SWFL Democratic and Republican politicos react to Jan. 6 hearing

The Jan. 6 Committee hearing last night, June 9. (Photo: AP pool)

June 10, 2022 by David Silverberg

The first hearing of the Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol, held last night, June 9, evoked starkly different reactions—though hardly surprising ones—among Southwest Florida Democrats and Republicans.

“This hearing was shocking. We knew so much, but the details are amazing,” tweeted Cindy Banyai, Democratic candidate for Congress in the 19th Congressional District. “My heart is aching and I am so angry at those who deny the severity of this clearly planned attack.”

Banyai maintained a real time Twitter commentary on the hearing as it unfolded.

“These hearings are a microcosm of the division in our country – some define what happened as seditious conspiracy, some as legitimate political discourse,” stated Annisa Karim, chair of the Collier County Democratic Party in a message to The Paradise Progressive.

Despite Republican characterization of the attack on the Capitol as “legitimate political discourse,” Karim pointed out that such discourse doesn’t include members of Congress fleeing for their lives, nooses displayed, or incitement to violence.

“We need to take our partisan hats off and watch these hearings as Americans to understand that our Democracy is fragile and it needs to be protected and defended against all enemies foreign and domestic,” she wrote.

On the Republican side, Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.) agreed in a tweet with Republican colleague Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-21-NY) that the hearings were a “witch hunt” but “I’ll add something else—[Americans] aren’t going to watch.”

Why wouldn’t Americans watch? “1. Tonight is Game 5 of the NHL playoffs. 2. Most Americans are more concerned with $5+ gas prices & skyrocketing grocery prices. 1/6 is for the history books, not an MSM [mainstream media]-sponsored DNC [Democratic National Committee] ad.

Rep. Mario Diaz (R-25-Fla.) was similarly dismissive. “Tonight’s J6 committee hearing is the most blatant attempt to distract the American people from the disastrous and failed policies of the Democratic Party,” he tweeted.

Rep. Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.) also followed the Party line, tweeting: “Rather than addressing all of the crises that Biden created for the American people, House Democrats will be putting on a professionally produced show tonight. This is a desperate attempt to shift attention away from the real issues.”

To come: More on the Jan. 6 committee investigation and Southwest Florida

Liberty lives in light

© 2022 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate here!

SWFL congressmen vote against bill to prevent gun violence

Rep. Byron Donalds is interviewed by Ari Melber on MSNBC to explain his opposition to anti-gun violence legislation. (Image: MSNBC)

June 9, 2022 by David Silverberg

Last night, June 8, Southwest Florida’s congressmen voted against the Protecting Our Kids Act, intended to reduce the incidence of gun violence.

The bill, House Resolution (HR) 7910, passed by a vote of 223 to 204. It now goes to the Senate where a small, bipartisan group of senators are negotiating the terms of their own gun safety bill.

The vote on the House bill was complex because there were separate votes on each of its seven clauses, or titles, to determine if they would stay in the bill. This allowed members of Congress to reveal on the record which anti-violence measures they supported or opposed.

The vote followed a day of dramatic testimony from 11-year-old Uvalde, Texas massacre survivor Miah Cerrillo, Uvalde parents and the mother of a victim wounded in the Buffalo, NY massacre.

All seven titles in the bill passed with majority votes, as did the bill itself.

Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.), who does not live in his district, voted against Title I, which raised the age for sales of semi-automatic weapons from 18 to 21. He then sat out votes on Title II, which prohibits straw purchases of firearms and firearms trafficking, and Title III, which prohibits untraceable or “ghost” guns. He voted against Title IV, which requires safe storage of guns to protect children; Title V, which prohibits “bump stocks,” that allow semi-automatic weapons to function as automatic weapons; and Title VI, which prohibits high-capacity magazines.

He did, however, vote in favor of Title VII, which requires the Justice Department to file an annual report on the people who have been denied gun permits. The reports will include their “race, ethnicity, national origin, sex, gender, age, disability, average annual income, and English language proficiency, if available.”

He then voted against the bill in its entirety.

Rep. Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.), voted against all titles except Title VII, which requires the annual report. He also voted against the entire bill.

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-25-Fla.), like Steube, voted against all titles except Title VII, which requires the annual report. He too voted against the entire bill.

At an appearance Tuesday morning with Everytown for Gun Safety activists, House Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-12-Calif.) asked: “Why would someone be against raising the age so that teenagers do not have AK-47s?  Why would someone not want protection in their home so that the children cannot have access – dangerously – to guns in a deadly way?  Why would we?  Why would we not side with our law enforcement and say these ghost guns are a danger to all of us in our society?”

She continued: “So, for the children, I say to our colleagues: we really don’t want to hear about your political survival.  Your political survival means nothing compared to the survival of our children.”

Immediately following the vote Donalds, who has a long record opposing gun safety and anti-violence bills in both the state legislature and Congress, issued a statement saying: “The knee-jerk proposals we are voting on today will do little to nothing to curb the infliction of heinous violence plaguing America committed by lawless maniacs hellbent on devaluing innocent life.” He called the effort to curb gun violence “an unabashed crusade on our Second Amendment” that “exposed the Democrat’s [sic] disdain and lack of respect for our fundamental rights established in our founding documents.”

Rep. Greg Steube slides a clip into his pistol while appearing remotely before a hearing on gun violence of the House Judiciary Committee. (Image: YouTube)

Steube, an ardent gun possession advocate who waved a loaded pistol during a remote appearance at a House Judiciary Committee hearing, tweeted, “Why are we punishing law-abiding Americans and taking away their Constitutional right to protect themselves because 0.3% of the population commits violent crimes? I won’t stand for it.” He joined Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-3-Colo.) and host Laura Ingraham on Fox News to denounce the measures.

As of this writing, Diaz-Balart, who has switched positions on gun-related issues in the past, had not issued a statement on his votes.

Another gun violence measure, The Federal Extreme Risk Protection Order Act (HR 2377) is expected to come up for a vote as early as today. This is essentially a national “red flag” law establishing procedures for “federal extreme risk protection orders” and is similar to Florida’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Act, which was passed into law in the wake of the Parkland, Fla., massacre in 2018. These prohibit arms sales to people deemed a risk to themselves or others. Such people will be prohibited from possessing, shipping, transporting or receiving firearms.

In an appearance yesterday, June 8, on the Ari Melber show on MSNBC, Donalds expressed his opposition to red flag laws.

“There are serious Fifth Amendment, constitutional issues with red flag laws because essentially your property can be taken from you by a court of law without you being able to defend yourself in said court of law. Those are the constitutional issues with red flag laws,” he said.

Liberty lives in light

© 2022 by David Silverberg

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The inaction calculation: Why SWFL congressmen won’t act against gun violence

Students who survived the 2018 massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., visit the campus of Florida Gulf Coast University in June 2018 to promote changes in gun laws and register voters. (Photo: Author)

May 31, 2022 by David Silverberg

It is only a matter of time before the next massacre of innocents at the hands of a crazed, heavily armed gunman. The massacre could occur any time, in any venue, anywhere in the United States.

Southwest Florida is certainly not immune: there are lots of guns here and plenty of addled people to wield them.

In the wake of the Uvalde, Texas elementary school massacre there is yet another cascade of calls to “do something”—i.e., to in some way stem the flood of high performance weapons used against unarmed people peacefully going about their business.

Any proposed solutions are certainly not going to come from Southwest Florida’s elected congressional representatives. After Uvalde, congressmen from Southwest Florida have made the usual, pro-forma expressions of sympathy for the victims’ families. But they are also already falling silent and if history is any guide they will vote in Congress against any kind of gun law reform. Then the public outrage will die down and life will return to “normal.”

It’s as predictable as the coming of hurricane season—there will be storms, there will be damage and there will be death—but all a person can do is hunker down and hope not to be hit.

In contrast to hurricanes, of course, gun regulation is a human construct that could be enacted. However, among the three congressmen who make up the Southwest Florida delegation, not only is there no inclination to make any changes, there is nothing in their records or public positions to indicate they will do anything except resist reform and parrot the talking points of the National Rifle Association (NRA).

An examination of their records makes this clear.

Rep. Byron Donalds

Rep. Byron Donalds

In the 19th Congressional District, which stretches along the coast from Cape Coral to Marco Island, Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.), who does not live in the district, has made a major point of his pro-gun, pro-NRA positions. His 2020 campaign tag line was that “I’m everything the fake news media says doesn’t exist: a Trump-supporting, liberty-loving, pro-life, pro-2nd Amendment black man.”

Donalds’ opposition to gun violence legislation goes back to his time before he entered Congress. In 2018 in the wake of the massacre in Parkland, Fla., as a state legislator from the 80th District, he voted against the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Act in the Florida legislature, which banned the sale of bump stocks, raised the age for gun purchases to 21 and established a three-day waiting period for all firearm sales.

In his 2020 congressional race Donalds received a full endorsement from the NRA and an A+ rating from the NRA Victory Fund, denoting that he had “an excellent voting record on all critical NRA issues.”

Since entering Congress Donalds has voted and spoken out against the Enhanced Background Checks Act of 2021 (House Resolution (HR) 1446) and voted against the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act (HR 1620). (Both bills passed.) These votes earned him an A rating from the Gun Owners of America, an organization even more fervent in opposing reform than the NRA.

On May 24 immediately after the Uvalde massacre Donalds tweeted: “No family should have to bury their loved one because of the actions of a sick & deranged animal. Our nation is suffering from a mental health crisis that is plaguing our society & senselessly killing too many. Erika & I offer our deepest condolences to the victims of this attack.”

Rep. Greg Steube

Rep. Greg Steube

Another NRA A+ winner is Rep. Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.), whose district stretches from Venice to the Lee County line and includes large swaths of six interior counties.

Steube has been a defender and active proponent of unrestricted gun access throughout his political career beginning in 2010 when he first ran for the Florida House of Representatives. There, he was a sponsor of House Bill 4001, which allowed the carrying of weapons, both openly and concealed, on college campuses in Florida. He was endorsed by the NRA during his 2016 race for the state Senate and then in 2018 when he ran for Congress.

In Congress, Steube opposed a 2020 Democratic effort to ban guns from the Capitol grounds and introduced a bill to speed the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’ approval of applications to buy gun silencers. In 2021 Steube, like Donalds, voted against the enhanced background checks and violence against women bills.

In keeping with NRA and conservative orthodoxy, Steube favors hardening schools rather than regulating guns to prevent shootings. On Friday, May 27, Steube signed on as a cosponsor of the School Resource Officer Assessment Act, a bill that would require a national assessment of the number and status of school resource officers across the country. The bill was originally introduced in 2018 by Rep. Clay Higgins (R-3-La.) after the Parkland, Fla., massacre. It passed the House and then died in the Senate. Higgins reintroduced it this year on May 26.

The day after the Uvalde shooting, Steube tweeted: “‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.’ – Matthew 5:4. Keeping the students, families, and Uvalde community in my prayers during this horrific time.”

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart

As Florida’s longest-serving member of Congress, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-25-Fla.) has a more complex record on gun access and violence than his two Southwest Florida neighbors.

Representing a district that stretches from roughly from Interstate 75 in Collier County to Hialeah in the east and including huge stretches of virtually unpopulated Everglades and Big Cypress territory, Diaz-Balart’s focus has been on the Cuban-American and Hispanic populations that provide most of the population of his district.

Throughout his political career in the state House and in Congress, Diaz-Balart maintained an A rating from the NRA, accepted its financial contributions and largely followed its lead on gun-related legislation.

In the immediate wake of the murder of 17 students and teachers (and injuring of 17 others) at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Parkland, Fla., on Feb. 14, 2018 nothing changed in Diaz-Balart’s positions. He continued to accept contributions from the NRA. So pro-gun was Diaz-Balart that after Parkland he was the focus of an effort to unseat him by former Rep. Gabrielle “Gabby” Giffords, the victim of a shooting at an Arizona mall in 2011.

As Giffords put it in her endorsement of his 2018 opponent, Democrat Mary Barzee Flores:

“Here are three facts that you should know about Diaz-Balart.

“Number one: he’s taken thousands of dollars from the NRA. More money than any other Florida member of Congress. He even took their money AFTER the Parkland school shooting. After seventeen children and their| educators were gunned down.

“Number two: Diaz-Balart gets an A rating from the NRA year after year.

“And number three: Diaz-Balart voted to weaken our gun laws, not strengthen them. Diaz-Balart even refuses to support common-sense solutions like requiring background checks on all gun sales.

“Nothing’s going to get done with Diaz Balart in the NRA’s pocket voting against our safety.”

Despite the criticism and the passions aroused by the Parkland shooting, Diaz-Balart handily won his 2018 election.  

However, he did shift slightly on gun legislation. In February 2019 he joined seven other Republicans to vote for the Bipartisan Background Check Act of 2019, which mandated background checks for private sales of guns. By voting for it, Diaz-Balart was defying both the NRA and the Republican congressional leadership. The bill passed in the House of Representatives by a vote of 240 to 190 but died in the Senate.

The bill was revived after the 2020 election as HR 8 and it came up for a House vote in March 2021.

This time, though, Diaz-Balart had second thoughts and voted against it. As he explained his reversal in a press release, the first time it came up he had hoped there would be “serious negotiations” but “the radical left altered this bill and, in the process, made it far worse and indefensible.”

That bill passed the House on March 11, 2021 by a vote of 227 to 203. It is now in the Senate.

At the same time Diaz-Balart joined two Democrats in sponsoring another piece of legislation, the NICS [National Instant Criminal Background Check System] Denial Notification Act of 2021 (HR 1769). Under this bill if someone is denied a gun license because of a background check, local law enforcement agencies have to be notified by the Justice Department. The bill was introduced on March 10, 2021 and was referred to the House Judiciary Committee where it remains to this day.

Diaz-Balart’s momentary lapse from pro-gun orthodoxy did cost him a bit politically: His grade from the hard-core Gun Owners of America slipped to a C. In 2020 his grade from the NRA Political Victory Fund was A. The 2022 grade is not out yet but it will be interesting to see where he falls when it’s published.

Last Wednesday, May 25, in the immediate wake of the shootings in Uvalde, Diaz-Balart tweeted: “I’m devastated by the senseless shooting at Robb Elementary School that took 19 innocent lives. School safety must be at the forefront of our priorities in Congress. I pray for the families, staff, and students that were victims of this merciless act of violence.”

Commentary: Incentives, disincentives and death

The politicians in Southwest Florida and across the nation who have consistently and stubbornly opposed any kind of gun regulation reform have made two risk-and-reward calculations, one political and one social.

The political calculation is that there are many downsides and no rewards for making any change to gun laws.

It’s not only that the NRA opposes any changes; it is that its followers and one-issue gun owners will more effectively punish a politician for heresy than reform supporters will reward him for righteousness.

There was a clear example of this in the 2020 Republican congressional primary in the 19th District after Rep. Francis Rooney announced his retirement.

At that time all the Republican candidates were ostentatiously loyal Trumpers and gun rights advocates, vying to show the fervor of their fanaticism.

Dane Eagle of Cape Coral, a Florida House member, was the first person to declare his bid for the seat.

By all outward signs Eagle was a properly extreme conservative, Trumpist candidate, a rising star in the Florida Republican Party and at the outset by far the strongest candidate.

But Eagle had a vulnerability: he already had an extensive political career in Florida even at the precocious age of 36.

In the wake of the Parkland massacre the Florida legislature passed the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act. The bill imposed a three-day waiting period for most purchases of long guns, raised the minimum age for gun purchases to 21 and banned possession of bump stocks. People deemed mentally unstable could have their guns confiscated under “red flag” provisions. It also created a program to arm school personnel and provided $400 million for school security and training.

It was quite unprecedented given Florida’s ingrained gun culture. It was a well-crafted bipartisan bill that embodied many of the reforms now being discussed nationally and for once Florida was in the vanguard of new ideas.

The bill passed with majorities in both the state House and Senate and was signed into law by then-Gov. Rick Scott on March 9, 2018, a mere 23 days after the Parkland massacre.

When Eagle ran for Congress in 2020 his opponents, outside advocacy groups and conservative political action committees were ferocious in blaming him personally for the bill. He was accused of “betrayal,” “selling out” and being a pawn of former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. One television ad had him in a gunsight’s crosshairs and called him a “surprisingly liberal Republican.”  One opponent called him “sick” because of the law.

An attack ad against Dane Eagle during the 2020 Republican congressional primary race. (Image: Drain the DC Swamp PAC)

Eagle fought back with dark, paranoid, violent TV ads and videos that featured him firing guns in just about every one to show his love of weapons and loyalty to the pro-gun cause.

Dane Eagle takes aim to prove his love of guns in a 2020 campaign ad. (Image: Dane Eagle campaign)

But Eagle ultimately lost his primary bid to Byron Donalds. Just how large a role his supposed “betrayal” played in that defeat cannot be determined with certainty but the race was close.

That’s the nightmare Republican politicians face when they contemplate taking stands contrary to the NRA and it’s why they almost never do it. The gun voters will retaliate while the reformers aren’t cohesive and powerful enough to keep them in office—especially in Republican primaries. And that’s not to mention the pro-gun money on offer from gun industry-related political action committees and organizations.

Until there’s greater personal reward for voting for gun reform than punishment for voting against it, Republican politicians will continue to toe the NRA line and vie for its approval with ever more extreme legislation.

But there’s a second, social calculation that NRA-compliant politicians have made.

It is simply that the occasional random shooting and classroom massacre is just a price worth paying for unlimited public access to guns, industry profits and access to pro-gun votes and cash. In their view, by whatever imperfect means, society’s decision has been made and it has chosen to live with massacres in order to have guns.

Politicians have also calculated that with every massacre and mass murder the horror and the outrage and the grief will peak and then subside and be forgotten—but the cash and the threats and the votes of pro-gunners will always be there.

As for the children, the teachers, the shoppers, the churchgoers and the everyday citizens who might lose their lives to random gun violence—well, they’re just collateral damage.

It’s as though humans are a herd of buffalo on the old plains. The predators take down the weak, the sick or the slow—or in this case the innocent, the incautious and the unlucky. The herd takes note, and learns to live with the threat and the fear. Each member hopes that he or she won’t be the victim next time. Then the herd moves on—until it’s extinct.

In Southwest Florida this is especially true among Republican politicians, all of whose past statements and actions adhere to NRA doctrine—and in which they may actually, genuinely believe. But regardless of motivation, there has never been any apparent inclination nor is there any evident now, to take any action whatsoever to restrict or regulate guns. That is unlikely to change unless the next massacre occurs very close to home in Collier or Lee or Charlotte counties. Even then it would have to be a particularly dramatic and horrifying event to produce a transformation in thinking.

Of course, these are only the calculations within the locally-dominant Republican Party. There is an alternative. In Southwest Florida it is Democratic congressional candidate Cindy Banyai who is running for Congress in the 19th Congressional District against Donalds.

Cindy Banyai

Banyai was calling for four immediate measures to curb gun violence well before Uvalde. She wants:

  • A federal moratorium on the production and import of high-powered and fast-firing weapons;
  • Incentives for the state to create local registration for existing firearms and new purchases, requiring initial and routine training on safety and use, and oversight of all weapons sales;
  • Annual recognition by the state of safe firearms owners and distributors;
  • Voluntary buy-backs for those wishing not to register.

When she learned of the Uvalde shootings, Banyai tweeted: “I am struck with the same sick sadness as when I learned of Sandy Hook. The community of Uvalde and the kids of Robb Elementary School deserved more than thoughts and prayers as a shooter ravaged them.” And subsequently, “I am sick and tired of living in fear of the gun crazed America the NRA fueled. I do not want to live in this carnage. I love our kids. There cannot be another Uvalde.”

Sadly, there are likely to be more Uvaldes as the year progresses and some may be even more bloody and horrific. But the mechanism for reform still exists through a peaceful, non-violent ballot and on Nov. 8, Election Day, maybe—just maybe—the citizens of Southwest Florida will exercise that right for the benefit of all.

Liberty lives in light

© 2022 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate here!

SWFL reps vote to deny mothers baby formula

The final vote in the House of Reprentatives to provide funding for baby formula funding. (Image: C-SPAN)

May 19, 2022 by David Silverberg

Southwest Florida’s congressional representatives voted last night to deny $28 million in funding for the emergency purchase of baby formula in the face of a nationwide shortage.

The bill, Infant Formula Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2022 (House Resolution 7790) passed the House of Representatives yesterday, May 18, at 9:36 pm by a vote of 231 to 192. All opponents were Republicans.

According to its official summary, the bill “provides appropriations for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to (1) address the current shortage of FDA-regulated infant formula and certain medical foods in the United States; and (2) prevent future shortages, including by taking the steps that are necessary to prevent fraudulent products from entering the US market.”

Reps. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.), Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.) and Mario Diaz-Balart (R-25-Fla.) all opposed the bill.

“It is essential that we ensure the federal government has the resources it needs to get baby formula back on the shelves,” said House Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-12-Calif.) in a floor statement urging passage.  “And as the President said, we want to do it quickly but we do not – we must do it safely, and we must do it with caution, so not so fast as not to be safe.” 

As of this writing, Donalds had not issued a statement explaining his vote. However, on May 13 he charged in an interview with The Floridian that the baby formula crisis “blew up in Joe Biden’s face” and criticized the administration for seeking aid to Ukraine when there was a formula shortage.

In his statement explaining his vote, Diaz-Balart tweeted, “The American people will not be fooled. House Democratic Leadership’s legislation DOES ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to put more baby formula on store shelves, or hold the FDA accountable. Instead, all it does is wastefully increase big government socialist bureaucracy.”

Steube was similarly scornful in a tweet: “Record inflation, no baby formula, war in Ukraine, invasion on our southern border, record crime in our communities, and what have Democrats focused on this week? UFO Hearings! Democrats are literally using UFOs to distract the American people from their incompetence.”

The bill now goes to the Senate for consideration.

Liberty lives in light

© 2022 by David Silverberg

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SWFL reps on Roe v. Wade leak; all have long-time anti-choice stances–Updated

Protesters gather outside the Supreme Court last night. (Photo: Reuters)

May 3, 2022 by David Silverberg

Updated 3:30 pm with statements from Rep. Byron Donalds, Cindy Banyai.

This story will be updated as more information and comment becomes available.

Southwest Florida’s elected representatives were slow to respond or comment on a draft Supreme Court opinion striking down the Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion.

The draft opinion for the majority by Associate Justice Samuel Alito was made public by the news organization Politico at 8:32 pm last night. Chief Supreme Court Justice John Roberts confirmed its authenticity and announced an investigation to find the leaker.

In the opinion Alito argued that “Roe was egregiously wrong from the start. Its reasoning was exceptionally weak, and the decision has had damaging consequences. And far from bringing about a national settlement of the abortion issue, Roe and Casey have enflamed debate and deepened division.” He calls for its complete overturn.

Of the region’s congressional delegation Rep. Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.) was the first to comment on Twitter with three tweets starting at 7:41 am today.

“It is unfortunate that the news of the greatest victory for the Pro Life movement comes on the heels of one of the most profound breaches of trust the Court has ever seen,” he tweeted. “If the report is true, I am grateful that all of God’s children will now have a voice, and I am committed to ensuring that the leaker and their complicit partners in the media will be held accountable for their actions to the fullest extent,” he continued.

At 12:41 pm today Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.), released a tweet and statement condemning the leak.

“Those liable for prematurely and irresponsibly unveiling this draft opinion have engaged in a historically dangerous political maneuver intended to intimidate Lady Justice and the Constitution that guides our Republic,” he tweeted.

In his formal statement he maintained that the leak was a crime and stated that America had fallen victim to “culture wars and clickbait journalism.”

In no statement, however, did he address the substance of overturning Roe v. Wade or a woman’s right to choose.

Cindy Banyai, a declared Democratic candidate for the 19th Congressional District, issued a statement saying “Conservative activist justices inappropriately appointed to the Supreme Court are about to send the United States back 50 years. The overturning of the right to medical privacy and abortion care should alarm all Americans.”

She continued: “I stand firmly in opposition to overturning the super precedent of Roe v. Wade. I believe people have the right to choose when and where to start a family. I believe people have a right to medical privacy and decisions about medical care should be made by a person and their medical practitioner, not pre-emptively made by the government.”

As of this writing Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-25-Fla.) had not yet commented on any platform.

All of Southwest Florida’s Republican elected representatives ran on anti-choice platforms.

In his 2020 election bid, Donalds’ campaign tag line was: “I’m everything the fake news media says doesn’t exist: a Donald Trump-supporting, liberty-loving, pro-life, pro-2nd Amendment black man.”

All of Southwest Florida’s state elected officials voted in favor of Florida’s “Reducing Fetal and Infant Mortality” bill (House Bill 5), which was signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) on April 15. The law prohibits abortions after 15 weeks and makes no exceptions for rape or incest. It is slated to go into effect in July and will likely stand if the Supreme Court strikes down Roe v. Wade before then.

Of Southwest Florida’s state senators, Kathleen Passidomo (R-28-Naples) has consistently held an anti-choice position, telling Florida Politics in September 2021 that while she opposed abortion she was also uncomfortable with provisions of Texas’ anti-abortion law encouraging civil litigation against those providing or seeking abortions.

“I am pro-life but I am not pro-telling on your neighbors,” she said in a speech to the Argus Foundation in Sarasota at that time.

State Sen. Ray Rodrigues (R-27-Fort Myers) reaffirmed his anti-abortion position to the Fort Myers Beach Observer in February.

Asked about Florida’s then-pending anti-abortion bill, Rodrigues told the Observer, “I hope it passes”—as indeed it did.

Liberty lives in light

© 2022 by David Silverberg

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DeSantis congressional map largely leaves SWFL districts intact, splits Immokalee

An overview of the congressional district map being proposed by Gov. Ron DeSantis. (Map: Florida Redistricting)

April 19, 2022 by David Silverberg

Southwest Florida’s congressional district boundaries will experience only minor tweaks under the redistricting map (P000C0109) submitted by Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), which is expected to be enacted under a special legislative session opening today.

A bitter fight has emerged over the disposition of the 5th Congressional District in the panhandle. DeSantis’ map would eliminate the district represented by Rep. Al Lawson (D-5-Fla.) by splitting it into two new districts, 2 and 3, that would likely vote Republican. Democrats are charging that through deliberate gerrymandering in this district and others, DeSantis is trying to wipe out Black representation in Florida. DeSantis has argued that his map is racially neutral.

Also, DeSantis’ map creates 20 Republican districts to Democrats’ eight, ensuring majority Republican representation in Congress for the next decade and favorably positioning him to take Florida’s Electoral College vote if he runs in 2024.

DeSantis vetoed the legislature’s proposed map and instead insisted on passage of his own, a very unusual move given that redistricting is usually in the legislative domain.

An earlier map proposed by DeSantis was very radical in its changes for Southwest Florida, making Lee County its own congressional district and significantly altering the 19th and 25th districts. The new map, submitted by J. Alex Kelly, DeSantis’ deputy chief of staff, is less sweeping for this region.

The DeSantis map, which is likely to be enacted, makes changes to the three districts that constitute Southwest Florida. Some changes are minor, others substantial. All have electoral implications but would remain majority Republican districts.

The new 19th

Changes to North Fort Myers (left arrow) and Lehigh Acres (right arrow), both of which move into the 17th District under the DeSantis map. Red lines denote existing district boundaries.

Changes to the 19th District, the coastal area from Cape Coral to Marco Island, are relatively minor and the district keeps its existing number.

The DeSantis map takes a bit of territory out of North Fort Myers and moves it and all of Lehigh Acres into the 17th District. However, unlike other past proposed maps, minority neighborhoods in Fort Myers, like Dunbar, remain within the 19th.

In Collier County, the DeSantis 19th extends the district boundary to Rt. 75 and as far east as Santa Barbara Blvd. between Pine Ridge Rd. and Golden Gate Pkwy., so it now encompasses Village Walk, Livingston Walk, Wyndemere and parts of Golden Gate.

This change would put the home of Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.) in the district. Until now he has been representing it while living in Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart’s district.

The Collier County portion of the DeSantis map. Red lines denote existing district boundaries. Blue lines are county borders.

The severed 17th

The DeSantis 17th, which splits the existing district into two. Red lines denote existing boundaries.

The 17th District, currently represented by Rep. Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.) would be substantially reduced and under the DeSantis plan would extend roughly from the Lee County line north to Sarasota and would include sections of North Fort Myers and all of Lehigh Acres.

Much of the 17th’s former interior area—which is very lightly populated—would be transferred to a newly drawn 18th Congressional District, which would include DeSoto, Hardee, Highlands, Okeechobee, Glades and Hendry County and include part of the unincorporated Collier County town of Immokalee.

The renumbered 26th and the splitting of Immokalee

The new 26th District. Red lines denote existing boundaries.

The old 25th District represented by Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart would now be renumbered the 26th and would lose largely unpopulated territory it formerly had in Hendry County. Its center of gravity would still be in the east in the Cuban-American stronghold of Hialeah.

Interestingly, the unincorporated town of Immokalee in Collier County, which was previously in Diaz-Balart’s district, would now be split down the middle between the 26th and the new 18th along North 15th St., and State Road 845.

The town of Immokalee, split down the middle between two congressional districts.

Analysis: The DeSantis implications

For Southwest Florida the most significant change from the DeSantis map is moving Donalds into the 19th District so he doesn’t have to change domiciles and he eliminates a potential electoral vulnerability. Otherwise, the racial, ethnic and partisan makeup of the region stays largely the same and favors the incumbents and the Republican Party.

The division of Immokalee is particularly unfortunate for that low-income community of roughly 20,000 people. The largely Hispanic town of mostly seasonal farmworkers was at the far edge of Diaz-Balart’s district but he would visit it occasionally and he requested $987,000 in federal earmarked funds for sidewalk and drainage improvements. Now, with it divided between districts, it’s likely to be neglected by both congresspeople in whose districts it falls.

The DeSantis map has raised vehement protests from Democrats and charges of racism since it eliminates districts with black representation in the north and around Orlando. Democrats are vowing to challenge it in court, which was exactly the outcome that Sen. Ray Rodrigues (R-27-Fort Myers) worked hard to avoid when he headed the state Senate Redistricting Committee.

Liberty lives in light

© 2022 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate here!

SWFL loses out on federal millions when Donalds won’t ask for cash

Diaz-Balart, Steube seek money for Everglades City, Immokalee, Lee County

President Joe Biden signs the Consolidated Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 2022 in the Indian Treaty Room in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the White House Campus in Washington, Tuesday, March 15, 2022. (Photo: AP /Patrick Semansky)

March 16, 2022 by David Silverberg

Yesterday, March 15, President Joe Biden signed a $1.5 trillion spending bill covering government expenditures for the next fiscal year.

Ukraine will receive $13.6 billion. Billions of dollars will be provided for all federal agencies, public schools, healthcare, housing, child care, climate change, veterans, police and a host of other causes including specific projects in towns, counties and states across the country.

But amidst all this, Cape Coral, Fort Myers, Fort Myers Beach, Estero, Bonita Springs, Naples and Marco Island won’t see a dime.

That’s because Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.), whose district covers those towns, refused to request any money for them even though he had the opportunity and was encouraged to ask for it.

Such requests are called “earmarks.”

In contrast to Donalds, Southwest Florida’s other representatives energetically pursued the money available for their districts.

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-25-Fla.) requested nearly $12 million in earmarks for his district, the area roughly from Rt. 75 in the west to Hialeah in the east including Immokalee and Golden Gate in Collier County.

Rep. Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.) requested nearly $38 million for projects in his district covering six counties including Charlotte and parts of three others, including Lee.

To fully appreciate and understand the consequences of Donalds’ refusal to request funding for his district, a brief explanation of the nature and history of earmarks is in order.

A quick primer on earmarks

When it comes to cattle and hogs, an “earmark” is a distinctive cut on an animal’s ear that designates it as some human’s personal property.

When it comes to budgeting and management, “earmark” means money set aside for a special purpose.

And when it comes to the Congress of the United States, an earmark is money intended for a specific use in a particular member’s state or district.

For years, congressional earmarks were in disrepute. Everyone made them but there were abuses, sometimes spectacular.

For example, in 2005, when Alaskans proposed a bridge between the town Ketchikan and tiny Gravina Island, the powerful Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) inserted a $225 million earmark to fund what came to be known as the “bridge to nowhere.” It was seen to be the most egregious example of pork barrel earmark spending. (The opposition was so strong that the bridge has not been built to this day.)

Many of the earmarks were made in the dead of night, slipped into enormous, must-pass appropriations bills at the last minute, without hearings or notice, using obscure or confusing language. Members didn’t have to identify themselves as requesting the earmarks or clearly state their purpose.

What was more, the possibility of their passing depended on the clout of the members seeking them. Powerful representatives or senators sitting on key committees had a much better chance of getting their earmarks included or approved than freshmen or back-benchers.

Yet for all the abuses and allegations of waste, earmarks played an important role in aiding local communities. Congressional representatives understood their local communities’ very specific needs and could seek funding to meet them.

Further, earmarks were a way for taxpayers to get a return for the taxes they paid. After all, taxes are not a one-way street. The taxpayer pays into a collective pot—in this case the federal treasury—but has a right to expect and receive government benefits and services in return. Earmarks made by a local representative were a way to get those benefits down to the grassroots. While the abuses got all the attention, many of the local needs were legitimate and pressing.

The abusive aspects of earmarks and the clamor against them led Congress to reform its earmark process beginning in 2007. In 2009 members of Congress had to post their earmark requests online along with a signed letter certifying that they and their immediate families had no direct financial interest in the earmark.

In the 2010 election, Republicans took control of the House and banned earmarks within their caucus. In 2011 President Barack Obama furthered the anti-earmark movement in his State of the Union address by threatening to veto any spending bill that contained earmarks. Then, in February of that year, earmarks were formally banned by the entire Congress.

Last year Congress lifted the ban on earmarks for the 2022 fiscal year. It started with Democrats recognizing the urgent and desperate needs of local communities as a result of the pandemic. The House and Senate appropriations committees invited members to make earmark requests. In the House, these earmarks were called “Community Project Funding” and in the Senate, “Congressionally-Directed Spending.”

To prevent abuses, new rules govern earmarks: They must be posted online, be searchable, fully explained, the members have to certify that they and their families have no financial interest in them, and members must provide evidence of community support for the project. From an administrative standpoint, for-profit entities can’t receive earmarks and members were limited to 10 requests. The overall percentage of earmarks in spending bills was limited. To further ensure compliance, all earmarks are audited by the Government Accountability Office.

The change to allowing earmarks again did not happen painlessly. Republicans in particular had to wrestle with the legacy of their anti-government spending creed. Almost exactly a year ago the Republican caucus held a vote that, unusually for them, was closed and secret. The result was a decision to bring back earmarks by a vote of 102 to 84.

And so earmarks have returned.

Earmarks and Southwest Florida

Few Republican members expressed as much torment in accepting earmarks as Rep. Greg Steube. In fact, so excruciating was the change for him that Steube was the poster child for Republican angst in a May 5, 2021 article on the subject called “GOP’s earmark schism evident in ‘earmark’ disclosures: The return of home-state projects has many Republicans pitching for funds,” in the congressional newspaper, Roll Call.

On March 10, 2021, Steube was a signatory to a Republican letter urging top Democrats not to bring back earmarks.

“Nothing epitomizes what is wrong with Washington more than pork-barrel spending in the form of congressional earmarks,” stated the letter, signed by 35 Republican representatives and senators.

Nonetheless, when earmarks were approved, Steube dug right in. In fact, so vigorous was his earmarking that he came up with 11 projects—one more than permitted—for his district. His requests were:

  • $720,000 for Lee County to implement best management practices at the Bob Janes Preserve Restoration Project (the reserve is a massive 5,620 acre nature preserve north of the Caloosahatchee River on a portion of the former Babcock Ranch);
  • $500,000 for the Army Corps of Engineers in Jacksonville to study shoreline erosion in Charlotte County;
  • $3.2 million for Charlotte County to convert 2,135 septic lots to sewer systems to reduce water pollution;
  • $3.5 million for North Port to build a child advocacy center;
  • $2 million for DeSoto County to use sewer rather than septic systems in new developments;
  • $1.5 million for the Florida Endowment Foundation for Florida’s Graduates in Flagler Beach to help at-risk youth;
  • $1 million for the Okeechobee Utility Authority to convert septic tanks to sewer systems on Treasure Island to reduce water pollution;
  • $1 million for Sarasota County to lower the risks of water delivery disruption to residents;
  • $2.5 million for the Army Corps of Engineers to dredge sections of the Intracoastal Waterway;
  • $21 million for Charlotte County to widen Harborview Road;
  • $1 million for Sarasota County to widen the River Road Regional Interstate Connector.

A much more experienced legislator than the two-term Steube, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart was far less tormented by the notion of earmarks and celebrated passage of the spending bill.

“This year’s spending package is a tremendous win for our nation’s defense priorities and national security interests,” he stated when the bill passed. Praising the money spent on defense and $14 billion in aid to Ukraine, he noted: “Although not perfect, these bills are a huge win for Republicans who were successful in eliminating left-wing, radical policies while prioritizing funding to enhance our infrastructure, reinforce our military, strengthen our national security, bolster school safety initiatives, and support our nation’s veterans.”

Diaz-Balart was not shy in making his earmark requests:

  • $3 million for Everglades City to build a new wastewater plant;
  • $2 million for Everglades City to replace the Chokoloskee Master Pump Station;
  • $750,000 for Miami Dade County to install new sewer systems for Doral and Sweetwater;
  • $1 million for Miami-Dade County to extend water mains;
  • $987,000 for Collier County to build sidewalks and drainage in Immokalee;
  • $999,858 for Clewiston to improve portions of Ventura Avenue;
  • $500,000 for Hendry County to rehabilitate and improve the Harlem Academy;
  • $1.135 million for Florida International University in Miami to establish the Aquarius Coral Reef Observatory.

In the final bill, Diaz-Balart had something to crow about when his requests were granted:

“I am especially proud of the $5 million secured for much-needed infrastructure improvements to a wastewater treatment plant and master pump station in Everglades City and Chokoloskee, which were both damaged after Hurricane Irma,” he stated. “In addition to funding for infrastructure projects in Sweetwater, Doral, Immokalee, Clewiston, and Harlem.”

Donalds’ denial

Donalds chose not to submit any earmark requests. When asked by PBS Newshour’s Lisa DeJardins, why not, he replied: “We don’t have any money. Like, we are deficit-spending in Washington, DC.” When she pointed out that earmarks have a long history and have done good for communities, Donalds replied: “With all due respect to my colleagues who’ve been up there longer, I’m here now. And so my job isn’t to look at what has always happened.”

When the entire bill came up for a vote, Donalds voted against it.

Donalds was not the only Republican to eschew earmarks. Of 435 members of the House, 332 submitted earmark requests and 103 did not. (Interestingly, five of the seven freshmen members of the Republican “Freedom Force,” the conservative Republican answer to the Democratic “Squad,” of which Donalds was a founding member, requested earmarks. Only Rep. Victoria Spartz (R-20-Ind.) joined Donalds in not making any requests.)

The change to allow earmarks is not necessarily permanent and could be changed in the next Congress, so members who didn’t have their requests granted may not get a second chance to get funding in 2023.

(For commentary on Donalds’ refusal to seek funding for his district, see: “Editorial: Byron Donalds has failed Southwest Florida and can’t be allowed to do it again.”)

Liberty lives in light

© 2022 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate!

SWFL Democrats, Republicans clash over Ukraine, State of the Union

Rep. Byron Donalds squirms between Reps. Lauren Boebert and Marjorie Taylor Greene as they disrupt President Joe Biden’s State of the Union speech last night. (Photo: Reuters)

March 2, 2022 by David Silverberg

In the wake of President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address last night, Southwest Florida Democrats are making a point of supporting both Ukraine’s struggle for freedom and Biden’s agenda for the United States, while Republicans were critical.

“I’m so happy to have an American president who’s putting global leadership on the front burner and taking seriously threats like those from Russia,” said Cindy Banyai, Democratic candidate for Congress in the 19th Congressional District. “We need to stand strong for democracy in the face of tyranny,” she told The Paradise Progressive.

Annisa Karim, chair of the Collier County Democratic Executive Committee, was similarly effusive: “Making history by uttering the words, ‘Madame Speaker; Madam Vice-President,’ President Biden’s State of the Union Speech immediately reminded us that we’re under a new, clear, inclusive direction,” she stated to The Paradise Progressive

Biden’s “strong resolve in supporting Ukraine and showing that the US won’t back down to the likes of Putin once again repositions us in the globe as a leader and defender of democracy instead of a sycophant to oligarchy,” she stated. She lauded his Unity Agenda and Build Back Better plan.

“Ultimately, under the leadership of Joe Biden, the chamber looked to be more unified last night than in many years past,” she noted.  “Americans can be proud to, once again, have a President who cares for all the people in this country.”

The decorum of the chamber was a point noted by both Democrats. Both criticized the absence of Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who told The Huffington Post that he wouldn’t attend because attendees were required to be COVID-free.

“I don’t have time to go take a COVID test today,” he said. “I only take a test if I’m sick.”

“While the President addressed the nation on the State of the Union, our sitting senator, Marco Rubio, failed to show up.  What a disgrace!” stated Karim.

“No one cares if Marco Rubio is at the State of the Union. But it’s very on brand for him to not show up for work,” tweeted Banyai.

Banyai was also critical of Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-3-Colo.). “We need leaders who follow the rules and don’t flout them on Twitter. If Rubio skipped because of the testing requirement, this chick should be thrown out!” tweeted Banyai about Boebert.

Boebert heckled Biden throughout the speech and yelled “13 of them!” as Biden was speaking about the cancerous effects of military fire pits on personnel, “that would put them in a flag-draped coffin.”  Boebert and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-14-Ga.) also unsuccessfully attempted to start a “build the wall!” chant in the chamber when Biden discussed border security.

Republican reaction

Unsurprisingly, the reaction of Southwest Florida Republican members of Congress was negative and dismissive of the speech and since the invasion of Ukraine their statements in support of the country’s resistance have been tepid.

The day after the speech, when Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee tweeted a question: “What was the most ridiculous lie that Joe Biden said last night during his speech?” Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.) tweeted in response: “Where’s the ‘All of the above’ option?”

On Ukraine, Donalds has mainly aimed his attacks at Biden rather than Russian President Vladimir Putin. On Feb. 22 he called Biden’s announcement of sanctions “disgraceful,” stating that while they might have been effective two months previously, they weren’t now and “Putin is happy Joe Biden is POTUS.”

Rep. Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.) was more specific in his criticism of the speech, tweeting:

“Last night, Joe Biden rattled off a wish list of reckless spending:

  • -Tax Credits for Green New Deal initiatives
  • -Federalized Childcare
  • -Free Community College
  • -Mandated $15/hr minimum wage
  • -Taxpayer funded COVID-19 masks

But he failed to mention how much all this would cost!”

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-25-Fla.) was similarly critical, tweeting: “Last night, POTUS doubled down on his irresponsible, destructive policies that have fueled skyrocketing inflation, made America energy-dependent, undermined our defense, created an uncontrollable border crisis, and weakened our domestic and national security.”

During the State of the Union speech, as Biden recounted the measures he has taken against Russia to punish its invasion of Ukraine, Banyai tweeted simply: “We stand with Ukraine.”

Liberty lives in light

© 2022 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate!

Biden, Trump, Ukraine and Southwest Florida’s congressmen –Updated

President Donald Trump shares a laugh with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Sergei Kislyak, Russian ambassador to the United States, in the Oval Office on May 10, 2017. (Photo: TASS)

Feb. 21, 2022 by David Silverberg

–Updated Feb. 23 with new Donald Trump comments and additional images

As this is written, the world is on the brink of war. Russia could invade Ukraine at any moment.

But for all that, it’s worth standing back for a minute to compare the American response of President Joe Biden to the actions of former President Donald Trump.

Above all, the steps taken by the Biden administration to date have been rational, reasonable and sensible. The president has rallied and unified the allies of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). He has warned Russian President Vladimir Putin of the consequences of going to war against Ukraine and put in place the mechanisms to impose those consequences should war begin. He has exposed Russian plans for “false flag” operations and provocations aimed at sparking an invasion. His administration puts American concerns before the world in the United Nations. At the same time he has reached out to Putin and maintained a steady diplomatic dialogue to resolve differences peacefully while standing firm on core democratic and allied principles. He has kept the American public and the world informed of the state of play in a credible, truthful way. Most of all he has carefully and loyally advanced and defended the interests of the United States.

Contrast this to the irrationality, the unpredictability and the emotionality of Donald Trump. This was a man who divided and denigrated the NATO alliance. He was deferential to Putin to the point of subservience and hostile to longstanding allies. He was dismissive of the United Nations and world opinion. When it came to Ukraine, he saw it, not as a sovereign nation, but as little more than a source of dirt to attack his then-potential political rival. His interactions with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky were so improper and illegal he was impeached. He lied so constantly and repeatedly that nothing he said could be believed no matter how great the crisis. Worst of all he advanced Putin’s interests, he advanced his own interests, but he never substantively advanced or defended United States interests.

“All roads with you lead to Putin,” House Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-12-Calif.) memorably put it directly to Trump in a meeting in 2019.  

“All roads with you lead to Putin,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi tells President Donald Trump on Oct. 16, 2019.

“You couldn’t get a sharper contrast,” between the presidents, Fiona Hill, the steely national security expert who testified against Trump during his impeachment hearings, told CNN in an interview. “There’s no Team America for Trump. Not once did I see him do anything to put America first. Not once. Not for a single second.”

But perhaps the best take on the Trump-Putin relationship was satirical when, on Saturday Night Live in 2017, cast member Beck Bennett, playing Vladimir Putin, addressed Americans: “I promise we will take care of America,” he said, smiling wickedly at the camera. “It’s the most expensive thing we ever bought.” It was meant for laughs but spoke truer than anyone knew.

Beck Bennett as Vladimir Putin on Saturday Night Live on Jan. 22, 2017. (Image: SNL)

Under Trump, Russia was able to modernize and enlarge its armed forces from the woeful mess that fought in Chechnya to the powerful force that now stands arrayed on Ukraine’s borders. It’s not as though the United States and the West wasn’t warned. (For a particularly insightful and prescient look, see the 2019 study by the RAND Corp., Trends in Russia’s Armed Forces.) However, all this was done with the knowledge and abetment of Trump and his administration.

As though to confirm all this, yesterday, Feb. 22, Trump expressed his admiration for Putin on the Clay Travis & Buck Sexton radio show in an interview from Mar-a-Lago.

The exchange merits quotation in full:

Buck Sexton: Mr. President, in the last 24 hours we know Russia has said that they are recognizing two breakaway regions of Ukraine, and now this White House is stating that this is an “invasion.” That’s a strong word. What went wrong here? What has the current occupant of the Oval Office done that he could have done differently?

Donald Trump: Well, what went wrong was a rigged election and what went wrong is a candidate that shouldn’t be there and a man that has no concept of what he’s doing. I went in yesterday and there was a television screen, and I said, “This is genius.” Putin declares a big portion of the Ukraine — of Ukraine. Putin declares it as independent. Oh, that’s wonderful.

So, Putin is now saying, “It’s independent,” a large section of Ukraine. I said, “How smart is that?” And he’s gonna go in and be a peacekeeper. That’s strongest peace force… We could use that on our southern border. That’s the strongest peace force I’ve ever seen. There were more army tanks than I’ve ever seen. They’re gonna keep peace all right. No, but think of it. Here’s a guy who’s very savvy… I know him very well. Very, very well. By the way, this never would have happened with us. Had I been in office, not even thinkable. This would never have happened. But here’s a guy that says, you know, “I’m gonna declare a big portion of Ukraine independent,” he used the word “independent,” “and we’re gonna go out and we’re gonna go in and we’re gonna help keep peace.” You gotta say that’s pretty savvy. And you know what the response was from Biden? There was no response. They didn’t have one for that. No, it’s very sad. Very sad.”

With Trump, for all his bluster and bombast, the core of American policy toward Russia was weak; Biden may not be loud or pompous but the essence of his policy is solid and substantial.

SWFL’s take

Predictably, Southwest Florida’s Republican members of Congress have been critical of Biden’s responses, although less so of Putin.

In a Feb. 19 interview on Fox News, Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.), who does not live in his district, said the United States was “late to the game” and accused Biden of weakness.

“This is almost like Afghanistan re-done where some of the data elements have been there for some months but where has the administration been? What have they done? And then the tough talk comes late. But by that point things are already in motion. That looks like what’s coming in Ukraine right now.”

He called for a show of strength and criticized Biden for not going to the Munich meeting of European leaders and sending Vice President Kamala Harris instead.

However, when asked what the United States should be doing, he recommended exactly the actions the administration is taking.

“…We have to be very serious about Nord Stream 2,” he said. “That pipeline cannot go into existence at all. The other thing is that we have to have serious conversations with the rest of our allies in NATO about what are the defensive military components they’re going to need to make sure we stop a more aggressive Russia”—which is precisely what Biden has been doing, in contrast to Trump’s past attacks on NATO.

(Nord Stream 2 is an undersea natural gas pipeline between Russia and Germany that has been completed but is not yet operational. It has been subject to repeated sanctions from the United States. The Biden administration waived sanctions early in 2021 for geo-political reasons but, along with Germany, has stated the pipeline will be closed if Russia invades Ukraine.)

As a third measure, Donalds veered off into a call for support of Taiwan.

Rep. Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.) similarly attacked Biden for weakness in a Feb. 9 interview on Newsmax, complaining that Biden had lifted sanctions on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline but is now threatening to reimpose them. He also called for imposition of sanctions but stopped short of calling for use of US troops.

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-25-Fla.) has not issued any public statements on Ukraine.

What is most striking about the Donalds and Steube statements is that they are calling for strength now while the groundwork for Russian actions were laid during the Trump administration, when both were ardent defenders and admirers of Trump. Although Donalds’ time in office only overlapped Trump’s by 17 days he has continued to be a devotee and was rewarded with a Trump endorsement on Dec. 13 of last year.

Understanding Putin

As the world proceeds into this crisis caused by Putin’s ambitions, it’s worth remembering Trump’s truly significant role in preparing this tragedy. If Ukraine is conquered it will join his betrayal of the Kurds in infamy.

While Republicans point fingers, it’s also worth remembering the person who really had Putin’s number and understood him better than anyone else—Hillary Clinton. The opening paragraph of her chapter on Russia in the book Hard Choices is as true today as when it was written:

“Hard men present hard choices—none more so than Vladimir Putin, the President of Russia. Putin’s worldview is shaped by his admiration for the powerful czars of Russian history, Russia’s long-standing interest in controlling the nations on its borders, and his personal determination that his country never again appear weak or at the mercy of the West as he believes it was after the collapse of the Soviet Union. He wants to reassert Russia’s power by dominating its neighbors and controlling their access to energy. He also wants to play a larger role in the Middle East to increase Moscow’s influence in that region and reduce the threat from restive Muslims within and beyond Russia’s southern borders. To achieve these goals, he seeks to reduce the influence of the United States in Central and Eastern Europe and other areas that he considers part of Russia’s sphere, and to counter or at least mute our efforts in the countries roiled by the Arab Spring.”

At least now we have a president who understands what Putin is about and is determined to prevent him from succeeding—no matter how softly that president speaks.

Liberty lives in light

© 2022 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate!

SWFL reps vote to let Meadows dodge Congress, allow US default–but contempt charge, debt ceiling bills both pass

The United States Capitol.

Dec. 15, 2021 by David Silverberg

In a pair of momentous votes last night and in the early hours of this morning, the US House of Representatives voted to hold former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows in contempt of Congress and to raise the debt ceiling, keeping the United States from default.

Southwest Florida’s representatives voted against both measures, which passed on largely party-line votes.

House Resolution (HR) 851, which held Meadows in contempt for refusing to respond to a congressional subpoena, passed at 11:03 pm by a vote of 222 to 208. Republican Reps. Liz Cheney (R-at large-Wy.) and Adam Kinzinger (R-16-Ill.) voted for the measure.

Senate Joint Resolution 33 raising the US debt ceiling to $2.5 trillion, passed at 12:20 am by a vote of 221 to 209. Kinzinger was the lone Republican to approve the measure.

The Meadows matter

Meadows had initially agreed to cooperate with the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol, turning over e-mails and documents related to the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection. He then changed his mind and refused to testify before the committee despite a subpoena compelling his testimony.

The congressional contempt resolution passed last night will now be referred to the Department of Justice for enforcement.

Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.) took Meadows’ side against the House of Representatives, in which he serves.

“Everyone supporting the political witch-hunt, known as the House Select Cmte on 1/6, amplifies a charade intended to subject Trump-supporting Americans to a kangaroo court of injustice & political theater. Unfortunately, Mark Meadows is another American on the Dems’ hit list,” he tweeted yesterday, Dec. 14. He added in a further statement: “Holding the former White House Chief of Staff in contempt is a disgrace to the rule of law and Congressional oversight credibility.”

Former President Donald Trump Donalds formally endorsed Donalds the same day.

On the day of the attack, Donalds characterized the rioters rampaging through the Capitol Building as “lawless vigilantes” and the attack itself as “thuggery.”

As of this writing, neither Reps. Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.) nor Mario Diaz-Balart (R-25-Fla.) had commented on the Meadows resolution.

Debt ceiling

The vote raising the US debt ceiling averts a default on US financial obligations. With the House approving the already-passed bill from the Senate, it now goes to President Joe Biden for signature. It will extend the nation’s borrowing capability into 2023.

In testimony before the Senate Banking Committee on Nov. 29, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen warned: “I cannot overstate how critical it is that Congress address this issue. America must pay its bills on time and in full. If we do not, we will eviscerate our current recovery.”

Donalds expressed opposition to raising the debt ceiling in a Dec. 9 interview with Jan Jeffcoat of The National Desk, a television program carried by the Sinclair Broadcast Group. “We’re just blowing trillions of dollars out the back door, then running to the bond market to say give us more money. If we’re going to increase the debt limit on the nation’s credit card, I think that what we’re doing is highly irresponsible.”

Liberty lives in light

© 2021 by David Silverberg