Thursday, May 12, 2022

DeSantis Foiled Again

Nice try, Ron; your plot was spoiled by someone you put on the bench.

A Florida trial court judge on Wednesday blocked a congressional map favored by Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) that would wipe out a voting district in North Florida represented by a Black Democrat.

Leon County Circuit Judge Layne Smith said the map drawn by DeSantis’s staff is unconstitutional under Florida’s Fair District Amendment because it reduces the impact of 370,000 Black voters in eight mostly rural counties.

“It diminishes African Americans’ ability to elect the representative of their choice,” Smith said.

Smith, a DeSantis appointee, said he would issue his formal ruling this week, noting that timing is crucial: Candidates hoping to run in the state’s 28 congressional districts face a June 17 qualifying deadline.

A DeSantis spokeswoman said the governor would appeal Smith’s order.

The 5th District was drawn by the Florida Supreme Court in 2015 and left largely intact by state legislators in this year’s once-a-decade map revision. It follows the Florida-Georgia state line from Jacksonville west to the small town of Quincy, encompassing counties with some of the highest percentages of Black voters in the state. The district is represented by Al Lawson, a Democrat who in 2016 became the first Black person since Reconstruction to represent most of those counties.

This year, in the midst of a pressure campaign from Donald Trump’s former senior adviser, Stephen K. Bannon, DeSantis proposed his own map that eliminates the 5th District — a first for a Florida governor. He later vetoed the maps submitted by legislators and called them back for a special session to pass his map, which they did last month.

The DeSantis map also shrinks another district held by a Black Democrat in central Florida. In a good political year for Republicans, as this year is expected to be, Republicans could win 20 out of 28 seats in a state Trump won by just three percentage points.

It might have worked, too, if it hadn’t been so blatantly racist.

Monday, April 18, 2022

Math For Dummies

I swear this is not from The Onion.

In its latest attempt to be the nation’s leader in restricting what happens in public school classrooms, Florida said it has rejected a pile of math textbooks submitted by publishers in part because they “contained prohibited subjects,” including critical race theory.

The Florida Department of Education announced on Friday that Richard Corcoran, the outgoing commissioner of education, approved an initial adoption list of instructional materials for math, but 41 percent of the submitted textbooks were rejected — most of them in elementary school.

Some were said not to be aligned with Florida’s content standards, called the Benchmarks for Excellent Student Thinking, or BEST. But others, the department said, were rejected for the subject matter. “Reasons for rejecting textbooks included references to Critical Race Theory (CRT), inclusions of Common Core, and the unsolicited addition of Social Emotional Learning (SEL) in mathematics,” it said in an announcement on the department’s website.

Although the department described the textbook review process as “transparent,” it did not mention which textbooks had been rejected or cite examples from the offending passages.

“It seems that some publishers attempted to slap a coat of paint on an old house built on the foundation of Common Core, and indoctrinating concepts like race essentialism, especially, bizarrely, for elementary school students,” Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) was quoted as saying in the announcement.

Really, Ron? As Mrs. Burget, my Grade 8 math teacher, said, “Show your work.”  Seriously.  I want to know where in the quadratic equation, the Pythagorean theorem, and the never-ending quest for the last number of π, there is any discussion of the real history of American civilization.

Critics immediately attacked the rejection. State Rep. Carlos G. Smith (D) tweeted: “@EducationFL just announced they’re banning dozens of math textbooks they claim ‘indoctrinate’ students with CRT. They won’t tell us what they are or what they say b/c it’s a lie. #DeSantis has turned our classrooms into political battlefields and this is just the beginning.”

“No, this is not 1963,” state Sen. Shevrin D. “Shev” Jones (D) tweeted, “it’s 2022 in the ‘Free State of Florida.’ ”

DeSantis has been leading the charge in Florida to restrict what teachers can say and discuss in class on topics including race, racism, gender and history. He recently signed legislation that bans classroom discussion on LGBTQ issues from kindergarten through third grade and, for all students, says any such discussion must be “age appropriate or developmentally appropriate.”

Last year, his administration set new rules banning “critical race theory,” and DeSantis is expected to soon sign into law the “Stop Woke Act” that codifies his executive order but also goes further, affecting not only what happens in schools but also the labor practices of private companies by restricting how they can promote diversity, equity and inclusion.

This guy wants to be president.

The worst part is that I have to work with these idiots.

Friday, April 1, 2022

Happy Friday

A federal judge has ruled that a lot of Florida’s Jim Crow 2.0 voting law is unconstitutional.

In a sweeping 288-page order declaring the right to vote “under siege,” U.S. District Judge Mark Walker on Thursday forbade lawmakers from passing future laws involving drop boxes, third-party voter registration or efforts to limit “line warming” activities at polling sites without the court’s approval for the next 10 years.

All three provisions were part of Senate Bill 90, passed by lawmakers and signed by DeSantis last year.

Meanwhile, a lawsuit has been filed in federal court challenging DeSantis’s “don’t say gay” law.

Three days after Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the measure, LGBTQ-advocacy groups, parents, students and a teacher filed a federal lawsuit Thursday challenging a new law that includes barring instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in early school grades.

The lawsuit, filed in the federal Northern District of Florida, seeks to block Florida from moving forward with the law, which is set to take effect July 1. While DeSantis and Republican lawmakers titled the bill the “Parental Rights in Education,” critics dubbed it the “don’t say gay” bill.

DeSantis, the State Board of Education, the state Department of Education and Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran are named as defendants, along with the school boards in Manatee, Sarasota, Miami-Dade, St. Johns and Jackson counties.

See you in court, Ron.

Monday, March 14, 2022

Lunatics Running The Asylum

I have a vested interest in the Florida State Board of Education.  They set policies and procedures for the work that I do in a charter school as well as the local boards of the 67 counties in the state and have a ripple effect on the thousands of private schools in the state as well.  In short, the people on the state board have an impact on every child between the ages of 3 (pre-kindergarten) through high school and beyond.  Generations of children will go forward into life bearing the brand of a Florida education.  So it matters who is appointed to the board and what they will do once they are there.

That said, meet the newest member.

Gov. Ron DeSantis appointed Esther Byrd to the state’s Board of Education, a move that will almost certainly serve to further politicize that appointed panel.

A former Marine, Mrs. Byrd is currently the legal assistant and office manager for the Law Office of Cord Byrd, P.A.

Byrd is the wife of Rep. Cord Byrd of Neptune Beach. Rep. Byrd, the incumbent in the current HD 11, is one of the House Republicans who sided with the Governor by voting against redistricting maps preserving a minority-access district in North Florida.

However, Mrs. Byrd is perhaps best known not for her biographical details, but for her staunch advocacy during the Donald Trump administration on behalf of far-right elements.

After the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol riots, Mrs. Byrd offered a defense of those “peacefully protesting” the certification of the 2020 Presidential Election while alluding to “coming civil wars.”

“ANTIFA and BLM can burn and loot buildings and violently attack police and citizens,” Byrd wrote on her personal Facebook page. “But when Trump supporters peacefully protest, suddenly ‘Law and Order’ is all they can talk about! I can’t even listen to these idiots bellyaching about solving our differences without violence.”

Those comments came after another incendiary post.

“In the coming civil wars (We the People vs the Radical Left and We the People cleaning up the Republican Party), team rosters are being filled,” mused Byrd. “Every elected official in DC will pick one. There are only 2 teams… With Us [or] Against Us.”

“We the People will NOT forget!” wrote the person who now sets policy for Florida’s education system

Rep. Byrd won re-election handily in 2020, but during that campaign, his spouse’s comments that catered to the fringe elements in the GOP came to the fore.

In October, Mrs. Byrd offered an unsolicited defense of the Proud Boys, a group of youngish men who bill themselves as “western chauvinists.”

Trump infamously urged them to “stand back and stand by” when pressed to condemn the alt-right movement.

Mrs. Byrd, a staunch supporter of the former president, subsequently claimed that many of them and their supporters have been thrown in “FB Jail,” a metaphorical lockdown preventing them from posting to Facebook for some period of time.

“Why do you think Facebook is throwing people in FB Jail who share information about Proud Boys? (Side note: I must really have great friends cause a whole bunch have been locked up! ?) I think it’s because they’ve seen a drastic spike in searches and they are worried that people are educating themselves rather than blindly believing what MSM narrative. Anyone have a better theory?”

Those statements came months after Byrd made comments supportive of QAnon after the couple was photographed on a boat flying a QAnon flag.

There’s more at the link above courtesy of Florida Politics.

Banning and burning books is perfectly fine with these people, but banning assault rifles is an attack on freedom.

I am deeply troubled by the war in Ukraine and hope that it is over soon and peace is restored along with the independence of that brave country. But it won’t mean a lot if we’re losing our freedoms and our sanity here at home.

Sunday, March 13, 2022

Sunday Reading

The Law Hurts — By Will Larkins. Mr. Larkins is a junior at Winter Park High School in Winter Park, Fla., the president and co-founder of the school’s Queer Student Union and one of the organizers of its Say Gay Anyway walkout.

Last October, I attended a high school Halloween party. A group of guys from my school surrounded me and shouted homophobic slurs. One even threatened me with physical violence. When I broke down crying in class the next day, my teacher comforted me. She told me that she had gone through something similar when she was my age.

On Tuesday, the Florida Senate approved the Parental Rights in Education bill, also known as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill. The bill seeks to ban public schools in the state from teaching about sexual orientation or gender identity from kindergarten through the third grade, or through the twelfth grade in a manner deemed “age-inappropriate” by parents. Had the proposed law been in effect last year, my teacher could have put herself in jeopardy by being there for me.

From an early age I knew I was different. I wasn’t interested in the things other boys my age did, and I didn’t really feel comfortable in the clothes my parents bought me. The struggle for acceptance was not just internal, it also felt like my classmates didn’t know what to make of me. By fourth grade I was convinced that I was broken. I didn’t know how to defend myself when other kids made hateful comments or bullied me — I didn’t know why I was the way that I was. Without the vocabulary to articulate why I felt and acted like this, I assumed what they said about me was true. For most of the kids in my grade, I was the only kid like me they knew.

My life changed the summer before seventh grade. A girl at an arts summer camp turned to me on the first day and asked, “Are you L.G.B.T.Q.?” She explained what each letter meant and showed me pictures of RuPaul on her phone. It felt like a weight had been taken off my shoulders. The realization that I wasn’t the only one saved my life. I remember stepping away and calling my best friend at the time: “Max, I think I am gay.”

When I came home from camp, I became fascinated with learning more about queer culture. I read about Georgia Black, a Black trans woman who lived close to where I do now in the early 1900s, and I learned that in pre-Colonial times, more than 150 Indigenous tribes acknowledged third genders in their community and three to five gender roles: female, male, Two Spirit female, Two Spirit male and transgender. I realized how common the experience of falling outside of the gender binary was. As I learned about the history and culture of my community, I grew to understand and love myself. Education made me hate myself less.

I have come to realize that those who have been so openly hateful toward me often knew little about the queer community — they thought being L.G.B.T.Q. was a conscious choice. Education didn’t just give me a sense of self worth but also the knowledge of a community and lifeline there for countless young people.

L.G.B.T.Q. teens are four times more likely to commit suicide than their straight counterparts. According to the Trevor Project, a crisis intervention and suicide prevention organization for young gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer people, teens who learned about L.G.B.T.Q. issues or people in school were 23 percent less likely to attempt suicide. We have a mental health crisis in the queer community, and Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Republican Party want to outlaw the solution.

I am lucky to have supportive parents, but I am in the minority among my peers. Research has shown that L.G.B.T.Q. teens have a higher risk of experiencing some form of homelessness, with family conflict being the primary cause. Many of my close friends have been thrown out of their homes after coming out to their parents or being outed by others. One of my best friends even stayed with my family for three weeks after he was kicked out of his home because his parents refused to accept that he was trans. Other friends have told me disturbing stories of being physically abused or worse because they strayed from traditional gender norms.

On Feb. 28, I spoke out against the bill on the senate floor, and on Monday my friend Maddi Zornek and I led a walkout of more than 500 students at our high school. Republican lawmakers have been echoing the idea that parents know what is best for their kids, not the schools. In some cases that may be true. But parents aren’t trained professionals; unlike schools, they aren’t made to follow a set of standards. For many of my friends in dangerous situations because of their sexuality or gender identity, school has been a space where they could be themselves.

Now, under threat of lawsuits, districts, schools and teachers may be hesitant to talk at all with students about gender identity and sexuality, even if the conversation is “age-appropriate.” The bill also allows the state commissioner of education to implement a “special magistrate” so that prosecuting those in violation of the law would happen much faster than in a normal court.

When I look back to elementary school, I wonder how different my childhood would have been had my classmates and I known that I wasn’t some tragic anomaly, a strange fluke that needed to be fixed. People in support of the bill always ask, “Why do these subjects NEED to be taught in schools?” To them I would say that if we understand ourselves, and those around us understand us, so many lives will be saved.

Doonesbury — Clean up your act.

Thursday, March 3, 2022

“This Is Ridiculous”

Florida Man is at it again, this time in the personage of Gov. Ron DeSantis being a total dick and thereby prepping for a run for president.

Ladies and gentlemen, we have here some fine presidential timber. From WFLA:

“You do not have to wear those masks,” Gov. DeSantis said. “I mean, please take them off. Honestly, it’s not doing anything and we’ve gotta stop with this COVID theater. So if you want to wear it, fine, but this is ridiculous.”

What kind of politician—Hell, what kind of human being?—harangues children over this piddling matter, especially with the cameras rolling? And, not for nothing, my guess is that at least a couple of kids were wearing masks because their parents told them to do so. Whatever happened to “Let the Parents Decide”?

We’re going to have to find a way to deal with this guy. He was the star at CPAC, even more than El Caudillo del Mar-a-Lago was, which should stick in the latter’s already overflowing craw. It’s early days, but we seem to be moving toward a Destroy All Monsters! confrontation between these two guys in the 2024 Republican nominating process. And, while watching DeSantis try to out-Trump the genuine article might be an entertaining ride to the far frontiers of crudeness and stupidity, it’s hard to see how it would benefit anyone except the general managers of local TV stations in Iowa and New Hampshire.

Despite the nearly petrified attempt by Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds to style herself as the vanguard of COVID freedom, it’s DeSantis who can best sell himself as an unconquered foe of the tyranny of public health. As he told CPAC:

“In Florida, we reject the biomedical security state which erodes liberty, harms livelihoods and divides our society. And we not only reject it if it’s government, we have done things like ban vaccine passports and mandates because it’s unacceptable to simply subcontract out Fauci-ism to big companies.”

I’m not sure, but I thought I heard somebody yell, “Antivax Bingo!” from deep in the Everglades. And, because you can always count on a dick to be a dick, earlier this week, DeSantis declined to send Florida National Guard troops to Washington to help with security for the State of the Union address. He also made sure everybody knew.

Last week, the Biden Administration requested the assistance of State National Guards to deploy to Washington D.C. I have rejected this request — there will be no @FLGuard sent to D.C. for Biden’s State of the Union.

That’s showing them, you jumped-up backbench heckler. The 2024 primaries are already coming up poison.

Abandon hope all ye who retire here.

Sunday, February 27, 2022

Sunday Reading

Rick Scott’s True Color is White — Fabiola Santiago in the Miami Herald.

Oxford dictionary definition of a bigot: “A person who is obstinately or unreasonably attached to a belief, opinion, or faction, especially one who is prejudiced against or antagonistic toward a person or people on the basis of their membership of a particular group.”

Suggested as similar terms: partisan, sectarian, racist.

In Florida, the competition for Bigot of the Year is tight — and, as if there weren’t enough candidates in the running with Gov. Ron DeSantis and the GOP members of the Florida Legislature acting to suppress minorities — here comes Sen. Rick Scott, presenting from Washington his own brand of social engineering.

The first-term, Boomer senator and former Florida governor, 69, calls his idea of what the United States of America should look like — and how patriotic Americans should act, democracy be damned — “An 11 Point Plan to Rescue America.”

It’s an attention-seeking gimmick, timed to the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Orlando this weekend, but it’s worthy reading because the document is also a stand-in of sorts for what the Republican Party platform is shaping up to look like for the 2022 midterm elections and beyond.

Made in Florida by Floridians and for Florida voters — and being exported to the rest of the nation (Apologies, sane Americans).

Brace yourselves, it’s back to the 1950s and the culture of subservient women and dominant males, in-the-closet gays, and Blacks who don’t talk about racism, lest they be accused of being “woke,” and, as DeSantis put it at CPAC, suffering from “woke-ism.”

He wants those gender roles — “God’s design for humanity” — to be tightly defined, he says in point No. 8.

It’s adiós to acceptance of your rainbow families in Scott’s Book of Families, Log Cabin Republicans. Remember that at the ballot box and the next time I interview you, leaders, and you insist the GOP respects LGBTQ rights.

Remember how you swore in 2016 that candidate Donald Trump loved gays, and there was no peril to his presidency?

Scott won’t even pretend to like you.

“The nuclear family is crucial to civilization, it is God’s design for humanity, and it must be protected and celebrated,” Scott declares. “To say otherwise is to deny science. The fanatical left seeks to devalue and redefine the traditional family.”

This isn’t just blah, blah, blah.

It will be the law in Florida to deny children in elementary school to speak of their gay identity, if the “Don’t Say Gay” bill passes, and it looks like it will, despite the Democrats’ tough fight to water down the restrictive language as much as possible.

Scott’s fascist verbosity would be a riotous, unbelievable read, sort of like the dystopian fiction of Margaret Atwood, except that his preposterous position paper mimics what other GOP figures are saying at the CPAC convention.

They and the senator are so obviously out of step not only with a younger generation who sees right through their motives — to keep their base agitated and scared of The Other — but future generations of young upcoming voters, too.

Eventually, the vileness of it all will catch up to them. The political pendulum always has a way of finding another pole.

But meanwhile, we have as GOP pillar Rick Scott, a man who presided over the largest Medicare fraud in the nation’s history while CEO of Columbia/HCA, was never charged, then later famously invoked the Fifth Amendment 75 times in a deposition of a civil lawsuit filed against the company.

Scott should be more thankful to the people of Florida, those Black leaders who spearheaded the referendum to restore voting rights to felons, because had Scott been charged, tried and convicted for fraud, at least now he could have his voting rights restored.

But no, instead he’s turning the screw on others and telling the whopper of a lie in his “rescue” paper (Point No. 7) that Democrats are trying to rig elections.

In his state, the only cases of documented electoral fraud so far have come from Republicans in Miami-Dade, the Villages and the Tampa area. They have changed the voter affiliations of Democrats to Republicans without authorization, funded sham candidates to face Democratic incumbents and voted repeatedly for Trump in 2020.

But to Scott, “voting rights” equates with “rigging” elections.

Not to be left behind in the newly ignited false hysteria over abortion, Scott outs the ultimate Republican plan to overturn Roe vs. Wade and end all abortion rights.

He’ll settle for nothing less than an outright ban, as women’s-rights advocates suspect is the real intent of the GOP Florida Legislature with its 15-week ban this session and other limits imposed last session.

“Men are men, women are women, and unborn babies are babies,” he declares. “There are two genders, and abortion stops a beating heart.”

False. Zygotes have no heart; they’re a cluster of cells.

But, I’m leaving my favorite Scottism for last.

Now I can also call him comrade. Scott will impose on Americans patriotism, as they do in Cuba and other totalitarian regimes.

Firsthand witness here, so I know what I’m talking about.

Being forced to recite patriotic mottoes and assorted political paraphernalia is the kind of school-sanctioned child abuse that gives children stomachaches that last into adulthood.

“Our kids will say the Pledge of Allegiance, salute the flag, learn that America is a great country,” declares Scott.

In other words, indoctrinate our children.

No room for genuine love, gratitude — or dissent, the hallmark of a democracy.

Be afraid, very afraid, Americans.

This is Newt Gingrich’s “Contract With America” on meth. And Rick Scott is Torquemada, Robespierre, Father Coughlin, and Newt Gingrich all in one shiny-domed package without any of the charm of his mentors.

Doonesbury — Joe Manchin below.

Thursday, February 17, 2022

The Extremist State

The Miami Herald editorial board on the outsized number of right-wing whackos from Florida:

More residents from Florida have been charged in the Jan. 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol than from any other state. Some of the most prominent leaders of the far-right “patriot” movement are from here, too. The state now has 68 hate groups, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, the second highest number in the nation after California. Last month, neo-Nazi groups demonstrated openly in Orlando.

Florida has an extremist problem, and we need to confront it head on.

Florida’s role in the attack of Jan. 6 , 2021, should put us all on notice about what’s brewing in this state. So far, 79 out of a total 734 federal Jan. 6 cases involve Florida residents, according to stories in the Miami Herald that focused on far-right groups, including the Oath Keepers. Based on population, that means the state is over-represented, as are other states, such as Pennsylvania.

Eleven people are now facing charges of conspiracy to commit sedition, including the founder of the Oath Keepers and four people from Florida who are either Oath Keepers or affiliates. These charges mark the first time the Justice Department has accused Jan. 6 attackers of sedition, an exceptionally serious crime that strikes at the heart of democracy. It means the Justice Department believes that Jan. 6 amounts to one of the most serious attacks on democracy in U.S. history.

There are additional warning signs for the state. National figures associated with far-right groups are here, with strong political connections. Three the Herald named: Roger Stone, a Donald Trump confidante who has associated with both Proud Boys and Oath Keepers; Miami’s own Enríque Tarrio, head of the Proud Boys and former Florida state director of Latinos for Trump; and Michael Flynn, the former Trump national security advisor who has flirted with the QAnon conspiracy movement.

Why here? Part of this concentration of extremism is, no doubt, linked to the rising national threat posed by militias and white supremacists, outlined in a U.S. intelligence report last March. But surely another steaming vat of blame must be placed squarely on the doorstep of Floridians for the government we have elected.

When Gov. Ron DeSantis refused to publicly condemn the Orlando neo-Nazis last month, he essentially shrugged off overt hatred, dismissing them as “jackasses” for local law enforcement to handle. His spokeswoman, Christina Pushaw, added to the perception when she asked on Twitter whether the demonstrations were orchestrated by Democratic staffers. She later deleted her tweet and backpedaled, but that there’s no eraser big enough to make that go away. Put them together, and it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that the highest-ranking Republican in the state views a parading of Nazism through the streets of Florida as no biggie.

That’s precisely the kind of message that resonates with extremists.

At the same time, efforts are under way by much of the Republican Party to sanitize the Jan. 6 insurrection attempt as mere “political discourse” rather than actual political violence. Our governor chimed in, refusing to call the attack an insurrection because, “a year later, nobody has been charged with that.” Two days later, on Jan. 8, they were. Once again, though, his point no doubt resonated with the audience he was aiming for.

Florida doesn’t need to be this way. We don’t have to signal acceptance to extremist groups. And if the Republicans in power won’t do it, regular people need to call it out, in public and at the ballot box.

In many ways, Florida is a microcosm of American politics with the blend of progressives and conservatives, Marxists and Nazis, tree-huggers and developers all slammed together in a peninsula that dangles off the end of the continent like a skin-tag.  Something to do with the heat and the humidity, I guess.  At any rate, we have a governor and state legislature who proclaim themselves to be in favor of smaller government and enemies of federalism and then do everything they can to exercise sledgehammer governing when it comes to the rights of minorities and people who don’t vote for them.

Sometimes I think the biggest advantage of living in Florida is that it’s not that far to get away to another country.

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

His Own Private Army

From yesterday’s Washington Post:

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — A plan by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis would establish a special police force to oversee state elections — the first of its kind in the nation — and while his fellow Republicans have reacted tepidly, voting rights advocates fear that it will become law and be used to intimidate voters.

The proposed Office of Election Crimes and Security would be part of the Department of State, which answers to the governor. DeSantis is asking the GOP-controlled legislature to allocate nearly $6 million to hire 52 people to “investigate, detect, apprehend, and arrest anyone for an alleged violation” of election laws. They would be stationed at unspecified “field offices throughout the state” and act on tips from “government officials or any other person.”

DeSantis highlighted his plan as legislators opened their annual 60-day session last week.

“To ensure that elections are conducted in accordance with the rule of law, I propose an election integrity unit whose sole focus will be the enforcement of Florida’s election laws,” he said during his State of the State address. “This will facilitate the faithful enforcement of election laws and will provide Floridians with the confidence that their vote will matter.”

I understand that they will be wearing uniforms, easily identifiable by their distinctive brown shirts.

Bonus Round: What if DeSantis seriously challenges Trump for the nomination in 2024? It will make those honey-badger videos look like a love-fest, and the best we can hope for is a civil war within the GOP. Have at it.

Sunday, January 16, 2022

Sunday Reading

If You Think Trump Was Too Sane and Honest About Covid-19…  Jonathan Chait on our own Ron DeSantis.

Having run for governor as an almost worshipful devotee of Donald Trump, Ron DeSantis has angered his former patron by floating the possibility he might run for president without Trump’s permission.

This strategy requires a way to differentiate himself on something other than personality, where Trump is considered the beau ideal among the party’s rank and file (and DeSantis can only offer a pale imitation.) DeSantis has seized upon the pandemic response. Where Trump was tiptoeing around vaccine skepticism, DeSantis jumped in with both feet, banning private companies like cruise lines from requiring vaccination, appointing a vaccine skeptic to his state’s highest office, and refusing to say if he’s gotten his booster dose.

Trump used the last point recently to paint DeSantis as evasive and weak. “I watched a couple politicians be interviewed, and one of the questions was ‘Did you get a booster?’ Because they had the vaccine, and they’re answering like — in other words, the answer is yes, but they don’t want to say it because they’re gutless,” he told OAN.

DeSantis is now responding by attacking Trump as weak for urging people to engage in social distancing at the outset of the pandemic. Asked by a right-wing podcast if he had any regrets, DeSantis replied that he wishes he spoke out against the Trump administration “locking down the country” at the beginning of the pandemic. “I never thought in February, early March, it would lead to locking down the country,” he said. “And I think if knowing now what I know then, if that was a threat earlier, I would have been much louder about, you know, trying to say this is not.” (DeSantis often speaks in garbled prose, but the meaning of his remarks in context was perfectly clear.)

This came after DeSantis assailed conservative Supreme Court justices for upholding a vaccine mandate on health-care workers. “Roberts and Kavanaugh did not have a backbone on that decision,” he complained. What the hospitals need, according to DeSantis, is unvaccinated people roaming the halls.

What’s notable about DeSantis’s fulminations on this topic, other than their continued pandering to anti-vaccine nuts, is his evident determination to run to Trump’s right on the pandemic.

It is telling that of the many failings DeSantis could cite by Trump, he is seizing on the former president’s initial willingness to do anything at all about the pandemic. Trump repeatedly denied the coronavirus posed any serious public-health risk and insisted it would go away while trying to hide the extent of the spread and treating the entire pandemic as a deep-state plot to undermine his reelection. Looking at this record, DeSantis has decided Trump’s weak point is the brief moments of sanity and candor when he acknowledged the virus was real.

DeSantis may or may not actually be more delusional on COVID than Donald Trump. But it is a revealing commentary on the state of their party that he sees his best chance to supplant Trump as positioning himself as even crazier.

Doonesbury — Out, out, damned spot.

Tuesday, December 7, 2021

His Own Private Army

Gov. Ron DeSantis wants to bring back the Florida guard to make sure that he has an army that obeys him and no one else. Via Charlie Pierce:

There are a number of things with which I would not trust Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. These certainly include the health of his constituents, but that horse has been out of the barn, wheezing its life away for a while now. However, right at the top of the list is the notion that Governor SuperSpreader should have his own private army. From

Hoping to distinguish Florida as the most military-friendly state in the nation, Gov. Ron DeSantis rolled out a budget proposal Thursday that would develop new armories and establish a secondary paramilitary force in Florida, among other objectives. A veteran himself, DeSantis is recommending more than $100 million to support the Florida National Guard. The bulk of the funding — roughly $85 million — would fund the construction of three additional armories, located in Homestead, Gainesville and Malabar, as well as expansion of a readiness center in Miramar. The armories would collectively house more than 1,500 troops, DeSantis said…Unlike the Florida National Guard, the FSG would answer solely to the Governor. No federal deployments. No federal missions. No federal dollars.

Also no oversight of any kind.

Once, back before the prion disease destroyed the higher functions of the Republican Party—and American conservatism generally—this kind of thing was included in the laws and constitutions of many states. During World War II, for example, the Florida State Guard stepped in when the state’s National Guard personnel were deployed overseas. Twenty-three states already have state guards that are recognized by the federal government. However, as we have learned repeatedly over the past five years, at least, nothing is normal anymore, not if there is the slightest chance it can be used by Republicans to increase their power. Giving Ron DeSantis his own military at this moment in history is wholly and obviously different than letting ol’ Spessard Holland use the state guard during World War II. This is one reason why.

“This program assists law enforcement efforts to reduce the supply of illegal drugs and will continue to fill an unfortunate void left by the (Joe) Biden administration’s open border agenda,” DeSantis said.

Also, more than a few people have noticed that DeSantis’s proposal comes hard on the heels of Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin’s directive that National Guardsmen who refuse vaccination will have their pay stopped and be barred from further training. Nobody believes in coincidence any more. It will be interesting to see how many anti-vax soldiers find their way into Ron DeSantis’ private army. Scary, but interesting.

It is not unusual for a state to have its own national guard contingent. In fact, before we had the United States Army, that’s what we had for defense: each state had its own troops. It has served its purpose during times of national emergencies such as natural disasters, but they’ve also been put in difficult peace-keeping positions such as enforcing desegregation laws in schools and, most notably, supporting local police. One particular event comes to mind: May 4, 1970 at Kent State University in Ohio.

But Gov. DeSantis’s motives are murky at best.  Will the FNG be called out to “protect” voters in the mid-term elections to make sure that only the right people vote?  Or to keep some Democrat from taking over his job if by some miracle he loses the election?

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Welcome Back, Snowbirds

From the Washington Post:

The White House announced late Tuesday that it will ease pandemic-related restrictions on overland border crossings from Canada and Mexico for foreign nationals.

Starting in early November, people engaged in nonessential travel who provide proof of coronavirus vaccination may enter the United States for reasons such as tourism or visiting family, according to White House officials. In January, all travelers across the land border, including those traveling for reasons deemed essential, must be vaccinated.

The move is a mostly noncontroversial — though some critics would say long overdue — easing of a policy put in place as the United States and other nations sought to safeguard their populations during a global pandemic.

As conditions have improved, along with the availability of vaccines and mitigation measures, business leaders, lawmakers and mayors of border towns have pressured the federal government to ease travel restrictions.

Last month, the White House announced that it will relax air travel restrictions on foreign travelers who have been fully vaccinated starting in November. This week’s announcement brings requirements for people crossing by land in line with those flying into the country.

A large portion of the South Florida tourism population comes from Canada. You’re just as likely to see cars with plates from Ontario and Quebec stuck on the Palmetto Expressway as you are likely to see the plates with the orange balls. In certain communities, you’d hear French as well as Spanish and English on the streets.  This is a slow crawl back to normal, and welcome along with the cooler temps and lower humidity.

This will be a godsend to the tourism industry, which is the lifeblood of the economy down here, not to mention the tax collector. Florida has no state income tax; the state relies on tourists to pay the tab for essentials. The state and counties make up the difference through real estate taxes as well, knowing that a lot of people from somewhere else also own property here, which means they can be soaked for paying for living here even when they don’t.  And we’ll return the favor next summer when Floridians flock to Lake Simcoe, cottage country, and Stratford.

Friday, October 8, 2021

Happy Friday

Some of you get a long weekend.  In some places they celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day on Monday.  In Canada, it’s Thanksgiving Weekend, which means it’s the last long weekend before it starts to get too cold to go hang out at the lake or have a last cook-out.  (Yes, they do turkey in Canada, too.)

It looks like the government will stay open, and the abortion ban in Texas has been stopped by a federal judge.  But neither of those actions are permanent, so brace yourself for more of that.  It also looks like the state of Florida has finally filed with the US Department of Education for its share of the American Rescue Plan’s education fund, amounting to $2.3 billion.  That means I’ll have a reason to go to work and make sure that my school is putting the money to good use.

Have a good weekend.

Sunday, October 3, 2021

Sunday Reading

DeSantis Misdeals the Race Card — Fabiola Santiago in the Miami Herald.

Poor Gov. Ron DeSantis.

He’s working hard to keep Blacks and Latinos off the playing field in Florida with voting- and protest-suppression laws, banning sanctuary cities and, now, ordering law enforcement to profile immigrants on the road.

But, here’s a hefty dose of reality to smack the governor in the face.

It’s too late to fight the demographics. Florida is gaining more Latinos than any other state, except, predictably, Texas, concluded the 2021 U.S. Latino GDP Report just released by the nonprofit Latino Donor Collaborative.

Between 2015 and 2019 alone, more than 700,000 Latinos were added to our state’s population. And according to the 2020 Census, which also revealed an increasingly multiracial America, Latinos make up 26.2% of Florida’s population.

That’s 5.3 million Hispanics, bad news for DeSantis, who can’t restrain his white-supremacist instincts — and is desperately trying to engineer an unfriendly atmosphere for both settled and new immigrants to Florida.

During the Donald Trump years, DeSantis targeted the influx of Central Americans, and he’s now doing likewise to Haitians under Joe Biden. He thinks he’s punishing this other “foreign” Florida, but he’s bad-mouthing and hurting all of us immigrants.

His newly issued mandate to law enforcement that they pull over drivers they suspect are transporting immigrants into the state is going to be tricky to carry out without violating Americans’ constitutional rights.

His directive amounts to blatant ethnic and racial profiling inspired by news that, while the Biden administration expelled 4,000 asylum-seeking Haitians in nine days, most of them men, immigration officials released families to loved ones in places such as South Florida.

While their asylum cases are pending, they’ll be part of another growing sector of Florida’s population — Blacks of Caribbean descent. Florida is the No. 1 destination for Haitians, where they make up 2.4% of the population.

How will DeSantis’ troopers be able to tell if that van on Florida’s Turnpike full of people of a certain skin tone is one of our lovely families traveling to Disney World or a suspected smuggling ring? They can’t. Injustices will be committed.

Outside of the Miami-Dade County cocoon, where racism, too, lives on but is less overt, Hispanic and Black families too often feel the discrimination without now having to worry about police being “encouraged,” as the governor put it, to stop them on the road on a mere “reasonable” suspicion of wrongdoing.

What constitutes such a suspicion to people like DeSantis?

Mere existence.

Given his history with dog-whistle language and actions, a car full of Haitians on a Florida road carpooling, minding their own business, being regular people, will do.

To enforce his immigrant-harassment policies, DeSantis named Larry Keefe, the former Trump-appointed U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Florida — a man who still uses in public the offensive “illegal alien” term — to serve as “public safety czar.”

At the press conference where he announced this latest round of infamies, DeSantis called his prejudice “protecting the people of Florida” because that’s all he sees, immigrants as criminals, not as the contributors to society that every economic indicator shows.

But we know the motive: The governor is seriously fear-mongering his way to reelection in 2022, and his base must be kept in a state of agitation. Race will do the job every time.

Thankfully, DeSantis is getting some push-back.

In September in Miami, U.S. District Judge Beth Bloom struck down key portions of his sanctuary city ban. Bloom ruled that part of it “was enacted based on biased and unreliable data generated by anti-immigrant hate groups” and has a “chilling and disparate impact” on immigration communities.

Yes, a judge acknowledged what many of us said when DeSantis and Florida Republicans rammed this down our throats: He and the Florida Legislature acted with prejudice based on hate.

In fact, September has been a pretty bad month for DeSantis in court.

U.S. District Judge Mark Walker also ruled against his attempt to quash protests in Florida, blocking the so-called “anti-riot law” DeSantis pushed in response to nationwide protests after the killing of George Floyd.

The judge ruled that the definition of “riot” in the legislation was too vague and likely violated the U.S. Constitution.

Yet, DeSantis still feels emboldened enough to keep on issuing executive orders to rein in Latino and Black population growth.

He’s so transparent, even wickedly comical at times.

During the Trump years, he ordered that local agencies fully cooperate with immigration authorities.  His new edict forbids state executive agencies from assisting the federal government in transporting immigrants from the southern border to Florida.

DeSantis also has sued Biden in federal court in Pensacola, friendly terrain to his anti-immigrant stance, alleging that many of the immigrants the Biden administration has “illegally released” will come to Florida and cost the state money.

His evilness, in practice, likely won’t stop anybody from reaching their Florida destination.

Plenty of humane souls will provide transportation and support to the Haitians, even buy Disney hats for the kids — DeSantis’ law enforcement officers, ready to profile, notwithstanding.

And then, there’s this: Latinos and Blacks are a growing force in Florida — and they vote.

Doonesbury — Perfect timing.

Sunday, September 19, 2021

Sunday Reading

Don’t Tell DeSantis — The Miami Herald editorial on the history of getting vaccinated goes far beyond his beady little eyes can see.

In 1777, there weren’t chants of “My body, my choice” at political rallies or governors selling “Don’t Fauci my Florida” campaign T-shirts.

But George Washington’s decision to mandate that Continental Army soldiers be inoculated against smallpox wasn’t easy. There were no safe, widely tested vaccines like the ones used for the coronavirus today, and inoculation in the 18th century was controversial and risky. It required exposing healthy people to the smallpox virus by scratching it into their arm or having them inhale it through the nose, generally causing a mild infection that led to immunity but, also — occasionally — death.

Washington wrote that if his army got widely infected, “We should have more to dread from it, than from the Sword of the Enemy.”

That was the first mass military inoculation, according to the Library of Congress. Since then, vaccine mandates inside and outside the military — and opposition to them — have been woven into the fabric of American life. In fact, we’re living with vaccine mandates right now — and not just for COVID-19.

But in the GOP playbook, vaccine mandates are a new concoction by the freedom-hating far-left and government bureaucrats. Could long-standing vaccine mandates be the next target in Republican-led states like Florida? We once thought that would be a far-fetched possibility. Not so much today.

Want to attend state-funded Florida International University? You must show proof of two MMR shots, for measles, mumps and rubella. Vaccination for hepatitis B and meningitis are also “strongly recommended,” but not mandatory, and require the signing of a waiver.

Want to work at taxpayer-funded Jackson Health System? Whether you’re a doctor or a cafeteria worker, you’ll need a flu shot and proof of MMR and chicken pox vaccination. The hospital system also requires workers to get COVID shots or face restrictions, such as wearing an N95 mask at all times. Religious and medical exemptions apply for the COVID and flu shots, spokeswoman Lidia Amoretti-Morgado told the Herald Editorial Board.

Want to send your children to a public school in Florida? Unless you have a religious or medical exemption signed by a doctor, get ready to prove they received shots for polio, hepatitis B, chicken pox, MMR and DTaP (diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis).

Florida’s school mandate is stricter than those of other states such as Colorado, where parents can object to vaccination on “philosophical” grounds or because of personal beliefs. But don’t tell Florida’s lawmakers. They don’t need any help coming up with bad ideas.

Vaccine mandates have been part of everyday life for Americans for more than a century for the simple reason that they work in controlling or eradicating diseases. Thanks to widespread vaccination, the last natural outbreak of smallpox in the United States happened in 1949.

Gov. Ron DeSantis is leading the charge against local governments that require COVID vaccination from employees, announcing in a recent news conference that he will start fining local officials. Mandates seem to be a greater issue than the misinformation that was propagated at his own event, when a Gainesville employee took the stage to claim falsely that the COVID vaccine “changes your RNA.” DeSantis, apparently suffering from a case of amnesia, said he doesn’t “even remember” what the man who was standing next to him said.

Many say the COVID vaccine is just too new to be mandated. But the approval standards set by the Food and Drug Administration — which gave the Pfizer shot full authorization last month after reviewing data from more than 40,000 people who participated in a clinical trial — are more stringent than what was in place in 1809, when the first state vaccine law was enacted in Massachusetts for smallpox.

In 1905, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a landmark ruling in Jacobson v. Massachusetts upholding a Cambridge City mandate. The court rejected the idea of an exemption based on personal choice because it would strip the legislative power from its function to “care for the public health and the public safety.” In 1922, the court denied a challenge to childhood vaccination requirements. More recently, the Arizona Court of Appeals rejected a challenge to a Maricopa County policy that excluded unvaccinated children from school when there is an unconfirmed but reasonable risk for the spread of measles.

“The liberty secured by the Constitution of the United States to every person within its jurisdiction does not import an absolute right in each person to be, at all times and in all circumstances, wholly freed from restraint. There are manifold restraints to which every person is necessarily subject for the common good,” the court wrote in the 1905 case.

In other words, the Supreme Court said freedom doesn’t give you the right to harm others.

But these days, the liberty that Washington’s inoculated troops fought for has been turned into a cloak for anti-vax entitlement and selfishness. Those attitudes have always been part of American society, but partisan politics has never played such an important role with conservative principles becoming intertwined with vaccine hesitancy.

And that raises a scary possibility: If so many Americans believe the COVID vaccine to be harmful or ineffective, who’s to say vaccine mandates for diseases that we thought long eradicated won’t come into question next?

A flawed — and later debunked — study and online conspiracies fueled by celebrities like Jenny McCarthy led many parents in the late 1990s and 2000s to believe MMR vaccines caused autism. There were 22 measles outbreaks across the nation in 2019, the second highest number of reported outbreaks since measles was declared eliminated in the United States in 2000, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

We’re already seeing that the fervor against the coronavirus vaccine has jeopardized public access to information about immunizations in general. Tennessee health officials, under pressure from lawmakers, stopped all adolescent vaccine outreach for COVID as well as other diseases in July. Health department employees were told to remove the agency logo from vaccine information given to the public, and the state fired its top vaccine official. After The Tennessean broke the story, drawing national condemnation, the state resumed most outreach efforts.

In past times, we would brush off what happened in Tennessee as an isolated case of lunacy. But today we cannot so easily dismiss the idea that lunacy might prevail against established — and effective — public-health measures.

Doonesbury — Dream a little dream…

Sunday, September 12, 2021

Sunday Reading

Lost Cause — The Miami Herald editorial board looks at the governor’s losing war against the Constitution.

Gov. Ron DeSantis and Republican lawmakers swore Florida’s new “anti-riot” law isn’t meant to target Black Lives Matter protesters or quell civil disobedience, even though the governor pitched it in the aftermath of last summer’s demonstrations against police brutality.

A federal judge saw right through their bogus excuse, writing that the law “empowers law enforcement officers to exercise their authority in arbitrary and discriminatory ways.” U.S. District Judge Mark Walker wrote in a Wednesday ruling the definition of a “riot” is so vague that “Floridians of ordinary intelligence” could not understand exactly what acts are prohibited under the law, a portion of which is temporarily blocked while a lawsuit goes to trial.

The Herald Editorial Board and civil liberties groups have been saying for months that House Bill 1 left far too much of the wording open to law enforcement’s interpretation — so much so that we feared even peaceful protesters could be arrested if others become violent. Of course, DeSantis’ defense team argued the law was as clear as day and only violent thugs would be punished under it.

We were right. HB 1 is a “’a trap for the innocent,’” Walker wrote, citing case law.

The state’s interpretation of the law presented in court was “problematic,” Walker added. This is the second time a judge has told DeSantis he misinterpreted laws he signed and promoted. A district judge late last month said the governor ignored part of the Parents’ Bill of Rights when he banned school mask mandates.

We find it hard to believe that DeSantis, who has a Harvard law degree, and lawmakers simply failed to fully understand the bills they passed.

People with common sense could see that HB 1 had little to do with stopping violence, which, by the way, didn’t happen much in Florida last year anyway. This was a clear dog whistle to Donald Trump and his base, which has become DeSantis’ base now that he’s a potential 2024 presidential contender — all the while swearing that the speculation he’s running is “nonsense,” despite his frequent jetting across the country to fundraise.

We still remember DeSantis using his bully pulpit last year to proclaim he would follow Trump’s calls for “law and order” after protests turned violent in some U.S. cities. Walker also made note of DeSantis’ chest-thumping.

“Governor DeSantis cannot credibly argue that this new definition of ‘riot’ was not intended to empower law enforcement officers against those who may criticize their legal authority, as he has referred to the proposed legislation that led to HB1 as ‘the strongest anti-rioting, pro-law enforcement piece of legislation in the country,’” Walker wrote.

The lawsuit was spearheaded by the group Dream Defenders and much of the debate during court hearings centered on HB 1’s definition of someone who commits a riot: a person who “willfully participates in a violent public disturbance involving an assembly of three or more persons, acting with a common intent to assist each other in violent and disorderly conduct” that results in injury, property damage or imminent danger to another person or property damage.

It was a discussion that got down to grammar, with Walker ultimately deciding that the state’s interpretation of the law “strains the rules of construction, grammar and logic beyond their breaking points.”

For example, the word “participates” could mean a person who actively joins a “violent public disturbance.” But could it also mean someone who continues to hold up a protest sign or fails to disperse as soon as violence erupts?

Another example: Does “violent public disturbance” mean that the protest turned violent before a person “willfully participated” in it, or does it mean the protest turned violent after they “willfully participated?” Walker wrote.

These distinctions could mean an arrest and a criminal record that could haunt protesters for the rest of their lives. We don’t want law enforcement to make these decisions on the spot. Some officers might choose leniency, as they did when mostly white protesters against the Cuban regime blocked Palmetto Expressway for hours in July.

Other officers might choose Trump’s “law and order” approach. Who’s most likely to be on the receiving end of that? You know the answer.

Doonesbury — Stargazing.

Monday, August 30, 2021

Sacrificial State

Like hurricanes, political malefactors and their movements start with a small circulation of disturbed weather, then grow by absorbing the energy around them until they become dangerous, spreading their destruction far beyond the central core. History is replete with such examples, creating empires and sending out crusades and missionaries bent on conquering by coercion, temptation with promises of great wealth and power, and if that fails, then by murderous means.

One of their most effective methods is the tried and true Blame the Others. It has worked since the dawn of time, and like the robocalls that promise to extend your car’s warranty, keep coming because there is always someone who will buy it.

We have seen it work in this country before, and as Charles M. Blow in The New York Times articulates, we are seeing now.

Republican politics have become oppositional politics: Deny the science, demean the media, own the libs. Conservatives are less defined by what they are for than by what they are against.

Donald Trump put this concept on steroids because it was beneficial to him as a strategy. He framed himself as the antithesis of Barack Obama. He was against immigrants and Muslims. He was against cultural conciliation. He was against the rapidly approaching future of America, one in which white people would lose not only their numerical advantage but also their societal primacy.

Furthermore, very few facts helped Trump, so he waged war against facts themselves. He denied, diminished and dismissed them.

And as a result, at the peak of their intransigence and callousness, his party catastrophically mishandled the pandemic. They refused to follow the science or act with caution. And, because of their reflexive opposition to the facts, untold numbers of people who didn’t have to die did.

The relationship between leader and followers in the religion of resistance was cyclical: Trump reflected the base, and they reflected him. The base began to have certain expectations from their politicians, expectations they made clear: The base must not only be followed, but also affirmed. The mob is the master.


Perhaps no politician has taken the reins from Trump with more vigor — and disastrous effects — than Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, a man who thinks he could be the next Republican president. But to supplant the last leader of his party, he has to out-Trump Trump.

To accomplish this meteoric rise, he needed to do two things. First, become the darling of the Trump freedom fighters, fighting for the right to get sick and die. And second, he has to be the opposite of the establishment, in this case Joe Biden and his administration. If Biden swerves left, DeSantis must swerve right, even if the hospitals in his state are overrun and the funeral parlors reach capacity.


Some bodies must be sacrificed to appease the gods of partisan resistance.

To keep the spotlight, DeSantis is employing many of the same tricks as Trump: fighting with the media about coverage, deflecting blame onto Biden and convincing his followers that folding to facts is the same as forfeiting freedoms.

As DeSantis said in early August, “We can either have a free society, or we can have a biomedical security state.” He continued, “And I can tell you: Florida, we’re a free state. People are going to be free to choose to make their own decisions.”

Yes, Florida, DeSantis is allowing you to choose death so that he can have a greater political life.

The question becomes then: How many of my fellow Floridians are willing to sacrifice their lives or those of their families, friends, co-workers, or the rest so that Ron DeSantis can win an election?

Sunday, August 29, 2021

Sunday Reading

What Went Wrong in Florida — By Patricia Mazzei, Benjamin Mueller and Robert Gebeloff in the New York Times.

MIAMI — The unexpected and unwelcome coronavirus surge now unfolding in the United States has hit hardest in states that were slow to embrace vaccines. And then there is Florida.

While leaders in that state also refused lockdowns and mask orders, they made it a priority to vaccinate vulnerable older people. Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, opened mass vaccination sites and sent teams to retirement communities and nursing homes. Younger people also lined up for shots.

Mr. DeSantis and public health experts expected a rise in cases this summer as people gathered indoors in the air-conditioning. But what happened was much worse: Cases spiraled out of control, reaching peaks higher than Florida had seen before. Hospitalizations followed. So did deaths, which are considerably higher than the numbers currently reached anywhere else in the country.

“It’s a very sad, sad moment for all of us,” said Natalie E. Dean, a biostatistician at Emory University who until recently worked at the University of Florida and has closely followed the pandemic in the state. “It was really hard to imagine us ever getting back to this place.”

The Florida story is a cautionary tale for dealing with the current incarnation of the coronavirus. The United States has used the vaccines as its primary pandemic weapon. But Florida shows that even a state that made a major push for vaccinations — Florida ranks 21st among states and Washington, D.C., in giving people of all ages at least one shot — can be crushed by the Delta variant, reaching frightening levels of hospitalizations and deaths.

“Clearly the vaccines are keeping most of these people out of the hospital, but we’re not building the herd immunity that people hoped,” Mr. DeSantis said at a news conference this past week. “You’ve got a huge percentage of people — adults — that have gotten shots, and yet you’ve still seen a wave.”

Morgues and crematories are full or getting there. Public utilities in Orlando and Tampa have asked residents to cut back on water usage so liquid oxygen, which is used in water treatment, can be conserved for hospitals. As of Friday, Florida was recording an average of 242 virus deaths a day, nearly as many as California and Texas combined, though a few states still had a higher per capita rate, according to public health data tracked by The New York Times.

Florida’s pandemic data, more scant since the state ended its declared Covid-19 state of emergency in June, reveals only limited information about who is dying. Hospitals have said upward of 90 percent of their patients have been unvaccinated. Exactly why the state has been so hard-hit remains an elusive question. Other states with comparable vaccine coverage have a small fraction of Florida’s hospitalization rate.

The best explanation of what has happened is that Florida’s vaccination rates were good, but not good enough for its demographics. It has so many older people that even vaccinating a vast majority of them left more than 800,000 unprotected. Vaccination rates among younger people were uneven, so clusters of people remained at risk. Previous virus waves, which were milder than in some other states, conferred only some natural immunity.

And Florida is Florida: People have enjoyed many months of barhopping, party-going and traveling, all activities conducive to swift virus spread.

Unlike in places like Oregon, which is clamping down again, adopting even outdoor mask mandates, Mr. DeSantis continues to stay the course, hoping to power through despite the devastating human toll. A Quinnipiac University poll released this past week found that Mr. DeSantis’s approval rating was 47 percent.

He and other state officials have sought to steer away from measures that could curtail infections, banning strict mask mandates in public schools. The biggest school districts imposed them anyway, and on Friday, a state judge ruled that Florida could not prevent those mandates, a decision the Department of Education plans to appeal.

Florida has experienced more deaths than normal — from all causes, not just Covid-19 — throughout the pandemic. In the early weeks of 2021, with cases surging and the vaccine rollout kicking off, the state averaged 5,600 deaths each week, about a third more than typical for that time of year, according to mortality figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The deaths dropped and then went back up.

These excess deaths are important, both because a number of Covid-19 deaths occur outside hospitals, and because the virus may contribute to deaths from other causes as a result of the strain on the health system.

In the first week of August, the state recorded another 5,600 deaths. But because mortality rates normally drop during summer months, the figure was more than 50 percent above what’s typical.

“We’re seeing a ton of people calling us to report the Covid deaths,” said Dr. Stephen J. Nelson, the Polk County medical examiner. “They’re typically young people that have been sick for a while.”

The picture of who is dying, however, is complicated.

About 82 percent of people 65 and older in the state are fully vaccinated, about average for the nation. That has still left a relatively large number of older people — about 819,000 — unvaccinated or only partially vaccinated, said Jason L. Salemi, an epidemiologist at the University of South Florida. If the unvaccinated also take fewer other precautions, he added, that would put them directly in the virus’s path.

“The Delta variant is exceptional at finding vulnerable populations,” he said.

The situation in nursing homes, where infections can spread swiftly, has also been problematic. While vaccination rates among older Floridians as a whole have been good, the rate of nursing home residents who are fully vaccinated — an average of 73.1 percent in each home — is lower than every state but Nevada, according to the C.D.C. About 47.5 percent of nursing home staff members were fully vaccinated as of Aug. 15, the lowest of any state but Louisiana.

Older people are also more likely to have immune deficiencies and comorbidities, making them more susceptible to breakthrough infections and hospitalizations, noted Dr. Peter Chin-Hong, an infectious-disease specialist at the University of California, San Francisco. And some, though not all, data have suggested that immunity against infection has waned in older, vaccinated adults; the Biden administration has indicated that those people will be among the first in line for booster shots.

Then there are the younger people, who now make up a larger share of Florida virus deaths. Before June 25, people under 65 made up 22 percent of deaths. Since then, that proportion has risen to 28 percent.

Fifty-six percent of people between the ages of 12 and 64 in Florida’s 10 largest counties are fully vaccinated, which is consistent with national figures. But in the rest of the state, that figure is only 43 percent, and in 27 counties, less than 1 in 3 residents in the age group is fully vaccinated.

The heart-wrenching deaths of children remain rare. The deaths of young and middle-aged adults have become routine.

“My mom had no prior illnesses — she was strong as an ox,” said Tré Burrows, whose 50-year-old mother, Cindy Dawkins, died from Covid-19 on Aug. 7. “There was literally nothing wrong with her. This just came out of nowhere.”

Ms. Dawkins, a mother of four who worked in a restaurant in Boynton Beach, began to feel ill shortly before her birthday, as the family was en route to celebrate in Orlando. Ms. Dawkins developed a cough and shortness of breath. Four days later, she went to a hospital. Doctors placed her on a ventilator. Thirty-two hours later, she was dead.

Her son said she had not gotten vaccinated because she feared possible side effects.

Those who did not get vaccinated are only part of the explanation behind the surge. Many states slammed by the virus earlier developed deep reservoirs of natural immunity from prior infections, affording them higher levels of protection than would be evident from vaccination rates alone.

Not so in Florida. Compared to other states, Florida was spared as devastating a wintertime wave of cases as ravaged other parts of the country — in part because warm weather made it possible for people to gather outdoors. That was a boon to Florida’s economy and its political leaders but a liability come summertime, when the state was unable to rely on the same wall of natural immunity that is now helping to shield places walloped by the virus this winter.

“People have underestimated the role of natural immunity,” Dr. Chin-Hong said. “Wherever you get hit hard, you kind of get a reprieve from the virus.”

There is some question as to whether Florida’s vaccination rates, especially in places like Miami and Orlando, might have been inflated by tourists getting shots. Regardless, vaccinations appear to be making Covid-19 cases less severe in Miami-Dade County, which had one of the state’s highest vaccination rates, according to research by Dr. Jeffrey Harris, a physician and emeritus professor of economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Beyond that, the hot weather has driven people indoors and attracted hordes of vacationers, creating the conditions for Delta to spread. For all of the focus on vaccines, scientists said, the virus’s path remains highly dependent on how closely people are packed together, where people are congregating and what precautions they are taking.

For other states whose residents will head indoors as temperatures drop in the fall and winter, Florida offers an important lesson, Dr. Dean said: As in the beginning of the pandemic, hospitalizations need to be kept in check.

“The minimum thing we should be achieving is to keep those hospitalization numbers low so it’s not straining the health care system, because that doesn’t just affect Covid patients — it affects everyone,” she said.

And policymakers, she said, must realize that vaccination rates need to be higher than previously thought to control a more contagious virus variant.

“Things can get out of hand,” she said. “I do believe that this could happen in other states, too.”

Doonesbury — Survey says…

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

DeSantis Is Still Killing It

School started yesterday here in Miami-Dade County with the school board requiring masks for students and staff in defiance of Gov. DeSantis’s executive order.

More than 350,000 students started the new year in Miami-Dade County Public Schools, one of eight districts that have imposed mask mandates — against an explicit order by DeSantis to let parents decide on masking — as covid rates have skyrocketed in the state.

Pediatric cases are sharply rising, too, across Florida, with as much as one-quarter of the new cases being reported in people under 19 and hospitalization rates of young people rising as well.

DeSantis is moving ahead to punish districts that have mask mandates, first targeting those in Alachua and Broward counties because they were the first to require masks.

On Friday, state officials demanded they drop the mandates or school board members who supported the mask requirements would lose their pay. On Monday, they demanded at least one of the districts provide compensation information for those board members so they can start withholding their pay. The Florida Board of Education planned an emergency meeting to grill the superintendents of a few other districts that imposed mask mandates.

And he’s spending money defending it in court.

A nationally watched court battle over masks began in Florida on Monday with parents from across the state arguing that Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration should not have prevented schools from implementing universal mask mandates.

The trial in Leon County court has the attention of the White House, other states and local school district officials, many of whom are still wrangling with the question of mandatory masks as coronavirus cases and quarantines rise in schools.

At its core, the case pits personal liberty versus collective responsibility. It also could address some major questions: How much power do the governor and Legislature have over local schools? Did DeSantis’ emergency order address a real emergency? And how useful are masks?

Michael Abel, representing the governor and the education department, opened by acknowledging that everyone involved wants the best for children. “We don’t fault or criticize the plaintiffs’ families for the action they are taking,” Abel said.

But masking children, Abel said, is far from a settled issue. He said the governor made a policy decision to protect the freedom of parents to make health choices for their children.

The plaintiffs, including parents from Hillsborough, Pinellas, Alachua and Palm Beach counties, argued mask mandates are “vitally important” to keep their children safe. Kristen Thompson, a Gainesville parent of three, said her first-grade daughter, 7, has medical “complexities” that do not allow her to wear masks.

“We need other people wearing masks so she doesn’t get the germs coming to her,” said Thompson, who also testified she has heard other parents say they will send their kids to school sick.

“That makes me scared,” she said. “If people are wearing masks it protects from everyone else who is not being responsible.”

The court dispute is underway as a growing number of Florida school districts impose mask mandates, and as the Biden administration threatens possible legal action against governors who block local school officials from requiring masks to protect against the coronavirus.

For the record, Florida leads the nation in the number of people in hospitals with Covid-19.

Thursday, July 29, 2021

Be Like Vermont, Florida

Via the Miami Herald:

Florida has entered a peak of COVID-19 cases not seen since January’s surge as the state reported 16,038 new cases Tuesday to the federal government, the seventh consecutive day the state has reported more than 12,000 new daily cases.

The last time Florida had such high numbers of new COVID cases was on Jan. 7, when the state recorded 19,816 new cases, its highest single-day number of COVID cases.

Florida accounted for about 20 percent of Tuesday’s new reported COVID cases across the United States, according to the data Florida reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The state also reported 92 new deaths on Tuesday.

Florida’s 7-day percent positivity rate climbed to 17.21% on Monday, up from 16.79% on Sunday, the state reported to the federal agency.

The surge in cases comes at the same time the CDC, which requires all states to report its daily case numbers to the federal agency, and Miami-Dade County have issued new guidelines for masks as a result of the surging delta variant strain of the virus.

On Tuesday, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said the agency recommends that, in areas with “substantial and high transmission” of the virus, fully vaccinated people should wear masks in public indoor settings, including schools, to help prevent the spread of the highly contagious delta variant.

On Wednesday, Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava mandated masks at all county facilities, including libraries, recreational centers and county-owned entertainment venues. She is also urging businesses to require facial coverings indoors.

“The numbers are clear,” Levine Cava said at a press conference. “We hope that businesses will do the right thing.”

Cumulatively, Florida has recorded at least 2,534,334 confirmed COVID cases and 38,840 deaths as of Tuesday, according to the CDC.

Compare that with this:

Throughout Vermont, hospital Covid-19 units are mostly empty. Bars and restaurants are hopping again. In remote rural towns, diners, country stores and campgrounds are filling up.

As the national health crisis evolves into “a pandemic of the unvaccinated,” in the words of US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky, Vermont health officials tout the Green Mountain State as the safest place in America.

Many Vermonters are venturing out, unmasked and with no fear, just as the CDC recommended on Tuesday that fully vaccinated people wear masks indoors in US counties with soaring transmission rates.

“My question is, ‘Do you want to have a life again?'” Schoenbeck said. “We’re living. Get vaccinated. Get back in the game.”


Vermont was the first state to partially vaccinate at least 80 percent of residents 12 or older. The current rate of more than 83% compares with the nation’s 66.6% one-dose rate — according to the CDC — for the same age group.

More than 67% of the state’s roughly 624,000 residents have been fully vaccinated, compared with about 49% for the US overall.

The state has maintained one of the country’s lowest infection rates — currently at 1.6% for a seven-day average, according to the health department’s Covid-19 dashboard. Vermont has had 259 Covid-19 deaths.

“It’s the lowest number of deaths on the continental US,” said Levine, sitting in front of a bobblehead of Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

The state’s last Covid-19-related death was on July 10, Levine said. In June and July, the state has had four deaths. There are five Covid-19 patients hospitalized in the entire state.

The difference between Florida and Vermont is that here in Florida we’re in the thrall of a Trumpist governor who would rather see people suffer and die rather than see his poll numbers shrink. He’s actually threatening local governments and public school boards with legal action if they try to protect their citizens. Oh, and you thought conservatives were all about smaller government. Yeah, no; not when there’s a chance he could run for higher office.