- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Recent editorials from Florida newspapers:

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April 24

The Ledger of Lakeland says relationships with Cuba should be further pursued:

Although Cuba has a new leader, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio still is not impressed by the internal politics of Florida’s tiny island neighbor. Last week, after Cubans went through the motions to pick a new president, Florida’s Republican junior senator denounced the process.

“The sham ‘elections’ in Cuba were nothing more than a predetermined charade by the Castro regime,” Rubio said in a statement. As former President Raul Castro prepared to yield to “his appointed crony,” as Rubio labeled new President Miguel DÍaz-Canel, “Cuba will continue to be an island imprisoned under the rule of an oppressive single-party political system.”

“We all know that DÍaz-Canel and the regime will remain an enemy of democracy, human rights and the impartial rule of law,” Rubio continued. “If Castro truly wanted democratic change for Cuba, he would allow the Cuban people to determine their fate through free, fair and multi-party elections.”

It’s evident that’s not how DÍaz-Canel got the job.

First of all, there was no election, as we understand them. Cuba’s legislature placed DÍaz-Canel, who had served as Castro’s vice president, on the ballot, where he was the only presidential candidate. The Cuban people had no direct say in the presidential choice.

Additionally, Castro will remain as head of the Communist Party, the only recognized political party in the nation. Moreover, as the Chicago Tribune reported of DÍaz-Canel’s selection, Cuba’s new leader was “an uncharismatic figure who until recently maintained a public profile so low it was virtually nonexistent.” In other words, DÍaz-Canel was named because he was a party and Castro loyalist - some might say puppet - who will neither rock the boat, nor change its course.

Still, the best thing about DÍaz-Canel is that he is not a Castro. He is also relatively young (58), having been born after Fidel Castro led the revolt that ousted Fulgencio Bautista in 1959. It’s possible - and we emphasize possible - DÍaz-Canel harbors a more liberal world view on human rights as well as some instincts to reverse the economic malaise that grips Cuba; those might emerge as Raul Castro fades from the scene.

We’ve seen this before in other communist “paradises.” The former Soviet Union and its client states, China and Vietnam all have traded communism for an economic model that resembles capitalism. And while political liberation has not followed economic reforms quite as quickly as the West wants, it’s clear what prosperity has arisen in those realms is sufficient to prevent the strongmen in charge from reverting to the old ways.

This is why the Trump administration, and to a lesser degree Gov. Rick Scott’s administration, erred by denying greater interaction between Cubans and Americans.

As the Chicago Tribune reported, Raul Castro instituted steps to juice Cuba’s private sector after he took over for his ailing brother in 2006. Yet, today, “Castro’s moves to open the economy have largely been frozen or reversed as soon as they began to generate conspicuous shows of wealth by the new entrepreneurial class.” Castro recognized that allowing free enterprise to root would be political suicide.

And that’s why we must, despite some setbacks, such as the ill will created by Cuba’s audio attacks on our diplomats, continue to press the expansion of relations, tourism and trade.

The Miami Herald said it well in a recent editorial. While it is a “small consolation” that the Castro name will be relegated to the political background by DÍaz-Canel’s elevation to the presidency, “(t)he original Castros now are more a part of Cuba’s past than its future.”

Like the Cuban people, we had no influence in the selection of the country’s new president, and Rubio is right to condemn it as a farce. Yet by changing our own policies, as the Obama administration attempted to do, we can exert influence in other ways to show everyday Cubans that life can and will be better without the Castros.

Online: http://www.theledger.com/

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April 20

Tampa Bay Times on Florida’s death penalty:

Florida lawmakers may never take the death penalty off the books, but stronger forces are steadily eroding this inhumane, outdated tool of injustice. Court rulings, subsequent changes to law and waning public support have significantly suppressed the number of death sentences sought and handed down in state courts. While Florida should have abolished the death penalty long ago, its descent into obsolescence may be the next best thing.

Florida has executed 96 people since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976. The system ground to a halt in 2016 with another landmark ruling that invalidated Florida’s long-standing, convoluted scheme for imposing death sentences. Previously, juries could recommend putting a defendant to death by a simple majority, with the ultimate decision left up to the judge. In Hurst v. Florida, the Supreme Court found that process was unconstitutional because it gave too much power to judges. The Legislature responded by amending state law to require 10 out of 12 jurors to agree on a death sentence, but the state Supreme Court struck it down. So last year lawmakers finally passed legislation requiring a unanimous decision to sentence someone to death. While the death penalty should be repealed, this may be the next-best outcome.

Between the two court rulings, dozens of cases had to be revisited. Many defendants were eligible for resentencing, but another decision by the state Supreme Court left others condemned to death under precedent that is no longer considered constitutional. That’s one of the practical problems with the death penalty: it is to often applied unevenly, violating the basic tenet of equal justice under the law.

Decades of research and evidence show that capital cases consume inordinate time and money, depriving victims’ families of closure. The death penalty does not act as a deterrent, is applied arbitrarily and is too vulnerable to racial bias and error. Florida leads the nation in death row exonerations with 27, a shameful record that means there surely have been innocent people executed.

Yet Republican leaders and many prosecutors still insist the death penalty is appropriate in “the worst of the worst” cases. But empaneling 12 people on a jury who all agree on what that constitutes has proven difficult for prosecutors. Last year, just three death sentences were handed down in Florida, compared with 22 five years earlier. Adam Matos, who murdered four people in Pasco County in 2014, including the mother of his son, was sentenced to life in prison when one juror voted against death. Experts say to expect more such outcomes - fewer death sentences handed down as fewer are sought in the first place.

That is hardly a blueprint for just and reasoned public policy. But it’s preferable to the system that was in place for decades, which cost taxpayers millions, delayed justice and deprived victims’ families of closure. At the time of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Hurst decision, Florida had 389 inmates on death row, and four out of five were sent there by non-unanimous juries. The system was an unconstitutional quagmire then, and under the new system the death penalty is slowly fading away rather than being abruptly repealed.

Online: http://www.tampabay.com/

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April 25

Sun Sentinel says public schools have been short-changed:

Two leading Democrats running for governor embarrassed themselves during a debate last week by not knowing how much Florida spends on public education.

But the Republicans who run Florida should be far more embarrassed for having short-changed public schools again this year.

After the Parkland school shooting, lawmakers patted themselves on the back for having found an extra $344 million for school security improvements and mental health programs.

But the $101 per-pupil increase they celebrate - which includes the school security money - left just 47 cents more per student to cover other growing expenses, from fueling school buses to giving teachers raises.

Worse, to find the school security money, lawmakers raided the state’s affordable housing trust fund. They also shifted $56 million in school property-tax dollars from urban to rural counties. As a result, Broward and Palm Beach counties expect to have to forego teacher pay raises. And Broward may not have enough to add the special education teachers the district badly needs.

“Schools should not have to make a choice between properly funding basic educational needs and providing safe schools and mental health services,” Broward Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie wrote in a March 9 op-ed for the Sun Sentinel.

Runcie and other superintendents asked Gov. Rick Scott to veto the Legislature’s education budget and convene a special session to properly invest in schools. But the governor quickly blew by the request and signed the budget before announcing his run for the U.S. Senate.

But while Scott and other Republicans are quick to hail the $21.1 billion K-12 budget as the state’s highest ever, they fail to note the state’s $88.7 billion budget is the highest ever, up from $82.3 billion last year. So while these so-called fiscal conservatives grew the state budget by $6 billion, they short-changed public education.

Republican House Speaker Richard Corcoran, a likely Republican candidate for governor, pounced after last week’s debate, when two Democratic candidates didn’t know the budget for education. He tweeted an ad, based on the Jeopardy game show, mocking their flub.

The ad shows the moderator asking: “How much are we spending on public education?

“I know it’s right in the billions, Craig,” says former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine. “I think it’s in the multi-billions, Craig.”

Says former Congresswoman Gwen Graham: “Fifteen percent below what it needs to be currently.”

It is a fact that any candidate running for governor should know the outline of the state budget, including that a quarter is spent on K-12 education.

But two candidates did get it right, something you’d never know from Corcoran’s selective editing.

Orlando businessman Chris King said he estimated the budget to be between “$21 and $22 billion.”

And Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum said the budget is in “the $22 billion range.”

Corcoran’s ad flat-out claims the budget is $25.1 billion and taunts: “Democrats want to spend more money without knowing any of the facts.”

Hold your horses, Mr. Speaker. Gov. Scott’s budget summary says the “total funding” for public education is $21.1 billion.

According to Florida Politics, Corcoran’s fuzzy math factors in multiple other unnamed programs.

That said, it’s good to see the outgoing speaker - long a crusader for charter schools and privatizing public education - recognize Florida public schools for having “the most improved math scores in the nation.” For Corcoran famously calls public schools “failure factories.”

Corcoran also went after the teacher’s union this year, requiring decertification of those chapters that don’t have at least 50 percent membership. The requirement applies to no other public employee union in Florida.

At the same time, he pushed to arm teachers as the front-line defenders against school shootings.

With or without guns, teachers have become our first responders to school shootings, plus a host of other societal problems, including drug use and homelessness.

But instead of getting rewarded with steady wage increases that reflect the increasing cost of living, teachers are lucky if state leaders lob them a periodic bonus.

Is it any wonder that colleges of education report a dramatic decline in the number of students who want to become teachers? Sure, most teachers get summers off, but to ensure their kids can pass all the state-required tests, they’re also dipping into their pockets to make sure they have enough paper, pencils and supplies.

Florida’s war on public school teachers won’t be solved by duplicitous campaign ads and Tallahassee chest-thumping.

It’s time for voters to smarten up and start sending people to Tallahassee who will deliver the help schools need.

Online: http://www.sun-sentinel.com


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