- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Recent editorials from Florida newspapers:

July 8

Tampa (Fla.) Tribune on terrorism’s mystery man:

For years, it seemed that we all knew everything we needed to know about Osama bin Laden, including, importantly, what he looked like. We want to know what our foe looks like.

And, at least in simple terms, we understood Osama’s goal was to punish the United States and other Westerners (and their values) for representing what he perceived as a threat to his religious, cultural and political beliefs.

But until recently we knew next to nothing about the man behind today’s most dangerous threat to global peace, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

His organization claims to have recruited fighters from Britain, France, Germany and other European countries, as well as the United States, the Arab world and the Caucasus. This is no longer a local group with a grudge.

Baghdadi, who last week called on all the world’s Muslims to pledge their allegiance to him, is not yet a household name. There are few photographs of him, so it was big news last weekend when a video purportedly showing him leading prayers in Mosul surfaced. Iraq security forces are analyzing the tapes.

Baghdadi may be a shadowy figure. But given the way ISIL is destroying everything in its path - everything the United States and its allies tried, at such a high cost, to create in Iraq, namely a well-functioning democracy with well-trained and disciplined security forces - surely his name should become as familiar as that of any previous international terrorist leader.

Until recently, this new symbol of Islamist extremism did not appear to covet attention. There were no propaganda videos designed to glorify him and his cause. He remained a man of mystery. Compared to bin Laden, he was certainly publicity-shy.

But with his military success in both Syria and Iraq, Baghdadi has become more notorious.

The Guardian, a British newspaper, recently offered its own analysis of this obscure figure who is responsible for so much violence. The newspaper reported that Baghdadi was born in 1971 into a religious family in the city of Samarra - that’s about 80 miles north of Baghdad - and earned a doctorate in education from the University of Baghdad. “There are competing versions of how he came to jihad,” the Guardian reported. “One version suggests that he was already a militant jihadist during the time of Saddam Hussein.”

But another version in circulation describes how, after the American-led invasion in 2003, he was drawn into the emerging al-Qaida in Iraq under Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. He helped smuggle foreign fighters into Iraq and later became the “emir” of Rawa, near the Syrian border.

In Rawa, the Guardian reported, Baghdadi presided over a sharia (Islamic law) court and became notorious for his brutality, including publicly executing those suspected of having helped the American-led coalition forces.

The same sort of brutality has become all too common in those parts of Syria where his forces have gained control. They joined the Syrian rebels trying to end the corrupt regime of President Assad, but their brutal tactics have drawn heavy criticism and driven a wedge between the two groups.

Baghdadi preached and taught at various mosques and apparently led several smaller militant groups before he was promoted to a more prominent role in the Islamic State and the Levant, the Guardian reported.

And by now, while there remains a certain mystique surrounding him, a mystique that was enhanced by his organization’s stunning capture of Mosul and its advance toward Baghdad itself, as the Guardian notes, there is “no mystery about what Baghdadi wants.”

It is his belief that all Muslims should live under one Islamic state ruled by sharia law, and he believes he made the first step toward that by declaring the creation of a caliphate spanning Syria and Iraq.

While he may remain obscure to the rest of us, Washington believes his record and agenda are frightening enough that the government has placed a $10 million bounty on his head.

And he, in turn, has severely complicated already-fragile American foreign policy. The United States certainly will be reluctant to send troops back to Iraq to help the inept government that’s running things now, but neither Washington nor America’s allies can afford to let Baghdadi and his jihadist followers destabilize the entire region.

In a very real sense, Baghdadi is a more dangerous threat to American and European security than even bin Laden was because, for all the evil he represented, bin Laden never ruled over a broad geographic area the way Baghdadi will if his merciless mission is not repelled.

To describe him as the new bin Laden is to grossly understate the threat he represents. We’d better get to know him a lot better than we do now.




July 5

The Gainesville (Florida) Sun on banning big snakes:

Pythons are a big problem in Florida. Really big.

Earlier this year, a nearly 18-foot-long Burmese python was captured in the Florida Everglades. It wasn’t even a record - a python measuring 18 feet 8 inches long was found in Miami-Dade County in May 2013.

Native to Southeast Asia, the Burmese python has become established in the Everglades. The snakes disrupt the ecosystem by eating and outcompeting native wildlife.

In 2010, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service took the overdue step of banning the importation and sale of Burmese, Indian, Northern African and Southern African pythons as well as the yellow anaconda.

Now the wildlife service is considering adding five more snake species to the list. The agency is currently taking public comment on whether to ban the boa constrictor, the reticulated python and three more types of anacondas.

A boa constrictor found in the Ocala National Forest in 2012 raised concerns that the species could be established there. Boa constrictors have already become established in Puerto Rico.

There are also safety concerns about the giant snakes. The Humane Society of the United States has tracked more than 500 human safety incidents involving large constrictor snakes including attacks and escapes from badly secured cages.

Boa constrictors and reticulated pythons have killed five adults and three babies, according to the group.

The risk to people and native wildlife is simply too great to allow these destructive and potentially dangerous snakes as pets. While snake sellers might take a financial hit, the possible damage to Florida’s environment is much more significant.




July 5

Miami Herald on banking on new laws:

Almost 160 new state laws kicked in last week. Some actually do some good. Others will be great as long as state agencies - with a sad habit of ducking for cover when the going gets rough - follow their mandates. Still others don’t help at all.

And what should be to the shame of Gov. Rick Scott and state legislators, Medicaid expansion, which would help at least 1 million Floridians again was a non-starter. These elected leaders didn’t even pretend that it was a priority.

Still, the news was not all bad, first, because it’s an election year and, second, because shaming works wonders. As a result, children brought to this country by parents who are undocumented now can pay in-state tuition - markedly lower than that charged students from outside Florida. This quest had to travel an unreasonably rocky road over the years.

This time around, enough lawmakers who had been against the proposal - and Mr. Scott - decided that they were ardent supporters, and the bill passed. Not without needless last-minute feints and blocks, of course, but a majority of lawmakers ended up on the right side. The last thing this state can afford is to punish smart, motivated students because their parents reside here illegally. Given how long this item has been stalled, “it’s an election year” likely was the impetus to push in-state tuition over the finish line.

As for shaming, it took almost 500 children in the files of the Department of Children & Families, the agony of their deaths at the hands of abusive, neglectful caretakers disclosed day after day in the Miami Herald and blame laid squarely at the doorstep of a dysfunctional DCF, for many lawmakers - too many - to finally come around. When they did, however, saving the lives of children in troubled circumstances was established as DCF’s priority; child-protection workers are to be better qualified and better trained; and “transparency and accountability” is the new mantra.

We’ll see. The law will only be as good as the people who carry out its mandates and as a state that aggressively monitors outcomes.

Lawmakers, of course, also compounded several challenges that should have been left alone - and Mr. Scott abetted them by signing harmful bills into law: They agreed to expand the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship, which takes state funds that could give public schools a boost, and gives it instead to private and religious institutions to educate students; they tell doctors, again, how to conduct their practices, this time requiring physicians to conduct exams before performing abortions in order to determine whether fetuses are viable, and if they are, abortions generally would not be allowed.

Also notable are the initiatives that didn’t get any action, for good and for ill: Because they failed to act, lawmakers gutted tax credits for the film industry, likely sending a lot of job creators to states that get it right; and because of a college president’s fit of pique, lawmakers squelched the issue of a half-penny sales tax for Miami Dade College. County residents were cheated once, for sure, in being denied a referendum on the issue, and possibly twice in having an academic asset in dire need of renovation.

On the brighter side, after getting dangerously close, lawmakers pulled back from draining funds from crisis-stabilization units where people in a mental-health crisis get appropriate emergency treatment. That would have been a sure target for Gov. Scott’s veto pen. Do-nothing lawmakers aren’t all bad, sometimes.



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