DeSantis’ book warns of danger to America—from him

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis promotes his book in Davenport, Iowa on March 10 of this year. (Photo: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

May 9, 2023 by David Silverberg

Any day now, Florida Gov. Ronald DeSantis (R) is going to declare his candidacy for President of the United States.

The legislative session is over. An exception has been made to the state’s resign-to-run law enabling him to run. Trips to key primary states have been made and an international tour has attempted to establish his international credentials (with very mixed success). Consultants have been hired, funds raised and an organization built. All the gears are grinding toward a presidential campaign.

Among his many preparations, a book has been published under DeSantis’ name called The Courage to Be Free: Florida’s Blueprint for America’s Revival.

It’s easy to dismiss candidate campaign books and political autobiographies. They’re written and published with clear ends in mind: to prepare the way for future runs and/or to justify past actions. An effective campaign book does both.

Yet for all their self-serving ends, all the staff-written ghost writing, all the vetting and editing and weighing of words, often by committees, they can still be revealing. They’re especially valuable for explaining political goals and ends. No matter how little the actual author did the writing, they still unveil a personality and an individual’s thinking.  

One of history’s most complete and revealing campaign books was Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf. Perhaps if more people had actually read it and realized what he was saying when it was first published he would have been stopped and there wouldn’t have been a Second World War.

The Courage to Be Free is not Mein Kampf. But it is a DeSantis manifesto and worth careful reading, review and analysis.

A simple style for simple readers

Stylistically, this is a very plain and easily read book. It’s very straightforward and accessible in its narrative.

DeSantis has a distinctive “voice” but it’s not present throughout the book. His introduction, “A Florida Blueprint” lays out his ideology and doctrinal principles. This is the one chapter that doesn’t “sound” like him. It’s stilted, almost as though copied verbatim from some conservative political cribsheet, or perhaps it represented his first writing effort, or his final summary. Whatever the reason, if there’s any chapter that reads as though it were written by a different author, this is it.

It also appears that DeSantis and any co-author or editors decided that this was the chapter most likely to be hastily skimmed by casual readers, voters or journalists and they wanted to get their doctrinal material up front.

It is in this introduction that DeSantis lays out his main themes: that the United States is run by illegitimate “elites,” that he is a bold and brave governor, that his governorship led to freedom and success and that Florida under his administration represents the future.

“Florida has consistently defended its people against large institutions looking to cause them harm—from public health bureaucrats looking to keep kids out of school to large corporations trying to undermine the rights of parents and to federal agencies trying to push people out of work due to COVID shots,” he writes.

Much of the rest of the book is more personal. It’s a memoir of his upbringing, life in politics and rise through the ranks. It recounts his time as a representative in Congress and his run for governor. It then goes over the issues he tackled in office and why he tackled them the way he did.

Like his prose, the person that emerges from this book is relatively straightforward and simple. DeSantis is not a deep thinker, although he’s careful to cite credible sources, especially the Federalist Papers, for his arguments. However, there isn’t any introspection, or contemplation or even nuanced consideration of larger issues. While there’s some acknowledgement of wider causes and effects, there’s little attempt to derive insight from them. Unlike, for example, a Henry Kissinger memoir, there’s no effort to peer deeply into a topic and reflect on the history behind it or draw lessons from it. Once DeSantis has made his assumptions and has his set conceptions the rest follows, largely without reflection.

DeSantis was a baseball athlete in school and one cannot help but consider that this is the kind of account that any jock might produce for a sports memoir.

Trump vs. Trump-lite

Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign book.

DeSantis’ main political rival at this point in time is former president, former mentor and fellow Floridian, Donald J. Trump. Trump is certainly a topic in DeSantis’ book but a gingerly treated one.

It’s interesting to contrast DeSantis’ memoir with Trump’s own 2016 campaign book, Crippled America: How to Make America Great Again.

Reading Crippled America was a fascinating, if exhausting, experience. No matter what the topic being addressed at the top of any page, by the bottom of the page the prose had turned to an extravagant, adulatory paean to Donald Trump. Every. Single. Page.

As the world discovered during his presidency and afterwards, Donald Trump loves Donald Trump. But not just “loves.” The English language does not quite have the words that fully convey his self-regard. “Selfish,” “egomaniacal,” “narcissistic” all apply but not at the cosmic depth and intensity that burned from the pages of Crippled America. In this book Trump was revealed as a universe unto himself, a universe with a single inhabitant at whose core was not a soul but a throbbing black hole of me-ness that sucked in all energy, light and life.

Mercifully, even if the DeSantis personality that emerges from Courage is simple and often simplistic, at least it has some grip on reality.

It’s very interesting to contrast the DeSantis and Trump accounts of Trump’s endorsement of DeSantis for governor when he first ran. Then, DeSantis was an obscure congressman running against Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam, an overwhelmingly favored rival for the Republican gubernatorial nomination.

As DeSantis tells it: “In late 2017, I asked the president if he would be willing to send out a tweet touting me as a good candidate for Florida governor. He seemed amenable, but at the same time, I was not holding my breath; the president has a lot on his plate, and this was not likely to rank on his list of things to do. About a week later, a Trump tweet appeared:

“Congressman Ron DeSantis is a brilliant young leader, Yale and then Harvard Law, who would make a GREAT Governor of Florida. He loves our Country and is a true FIGHTER!”

That’s it. He then goes on to recount the campaign and how he won.

As Trump told the story in a lengthy, rambling, digressive interview with Sean Hannity, DeSantis requested a meeting with him and, “with tears in his eyes” begged for an endorsement. Although Trump thought DeSantis had little chance, saying: “Ron, you’re so far behind I can’t imagine that if you got George Washington’s endorsement, combined with the late, great Abraham Lincoln, if you had their endorsements, that you would win,” Trump decided to take a chance because, unlike Putnam, DeSantis had defended Trump against impeachment charges. Trump describes the endorsement as variously having the impact of a nuclear bomb or a rocket launch.

That the endorsement made the difference in the race is undeniable, although Trump gets next to no credit in DeSantis’ book.

Despite the bad blood that has bubbled between the two men, DeSantis continues to defend Trump against charges of Russian collusion. He does this, however, in the context of attacking what he always calls the “legacy media.”

 “The Mount Everest of anonymous source-fueled political narratives was the Trump-Russia collusion conspiracy theory, which was a media-driven hoax designed to cast doubt on the results of the 2016 presidential election and strangle the Trump presidency in the crib,” he writes. “The theory—that Donald Trump’s campaign colluded with the Russian government to steal the 2016 presidential election—represented perhaps the most serious charge ever leveled against an American president.”

(Russia’s involvement in the 2016 presidential campaign was extensively documented in the Report On The Investigation Into Russian Interference In The 2016 Presidential Election by Robert Mueller. The role that Florida played is covered in the 2019 article, “Trump, Florida, Russia: Tracking the Sunshine State in the Mueller Report.”)

It is noteworthy that nowhere in the book does DeSantis mention Trump’s incitement of the January 6th insurrection and its mob violence, even as he condemns disorder. “Since mob violence constitutes a mortal threat to social order, swift and strong accountability is the only logical response,” he writes, touting his own anti-protest legislation. He condemns rioters in Portland, Oregon in the wake of George Floyd’s death but not those who attacked the United States Capitol, tried to destroy Congress and overturn the election.

Of course, in the Trump universe DeSantis has gone from “a brilliant young leader” to “Ron Desanctimonious” and “Meatball Ron.” However, if there’s any resentment on DeSantis’ part, it never made it into the book.

Instead, DeSantis’ resentment is reserved for other targets, those that will resonate with Donald Trump’s Make America Great Again (MAGA) base and presumably win DeSantis the nomination.

The targets

Chief among DeSantis’ targets are “elites.”

“Whom, exactly, are these elites?” DeSantis asks in his introduction. He relies on a definition provided by author and academic Angelo Codevilla, defining them as an “ideological, incompetent, and self-interested ‘ruling class’ that has consolidated power over American society in the past fifty years.”

He continues: “These elites are ‘progressives’ who believe our country should be managed by an exclusive cadre of ‘experts’ who wield authority though an unaccountable and massive administrative state. They tend to view average Americans with contempt, believe in the need for wholesale social engineering of American society, and consider themselves entitled to wield power over others.”

Of course, unmentioned is the fact that these “elites,” ever more open to talent, intelligence and education rather than heredity or class or race, led the United States through a Great Depression, a world war, a Cold War, a terrorist war, and made the country the richest and mightiest in history with the widest distribution of prosperity. They shaped the world according to rational rules that spread democracy and secured a rough peace for nearly a century.

But no matter, throughout the rest of the book, DeSantis wages rhetorical war on these elites and experts whenever possible.

He does not overlook his own elite Ivy League education at Yale University, where he graduated magna cum laude, and Harvard Law. But DeSantis maintains that he was untainted by elitism.

“Experiencing unbridled leftism on campus pushed me to the right,” he writes. “I had no use for those who denigrated our country or mocked people of faith.” Although he thought that the leftist ideas he found on campus would whither in the light of reality, he writes that he was mistaken. On the contrary, “the ideology that dominates so many major institutions in American life, including our largest corporations, is a clear reflection of the campus dogma that has infected a generation of students at elite American universities.”

It is when it comes to this ideological combat that DeSantis’s book proves most valuable because it puts his actions as governor into an overall context. Like many other conservatives, DeSantis sees all of American society dominated by an elite-guided “woke” ideology. “These elites control the federal bureaucracy, lobby shops on K Street, big business, corporate media, Big Tech companies, and universities,” he writes.

DeSantis is at war with all these institutions and the book documents his battles. His attacks on the Florida university system and its professors are just one part of his ideological crusade. His war with the Disney Company is a front in his struggle against a “woke” corporate culture. His attacks on “Big Tech” are an essential element of his battle with elites.

DeSantis devotes an entire chapter to the COVID-19 pandemic and his response to it.

“Florida bucked the ‘experts’ and charted a course that sought to maintain the functioning of society and the overall health of its citizenry,” he writes of the pandemic. “Power-hungry elites tried to use the coronavirus to impose an oppressive biomedical security state on America but Florida stood as an impenetrable roadblock to such designs.

“We also recognized the intellectual bankruptcy and brazen partisanship of the public health elites, such as Dr. Anthony Fauci. The performance of these so-called experts—they were wrong on the need for lockdowns, the efficacy of cloth masks, school closures, the existence of natural immunity and the accuracy of epidemiological ‘models’—was so dreadful that no sane person should ever ‘trust the experts’ ever again.”

DeSantis goes into great detail describing how he and his surgeon general, Joseph Ladapo, disproved the data coming out of Washington and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and reached their own conclusions about defying the guidance and administering vaccines—or not.

“I was not going to allow our state to descend into a Faucian dystopia in which people’s freedoms were curtailed and their livelihoods destroyed,” DeSantis writes. “Florida protected individual freedom, economic opportunity and access to education—and our state is much better for it.”

While DeSantis acknowledges that there was some “mortality” in Florida from COVID, the 86,850 Floridians who died from COVID or the 7.5 million who were stricken get short shrift. Nor does he have a word of praise or appreciation for the healthcare workers who struggled to care for and cure them. These people, living and dead, apparently did not merit mention.

He also doesn’t address a two-week period in December 2021 when he disappeared from public view and rumors swirled that he had a bout of COVID. (In an almost-covert act, DeSantis received a vaccination in April 2021.)

In addition to the “biomedical security state,” throughout the book DeSantis constantly attacks what he variously calls the “legacy media,” or “corporate media,” and, of course, what Trump characterized as the “fake news.”

On this issue, DeSantis does have a solid example of shoddy reporting to bolster his claims: the 2021 report by the television show “60 Minutes.” That broadcast, “A Fair Shot,” irresponsibly and inaccurately drew a connection between DeSantis and the award of a contract to provide COVID vaccines through the Publix supermarket chain. (To read in-depth coverage of the incident and Publix politics, see “Publix: Where politics bring no pleasure.”) “60 Minutes” was condemned by just about all parties for implying wrongdoing where none was proven and using smear tactics to further its preferred story.

However, despite this legitimate complaint about this particular report, DeSantis’ hatred of the media is painted with a far broader brush. He agrees with Trump’s infamous tweet that the media “is the enemy of the American people.” (This came one month into Trump’s presidency when the world refused to buy his obviously false insistence that he’d had the largest inaugural crowd in history).

For DeSantis, “The national legacy press is the praetorian guard of the nation’s failed ruling class, running interference for elites who share their vision and smearing those who dare to oppose it. All too often, the legacy press operates in bad faith, elevates their preferred narratives over facts, and indulges in knee-jerk partisanship.”

He writes: “Legacy media outlets have evolved into something akin to state-run media. They do not seek to hold the powerful accountable. Instead, they protect the nation’s left-leaning ruling class, including the permanent bureaucracy in Washington and Democratic elected officials.”

DeSantis also fully explains his feud with the Disney Corporation in a chapter titled “The magic kingdom of woke corporatism.”

DeSantis sees private companies as purely political entities, writing, “corporate America has become a major protagonist in battles over American politics and culture. The battle lines almost invariably find large, publicly-traded corporations lining up behind leftist causes. It is unthinkable that these large companies would side with conservative Americans on issues such as the Second Amendment, the right to life, election integrity and religious liberty.”

Guns and mass shootings get only passing mention, as in DeSantis’ Second Amendment reference above. The 2018 Parkland shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School resulted in new gun reforms in Florida, which DeSantis stated he would have vetoed had he been governor at the time. Otherwise, he writes, “Rather than a firearms issue, I viewed the Parkland massacre as a catastrophic failure of leadership that cried out for accountability.” He blames the Broward County sheriff for the shooting and points to spending $750 million on school safety measures during his tenure.

This is particularly interesting because on June 14, 2017, after a baseball practice, DeSantis and another congressman were approached by a man who asked if baseball players on a playing field in Alexandria, Va., were Republicans or Democrats. DeSantis’ companion said they were Republicans and then the two went to a car and left. It was only later in the morning when he was in the congressional gym that he learned the man had shot at the players, wounding Rep. Steven Scalise (R-1-La.) before being killed himself.

In other hands, this incident would be an excellent opportunity to reflect on the problem of gun violence in America, or the need for more widespread mental health care, or even the fragility of life. DeSantis only relates that he was relieved he left practice early.

Other than a similarly passing reference to “the right to life,” DeSantis doesn’t examine the abortion issue in Florida in the book. As governor he signed into law a ban on abortions after six weeks, although he didn’t address—or discourage—calls to ban abortions completely.

Another subject that gets short shrift is foreign policy. As a congressman, DeSantis supported moving the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. He also opposes Chinese Communist Party activities in the United States. Other than that, the world outside Florida doesn’t interest him much, at least as far as his book is concerned.

Analysis: Florida and the future

Political autobiographies usually set out to do two things: get the author elected and provide a blueprint for what he or she would do if elected.

In terms of getting DeSantis elected, the book certainly spells out what he believes and how he perceives the world. Theoretically, it should confirm the biases and orientations of the Trumpist, MAGA base, whose votes DeSantis is seeking.

However, whatever his thoughts and feelings, as long as Trump is in the race DeSantis can only run as “Trump-lite” and the master himself will provide the pure, unadulterated hatred, prejudice and rage that MAGA addicts crave.

This brings up another factor evident in the book—and one that is actually commendable.

Nowhere in the book does DeSantis advocate violence or extralegal measures. Trump, by contrast, encouraged violence among his followers and even took physically violent action himself. On Jan. 6, thwarted by his electoral failure, he incited a full-scale riot and insurrection, encouraged the attempted lynching of his vice president and grabbed the throat of a Secret Service agent who wouldn’t drive him to the Capitol. He has never apologized or expressed regret or remorse (or been held to account) for any of this and he’s touted incarcerated rioters as political prisoners. He’s never condemned violence in principle.

DeSantis presents himself as a law and order governor and so there are no insinuations or incitements to political violence in his book (or during his appearances). This is not to be overlooked or minimized or, for that matter, taken for granted. Political violence is a hallmark of true fascism and Trump encouraged it as part of national political life.

However, it would be especially commendable if, as part of his condemnation of mob violence, DeSantis would also take a firm, principled stand condemning the insurrection of Jan. 6 and those who participated in it. In the absence of that, he does what he accuses the left of doing; applying the law and condemnation selectively, depending on the cause and the participants in the disorder.

That said, in its first goal of getting him the nomination, the DeSantis book might win over a few wavering Trumpers but it’s unlikely to convert anyone outside the MAGA orbit to DeSantism. Its narrative is not so compelling or its arguments so powerful that it will sweep voters into his corner.

Looking to its larger purpose of providing a blueprint for governing, the book will likely prove repugnant to thinking Americans who don’t want Trump or a Trump-like president.

The key reason for this is that for all their differences, Trump and DeSantis share a most important characteristic: both are absolutists.

Trump classifies people by their personal loyalty to him. For DeSantis, the dividing line is whether they agree with his agenda, the one spelled out in this book. Ultimately, though, both men want absolute obedience—and that is not the American way.

DeSantis’ demands are perhaps somewhat more complex and more subtly expressed than Trump’s but their intents are the same. DeSantis is at war with “woke” as he defines it and whether it’s individual citizens or schools or universities or businesses or corporations or scientists or public servants or the media, he doesn’t want them thinking the way he opposes. He doesn’t want to convince them to his thinking, he wants to crush their heresy through legislation, legal action or all the tools of the state.  

As Floridians are finding out, no one is safe from DeSantist demands, whether those demands are made by the governor himself or by a servile legislature competing to implement this absolutist agenda.

As so many would-be tyrants have proven through history, absolute agendas of this sort may be called “freedom” by their advocates but in practice they’re anything but free. DeSantis may claim that he’s showing courage by pursuing absolute power despite criticism and opposition. Maybe, though, his opponents and detractors see something different and more oppressive to which he himself is blind.

So in many ways, it’s a good thing that Ron DeSantis has laid out his blueprint for America’s “revival” in The Courage to Be Free. By reading it and being aware of his agenda, freedom-loving Americans will gain their own wisdom and have their own courage to ensure that America stays free from his absolutism—which threatens them so absolutely.

Liberty lives in light

© 2023 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate here!

Collier County health ordinance takes effect; worst damage to public was avoided

The Collier County Board of Commissioners votes to approve the proposed ordinance on April 11, 2023. (Photo: CCBP)

April 21, 2023 by David Silverberg

The health ordinance passed on April 11 by the Collier County Board of Commissioners is now in force, having been filed with the state of Florida on April 17.

The Collier County Commission vote came one day after President Joe Biden signed a bipartisan congressional resolution officially declaring the COVID emergency at an end.

Given significant revisions in its final version, the “Collier County Health Freedom Ordinance,” does no harm to hospital operations or the public, as its initial version threatened to do.

However, in the event of another infectious disease outbreak along the lines of COVID-19, public health measures will be less effective and more difficult to implement.

The ordinance and its accompanying resolution, which is a statement of county opinion rather than law, were introduced by Commissioner Chris Hall (R- 2-North Naples) and unanimously approved after a session that saw 52 speakers weigh in on the measure, most opposing it. The resolution was approved by a 4 to 1 vote, with Commissioner Burt Saunders (R-3-eastern Collier) voting against it.

Opponents included two speakers from the Collier County Medical Association and the president of the local League of Women Voters. Most of the opponents were long-time residents of Collier County.

Proponents included the COVID Tyranny Task Force, a loose group of perhaps 100 people in the Naples area and anti-vaccine (anti-vaxx) activists from outside Florida.

(Links to the full text of both the final ordinance and the resolution are at the end of this article.)

The ordinance

The main change between the draft and the final versions of the ordinance was a weakening of a requirement for unanimous votes of the Board to impose mask mandates or require vaccine “passports” from the public. It also established that vaccination mandates cannot be imposed on Collier County employees.

The ordinance established no new county authority since Chapter 381 of the Florida statutes prohibits mask or vaccine mandates and supersedes any county measure, as acknowledged by the ordinance. The state law took effect in November 2021. If there are changes to state law, county law will change as well.

Otherwise, the final version of the ordinance follows the same establishing clauses (“whereases”) in the original. These initial four paragraphs state that numerous county residents expressed their concerns about federal government authority and World Health Organization (WHO) efforts to impose health mandates.

Both the original and final versions (as well as state law) prohibit businesses and the county from requiring vaccine or “post-infection recovery documentation” to receive service or entry.

Both versions prohibit private employers from imposing vaccine mandates on employees or requiring testing. If this rule is violated employees are eligible for re-employment as well as civil damages. Similarly, employees wishing to get vaccinations cannot be stopped from doing so by their employers.

Any penalties for violation will be in accordance with those imposed by state law.

The resolution

In contrast to the ordinance, the resolution underwent extensive rewriting. It will not affect medical treatment, hospital authority and is unlikely to impede public safety measures in the future.

The most significant deletion from the resolution’s initial draft was removal of a clause providing for a “right to mental health review” and prohibiting anyone in Collier County from being held for mental health reasons for longer than 72 hours without a jury trial. This addressed a fear of involuntary institutionalization for mental health reasons among anti-vaxxers.

Proponents of the original resolution also wanted to compel hospitals to follow patients’ wishes over the directives of doctors and medical professionals. It sought to force hospitals to recognize power of attorney conferred by patients and made legal, family and personal doctor visitation a right as opposed to a convenience. (During the worst of the pandemic, visits by all outsiders were limited by hospital administrators due to the extreme infectiousness of the disease.)

Furthermore, it held that if a patient wants to leave a hospital even against medical advice, “the hospital must immediately release the patient.” While not explicitly stated, this includes forcing hospitals to release patients who may be infectious and might harm the wider community.

The final version affirmed the right to patient visits by advocates, families and personal doctors but did not make allowing the visits compulsory on the hospital. However it does state that hospitals “must” release patients if they want to depart, even against medical advice.

Also extensively deleted from the original version was an attack on every outside federal agency and international scientific body.

“Human rights are given to us by God,” declared the original resolution, and “these rights cannot be restricted or infringed by United States and foreign bodies such as but not limited to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (the “CDC”), the National Institutes of Health (the “NIH”), United States Department of Health and Human Services (the “HHS”), National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (the “NIAID”) , the World Health Organization (the “WHO”), the World Economic Forum (“WEF”), corporations and the United Nations.”

All that verbiage was removed from the final version, which simply states that the US and Florida constitutions protect Floridians’ rights “against any mandates from the World Health Organization or any other international body.” It kept the reference to God.

While the initial draft had 14 establishing clauses, three were deleted entirely and these were the most extreme and accusatory. One argued that health protections given to hospitals, pharmaceutical companies and medical professionals along with mandates left Collier County citizens “subject to death and injury with little recourse.” Another stated that the Pfizer vaccine had caused deaths, sickness and injury and this information was censored in Collier County. The third stated flatly that the US and Florida constitutions were “no longer upheld” in Collier County.

Other establishing clauses were moderated.

The opening clause stated that federal and state health agencies displayed “a clear inability to be truthful, transparent and consistent.” This was moderated to state that they had “not demonstrated transparency and consistency” in protecting citizens.

While the draft version held that constitutional rights “were violated,” that was softened to state they were “possibly” violated. The draft version argued that doctors “are no longer” allowed to speak freely (presumably about the supposed benefits of discredited treatments like hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin). The final version stated they “were” not allowed to speak freely, putting the problem in the past.

The last establishing clause held that the resolution was being adopted because of the “failings of our federal, state, and local governments and healthcare institutions, which are directly causing harm, including death,” to citizens of Collier County. When rewritten, the final version stated the resolution was necessary because of “injustices and decisions” (rather than “failings”) of “three letter agencies” and these faulty decisions caused “potential” harm and “even” death. Lastly, the final version states that the Board of Commissioners “intends” to protect the constitutionality of its citizens rather than just flatly stating that this is what the resolution does.

Analysis: Venting rage vs. protecting health

As was pointed out during the debate over the ordinance, the real authority for establishing health mandates—or prohibiting them—lies with the state of Florida, which already forbids mandates. The Collier County ordinance simply restates this on the county level.

Essentially, the whole ordinance/resolution package was introduced to give vent to the accumulated anger and frustration of anti-vaxxers and opponents of public health protections over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic. They opposed vaccines, masking, or any restrictions on their behavior because an infectious disease was ravaging the world. Protecting their fellow citizens was not a priority and they rejected all established experts, credible scientific evidence and government efforts, especially those by federal agencies. Encouraged by a president who promoted denialism, they put faith in unproven and ineffective nostrums and remedies that the medical world rejected based on scientific evaluation. Now the political forces in Collier County are aligned in a way that they are able to express themselves in legislation.

With modifications, the Board went along with them, politically threading the needle between fully placating Hall and the anti-vaxxers and doing no harm to hospitals and the considerable healthcare establishment of the county.

The most important result of passage of the package was that the ability of doctors and hospital administrators to protect the public was not infringed. While the resolution establishes that patients should be allowed to leave hospitals on their own initiative, even if sick and infectious, hospitals and doctors are not legally required to do so, since that “right” is mentioned only in the resolution. Hospitals can also still restrict patient visitation if necessary, although this is also discouraged in the resolution, but it does not have the force of law.

Nonetheless, the most important substantive change in the ordinance was the raising of the bar for approval of vaccine mandates, documentation and treatment of Collier County employees.

In 2020, the Board by a simple 3 to 2 majority established a mask mandate to protect Collier County residents. Hall and his allies sought to require a unanimous vote to do the same thing in the future. However, the Board took a middle path, requiring a supermajority or 4 to 1vote to establish any future mandates (which would depend on changes to state law anyway).

From a practical, immediate, political standpoint, the move to a supermajority deprives Hall of a veto on future mandates. If a situation arises that requires a mandate of some kind, Hall, a MAGA anti-mandate Republican, is likely to reject any mandatory health measures on principle. However, he—or any other commissioner—can now be overcome by a supermajority of the Board. It’s a tougher standard than previously but still allows for a degree of flexibility.

Rejecting the world

Both the ordinance and the resolution reflect a profound and willful ignorance of the role of the World Health Organization, an agency of the United Nations.

WHO is an advisory and advocacy organization. It collects health and infectious disease data from all over the world, analyzes it and issues recommendations based on its conclusions. It has no direct authority anywhere in the world. It cannot make anyone do anything.

It was WHO that declared COVID a global pandemic on March 11, 2020, citing the disease’s alarming spread outside of China and recommending that governments take aggressive action to stop it.

(A note on terminology: To this day there remains confusion about the differences between the words “endemic,” “epidemic” and “pandemic.” All are based on the Greek word “demos,” meaning “people.” “Endemic” means that a disease or condition is “in” the people, like seasonal colds or the annual flu. “Epi” is Greek for “on” and an “epidemic” means a disease is “on the people,” like a localized outbreak. “Pan” is Greek for “all” and indicates that a disease is present in every country in the world. The words describe the extent of a disease, not its severity.)

WHO was extremely careful before officially declaring COVID a pandemic and did it only when the data confirmed its wild and uncontrollable spread in every country—until vaccines halted that spread.

Even though WHO had no authority anywhere in the United States to compel anyone to do anything, anti-vaxxers and COVID-deniers felt that it did because of the respect with which its recommendations were regarded in the media and among medical professionals. In this they largely reflected the biases of President Donald Trump during his term in office when he largely rejected advice and sound practice based on scientific evidence and credible data.

The resolution rejects any international intrusion into Collier County, which international bodies had no power to do anyway. It reflects isolationism in its purest form.

Facing the future

The world has endured two extremely deadly pandemics since 1900: the global influenza of 1918 and the COVID outbreak of 2019. If this pattern holds, the next pandemic could come in 2118 or 2119—or not. It might never happen or it could arrive tomorrow.

Collier County suffered during the COVID pandemic. Estimates of COVID deaths in Collier County range from 551 to 1,175 people. According to the Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center, an estimated 86,850 people died in Florida. Some 1,125,366 people are estimated to have died in the United States, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The World Health Organization estimates that COVID took 6,887,000 people worldwide.

When—not if, when—there’s a new outbreak, Florida will be extremely vulnerable and may face many more deaths than elsewhere, not only in the country but in the world. Its governor chose to ride resentment of unpopular COVID health precautions to re-election in 2022 and he is doing everything he can to minimize public health precautions for the future. He is betting on the notion that the dead don’t vote and the living forget the dead.

Florida will have fewer protections, procedures and mechanisms in place the next time it confronts an infectious disease and its hospitals and medical professionals will face greater legal obstacles and hindrances in saving lives and protecting its citizens.

It is rare that societies, having experienced trauma and loss, choose to step backward in time and make themselves weaker and more vulnerable. With its fulminations against public health protections, science, outside authority and global coordination, the Collier County ordinance and resolution represent a step backward.

Fortunately, in this instance, cooler heads minimized the damage these measures sought to do.

With thanks ro Lisa Freund for her reporting..

Follow this link to read the full text of the Collier County ordinance.

Follow this link to read the full text of the Collier County resolution.

A video of the entire April 11 Board of Commissioners meeting can be viewed here.

The full text of the initial versions of the ordinance and resolution are included here.

Liberty lives in light

© 2023 by David Silverberg

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Fascism in Florida? ‘Blood and Power’ provides perspective

The visage of Benito Mussolini glowers down from Fascist Party headquarters in Rome in 1934 against a backdrop urging a ‘si’ or yes vote in a referendum. (Photo: Scientific American)

April 17, 2023 by David Silverberg

“Fascism” is a term thrown around a lot these days, especially in Florida.

However, are the kinds of repressive, extreme and anti-democratic measures being proposed and imposed by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) and the Florida legislature actual Fascism, as their critics charge? Is the rise of the Make America Great Again (MAGA) right in America actually fascism as the ideology and movement have historically been defined?

To answer those questions, one has to reach back into history to Fascism’s origins and evolution.

In America, Nazi Germany has always defined the image of fascism in the popular imagination. However, it was in Italy immediately after World War I that the name “fascism” was used for the first time, Fascism first developed as a political movement, and fascists seized government power.

Fortunately, there’s a recently published book on exactly that subject: Blood and Power: The Rise and Fall of Italian Fascism.

(A note on style: This article follows both the Associated Press and the Chicago Manual of Style, which hold that nouns and adjectives designating political and economic systems of thought are lowercased, like fascism and socialism, as opposed to the names of political parties like the National Fascist Party, or formally titled movements like Nazi or Fascist.)

Published in September 2022 by Bloomsbury Publishing in London, Blood and Power is by English historian John Foot, a professor of modern Italian history at the University of Bristol. Foot has written extensively on topics of Italian history and knows this subject thoroughly.

Violence from the start

“Italy invented fascism,” Foot writes in his prologue, and from its beginning at two little-noticed meetings in Milan in March 1919, fascism was violent.

“Fascists embraced violence, both in their language and on the streets. At first, they were overshadowed by a socialist uprising where revolution seemed inevitable during the ‘two red years’—biennio rosso—of 1919-20. But soon, groups of fascists, known as squads, dressed in black, were on the march in the countryside and cities of Italy, destroying a powerful union movement, crushing democracy and spreading fear through the country; 1921-22 were the ‘two black years’—the biennio nero.”

In 1922 the fascist squadristi marched on Rome. Their leader, former socialist Benito Mussolini, was named prime minister when the king of Italy and the government caved in to their demands.

“Having taken power through murderous violence, Italian fascism held onto it through further bloodshed and occupation of the state. In power, fascism eliminated all vestiges of free speech,” Foot writes. Further, fascism “eliminated its opponents with gusto or reduced them to a state of fear. It also rewrote its own history, painting the fascist movement as a glorious defender of the fatherland as a revolutionary and modernizing force, but also as a return to order. Fascism was built on a mound of dead bodies, cracked heads, traumatized victims of violence, burnt books and smashed up cooperatives and union headquarters. Most of those who ended up governing Italy had committed crimes for which they were rarely investigated, let alone tried.”

Foot acknowledges that “There has been considerable historical debate about the meaning of Italian fascism.” He asks: was it forward-looking or backward-looking? (Or put in a modern American context, did it aim to “make Italy great again?”)

Foot’s answer: “Italian fascism looked forwards and backwards.” It built both radically modernist structures and neo-classical throwbacks, both daring art and unimaginative tributes to Il Duce, Mussolini’s title. “It understood the power of the media and advertising, but it also glanced back longingly to a rural Italy that was fast disappearing. It was at times radical, but also radically reactionary, and often simply pragmatic. It claimed to be anti-system and anti-political, but most of its leading proponents were corrupt, and enriched themselves. These contradictions were also its strengths.”

In this history Foot emphasizes the ground-level violence that fascists employed against their opponents and competitors—and against democracy and its mechanisms. American histories of the era often overlook the street brawls, maulings and fights that accompanied fascism’s rise. They’re summarized in a word or paragraph, whether they took place in Italy or Germany.

Foot, however, is at pains to show that violence was integral to fascism. “Without violence, both before and during the regime, fascism would never have come close to power. It was fundamental, visceral, epochal and life-changing: both for those who experienced it, and those who practiced it.”

The same reliance on street-level violence in the onset of German fascism has been referenced in numerous accounts of the rise of Nazism.

What Foot documents very well was the relentless, violent hammering at all the institutions and aspects of democracy by Italian fascists. Whether in town or provincial councils or the national parliament, fascists attacked the mechanics of parliamentary process and procedure, as well as those who were trying to maintain it. Time after time they stopped government at all levels from functioning, whether by disrupting parliamentary proceedings or beating or killing those who administered it.

This reliance on violence was partially driven by the fact that Fascists were in the electoral minority. Socialism was very popular in Italy after the First World War and socialists were often democratically voted into office. Fascists had to smash democracy to impose their will on the population.

In Bologna in 1920 fascists succeeded in forcing the dissolution of an elected city government through terrorism in the streets and an assassination in the city council chamber. To this day it’s unclear whether they deliberately killed one of their own councilors. Regardless, they used Bologna as a model and went on to destroy local democratic governments throughout Italy, culminating in their march on Rome two years later and takeover of the nation.

There was strong, often equally violent resistance to this effort. But the decisive change came when the instruments of the state, the police, the Carabinieri and Royal Guards either stood by or joined the fascists. Fascists gradually grew confident that they wouldn’t be prosecuted or jailed for their crimes or else they could intimidate or dominate the forces of law enforcement and the judicial system.

With both the cudgels and daggers of the squadristi and the authorities of the state arrayed against it, democracy was gradually ground into dust. It simply couldn’t function in such an atmosphere and those who believed in it failed or were unable to take the kind of action necessary to preserve it.

John Foot (Photo: University of Bristol)

Recognizing fascism

It would be much easier to oppose fascism if there was a single, definitive expression of its meaning and beliefs, the way there is with the Communist Manifesto.

Mussolini had been a journalist and an editor but perhaps because he didn’t serve a jail term as fascist leader he never collected and organized his beliefs into a single document. Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf was so peculiar to Germany that it couldn’t really serve as a template elsewhere, although it succeeded in conveying his racism and anti-Semitism to the world and layed out a blueprint for German conquest.

As a result, today in America it’s difficult to recognize Fascism as a formal movement. Its adherents don’t march waving little black books the way Chinese communists waved red-colored copies of Mao Zedong’s sayings. Even the neo-Nazis and racists who demonstrated and rioted in Charlottesville, Va., in 2017 did not formally call themselves Fascists.

Nonetheless, Americans will clearly recognize themes, beliefs and practices that hearken back to the classic fascism of Mussolini and Hitler.

Foot is well aware of these patterns and points them out in his epilogue.

“More recently, Donald Trump has often been compared to Mussolini,” he writes. “His speaking style…his policies (nationalism, racism, autarchy, a corporate state, a distaste for democracy itself)—have led to associations with Il Duce.”

He continues: “Democracy does not last forever. Indeed, it is often extremely fragile. Italian fascism showed how democracy, and its institutions, can quickly crumble in the face of violence, disaffection and rage. Some of this was seen in the USA after 2016, and not just in the armed attack on the Capitol in January 2021. When the ‘forces of law and order’ are also on board, things can quickly disintegrate. Collusion between parts of the state and the fascists was a key factor in Mussolini’s victory.”

Lastly, he warns: “Fascism’s historic attempt to ‘deliberately…transform its lies into reality’ certainly chimes with much of what is happening today on the far right, and more widely on social media. Fascism will not return in the same form yet may still make a comeback in some way. It could be argued that this might have already happened in different times and various places.”

Fascism and Florida

Today Florida is the laboratory for an American anti-democratic experiment. A former president in residence, a radical right governor and an extremist legislature are following unmistakable paths that were plowed almost exactly a century ago in tumultuous Italy.

One of these is the attack on the autonomy of local governments. (“In push to the right, Florida cities and counties become focus for DeSantis and lawmakers,” Tallahassee Democrat, Feb. 17, 2023.)

Another is the effort to muzzle the press. (“DeSantis, GOP lawmakers pursue bill to gut press freedom,” Miami Herald, Feb. 25, 2023.)

A third is the effort to constrict and restrict the vote. (“DeSantis signs additional voting restrictions into law before cheering crowd,” Florida Phoenix, April 25, 2022.)

A fourth is the assault on freedom of thought in schools and universities. (“FL Governor DeSantis’ proposals on higher education pose a grave threat to academic freedom and free speech at public colleges and universities,” PEN America, Feb. 2, 2023.)

A fifth is the attempt by the governor to create his own military force answerable only to himself. (“DeSantis seeks $98 million to fund Florida’s own military,” Click Orlando, March 9, 2023.)

In the legislature, state Sen. Blaize Ingoglia (R-11-Citrus, Hernando and Sumter counties) is attempting to outlaw the Democratic Party in Florida through “The Ultimate Cancel Act” (SB 1248). This is clearly an effort to create a one-party state of the kind that Mussolini and Hitler established in Italy and Germany.

Ingoglia may want Florida to be a one-party state but in fact his own party is facing its own two distinct anti-democratic movements built around their leaders.

Trumpism, which centers on former President Donald Trump, is not only threatening for its fascistic tendencies, but more closely resembles classic fascism in its propensity for violence. After all, Trump encouraged violence throughout his 2016 presidential campaign, during his term in office and then incited the insurrection and assault on the US Capitol and Congress on Jan. 6, 2021. Trump directly attempted to overthrow the duly elected national government and negate a free and fair election. It was a leaf not only out of the fascist playbook, it mirrored what Mussolini and the fascists did in Italy.

What might be called DeSantism (or Florida+Fascism=”Flascism”?) has not expressed itself in violence—yet. Nonetheless, DeSantis’ war on what he calls “woke” clearly follows classic fascist strategies. As mentioned above, these include: reducing local autonomy, muzzling or intimidating the press, restricting the vote, and assaulting freedom of speech and thought. Add to this mix his anti-competitive gerrymandering of election districts, his dominance of a wide variety of boards and panels and his bullying of private enterprises like the Disney Corp., for their ideological dissent.

It’s worth remembering that both Italian and German fascist movements represented themselves as revolutionary resistance efforts against what they saw as looming threats. They focused on specific causes for their countries’ plights and they targeted scapegoats on which all blame could be heaped. In the early 1920s in Italy the threat was Bolshevism, the plight was Italy’s “mutilated peace” and the scapegoats were Socialists. In Germany, the threat was Communism, the plight was the Versailles Treaty, and the scapegoats were Jews.

For Donald Trump the threat is “radical, leftist Democrats,” the plight is a supposedly stolen election and among his many scapegoats is billionaire George Soros. For DeSantis the threat is a “woke mob,” the plight is liberal “woke” ideology and the scapegoat is the media—and also, George Soros.

The specifics may be different but the patterns are the same. Only a century separates them.

But it would be remiss not to note the differences.

American carnage

When Fascism arose in Europe it was at the end of a world war. Both Italians and Germans felt defeated, dissatisfied and humiliated. Russia had fallen to Bolshevism and a militant communist movement appeared ready to dominate the world through revolutionary violence. Both countries had millions of demobilized men with military training, accustomed to military regimentation and were looking for causes transcending themselves. Fascism provided an outlet for their energies and experience and a focus for their rage.

America in 2016 presented a very different picture. It was wealthy and confident. It was the dominant power in the world. Its culture and the rules it had established with its allies ever since World War II governed global trade and diplomacy. Its chief opponents, the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact, were gone and their successors sought Western acceptance. Communism was dead as an active force. American forces had captured and killed Osama bin Laden and largely destroyed the terrorist jihadist threat from abroad. America was stable politically, economically and socially. Its population was largely united on the fundamentals of its Constitution, laws and believed in its mission in the world. And it was the world’s oldest, continuously functioning democracy, the value of which was unchallenged.

Running against this reality, Donald Trump had no chance of winning the presidency. To pose as America’s savior, he had to create American carnage first. He had to create a situation of dissatisfaction and disorder and so he conjured up phantom dangers, conspiracies, plights, grievances and scapegoats. He exaggerated the threat from his political opponents, painting them as treasonous, dangerous and monstrous. He worked to destroy a moderate, middle political ground, dividing Americans into absolute loyalists or absolute enemies. He and his allies, who included Russian President Vladimir Putin and Fox News, spun an unreality that was the polar opposite of the true state of affairs and then tried to impose it on an otherwise moderate populace.

In 2016 the majority of Americans rejected Trump and Trumpism, delivering 48 percent of their votes to Hillary Clinton compared to Trump’s 46 percent, a difference of 2.9 million ballots. However, with razor-thin margins in key Electoral College states and Russian help, Trump gained the presidency and America has been crippled ever since.

For DeSantis, the chosen path to power was to conjure a “woke” threat that made simple open-mindedness, free thought, an obscure academic theory and social tolerance into an apocalyptic phantasmal “woke” peril of grooming, racism and coercion.

Now this battle is continuing in Florida as Trump and DeSantis compete for the Republican Party presidential nomination, the White House and ultimately, control of the nation. The state of Florida has the misfortune to be their initial battleground. Trump is using his national platform to spread Trumpism throughout Florida and beyond; DeSantis is promoting DeSantism and imposing its precepts on the state through his power as governor, while openly hoping to propagate it nationwide.

Analysis: The verdict

So is Florida a fascist state?

Perhaps at this point it might be most accurate to label it as “fascistic” rather than overtly Fascist.

Florida cannot simply be labeled Fascist because it does not have a registered Fascist Party by that name. It is not seeing the kind of pervasive political violence that accompanied the rise of European fascism. While Trump is still advocating violence (warning of “potential death & destruction” if he was arrested), DeSantis is not, nor is political violence evident in everyday life. There are still multiple legal political parties, although this is threatened in the legislature. Laws still govern, although their authority is becoming shaky as is the application of national laws and the Constitution. (e.g., “DeSantis: Florida won’t cooperate with Trump extradition.”).

That said, there are strong currents propelling the state in a fascistic direction, as detailed above.

But the triumph of fascism in Florida is no more assured than it was at its outset in Italy or Germany.

The strongest defense against fascism is simply the US Constitution and Bill of Rights, which when actively applied prevents the kind of oppression imposed by fascism.

One potential countervailing force is an active and vigorous effort to preserve democracy at the grassroots. This means protecting parliamentary democracy at the city and county level and even in local school boards. Key to this is defending the voting franchise for all eligible citizens and encouraging active participation. It is especially important that the public preserve its right to petition government for a redress of grievances and to freely express opinions to lawmakers, a right already threatened in Florida at the state and local levels. (“Just 30 seconds? Despite complex bills, Floridians are limited on public testimony in Legislature,” Florida Phoenix, March 14, 2023.)

Simply ensuring that elections are free, fair and their results counted accurately and without impediment or interference by impartial, non-partisan, professional election supervisors, is another defense. This is threatened by DeSantis’ special “election police” who have the potential to negate election results he doesn’t like and by MAGA attempts to dominate election of supervisors at the local level.

Another defense is ensuring that candidates commit in advance of their elections to accepting the tabulated results and a willingness to concede if they lose. At every debate and in every press conference, candidates should be pressed to state that they will accept the official results. Trump’s fantasies of a stolen election and his refusal to accept defeat has been incredibly damaging to the United States and it spawned imitators like Arizona’s Kari Lake. Candidates need to be clear and unambiguous that they will accept election results without qualifications or caveats, otherwise they should be condemned and disqualified.

But asking firm questions and holding candidates to the results requires a free and independent press. That is guaranteed by the First Amendment to the Constitution. The danger of an independent and inquiring press to fascism was fully recognized by Mussolini and Hitler and they did all they could to suppress it. Russian President Vladimir Putin also recognizes the threat that truth and real information pose—as does Trump and DeSantis and extremist Florida legislators as they hammer away at press freedoms.

But perhaps the single most important defense of democracy against fascist encroachment lies in a neutral, impartial police and the equal and vigorous application of law to all citizens regardless of status or stature.

As Foot shows in Blood and Power, once the state authorities entrusted with the tools of coercion and force stood by or joined the fascists, the game was over. This was also true in Germany. When the forces of the state stood firm against Hitler and his Nazis in 1923 when they attempted a putsch, the Nazis were stopped in their tracks and law prevailed. When the Nazis took state power in 1933 and directed Germany’s civil authorities to enforce Nazi doctrine with criminal penalties, Germany became a completely tyrannical state.

This is why exceptions cannot be made in charging a political figure like Trump for any criminal acts he may have committed, whether in office or not. He cannot be granted immunity just because he wants it and those who argue that he deserves it are aiding and abetting fascism, whether they know it or not. There is a large contingent in Florida making exactly that case—but would these people have argued that Mussolini shouldn’t have been held accountable for his crimes? Or Hitler? The case is the same.

But apolitical law enforcement is also essential at the local level, perhaps even more so. When Sheriff Grady Judd of Polk County, Florida tells potential Floridians: “So we only want to share one thing as you move in hundreds a day. Welcome to Florida. But don’t register to vote and vote the stupid way you did up north, or you’ll get what they got,” that is a fascistic threat. When Sheriff Kevin Rambosk of Collier County endorses a “Bill of Rights Sanctuary” ordinance that seeks to nullify federal law in his jurisdiction, that erodes democracy at the grassroots.

There is no doubt that fascism had its attractions a century ago and still has them today. But America, like no other country, committed to democracy at its founding and defended it repeatedly over the past two centuries.

As Foot notes in Blood and Power, “Democracy does not last forever. Indeed, it is often extremely fragile. Italian fascism showed how democracy, and its institutions, can quickly crumble in the face of violence, disaffection and rage.”

But one might also respond that democracy and its institutions can stand firm, strong and resilient when its defenders are aware, united and determined.

And in Florida, even if its government is trending fascistic today, that does not mean it has to be Fascist tomorrow.

Liberty lives in light

© 2023 by David Silverberg

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The rise of new anti-Semitism: How threatened are Florida’s Jews?

Gov. Ron DeSantis enters Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust museum during a 2019 visit to Israel. (Photo: State of Florida)

April 6, 2023 by David Silverberg

For Jews, Passover is a holiday commemorating danger but also liberation.

It memorializes the night that death came for Egypt’s first-born but spared the Jews, who fled slavery the next day for freedom and, ultimately, the Promised Land.

Passover this year was particularly poignant but also especially relevant for the Jews of Florida.

Florida may not be the Jewish promised land but, as for all Americans, it has been an attractive place to retire, to prosper, raise families and pursue happiness.

But in the past few weeks there has been a new and increasingly dangerous trend. As political turmoil and tensions roil the state, its two most prominent political figures are using ancient anti-Semitic tropes for political purposes.

It is one thing when anti-Semitism is expressed in isolated incidents of vandalism, leafletting and demonstrations at the grassroots. But it is far more threatening and orders of magnitude worse when scapegoating and ancient smears come from a top official using the power of his bully pulpit—and that’s what’s happening in Florida.

Causes for concern

The political drama consuming the United States right now is the prosecution of former President Donald Trump for numerous alleged crimes. However justified, this prosecution has raised the country’s emotional temperature and inflamed political passions.

It has also resurrected the classic anti-Semitic technique of scapegoating a whole people based on a stereotype of a single, supposedly cunning and manipulative individual.

Of the many villains and demons in his universe, Trump is aiming his increasingly desperate ire at George Soros, a Jewish billionaire and contributor to democratic and Democratic Party causes. (More about Soros in the sidebar below.)

Because a Soros-funded political action committee contributed to the campaign of New York District Attorney (DA) Alvin Bragg, Soros’ name has become an epithet that is always linked to Bragg in the Trumpist and Make America Great Again (MAGA) mythos.

Typical was the Monday, April 3, Trump fundraising message to his followers.

“What liberal billionaires like George Soros and the globalist cabal fear most is YOU,” his message stated. “…YOU – alongside more than 74 million of your fellow patriots – PROVED that even a corrupt billionaire like Soros and his puppet D.A. are no match for the sheer will and collective might of our MAGA movement.”

As Kurt Braddock, a public communication professor at American University, told USA Today of the messages: “They’re loaded with anti-Semitic language, some of which has been used in the past to validate violence against Jews. There’s no other way to describe it — he’s using anti-Jewish stereotypes and historical hatred to raise money.”

Trump’s hatred, prejudice and rage is inclusive and diverse in the sense that it encompasses all his perceived enemies, regardless of their race, religion or color. Most thinking people are unlikely to take his attacks on Soros any more seriously than they take his attacks on anything else.

However, when Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), a shadow candidate for president, decided to defend his rival for the nomination, he chose to scapegoat Soros and use the same tropes as well.

“The weaponization of the legal system to advance a political agenda turns the rule of law on its head. It is un-American,” DeSantis stated in a March 30 tweet. “The Soros-backed Manhattan District Attorney has consistently bent the law to downgrade felonies and to excuse criminal misconduct. Yet, now he is stretching the law to target a political opponent.”

He continued: “Florida will not assist in an extradition request given the questionable circumstances at issue with this Soros-backed Manhattan prosecutor and his political agenda.”

DeSantis continued his scapegoating at a speech last Saturday, April 1, in Harrisburg, Pa., in which he stated “And I can tell you this: these Soros DAs are a menace to society, a menace to the rule of law.”

These accusations are in a different category altogether because they come from the lips of the highest elected official in Florida.

An ugly rising tide

A swastika and cross are projected onto a building in Jacksonville, Fla., in January of this year. (Photo: Jim Urquhart for NPR)

For some time now anti-Semitism has been a rising problem in Florida as well as throughout the United States.

On March 23, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), a New York City-based Jewish organization that tracks and fights anti-Semitism, released its Audit of Antisemitic Incidents 2022, a comprehensive look at anti-Semitism nationwide.

It found that last year saw a 36 percent rise in anti-Semitic incidents.

The Audit stated: “In 2022, ADL tabulated 3,697 antisemitic incidents throughout the United States. This is a 36% increase from the 2,717 incidents tabulated in 2021 and the highest number on record since ADL began tracking antisemitic incidents in 1979. This is the third time in the past five years that the year-end total has been the highest number ever recorded.

“Incidents increased in each of the major Audit categories: antisemitic harassment increased 29% to 2,298; antisemitic vandalism increased 51% to 1,288 and antisemitic assaults increased 26% to 111. The vast majority of antisemitic assaults (107 out of 111) were perpetrated without the use of a deadly weapon. There was one fatality. Notably, visibly Orthodox Jews were targeted in 53% of the assault incidents nationally. This year, no assaults perpetrated against the Jewish community resulted in mass causalities.”

In Florida, there was a rise in propaganda-based incidents like leafletting and banner displays. As the Audit put it:

“The activities of several newly formed white supremacist groups in 2022 also contributed to the rise in propaganda incidents. These new groups – the Texas-based Aryan Freedom Network, Florida-based NatSoc Florida, the Iowa-based Crew 319, the Southern California-based Clockwork Crew (aka Crew 562), Florida Nationalists and the short-lived, New York-based Aryan National Army – were responsible for seven percent (or 62 incidents) of the antisemitic propaganda distributions in 2022.

“As in previous years, extremists used fliers, posters, stickers, banners and graffiti to share their antisemitic views. In Florida, NatSoc Florida and GDL [Goyim Defense League] used laser projectors to cast antisemitic messages on buildings on at least seven occasions. Individuals associated with GDL, Crew 562 and Crew 319 drove around in moving vans draped with antisemitic propaganda.”

In Florida, Jacksonville has been the particular focus of anti-Semitic activity, with laser images of swastikas projected on buildings.

In Southwest Florida anti-Semitic activities included defamatory leafletting related to COVID prevention mandates in Fort Myers and online posting of an anti-Semitic video by Katie Paige Richardson, at the time the campaign manager for Collier County School Board candidate Tim Moshier.

However, some of the incidents involved vandalism and destruction of property.

On Jan. 31, 2022 Rabbi Mendel Greenberg’s mailbox in Bonita Springs was destroyed, his car window smashed, and his sidewalk defaced with the word “Jew’s” in big red letters. The vandalism was committed by two teenagers, Tucker Bachman, 17, and a 14-year old accomplice who were swiftly caught by the Lee County Sheriff’s Office. The vandals were charged with hate-crime felonies and in March they were sentenced to probation.

On March 11 of this year a man threw bricks at the glass entrance doors at the Chabad Jewish Center of Cape Coral while worshippers were inside. The vandal also toppled an image of a menorah and smashed a car window.

(The individual was described as a man in his 50s wearing a white shirt and tan pants. Police said he was about 6 feet tall, 200 pounds, with glasses and thinning gray hair. He remains at large and anyone with information on his identity or whereabouts is encouraged to contact Cape Coral police at (239)-574-3223 or email at CCPDtips@capecoral.gov. Anonymous phone tips can be submitted by calling Crime stoppers at (800) 780-TIPS. Please reference Case Number 23-006123).

Both these attacks were directed at Chabad houses. These are centers of worship and community activity for the very orthodox Lubavitcher Chasidic sect and movement. The buildings prominently displayed Jewish symbols. In keeping with biblical commandments and Jewish tradition the rabbis in both centers were very traditional in appearance. They had full beards, always wore yarmulkes (skullcaps) and generally dressed conservatively in black and white clothes, with the tassels of prayer shawls showing from beneath their shirts.

In other words, they fit traditional Jewish stereotypes and so were targeted.

The incidents above and those detailed in the Audit show the kind of low-level, fragmented anti-Semitic activity now taking place at street level.

But when the sentiments being expressed in vandalism and leafletting are given high government sanction and encouragement, the threat goes to a whole new tier.

The consequences of calumny

The monument, menorah and eagle sculpture at the entrance to Ramat Trump on the Golan Heights in Israel. (Photo: Jerry Jude, Wikimedia Commons)

Both Trump and DeSantis would likely deny any anti-Semitism given their past extravagant shows of support for the State of Israel.

While he was president, Trump made a great display of supporting Israel, among other things ordering the movement of the US embassy to Jerusalem, a move Israelis had been urging practically since the founding of the state in 1948.

For his part, Israel’s prime minister at the time, Benjamin Netanyahu, played up to Trump while he was in office and even founded a city with his name, Ramat Trump, in the Golan Heights.

 (In 2020 their friendship ended when Netanyahu officially congratulated President Joe Biden 12 hours after he was declared the winner of the election. Trump reportedly responded: “He [Netanyahu] was very early — like, earlier than most. I haven’t spoken to him since. F–k him.”)

Netanyahu was also happy to welcome DeSantis, who took an entourage of Jewish Floridian donors to Israel in May 2019 on a business mission to build trade ties. At the time he vowed to be “the most pro-Israel governor in America.” In Israel, among his other activities, he visited Yad Vashem, the Israeli Holocaust memorial.

Both men’s pro-Israel gestures no doubt played well with Jewish political contributors. But for Floridians at the grassroots, their rhetoric has very different consequences.

That’s because it’s the scapegoating, stereotyping and anti-Semitic dog whistles that are filtering down to their grassroots supporters.

So far, there has not been any anti-Semitic violence against Jews in Florida like the Oct. 27, 2018 shooting of 11 Jewish worshippers in the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pa.—the same state where DeSantis made his most recent attack on George Soros.

But the lies, smears and conspiracy theories are circulating and the more these politicians play to them, encourage them and repeat them, the more likely that physical violence will follow.

Trump in particular more than offset whatever pro-Israel sentiment he expressed and whatever Jewish family ties he possessed (his daughter Ivanka converted to Judaism and his son-in-law Jared Kushner is Jewish) by the whole aura of “hatred, prejudice and rage”—and violence—that he projected both as a presidential candidate and then as president. His statement in 2017 that there were “very fine people on both sides” of the clashes in Charlottesville, Va., opened the door to social acceptance of neo-Nazism and far right prejudice.

Trump probably did not realize the full implications of what he was saying at that time. Even after four years in the presidency he remains an astonishingly ignorant man, virtually oblivious to history. In 2017 he didn’t have a clue—but he doesn’t seem to have learned much since.

DeSantis, however, is a different case. Not only did he have an Ivy League education (Yale, Harvard) and serve in a military that cannot and does not tolerate racism and prejudice in its ranks, he is at least passingly familiar with the Holocaust thanks to that visit to Yad Vashem.

He is also renewing his Israeli ties. On March 28 The Jerusalem Post newspaper and a new Museum of Tolerance Jerusalem announced that DeSantis will again visit Israel to deliver the keynote address on April 27 for an event titled “Celebrate the Faces of Israel.”

The Museum of Tolerance Jerusalem in particular, is a new institution whose mission is to “encourage democracy, combat the roots of anti-Semitism and extremism, and promote regional stability, global harmony, human dignity and a love of Israel.”

So given his knowledge of history and his familiarity with the Holocaust and the events and factors leading to it as well as his association with an institution devoted to preventing their recurrence, DeSantis’ Soros scapegoating and use of anti-Semitic tropes has no excuse. In fact they express forethought and conscious intent—and DeSantis should know better.

Moreover, given his repetition of his Soros scapegoating at his campaign-style appearances outside the state, it looks like he’s taking this anti-Semitic show on the road and will be repeating these smears throughout the country in the months ahead as he campaigns for president.

Analysis: A fraying consensus

The American consensus against overt expression of anti-Semitism and Nazism had its origins in World War II and the revelation of Nazi death camps and genocidal extermination efforts. It’s worth remembering that prior to America’s entry into the war, anti-Semitism was a widely accepted sentiment and actively promoted by prominent Americans like Henry Ford, Charles Lindbergh and Father Charles Coughlin, a radio-broadcasting priest.

However, the Holocaust was so horrific, so inhuman and so extreme that since the liberation of the camps it has been viewed as the nadir of human behavior. Even in popular entertainment, Nazism became synonymous with evil.

To prevent a recurrence, the Holocaust has been commemorated, taught in schools, academically examined and been the focus of institutions like museums. Nazi exterminators have been hunted down, prosecuted and deported even when they were in their 90s.

But now it is 78 years since Nazi Germany surrendered. That’s nearly four generations and the memory is fading. A generation of people like Katie Paige Richardson is coming of age, with no knowledge of the past and a susceptibility to outlandish conspiracy theories and fantasies. Even in education, Holocaust studies are eroding. In Florida’s Martin County, the Holocaust-themed novel The Storyteller was banned from the local school district’s library due to a parent complaint.

Throughout America and especially in Florida, the consensus against anti-Semitism is being treated as one more “politically correct” taboo, one more “woke” prohibition among many that are being dismantled and discarded.

The crumbling of this consensus can be traced to that one particular moment on Aug. 15, 2017 when Donald Trump said that there were “very fine people on both sides” of the conflict in Charlottesville, Va.

Coming from the mouth of a President of the United States, Trump appeared to be saying not only that neo-Nazis could be “very fine people” but that Nazism and anti-Semitism could be “very fine” too—whatever other caveats he might have expressed at that moment,.

Even if the sensible world recoiled in horror, even if it inspired a former Vice President to run for president at the age of 74 and fight for the “soul of America,” as Joe Biden has said it did, Trump’s words nonetheless opened a box of demons that had been kept tightly sealed for the previous 72 years.

In Florida the governor, who aspires to be President of the United States, is crusading against “wokeness,” hoping to ride a segment of the population’s resentment of public prohibitions against racism, misogyny, discrimination—and anti-Semitism—to the White House. But the unacceptability of anti-Semitism was perhaps the first “woke” taboo of the modern era and he’s determined to smash them all.

His rival, Trump, who is struggling in the grip of the law like a feral pig in the coils of a Burmese python, is similarly using every trope, stereotype and bias to escape justice.

Jews have known situations like this before. They’ve seen the outcomes of this kind of turmoil. They’ve faced this kind of “hatred, prejudice and rage” many times, even at the dawn of their history. Now, presumably, they know better than to just paint their doorposts with blood and hope the Angel of Death will pass over them.

In the past they’ve been victims. They’ve also been victors—but they’ve only been victorious when they’ve actively defended their inalienable right to exist.

_______________________

Sidebar: Who is George Soros and why is he so hated?

George Soros at an academic award ceremony in 2019. (Wikimedia Commons)

George Soros, 92, was born Aug. 12, 1930 in Hungary to a secular Jewish family.

Hungary had a tradition of anti-Semitism and during the 1930s that was expressed in its native fascist movement. The country joined the Axis powers in 1940 and was occupied by Nazi Germany in March 1944. Hungary’s Jews were rounded up and deported but because this occurred so late in the war, more survived than in other occupied countries.

His name was changed from Schwartz to Soros, which in Hungarian means “next in line” or “successor.” He survived the Nazi occupation by disguising himself as a Christian with forged papers and left Hungary at the age of 17, first for Paris, then for Britain. There, he worked as a waiter and railway porter but also put himself through the London School of Economics, where he earned bachelor and master degrees.

He chose merchant banking as a career and began work at the bottom rung, as a clerk. In 1956 he moved to New York and while working in arbitrage developed a theory of investing that he called “reflexivity,” which argued that markets were more driven by often-false ideas rather than rational economic principles.

He worked in a variety of banks and funds before founding his own Soros Fund Management in 1970. It was subsequently renamed the Quantum Fund and was an early hedge fund.

Soros burst into prominence on Sept. 16, 1992 when his fund shorted $10 billion worth of British pound sterling, a day also known as Black Wednesday. In a complex currency transaction the Quantum Fund made $1 billion in an afternoon and Soros became known as “the man who broke the Bank of England.” It’s a feat that hedge fund managers have aspired to ever since. However, it also brought him a reputation as a currency manipulator.

Soros confined himself to business activities until 2004 when he donated over $23 million to various Democratic Party groups to defeat incumbent US President George Bush. He also began donating to charities, in 2009 providing New York State with $35 million to feed poor, hungry children.

Ever since then, Soros has significantly donated to promote democracy and inclusiveness through the Center for American Progress and his Open Society Foundations. He contributed to the election campaigns of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton and a wide variety of Democratic Party efforts.

Forbes magazine estimates Soros’ current net worth at $6.7 billion.

Given his political contributions and humanitarian largesse, Soros has been turned into a right-wing bogeyman. He’s portrayed as a crafty, manipulative Jewish Globalist engineering every conservative setback, as Donald Trump’s and Gov. Ron DeSantis’ attacks attest. (A very good account of the rise of Soros as a threatening phantom is the 2019 article “The George Soros Conspiracy Theory at the Heart of the Ukraine Scandal,” from the website of the magazine Mother Jones. More about Soros can be found in his Wikipedia entry.)

On July 31, 2022 Soros explained his support for reformist prosecutors in a Wall Street Journal op-ed titled “Why I Support Reform Prosecutors: Justice or safety? It’s a false choice. They reinforce each other.”

“The funds I provide enable sensible reform-minded candidates to receive a hearing from the public. Judging by the results, the public likes what it’s hearing,” he wrote. “I have done it transparently, and I have no intention of stopping.”

Liberty lives in light

© 2023 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate here!

Collier County may consider anti-vaxx ordinance and resolution package on Tuesday, putting public health at risk

A Collier County, Florida resident receives the second shot of the Moderna COVID vaccine in February 2021. (Photo: Author)

March 26, 2023 by David Silverberg

Collier County, Fla., could take itself out of the modern, global public health and disease prevention system if its Board of Commissioners approves a package of two proposals being called the “Collier County Health Freedom Bill of Rights Ordinance” and the “Collier County Health Freedom Resolution.”

On Tuesday, March 28, at its regular meeting, the Commission is scheduled to discuss whether to put the proposed package on the county’s agenda for full debate and discussion. The item is numbered 10A on the March 28 agenda and was placed there at the request of Commissioner Chris Hall (R-District 2).

If approved by the commissioners, the county would set a date for a debate on final approval of the measures and advertise that date. (The full text of the package follows this article.)

The ordinance

The proposed ordinance is a law that prohibits vaccine mandates and prevents businesses from requiring vaccine documentation (also known as “vaccine passports”). County employees could not be required to show vaccine documentation unless approved by a unanimous vote of the Board. Mask mandates and quarantines would also be prohibited unless unanimously approved by the Board. Violations would incur penalties, although the ordinance doesn’t state what they would be.

It also states that: “Unless compelled by Federal or State law, Collier County does not recognize any authority by the World Health Organization or any other international body to impose any health mandates or directives within Collier County.”

As the executive summary of the proposed ordinance puts it: “Numerous County residents have expressed their concerns to the Board of County Commissioners (“Board”) over the federal government’s and the World Health Organization’s attempts to impose public health mandates and limit an individual’s healthcare freedoms and rights. This Ordinance seeks to address the concerns of Collier County residents and prohibit COVID-19 vaccine mandates, mask mandates, quarantines, vaccine passports, and rejects health directives by the World Health Organization and other international bodies. The Ordinance also adopts state statutes, which have codified many of these protections, into local law and allows for Code Enforcement to enforce the Ordinance.”

The resolution

The resolution is an expression of official opinion and is more explicit in its complaints about the current state of affairs. As it argues it in its establishment clauses (the “whereas” sections), “federal and state health agencies have demonstrated a clear inability to be truthful, transparent and consistent in protecting the citizens of Collier County.”

It also states that the “constitutional rights of Collier County citizens were violated through discrimination based on vaccine status” and that “global organizations such as the World Health Organization (“WHO”) and World Economic Forum (“WEF”) work to subvert the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of Florida.” It then cites a number of national and state constitutional provisions it alleges were violated during the pandemic.

It argues that the US Constitution and county residents’ rights were violated during the pandemic and that the national and state constitutions are “no longer being upheld and as a result Collier County citizens are being harmed.” It also complains that the US Food and Drug Administration no longer requires animal testing on new medications (i.e., that full safety protocols were not followed).

It argues that doctors were not allowed to speak freely about treatments other than vaccines and that residents were not provided with information about such treatments. It also alleges interference from third parties like WHO and WEF.

It then puts forward ten “rights” against public health measures. Among these are a right not to be subject to medical mandates or quarantines and a right not to suffer discrimination as a result of personal healthcare decisions (i.e., refusing vaccines). It argues that people have the right to the care of their choice, not to face discrimination on the basis of those choices, and not to be refused care. It also asserts a right to a mental health review and to not be held for more than 72 hours for mental health reasons without judicial review. It states that citizens have a right to a medical advocate when admitted to a hospital and can leave a hospital’s care if they choose.

Analysis: What’s going on here?

The proposals are a delayed reaction against the COVID-19 vaccines, protection measures and mandates applied during the worst days of the pandemic. Essentially, these measures constitute the revenge of vaccine opponents (anti-vaxxers) against scientific and medical measures to fight the spread of COVID.

During the pandemic, the small group of local Collier County anti-vaxxers of perhaps a few hundred to 1,500 people felt they were being discriminated against by doctors, epidemiologists, scientists, the federal government and the whole national effort to get the entire population vaccinated against COVID. They didn’t like the vaccines, being vaccinated, masking or any form of compulsory protective measures. They felt that businesses and government agencies requiring vaccine documentation were discriminating against them.

They also felt discriminated against by doctors and hospitals who rejected such unproven or demonstrably ineffective solutions as Hydroxychloroquine and Ivermectin and refused to administer those drugs despite the anti-vaxxers’ insistence. And they felt they were being labeled as crazy, hence the proposed right to a mental health review and a 72-hour limit on mental health confinement.

They also felt that they shouldn’t be prohibited from travel or movement if they preferred (even if they were deemed infectious) and that hospitals shouldn’t have refused them visits from friends, family members or lawyers while being treated. During the high points of the pandemic, hospitals of necessity quarantined patients and refused visitation to prevent spread of the disease, especially during its earliest, most deadly phases.

The Collier County anti-vaxx package seeks to take authority away from doctors and hospitals so that even the most infectious patients can depart at will. This is an outgrowth of the belief by some anti-vaxxers that the whole COVID pandemic was a sham and hoax. Given their argument that COVID never existed, the Collier anti-vaxx package establishes that they shouldn’t face any restrictions.

Anti-vaxxers also felt at the mercy of the federal government, its agencies and global organizations like the WHO, so they’re arguing that WHO and WEF shouldn’t have any authority in Collier County. However, WHO, WEF and other international bodies have no authority to impose any measures on Collier County or anywhere else in the United States. Their roles are entirely advisory.

The thinking behind the Collier County anti-vaxx package expressed in the executive summary and the establishment clauses of the resolution reveal a rejection of any federal government role at all in protecting public health. Its advocates argue that public health measures are unconstitutional and, basically, illegal. Indeed, it rejects all science.

Why is this being proposed now? Last year’s election put commissioners Chris Hall and Dan Kowal on the Commission. Both were backed by the Citizens Awake Now Political Action Committee headed by conservative grocer and anti-vaxx activist Francis Alfred “Alfie” Oakes III. During the height of the pandemic, the five-member Board of Commissioners voted 3 to 2 to impose mask mandates on Collier County businesses, including Oakes’ Seed to Table market. This past November the commissioners who voted for the mandates were ousted and with Hall and Kowal seated, the conservative-majority Board is more likely to approve the anti-vaxx package.

Additionally, the state enacted anti-mandate measures on Nov. 18, 2021 when Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) signed Florida House Bill 1-B prohibiting all the mandates included in the Collier anti-vaxx package. This makes the Collier anti-vaxx package unnecessary. DeSantis has called for making the bans permanent in the current legislative session.

If passed in its current form the Collier County anti-vaxx package would just further hinder and prohibit science-based, public health measures and precautions within county boundaries. If there’s a new COVID variant or another epidemic, it would remove the tools and authorities county doctors and hospitals rely upon to halt the spread of a contagion, treat it effectively, and stop bogus, fraudulent and potentially harmful treatments.

____________________________________________________________

To contact Collier County commissioners:

_______________________________________________________________________

The full text of the Collier County anti-vaxx package.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

Recommendation to direct the County Attorney to advertise and bring back for a public hearing an Ordinance establishing the Collier County Health Freedom Bill of Rights, and to adopt the Collier County Health Freedom Resolution.

OBJECTIVE: To establish an Ordinance safeguarding the healthcare rights and freedoms of Collier County residents, and to adopt the Collier County Health Care Freedom Resolution.

CONSIDERATIONS: Numerous County residents have expressed their concerns to the Board of County Commissioners (“Board”) over the federal government’s and the World Health Organization’s attempts to impose public health mandates and limit an individual’s healthcare freedoms and rights. This Ordinance seeks to address the concerns of Collier County residents and prohibit COVID-19 vaccine mandates, mask mandates, quarantines, vaccine passports, and rejects health directives by the World Health Organization and other international bodies. The Ordinance also adopts state statutes, which have codified many of these protections, into local law and allows for Code Enforcement to enforce the Ordinance.

If this item is approved, the proposed ordinance will be advertised and brought back to the Board for a public hearing.

The Collier County Health Freedom Resolution is intended to create a broader expression of the Board’s position on these matters, which are not suitable for an ordinance.

FISCAL IMPACT: Advertising fees are estimated to be $600. The future fiscal impact is unknown if additional Code Enforcement staff is necessary to administer.

GROWTH MANAGEMENT IMPACT: There is no Growth Management impact.

LEGAL CONSIDERATIONS: This item has been reviewed by the County Attorney, is approved as to form and legality and requires majority vote for approval.  -JAK

RECOMMENDATION: To direct the County Attorney to advertise and bring back for a public hearing an Ordinance establishing the Collier County Health Freedom Bill of Rights, and to adopt the Collier County Health Freedom Resolution.

Prepared by: Chris Hall, Commissioner District 2

ATTACHMENT(S)

  1. Ordinance Health Care Bill of Rights 3-21 (numbered)         (PDF) [EDITOR’S NOTE: This version is not included here.]
  2. Ordinance Health Care Bill of Rights 3-21 (clean)       (PDF)
  3. Resolution Health Freedom Final         (PDF)

Item Number: 10.A

Doc ID: 24612

COLLIER COUNTY

Board of County Commissioners

Item Summary: Recommendation to direct the County Attorney to advertise and bring back for a public hearing an Ordinance establishing the Collier County Health Freedom Bill of Rights, and to adopt the Collier County Health Freedom Resolution. (Sponsored by Commissioner Hall)

Meeting Date: 03/28/2023

Prepared by:

Title: Legal Assistant – County Attorney’s Office Name: Wanda Rodriguez

02/07/2023 9:59 AM

Submitted by:

Title: Commissioner District 2 – Board of County Commissioners Name: Chris Hall

02/07/2023 9:59 AM

Approved By: 
Review:   
Office of Management and Budget County Attorney’s Office County Manager’s OfficeWanda Rodriguez   Level 3 OMB Gatekeeper Review Jeffrey A. Klatzkow Level 3 County Attorney’s Office Review Amy Patterson    Level 4 County Manager ReviewSkipped Completed Completed02/07/2023 9:59 AM   03/21/2023 4:40 PM   03/22/2023 10:56 AM

Board of County Commissioners        Geoffrey Willig      Meeting   Pending                                        03/28/2023 9:00 AM

ORDINANCE NO. 2023 –         

AN ORDINANCE OF THE BOARD OF COUNTY COMMISSIONERS OF COLLIER COUNTY, FLORIDA, ESTABLISHING THE COLLIER COUNTY HEALTH FREEDOM BILL OF RIGHTS; PROVIDING FOR CONFLICT AND SEVERABILITY; PROVIDING FOR INCLUSION IN THE CODE OF LAWS AND ORDINANCES; AND PROVIDING FOR AN EFFECTIVE DATE.

WHEREAS, numerous County residents have expressed their concerns to the Board of County Commissioners (“Board”) over the federal government’s and the World Health Organization’s attempts to impose public health mandates and limit an individual’s healthcare freedoms and rights; and

WHEREAS, the State of Florida has recognized these concerns and in November of 2021, Governor DeSantis signed into law Senate Bill (SB) 2-B and its companion House Bill (HB) 1- B,1 as well as HB 3-B/SB 4-B, 2, now codified in Chapter 381, Florida Statutes, in large part prohibiting the ability of private employers to impose a COVID-19 vaccination mandate amongst other protections; and

WHEREAS, the State of Florida further protects its residents’ health related rights and freedoms through Section 381.026, Florida Statutes, the Florida Patient’s Bill of Rights and Responsibilities, which promotes the interests and wellbeing of patients of healthcare providers and healthcare facilities; and

WHEREAS, the Board wishes to address the concerns of Collier County residents and adopt the foregoing State Statutes into local law, as well as to expand upon them.

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT ORDAINED BY THE BOARD OF COUNTY COMMISSIONERS OF COLLIER COUNTY, FLORIDA:

SECTION ONE:    Title

This Ordinance shall be known and cited as the “Collier County Health Freedom Bill of Rights” Ordinance.

SECTION TWO:    Purpose and Intent

The purpose of this Ordinance is to safeguard the healthcare rights and freedoms of Collier County residents.

SECTION THREE:    Definitions

The terms used in this Ordinance shall be defined as outlined in Chapter 381, Florida Statutes, as may be amended from time to time.

SECTION FOUR:   Applicability.

Text Box: Attachment: Ordinance Health Care Bill of Rights 3-21 (clean)  (24612 : Health Freedom Bill of Rights Ordinance and Resolution)This Ordinance is applicable and limited to unincorporated Collier County.

SECTION FIVE:   COVID-19 vaccine documentation prohibited.

  • A business entity within Collier County, as defined in Florida Statutes Sec. 768.38, may not require patrons or customers to provide any documentation certifying COVID-19 vaccination or postinfection recovery to gain access to, entry upon, or service from the business operations in Collier County. This subsection does not otherwise restrict businesses from instituting screening protocols consistent with authoritative or controlling government-issued guidance to protect public health.
  • Collier County will not require anyone to provide any documentation certifying COVID-19 vaccination or postinfection recovery to gain access to, entry upon, or service from Collier County’s operations.

SECTION SIX:   Private employer COVID-19 vaccination mandates prohibited.

  • A private employer within Collier County may not impose a COVID-19 vaccination mandate for any full-time, part-time, or contract employee without providing individual exemptions that allow an employee to opt out of such requirement on the basis of medical reasons, including, but not limited to, pregnancy or anticipated pregnancy; religious reasons; COVID-19 immunity; periodic testing; and the use of employer-provided personal protective equipment. For purposes of this section, the term “COVID-19” means the novel coronavirus identified as SARS- CoV-2; any disease caused by SARS-CoV-2, its viral fragments, or a virus mutating therefrom; and all conditions associated with the disease which are caused by SARS-CoV-2, its viral fragments, or a virus mutating therefrom. Employers shall use forms adopted by the Department of Health, or substantially similar forms, for employees to submit exemption statements.
  • If an employer fails to comply with subsection (A) and terminates an employee based on the employee’s noncompliance with a COVID-19 vaccination mandate, the terminated employee may be eligible for reemployment in addition to any other remedy available to the employee.
  • An employer may not impose a policy that prohibits an employee from choosing to receive a COVID-19 vaccination.

SECTION SEVEN:   Vaccination mandates for Collier County employees.

Unless required by law, Collier County shall not impose any vaccination mandate for any Collier County employee without the unanimous vote by the Board.

SECTION EIGHT:    Mask Mandates and Quarantine

Text Box: Attachment: Ordinance Health Care Bill of Rights 3-21 (clean)  (24612 : Health Freedom Bill of Rights Ordinance and Resolution)Unless required by law, Collier County shall not impose a mask mandate, or issue a quarantine order, without the unanimous vote by the Board.

SECTION NINE:    Vaccine Passports

Unless required by law, Collier County shall not require a Vaccine Passport as a condition of entry without the unanimous vote by the Board.

SECTION TEN:      Directives from the World Health Organization and Other International Bodies

Unless compelled by Federal or State law, Collier County does not recognize any authority by the World Health Organization or any other international body to impose any health mandates or directives within Collier County.

SECTION ELEVEN:    Florida Patient’s Bill of Rights and Responsibilities.

Collier County hereby adopts in its entirety the Florida Patient’s Bill of Rights and Responsibilities, as codified in Florida Stat. Sec. 381.026, as may be amended from time to time.

SECTION TWELVE:    Penalties.

To the extent not inconsistent with Florida law, violations of this Ordinance shall be punishable as provided by law for the violation of county ordinances.

SECTION THIRTEEN:    Conflict and Severability

In the event this Ordinance conflicts with State or Federal law, State or Federal law shall apply. If any phrase or portion of the Ordinance is held invalid or unconstitutional by any court of competent jurisdiction, such portion shall be deemed a separate, distinct and independent provision and such holding shall not affect the validity of the remaining portion.

It is the intent of this Ordinance to mirror State law. Accordingly, this Ordinance shall be automatically amended upon any amendment of Chapter 381, Florida Statutes, or any other relevant State law.

SECTION FOURTEEN:    Inclusion in the Code of Laws and Ordinances

The provisions of this Ordinance shall become and be made part of the Code of Laws and Ordinances of Collier County, Florida. The sections of the Ordinance may be renumbered or

Text Box: Attachment: Ordinance Health Care Bill of Rights 3-21 (clean)  (24612 : Health Freedom Bill of Rights Ordinance and Resolution)relettered to accomplish such, and the word “ordinance” may be changed to “section,” “article,” or any other appropriate word.

SECTION FIFTEEN:    Effective Date

This Ordinance shall become effective upon filing with the Secretary of State.

PASSED AND DULY ADOPTED by the Board of County Commissioners of Collier County, Florida, this           day of                                   , 2023.

ATTEST:                                                                        BOARD OF COUNTY COMMISSIONERS

CRYSTAL K. KINZEL, CLERK                             COLLIER COUNTY, FLORIDA

By:                                                    

By:                                                          

, Deputy Clerk                                                   Rick LoCastro, Chairman Approved as to form and legality:

Jeffrey A. Klatzkow, County Attorney

RESOLUTION NO. 2023 –              

A RESOLUTION OF THE BOARD OF COUNTY COMMISSIONERS OF COLLIER COUNTY, FLORIDA, TO ENACT THE COLLIER COUNTY HEALTH FREEDOM RESOLUTION.

WHEREAS, our federal and state health agencies have demonstrated a clear inability to be truthful, transparent and consistent in protecting the citizens of Collier County; and

WHEREAS, constitutional rights of Collier County citizens were violated through discrimination based on vaccine status; and

WHEREAS, immunity protection provided to hospitals, pharmaceutical companies, medical professionals coupled with medical mandates leave Collier County citizens subject to death and injury with little recourse; and

WHEREAS, many doctors of Collier County are no longer allowed to speak freely, treat patients with personalized care and have access to and treat with proven repurposed medications; and

WHEREAS, Pfizer’s clinical data revealed 1223 deaths, 42,000 adverse cases, 158,000 adverse incidents, and approximately 1,200 side effects and this data is being widely censored from the Citizens of Collier County; and

WHEREAS, global organizations such as the World Health Organization (“WHO”) and World Economic Forum (“WEF”) work to subvert the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of Florida; and

WHEREAS, our United States and Florida State Constitution is no longer being upheld and as a result Collier County citizens are being harmed; and

WHEREAS, the FDA no longer requires pharmaceutical companies to conduct animal testing first before introducing a new drug to the public; and

WHEREAS, the 4th amendment to the U.S. Constitution provides Collier Citizens: “the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated”; and

WHEREAS, the 5th amendment to the U.S. Constitution provides Collier Citizens: “nor shall be deprived of life or liberty without due process of law”; and

WHEREAS, the 9th and 14th amendments to the U.S. Constitution provides Collier Citizens: “certain rights shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people”; and

WHEREAS, the 4th amendment to the U.S. Constitution and the Florida State Constitution, Art 1 sect 2, provides Collier Citizens with inalienable rights, among which are the right to enjoy and defend, life and liberty, to pursue happiness; and

Text Box: Attachment: Resolution Health Freedom Final  (24612 : Health Freedom Bill of Rights Ordinance and Resolution)WHEREAS, Article. 1 section 23 to the Florida State Constitution provides Collier Citizens: “The right to be let alone and free from government intrusion into the person’s private life”; and

WHEREAS, extraordinary times require extraordinary measures, and due to the failings of our federal, state, and local governments and healthcare institutions, which are directly causing harm, including death, to its citizens, the Collier County Board of  County Commissioners hereby adopt this Resolution to be known as the “Collier County Health Freedom Resolution.”

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED BY THE BOARD OF COUNTY COMMISSIONERS OF COLLIER COUNTY, FLORIDA, that:

  • Right to No Medical Mandates: No State or Federal executive order can override the rights provided in our State and Federal Constitution. It is unlawful in any circumstance to mandate any medical protocol, experimental drug, medical procedure, medication, device, biological agent, toxin, radioactive exposure or medical treatment on any patient or citizen in Collier County.
  • Right to no discrimination: It is against the law to discriminate against any patient or citizen in Collier County based on their medical or healthcare decisions.
  • Informed consent without interference: The moment information is intentionally or unintentionally withheld violates informed consent. Doctors take an oath to first do no harm. Hospitals and doctors are prohibited from using coercion, fear tactics, various means of compensation to entice a patient into any medical treatment. Intentionally or unintentionally withholding informed consent subjects doctors and their hospitals, institutions and companies to criminal and civil prosecution, as provided by law.
  • Right of personalized care: Doctors and patients have the right to use any and all legally available therapies for treatment without reprisal or punishment. No legal, standard or alternative treatments should be denied by any third party.
  • Right to exclude third party interference: Human rights are given to us by God and these rights are protected by the U.S. and Florida State Constitution. The 9th amendment and the 10th amendment to the U.S. Constitution and Article 1 Section 1 of the Florida State Constitution protects these healthcare rights and as such, these rights cannot be restricted or infringed by United States and foreign bodies such as but not limited to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (the “CDC”), the National Institutes of Health (the “NIH”), United States Department of Health and Human Services (the “HHS”), National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (the “NIAID”) , the World Health Organization (the “WHO”), the World Economic Forum (“WEF”), corporations and the United Nations.
  • Right to not be refused care: No pharmaceutical or medical institution can mandate a person’s vaccine or health history status as a pre-condition to admittance, treatment or right to intervention/therapy.
  • Text Box: Attachment: Resolution Health Freedom Final  (24612 : Health Freedom Bill of Rights Ordinance and Resolution)Right to mental health review: With regard to mental health, no person in Collier County can be held for more than 72 hours without a judicial remedy in a court of law in front of a jury of your peers.
  • Right of free movement: Health/Vaccine Passports are prohibited in Collier County. Citizens cannot be denied entrance based on medical status. Travel cannot be restricted in Collier County based on Health/vaccine status.
  • Right to medical advocate: Citizens/patients have the right to a medical advocate of their choice. Hospitals must recognize power of attorney documents outlining the patient’s wishes. Citizens/patients have the right of advocate visitation, family visitation and personal doctor visitation if and when admitted into a hospital. If patient, their advocate, their healthcare proxy desire to leave the hospital against medical advice (AMA), the hospital must immediately release the patient.
  • Right to forego unlawful quarantine: It is unlawful to force quarantine on any Collier County Citizen without a judicial remedy in a court of law in front of a jury of your peers.

THIS RESOLUTION ADOPTED after motion, second, and majority vote favoring same, this           day of                       , 2023.

    ATTEST:                                                            BOARD OF COUNTY COMMISSIONERS CRYSTAL K. KINZEL, CLERK                 COLLIER COUNTY, FLORIDA

    By:                                                      

    By:                                                          

    , Deputy Clerk                         Rick LoCastro, Chairman

    Approved as to form and legality:

    Jeffrey A. Klatzkow, County Attorney

    _______________________________________________________

    Liberty lives in light

    © 2023 by David Silverberg

    Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate here!

    No state for young people: Florida after DeSantisication

    Watching the Florida legislature in session.

    March 22, 2023 by David Silverberg

    The Florida being shaped by the proto-presidential campaign of Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) and a state legislature whose members are competing with each other every day to be more radical, more extreme, and more totalitarian is shaping up as no place for young people—meaning anyone under the age of 65.

    Nor is it going to attract young families in the future. This is going to have serious long-term consequences.

    Perhaps the new state motto should be: “Unless you’re gray, stay away.”

    Why? Let us count the ways.

    No state for women

    Women of child-bearing age will not have legal access to abortion after six weeks of pregnancy under anti-abortion bills (House Bill (HB) 7 and Senate Bill (SB) 300) now making their ways through the legislature.

    The prohibition looks likely to pass and be signed into law.

    Currently, Florida prohibits abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. In the immediate wake of the Republicans’ resounding election in 2022, there was considerable agitation for a complete abortion ban. DeSantis, although ostensibly “pro-life,” never endorsed that more extreme option.

    Asked about the abortion bills at a Feb. 1 press conference, he replied: “I urge the Legislature to work, produce good stuff, and we will sign.”

    As the anti-abortion bills demonstrate, though, the legislature has been far less restrained.

    Unmentioned in anti-abortion propaganda is that access to sanctioned, legal abortions is a safe option for all pregnancies in the event of medical complications. Removing that option is a blow against women of an age to be planning families.

    No state for education

    The governor and legislature are waging an all-out assault on public education, which is being equated with “woke” indoctrination. They are creating a state whose public schooling option is completely unattractive—even repulsive—to parents and families who seek to put school-age children in quality public schools.

    Instead they are advancing expensive private schooling to as great an extent as possible. Even with tax vouchers being promoted by Florida House Speaker Rep. Paul Renner (R-19-Flagler County), private and charter schools are expensive and out of reach for many parents. HB 1 and SB 202 would provide all parents—regardless of income—tax vouchers worth an estimated $8,000 per student to go to non-public schools.

    While the state estimated that the overall cost of the program would be $210 million in the first year, the Florida Policy Institute, a state-focused think tank, argued the real cost would be $4 billion.

    “If the state does not increase revenue to cover the costs of students already in private education, then the reallocation of state aid to vouchers will leave school districts with significantly less revenue to fund their remaining public school students,” it argued in a paper on the program’s impact.

    Sadaf Knight, the Institute’s head, put the consequences starkly: “Florida public schools cannot afford to have their budgets decimated after years of under-investment.”

    In addition to the financial blows to public schools, legislators are attempting to control the content of public education in Florida. Bills HB 999 and SB 266 require schools to eliminate majors or minors in critical race theory and gender studies. They also prohibit schools from using diversity, equity or inclusion criteria in spending or hiring decisions.

    Legislators are even trying to regulate speech among students. HB 1069 will prohibit “instruction in acquired immune deficiency syndrome, sexually transmitted diseases, or health education” before the sixth grade—and would even prohibit students younger than the sixth grade from discussing their menstrual periods.

    To emphasize: this bill not only regulates curricula, it prohibits girls from discussing menstrual cycles in conversations among themselves.

    These restrictions come on top of legislation already passed and signed into law. The 2022 Stop WOKE (Wrong to Our Kids and Employees) Act, places limits on the way race is taught, and the Parental Rights in Education Act, nicknamed the “Don’t say gay” law, prohibits discussion of sexuality in the earliest grades.

    “Following woke indoctrination in our schools, that is a road to ruin for this country,” DeSantis said in a press conference last year. “And we’re not going to let it happen in Florida.” (Enforcement of The Stop WOKE Act has been stopped by court injunction based on arguments against its free speech infringements.)

    The suspicion and hostility toward teachers among Florida legislators found expression last year when Rep. Bob Rommel (R-81-Naples and Collier County) argued that teachers were so dangerous to children that they should be monitored in the classroom by video at all times and introduced a bill to that effect. (The bill never went anywhere and died in the last session.)

    Additionally, there is a proposal in the legislature to politicize school board races by making them partisan. In the past, education was considered above party politics and candidates were always unaffiliated. However, under House Joint Resolution 31 by Rep. Spencer Roach (R-79-Ft. Myers) and its companion Senate Joint Resolution 94, candidates would have to be party affiliated. A likely impact of this is that education will be politicized as well, so students would receive partisan, one-sided instruction, particularly in history.

    On top of this are local book bans, where DeSantified school boards and MAGA activists attempt to banish discomforting ideas.

    These measures are not going unnoticed in the rest of the country’s higher education institutions. As a result of them, administrators and admissions officers may view Florida’s secondary school graduates as inadequately educated and not ready for real universities. The graduates may face steep admission obstacles when they apply to college.

    Of course, they can remain within the Florida university system, which will be shackled by political restrictions, ideological constraints and muzzled professors. That, in turn, raises the question whether graduates will be prepared for a diverse, competitive, technologically advanced world and whether a Florida education will be an employment asset outside the state.

    As a result of all this political intrusion, Florida is emerging as a warped educational wasteland for primary school students and state university graduates—not an attractive prospect for young parents trying to raise school-age children.

    No state for health

    Florida’s surgeon general, Dr. Joseph Ladapo, continues to stubbornly defend his anti-COVID vaccination stance in the face of an overwhelming scientific consensus but in keeping with DeSantis’ political priorities.

    Ladapo, who is up for Florida Senate confirmation this year, has urged men between the ages of 18 and 39 not to get vaccinated.

    On March 10, Drs. Robert Califf, commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, and Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, sent what amounted to a public cease-and-desist letter to Ladapo.

    “The claim that the increase of VAERS [Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System] reports of life-threatening conditions reported from Florida and elsewhere represents an increase of risk caused by the COVID-19 vaccines is incorrect, misleading and could be harmful to the American public,” they wrote.

    Ladapo fired back from Florida at a press conference called to mark the third year of the COVID pandemic. “The media, they work overtime to rewrite reality, to make people believe that what is happening isn’t actually happening. These vaccines have a terrible safety profile. At this point in the pandemic, I’m not sure anyone should be taking them, and that is the honest truth,” he said.

    In keeping with his anti-vaxx efforts, in November 2021 DeSantis signed legislation prohibiting private employer mask mandates, or proofs of vaccination by private companies, government agencies, school districts and educational institutions, under penalty of fines.

    In January, DeSantis called for legislation to make the bans permanent. In Lee County his initiative was endorsed by a resolution of the local Republican Party.

    In DeSantis’ Florida public health practices are being built on wishful thinking and political convenience. People just starting families and parents and men in general between the ages of 18 and 39 must be aware than any efforts by institutions like schools or employers to protect the health and wellbeing of themselves or their children will be punished by the state.

    No state for tolerance

    DeSantis’ cultural crusade in Florida is ostensibly driven by his battle against a “woke mob,” evoking a counter-image of the MAGA mob that attacked the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

    However, what is really emerging in Florida is an intolerant, discriminatory regime that will not accept anything other than its legislated norms, which go beyond traditional, legally-sanctioned behavior.

    When it comes to LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual and questioning) individuals the governor and legislature are clearly out to put as many restrictions as possible on them and their community.

    HB 1423 would allow the state to fine or suspend the licenses of businesses that admit children to “adult live performances” depicting or simulating “nudity, sexual conduct, sexual excitement, specific sexual activities,” and more.

    SB 1320 is an amendment to the Stop WOKE Act that forbids teachers from asking children their preferred pronouns and forbids teaching about sexual orientation or gender identity before the eighth grade.

    SB 254 allows courts to stop gender-reassigning care for patients under 18 years of age.

    HB 1421 restricts gender-reassigning therapies and surgeries and prohibits birth gender from being changed on a birth certificate.

    No state for safety

    Florida has suffered from repeated mass shootings. In June 2016 there was the massacre at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando when 50 people were killed, including the shooter. In February 2018, 17 students and teachers were killed and 17 injured at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.

    That mass shooting gave rise to bipartisan efforts to control gun purchases, which passed in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Act.

    Since then Florida politicians have been attempting to roll back those protections and make gun ownership easier and more ubiquitous. In the current legislative session SB 150 and HB 543 would allow permitless concealed carrying of weapons, or “constitutional carry” as its advocates prefer to call it.

    DeSantis endorsed permitless carrying last year, saying in December: “Basically, this was something that I’ve always supported. The last two years, it was not necessarily a priority for the legislative leadership… and it’ll be something that will be done in the regular session. That puts us in line with the majority of states that have done that… so we’ll get that done.”

    Permitless carrying has legislative support and the endorsement of the National Rifle Association Institute for Legislative Action, although it doesn’t go as far as open carrying—being allowed to openly display weapons in public—as some advocates prefer.

    But regardless of the terms of any gun displays, any young parent will have to worry that in Florida they and their children will be in an environment saturated in guns, whether openly brandished or legally concealed.

    No state for innovation

    DeSantis’ war with the Disney Corp., is well known and has been extensively covered. When Disney management formally took issue with the Anti-WOKE Act, DeSantis retaliated by stripping Disney World in Orlando of its special tax and governance status and leading a public crusade against the corporation.

    DeSantis and the current legislature are also pursuing a variety of measures against corporations that make efforts to adhere to responsible environmental, social and governance (ESG) practices.

    “By applying arbitrary ESG financial metrics that serve no one except the companies that created them, elites are circumventing the ballot box to implement a radical ideological agenda,” DeSantis announced in January in an effort to “protect” companies and consumers from these practices.

    Accordingly, on Feb. 23, Rep. Bob Rommel (R-81-Naples and Collier County) introduced HB 3 to prohibit ESG-based investing. Its Senate counterpart is SB 302.

    Companies seeking to promote a culture of social and environmental responsibility in Florida will face penalties and state retaliation. Given that these are some of the most innovative, entrepreneurial and forward-thinking companies in the country, with predominantly young workforces, these restrictions and penalties will likely keep them from entering Florida, which is otherwise billing itself as a business-friendly state.

    No state for immigrants

    Florida was once one of the most welcoming states in the country for immigrants, whether seeking opportunity and prosperity or refugees fleeing oppression in Cuba, Haiti or elsewhere. Indeed, Florida has historically actively sought new residents to build its population and economy.

    Florida’s openness made Miami in particular a cosmopolitan, internationally-oriented city and America’s gateway to South America.

    Donald Trump’s anti-immigrant racism and rhetoric represented the backlash against traditional American openness and acceptance and it spread it throughout the state. He brought that prejudice with him when he retired to Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach. DeSantis apparently shares Trump’s hatred of immigrants and foreigners and made his own attitude explicit with his September 2022 stunt of deliberately flying 50 Venezuelan asylum-seekers from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts.

    To continue the practice of migrant transport, this year SB 6-B appropriated $10 million to continue state-sponsored transportation of migrants, known as the Unauthorized Alien Transport Program. The bill was passed by the House and Senate and signed into law by DeSantis on Feb. 15.

    To prevent unsanctioned transportation of undocumented migrants, the legislature is considering SB 1718 (and HB 1617), which makes it a criminal offense to “knowingly and willingly” transport them.

    Immigrants and migrants, both documented and undocumented, were instrumental in building the Florida economy, agriculture and industry. Many of Florida’s newcomers, whatever their national origins, are young, vigorous and entrepreneurial. The current anti-immigrant legislative wave in the legislature—even if directed only against undocumented migrants and asylum-seekers—will serve to dry up that youthful wellspring of talent and energy.

    Analysis: The new-old Florida

    The bills discussed here are precisely that—bills, not laws. They are proposals amidst the avalanche of ideas that are offered in a legislative session. Few, in fact, will make it all the way to the governor’s desk and be signed into law.

    Nonetheless, the state emerging from these proposals and ideas is one that is extremely reactionary, oppressive and sclerotic. It is hostile to new ideas, innovation, science, creativity and enterprise. If all the legislation is enacted it will result in an intellectual and entrepreneurial wasteland repulsive to anyone not of retirement age—and many seniors as well.

    All this is the result of the governor and legislature playing to the biases of an aging, white, MAGA base and overlooking—indeed, seeking to repress—the qualities and values and people that once made Florida great.

    Politically, in Florida there are currently no checks or balances on this course of governing and legislating. The supermajority Republican legislature is completely subservient to DeSantis—when its legislative politicians are not pursuing their own extreme agendas. Now, in the judicial branch, Florida Supreme Court Justice Ricky Polston announced his retirement on Monday, March 20, which will give DeSantis another justice to appoint, the fifth of the seven that sit on the court.

    The DeSantis lock on power is so complete that one politician, Sen. Blaise Ingoglia (R-11-Citrus, Hernando and Sumter counties) is seeking to effectively outlaw the Democratic Party (SB 1248) and make Florida a one-party state along the lines of North Korea.

    None of this bodes well for young people considering migrating to, launching careers in or starting families in Florida. In addition to the factors above there they also face the extremely high price of insurance and the lack of decent housing in the low-to-middle “affordable” starting range that favors young families. Less-than-affluent families cannot expect to put their children in a public school system that will give them an effective, modern education all the way up to college. And every Floridian is at physical risk from a delusional public health establishment and a surfeit of guns in the hands of all kinds of people in all kinds of mental states.

    Culturally, DeSantis’ Florida is proving hostile to any norms and mores that have evolved since 1900—indeed, since the discovery of vaccines—lumping them together as “woke.” And, as DeSantis accurately said, he is making his state the place “where woke goes to die.” He is waging a cultural war whose victory will leave Florida boundless and bare, where the lone and level sands stretch far away.

    This is the model that DeSantis hopes to ride to the presidency in 2024. Fortunately, while it may play well with an elderly MAGA core in The Villages, it is not likely to be the kind of regime the rest of the country will accept in 2024. And it is certainly out of touch with everyone from millennials to Generation Y, to Generation Z.

    There is a comfort, however: old generations die off and imposition of the most extreme biases of Florida’s MAGA baby boomers cannot last. After all, as DeSantis himself has said, “Florida is God’s waiting room.”

    But waiting for that to happen will take 40 years of wandering in a sun-scorched, dystopian, DeSantian desert—unless Floridians decide to make a change themselves and do it sooner rather than later.

    Liberty lives in light

    © 2023 by David Silverberg

    Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate here!

    Calling all bloggers: Time to stop a Florida assault on free speech

    Florida Sen. Jason Brodeur’s bill would require bloggers to register with the state

    State Sen. Jason Brodeur explains his blogging registration bill. (Image: Twitter)

    March 8, 2023 by David Silverberg

    Updated, Sunday March 12 with new contact information for Sen. Jason Brodeur.

    A Florida bill requiring bloggers to register with the state if they cover or comment on the governor, Cabinet officers or state legislators is sparking alarm and outrage.

    It needs to be stopped and bloggers in Florida and around the world should immediately raise their voices against it.

    The bill was introduced by state Sen. Jason Brodeur (R-10-Seminole and Orange counties).

    Titled “An Act Relating to Information Dissemination” (Senate Bill (SB) 1316), the bill was filed on Feb. 28 in advance of the state legislature’s general session. It was referred to three committees for consideration: the Senate Judiciary Committee, the Appropriations Committee on Criminal and Civil Justice, and the Committee on Fiscal Policy.

    The Florida legislature convened yesterday, March 7, for a 60-day session during which the bill may be considered.

    (Editor’s Note: The Paradise Progressive and this author have a clear and obvious interest in this bill and its consideration. Nonetheless, that interest does not preclude factual coverage, analysis or commentary of the bill, its sponsor or its progress. The Paradise Progressive, which is supported by its author and reader donations, will continue to provide coverage, analysis and commentary on politics, especially related to the governance, representation and elections of Southwest Florida and the state as a whole as long as the United States Constitution and its Bill of Rights continue in force in Florida and the United States generally.)

    The bill

    The bill has two parts. (The full bill as introduced is available for download at the conclusion of this article.)

    The first part has nothing to do with blogging. It amends an existing law for court sales of property (“judicial sales”), usually to pay debts in bankruptcy cases, so that the sale is posted on the Web for a specified time period. The second non-blogging clause establishes conditions and procedures for government publication of legally required notices.

    It is in its third, entirely new, section that it tackles blogging.

    As with all legislation, it first defines its terms.

    A “blog” “means a website or webpage that hosts any blogger and is frequently updated with opinion, commentary, or business content. The term does not include the website of a newspaper or other similar publication.” A “blogger” is anyone submitting “a blog post to a blog.” A “blog post” is defined as “an individual webpage on a blog which contains an article, a story, or a series of stories.”

    (Just for historical context, the word “blog” is a contraction of “Web log” that took hold in the early 1990s as the Internet gained popularity.)

    It defines “Elected state officer” as the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Cabinet officer, or any member of the Legislature.

    The key provision of the bill is in its second section: “If a blogger posts to a blog about an elected state officer and receives, or will receive, compensation for that post, the blogger must register with the appropriate office, as identified in paragraph (1)(f), within 5 days after the first post by the blogger which mentions an elected state officer.”

    The two offices mentioned in the paragraph are the Office of Legislative Services and the Commission on Ethics. If a blogger mentions a member of the legislature, the blogger reports to the first office; if the blogger mentions an executive branch official the report is to the second.

    Under the legislation, once registered, the blogger must file a monthly report within 10 days of the end of the month, with exceptions for weekends and holidays.

    The reports have to include the person or entity that paid for the blog post and how much the blogger was paid (rounded to the nearest $10) as well as the website and website address where it was posted.

    If the reports are not filed on time the blogger is subject to a fine of $25 per day that has to be paid within 30 days of being assessed. If the blog post was about a member of the legislature, the money goes into the Legislative Lobbyist Registration Trust Fund; if about an executive branch official, the Executive Branch Lobby Registration Trust Fund. If about both, then the payment goes to both. Bloggers can get a one-time waiver of the first fine but must report within 30 days of the first infraction.

    Bloggers can appeal their fines and the bill sets out the procedures for such appeals through the courts. However, if the blogger doesn’t pay a fine within 100 days, he or she is subject to court action.

    This law takes effect upon passage.

    Brodeur’s defense

    “Do you want to know the truth about the so-called ‘blogger’ bill?” a defensive-sounding Brodeur wrote in a March 5 tweet. “It brings the current pay-to-play scheme to light and gives voters clarity as to who is influencing their elected officials, JUST LIKE how we treat lobbyists. It’s an electioneering issue, not a free speech issue.”

    He elaborated in a 1-minute, 48-second video interview with the Florida’s Conservative Voice blog posted to Twitter.

    The clip posted by Brodeur started in response to a question. It bears quoting in full.

    “The biggest thing that you pointed out is, it is for—only for—bloggers who are paid, compensated to influence or advocate on state elections. And this is really to get an electioneering thing and perhaps, I’m even open to it, even in the wrong place in the statute, because what we have out there today is a system by which someone can pay someone to write a story, publish it online and then use that in a mail piece as a site source when they’re making claims about an opponent. So what we want, is we want voters to be able to know—you can still do it, that is a mechanism by which candidates advertise. You can still do it, we just believe that voters have a right to know when somebody is being paid to advocate, like lobbyists. And so, if you believe, that we should have a state registry of lobbyists, so everybody knows who is trying to influence who, what is the difference between a paid blogger who writes about state government or a paid lobbyist who advocates for state government? One talks and one writes. And so my position on it would really be: ‘So look, listen, we’ll just get rid of the lobbying registration, then?’ Either way, I want to be consistent because if you’re being paid to advocate a position the public should be able to know who’s being paid and make a decision for themselves. So that’s all we’re trying to clean up, is really an electioneering issue.

    “Now, what I think the media is getting wrong about it is—you know, I’ve gotten phone calls all day long about it, from Seattle to New York, literally—where people are going: ‘I hate you and you’re trying to ruin free speech, this is how Germany got everything wrong’—no, no, no, this is not a free speech issue, it’s a transparency issue and electioneering. It’s—so all I’m trying to do is say, ‘Treat paid bloggers just like you treat lobbyists.’ That’s it.” 

    Brodeur may be particularly sensitive to hostile blogging and media coverage and especially hidden funding because his initial, razor-thin 2020 election was clouded by the presence of a “ghost candidate,” a non-party-affiliated candidate whose campaign was secretly funded by the Republican Party in an effort to siphon votes from the Democrat.

    As detailed in the Nov. 4, 2022 article “Ghost of 2020 hangs over Jason Brodeur, Joy Goff-Marcil contest in SD 10,” by Jacob Ogles on the website Florida Politics, the ghost candidate, Jestine Iannotti, sent misleading mailers to voters bearing a stock photo of a black woman and succeeded in gaining 5,787 votes.

    That was enough for Brodeur to win a squeaker of a victory over his opponent, Democrat Patricia Sigman, by a hairsbreadth 7,644 votes.

    As Ogles wrote: “This year, prosecutors brought charges against Iannotti, consultant Eric Foglesong and Seminole County Republican Party Chair Ben Paris, who notably works for Brodeur at his day job running the Seminole Chamber of Commerce.

    “Paris was found guilty of a misdemeanor charge in September, and both Iannotti and former Seminole County Tax Collector Joel Greenberg both told investigators Brodeur knew about or was expected to support her candidacy. Brodeur has denied any knowledge of the scheme,” the article stated.

    So apparently, when Brodeur discusses pay-to-play schemes and hidden funding, he knows whereof he speaks.

    Reception and denunciation

    The instant Brodeur’s bill came to light it attracted national media attention—and denunciation.

    One of the first and most prominent people to react was former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who is currently a retired resident of Naples, Fla.

    “The idea that bloggers criticizing a politician should register with the government is insane,” Gingrich tweeted on Sunday, March 5. “It is an embarrassment that it is a Republican state legislator in Florida who introduced a bill to that effect. He should withdraw it immediately.”

    Brodeur’s bill didn’t get any love from the governor it might ostensibly protect, either.

    Asked about the bill in a press conference following his State of the State address yesterday, March 7, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) distanced himself from the proposal.

    “That’s not anything that I’ve ever supported. I don’t support it, I’ve been very clear about what we are doing,” DeSantis said. 

    He noted that “every person in the legislature can file bills” and “the Florida legislature, 120 of them in the House and however many, the 40 in the Senate, they have independent agency to be able to do things,” he said. “Like, I don’t control every single bill that has been filed or amendment, so just as we go through this session, please understand that.”

    Uncounted and likely uncountable were the denunciations of the bill in online comments, tweets, postings and phone calls “from Seattle to New York” as Brodeur himself put it.

    The National Review magazine, the venerable voice of conservative political reasoning, weighed in with a stinging headline that needed no elaboration: “Senator Jason Brodeur Is a Moron, but He’s a Solo Moron.”

    “The bill is an unconstitutional, moronic disgrace, and the guy who wrote it, Senator Jason Brodeur of Seminole County, is an embarrassment to the GOP,” wrote Charles Cooke on March 2.

    Other than Brodeur himself, defense of the bill was hard to come by, either online or as covered in the media.

    Commentary: Putin would be proud

    There are so many arguments to be made against SB 1316 that it’s hard to know where to begin.

    SB 1316 is a clear and obvious attempt to suppress free speech in the state of Florida. It doesn’t just violate the First Amendment, it violates both its free speech and free press clauses.

    In fact, Brodeur’s bill most closely resembles Russia’s “blogger’s law,” passed in 2014 and signed into law by President Vladimir Putin. That law requires any blogger with 3,000 or more followers to register with Roskomnadzor, Russia’s media oversight agency.

    In American history it also harks back to the Sedition Act of 1798, which made it a crime for American citizens to “print, utter, or publish…any false, scandalous, and malicious writing” about the government. That law, along with Alien Acts aimed against immigrants, was largely directed against the new Democratic-Republican Party and Democratic-Republican newspapers were prosecuted under it. When Thomas Jefferson won the election of 1800 the acts were repealed or allowed to lapse and those prosecuted were pardoned. The whole period is considered a dark stain in American history and is often overlooked (and no doubt will never be taught in Florida schools).

    SB 1316 walks in these notorious footsteps. Not only would it have a chilling effect on free speech, if it were to pass it would immediately be challenged in court where even a legal layman can see that it would lose.

    But aside from railing against the bill itself, let’s take Brodeur at his own words that “It’s an electioneering issue, not a free speech issue.”

    What Brodeur clearly doesn’t understand is that in a democracy every citizen has a right to electioneer and influence government, whether in person, in print or online. Brodeur apparently doesn’t see it this way. He thinks that advocacy occurs only among a paid lobbying class and that citizens expressing their opinions online are part of that class and need to be registered and regulated, regardless of the source of their funding.

    He also doesn’t seem to understand the broader implications of his bill. At its most basic level it would give the state government a mechanism to suppress blogs—and all opinions—it didn’t like. This would apply to blogs and bloggers whether liberal or conservative, Democratic or Republican.

    It would be nearly impossible to police and enforcement would be intrusive, unconstitutional and expensive. Even if intended only for paid bloggers, the bill’s restrictions would ineluctably affect all blogs on all topics. It would affect blogs used for commercial, non-profit or simply informative purposes, stuntng legitimate commerce and obstructing myriad blog-based enterprises.

    Brodeur seems not to understand that he introduced his bill at a moment when people fear that civil liberties and democracy in his state are under unprecedented assault. In Florida a Republican super-majority state house has begun a session in which each legislator is scrambling to prove him or herself more ideologically extreme than the competition. A former president who incited an anti-government insurrection is fighting for a comeback. The governor, effectively running for president on an extreme right platform, is at war with the national media and explicitly wants to overturn the landmark 1964 New York Times versus Sullivan case. Bills are being introduced to make defamation suits against the media easier and the state is emerging as a laboratory for repression, reaction and regression.

    Into this state house full of flammable fumes Brodeur casually tossed the match of SB 1316. Did he or any other carbon-based life form imagine that there wouldn’t be an explosion of fear, outrage and alarm? Apparently not.

    Beyond its political implications, SB 1316 reveals Brodeur as a singularly inept politician, someone unable to think through the full consequences of a proposal on a policy, political or constitutional level. He clearly thought through the procedural and punitive aspects of his legislation but beyond that narrow vista he had no perspective. Moreover, he appears to lack an understanding of democracy, freedom and advocacy—as well as a simple ability to read the room.

    He shouldn’t be surprised that people are calling “from Seattle to New York” to oppose his bill.

    Editorial: To the keyboards, bloggers!

    It’s worth pointing out that this isn’t just an obscure proposal in what appears to be the increasingly insane state of Florida. If passed, it would set up a government mechanism to suppress online independent thought and the expression of opinion, which could then be applied nationally, especially if DeSantis wins the presidency in 2024. That, in turn could become a global template for Internet censorship and repression.

    If Brodeur doesn’t have the good sense to withdraw his bill, it should be defeated. Every blogger who loves freedom can play a role—not just in Florida but everywhere from Singapore to San Francisco, Seattle to Saint Petersburg.

    At the very least, people should make their opinions known to the key Florida legislators on the referred committees who have received this bill.

    This is one case when the flap of a butterfly’s wings really could bring on a hurricane.


    Sen. Jason Brodeur himself can be reached by e-mail through his offcial website, https://flsenate.gov/senators/s10 and clicking the e-mail button in the left column. He can also be reached by phone at his Tallahassee office at (850) 487-5010, at his district office at (407) 333-1802 and at his campaign office by phone or text at 1-407-752-0258.

    Other senators can be reached by going to the Florida websites and clicking on the “Email this senator” button in the left-hand column:

    Senate Judiciary Committee

    Appropriations Committee on Criminal and Civil Justice

    Committee on Fiscal Policy

    A 9-page PDF of the submitted bill can be downloaded here.

    Liberty lives in light

    © 2023 by David Silverberg

    From education to enrichment: Sweetheart deals, feeding frenzies and Florida’s war on learning

    March 4, 2023 by David Silverberg

    A disturbing pattern of cronyism and sweetheart dealing appears to be emerging from the war on education by Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) and the Make America Great Again (MAGA) movement in Florida.

    While much of the public and media attention has been focused on issues of academic freedom and the DeSantis-MAGA anti-woke, anti-public education crusade, when it comes to practically implementing this agenda at the operational level, instances of lucrative deals for politically-connected, ideological loyalists of questionable qualifications seem to indicate a trend.

    What is more, the trend is not confined to any single level of education. DeSantis is clearly attempting to bring the state’s higher education establishment to heel. In last year’s elections he also sought to dominate elementary and secondary education at the county level through school board endorsements.

    The results on the ground have been questionable candidate searches, exorbitant salary bumps and an opportunistic feeding frenzy. Where at one time academia was seen as an ivory tower, in Florida it is becoming a feeding trough.

    Three instances illustrate this trend and its consequences. One is at the premier state university level and the appointment of Ben Sasse at the University of Florida. Another is at the state college level, the ouster of the existing president and subsequent appointment of Richard Corcoran as president of New College. A third is at the county school board level and the appointment of James Molenaar as attorney for the Collier County Board of Education.

    Ben Sasse and the University of Florida

    Then-Sen. Ben Sasse speaking at the Conservative Political Action Committee in 2015. (Photo: Gage Skidmore, Wikimedia Commons)

    Last November trustees voted to appoint Ben Sasse, former conservative Republican senator from Nebraska, as president of the University of Florida in Gainesville.

    Sasse was the only announced finalist, although there were reportedly a dozen others. Trustees defended keeping the other candidates secret in compliance with a newly-passed state law allowing such concealment.

    “The bottom line is if we had run a process that required more than one finalist to be publicly disclosed, none of the top 12 people we interviewed would have stayed,” trustee Chair Mori Hosseini told the publication Politico. “It’s that simple.”

    Because of the secrecy there was no way to confirm that a dozen finalists had in fact been considered. University faculty held a vote of no confidence in the trustees’ personnel search.

    According to Forbes magazine, Sasse’s 5-year contract provides a base salary of $1 million per year with annual 4 percent increases if he meets certain performance goals. He will receive an additional retention bonus of $200,000 per year if he stays the entire length of the contract. He will also receive annual 15 percent “performance bonuses,” contingent on meeting particular goals, including adoption of a strategic plan with short-term and long-term objectives.

    Executive benefits include payment of moving expenses, a 15 percent retirement benefit paid by the university, tuition remission for any of his immediate family members who might enroll at the University of Florida, and health, life and disability insurance paid by the university. In addition, “reasonable business, travel and entertainment expenses (including professional dues and meetings) incurred in his capacity as President of the University shall be reimbursed.”

    The contract requires Sasse to live in the Dasburg President’s House on the campus. The University pays “the cost of hazard and liability insurance, utilities (including internet service), housekeeping, home office facilities, equipment and services, landscaping, maintenance, and grounds-keeping, security, repair and maintenance of The Dasburg President’s House facility.”

    The contract can be extended by mutual agreement and after its expiration Sasse will be eligible to work as a full time faculty member at the university.

    Sasse at least presented a variety of qualifications for the position: in addition to having served as senator he had a bachelor’s degree from Harvard University and a doctorate from Yale. He previously presided over Midland University, a private Lutheran university in Fremont, Neb., that was home to about 1,600 students—in contrast to the University of Florida with 60,000 students.

    Students, faculty and alumni protested the appointment when it was made and then demonstrated in person on the day it was implemented. On Feb. 6, the day he arrived on campus to take office, they presented a variety of demands that included protection of academic freedom, retention of tenure and support for inclusivity, equity and diversity.

    Students and faculty protest the appointment of Ben Sasse as president of the University of Florida on Feb. 6, his first day as president. (Photo: Xinyue Li/WUFT News)

    Richard Corcoran and New College

    New College is a small, state-run liberal arts college of about 698 students and about 90 faculty, located in Sarasota.

    In early January DeSantis appointed six new members to its 13-member board of trustees with a seventh new member appointed by the Florida Board of Governors. Most of the new appointees came from ideologically conservative or religious academic backgrounds.

    On Jan. 31 at an online Zoom meeting, the board fired the existing president, Patricia Okker, and appointed Richard Corcoran as interim president.

    Corcoran, a Republican, is a former Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives and represented the state’s 37th House District, covering Pasco County. He served as state Commissioner of Education from 2019 until last year.

    Then-state Rep. Richard Corcoran addresses the Florida House in 2011. (Photo: Meredith Geddings, Wikimedia Commons)

    Earlier in his career he also served in a variety of staff positions including as an aide to Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.). In that position his spending of Republican Party money drew criticism, including $400,000 on charter plane flights, $29,000 at the Capital Grille restaurant in Tampa and $1,000 for cufflinks.

    In one memorable instance he dropped $8,000 on a single meal at a restaurant known as The French Laundry in Napa Valley, California.

    Corcoran’s tenure as Commissioner of Education was not free of taint. Last January the Department of Education under Corcoran came under scrutiny from its own Inspector General when it apparently deliberately steered a $2.5 million consulting contract to a company linked to Corcoran. The bidding was open for only a week and only MTG Consulting, the company run by a Corcoran colleague, was pre-approved to bid on it. However, when two of Corcoran’s deputies and a member of the state Board of Education filed a competing bid, the contracting process came under investigation for a conflict of interest, the aides resigned and MTG was denied the contract.

    The contract was to help Jefferson County get its schools in order and would have been paid for with federal COVID relief funds.

    “I’m just going to be honest with you. It’s money,” Bill Brumfield, a Jefferson County School Board member told the Tampa Bay Times. “It’s money and it’s politics, and they are just trying to kick Jefferson County around again like a bunch of little country bumpkins sitting over there and knowing nothing.” Corcoran defended the contract and said his department had followed the letter and spirit of the law.

    The DeSantis administration chose not to take further action on the matter after the aides resigned. The Inspector General did not rule on whether the bids were illegal or were conflicts of interest.

    Corcoran’s own academic credentials consist of his dropping out of the University of Florida but receiving his bachelor’s degree from St. Leo University, a small, private Catholic university in St. Leo, Fla., and his Juris Doctor law degree from Regent University, a small, Christian school in Virginia Beach, Va.

    The trustees’ firing of Okker, who has a doctorate and spent her career in academia, and hiring of Corcoran was done by a vote of 11 to 1 in a single, swift action before any other attendees at the meeting had a chance to speak or comment.

    Under Corcoran’s contract he receives an annual salary of $699,000, which is $394,000 more than Okker’s $305,000. He also receives an $84,000 housing allowance, the top range of such allowances for people in the position in Florida.

    James Molenaar and the Collier County Board of Education

    James Molenaar addresses the Collier County School Board on Feb. 13, 2023. (Image: CCPS)

    In Collier County, Florida, a MAGA-dominated School Board’s search for its own attorney resulted in a grab for a lucrative contract by a favored candidate and allegations of Sunshine law violations, improper communications, cronyism and misuse of documents.

    On Election Day, Nov. 8, 2022, three MAGA candidates won election to the Collier County Board of Education, constituting a majority of the five-member board.

    The new chair, Kelly Lichter, had served on the board from 2014 to 2018 during which she clashed with the school district’s sitting attorney, Jonathan Fishbane. She suggested that the School Board needed its own attorney, separate from the school district.

    Accordingly, on Dec. 7, just before the Christmas and New Year holidays, the Board approved the idea, set out the duties, responsibilities and qualifications and advertised the position for only one week. It also established a salary of $180,000 per year for the position.

    Four applicants responded: Cassius Borel, Michael Fasano, Kevin Pendley and James Molenaar. Pendley, with 32 years as a practicing lawyer, had the most school-related experience and was serving as the Volusia County School Board attorney.

    Molenaar, with 27 years of experience, had served as senior legal counsel for the Collier County Clerk of Courts and Comptroller until 2020. That election year he filed papers to run against his boss, Crystal Kinzel, clerk of the courts. He was fired the day after filing and subsequent court cases revealed an illicit sexual relationship with a colleague. Ultimately, he lost the election despite being endorsed by conservative political activist and grocer Alfie Oakes.

    During the Board’s search phase, Molenaar e-mailed three of the Board members, offering to meet privately, which Board member Erick Carter (District 4) thought might be a violation of a “cone of silence” period.

    Molenaar submitted his own proposed contract to Lichter on Dec. 7, the day the School Board agreed to the idea of hiring its own attorney.

    Instead of the $180,000 annual salary proposed by the Board, Molenaar proposed $195,000. He also proposed “a performance-based merit system through which the Employee [Molenaar] shall be eligible for a merit adjustment upon successful completion of measurable goals and objectives to be completed” of up to 10 percent of his base salary.

    He would get a $650 per month ($7,800 per year) car allowance “to cover gas, mileage, and maintenance.”

    In order to work at home, he would be provided “at the Board’s sole expense, at his choosing a laptop computer and a device(s) for scanning, copying, printing and faxing for use at his residence.” In addition, he would get $225 per month ($2,700 per year) for other technology materials including internet connections as he shall consider necessary to carry out his work as Employee.”

    He would also get a cell phone “of the make and model of his choosing” and the service to support it.

    The Board would agree to pay his professional dues and subscriptions, his business travel and car rentals outside the county, “travel associated with attending conferences, conventions, meeting[s]” and continuing education and “transportation fares, meals, mileage, lodging, taxi, or ride share fares, parking fees, and communication expenses.”

    In order to join community and civic associations he would get an additional stipend of $1,500 per year.

    With the additions—not including bonuses and benefits—Molenaar’s proposal came to $212,100 per year.

    The night before the Jan. 23 meeting to decide on the attorney, Kelly Lichter’s husband, Nick, sent an e-mail to Board members:

    “I am unable to make tomorrow’s meeting, and I can’t make a public comment related to this issue, so here you go. I have been watching the ‘fake news’ hysteria surrounding my wife and Jim Molenar [as spelled], a candidate for the attorney position. This is right from the left’s playbook. They falsely accuse people of doing the very things they themselves are guilty of doing. What is even more incredible, is the fact that the leftists are all pushing Kevin Pendley. Kevin Pendley has deep ties to local attorney Grant Fridkin, a local attorney who maxed out contributions to Jen Mitchell’s campaign in the most recent election. In looking into Kevin Pendley’s own campaign contributions, he has given money to Byron Donalds, the same person that tried to ‘crush’ my wife in this school board race.

    “If you want the fox guarding the hen house, then hire Kevin Pendley. He may look good on paper, but he would be a disaster as your board attorney,” Lichter wrote.

    Nick Lichter’s e-mail.

    (Jen Mitchell was the incumbent school board chairperson defeated by Kelly Lichter. Byron Donalds is Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.), whose wife Erika has clashed with Lichter in person and in court.)

    At the Jan. 23 meeting three candidates were interviewed, Fasano having dropped out. Each was asked the same 10 questions with no follow-ups or other questions allowed.

    At the meeting School District attorney Fishbane stated that “There have been a lot of comments concerning the process that forms the foundation of this meeting.” This included questions concerning “Sunshine Law violations, back door communications, wrongful favoring of a particular candidate [i.e., Molenaar], and wrongful usage of documents.” However, said Fishbane, his review had revealed no improprieties.

    About 20 members of the public spoke at the meeting, most favoring Pendley.

    The Board then ranked the candidates and ultimately voted 3 to 2 to hire Molenaar.

    With these proposals becoming public and opposition building to his appointment, on Feb. 2 Molenaar withdrew his application to be School Board attorney—sort of. He did it in an e-mail to Andrew Brown, the school district’s senior director of human resources and it became public on Feb. 6.

    But then, on Feb. 10 he complained that the human resources director had rescinded his application without affording him due process. He accused Valerie Wenrich, the assistant superintendent of human resources, of abusing her authority, saying she had “wrongfully relied on the outcry made from a few vocal minority who do not support the agenda of the new majority school board members and our governor” in canceling his application.

    On Feb. 13, in an address during the public comments portion of a School Board meeting he said he was waiting for the District to process his paperwork so he could begin work as the attorney the Board had voted to approve.

    At this point it is unclear whether Molenaar is in or out, whether his hiring is being processed or a new search is about to begin. Some clarity may be shed at the next School Board meeting, scheduled for Tuesday, March 7.

    (For excellent, detailed coverage of the Collier County School Board attorney controversy, from which most of this account is drawn, see Sparker’s Soapbox, an insightful local blog and its stories, “Collier School Board Attorney Search,” Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3. To see ongoing coverage and commentary on the county School Board in general, see Jen Mitchell’s Collier School Board Resource page on Facebook.)

    Analysis: From education to enrichment

    To date, in practical terms, the DeSantis-MAGA war on education in Florida and independent thought appears to have been expressed in hiring ideological loyalists.

    However, this is likely only the beginning. The next phase is likely to be expressed in contracting.

    The Florida educational establishment, at all levels, is a source of millions of dollars in purchased goods and services, ranging in everything from food, to textbooks, to operations, to maintenance to construction.

    If the current apparent pattern of favoritism and financial reward holds, the next phase of the educational anti-woke war may be manifested in unbalanced contracting as education-related purchases go to favored, ideologically loyal contractors, vendors, friends and allies.

    It is beyond the capacity of The Paradise Progressive to monitor every college and university or the state’s 67 counties.

    But what can honest Floridians do in a non-election year? Concerned citizens, alert journalists and all Florida taxpayers should watch district schools and state universities for improper hiring and contracting and raise their voices against it when they see it.

    In no particular order, improper practices include:

    • Making hires or writing contracts narrowly tailored to favor particular individuals or companies in what should be broad competitions.
    • Conducting proceedings, searches or evaluations in secret, possibly in violation of Florida Sunshine Laws.
    • Closing or excluding public comment in public proceedings like school board or trustee meetings, or delaying the public’s input until after a decision is made.
    • Allowing candidates or vendors to write their own contracts rather than using neutral, standardized contracts drafted by the hiring or contracting party.
    • Failing to provide reasonable time periods for hiring or contracting responses or making them suddenly or abruptly, especially at inconvenient or unreasonable times (for example, issuing a request for proposals after 5 pm on a Friday with a deadline of 9 am on a Monday so that only a single competitor who is already alerted can respond).
    • Providing favored applicants and contractors exorbitant or unusual compensation out of line with common standards or previous practice.
    • Abruptly dropping or disqualifying candidates or contractors from competing without explanation or justification.
    • Elevating obviously unqualified candidates and contractors over ones that have obviously superior qualifications and experience.
    • Using personal smears and ideological litmus tests against potential hires or contractors and basing awards on political loyalties.

    Ultimately, Florida, its people and its schools will be the losers if these practices dominate—and Floridians will not just lose intellectually, they will lose financially as taxpayer money is siphoned off to cronies and co-conspirators.

    As it is, the anti-woke jihad in education is an attempt to snuff out independent thought and free academic enquiry. It is an effort to legislate thinking rather than have freely expressed ideas compete in an open intellectual marketplace. In the past it was believed the best thoughts would win through reason and logic. That is not the DeSantis-MAGA approach and it already seems to be bringing cronyism and corruption in its wake.

    Florida education is heading to “enrichment” but not the kind that enlightens minds—rather, the kind that just lines pockets.

    Liberty lives in light

    © 2023 by David Silverberg

    Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate here!

    Florida Senate bill to decertify Democratic Party would decertify Republicans too

    The Florida Capitol Building. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

    Feb. 28, 2023 by David Silverberg

    A bill filed in the Florida Senate today, Feb. 28, intended to decertify the state’s Democratic Party, would have the ironic effect of also decertifying the Republican Party as well, leaving both parties to reconstitute themselves from the ground up.

    The bill, The Ultimate Cancel Act, or Senate Bill (SB) 1248, would require the state’s Division of Elections to cancel “the filings of a political party, to include its registration and approved status as a political party, if the party’s platform has previously advocated for, or been in support of, slavery or involuntary servitude.”

    Under the bill, once a party is decertified it would have be recertified “by filing a certificate showing the name of the organization and the names and addresses of its current officers, including the members of its executive committee, accompanied by a completed uniform statewide voter registration application as specified in S 97.052 for each of its current officers and members of its executive committee which reflects their affiliation with the proposed political party, and a copy of its constitution, bylaws, and rules and regulations.” It would then have to change its name to be “substantially different from the name of any other party previously registered with the department” and do so within six months of being decertified.

    The bill was introduced by state Sen. Blaise Ingoglia (R-11-Citrus, Hernando and Sumter counties). He did not issue a public statement on the bill or its rationale.

    Analysis: Unintended consequences

    The bill, while alarming on first read, is really a bit of right-wing showboating, rather along the lines of Gov. Ron DeSantis’ (R) transfer of asylum-seekers to Martha’s Vineyard last year.

    Ironically enough, while clearly intending to make Florida a one-party state along the lines of North Korea, it would also have the effect of decertifying Ingoglia’s own Republican Party.

    Clearly, Ingoglia intended to link today’s Democratic Party to its pre-Civil War predecessor, when it was the dominant party of the slaveholding South.

    However, prior to the outbreak of war, the Republican Party also accepted slavery in the states where it existed.

    This was clear in the Republican Party’s 1860 party platform when it declared, “That the maintenance inviolate of the rights of the states, and especially the right of each state to order and control its own domestic institutions according to its own judgment exclusively, is essential to that balance of powers on which the perfection and endurance of our political fabric depends; and we denounce the lawless invasion by armed force of the soil of any state or territory, no matter under what pretext, as among the gravest of crimes.”

    The Republican Party platform opposed expansion of slavery in territories which were not yet states admitted into the union, like Kansas. But the Party leaders did not want to embrace abolitionism and were willing to leave the institution alone where it was of long standing, i.e., they were “in support of, slavery or involuntary servitude” as defined by SB 1248.

    It was not until the middle of the Civil War that President Abraham Lincoln issued his Emancipation Proclamation—which was not a Party document.

    So, far from making Florida a one-party Republican state, which is clearly Ingoglia’s intent, it would in fact make it a no-party state—which might just be an improvement.

    In fact, SB 1248 is not a serious piece of legislation. If seriously considered, however, it may prove to be a serious waste of time.

    With thanks to June Fletcher for her historical insight.

    Liberty lives in light

    © 2023 by David Silverberg

    Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate here!

    Resign-to-run or rewrite the rule? DeSantis, the legislature and the law

    Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (Illustration: Donkey Hotey)

    Feb. 23, 2022 by David Silverberg

    When the Florida state legislature convenes on March 7, it will have a busy two months.

    Dominated by Republican supermajorities, the Florida House and Senate are likely to implement the agenda of Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) to prepare the way for his now-obvious run for the presidency in 2024.

    But no matter what the legislature’s other priorities—restricting abortion, encouraging gunplay, politicizing school boards, reducing local autonomy, narrowing academic freedom, restricting voting, bullying corporations, banning books, and waging war against a supposedly “woke” culture—there is one obstacle above all that may stand in the way of DeSantis’ presidential run.

    Does Florida law allow DeSantis to actually formally declare himself a candidate and run while serving as governor or must he “resign-to-run?”

    If the law does prohibit his run, will the legislature change the law to accommodate him?

    Although there was considerable discussion of this in November following his strong re-election showing, the talk died down shortly thereafter.

    Still, resign-to-run (which The Paradise Progressive will henceforth abbreviate as “R2R” for convenience’s sake—you read it here first) could be a big impediment.

    The state of the law

    Florida is one of four other states (Arizona, Georgia, Hawaii and Texas) that has an R2R law: an officeholder must resign his or her current office to seek another office.

    Title IX, Chapter 99, Section 99.012 of the Florida Statutes states:

    (2) No person may qualify as a candidate for more than one public office, whether federal, state, district, county, or municipal, if the terms or any part thereof run concurrently with each other.

    (3)(a) No officer may qualify as a candidate for another state, district, county, or municipal public office if the terms or any part thereof run concurrently with each other without resigning from the office he or she presently holds.

    (b) The resignation is irrevocable.

    At first glance, this would seem to put a crimp in DeSantis’ plans; he wouldn’t be allowed to declare his presidential candidacy and mount a campaign without irrevocably resigning the office of governor.

    However, as in all law, that’s open to interpretation.

    One view: He doesn’t have to resign

    Lilian Rodriguez-Baz, interviewed on the Wilkow! talk show. (Image: Wilkow!)

    One view is that DeSantis doesn’t have to resign at all.

    That was put forward by Lilian Rodríguez-Baz, a founder and legal counsel for Ready for Ron Political Action Committee (PAC).

    “Armchair lawyers proven wrong again — DeSantis does not have to resign to run for POTUS,” was the headline of an article by her that appeared on Nov. 29 on the website Florida Politics (but which was subsequently removed).

    While one cannot help but note that lawyers do almost all their work from armchairs, her argument deserves to be examined at length.

    The notion that DeSantis would have to resign to run is an “idea as misleading as it is dangerous, and if left unchecked, it could cost Republicans the next election,” she wrote.

    “As a lawyer, I look to the law, and on this point, the law is crystal-clear on its face: State officeholders do not need to quit their jobs in order to run for federal office — whether it’s the House, Senate, or presidency. Florida Statute Section 99.012, which governs this issue, has two relevant parts: Sub-sections (2) and (3). Those wrongly claiming DeSantis needs to resign are playing legal gymnastics by improperly conflating the two sub-sections.

    “Sub-section (2) is straightforward. It provides, in plain English, that a person cannot qualify as a ‘candidate’ (e.g., be on the ballot) for two offices at the same time, including local, state, and federal offices.

    “This is why Sen. Marco Rubio was unable to run for both President and U.S. Senate in 2016. Instead, he had to wait until the end of his presidential campaign to restart his Senate run. Unlike Rubio, however, this scenario is totally inapplicable to DeSantis given that he is the sitting Governor of Florida and would, therefore, not be a ‘candidate’ for two offices if he runs for President.

    “Meanwhile, sub-section (3), which applies to DeSantis, makes it clear that an ‘officer’ (as defined by the Statute) cannot be the holder of a state-level or lower office while running for another state or lower position without resigning.

    “However, the Florida Legislature specifically and intentionally removed the word ‘federal’ from the list of offices implicated in this section.

    “In other words, there is no law that prevents DeSantis from holding the office of Governor of Florida while running for president at the same time.”

    As an example of this, Rodriguez-Baz cites the instance of Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.). In 2018 Scott, still serving as governor of Florida, did not have to resign to run for the US Senate.

    “Anti-DeSantis partisans, with their short memories, are so desperate to undermine the man poised to win the White House in 2024 (see: every poll) that they will resort to shoddy lawyering,” complained Rodriguez-Baz. “Unsurprisingly, those accusing DeSantis of attempting to change the law in his favor, are the very ones re-writing clear legislative directives in order to mislead the public.”

    The bottom line, according to Rodriguez-Baz: “…The reality is this: DeSantis can run in 2024 (without resigning),” and her organization was working to convince him to do so (as though he needed that push).

    Arguments and precedents

    Whether Rodriguez-Baz’s argument is correct is something that may be determined in court if DeSantis simply declares his candidacy while governor.

    The law has been challenged before: in 1970 a US District Court in northern Florida ruled that it didn’t apply to candidates for the US Congress, since federal congressional qualifications are governed by the Constitution.

    In the Florida legislature, the most prominent advocate for changing the law is State Senate President Sen. Kathleen Passidomo (R-28-Naples). “If an individual who is Florida governor is running for president, I think he should be allowed to do it,” she told reporters on Nov. 22, 2022 after the election. “I really do. That’s a big honor and a privilege, so it is a good idea.”

    State Sen. Kathleen Passidomo says a law change is “a good idea.” (Image: The Florida Channel)

    Unsurprisingly, at least one Democrat disagrees. In November, State Rep. Anna Eskamani (D-47-Orlando) argued that if the law is in effect, DeSantis must be held to it.

    During a November 23 interview with Dave Elias, the NBC 2 News political reporter in Fort Myers, Eskamani called the notion of changing the law “another example of how Florida Republicans will bend over backwards to please Governor DeSantis.”

    She continued: “If we’re going to hold ourselves to standards that we must resign in order to run, that standard must be held to Governor DeSantis as well.”

    State Rep. Anna Eskamani is interviewed by Dave Elias. (Image: NBC2)

    Someone who has a lot of experience with the resign-to-run law is Charlie Crist. While Republican governor in 2008, he was considered for then-Sen. John McCain’s running mate. The legislature changed the law to allow him to do that but then changed it back again in 2018.

    The 2008 change included a “carve out” that allowed an official whose term of office was about to end to seek another position and that allowed then-Gov. Rick Scott to run for the US Senate. He was allowed to stay in the governor’s office until the day his successor, DeSantis, was inaugurated.

    In 2022, though, Crist, then a Democrat, resigned from the US House of Representatives to run for governor. Also resigning was Democratic Agriculture Commissioner Nicole “Nikki” Fried who sought the gubernatorial nomination but lost to Crist in the primary.

    Analysis: Hanging over his head

    Florida’s R2R law, could prove a stumbling block if not addressed by DeSantis.

    Even if, technically, DeSantis can ignore it, as Rodriguez-Baz argues, it will haunt him when he formally declares his candidacy. If not clarified, it will always hang over his head, threatening the legitimacy of his candidacy, even if it ultimately proves little more than a distraction.

    If he were the sole candidate running for the Republican presidential nomination in 2024, that would not matter. But, of course, that’s not the case. Even if DeSantis isn’t yet formally running, other candidates are already in the race.

    Chief among these is former President Donald Trump, whose anti-DeSantis campaign to date has mainly consisted of schoolyard insults: “Ron DeSanctimonious,” “GLOBALIST RINO” (capitalization, of course, his) and the not-yet formally unveiled “Meatball Ron.”

    Trump was supposedly also considering “Shutdown Ron,” in reference to COVID. “No, you dummy!” protested comedian Stephen Colbert. “Quit while you’re ahead! You’re never going to do better than the crystallized genius that is Meatball Ron!”

    Then, on Feb. 14, Nikki Haley, the former South Carolina governor, declared her candidacy. She and Trump are likely only the first stones in what is sure to be an avalanche of Republican hopefuls and if DeSantis’ legal status isn’t clarified, all will be citing R2R to disqualify him.

    There is always the possibility that DeSantis will suddenly be incapacitated or will choose not to run—but while nothing is totally impossible, those odds are extremely low given every move and decision he has made to date.

    One way or another, DeSantis’ status as a governor-candidate will need to be determined finally and decisively. It can be done by a formal gubernatorial announcement, it can be done in court, or it can be done in the legislature. But even in Florida, where the concept of law itself is squishy, where constitutional amendments are routinely evaded and where even drivers ignore traffic rules, the law must ultimately be addressed.

    Liberty lives in light

    © 2023 by David Silverberg

    Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate here!