- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Recent editorials from Florida newspapers:

Sept. 2

The Gainesville (Florida) Sun on endangered species:

Manatees can be seen swimming near the shores of coastal Florida, but they’re not doing swimmingly as a species.

The 830 manatees that died in 2013 set a new mortality record. It is more than double the average annual mortality and eclipsed the second-highest record of 766 manatee deaths in 2010.

Despite this, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is considering whether to downlist manatees from being classified as “endangered” to the lesser classification of “threatened.”

Although manatees have benefited from protections associated with its status under the Endangered Species Act, the potential danger of extinction should weigh heavily on the Fish and Wildlife Service.

The agency’s staff has, in the past, recommended the change; their expertise should be given due consideration.

However, another expert - James Powell, a biologist with a doctorate and other advanced degrees - makes a compelling case against the change.

Powell has studied manatees in Florida and throughout the world. He formerly administered the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s research program on manatees; today he is executive director of Sea to Shore Alliance, a nonprofit organization he founded.

The Fish and Wildlife Service will weigh five factors in its decision: threat to habitat; overutilization of habitat; disease or predation; inadequacy of regulatory mechanisms; and other natural or man-made factors.

Here are Powell’s thoughts on the factors:

Habitat threats: Threats include reduction of warm-water sanctuaries, water quality, water pollution and loss of food sources such as sea-grass beds. The threats are expected to increase and intensify.

Boat strikes: With increasing human and boat populations in Florida, boat collisions with manatees will likely rise as boating activity increases following the recession.

Cold-related illness and death: Despite natural warm springs and power plant discharges, manatees can still experience high levels of mortality during a cold winter. This is likely to increase as power plant operations are modified over the next few decades and sources of natural warm water diminish.

Overall population: The 2014 minimum population estimate (4,824) is not many, considering we had more than 800 manatee carcasses last year. These numbers are worrisome.

Despite the slow and slight increase in the number of manatees during the past 50 years, threats to survival have increased. Since 2007, Florida manatee mortality has increased more than 50 percent.

The mortality numbers are a clear indication that threats to the species have not been lessened, and in fact have increased and broadened.

Clearly, the science that analyzes the existing and emerging threats indicates a “no” to a move to threatened status at this time.




August 28

Miami Herald on government transparency:

Among Florida’s recent governors, none has a worse record on transparency and open government than incumbent Rick Scott. Now Mr. Scott is apparently trying to render Florida’s public records law effectively meaningless by adopting a policy that makes it next to impossible to obtain access to public communications.

His latest effort to skirt the obligations of transparency, revealed in a lawsuit over his secret plans to raise money for a project involving the Governor’s Mansion, was justified by a claim that public employees can routinely conduct state business using private email accounts. They then become “custodians” of their own records.

This is a stunning assault on Florida’s constitutional right of public access, but well in keeping with the pattern and practice of a governor who has never seemed to understand, or appreciate, the obligations of transparency imposed on Florida’s public officials. He acts more like the CEO of a privately operated hospital chain, which he once was, than a public servant required to conduct the public’s business in public.

Until now, all emails and communications by public officials have been a matter of public record, accessible via a public-records request. By allowing public employees to use private email accounts to conduct business, however, Mr. Scott and state employees can deny that any such public records exist in state files.

Anyone wanting access, therefore, has to determine which state employees - current or former - may have those communications. Seekers of information may be obliged to file lawsuits. The burden is on the employee to release them or fight the request. They are the ones who have to hire lawyers.

This is a policy never before employed by state government, a reversal of precedent that makes the public-access law inoperable on a practical level. It effectively takes the state out of the loop on state business and creates a barrier that blocks public scrutiny of public affairs.

… Ever since he was elected, Mr. Scott has displayed a disturbing tendency to conduct the public’s business in secret.

Florida has a proud tradition of open government that Gov. Scott apparently considers an inconvenience. Floridians deserve a governor who honors that tradition instead of one trying to destroy it.




Sept. 3

Tampa (Florida) Tribune on Obama’s frustrating caution:

Appearing on “Meet The Press” Sunday, U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein spoke for many Americans when she suggested that President Obama is being too cautious in his response to the threat posed by the radical jihadists wreaking havoc in Syria and Iraq.

The savagery of ISIS was demonstrated again Tuesday with the release of a videotape showing the beheading of Steven J. Sotloff, the second American executed by the group. Sotloff grew up in Miami, and his mother pleaded for his release in a video last week. But these monsters clearly have no mercy or humanity.

The pressure for Obama to be more forceful now surely will mount.

Obama can easily dismiss the hawkish advice offered him by Republican Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham, and their opinions may not be persuasive to those who faulted them for their support of the war in Iraq.

But the president can’t so easily overlook the comments of a prominent fellow Democrat, such as Feinstein, who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Like most Americans, Feinstein recognizes the Islamic State as a genuine threat to our nation’s security.

“This is a group of people who are extraordinarily dangerous,” she said. “And they’ll kill with abandon.”

We don’t doubt the president agrees with that assessment, but we wonder when - or if - he’ll embrace a more assertive strategy for dealing with the threat.

… Granted, it’s an incredibly complex situation. The political makeup of the various players - Saudi Arabia, Iran and Turkey, as well as Iraq and Syria - makes it extremely difficult for the United States to dictate anti-terrorism strategies. But we elect our presidents to make difficult decisions.

… Sen. Feinstein’s message should be given careful consideration by the White House. The president needs to exercise caution, but that should not result in a paralysis that empowers these brutal zealots to advance their cruel agenda.



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