Protesters in Sun City Center last week picketed banks that loaned money to fossil fuel companies. Photo courtesy Debbie Anderson
Florida’s official state motto, adopted three years after the end of the Civil War, is “In God We Trust.” The part about “All Others Pay Cash,” is not stated, but implied.
This old motto is clearly outdated. We need a new one that better represents the modern Florida. The obvious options are “Hold My Beer,” “Don’t Tase Me, Bro,” and “Daaaang, Look At the Size of That Python Eating That Gator!”
But after reading an Orlando Sentinel story last week, I have a different suggestion.
Here’s the set-up: Back in January, the state’s chief financial officer, Jimmy Patronis, trumpeted his plan to pull state money from an investment fund called BlackRock. He wanted to toss BlackRock because it demonstrated a concern for the environment by making decisions based on a company’s ESG, which is shorthand for “environmental, social, governance” factors.
How dare they pay attention to the environment! The only green that should matter is the monetary kind!
“The state of Florida has taken a hard stand that ESG is undemocratic, it constrains companies’ ability to pursue the best returns possible, and many of its values run counter to the values of everyday Floridians,” Patronis harrumphed in a press release.
The Sentinel got curious about what happened to the money that Patronis pulled out of BlackRock. Guess what the paper found out about that $2 billion:
“All but one of the firms that Patronis moved the money to actually follow those same ESG principles.”
This comes after the South Florida Sun-Sentinel ran a story last year noting that Patronis had talked of the state finding a way to counteract “the cult of ESG” in the insurance industry.
Yet one of the practices that Patronis cited as an example of ESG — providing favorable insurance rates to owners who protect their properties against hurricanes, floods, and other extreme weather that scientists say are becoming more frequent because of climate change — ”has been required under Florida law for years.”
This is why my suggested state motto is “Florida, Where Our Politicians Are Dumber Than a Bag Full of Black Rocks.”
Hmmmm, now that I look at it, that’s too long. It needs to be much punchier. Maybe even something you can abbreviate into three letters — you know, like ESG. Because that’s all that our politicians want to talk about these days.
Our elected leaders, hoping for a few seconds of facetime on Fox News (“Yeah, We’re Liars, So What? Stay Tuned for More Made-Up Outrage!”), are railing against all kinds of three-initial boogeymen these days. It’s not just ESG. It’s also CRT, SEL, DEI, ABC, XYZ, BRB, IDK, TLC, LOL, WTF, etc., until you want to shout a few four-letter words.
These initial-insane politicos act like ESG is a BFD. But, TBH, Patronis’ bumbling shows that that alleged concern is all a bunch of B.S.
Patronis is so fumble-footed at this, maybe the three-letter slogan for him should be “D’OH!”
Sex and communism
In his recently published insomnia cure — er, excuse me, memoir, “The Courage to Be Free (As Long as You’re Me),” — President-In-Waiting Ron “DeSastrous” DeSantis warns his readers about the evils of ESG.
The way he talks about it reminds me of how the pastor of the Baptist church I attended when I was a teenager used to holler about how listening to rock’n’roll music would lead us into messing with sex and communism. (I kept wishing he’d say more about the former, but most of his message concerned the latter.)
The folks at CNBC noticed this repeated three-letter theme in DeSantis’ writing as well:
“DeSantis’ book tears into ESG in multiple chapters,” their story said. “DeSantis’ focus on ESG suggests the multitrillion-dollar issue could feature prominently in the Republican presidential primary if the governor launches a 2024 White House bid.”
Our esteemed guv writes that “a woke CEO can use his or her corporate bully pulpit and power to exert influence over society writ large. This is especially true as the movement for ESG responsibility within corporate America has gained traction. ESG provides a pretext for CEOs to use shareholder assets to target issues like reducing the use of fossil fuels …”
Oh, mercy! Heaven forbid we reduce the use of those expensive, polluting, fossil fuels! Especially the ones from oil companies that are currently raking in record profits.
DeSantis has done his best to boost those rolling-in-riches oil companies, even the one that left gooey gobs of the stuff all over the beaches in eight Florida Panhandle counties in 2010. For instance, in 2021 he signed into law a bill that blocks local governments from choosing to wean themselves off oil and gas. And he’s vowed to never do any “left-wing stuff” to counteract the climate changes the fossil fuels industries’ pollution is causing.
That means he’s content to spend millions in taxpayer money building seawalls, raising roads, and adding pumps to try to keep up with rising sea levels. But he’s doing nothing to stop it from happening. Nor is he doing anything about the other effects, such as rising temperatures, rampant flooding, and the spread of tropical diseases.
Next thing you know he’ll copy Texas and demand textbook publishers emphasize the positive side of fossil fuel pollution in kids’ science books.
His mother-hen protectiveness toward the oil industry is clearly appreciated by the CEOs of the companies. According to E&E News, Texas well-driller Midland Energy and pipeline company Energy Transfer CEOs each dropped $50,000 into DeSantis’ recent reelection campaign. The same goes for oil industry behemoth and climate change super-denier Koch Industries, which gave him $25,000.
But DeSantis’ concern for the poor little victims of ESG is also fueled (ba-dum-bump!) by the fate of another of his generous campaign donors: the GEO Group Inc. That’s a Boca Raton-based operator of for-profit prisons and immigration-detention centers with a former Senate president as its general counsel.
Investigative reporter Jason Garcia found that “GEO and its executives donated more than $200,000 to DeSantis during [his] first campaign. They have also given $1.5 million to the Republican Party of Florida during DeSantis’ tenure as governor.”
Gee, if only they’d kept all the cash that they gave to the politicians, they might not have needed all those bank loans.
Ain’t gonna play Sun City
I was curious about how the whole ESG thing got started, so I sought the answers from Mr. Google — sorry about that, Mr. Bing, or Miss Bong, or whatever your name is.
Turns out this ultra-modern investment strategy started back in the swinging ’60s as “socially responsible investing.” Back then, the aim was to avoid giving money to things like the tobacco industry or South Africa’s racist apartheid regime. They were the evil entity, not ESG.
Let’s jump in Mr. Peabody’s WABAC Machine for a minute and return to 1985. That’s when Little Steven got 54 musicians together — Springsteen, Dylan, Run DMC, Miles Davis, and Bonnie Raitt, to name a few. They put out a record about how they weren’t going to play the South African resort of Sun City as a protest against apartheid.
I bet the governor hated that song (although he was only 7 then).
“Boycotting” is the plain-English word for that — avoiding giving money to something you dislike. It’s also one of those words, like “maverick,” “nemesis,” and “saxophone,” that started off as someone’s name.
“The boycott was popularized by Charles Stewart Parnell [in] 1880 to protest high rents and land evictions,” the Encyclopedia Britannica says. “The term boycott was coined after Irish tenants followed Parnell’s suggested code of conduct and effectively ostracized a British estate manager, Charles Cunningham Boycott.”
Examples of successful boycotts abound. Henry Ford used to own a newspaper, the Dearborn Independent, which routinely published anti-Semitic articles and was distributed for free at Ford dealerships nationwide. The Anti-Defamation League organized a boycott of his cars that eventually led to Ford shutting the paper down.
I would also tell you about the Tallahassee bus boycott, but the governor would probably accuse us of discussing Critical Race Theory. Instead, here’s another Florida example, one with modern echoes:
In 1977, orange juice ad star-turned-religious zealot Anita Bryant led a political campaign to repeal a gay rights ordinance in Dade County. She claimed she was protecting children from being recruited into deviance by dangerous homosexuals (hey, does that sound familiar?)
Bryant’s crusade prompted gay rights advocates — including Harvey Milk, then just beginning his political career — to launch a boycott of Florida orange juice. They called it a “gaycott.”
Bryant won the repeal election but lost her $100,000-a-year OJ contract. She wound up bankrupt and divorced, confessing in a 1981 interview that she wasn’t the paragon of Christian virtue she’d pretended to be.
These days, of course, she’d probably be elected speaker of the Florida House.
The customer’s always right
The Florida House, by the way, is where I first encountered Patronis.
He was then a state representative from Panama City who was known for doing two things every year: 1) organize a day for everyone to wear seersucker suits, and 2) push a bill to roll back environmental regulations.
“I can’t say enough good things about him,” a lobbyist for developers, phosphate miners, boat manufacturers, sugar growers, power companies, and a garbage company told me back in 2013. “He couldn’t be more accommodating.”
The lobbyist said the explanation for this obsequious behavior lay in Patronis’ background. His family runs a Panhandle seafood restaurant, Capt. Anderson’s: “When you run a restaurant, the customer is always right, and that is the attitude he brings.”
His “customer,” of course, was never Florida’s natural world, that amazing creation that so many of us value and that draws so many tourists. His customer was always someone who would make money from tearing it apart like a diner demolishing a platter of peel-and-eat shrimp.
So it’s not surprising that, as CFO, he still reacts to anything good for the environment the way a Tallahassee charter school parent reacts to naked Renaissance statuary — as if it were the worst thing in the world.
Nor is it surprising that our extremely oil-friendly, contribution-hungry governor is in favor of “weaponizing the power of the state to force the market to favor the very companies causing the climate crisis,” as one finance strategist told Salon last year.
Meanwhile, our fine Legislature is pushing ahead with House Bill 3, which passed that chamber 80-31 and has been sent over to the Senate. The bill prohibits every level of state and local government from ever considering ESG when making its investment decisions.
It’s saving us.
“Climate risk specialists XDI assessed more than 2,600 regions worldwide, using climate models together with weather and environmental data to assess the economic damage that temperature rises could cause by 2050,” CNN reported last month.
Sixteen of China’s 20 regions were found to be most at-risk in the world from climate change. Outside China, guess who was No. 1: Florida.
Fortunately, I found a few people who, unlike Patronis et. al, are worried about rising sea levels, rising heat, and all the other ramifications of a warming world.
Believe it or not, they’re in Sun City — not the one in South Africa, but the one in Hillsborough County.
‘Fossils Against Fossils’
One resident there, Debbie Anderson (no relation to Patronis’ restaurant), belongs to a group called Third Act that recruits senior citizens to work against society’s continuing ills — including climate change. At age 73, she told me, she is NOT going gently into that good night.
“Oh, hell no!” she said, laughing.
So when she got word that Third Act was planning a series of protests in front of banks that were lending trillions to fossil fuel companies, she volunteered to run one in Sun City Center.
She made some calls and rounded up friends. Last week, on the appointed day, about 30 gray-haired folks showed up to spend an hour waving their picket signs and walking in front of the Sun City Center branches of Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Chase, and Citibank.
Because the branches are lined up next to each other like hogs at a trough, the protesters could easily walk from one to another — or even dance.
“We kind of did a little conga line,” said Anderson.
At one point, she used a pair of big fake scissors to cut a big fake Bank of America credit card in half. Then she did it for real with her own card.
A couple of local TV stations showed up to cover the event. One of the protesters joked that they should call themselves “Fossils Against Fossils.”
“I’m just a little person in a little place,” Anderson told me. “But I joined one of 100 demonstrations all around the country.”
I’m worried about Anderson and her friends, though. The way the governor and our CFO have been ranting and raving about three-letter enemies, I’m sure they’ll target these active seniors next.
Stay tuned for them to start attacking O-L-D!
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