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What is The Paradise Progressive?

The Paradise Progressive is an effort to cover, analyze and comment on news affecting the Paradise Coast of Southwest Florida that is overlooked, ignored or avoided by local traditional  media. It does this to fulfill the role of a free and independent press in a democratic republic.

As the Washington Post states: “Democracy dies in darkness.” But we say: “Liberty lives in light.” Our goal is to shine a light as best we can to dispel the darkness.

The Paradise Progressive is not affiliated with any political party or organization. It was begun on Dec. 20, 2018. To search past articles, google “Paradise Progressive” with your search terms.

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Southwest Florida counties, towns get dollar allocations from American Rescue Plan

On March 11, President Joe Biden signs the American Rescue Plan into law while Vice President Kamala Harris looks on. (Photo: White House)

April 7, 2021 by David Silverberg

On March 8, the amounts of funding being allocated to US states, counties and municipalities under the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan were released to the public by the US House Oversight Committee.

Among its many provisions, including the $1,400 checks to individuals and families, the American Rescue Plan is intended to help local governments hurt by the pandemic, the resulting economic slowdown and loss of revenue.

(The full list of allocations for the United States in an Excel spreadsheet can be downloaded here.)

Florida is slated to receive $17.6 billion, of which $10.2 billion will be going to the state government.

When the Plan was being considered in Congress, Republicans vociferously resisted passage of the legislation, especially the provision assisting state, county and municipal governments. Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) has called on Florida’s governments to return the checks.

Southwest Florida

According to an April 4 article in the Naples Daily News,American Rescue Plan to bring more than $300M to Southwest Florida,” local officials in Lee and Collier counties have not yet decided how to spend their allocations and were unsure of the procedure for receiving the money.

What follows below are the amounts being allocated to the various counties and local governments under the Plan, arranged by Southwest Florida’s congressional districts. Because congressional districts overlap county lines, each county is listed only once even though the districts may include pieces of different counties.

All of Southwest Florida’s representatives in Congress voted against the Plan.

19th Congressional District

Rep. Byron Donalds

Represented by Rep. Byron Donalds (R).

The 19th Congressional District covers the coastal area from Cape Coral to Marco Island and includes the most heavily populated areas of Lee and Collier counties.

Donalds denounced the American Rescue Plan in the House Budget Committee and on the floor of the House, calling it “nothing more than a liberal wish list.” 

Counties

  • Collier County: $74.65 million
  • Lee County: $149.45 million

Cities and towns

  • Bonita Springs: $25.06 million
  • Cape Coral: $26.87 million
  • Estero Village: $14.23 million
  • Everglades City: $.18 million
  • Fort Myers: $16 million
  • Fort Myers Beach: $2.98 million
  • Marco Island: $2.13 million
  • Naples: $9.28 million
  • Sanibel city: $3.11 million

25th Congressional District

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart

Represented by Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R).

The 25th Congressional District stretches from western Collier County east of the coast, includes all of Hendry County and a piece of northwestern Miami-Dade County.

Diaz-Balart called the American Rescue Plan “this fake COVID bill.” 

Counties

  • Hendry County: $8.15 million
  • Miami-Dade County: $526.93 million
  • Collier County: (already listed)

Cities and towns        

  • Clewiston: $3.37 million
  • Doral: $27.63 million
  • Hialeah: $70.61 million
  • LaBelle: $2.19 million

Immokalee is the largest population center in eastern Collier County. However, because it is an unincorporated community without a local government it is governed through Collier County and does not have a designated allocation.

17th Congressional District

Rep. Greg Steube

Represented by Rep. Greg Steube (R).

The 17th Congressional District is a huge district of over 6,300 square miles stretching from eastern Tampa Bay to the northwestern shore of Lake Okeechobee. It includes all of Charlotte, DeSoto, Glades, Hardee, Highlands and Okeechobee counties, plus parts of Lee (northern Lehigh Acres), Polk and Sarasota counties. Municipalities include North Port, Punta Gorda, Venice, and Okeechobee.

Steube complained that with the Plan, “Democrats chose to turn our nation into a welfare state with more government handouts.”

Counties

  • Charlotte: $36.64 million
  • DeSoto: $7.37 million
  • Glades: $2.68 million
  • Hardee: $5.22 million
  • Highlands: $20.60 million
  • Okeechobee: $8.18 million
  • Lee (already provided)          
  • Polk: $140.57 million
  • Sarasota: $84.12 million

Towns and cities

  • North Port: $29.72 million
  • Punta Gorda: $8.56 million
  • Venice: $10.08 million
  • Okeechobee: $2.44 million

Port Charlotte in Charlotte County is an unincorporated entity governed by the county and so has no specific allocation.

Liberty lives in light

© 2021 by David Silverberg

The Donalds Dossier: No rescue for Americans, defending the filibuster and fixating on the border

Rep. Byron Donalds calls for removing Capitol barriers and rebuilding them on the border. (Image: Office of Rep. Byron Donalds)

92 days Rep. Byron Donalds has been in office

582 days until Election Day 2022

April 5, 2021 by David Silverberg

Having tried and failed to stop President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan from assisting Americans to recover from the pandemic and receive vaccines, Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.) has now turned his fire against the American Jobs Plan intended to restore America’s infrastructure.

Additionally, in the past month Donalds attempted to play the race card against Biden’s opposition to Georgia’s voter suppression law and defended the Senate filibuster. Along with the rest of the Republican caucus in Congress, he tried to politically exploit the immigration influx at the southern border and opposed a bipartisan solution to farm labor needs and the agricultural workforce.

All of these activities were rhetorical; legislatively, Donalds proposed a widely ignored alternative to the American Rescue Plan. His proposal to protect Southwest Florida from interruptions in harmful algal bloom monitoring remains in committee.

In terms of serving his district, Donalds held a series of photo opportunities to prove that he has not forgotten Southwest Florida. However, he held no town halls or public events allowing constituents unrestricted access or unfiltered questions of his policies or positions. His media appearances were only with right-wing media outlets where he did not face skeptical or challenging questions.

Opposing rescue and jobs

In some rare and remarkable reporting covering local governance, yesterday, April 4, five reporters from the Naples Daily News published details of the benefits that Southwest Florida cities and counties will receive from the American Rescue Plan—and they are significant.

The article, “American Rescue Plan to bring more than $300M to Southwest Florida,” investigated the amounts that local jurisdictions will be receiving and their internal debates on how to use it.

Whatever the outcome of the debates at the county and municipal level on how to spend the money, it is clear that the dollars will significantly assist Southwest Florida in its efforts to recover from the effects of the pandemic.

Donalds vociferously fought passage of the American Rescue Plan, which passed the House twice and the Senate and was signed into law on March 11.

With implementation of the American Rescue Plan under way, Donalds, along with the rest of the Republican Party, turned his fire against Biden’s effort to restore and improve American infrastructure, fight climate change and provide American jobs. They focused on the Made in America Tax Plan, decrying its proposal to raise the corporate tax rate from 21 to 28 percent and make the ultra-wealthy pay a fair share of taxes.

“Biden is BAD for business,” Donalds tweeted on April 2. “Under this Admin, the incentive of corporations to do business in America has diminished greatly as a result of Biden’s anti-economic growth agenda. Raising the corporate tax is just another America last policy being adopted by the Biden Admin.” (Editor’s note: that tweet should be read “America-last” as opposed to Trump’s “America First,” slogan, which Donalds supports.)

He also complained that the American Jobs Plan was the Green New Deal in disguise and would provide only 5 percent of its funding for roads, highways and bridges, work against the coal and natural gas industries (in favor of solar, wind and renewable energy sources) and end anti-union “right to work” laws.

And in an unintentional bit of irony, on March 29 Donalds marked Vietnam Veterans Day by tweeting “Florida is home to the second-largest number of Vietnam War veterans in the nation, many of whom live in SW Florida. Today and every day, we offer our immense gratitude & appreciation for their selfless service to our nation.”

The American Jobs Plan, which he is so loudly denouncing, provides $18 billion for upgrades and modernization to Veterans Administration facilities like those in Southwest Florida.

Defending the filibuster and voter suppression

The US House of Representatives and the US Senate operate as separate and distinct institutions by design; in fact, Thomas Jefferson wanted each to operate as though the other didn’t exist. Members of the House are prohibited by House rules from referring to the Senate by name in their debates and speeches; they can only refer to “the other chamber” and the same goes for senators. This is to reduce institutional friction and maintain institutional independence.

That’s why it was surprising to see Donalds defending the Senate filibuster. It’s a practice peculiar to the Senate; the House has nothing like it.

Donalds’ defense of the Senate filibuster came in the context of his defense of Georgia’s voter suppression law, which has otherwise been blasted across the country as a deliberate attempt to dampen voting by communities of color and reduce democratic participation. He called Democratic condemnation of the law “race baiting” and was moved to issue a distinct statement expressing his sense of outrage that Biden had called the Georgia law “Jim Crow in the 21st Century” and “an atrocity.”

(Fun fact: The longest continuous filibuster in Senate history was conducted by Sen. Strom Thurmond of South Carolina (at the time a “Dixiecrat” Democrat but later a Republican), who in 1957 spoke continuously for 24 hours and 18 minutes in an effort to stop a civil rights bill guaranteeing Black voting rights.)

Biden, stated Donalds, was “irresponsibly injecting race and the travesty of Jim Crow to oppose the filibuster. Time after time, Democrats resort to the race card to shield them from having to answer for their hypocrisy and radical policies.” Considering that Biden had in the past opposed school busing along with southern segregationists, “that dark stain on our Republic is personal to me and many Black Americans like me.”

The For the People Act (House Resolution (HR) 1) is designed to combat voter suppression and ensure that elections remain open and accessible to all voters.

Donalds denounced it on the House floor and called it “the radical takeover of our elections.”

“Abolishing voter ID laws, ending signature verification, and putting into place taxpayer-funded campaigns is detrimental to every American’s right to a free and fair election and the harmful rhetoric of President Biden cannot evade this fact,” Donalds argued in his statement.

The For the People Act passed the House on March 3 despite Donalds’ “no” vote and is now in the Senate where it faces a Republican filibuster.

Immigration and the southern border

With little else to criticize and Biden actions to date proving overwhelmingly popular, Republicans have seized on the migrant influx at the southern US border as a point of attack. However, without Donald Trump whipping up a frenzy of fear and loathing of foreigners, Republican attacks have lacked the certain je ne sais quoi that Trump provided. By regarding migrants and refugees as human beings seeking safety and refuge rather than subhumans bent on rape and pillage, Biden is taking heat out of the Trumpist fire.

Donalds sought to remedy that. In keeping with the rest of the Republican caucus for the past two weeks he was fixated on the southern border.

“Instead of traveling back home to Delaware, Biden should head to our Southern Border immediately,” he tweeted on March 16. “Since taking office, illegal migrants, drug smugglers, & human traffickers have had their sights set on entering our country and Biden has given them the key. Secure our border, now.”

Donalds also posted a video of himself walking beside the temporary barriers protecting the US Capitol two days before they were scheduled to come down anyway and called for them to be dismantled and erected instead along the southern US border.

“…The Democrats actually do love walls, and they do love fencing—to protect them. But when it comes to our border, they don’t want any protection. Let’s take down these walls in D.C. and relocate them to our Southern Border,” he said in the March 19 video as he walked along the barrier.

The 19th Congressional District is not on the US territorial border and for most Southwest Floridians the only signs of the migrant influx are landscape workers mowing their lawns, replacing their roofs and agricultural laborers making their full dinner tables possible.

In another unintentional irony, when a bipartisan solution to the problem of undocumented seasonal agricultural workers—who are badly needed by local farm owners and growers—came before the House, Donalds voted against it.

And in a less amusing irony, the barriers were indeed removed. Then, last Friday, April 2, Capitol Police Officer William Evans was killed when Noah Green attacked him and another officer by driving his car into them—while they were protecting the Capitol.

Donalds of course issued an appropriate tribute.

Commentary: Past and prologue

Not all of Donalds’ initiatives in the last two weeks were negative. On March 17 he introduced his second piece of legislation, the Responsible and Effective Spending Cuts of Undesirable Expenditures (RESCUE) Act of 2021 (HR 1955), which is his answer to Biden’s American Rescue Plan.

Technically, the purpose of HR 1955 is “to temporarily modify the application of the sequester under the Statutory Pay-As-You-Go Act of 2010.”

That’s an interesting concept since there were complaints about pay-as-you-go budgeting and sequestration since the idea was introduced over 10 years ago. However, Donalds never submitted any text for the bill and it remains nothing more than a name and a number. An observer could be forgiven for concluding that this was not a serious piece of legislation but a bit of anti-Biden showboating.

Donalds has also been at pains to show that he is aware of his district. He and some of his staff took an airboat tour of the Everglades (which is actually outside the District boundaries), he and his family visited the Naples Botanical Garden (whose expansion was made possible by a generous donation from his predecessor, Francis Rooney), and he toured the Collier County Mosquito Control District headquarters, so he is cognizant of the local mosquitos.

Actually, for all this rhetorical sparring, this period has been something of a lull legislatively. Much of the initial heavy legislative lifting has already been done, with Donalds voting entirely against it.

But everyone should rest up: next up Biden will submit a new social program plan, the American Families Plan, and will submit his proposed budget for fiscal year 2022. That budget will feature implementation of the American Jobs Plan and corporate tax hikes to pay for it.

Donalds sits on the House Budget Committee, so this will be a chance for him to shine, as the Republican leadership and his PAC backers intended. No doubt he will have much to say, all of it negative. If past is prologue, he will be shallowly ideological, follow the party line and provide cover against any charges of Republican bias or prejudice. The 19th Congressional District will not play a large role in this.

The problem for Southwest Florida is that Donalds’ rigid right-wing orthodoxy and total rejection of relief, rebuilding and renewal will ensure that the region becomes an underfunded backwater while the rest of the nation moves forward to defeat the pandemic, boost employment and strengthen its infrastructure.

Liberty lives in light

© 2021 by David Silverberg

SWFL poised for big gains from Biden infrastructure plan

President Joe Biden takes the podium at the Carpenters Pittsburgh Training Center in Pittsburgh, Pa., to announce his American Jobs Plan yesterday, March 31. (Image: C-SPAN)

Southwest Florida stands to gain substantially from President Joe Biden’s American Jobs Plan, unveiled yesterday, March 31, in Pittsburgh, Pa.

The plan proposes $2.2 trillion in infrastructure investments across the nation, funded by hikes in the tax rates of corporations and high-income individuals.

Southwest Florida’s Everglades is one of only two locations specifically mentioned by name in the Plan. The other is the Great Lakes.

“President Biden is calling on Congress to invest in protection from extreme wildfires, coastal resilience to sea-level rise and hurricanes, support for agricultural resources management and climate-smart technologies, and the protection and restoration of major land and water resources like Florida’s Everglades and the Great Lakes,” according to a White House fact sheet explaining details of the vast proposal.

The Plan weaves climate change solutions and environmental protection measures throughout its fabric, issues of particular importance to environmentally sensitive Southwest Florida.

“It’s not a plan that tinkers around the edges,” Biden said in his speech yesterday unveiling the proposal. “It’s a once-in-a generation investment in America, unlike anything we’ve seen or done since we built the Interstate Highway System and the Space Race decades ago.

“Is it big?  Yes.  Is it bold? Yes.  And we can get it done,” he said.

Aspects of the Plan that affect Southwest Florida include:

  • Upgrading and modernizing US drinking, wastewater and stormwater systems

Southwest Florida is particularly subject to pollution and contaminants in all its waters, particularly those flowing from Lake Okeechobee and down the Caloosahatchee River. While work is already underway on the projects of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan, the American Jobs Plan would boost funding and support for other water-related measures throughout the region.

  • Making infrastructure more resilient

Southwest Florida’s vulnerability to hurricanes, which are increasing in intensity, as well as sea level rise and salt water intrusion have been well documented. The American Jobs Plan emphasizes resilience against climate change throughout its proposals.

According to the White House fact sheet, the Plan “will invest in vulnerable communities through a range of programs, including [the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s] Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities program, [the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s] Community Development Block Grant program, new initiatives at the Department of Transportation, a bipartisan tax credit to provide incentives to low- and middle-income families and to small businesses to invest in disaster resilience, and transition and relocation assistance to support community-led transitions for the most vulnerable tribal communities.”

  • Putting the energy industry to work plugging orphan oil and gas wells and cleaning up abandoned mines

Southwest Florida has 395 abandoned oil wells in Lee, Collier and Hendry counties, Dee Ann Miller, a spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, told reporter June Fletcher of the Naples Daily News in 2014.

A Princeton University study found that “As casings corrode and old concrete used to plug them shrinks, the wells create pathways that allow methane, carbon dioxide, brine and other fluids to migrate ‘from deep subsurface formations into shallow groundwater aquifers.’”

This threatens Southwest Florida’s fragile source of clean, drinkable water. The Biden plan designates $16 billion for cleaning up the kind of capped wells, as well as abandoned mines, present in the region.

  • Mobilizing the next generation of conservation and resilience workers

The Plan proposes spending $16 billion on a new Civilian Climate Corps to “work conserving our public lands and waters, bolstering community resilience, and advancing environmental justice,” which will also create new jobs—including in Southwest Florida.

  • Modernizing schools and early learning facilities

With Southwest Florida’s population growing, new schools have been built or are planned, especially in Lee County. The Plan will support new facilities and upgrade older ones.

  •  Upgrading Veterans Administration (VA) hospitals and federal buildings

The plan provides $18 billion for upgrades and modernization to VA facilities like those in Fort Myers and Cape Coral.

  • Expanding access to long-term care services under Medicaid and supporting caregiving jobs

Given Southwest Florida’s high proportion of aging seniors, the Plan’s proposal to expand access to home and community-based services to the elderly will have a particular impact. This includes providing benefits to at-home care workers who currently lack them.

In addition to these aspects that directly affect Southwest Florida, the American Jobs Plan envisions improvements and repairs to roads, bridges, tunnels and all forms of transportation. It also proposes building out broadband Internet access, extending it to underserved and rural communities. It would upgrade and expand affordable housing throughout the country.

The journey begins

Debate on the Plan and reaction to it are just beginning. The tax hike proposals, coming separately under the rubric “The Made in America Tax Plan,” which close a wide variety of loopholes and discourage companies from using offshore tax dodges, is already generating intense discussion that will likely rise to ferocious denunciation by Republicans and anti-taxers of all stripes.

“I start with one rule: No one — let me say it again — no one making under $400,000 will see their federal taxes go up.  Period,” Biden said in Pittsburgh.  “This is not about penalizing anyone.  I have nothing against millionaires and billionaires.  I believe in American capitalism.  I want everyone to do well.” 

In his speech he also reached out to Republican politicians: “Historically, infrastructure had been a bipartisan undertaking, many times led by Republicans,” Biden said. “And I don’t think you’ll find a Republican today in the House or Senate — maybe I’m wrong, gentlemen — who doesn’t think we have to improve our infrastructure.  They know China and other countries are eating our lunch.  So there’s no reason why it can’t be bipartisan again. The divisions of the moment shouldn’t stop us from doing the right thing for the future.”

Biden also claimed that he had overwhelming support from grassroots registered Republicans.

In the short term, the Plan’s proposals need to be turned into concrete legislation and begin making their way through the House of Representatives. The whole process will likely take months, although Biden is pushing to get it done as quickly as possible.

Next up will be Biden’s American Families Plan, which will be unveiled in the days ahead.

Coming next: SWFL reactions to the American Jobs Plan

Liberty lives in light

© 2021 by David Silverberg

Bill aiding farmers and workers shows divide among Southwest Florida congressmen

Farm laborers load freshly picked produce. (Photo: Coalition of Immokalee Workers)

March 30, 2021 by David Silverberg

If you’re like most Americans, you celebrated National Agriculture Day last Tuesday, March 23, by eating.

However, if you forgot National Agriculture Day entirely you can be forgiven. It is, after all, an artificial holiday, dreamed up in 1973 by a trade association, the Agriculture Council of America, a non-profit 501c3 educational institution backed by some of the biggest corporate names in the US agriculture industry.

The folks who didn’t forget National Agriculture Day were politicians of all stripes who want to remain in the graces of the farming industry and its campaign contributions.

In Southwest Florida, a heavily agricultural area, all three of the region’s congressmen—Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-25-Fla.), Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.) and Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.),  were careful to acknowledge National Agriculture Day on their Twitter feeds, the latter two adding bland bromides to the nation’s farmers.

But when it came to substance, they took very different—and very illuminating—actions.

The action in question was consideration of a bill this month that made fundamental changes to the way agriculture gets done in the United States.

The Farm Workforce Modernization Act of 2021 (House Resolution (HR) 1603) was a sprawling bill that made fundamental changes to America’s agricultural workforce. It closed legal loopholes while maintaining a strong and healthy—and most of all, legal—labor force.

Among its many provisions, it created a Certified Agricultural Worker (CAW) status for farmworkers, effectively a guest worker program that was long needed. Farmworkers could apply, be verified and receive legal CAW status good for five and a half years, protecting them and their families from deportation, while weeding out people with criminal pasts. The existing H-2A visa status for foreign workers was improved to provide for better compliance by both workers and employers.

These changes would have a major impact on farmworkers in Southwest Florida, particularly in the heavily agricultural areas of Collier, Lee and Hendry counties. It provides a measure of legality and security for the many migrants from Mexico and Latin America while still assisting the growers.

According to Diaz-Balart, who was involved in formulating the bill, “my colleagues and I spent almost a year negotiating” and working on the bill, “painstakingly working out its provisions.” Diaz-Balart’s 25th district includes wide swaths of farmland across the interior of Florida and includes the town of Immokalee in Collier County, a center of the agricultural workforce population.

Diaz-Balart was one of the original cosponsors of the bill, which included 61 Republicans and Democrats. By the end of Democratic and Republican negotiations, what emerged was a “bipartisan, targeted labor solution [that] our agriculture industry needs. This removes opportunities to work illegally in the U.S., strengthens our border security, and ensures we have a reliable, legal workforce for our farms and ranches,” according to Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-4-Wash.).

Diaz-Balart hailed it as “a significant and necessary step once again toward finally solving the labor crisis facing our nation’s agriculture industry.”

In their interests

The bill’s provisions tightening legal eligibility to work in the United States and boosting enforcement of immigration status by the Department of Homeland Security should have delighted Rep. Byron Donalds.

Prior to his election to Congress last year Donalds represented the 80th Florida House District, which includes Immokalee and the agricultural areas around it, so he should be intimately familiar with its growers and workers and their needs. What is more, for weeks he had been hammering away at President Joe Biden’s administration for its handling of the migrant influx at the Southwest Border. HR 1603 addressed many of the legal problems at the destination end of that influx, reducing crime while maintaining the workforce Southwest Florida growers need.

Rep. Greg Steube too should have welcomed the bill. His sprawling district includes vast swaths of farmland stretching from the coast to Lake Okeechobee and includes Charlotte, DeSoto, Glades, Hardee, Highlands and Okeechobee counties, plus northern Lehigh Acres in Lee County. Steube, like Donalds, had taken every available opportunity to attack the Biden administration’s handling of cross-border migration.

HR 1603 was fully bipartisan and addressed longstanding concerns of both parties, providing the humane and orderly treatment of farm workers prized by Democrats as well as the legal procedures and immigration security emphasized by Republicans, all while protecting both growers and workers. It was the kind of bipartisan cooperation in the interests of getting something substantive done that people so often say they want to see in Congress. It also had major beneficial implications for Florida.

On March 18, HR 1603 came up for a vote in the House of Representatives. It passed by a vote of 247 to 174. Of that vote, 217 Democrats voted for it as well as 30 Republicans.

Among those Republicans was Diaz-Balart.

And Byron Donalds and Greg Steube…voted against it.

Neither one bothered to issue a statement explaining his vote.

The bill has now gone to the Senate. Given that it is largely flying under the media radar and it’s a strongly bipartisan bill, it has a relatively good chance of passage.

Commentary

Both Donalds and Steube had a chance to benefit their districts, their state and the farms, businesses, workers and people they represent. But that would have involved casting a thoughtful, substantive, well-researched vote. It’s much easier to tweet hysterical attacks on border security, issue anti-immigrant broadsides and oppose any constructive compromises.

And, of course, both tweeted their celebrations of National Agriculture Day.

Liberty lives in light

© 2021 by David Silverberg

Southwest Florida congressmen stay mum on mass shootings

Police outside the King Soopers grocery store where a shooting took place Monday, March 22, 2021, in Boulder, Colo. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

March 25, 2021 by David Silverberg

It should come as no surprise that Southwest Florida’s representatives in Congress have responded to Monday’s mass shooting in Colorado and last week’s shooting in Georgia mostly with silence.

Rep. Byron Donalds

Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.) retweeted a Boulder Police Department tribute to Officer Eric Talley, the policeman killed at the King Soopers market rampage. Donalds added: “Officer Talley embodied the spirit of a hero, and I pray his loved ones are comforted knowing he died a hero. Thank you to all the brave law enforcement officers who devote their lives to protecting communities across America.” He made no mention of the other victims, who were peacefully shopping when the shooting began.

Donalds was the only candidate of nine in his Republican primary to receive a full endorsement from the National Rifle Association (NRA). He touted his gun ownership in his campaign tagline (“I’m a strong, Trump-supporting, gun-owning, liberty-loving, pro-life, politically incorrect black man”).

Rep. Greg Steube

Rep. Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.), whose district runs from Punta Gorda to Venice to Lake Okeechobee, had not issued any statement of any kind as of this writing. He has long been a vocal gun ownership advocate. Almost exactly a year ago he introduced the End the Normalized Delay of Suppressors (ENDS) Act (HR 6126) to try to force the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to more quickly grant permits for the purchase of gun silencers so that killing can be done quietly. The bill was not even considered in committee. He has called for carrying guns on the House floor.

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-25-Fla.), whose district runs from western Collier County and Immokalee across the state to Hialeah in the east, has made no statement about the shootings as of this writing.

Having been in office since 2003, Diaz-Balart’s relationship with the gun violence issue is longer and more complex than that of his Southwest Florida colleagues. For most of his congressional career he was a reliable opponent of gun regulation, even to the point that former representative Gabby Giffords, a shooting survivor, publicly endorsed his Democratic opponent, Mary Barzee Flores, in 2018, after the killing of 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.

In 2019 Diaz-Balart bucked his party and the NRA and voted for the Bipartisan Background Checks Act. That bill required background checks for arms transfers between individuals, closing a major loophole in the gun trade. The bill passed the House but died in the Senate.

This year Diaz-Balart switched his vote and voted against the same bill when it was reintroduced. This time, he stated that while he still supported background checks, the bill was now too far left and was “an overly-partisan and extremist bill that fails to effectively address background checks and imposes measures that amount to clear government overreach.”

This year it passed the House on March 11 by a vote of 227 to 203 but its fate is uncertain in the Senate.

The past and the future

Given this record it was unsurprising that these representatives did not join the chorus of congressional lawmakers calling for new measures to curb the latest wave of American gun violence.

Theirs was not the reaction throughout Florida. Rep. Ted Deutch (D-22-Fla.), whose east coast district includes Parkland as well as Fort Lauderdale, where five people were killed in a random shooting at the airport in 2017, said that the Boulder shooting emphasized the need for action to curb gun violence.

“…That’s why we need to act,” he told CBS-4 television news in Miami. “And that’s why we can’t just shake our head and say that’s one more thing and move on and wait for the next one,” 

Deutch serves as the chief whip on the Gun Violence Prevention Task Force, a group of more than 165 members of Congress who work on gun violence issues. He’s long supported a ban on assault-style weapons and broader background checks on gun purchases, measures also advocated by President Joe Biden.

Commentary: The Southwest Florida reaction

Nationally, the reaction to the shootings has been horrified denunciation by officials and private groups and there is new movement in Congress to take action to curb gun violence.

Locally, the reaction is far more muted. While the national chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense has issued numerous statements regarding the recent shootings, the local chapter has not made any public statements or taken any actions to date.

On the gun-saturated southwest coast of Florida, politically, not only is there no apparent urgency, there’s certainly no inclination by any elected official to propose or support gun restraints and no evident political incentive for taking any action at all.

But while expecting any kind of local legislative effort seems beyond hope, what is striking in the current instance is the resounding silence and complete indifference by local public figures toward the victims, their relatives and the survivors.

To date Southwest Florida has been spared any mass shooting. But guns are plentiful and opposition to restraint is fierce.

So if you hear popping while you’re shopping, get down, stay away from the source of the noise or open areas, try to leave if it’s safe and follow all orders from police.

Remember: You’re on your own. At least until 2022 you won’t get any help from your representatives in Congress.

And your surviving relatives shouldn’t wait for any thoughts or prayers from them, either.

Liberty lives in light

© 2021 by David Silverberg

The Donalds Dossier and DC Roundup: Donalds discovers his district; Steube denies gold to the blue

A sign at the entrance to Delnor-Wiggins State Park warns of red tide during the Big Bloom of 2018. (Photo: Author)

March 22, 2021 by David Silverberg

Updated March 24 with new Stafford Act link

Last week Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.) took a break from his verbal attacks on President Joe Biden, House Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-12-Calif.) and Democrats to actually pay attention to his district.

The attention came in the form of his first legislative proposal, a re-tread of a bill introduced in the previous Congress by his predecessor Francis Rooney, to ensure that the government keeps monitoring harmful algal blooms (HABs) even in the event of a government shutdown.

Donalds’ Harmful Algal Bloom Essential Forecasting Act of 2021 (House Resolution (HR) 1954) would, according to its official language, “amend the Harmful Algal Bloom and Hypoxia Research and Control Act of 1998 to clarify that during a lapse in appropriations certain services relating to the Harmful Algal Bloom Operational Forecasting System are excepted services under the Anti-Deficiency Act.”

The need for the legislation became apparent during former President Donald Trump’s 35-day shutdown of the government from Dec. 22, 2018 to Jan. 25, 2019 in a battle with Congress over funding his border wall. Following 2018’s severe red tide off the Florida Gulf coast, Rooney tried to build a coordinated response to future HABs.

In June 2019 he introduced the Harmful Algal Bloom Essential Forecasting Act (HR 3297) so that monitoring of HABs would not be interrupted. That bill gained 16 cosponsors, 12 Democrats and four Republicans. However, it never made it out of the Committee on Science, Space, and Technology.

Donalds’ bill was introduced with six cosponsors. Four are Republicans: Reps. Matt Gaetz (R-1-Fla.), Bill Posey (R-8-Fla.), Anthony Gonzalez (R-16-Ohio), Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.); and two Democrats: Reps. Charlie Crist (D-13-Fla.) and Rashida Tlaib (D-13-Mich.). Tlaib, a member of the liberal Democratic “squad,” also cosponsored Rooney’s bill.

Like its predecessor, Donalds’ bill has been referred to the Committee on Science, Space, and Technology as well as the Committee on Natural Resources.

Analysis: What to watch

Voters should watch to see if Donalds can move this bill out of its committees and onto the floor during the current session. While Rooney sat on the Science Committee, Donalds is not on either of the committees of jurisdiction, so his climb is steeper.

This will be especially interesting to see given his attacks on Pelosi. In the previous Congress, Pelosi advanced Rooney’s legislation on offshore oil drilling to full House consideration. She might not be equally inclined to move this legislation this time.

The need for this legislation is less urgent than it was under President Donald Trump, who thought little of shutting down the government as a negotiating tactic (or in a temper tantrum). With Democrats in charge of both houses of Congress and a sane president in the White House, the probability of a government shutdown, at least over the next four years, is far lower than in the past.

From a substantive standpoint, of far greater importance to Southwest Florida is another measure introduced by Rooney: amending the Stafford Act to include HABs.

The Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act defines which natural disasters are subject to federal emergency treatment. Algal blooms are not included. If Southwest Florida suffers another Big Bloom summer like 2018’s, the area’s governments, merchants and residents would be eligible for federal emergency funds and support if the Stafford Act is amended. Rooney tried to make this change with his Protecting Local Communities from Harmful Algal Blooms Act but it remained undone during his tenure. For Donalds, however, this kind of legislation might clash with his small-government, you’re-on-your-own ideology.

From a political standpoint, Donalds’ new HAB legislation may help close a gap that was threatening to widen into a vulnerability: his almost complete disinterest in the district and its needs. He received some minor, uncritical coverage of his bill in the local media, which was no doubt helpful to him in changing this perception.

On the record

Since our last Donalds Dossier, in major legislation Donalds toed the Republican Party line. He has:

Steube: No gold for the blue

Capitol Police try to hold back rioters during the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection.

In other action by a Southwest Florida representative, Rep. Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.), a vehement ever-Trumper and extreme conservative who represents the area from Punta Gorda to Venice and east to Okeechobee, chose to oppose honoring those who protected him during the Jan. 6 insurrection and attack on the Capitol building.

Steube’s action came after Pelosi proposed awarding three Congressional Gold Medals, Congress’ highest civilian honor, to the Capitol Police and the Washington, DC Metropolitan Police. The third medal, along with a plaque listing all the agencies that protected the Capitol that day, will be displayed in the Smithsonian Institution.

Pelosi’s sponsorship of the legislation was a rare move in the chamber, signifying its solemnity.

“January 6th was one of the darkest and deadliest days in American history,” Pelosi said in a speech on the floor.  “The waging of a violent insurrection against the United States Capitol and against our very democracy on that day was a profound horror that nearly defies comprehension.  That day, the country witnessed the gleeful desecration of our Temple of Democracy.”

While Jan. 6 was a day of “horror and heartbreak,” she said, “because of these courageous men and women, it was also a moment of extraordinary heroism.  That day the United States Capitol Police force put themselves between us and the violence.  They risked their safety and their lives for others with the utmost selflessness, and they did so because they were patriots – the type of Americans who heard the call to serve and answered it – putting country above self.” 

When the time came for a vote last Wednesday, March 17, Steube and 11 of his Republican colleagues didn’t agree. Instead, Steube blamed Pelosi for the insurrection and attack, saying in a statement:

“The unprecedented leadership failures of Speaker Pelosi, the U.S. Capitol Police Chief and the Sergeant at Arms put their officers, Members of Congress and the public at risk on January 6. They had the opportunity to call in the National Guard days before and refused to do so for ‘optics.’ There is no reason that Congress should now award the highest civilian medal to leaders who failed in protecting the Capitol, which led to their resignation and the shooting of an unarmed woman, just so Speaker Pelosi can check the box and say she supports law enforcement a week after Pelosi-led Democrats attacked the police by ending their qualified immunity and taking away their protective equipment.”

Rep. Greg Steube

Despite voting against the gold medals Steube maintained that he’s a “staunch defender” of law enforcement and opposed any movements to defund the police.

When the roll was called, the bill, HR 1085, passed by an overwhelming vote of 413 to 12, that included the Republican leadership.

In addition to Steube, the other nay votes were: Reps. Andy Biggs (R-5-Ariz.), Michael Cloud (R-27-Texas), Andrew Clyde (R-9-Ga.), Matt Gaetz (R-1-Fa.), Louis Gohmert (R-1-Texas), Bob Good (R-5-Va.), Lance Gooden (R-5-Texas), Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-14-Ga.), Andy Harris (R-1-Md.), Thomas Massie (R-4-Ky.), John Rose (R-6-Tenn.).

Commentary

Steube’s vote in this matter is outrageous, disgusting and shameful. His rationale is absurd. His indifference to the deaths of the officer who lost his life, Brian Sicknick, and those who took their own lives subsequently is despicable. He has forfeited any legitimate claim—or future claim—to be a defender of law enforcement. He and his colleagues deserve to be called “the dirty dozen” for rejecting this recognition for the police officers who stood their ground against the most repulsive attack on the American government in history.

Liberty lives in light

© 2021 by David Silverberg

Michael Flynn tries to rally dispirited conservatives during Southwest Florida visit

Michael Flynn attends a Trump rally in Phoenix, Arizona in 2016. (Photo: Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia Commons)

March 18, 2021 by David Silverberg

Michael Flynn, former national security advisor and lieutenant general, tried to rally dispirited Trumpers with a message of continued effort and community engagement during a series of appearances in Southwest Florida last week.

Flynn also said he was looking for “America first” candidates for future races at the local and state levels to promote elements of Donald Trump’s previous agenda.

“This is a very interesting time for our country, to say the least,” he said in a brief address at a private home on Tuesday, March 9. “…Engage people. Get in people’s faces. Engage people. And I’m going to tell folks tomorrow, get out and engage their communities wherever they’re from. And maybe they’re from around here but as we carry our message, there are people from Michigan, people from Oregon. But we have to engage and I’m telling you, much, much more than we ever have in our lifetimes.”

In an online interview with Brendon Leslie, a local independent conservative blogger and netcaster, Flynn said, “We’re seeking candidates, people, who want to step up to the plate and run at the local level, at the state level,” who share his beliefs.

Flynn completed his tour of Southwest Florida last Thursday, March 11, just as he was facing a new investigation from the US Army Inspector General, according to The Washington Post.

Despite his affiliation with the discredited QAnon conspiracy theory, Flynn’s message was largely one of encouragement for demoralized followers of former President Donald Trump and recommitment to traditional conservative values.

Flynn addressed groups in Naples and Fort Myers in addition to a gathering at a private home. All gatherings were unmasked and ignored social distancing guidelines.

In Naples, Flynn spoke on the evening of Wednesday, March 10, at a gathering at the Naples Beach Hotel. Originally scheduled for Shula’s Steakhouse, the venue was changed when Shula’s management declined to host it. The event was made “secret” except to ticketholders.

That event was organized by Christy McLaughlin, a former Republican congressional primary candidate and conservative activist, who also organized an unannounced appearance by Proud Boys Chairman Enrique Tarrio in Naples on Dec. 3. Initially intended to benefit McLaughlin’s Constitutional Warriors Political Action Committee (PAC), the March 10 beneficiary was changed to something called SAVA-PAC, which is not registered with the Federal Election Commission.

In Fort Myers, Flynn spoke on Thursday, March 11 at the Ter-Tini’s event venue after the Roots Restaurant and Treehouse Rooftop Lounge in the Bell Tower Shops declined to host that gathering. As originally planned the Fort Myers event was organized by Red Pill Roadshow, a QAnon-promoting traveling show. This event venue was also concealed following the Treehouse cancellation and a report on it by NBC-2 News.

Flynn’s Fort Myers appearances were organized by The Florida Conservative blog, written by Michael Thompson, a Republican Party activist based in eastern Lee County. Initially intended to benefit a Florida Conservative PAC, a luncheon and benefit for veterans was added, with proceeds going to the Southwest Florida Heroes Foundation, Inc., a 501c3 non-profit corporation founded by Thompson to benefit first responders and veterans.

A consistent theme of all of Flynn’s remarks was the need for Trump believers to stay involved in their communities to spread their message and not surrender to demoralization.

Flynn’s fullest and most articulated explanation of the beliefs he brought to Southwest Florida preceded his visit. He expressed them in a March 8 essay posted to the conservative website The Western Journal, titled “5 Lessons I Learned When the Deep State Came After Me and My Family.”

In the essay, Flynn decried the “downward slide” of America based on “the shifting definitions of right and wrong blindly accepted by many Americans today.

“Our leaders would have us believe that these changing values are inevitable and that they are good. That is why they are called ‘progressive.’

“Yet to those of us who still believe in the immortal truths upon which America was founded, their so-called ‘progress’ is alarming, to say the least.”

Flynn argued that there is no alternative to the United States in terms of opportunity and freedom and that those who believe in it cannot retreat or disengage from continued effort.

“God enabled me to endure a years-long campaign by the left to destroy me and my family. They wanted me to serve as an example to anyone who would defy the entrenched bureaucrats of the swamp.” However, he wrote that he had emerged victorious.

Flynn attributed what he considered his victory to his religious faith and urged readers to “make faith an essential part of your battle strategy today.”

He also stressed the importance of family, friendship and fighting for conservative ideas.

“We need those who will stand against failed Marxist ideologies that have invaded the mainstream of our consciousness like a network of choking vines seeking to strangle the mighty American oak tree,” he wrote. He warned of the dangers of technological censorship, “cancel culture” and charged that opponents of conservatism want to force Americans into servitude, taxation, and “want to take our children from us, forcing them to look to Big Brother government.”

In that essay and in his Southwest Florida appearances, Flynn urged his audiences to stay engaged.

In a message to his followers on the Telegram messaging application that he sent out on March 10, Flynn was more blunt: “As I recently said, we need to get involved in our communities & ensure our system functions the way it is suppose to BECAUSE it broke down. Let’s stop kidding ourselves with shoulda-woulda-coulda-and instead get involved in our communities.”

Analysis: Martyr or menace?

Flynn’s Southwest Florida trip was not the QAnon extravaganza it initially was intended to be, given his past fealty to the bizarre conspiracy theory and the presence of Red Pill Roadshow (and the reluctance of local venues to host that sort of thing).

It was not a Proud Boys celebration despite Christy McLaughlin’s past history of having Proud Boys show up invited but unannounced at an event she organized. (One alleged Proud Boy, Christopher Worrell, who was present at her Dec. 3 event in Naples, was arrested in East Naples on Friday, March 12, by Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agents for allegedly participating in the Jan. 6 insurrection.)

Proud Boy Christopher Worrell, who was arrested in East Naples for his alleged participation in the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection, at a Dec. 3 event in Naples. Worrell is in the back row, to the right of Christy McLaughlin, making the “white power” sign. (Photo: Facebook)

It was not a mindless repeat of the Big Lie that Trump won the election and had it stolen from him. In fact, it was not much about Trump at all, at least not by name.

Nor was it about the Jan. 6 insurrection, riot or attempted lynching of Vice President Mike Pence. Nor did it touch on the infamous White House meeting on Dec. 18 when Flynn was widely reported to have advocated that lawyer Sidney Powell be appointed a special counsel, that the US Army take over vote counting in five key swing counties and rerun the election and that martial law be imposed to invalidate the initial results. (Flynn maintains that is not what happened in an extensive interview with Western Journal.)

In fact, what is striking about his Southwest Florida trip is the degree of Trumpist demoralization that Flynn felt he needed to counter. In his Telegram message, Flynn told his followers: “I sense your frustrations. We are not giving up our pursuit for the truth.” In his March 9 remarks he told his audience: “I will tell you that you have to be positive. You have to fight tooth and nail. And I always tell people like, Abraham Lincoln, he just—I said this to Kim [a member of the audience]—that guy lost like seven races and he’s the greatest, you know, top three, maybe [presidents].” In his Western Journal article, which was addressed to a broader audience beyond Southwest Florida, he wrote, “Sadly, some will allow this alarm [over changes in America] to grow into defeatism. They will turn their faces away from the battle before us in hopes of finding a position to retreat to.”

Flynn’s Southwest Florida tour was part of the post-insurrection, post-presidency Trumpist rebuilding process that is strongly akin to Adolf Hitler’s post-putsch rebuilding of the Nazi Party. However, there was no advocacy of violence, no incitement to continued insurrection, no calls for any illegality that can be ascertained by this author. Ostensibly, Flynn was calling for a renewal of bedrock American values.

However, it needs to be remembered that Flynn, his professed allegiance to truth, justice and the American way notwithstanding, has quite a checkered record that belies his current conservative portrayal as a Trumpist martyr. After a military career in which he rose to the rank of lieutenant general, he was fired as head of the Defense Intelligence Agency after two years. (Retired Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Secretary of State Colin Powell stated: “I asked why Flynn got fired. Abusive with staff, didn’t listen, worked against policy, bad management, etc. He has been and was right-wing nutty every [sic] since.”). According to a Defense Department Inspector General report, before his 24-day stint as Trump’s National Security Advisor, Flynn allegedly received $530,000 in payments to serve as a foreign agent for Turkey without receiving Defense Department permission to do so, which may have violated the Constitution’s emoluments clause. He received $45,000 from RT, the official Russian television channel, to legitimize the channel by attending a dinner with Russian President Vladimir Putin. He lied to Vice President Mike Pence about his contacts with Russia and conversations with Russian officials, in particular Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. He pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI, although he subsequently withdrew that plea. In the final days of the Trump administration, when Trump was trying to cancel the election results, he allegedly advocated overturning the election. The only reason he was free to speak in Southwest Florida was because he was pardoned by a president who was twice impeached.

For all that, Flynn, perhaps more than Donald Trump himself, realizes that meeting his ideological goals is a long game that will be built on grassroots organizing and local electoral engagement. He is taking the first steps in that direction.

In his interview with Brendon Leslie, Flynn made the observation that “There’s two sides to the truth. No, there’s actually three sides to the truth. There’s your truth. There’s my truth. And then there’s the truth itself.”

True enough. And in another insight, Flynn has written: “I was once told if we’re not careful, 2 percent of the passionate will control 98 percent of the indifferent 100 percent of the time.”

In Southwest Florida as much as anywhere else, that is absolutely true.

Liberty lives in light

© 2021 by David Silverberg

A riot, a putsch and the long fight ahead for American democracy

Rioters in the US Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. (Photo: Roberto Schmidt)
Nazi stormtroopers in Munich during the 1923 putsch.

March 12, 2021 by David Silverberg

The date Nov. 9, 1923 doesn’t hold much meaning for most of the world, especially for Americans, but it’s a date that may gain a new infamy.

It was on that date that an attempt to overthrow the government of Germany failed when authorities and police stood up against Nazi radicals marching on Munich’s government building. That attempted coup, or “putsch” in German, was led by a ranting but charismatic former army corporal named Adolf Hitler.

On that November day in Munich, 16 Nazis and four police died when the police opened fire. Hitler and his closest compatriots were arrested. It all seemed like the end of Hitler and the Nazi movement.

But it was not. Instead, Hitler and the Nazis gave up the idea of a sudden, violent takeover and began playing a long game for power through legal means, which they ultimately achieved, with catastrophic results for the world.

This bit of history raises some disturbing questions for the United States today.

What if the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the United States Capitol was the not the end of the Trumpist menace to the United States and democracy but its beginning, as Nov. 9, 1923 was the beginning of the Nazi menace to Germany?

This is what Trump effectively said in his speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Orlando on Feb. 28. As he put it in his usual scrambled and disjointed syntax: “Our movement of proud, hardworking, and you know what? This is the hardest working people, hardworking American Patriots, is just getting started. And in the end we will win. We will win.”

What can Americans who believe in democracy, justice, diversity, free thought and constitutional government do to ensure that America in the 21st century doesn’t go the way of Germany in the 20th century?

And to bring it to particulars: what can people who care about this country do about it here in Florida?

History repeating

Today, there are extremely disturbing parallels between Adolf Hitler after his failed putsch and Donald J. Trump after his failed insurrection.

Some of these are:

Turning to electoral politics

Hitler: After his failed putsch, Hitler gave up sudden, violent revolution for conventional, legal, electoral politics to take power. While not eschewing violence altogether, he and the Nazi Party commenced a long-term, nationwide effort to win elections at all levels and gain a majority in the Reichstag. Their aim was not to continue and maintain democracy once they achieved power but to end it.

Trump: In what may be a more important development than anything Trump said at CPAC, his followers are choosing to pursue elected office at all levels to enact the Trumpist (or as some prefer to call it, Trascist) program.

The Trumpiest Republicans Are At The State And Local Levels — Not In D.C.,”as Perry Bacon Jr. pointed out in an article on the FiveThirtyEight.com website. Another example is Enrique Tarrio, Proud Boys chairman and FBI informant, who told CNN in a Feb. 25 interview: “I think right now is the time to go ahead and overthrow the government by becoming the new government and running for office.” Michael Flynn, the disgraced former national security advisor pardoned by Trump, told followers and QAnon adherents in a Telegram message on March 10: “As I recently said, we need to get involved in our communities & ensure our system functions the way it is supposed to BECAUSE it broke down. Let’s stop kidding ourselves with shoulda-woulda-coulda-and instead get involved in our communities.”

Equally striking are the already serving officials in Congress and in state and local governments who are attempting to advance Trumpism through voter suppression and election manipulation. (Much more about this later.)

Punishment—or non-punishment

Hitler: When Hitler’s ill-organized, chaotic and violent would-be revolution failed, he was jailed for nine months (out of a five-year sentence). He spent the time with his fellow prisoners writing his manifesto, Mein Kampf, which he would use to spread his message in the years that followed.

Trump: Today, Trump has retreated to the lavish cocoon of Mar-a-Lago—not exactly prison. He emerged at CPAC to announce that he might run for president again in 2024, that he will maintain his grip on the Republican Party and that he will purge, persecute and destroy any dissenters or heretics who doubt his infallibility.

Impunity

Hitler: After the putsch Hitler was threatened with long imprisonment and, worse, deportation to his native Austria. Full punishment might have ended the Nazi movement right then. Instead, Hitler was given a gentle sentence in a vacation-like setting thanks to the right-wing sympathies of judges and elements of the public. Ultimately, his sentence was commuted to nine months.

Trump: After being impeached for incitement to insurrection, Trump was acquitted by his subservient supporters in the US Senate. He remains free to plot a return to power and find ways to broadcast his message, feeling exonerated and immune from the consequences of his actions.

A foundation of lies

Hitler: Following the putsch, Hitler and the Nazis built a foundation of giant myths and fantastic conspiracy theories: that a Jewish cabal manipulated the world to its advantage and against Germany; that Germany had lost World War I because Jews stabbed it in the back; that Germans needed “lebensraum,” or “living room” they could only get by conquering other nations; and that Germans were a superior race to all others.

Trump: Trump’s big lie ever since the election is that he won by a landslide; that the election was “stolen” from him; and that the presidency of Joe Biden is illegitimate. Even before the election he was lying that the election was “rigged” against him and that mail-in ballots were fraudulent. And the absurd QAnon conspiracy theory spins even more bizarre delusions for those who believe it.

Trump lied about race in his very first speech as candidate when he called Mexicans “rapists” and “criminals” and then became progressively worse as his presidency wore on. Today, as columnist Dana Milbank pointed out in The Washington Post: “Trump’s overt racism turned the GOP into, essentially, a white-nationalist party, in which racial animus is the main motivator of Republican votes.”

Fake news and the “lying press”

Capitol rioters attack media equipment. (Photo: AP/Jose Luis Magana)

Hitler: The Nazis used the term “Lügenpresse”—“lying press” to characterize all the media coverage they disliked and discredit all objective journalism. It actually had its origins during World War I when it was used to characterize foreign propaganda.

“At that time, the word was used more descriptively,” wrote reporter Nick Nolack in a 2016 Washington Post article. “The ugly history of ‘Lügenpresse,’ a Nazi slur shouted at a Trump rally.”

After World War I, he wrote, “it had turned into an explosive and stigmatizing propaganda slogan, used to stir hatred against Jews and communists. Critics of Adolf Hitler’s regime were frequently referred to as members of the ‘Lügenpresse apparatus.’”

From the time of the putsch to the time the Nazis joined the government in 1933, the Nazis built their own media ecosystem and started newspapers to propagate their message. They received a huge boost with the spread of the new medium of radio, which allowed Hitler to directly address the public.

Trump: Trump’s antipathy toward a free media is well known. The very first press conference of his presidency tried to promote the clearly absurd fiction that his inauguration crowds were the largest in history despite all evidence. He called journalists “enemies of the people,” tried to discredit independent reporting and promote subservient media outlets that would follow his dictates. Over the four years of his presidency the Trumpist mediasphere expanded considerably on Internet, cable television and social media.

Today, with Trump himself banned from Twitter and the social media outlets he most favored, the future of his media access and that of his followers remains an open question. However, it’s worth remembering that Hitler was banned from public speaking from the time of the putsch until 1927, leading to a decline in the Nazi Party’s fortunes. But that didn’t last.

Big smears

Hitler: Hitler had no small enemies and he had plenty of words to describe them. The Jews were “a parasite in the body of other nations,” the communists were “the scum of humanity,” non-Nazi Germans were “subhumans.”

Trump: As he put it in his CPAC speech, Trump says he is facing an “onslaught of radicalism, socialism, and indeed it all leads to communism once and for all.” All Democrats are “radical.” Anti-Trump, or even non-Trump Republicans are “RINOs” (Republicans In Name Only). His history of personal insults and invective needs no recounting.

(For further reading: An excellent book about the early period in Nazi history is 1924: The Year that made Hitler, by Peter Ross Range. For a detailed account of how Hitler came to be named chancellor, see The Last Winter of the Weimar Republic by Rüdiger Barth and Hauke Friederichs.)

Vowing a comeback

Donald Trump addresses CPAC. (Image: C-SPAN)

After four years of a Trump presidency, it’s easy to draw these parallels. But the beat continues since his attempted insurrection and fall from power.

“With your help, we will take back the House,” Trump vowed at CPAC. “We will win the Senate. And then, a Republican president will make a triumphant return to the White House. And I wonder who that will be? I wonder who that will be? Who, who, who will that be? I wonder.” 

It needs to be remembered that this is not politics as usual. It is not competition in a constitutional spirit. Trump and his movement are devoted to imposing a totalitarian, one-man rule that will admit no independent thought, political activity or disagreement. It is not just Trumpism that threatens the future, it is absolutism.

That kind of absolutism was explicitly rejected by the Founders of the United States. When they declared independence and wrote the Constitution, they were not only rebelling against a distant king, they were making a clean break from 250 previous years of religious warfare, massacre and bloodshed. From the time of Martin Luther, Catholic and Protestant monarchs had sought to impose their visions of one true, absolute faith on the populations—and minds—of Europe and Britain.

Americans rejected the kind of absolutism that would not admit or tolerate dissent or free thought or reasoned argument. It’s why the very first clause of the First Amendment prohibits establishment of a national religion and allows free worship—and by extension free thought—for all.

Trumpism is a throwback to dark days of dogma and doctrine. It admits no other way, no loyal opposition and no reasoned discussion. It is absolute in its demand for loyalty and obedience, as evidenced by the censure and condemnation of Republican lawmakers who voiced dissenting opinions and followed their consciences in dealing with Trump. In its fascistic universe, only the gospel of Trump can be admitted and even if Trump himself steps down from leadership or passes from this earth, those who seek to carry forth this creed in his name are promoting a rigid authoritarianism.

In the years to come, as shown, Trumpists will try to carry out this program through the electoral and constitutional system. They will run for office at all levels of government, from dogcatcher to the presidency. They will introduce restrictive and anti-democratic laws and regulations. They will seek to impose their will on everything from school boards to county councils to Congress.

Suppressing votes

Under new Florida proposals, the number of ballot boxes would be reduced. (Photo: Author)

Voter suppression is an integral part of this effort. It is an attempt to end democracy.

According to the Brennan Center for Justice, as of late February, Republican lawmakers in 33 states had introduced, filed or carried over more than 165 bills to restrict voting through various devices. This was well over four times the number of such bills last year. These include limiting mail-in voting, imposing stricter identification requirements, slashing voter registration opportunities and more aggressively purging voter rolls.

But it even goes beyond voter suppression. In his article on state and local Trumpism, Bacon points out that Trumpers have more power in state legislatures, face less scrutiny, and are stronger than traditional establishment Republicans based in Washington, DC. They can gerrymander at will, censure or recall heretical officials and crush non-Trumper challengers at the state level.

Anti-Democratic voter suppression efforts are not just aimed at winning the 2022 elections by reducing Democratic or minority turnout. Nor are they just a response to Trump’s big lie that the 2020 election was tainted or fraudulent or improper. They are part of a holistic movement aimed at ending democracy and imposing authoritarian autocracy over the United States.

“A Republican Party that seems increasingly unwilling to abide by democratic norms could install officials in key swing states who basically won’t allow a Democrat to win any election. That possibility is real, and would present an incredible threat to American democracy,” wrote Bacon.


When winning just isn’t enough

Rep. Byron Donalds adjusts his mask while denouncing HR 1, a bill to prevent voter suppression. (Image: C-SPAN)

Florida, by all accounts, had perhaps the smoothest and most trouble-free election of all states in 2020. Mail-in ballots were counted early, in-person voting ran efficiently, and results were reported swiftly and accepted as accurate. There were no reports of voter fraud. It is a point of pride for the governor and the state.

What is more, Republicans swept virtually every office they contested. The entire state government—executive, legislative and judicial—is in Republican hands.

But winning is not enough; Republicans, and especially Trumper Republicans like Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) in particular, want to ensure that there is absolutely no chance of losing power in 2022—or ever.

In the state Senate Sen. Dennis Baxley (R-12-Sumter County) introduced Senate Bill 90 in February to reduce the time Floridians would have to apply for mail-in ballots. The bill is currently under consideration.

DeSantis, while lauding the state’s successful 2020 election, has called for a variety of measures to restrict voting, like outlawing ballot “harvesting” (collecting numerous mail-in or absentee ballots by an outside party to submit them in one batch) by volunteers (collection by paid professionals is currently illegal), reducing the number of ballot collection boxes, and restricting mail-in ballots only to voters who specifically request them rather than sending them to all voters in a jurisdiction (which does not happen anyway in Florida).

For all this, Florida is not the most voter-suppressive state. According to the Brennan Center, “Arizona leads the nation in proposed voter suppression legislation in 2021, with 19 restrictive bills. Pennsylvania comes in second with 14 restrictive policy proposals, followed by Georgia (11 bills), and New Hampshire (10 bills).”

As if the onslaught on voting in Florida was insufficient, in the US Congress one Florida member, Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.), who represents the Southwest corner of the state, fought the For the People Act, (House Resolution  (HR) 1), which seeks to “expand Americans’ access to the ballot box, reduce the influence of big money in politics, strengthen ethics rules for public servants, and implement other anti-corruption measures for the purpose of fortifying our democracy.”

Donalds, whose congressional campaign was heavily funded by right-wing super political action committees like Club for Growth and Americans for Prosperity, took to the House floor and in a one-minute speech (with an added 15 seconds because his mask kept slipping off his face), called HR 1, “really just a takeover of elections by Washington, DC.”

While lauding Florida’s voting system as “the very best election laws in these United States,” Donalds concluded: “the people of the State of Florida definitely do not want the things that are in this bill. Our system is the best. Frankly, leave Florida alone.”

Donalds’ speech raises the question: If Florida’s voting system is the best in the country, why are the governor and Republican state legislators trying so hard to change it—and in a restrictive, suppressive manner, no less?

Perhaps the best answer came from Manny Diaz, the chair of the Florida Democratic Party: “This is not an issue of Republicans versus Democrats, but instead an issue of Republicans versus democracy. Florida Republicans keep showing us that when given a choice between defending the rights of voters, or suppressing voter access, disturbingly they will all too gladly suppress, harm and sacrifice our most sacred constitutional right on the altar of preserving power for the sake of power.”


Recognizing the danger

Attendants wheel a golden idol of Donald Trump into CPAC. (Image: William Turton/Twitter)

Fortunately, the danger to American democracy is well recognized and countermeasures are starting up.

On Saturday, March 7, President Joe Biden issued an executive order directing the federal government “to promote and defend the right to vote for all Americans who are legally entitled to participate in elections.” The federal government, states the order, will “expand access to, and education about, voter registration and election information, and…combat misinformation, in order to enable all eligible Americans to participate in our democracy.”

The order was issued in light of the likelihood that HR 1 would fail in the Senate without a two-thirds majority to pass.

Elsewhere, lawmakers are introducing voter expansion bills in their state legislatures. But in states like Florida where Trumpers dominate, they are unlikely to succeed.

Nonetheless, those who favor democracy—democrats with a small “d” of whatever political allegiance—can take action. They can:

  • Fight voter suppression at the state and local levels by lobbying, pressuring their legislators and protesting against any anti-democratic measures;
  • Immediately challenge such measures in court if they pass in the legislature;
  • Run for all available elected offices at all levels;
  • Stay alert to Trumpist efforts to undermine democracy, promote authoritarian conspiracy theories and spread big lies and expose them to the light of day by whatever means available;
  • Report illegal, seditious or criminal activities to relevant law enforcement agencies;
  • Volunteer to aid voter registration efforts and serve in local election offices and at polling stations;
  • Organize to actively assist candidates who support democracy and voting access.

Most of all, people need to be aware that the struggle to protect, preserve and defend the Constitution and democracy is now a long game. It’s been going on since the Constitution was ratified but currently it’s in a new, domestic, post-Trump, post-insurrection phase. It is going to play out over many election cycles and decades.

People should not be lulled into thinking that because Trump and his cultists are in remission at the moment, that they are finished. That’s what Germans thought after the failure of the Beer Hall Putsch. Instead, the Nazi movement entered a new phase of steady effort until it achieved a breakthrough 10 years later (and, by the way, Nazis never actually won over a majority of Germans prior to 1933).

This is not to minimize the major differences between Germany in 1923 and America in 2021. There are also significant differences between Hitler and Trump (not least that Hitler was 34 years old at the time of the putsch with a full career ahead of him and Trump is 74). But still, the similarities are worrisome.

However, being aware of history can give true patriots the tools to determine a better course for the United States.

People are fond of quoting the aphorism, “Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it.”

The phrase, though, holds within it the solution to the problem it poses—because those who do know history can keep it from happening again.

Liberty lives in light

© 2021 by David Silverberg

Southwest Florida reps follow party line in opposing American Rescue Plan, which passes House

House Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi gavels an end to the vote approving the American Rescue Plan. (Image: C-SPAN)

March 10, 2021 by David Silverberg

The US House of Representatives today approved a Senate-amended version of the American Rescue Plan (House Resolution 1319) by an overwhelmingly party-line vote of 220 to 211.

It will be finalized by the signature of President Joe Biden, expected on Friday, March 12.

All Republicans and one Democrat voted against it: Rep. Jared Golden (D-2-Maine).

In keeping with the Republican Party position, all of Southwest Florida’s representatives voted against it as they had opposed it when it first passed the House on Feb. 27, and took the opportunity to denounce it anew.

The 628-page bill provides families with $1,400 in stimulus payments, speeds COVID vaccine distribution and extends unemployment benefits of $300 a week until Labor Day, Sept. 6.

Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.) denounced the bill in the Budget Committee and on the floor of the House when it was first introduced in February. Before the vote he announced: “Today, I will again vote in opposition to the non-COVID relief package Democrats are falsely claiming to be COVID-19 relief. My fellow @GOP colleagues and I have exposed the outrageous pork and erroneous spending incorporated in this bloated bill and the people deserve better.”

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-25-Fla.) warned before the bill’s passage that: “If this fake #COVID bill becomes law Florida’s seniors will be hit with a $30.8B Medicare cut over 10 years. Also, under the new funding formula #FL will receive about $1.2B less in direct funding than they would have under the formula in past bipartisan COVID bills.”

Rep. Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.) complained: “Rather than stimulating the already healing economy, Democrats chose to turn our nation into a welfare state with more government handouts. This recent COVID ‘relief’ bill proves that there is no stopping their pursuit of socializing our workforce.”

In contrast, Democrats hailed the passage of the massive bill, the culmination of the efforts of Biden and House Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-12-Calif.).

Pelosi called the day “historic” and “a day of fulfillment.”


Statement by President Joe Biden on the House Passage of the American Rescue Plan

For weeks now, an overwhelming percentage of Americans – Democrats, Independents, and Republicans – have made it clear they support the American Rescue Plan. Today, with final passage in the House of Representatives, their voice has been heard.

Now we move forward with the resources needed to vaccinate the nation. To get $1,400 in direct payments to 85 percent of American households. To expand coverage and help with lowering health care premiums. To give small businesses what they need to stay open. To expand unemployment insurance, provide food and nutrition assistance. To help keep a roof over people’s heads. To cut child poverty in half.

This legislation is about giving the backbone of this nation – the essential workers, the working people who built this country, the people who keep this country going – a fighting chance.

I want to thank all the members who voted for it, especially Speaker Pelosi, the finest and most capable speaker in the history of our nation. Once again, she has led into law an historic piece of legislation that addresses a major crisis and lifts up millions of Americans.

On Friday, I look forward to signing the American Rescue Plan into law at the White House – a people’s law at the people’s house.

Liberty lives in light

© 2021 by David Silverberg

Florida voter suppression bill comes before state Senate hearing; Floridians can oppose it now

A bill in the Florida Senate could cripple mail-in voting and add unwanted expenses to county budgets. (Photo: Author)

March 9, 2021 by David Silverberg

The most significant bill suppressing voting in Florida is scheduled for committee consideration tomorrow, March 10—and Florida residents can weigh in with their opposition.

Senate Bill 90 would require voters seeking to vote by mail to renew their mail-in request every year in the calendar year of the election rather than the current two years. That means that voters seeking a mail-in ballot for the 2022 election would have to wait until next year to request it.

Introduced on Feb. 3 by state Sen. Dennis Baxley (R-12-Sumter County), the bill has already been approved by the Florida Senate Ethics and Elections Committee.

The Florida Senate Government Oversight and Accountability Committee, has scheduled a hearing on it for tomorrow.

While the bill is ostensibly intended to prevent voter fraud, it has been denounced by county election supervisors, who worry that it will add unnecessary financial burdens to their counties.

The Miami Herald, editorialized that, “While not solving any real problems, it would force supervisors of elections to scramble to comply and notify voters, costing counties hundreds of thousands of dollars.” Further, it “smacks of a partisan attempt to confuse voters and catch them off guard in next year’s election.”

Florida Democrats have denounced the bill.

“Why do Florida Republicans want to limit vote by mail access? Well it all comes down to who has access to the franchise,” Marcus Dixon, Florida Democratic Party Executive Director told News4 in Jacksonville. “So even though the vote by mail system worked well here in Florida this past election, any time too many people have easy access to the ballot box, Republicans feel like they need to change the rules.”

Manny Diaz, Florida Democratic Party Chair, agreed. “This is not an issue of Republicans versus Democrats, but instead an issue of Republicans versus democracy,” Diaz said. “Florida Republicans keep showing us that when given a choice between defending the rights of voters, or suppressing voter access, disturbingly they will all too gladly suppress, harm and sacrifice our most sacred Constitutional right, on the altar of preserving power for the sake of power.”

Comment: What you can do

Florida residents can weigh in on this issue before, during and after it comes up for a hearing in the Senate Government Oversight and Accountability Committee.

They can contact their state senators and urge them to oppose it.

To find your senator, go to Find Your Legislators and enter your address. Your senator will appear along with a button to e-mail that senator. Tell your senator to oppose SB 90 and keep the mail-in voting provision the way it functioned in 2020.

The members of the Government Oversight and Accountability Committee are:

Chair:

Sen. Ray Rodrigues (R-27-Estero)

Vice Chair:

Sen. Joe Gruters (R-23-Sarasota)

Members:

Liberty lives in light

© 2021 by David Silverberg