Palm Beach Post. August 11, 2023.

Editorial: COVID still with us. Don’t forget booster shots, common sense

It seems like long ago, when almost everything we did was colored by the threat of COVID-19.

In fact, it was barely two years ago, when our high-tech society, whose medical advances had imbued many with a sense there was always a treatment for whatever ailed us, was staggered like Europe during the Black Death. Our hospitals ran out of beds; out of ventilators for those lucky enough to get a bed; out of nurses to administer the ventilators and whatever other care might with luck spare a person’s life, from the ravages of the lurking virus.

Thankfully, the pandemic subsided. State spreadsheets now show far fewer cases. Fewer bodies fill the morgues.

Political Cartoons

Naturally we’ve moved on. But, let’s not move on just yet.

To be sure, the latest infections come with milder symptoms, as Staff Writer Chris Persaud reports. But so much remains unknown. COVID is still new to us; we don’t know if those who recover might be revisited by the symptoms, or how to cure those who come down with a version that lingers endlessly, or whether newer, deadly variants might enter the mainstream.

Florida hospitals saw 7,674 cases between May 27 and July 22 this year, down from more than 35,000 during that period in 2022; we buried 635 people during the six weeks ending July 20, down from 2,072 a year earlier.

So, yes, much better, reason to cheer. But that’s still 635 family members, friends and colleagues who won’t be coming home.

Time for a COVID-19 vaccine booster?

So, ask yourself: When was the last time you got a booster shot? They’re still free, and they take just a few minutes to administer. CVS pharmacies, for example, administered more than 88 million vaccines and provided more than 61 million tests during the pandemic “and remain prepared to meet our patients needs for immunizations, testing and treatment of COVID-19,” said Matt Blanchette, senior manager for retail communications. So why not take advantage?

Alas, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as of June 30, just 12.6% of Floridians have the latest booster that was approved last August. That’s the 10th-lowest rate among all states. Only one-third of Florida seniors are up to date on their shots, a rate lower than all but five states.

The advice from Dr. Larry Bush, an infectious disease specialist in Palm Beach County: If you’ve already been vaccinated, at this point it makes sense to wait until late summer, early fall, to get re-boosted, when new vaccines are coming out that more precisely target current variants. There is some crossover effectiveness between the original COVID-19 vaccines and newer strains but, says Bush, the newer shots will work better. That doesn’t mean you might not still get the disease, or experience a reaction to the shot, but if you’re weighing the protection versus potential ill effects, in his view, the benefits outweigh the risks.

Ask yourself also, why not still keep a mask in your purse, pocket or glove compartment, in case you find yourself at a crowded event, on a grocery store line where people are breathing down each other’s necks, or in a confined setting like the movies? There’s little question the combination of vaccination and masking, while by no means perfect, reduces the spread of the disease.

It’s true, says Bush, there’s no hard and fast proof that masks work well against COVID. A new study in Britain did demonstrate that after masking requirements for hospitals were dropped, the spread of COVID in hospitals went up. But that’s going to be true with every respiratory infection, he points out.

But look at it this way: If you put an umbrella over your head when it’s raining, the rain is not going to hit you. In the same way, if you put something in front of your face, you’re going to breathe in less COVID, and someone who has COVID will spill out less for others to catch.

So decide for yourself; no one’s mandating anything anymore. But by all means, let common sense guide you. If you don’t trust us, ask your doctor. Be well.

South Florida Sun Sentinel. August 11, 2023.

Editorial: The images and realities of the DeSantis campaign

There, that wasn’t so hard, was it?

Almost three years later — better late than never — Gov. Ron DeSantis finally admitted the obvious about the 2020 presidential election.

Donald Trump lost, and “Joe Biden’s the president,” DeSantis said outright in an NBC News interview, three days after calling Trump’s stolen election claims “unsubstantiated.”

Until then, he’d been desperately trying to have it both ways in his challenge to Trump for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination.

He didn’t want to offend the GOP faithful, some 70% of whom still tell pollsters that they deny or doubt the legitimacy of Biden’s victory. So DeSantis avoided direct answers to the question, saying only that it was time to move on.

But by trying, or so it seemed, to be more like Trump than Trump himself, his poll numbers were sinking.

DeSantis doubled down on migrants seeking asylum, targeted LBGTQ minorities, proclaimed a head-scratching war on “woke,” defended his education department for trying to indoctrinate Florida children with the fiction that slavery was beneficial for some slaves, and denounced the Justice Department for Trump’s indictments.

DeSantis even promised to “start slitting throats” in the federal bureaucracy on his first day in office, as if to top Trump’s command to his White House staff to “bust some heads” of Black Lives Matter demonstrators across the street.

It is reasonable to assume that “slitting throats” was a figure of speech, a DeSantis metaphor for axing jobs, but there are people who take such metaphors literally.

There’s so much actual violence and hate speech in contemporary society, fueled by an internet where such verbal violence is a discordant bell that can never be unrung, that no public figure should ever speak in such a way.

It was, moreover, far beneath the dignity one would expect of a Florida governor — or of any candidate for the presidency.

The power of metaphors, images

Metaphors are like images in that they can be more destructive than any thousand-word essay.

Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis’ presidential campaign in 1988 was tanked by a tank — actually, by a picture and film clips of a 68-ton M1 Abrams battle tank with a helmeted Dukakis standing in an open hatch. It didn’t fit anything voters knew about Dukakis, whose political focus was on domestic issues.

DeSantis has problems with images, too.

First, there was a social media post by one of his staffers of an utterly weird attack on Trump that was both homophobic and homoerotic in its content. Then another social post superimposed DeSantis’ face over images of marching soldiers and an ancient symbol known as a Sonnenrad that was adopted by Hitler’s Nazis and is popular among American white supremacists today. The words “Make America Florida,” DeSantis’ campaign theme, were superimposed.

The campaign tried to pass off both instances as reposts of videos created by outsiders until it came out that campaign staffers had actually made them. Both staffers were let go, but it was ostensibly only to trim a bloated payroll.

The world is still waiting to hear DeSantis himself denounce the videos for the hatreds they evoked.

Those are the consequences of relying on far-right networks to staff one’s campaign — or, potentially, a presidency. There’s no shortage of responsible conservatives DeSantis could employ, if he were interested and willing to take their advice.

Still not too late, but close

So, three-and-a-half years later, he has come around to where he should have been all along on the 2020 election. It’s not too late to make the rest of his campaign more responsible and preserve his potential for a better one in 2028.

People hoping for better from DeSantis would like to hear him forthrightly denounce Nazism, which is festering dangerously in the United States. But they didn’t hear it when Nazis bearing DeSantis flags along with swastikas showed up to some of his rallies, and they’re not hearing it now.

That doesn’t make him a Nazi. But it is cause for wonder at what he would do to avoid losing their votes to Trump, who probably still has them anyway.

The words of British philosopher John Stuart Mill bear repeating: “Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing.”

Tampa Bay Times. August 10, 2023.

Editorial: Ron DeSantis nullifies another Florida election

The governor once again shows off his penchant for weaponizing his office.

Ron DeSantis must believe his path to the White House cuts through Florida’s democracy. What else explains the Republican governor’s ouster Wednesday of another Democratic prosecutor, this one in Orlando, just as his presidential campaign continues to tank? The governor has again abused his authority by weaponizing his office, making a mockery of elections, the rule of law and his fitness for higher office.

DeSantis suspended Monique Worrell, the elected state attorney in Orange and Osceola counties, accusing the top prosecutor in Central Florida of neglect and incompetence for allowing violent offenders, drug traffickers and others “to evade incarceration.” DeSantis said prosecutors in Worrell’s office were “prevented or discouraged” from obtaining minimum mandatory sentences for gun crimes, drug trafficking and serious charges involving juvenile offenders. These practices, the governor wrote in his suspension order, amounted to a misuse of Worrell’s prosecutorial discretion and a violation of Florida law.

Worrell, first elected in 2020 with 66% of the vote, blasted the governor’s basis for removing her and vowed to appeal in court and to seek reelection next year. She and other Democratic leaders called the suspension politically motivated and a “hit job” orchestrated in part by disgruntled area police.

The suspension shows how far the governor is willing to press his authority and to substitute his discretion for that of other elected officials. Florida law gives a governor broad powers to remove officials from office, which is appropriate for those charged with a crime, or who are clearly incompetent or inattentive to their duties.

But in his nearly five years as governor, DeSantis has exercised that authority more aggressively than his recent predecessors. In Worrell’s case, the governor’s office pointed to a number of incidents to justify suspending her. Several of those examples involved matters over a defendant’s bond, pretrial release or sentencing — decisions left to a judge, not prosecutors.

Where does this weaponization of the criminal justice system end? Does Republican control of the Legislature and the courts translate to open season on Democratic officeholders and the outcome of elections? Are communities that embrace restorative justice policies consigned to the whim of one ruling party in Tallahassee? And what would Republicans — or frankly, anyone — think if a Democratic governor and Legislature were to copycat the practice and wield this hammer themselves over local sheriffs, prosecutors, school board members and others?

Florida was a state people from places like Cuba and Venezuela fled to for generations to escape autocratic control. Now, DeSantis makes the state look like a 21st-century banana republic. It doesn’t seem to be helping his presidential campaign, and it’s certainly not good for Florida’s democracy. Taken together with his attacks on public schools, voting and free speech, this is another assault on bedrock civic institutions. And it’s leading down a dangerous path for American society.

Miami Herald. August 10, 2023.

Editorial: Florida Supreme Court should reject DeSantis’ arguments. Let us vote on recreational pot

Just let the people of Florida vote on marijuana legalization, already.

A proposed constitutional amendment for recreational marijuana is under review by the Florida Supreme Court. It has already gotten enough signatures to get on the 2024 ballot. Now the court has to make sure the ballot item is written so that it addresses a single subject and is clear to voters.

But the “free state of Florida” has jumped into the middle of this process for reasons that seem blatantly political, designed to halt an effort that might increase liberal voter turnout at the polls next year or at least suppress the voice of the people. Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody, in court papers, has urged the justices to reject the language as misleading,

But is she trying to protect Florida voters? Or her boss, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, and his run for the GOP nomination for president?

She offers a grab bag of objections that are a stretch, at best. For example, she apparently thinks that if Florida gives residents the right to use marijuana for recreation, that would fool them into thinking they’ll have the same permission across the country. Yes, marijuana remains illegal under federal law. But 23 states — not quite half — allow recreational marijuana. Voters have had plenty of time to get used to the idea that it is legal in some states and not in others.

The state then adds a weirdly insulting note, saying in court papers that since “most Americans cannot name a single Supreme Court justice” — that’s according to a 2018 Newsweek poll — no one should assume the average voter knows marijuana remains federally illegal. In other words, Floridians are too dumb to figure it out.

Nice move, as DeSantis stumps for votes while battling that “unlikable” label.

The other objections seem to center mostly on regulation and who stands to make money on this potential expansion of marijuana laws in Florida. Medical marijuana has been legal since 2016. Trulieve, which already operates many of the state’s Medical Marijuana Treatment Centers, or MMTCs, is the driving force — and the money — behind this latest initiative, though a political committee known as Smart & Safe Florida has its name on the petition drive.

The state argues that the wording of the measure is misleading because even though it suggests that entities other than licensed MMTCs would be able to jump into the recreational marijuana trade, that’s not true. And the proposal would wind up increasing “the Sponsor’s monopolistic stranglehold on the marijuana market to the detriment of Floridians.”

And the state also acknowledges that the Legislature has the right to authorize licensure of other facilities. Seems like that’s a pretty good solution.

Two other times, in 2014 and 2016, recreational marijuana measures made it onto the ballot but failed because they didn’t get least 60% of the vote, the high bar rightly required for constitutional amendments. In 2021, the Florida Supreme Court rejected a recreational marijuana initiative on grounds that the ballot summary did not address the contradiction with federal law. This version seems to do so pretty clearly, saying, in part: “Applies to Florida law; does not change, or immunize violations of, federal law.”

But the politics of this could still be the deciding factor. The court deciding whether the language passes muster is filled with DeSantis appointees; five of the seven members were chosen by the governor. That shouldn’t matter and, yet, in these partisan times, it might.

DeSantis, too, has said that he wouldn’t legalize recreational marijuana nationally if he were to win the presidency. Though he signed into law in 2019 a measure that lifted a state ban on smokable forms of pot, he recently told a South Carolina audience to forget about any federal action to decriminalize use of the drug if he’s elected: “ I don’t think we would do that,” he said.

He did, however, sign into law this year a measure that means Black farmers, would finally be granted licenses to grow, process and sell medical marijuana. That’s a positive change, after years of delay.

Black farmers contended that none of them met the license-eligibility criteria. Applicants were required to have operated as Florida nurseries for 30 years. The farmers also said that, for years, lending discrimination had prevented them from being able to sustain operations over three decades without interruption.

We can’t help but wonder if the real worries here are political. Will the justices be able to decide the issues dispassionately, without taking into account the loudly expressed displeasure of the DeSantis administration — which, in court documents, called the effort by Trulieve “a reckless violation of federal” law?

And would the issue bring out more left-leaning voters? The marijuana issue is a popular one. Medical marijuana was legalized in Florida in 2016, with a whopping 71% of the vote. In 2018, the only Democrat elected statewide was Niikki Fried, a former marijuana lobbyist who became state agriculture commissioner. She is now the head of the state Democratic Party.

More than 1 million people signed the petition to put this latest recreational pot question on the ballot to allow voters — not the state — to decide whether marijuana should be legal for recreational use for people over 21 in Florida. We hope they get to make that decision.

Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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