- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Recent editorials from Florida newspapers:


July 26

The Ocala Star-Banner on the Zika virus:

Since we last wrote about the Zika virus, about a month ago, much has changed - for the worse:

- The number of cases of Zika, a mosquito-borne disease that can cause severe and sometimes fatal birth defects in newborns, continues to climb. Florida leads the nation in reported Zika cases, with 358 as of Monday - about a quarter of all U.S. cases; 48 of the state’s cases involve pregnant women. The disease had spread to 29 Florida counties So far, Marion County has been spared.

- Florida recorded its first birth of a baby with microcephaly - an abnormally small head and severe brain damage.

- Zika cases in Miami-Dade and Broward were being investigated as potentially the first infections transmitted directly by mosquito bites in the continental United States. So far, all U.S. cases have been travel-related - meaning they were contracted by people who visited or lived in other countries.

What hasn’t changed is Congress’ shameful failure to provide funding critical to combating Zika.

On July 14, Congress adjourned for its seven-week, Labor Day recess without providing the emergency funding that President Obama, at the urging of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, requested in February.

Instead of acting to fight this serious threat to public health, Congress has dithered over the funding level, attached unrelated, politically charged riders, and engaged in partisan finger-pointing.

This impasse, which threatens to continue into Congress’ recess for the fall campaign, is totally irresponsible.

With Florida’s mosquito season here, any locally acquired infection could spread quickly. The mosquito that carries the virus, the Aedes aegypti, is common in Florida and other Southern states. It breeds easily in any standing water and can bite four to five times - making it especially dangerous for spreading Zika. The virus can also be sexually transmitted.

One Florida congressman, U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, called congressional leaders’ decision to adjourn without providing the Zika funding “a national disgrace.”

“Congress has failed its primal duty to protect American lives,” Buchanan said.

He is right, of course. The emergency funding would be used to expand mosquito control and surveillance, support testing and development of a vaccine, improve diagnostics and testing, and enhance education and prevention efforts.

The CDC has already provided $2 million to Florida to fight Zika and was expected to award another $5.6 million through a grant. More is needed.

Prior to adjournment, Senate Democrats blocked a $1.1 billion, take-it-or-leave-it Zika measure drafted by Republican leaders. Democrats protested unrelated riders attached to the bill, including one blocking Planned Parenthood clinics in Puerto Rico from receiving money to fight the virus.

Florida Sen. Bill Nelson - who, like Buchanan, has insisted that Congress fund the CDC’s full request of $1.9 billion - criticized the Senate bill.

“We need to stop playing these political games,” Nelson said. “It’s time to treat this as a real emergency and it’s time to pass the appropriations bill without all of this political agenda added to it.”

There’s doubt that Congress will approve Zika funding when members return after Labor Day. Lawmakers will take up a stopgap funding bill needed to prevent a government shutdown before they recess again for campaigns.

Buchanan and Nelson are right. Congress needs to pass a clean bill to fund the federal government’s anti-Zika efforts. How many cases of tragic birth defects are necessary before Congress takes this emergency seriously?




July 25

The SunSentinel on the resignation of Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz:

Debbie Wasserman Schultz had no choice but to resign as head of the Democratic National Committee on Sunday, given the distraction she’d become over leaked emails showing the DNC’s animus toward the unending campaign of Bernie Sanders and the chairwoman’s sense of entitlement.

Still, the release of these emails by the whistleblowing website WikiLeaks is disturbing, and not simply because someone hacked the private accounts of a major American political party in a high-tech version of the Watergate break-in. It’s also disturbing because the website plans to dribble out the emails over time, keeping them in the news, stirring things up, demonstrating a “dirty tricks” political agenda.

If WikiLeaks truly believed in telling people what it knows, when it knows it, it would have released the emails all at once. Instead, the first release is called “Part One of our new Hillary Leaks series.” Previously, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has promised to publish enough evidence to put Hillary Clinton in prison.

The Democrats claim Russian hackers are behind the email breach, presumably because President Vladimir Putin prefers Republican nominee Donald Trump over Clinton. Even absent the suggestion that Russia is meddling in our presidential election, it is appropriate that the FBI investigate, as it said Monday that it would.

But for now, there is the truth revealed in the 19,000 emails released late Friday, which led our hometown congresswoman to resign as DNC chairwoman on the eve of the Democratic National Convention, which she helped put together.

The emails reveal that Wasserman Schultz, who lives in Weston, had a contemptuous attitude toward Sanders’ campaign manager, Jeff Weaver. When Weaver said Sanders should continue his campaign to the convention, she wrote: “He is an ASS.” In another, she calls him a “damn liar” for how he characterized the protests and threats of violence around Nevada’s primary.

The emails also show Wasserman Schultz’s frustration with not getting enough on-air time on MSNBC. And she wanted something done about Mika Brzezinski, a co-host of “Morning Joe,” who suggested the chairwoman should resign for having taken sides during the primary. Among other things, Wasserman Schultz emailed NBC personality Chuck Todd, saying in the subject line, “Chuck, this must stop.”

The emails also show a sense of entitlement, as when she sought a donor’s help securing seven tickets to the Broadway blockbuster, Hamilton. “Let me know if there is anyone I need to speak with directly,” she wrote.

That said, from what has been revealed so far, there’s no evidence Wasserman Schultz personally sought to undermine Sanders’ candidacy, though her team appeared to show favoritism.

One staffer suggested, for example, the party should “get someone to ask’” Sanders about his faith because it could be used against him. “I think I read he is an atheist. This could make several points difference with my peeps. My Southern Baptist peeps would draw a big difference between a Jew and an atheist,” wrote Brad Marshall, the DNC’s chief financial officer.

Party leaders have no business picking favorites in primaries. Rather, they should trust party voters to pick the candidates they believe will best represent them at the local, state and national levels.

To his credit, Sanders has taken the high road since the disclosures. While noting that the emails confirm what he’s said all along - that the DNC wanted Clinton atop the ticket - he has kept his focus on defeating Trump in November.

The same cannot be said of his approach to Wasserman Schultz, whom he’s criticized for scheduling primary debates on Saturday nights and temporarily cutting his access to a DNC voter database. On Sunday, Sanders again called for her resignation as the party’s chairwoman. He also has endorsed her re-election opponent, Tim Canova, a law professor at Nova Southeastern who’s raised more than $2 million in a credible campaign.

A larger lesson for us all is to be careful about what you say in emails. Don’t put anything in writing that you wouldn’t want printed in the newspaper. Better yet, use the phone or get up and talk to that person who may be sitting only 10 feet away.

Given all the work Wasserman Schultz put into planning this week’s convention, it’s understandable, if unfortunate, that she initially refused to walk away from her ceremonial duties of opening and closing the convention. But after being booed by protesters at a Monday breakfast, she rightly relinquished the gavel, to keep from being a distraction.

No matter your opinion of our congresswoman, there is no disputing that she’s been a smart, aggressive and tireless face of the party. Most Americans wouldn’t recognize Reince Priebus, the chair of the Republican National Committee, but they know the name of Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

Still, we’d prefer that elected officials not serve as national party leaders. Such roles are polarizing, because the person is always having to rip the other party. They’re also a distraction, because the chairman is expected to travel the country, raising money.

We felt the same way in 2007 when former Florida Sen. Mel Martinez served as chairman of the RNC. In that case, Martinez stepped down after just 10 months. Not long later, he announced he was leaving the Senate.

In announcing her DNC resignation, Wasserman Schultz said she looks forward to serving in Congress “for years to come.” Moments later, Clinton announced that her “longtime friend” would serve as honorary chairwoman on her national campaign trail.

Wassermann Schultz is not without her flaws. None of us are. But she is a fearless, tireless fighter who will continue to do well, no matter where the trail leads.




July 23

The Ledger of Lakeland on the Florida citrus industry:

Sometimes the price of doing nothing is that nothing gets done. U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio made that painfully clear on Thursday when he and Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam toured an Auburndale citrus grove to get an up-close look at the effects of the dreaded citrus greening disease.

The disease afflicts 9 of every 10 acres of commercial groves across Florida, which boasts roughly a half-million acres of citrus trees. Production has fallen to about one-fourth of what it was in the pre-greening era. The Citrus Department recently slashed its budget by a third and its workforce by 15 jobs to try to help growers, who fund the agency through a self-imposed tax.

While in Auburndale, Rubio, a Republican, noted that he and Sen. Bill Nelson, a Democrat, had fired off a letter to Senate leaders urging urgent action on the Emergency Citrus Disease Response Act. The bill, sponsored in the Senate by Nelson, would allow farmers to claim an immediate tax break for new trees planted to replace diseased ones, instead spreading the depreciation cost over 14 years, as the IRS now mandates.

The bill has been languishing in Congress since November. “Florida citrus is the gold standard for the world,” Rubio told The Ledger Thursday. “We want to make sure that continues to be the case.”

“If we don’t have re-planting, we’re going to lose the industry,” he added.

We’ve noted repeatedly in this space the dire situation facing Polk growers, and those throughout the state. And while Congress has been good about providing millions of dollars to research the greening menace, the other side of helping the citrus industry to recover is eradicating sick trees and replanting healthy ones.

This bill would help with that. The problem, however, is that this Congress is notorious for doing nothing - on any issue.

We’re not hopeful Congress will take action now. Practically all 12 of the government’s budget bills are in limbo while lawmakers are on hiatus for the summer. Still, we appreciate the work of Nelson and Rubio and their House counterparts - Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Longboat Key, has filed an identical bill that is backed by the Florida delegation - in trying to save the citrus industry.



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