- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Recent editorials from Florida newspapers:

May 27

Tampa (Fla.) Tribune on Tony Blair:

Many may regard Tony Blair as a discredited voice from the past - his political popularity at home plunged when he strongly supported the invasion of Iraq - but the former British prime minister has issued a timely warning to his nation’s allies, and it merits close attention.

It is time, Blair said recently, for the West to recalibrate its response to what he describes as the biggest threat to global security, Islamic extremism.

That extremism, which he said is so opposed to modernity that it might yet trigger a global catastrophe, has had a distorting impact on Western military intervention in the Middle East, he argued.

That’s why, Blair added, the Western powers - he described them as “willfully blind” - should even consider joining Russia and China in an effort to counter the extremists who he said are holding back development in Africa and the Far East.

He conceded that across the West there is a strong desire to keep a safe distance from all the strife that has unsettled the military and political landscapes in places such as Iraq, Syria, Libya and Afghanistan, and he blamed that strong desire on the West’s discomfort when it comes to talking about religion.

“I completely understand why our people feel they have done enough, more than enough,” he acknowledged. “And when they read of those we have tried to help spurning our help, criticizing us, even trying to kill us, they’re entitled to feel aggrieved and to say: We’re out.”

The recent violence in the Middle East almost always draws attention in the West - for example, the recent kidnapping of girl students in Nigeria by an anti-Western Islamic sect was highly publicized - but it does not appear to have triggered any particular policy changes.

“Within the Middle East itself, the result has been horrible, with people often facing a choice between authoritarian government that is at least religiously tolerant; and the risk that in throwing off the government they don’t like, they end up with a religiously intolerant quasi-theocracy,” Blair observed.

“For the last 40 to 50 years, there has been a steady stream of funding, proselytizing, organizing and promulgating coming out of the Middle East, pushing views of religion that are narrow minded and dangerous,” Blair continued. “Unfortunately we seem blind to the enormous global impact such teaching has had and is having.”

He described Islamic extremism as “not about a competing view of how society or politics should be governed within a common space where you accept other views are equally valid.” Rather, Blair noted, “it is exclusivist in nature . the ultimate goal is not a society which someone else can change by winning an election.”

The Islamist extremists, he continued, seek to establish a society governed by religious doctrines that are essentially “unchangeable.”

And he added: “There is a Titanic struggle going on within the region between those who want the region to embrace the modern world - politically, socially and economically - and those who instead want to create a politics of religious difference and exclusivity.”

And he faulted the Western allies for, in effect, looking the other way.

“We call for the regime to change in Syria, we encourage the opposition to rise up, and then when Iran activates Hezbollah on the side of Assad, we refrain even from air intervention to give the opposition a chance,” Blair said, implicitly criticizing the United States for its reluctance to get more deeply involved on the side of the Syrian insurgents.

“The result is a country in disintegration, millions displaced, a death toll approximating that of Iraq, with no end in sight and huge risks to regional stability,” he declared, adding that the West should take a new look at creating no-fly zones but taking care not to allow Iran to support the rebels.

Will Blair’s call to action bring any change in policy?

Probably not, at least in the short term. But his speech deserves close attention in Washington and other Western capitals, and he should be applauded for clearly detailing the religious threat to Western life.




May 27

News-Journal, Daytona Beach, Florida, on the lagoon:

For the first time in a long time, it’s nice to see hope blooming in the Indian River Lagoon instead of algae.

Since 2010, the 156-mile lagoon system has suffered a series of algae outbreaks, which obscure sunlight needed to grow the sea grass that is essential to the ecosystem’s health. As reported by The News-Journal last December in its five-part series “Troubled Water,” the lagoon system has lost 47,000 acres of sea grass in the last three years.

In addition, hundreds of dolphins, manatees and pelicans have died from mysterious illnesses. There have been numerous fish kills. That’s bad for the environment and bad for the local economy.

Out of those grim statistics shines a ray of light - literally.

This spring has seen the lagoon waters clearing up. There have been no major algae blooms, and the brown tide of algae that previously covered the lagoon system the last two summers so far has been seen only in isolated spots. Because less algae means more sunlight, scientists are finding small increases in some of the sea grass beds.

The operative words here are “so far.”

Although scientists are cautiously optimistic, they know algae seems to bloom more when the water gets warmer. Summer is less than four weeks away, and already the temperatures are heating up - witness the thermometer readings of 90 degrees or more in Central Florida last weekend.

That illustrates the uncertainty surrounding the Indian River Lagoon problems and the system’s future. But it also indicates that at least part of the solution lies with nature.

Much attention has been paid to possible man-made contributions to the lagoon’s plight, such as fertilizer runoff and septic tank discharges. Those materials unquestionably adversely affect water quality and deserve attention. Volusia County and other communities in the Indian River Lagoon system and St. Johns River Water Management District have adopted ordinances that control how and when lawns can be fertilized, and the debate continues over whether such regulations go too far or not far enough. Those issues also likely will be a priority at the state level during next year’s legislative session.

However, Mother Nature plays a major role in the lagoon’s health, too, such as with rainfall and temperature, and in other ways that scientists are still trying to understand. At least some aspects of the ecosystem’s well-being are beyond human control - witness the surprising decline of the algae blooms this spring.

Clearly, the Indian River Lagoon system requires further study. Mankind should do what it can to keep the waters clear and thriving. But nature will always play an important - and unpredictable - part.




May 23

Gainesville (Fla.) Sun on pressuring insurers:

When it comes to Florida’s property insurance rates, what a difference a little pressure from the state’s chief financial officer can make.

In 2013, most of Florida’s property insurers, as usual, filed for rate increases - despite eight straight years without a hurricane and sharp reductions in insurers’ costs.

And why not? The state Office of Insurance Regulation had approved more than 100 rate increase requests each year since 2009 - many of them in double digits.

As a result, Florida’s average property insurance premium - $1,933, based on 2011 figures - became the highest in the nation, and double the national average, according to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners.

Then, late last year, Florida CFO Jeff Atwater, who oversees insurance regulation, directed Insurance Commissioner Kevin McCarty to compile a report detailing how much property insurers had saved in 2013 and why consumers had not benefited.

After all, besides avoiding hurricane-damage payments since 2005, Florida insurers had saved hundreds of millions when the cost of reinsurance - the policies they buy to back up their claims - fell by 20 percent or more.

The 10 largest Florida-based property insurance companies had made “$283 million in net underwriting profits through the third quarter of 2013,” the Sarasota Herald-Tribune reported.

And most of the property insurers were looking for more.

But, after Atwater asked for the report, things began to change.

McCarty reported in January that “a half-dozen of the state’s 30 major property insurers have a recently approved or pending request for a rate cut between 2.4 percent and 9.2 percent,” the Tampa Bay Times reported.

Some companies that initially sought increases even have backtracked.

Castle Key Insurance, a subsidiary of Allstate and one of Florida’s largest property insurers, had filed for a 12.2 percent average statewide increase, but it announced in January that, due to lower costs, it would no longer seek the rate hike. Castle Key was eventually approved for a decrease of 5 percent.

The single-digit reductions so far are dwarfed by the increases Florida insurers reaped for several years. Last year alone, homeowner insurance rates across the state rose 11 percent, according to insurance consultants Perr & Knight.

Still, the rate cuts that McCarty reported are a start and, thankfully, just a start, Atwater indicated in a recent statement.

“When Commissioner McCarty provided me his analysis of the property insurance market, he said that he expected lower reinsurance costs to be reflected in lower rates for consumers in future rate filings,” Atwater said. “I share the commissioner’s expectations.”

There’s no doubt that Florida homes and businesses face special risks, including the threat of hurricanes and tornadoes, rising sea levels and even the increased frequency of sinkholes.

But when nature spares Florida from the onslaught of hurricanes for an eight-year period - and insurers benefit from reduced costs as a result - property insurance rates should reflect that good fortune.

Thanks to Atwater’s pressure, the tide has begun to turn in favor of homeowners.



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