.

On the other side is Trump, who in a sane universe would have no chance of winning because of basically every scummy thing he has said and done — from his rip-off “university” to his contorted tax returns, to his leering boast about grabbing women’s genitals.

Setting aside the not-so-minor issue of all those alleged assaults, Trump’s lazy ignorance of economic policy, foreign relations and even basic Government 101 is mind-blowing.

Yet his white hardcore base roars at his spray-tanned vaudeville act. Some of these people actually believe he’ll build a giant wall between the United States and Mexico, and that Mexico will pay for it.

Some of them actually believe he’s going to round up and deport five million undocumented aliens.

They also believed him when he first said the number was 11 million.

They would be the same people who actually think he can stop U.S. companies from moving jobs overseas, the same people who think he knows more about ISIS than the generals who are conducting the war on terror.

The folks who still believe all of Trump’s impossible promises are suckers. Most Republicans are well aware he’s full of crap, yet many will vote for him anyway just because they can’t stand Hillary.

Think about that. Their animosity toward one candidate is so visceral that they’re willing to hand the powers of the presidency to a dangerous, divisive and obviously uncontrollable buffoon.

It’s hard to imagine anything more unpatriotic than willfully putting your country — and the world — at such harrowing risk, simply because you dislike the Clintons and all they stand for.

Look at what Trump stands for.

Last week he was effusively endorsed by the Crusader, a leading voice of the Ku Klux Klan. It’s one of the few newspapers in the country to support Trump’s campaign, and his embarrassed staff hurried to denounce it.

Yet the ugly truth is that his hate-tinged bluster has energized the bigots, birthers, white separatists, and take-back-America xenophobes. He’s depending on all of them to turn out at the polls, and they probably will.

Ironically, they represent one of the few voting blocs that are genuinely enthusiastic about the election.

Most everyone else is trying not to vomit, including evangelicals who do not see in Trump a man who has modeled himself after Jesus Christ.

The campaign has been so awful that moderates in both parties are depressed and disgusted. Many Democrats wish Joe Biden was on the ballot, while Republicans fantasize about Paul Ryan or John Kasich, anybody but Donald.

Even though we’re stuck with two candidates who would blow up a polygraph machine, there are other issues — experience and a steady temperament, for example — that are somewhat crucial when electing the person who will have a finger on the nuclear button.

Anybody worried about what the future holds for their children or grandchildren ought to be asking themselves who, based on what we’ve seen, is likely to do the least harm — Clinton or Trump?

Which of them is least likely by their words and actions to damage the economic recovery, incite more anti-American terrorism at home or lead us into another pointless, costly overseas war? And which of them understands, for better or worse, how government really operates?

Choosing between the lesser of two evils is a common dilemma for voters, and no political candidates are unflawed. The respective imperfections of Trump and Hillary are glaring, but Trump is so much worse.

Undisciplined, unglued and uninformed, he actually makes it easy to vote for Hillary. The bar is that low.

Carl Hiaasen is a columnist for the Miami Herald. Readers may write to him at: 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, Fla., 33132

IMAGE: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump (R) and vice presidential candidate Mike Pence speak in an overflow room at a campaign event in Roanoke, Virginia, U.S., July 25, 2016.  REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

Rubio Keeps Eyes On The Prize In 2020

Rubio Keeps Eyes On The Prize In 2020

Senator No-Show is campaigning hard to return to the Senate after telling Florida voters he wouldn’t run for re-election.

No one who has followed Marco Rubio’s political acrobatics was surprised by this 180-degree pirouette, which occurred soon after Donald Trump humiliated him in the state’s presidential primary. Nor is there any mystery to Rubio’s motive. Being in the Senate is the only way he can stay sufficiently visible to run for the White House again in four years.

When pressed, Rubio says he intends to serve the full term as a senator. Who believes that? There’s only one job he cares about, and he’s going to try again in 2020. Everybody’s aware of his awful attendance record, and that he dislikes the job. “I don’t know that ‘hate’ is the right word,” he told the Washington Post last year. “I’m frustrated.”

The Senate is no fun. It’s creaky and dysfunctional, but you’ve got to actually show up for work if you hope to change it. Rubio had a chance to make history in 2013 with immigration reform, important to his Hispanic constituency, yet he abandoned the fight in the face of opposition from House leaders and rabid talk-radio factions.

The reason for Rubio’s retreat: The issue was damaging his future chances to capture the GOP presidential nomination.

He tried to boost his stock with conservatives when he colluded with Ted Cruz in the 16-day government shutdown, an attempt to defund Obamacare. It was a costly fiasco that sunk the Republican Party to historically low poll numbers.

In the gloomy aftermath, Rubio tried to insist he never favored a shutdown, despite the fact he’d repeatedly voted to defeat “clean” funding bills that would have kept the government running.

Another time that Rubio graced Washington with his presence was a favor to the NRA. He flew in to vote against a bill that would have banned persons on the government’s terror watch list from legally purchasing assault rifles. As a result, terror suspects who aren’t allowed on commercial airlines can still go out and buy an AR-15. You’ll rarely hear Rubio talk about this on the campaign trail.

If nothing else, he’s consistently inconsistent. He says he opposes abortion in all cases, with no exceptions for rape or incest. Yet he voted for a bill that included those very exceptions.

In August he told Politico reporter Marc Caputo that abortions should be denied to pregnant Zika victims who fear birth defects in their unborn. Now Rubio’s campaign is assailing his opponent, Rep. Patrick Murphy, for quoting Rubio’s own words.

During last Wednesday’s debate, Rubio also went after Murphy for supposedly embellishing his biography — a subject upon which Rubio himself is an expert.

For years he’d tell crowds that his parents had fled Cuba as “exiles” when Fidel Castro seized power. He even put it on his official Senate web page.

One small problem: It wasn’t true. Rubio’s parents willingly resettled in the United States in 1956, more than two years before Castro and his rebels rolled into Havana.

Rubio later explained the false tale by saying he’d been relying on “the oral history of his family,” not immigration documents. He gets plenty of practice “clarifying” previous things he has said.

As for why he changed his mind about the sludge-pit Senate, Rubio says he needs to keep the job so he can protect us all from the next president, whether it’s Trump or Hillary Clinton.

This is vintage Marco, the master of political bet-hedging.

Unburdened by principles, Rubio says he’ll still vote for Trump, a man he has lambasted as “a con artist,” “a serious threat to the future of . . . our country,” and an “erratic individual” who can’t be trusted with the doomsday nuclear codes.

How does Rubio reconcile his horrifying portrait of his party’s nominee with his alleged support of the man’s candidacy? He ducks, he wriggles, he triple-talks.

But although Marco’s logic might seem contradictory and complex, he’s a very simple organism. He only does what’s best for Marco, period.

Renouncing Trump would anger Trump voters, and Rubio knows he can’t get re-elected without them. But don’t be fooled — just because he claims to support Trump doesn’t mean he really wants Trump to win.

In fact, Rubio will be vastly relieved if Clinton gets elected. That way he won’t need to challenge a Republican incumbent four years from now. He’ll have Hillary as a sitting target, and a GOP that’s desperate for a unifying candidate.

When Marco says he’s voting for Trump, don’t believe it. He’ll be voting to advance his own presidential ambitions, and putting an embattled Hillary in the White House gives him the clearest path forward.

The Senate is a good place to sit around and wait.

But first you’ve got to show up.

Photo: Republican U.S. presidential candidate Florida Senator Marco Rubio addresses the crowd while campaigning in Toa Baja, Puerto Rico, March 5, 2016. REUTERS/Alvin Baez

Solar-Power Amendment On Florida’s Ballot A ‘Wolf In Sheep’s Clothing’

Solar-Power Amendment On Florida’s Ballot A ‘Wolf In Sheep’s Clothing’

Let the scum shine.

The solar-power amendment on Florida’s ballot is a slick, oily fraud. Promoted as a way to expand solar energy and protect residents who want it, Amendment 1 would do just the opposite.

All you need to know is who’s bankrolling the massive advertising campaign: Florida Power & Light, Duke Energy, Tampa Electric Co., Gulf Power, and a few nonprofits funded heavily by Exxon Mobil and a pair of right-wing billionaire brothers named Koch.

When is the last time they all banded together to do something wonderful for the average consumer?

These are not fans of broadening our energy choices. These are politically powerful utility and oil interests seeking to restrict and monopolize the burgeoning solar industry. The last thing they want is free-market competition. The prospect worries them so much that they’ve forked out almost $22 million to push for Amendment 1.

Their political committee calls itself “Consumers for Smart Solar.” The PR wiz who came up with that name must have gotten a good laugh, because consumers would be the long-term victims of this measure.

From its beginning, the secret strategy for selling Amendment 1 was to deceive Floridians into believing it was a populist, pro-solar movement. Last week, reporter Mary Ellen Klas of the Herald obtained a devastating audiotape of a presentation made by an executive of a Tallahassee think tank that provides “research” to the state’s big electric utilities.

On the tape, Sal Nuzzo of the James Madison Institute is heard praising Amendment 1 as “an incredibly savvy maneuver” that “would completely negate anything they (pro-solar groups) would try to do either legislatively or constitutionally down the road.”

After Nuzzo’s comments became public, JMI hastily issued a statement saying he “misspoke” during the industry conference at which he was recorded. But the damage was done, Nuzzo’s confident remarks confirming what opponents of Amendment 1 (including the Florida League of Women Voters) have been saying all along. The whole idea is to screw solar providers that could some day compete with the major electric companies.

The amendment was word-crafted with the sole intent of trickery. The first item supposedly gives electricity consumers a “constitutional right” to own or lease solar equipment “for their own use.”

Guess what? We’ve already got that right — no amendment necessary.

The second part of the ballot item is the trapdoor: “State and local governments shall retain their abilities to protect consumer rights and public health, safety and welfare, and to ensure that consumers who do not choose to install solar are not required to subsidize the costs of backup power and electric access to those who do.”

That language opens the way for municipalities and the state to hit local solar providers with fees and regulations that could prevent them from selling low-cost electricity to customers, which would basically defeat the whole purpose of the technology.

Planting the fear that non-solar users might be forced to “subsidize” grid access for solar customers is a groundless and sleazy scare tactic that exposes the cold desperation of the big power companies.

FPL and Duke Energy are investing heavily in solar, and they don’t want to compete with smaller firms that might offer lower rates to people.

Meanwhile, mulling their huge investments in coal and petroleum, the ever-meddling Charles and David Koch have been waging war on solar power all across the country. They’ve taken a particular interest in smothering that industry in sunny Florida.

Solar is an extremely popular concept here. Many families and business owners like the idea of clean, abundant, affordable energy.

“Solar polls very well,” remarked chatty Sal Nuzzo to his audience of power-company players last month.

No wonder, then, that Amendment 1 has been disguised as a pro-solar, pro-consumer initiative. Otherwise it wouldn’t have a prayer of passing.

“A wolf in sheep’s clothing,” wrote Florida Supreme Court Justice Barbara Pariente in her dissent, when the court voted 4-3 to allow the measure on the ballot.

Because changing the Florida Constitution requires the approval of 60 percent of voters, “Consumers for Smart Solar” has been pulling out all the stops, including buying top advertising positions on the Google search engine.

The TV commercials and “Yes on 1 For the Sun” all-media campaign radiate admiration for the rooftop-panel technology, while promising to protect you and me from unspecified “ripoffs” and “scams.”

But the biggest scam of all is Amendment 1 itself. Florida’s electric monopolies are counting on all of us to fall for it.

Vote no. Show them the light.

Carl Hiaasen is a columnist for the Miami Herald. Readers may write to him at: 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, Fla., 33132

Photo: Solar panels at the Pittsfield Waste Water Treatment Facility (Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection/Flickr)

It Happened In Orlando, But It Could Have Been Anywhere

It Happened In Orlando, But It Could Have Been Anywhere

When has there been such a burst of sickening headlines from one place? First, the killing of singer Christina Grimmie by an unhinged stalker with a handgun. Then the vicious slaughter at the Pulse nightclub by a homophobic wannabe jihadist with an AR-15. And, finally, the snatching of a toddler by an alligator roaming a Disney lake.

All three stories are datelined Orlando, Fla., a stunningly freakish coincidence.

Each horrid event, even the gator attack, could easily have happened in other towns, in other states.

Yet they all happened here, in the space of five days.

A national radio host asked me if this heartbreaking blitz of tragedies was an extreme display of Florida’s well-documented craziness.

The question wasn’t surprising, given the usual flow of bizarre news from this place. People all over the world hungrily devour and retweet weird Florida stories, as soon as they hit the internet.

Last week’s events inevitably reinforced the state’s off-center reputation, which is understandable if not entirely fair.

It’s true that we have some of the weakest firearms laws in the nation, and that basically any hate-filled misfit can lurch into a gun shop here and buy whatever he wants, including assault rifles.

It’s also true that the NRA basically owns our cowardly governor, one of our U.S. senators, a bunch of stooge congressmen and the entire Republican leadership of the state Legislature.

However, a similar lax climate exists in many other places, most notably the power corridors of Washington, D.C. Politicians who take money from the gun lobby vote the way the gun lobby tells them.

Some are true believers, and some are just whores.

This isn’t to minimize what happened here, or to let any of our spineless lawmakers off the hook, but it’s a sad fact that Florida’s lunacy mirrors America’s lunacy.

It was young Christina Grimmie’s fate to give a concert within driving distance of an armed maniac who’d seen her perform on “The Voice,” and for some reason decided she deserved to die.

Yes, we have these psychos in Florida, but you can find them all over the country. They’re out there — seething, muttering and fantasizing — from coast to coast.

Same goes for the monster who mowed down 49 people at the Pulse.

What he did has been done many times before, from Columbine to Fort Hood to Sandy Hook. The distinction in the Orlando massacre was the body count, a new record.

Which will undoubtedly be broken someday, in some other place, by some other whack job with an AR-15.

There’s no denying that Florida is way different. Our 20 million residents bear witness to an extraordinary range of extreme behavior — much of it silly, some of it terrifying. Kooks and criminals flock here for the same reasons that draw tourists and retirees.

Nonetheless, last week’s events were almost overwhelming, the horrors coming one after the other. There were none of the usual comic distractions, no daffy local stories to retweet to our friends.

What occurred along a lakeside beach at Disney’s Grand Floridian hotel was the nightmare finale.

Typically our alligator news is benign — gator in the swimming pool, gator on the freeway, gator in the storm drain. These video clips are a go-to staple of every Florida TV station and narrated with practiced amusement by the anchor persons.

Even the incident in Loxahatchee when a small gator was deposited in a Wendy’s drive-through didn’t evoke dread; it was just another knucklehead tale from the Sunshine State.

Not this time, though. This time it was the worst story imaginable.

A 2-year-old boy from Nebraska was grabbed from the shallows at night, in front of his family. The boy’s father desperately fought to pull him free, without success.

Some “No Swimming” signs were posted, but nothing that specifically warned tourists about gators in the lake — and there were several living there.

It’s hard to believe the child’s parents would have let him go near the water if they’d known about those gators, which behave the same way on Disney property as they do deep in the Everglades.

Attacks on humans are very rare, but come on. How much does a sign cost?

True, this awful tragedy could have happened on a lake in Texas or Louisiana, but it didn’t. It happened at the most popular tourist destination on the planet, in Orlando.

Capping five days of shock and sorrow.

It’s no great cosmic mystery why all these bad things happened in the same place in Florida. It was pure cruel chance, in the extreme.

Carl Hiaasen is a columnist for the Miami Herald. Readers may write to him at: 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, Fla., 33132.

Photo: People take part in a candlelight memorial service the day after a mass shooting at the Pulse gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, U.S. June 13, 2016. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri