IHME: Florida may have passed Coronavirus peak; June 14 re-opening safe with conditions

04-23-20 IHME

Projected Coronavirus deaths in Florida. The shaded area shows the range of uncertainty in the projection (how high or low the death rate per day could go), the dotted line is the projected deaths and the solid line shows actual fatalities.    (Chart: IHME)

April 23, 2020 by David Silverberg.

Florida appears to have hit its peak of Coronavirus deaths on April 12 and may safely re-open in mid-June, according to the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), a respected independent population health research center at the University of Washington.

According to an analysis released yesterday, April 22, “After June 14, 2020, relaxing social distancing may be possible with containment strategies that include testing, contact tracing, isolation, and limiting gathering size.”

According to the Florida Department of Health, as of today Lee County has 821 COVID-19 cases and has suffered 30 deaths. Collier County has 487 cases and suffered 11 deaths. Charlotte County had 154 cases and 11 deaths.

At the moment the state is prohibiting mass gatherings, is requiring residents to stay at home, and non-essential businesses and educational facilities remain closed.

Liberty lives in light

© 2020 by David Silverberg

Rep. Rooney signs Republican letter calling for W.H.O. leader’s resignation

01-13-19 us capitol cropped

April 18, 2020 by David Silverberg.

Rep. Francis Rooney (R-19-Fla.) has signed a letter to President Donald Trump that calls for making US funding of the World Health Organization (WHO) contingent on the resignation of the organization’s director, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

The letter was sent yesterday by 17 of 21 Republican members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee (HFAC), of which Rooney is a member.

On April 14, Trump announced that the United States would be withholding funds from WHO, in the midst of the global Coronavirus pandemic.

“We are writing to express our support for your April 14th announcement of an administration review and hold on U.S. voluntary contributions to the World Health Organization (WHO) due to their mismanagement of the COVID-19 pandemic response,” stated the letter (reproduced in full below).

Rep. Michael McCaul (R-10-Texas), ranking member of the HFAC, was the lead signatory.

Trump alleged that WHO failed to alert the United States to the dangers of the Coronavirus, an allegation that is widely disputed.

“I am instructing my administration to halt funding of the World Health Organization while a review is conducted to assess the World Health Organization’s role in severely mismanaging and covering up the spread of the Coronavirus,” Trump said on April 14. “Everybody knows what’s going on here.”

“That’s the usual Trump hyperbole and flip-flopping,” stated the Washington Post in an article fact-checking Trump’s statement.

“The President’s halting of funding to the WHO as it leads the global fight against the coronavirus pandemic is senseless,” stated House Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-12-Calif.) in a statement following Trump’s announcement.

“We can only be successful in defeating this global pandemic through a coordinated international response with respect for science and data,” she continued.  “But sadly, as he has since Day One, the President is ignoring global health experts, disregarding science and undermining the heroes fighting on the frontline, at great risk to the lives and livelihoods of Americans and people around the world.  This is another case, as I have said, of the President’s ineffective response, that ‘a weak person, a poor leader, takes no responsibility.  A weak person blames others.’

“This decision is dangerous, illegal and will be swiftly challenged.”

The full text of the HFAC Republican letter is below:

President Donald J. Trump

The White House

1600 Pennsylvania Ave N.W.

Washington, D.C. 20500


Dear President Trump:

We are writing to express our support for your April 14th announcement of an administration review and hold on U.S. voluntary contributions to the World Health Organization (WHO) due to their mismanagement of the COVID-19 pandemic response. Below please find additional information to help inform your due diligence related to this valuable institution.

First, we are deeply concerned with the WHO’s and Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) handling of the early stages of COVID-19. The CCP’s lies and WHO’s poor handling of this crisis enabled a regional epidemic to become a pandemic. This resulted in countries around the world, including ours, fighting the virus with incomplete information and valuable time wasted. Sadly, as a result, we will have to count the lives lost in China and around the world for far too long.  This malfeasance is another example of the CCPs treatment of their own people and reminds us this is the same regime who puts millions of their own citizens in “concentration camps” and uses them for forced labor.

As you know, the United States is the largest funder of the WHO, contributing more than $893 million during their current two-year budget cycle. While the United States was assessed dues by the WHO totaling $118 million for the current cycle, Congress has provided an additional $657 million in voluntary funding. In comparison, during the same budget cycle, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) contributed approximately $86 million in both assessed dues and voluntary contributions.

Signs of the outbreak of a new, deadly virus in Wuhan were visible in early December 2019, when Zhang Jixian, a doctor at the Hubei Provincial Hospital, warned PRC health authorities that a novel coronavirus was affecting some 180 patients. Several other doctors publicly discussed the outbreak in an attempt to sound the alarm but were subsequently arrested by PRC authorities or disciplined by their supervisors. A senior doctor at the Wuhan Central Hospital, Ai Fen, instructed her staff to wear protective clothing and masks despite PRC official instructions to the contrary. In a later interview, she said “I knew there must be human-to-human transmission.” Despite this, China did not send any information on COVID-19 whatsoever to the WHO until December 31st. That same day, Taiwan warned the WHO that medical staff in China were becoming ill via human-to-human transmission.

Six days after Taiwan warned the WHO about human-to-human transmission, on January 5th, the WHO released a statement claiming that “based on the preliminary information from the Chinese investigative team, no evidence of significant human-to-human transmission and no health care worker infections have been reported.” This is despite Taiwan’s clear warning and reports from Chinese doctors that human-to-human transmission was occurring. On January 23rd, as Wuhan was being locked down, the WHO Emergency Committee was split on declaring a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC). As Director-General, Tedros had the deciding vote – he opted not to declare a public health emergency. Days later, he praised China’s response to COVID-19, calling the response and PRC’s transparency “very impressive, and beyond words.” He went on to say that the PRC was “actually setting a new standard for outbreak response.” This was despite widespread reporting that the PRC had obfuscated information and delayed its initial response. According to a professor of global health law at Georgetown University, the WHO’s public statements misled public health experts, “giving a false sense of assurance” that contributed to the spread of the disease. The WHO did not announce a PHEIC until January 30th. It is likely that this delay contributed to a regional epidemic becoming a global pandemic.

On January 6th, the United States Center for Disease Control (CDC) offered to send a team of experts to China to assist the PRC’s response. Their offer was turned down. It was not until February 16th, 41 days later, that a joint WHO-PRC mission traveled to China to examine the outbreak and origin of COVID-19. Many members of that team, including at least one American, were not allowed to visit Wuhan. It was not until February 28th that their report was allowed to be published. This delay was a result of the PRC’s refusal to allow the use of certain language, such as describing the virus as “dangerous.” The same day, the first COVID-19 death occurred on U.S. soil. It would take another twelve days for the WHO to declare a pandemic, after 114 countries reported 118,000 cases; more than 4,600 people had already died.

Director-General Tedros has failed in his mandate to objectively respond to the largest global health crisis since the HIV/AIDS pandemic reached its peak in the mid-2000s. Similar criticism was brought to bear on his leadership during the WHO’s response to the recent Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. According to the New York Times, Director-General Tedros reportedly covered up three cholera epidemics in Ethiopia during his time as Minister of Health. In addition to a troubled record of response to health emergencies, Director-General Tedros has a record of embracing PRC propaganda and policies. After serving as Minister of Health, Director-General Tedros served as Ethiopia’s Foreign Minister from 2012-2016. During his tenure, China invested $13.6 billion in his home country, leading many to refer to Addis Ababa as “the city China built.” The next year, during his candidacy for his current office, he was supported by the Chinese. In the days leading up to the election, he gave a public speech at a Chinese university in Beijing where he praised the PRC for its global health and disease control work. The day after his election as Director-General, he announced that the WHO would follow the PRC’s “One China” policy which resulted in Taiwan being banned from participating any longer in WHO forums. As a result, despite Taiwan warning the WHO on December 31st that human-to-human transmission was occurring, that information was not published on the WHO’s platform for data exchange amongst its member countries.

In sum, there are several concerning facts that have been established:

  • WHO knew that COVID-19 was spreading through human-to-human interaction at least three weeks before it informed the rest of the world.
  • Director-General Tedros’ policies prevented the WHO from heeding Taiwan’s warning and undermined the credibility of the information Taiwan provided to other countries.
  • Director-General Tedros cast the tie breaking vote that delayed the declaration of a Public Health Emergency of International Concern, despite clear evidence of the rapid spread and human-to-human transmission of COVID-19.
  • Director-General Tedros heaped praised on the PRC despite clear evidence that the Chinese government COVID-19 cover up delayed the proper response to the initial outbreak.
  • Director-General Tedros’ long-standing relationship with PRC authorities and embrace of CCP propaganda and polices undermines his ability to serve impartially as Director-General.

As such, we have lost faith in Director-General Tedros’ ability to lead the World Health Organization. We understand, and value, the vital role that the WHO plays around the world, especially in acute humanitarian settings. At times, the WHO is the only organization working on the ground in the worst places in the world, and the U.S. should continue to support this important work. However, it is imperative that we act swiftly to ensure the impartiality, transparency, and legitimacy of this valuable institution. In light of the information presented in this letter, we recommend that you condition any future Fiscal Year 2020 voluntary contributions to the WHO on the resignation of Director-General Tedros. Sadly, we know COVID-19 is not the last pandemic the world will have to face.


Michael T. McCaul

Guy Reschenthaler

Tim Burchett

Steve Watkins

Michael Guest

Ron Wright

Jim Sensenbrenner

Ken Buck

Scott Perry

Ted Yoho

Joe Wilson

Ann Wagner

Adam Kinzinger

Brian Mast

Greg Pence

Francis Rooney

Christopher  Smith

Liberty lives in light

© 2020 by David Silverberg

Southwest Floridians can find virus cases by Zip code; new estimate puts peak on April 27 with fewer fatalities

04-13-20 Covid cases by Zip codeToday’s Florida Department of Health COVID-19 dashboard showing Coronavirus cases in Southwest Florida by Zip code. Note the highlighted button on the lower band that takes a user to counties and Zip codes.

April 13, 2020 by David Silverberg.

Residents of Southwest Florida—indeed, all Floridians—can now see the numbers of Coronavirus cases in their Zip codes in addition to their counties.

The information is available on Florida’s COVID-19 Data and Surveillance Dashboard website. By clicking on the button “Cases by Zip Code,” users can find their county and specific Zip code to see how many local cases are active.

Meanwhile, the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation, a respected independent population health research center at the University of Washington,, has re-evaluated its projected peak infection rate for Florida from last week, now projecting it as arriving on April 26.

04-13-20 IHME deaths chart

Projected Coronavirus deaths in Florida. The shaded area shows the range of uncertainty in the projection (how high or low the death rate per day could go), the dotted line is the projected deaths and the solid line shows actual fatalities.    (Chart: IMHE)

It also lowered its projection of Florida’s deaths per day in the state to 112, down 130 from its previous week’s estimate. It is now projecting a total of 3,999 deaths in Florida by Aug. 4.

The latest IHME estimate also foresees no shortages of hospital or intensive care unit beds in Florida.

Liberty lives in light

© 2020 by David Silverberg



IHME: Peak of Coronavirus siege in Florida could be over sooner than previously estimated

04-06-20 IMHE Coronavirus projectionsA chart showing the estimated peak of the Coronavirus pandemic in Florida.   (Chart: IHME)

April 6, 2020 by David Silverberg.

The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), a respected independent population health research center at the University of Washington, has revised its estimate of the peak Coronavirus impact in Florida to April 21, 15 days from today.

This is 12 days earlier than a previous estimate of one week ago, which put the peak at May 3. It means Floridians can look forward to the worst days of the siege being over sooner than previously expected.

The change in estimate is chiefly due to Gov. Ron DeSantis’ issuance of a stay-at-home order on April 3 and government-ordered social distancing measures. However, DeSantis has not closed essential services or severely restricted travel, which are measures taken into account by the IHME estimate. Those measures would further flatten the curve of infections.

The IHME estimate also lowers the estimated shortage of intensive care unit (ICU) beds in Florida from 843 to 769 beds. It estimates that 2,095 ventilators will be needed by the state.

Flattening the curve only slightly alters the expected number of deaths to 6,770, down just six from last week’s estimate of 6,776. However, the estimated number of COVID-19 deaths per day go up from 174 to 242 at the peak, the point when the numbers of infections are worst.

Nationally, IHME is estimating infections to reach their peak on April 15, nine days from today. It’s anticipating a shortage of 36,654 hospital beds and 16,323 ICU beds. It projects a need for 24,828 ventilators. At its peak, IHME expects 3,130 deaths nationwide on April 16 and total deaths at 81,766—375 fewer than projected a week ago.

Yesterday, April 5, Vice Adm. Dr. Jerome Adams, the US surgeon general warned on Fox News Sunday that the next two weeks were going to be the worst nationally.

“Well, it’s tragically fitting that we’re talking at the beginning of Holy Week because this is going to be the hardest and the saddest week of most Americans’ lives, quite frankly,” he told host Chris Wallace. “This is going to be our Pearl Harbor moment, our 9/11 moment, only it’s not going to be localized. It’s going to be happening all over the country. And I want America to understand that.  But I also want them to understand that the public, along with the state and the federal government, have a power to change the trajectory of this epidemic.”

He continued: “I want Americans to understand that, as hard as this week is going to be, there is a light at the end of the tunnel if everyone does their part for the next 30 days.”

Liberty lives in light

© 2020 by David Silverberg

Debate: How would Democratic candidates tackle Coronavirus in Congress?

10-19-19 Cindy Banyai    Holden headshot light jacket 3-7-18 


April 6, 2020 by David Silverberg.

While in-person political campaigning is suspended, vigorous discussion of the issues is still essential. With that aim in mind, The Paradise Progressive asked the two Democratic congressional candidates in Florida’s 19th Congressional District the question:

If you were in Congress right now, what actions would you take to serve SWFL regarding the Coronavirus pandemic?

The answers are presented below. Regrettably, our format does not permit side-by-side layouts so the answers are presented sequentially, in alphabetical order by last name. The length of the answers was left up to the candidates.

The answers are in full with very minor editing for grammar and to fix any typographic errors.

Cindy Banyai:

01-18-20 Cindy Banyai Ft. Myers Women's March
Cindy Banyai

I support the components of the CARES Act and the previous two COVID19-related bills. I think it was particularly important for that bill to include provisions around the basic care and support of individuals, as well for small businesses and students. I would have voted for the bill and advocated for provisions related to the areas above to keep people moving through the necessary suppression actions to stem the outbreak and to keep our healthcare system from collapse.

In a fourth emergency bill, I would like to see an extension of direct cash support to individuals, as well as an expansion of unemployment benefits and community and food support. We will also need more funds to healthcare providers for equipment and a strategy and funding for more widespread testing and research to accelerate progress toward a vaccine and treatment. There also needs to be a strategy and coordination around getting healthcare workers to the hardest hit areas to prevent further American lives lost to the disease. Investments into transitioning state election processes to accommodate social distancing and maintain our democracy will need to be included. I would advocate for these items, as well as push for this bill to be crafted and voted on as soon as possible. This next bill should be designed to get us through the suppression of the pandemic in the US.

Following the suppression of the pandemic, Representative Cindy Banyai would work to craft a bipartisan stimulus bill to recover the economy and help struggling families. This bill will need to include fiscal stimulus policies, such as infrastructure investments, to get people back to work and get money flowing in the economy, and tax breaks for working class people. There should also be mandates related to investments in public health and pandemic readiness. We will need education supports to help students get their careers back on track and to help retool displaced workers into new and growing areas of the economy. There will need to be policies and supports to help individuals maintain their housing and fix credit issues. SBA [Small Business Administration] funding policies will need to be designed to provide funding to start or re-start small businesses and to help them explore innovative endeavors to take our economy into the future.

In terms of the procedures of Congress, I would also be advocating for telecommuting options for members, including remote voting, to ensure our government can continue to operate in emergencies like this.

David Holden:

01-18-20 Holden and supporters cropped and adjusted
David Holden

SWFL is at an especially precarious position during this pandemic: a large swath of our population is in the most at-risk category, and our coastline community is based around seasonal tourism. Our economically vulnerable hospitality industry is already stretched thin during off months. I fear this crisis has caused the industry to snap, and hard-working small business owners and their employees are now vying for limited government relief loans. Our health system will be next to fold if we don’t take dramatic action on a federal level to aid hospitals and healthcare workers. There were periods of time where Collier didn’t even have testing facilities (and its current facility can only test 50 patients a day). We’re underprepared, but we don’t have to be.

We need a follow-up bill to the CARES Act that’s similarly robust. Because of the inaction of our Republican representatives at the federal and state level, this pandemic and its associated economic injuries will persist longer than was ever necessary. This extended shutdown will cripple large and small businesses who will lay off employees at an increased rate since they are not incentivized properly (yes they don’t have to repay loans if they retain staff, but more needs to be done) to keep employees on the payroll. We need $300 billion more to go to small businesses. On the individual level, more than a one-time injection of $1,200 needs to go to working people. We need a system more akin to Canada’s, who will pay households $2,000 every month the crisis persists. More has to be done to protect our students, a significant portion of whom won’t receive that $1,200, including forgiving swaths of student loan debt. We must reopen the health insurance marketplace with affordable, quality plans. We also need another cash injection into hospitals and healthcare centers. If America can spend $400 billion on a fighter jet that can’t fly, we can spend the same on saving our healthcare workers.

Finally, we must put a stop to the damage this administration is allowing to happen while we’re all distracted with the dire issues at hand. States around the country, like Texas, are essentially barring abortions from taking place. This is unconstitutional and just another GOP grab to control women’s bodies in a crisis. Access to all healthcare needs to be built into federal guidelines. In addition, this administration is rolling back several environmental protections, like car emission standards and limiting the scope of the Environmental Protection Agency, the latter of which severely impacts a coastal community like SWFL. Imagine an especially heinous red tide coupled with even sludgier blue-green algal blooms attacking our lungs and waterways at the same time as COVID-19, all to protect corporate polluters during a pandemic. People first, always.

All of the above is to say the issues we’re seeing are simply an illumination of the cracks chiseled into our social bedrock for over 40 years by hard-right, Republican extremists. The job of a congressional representative is to bring America back to trusting experts, respecting human life, crafting policy for working people not corporations, working towards single-payer healthcare, progress on civil rights, protecting our precious environment—the list is truly never-ending for a public servant. I vow to create the space necessary for real change not only in our district but throughout America.

Liberty lives in light

© 2020 by David Silverberg




Medical data: Fevers coming down in Southwest Florida thanks to social distancing

04-02-20 SWFL fever map
Lee and Collier counties show fewer fevers than neighboring counties to the east, according to data from a medical supply company.    (Maps and charts: Kinsa)

April 2, 2020 by David Silverberg.

Southwest Florida is becoming less feverish, according to mapping by a digital thermometer company that tracks cases of atypical temperatures in users of its thermometers.

According to the company, Kinsa, based in San Francisco, Calif., this means that social distancing is working in bringing down contagious fevers.

“Social distancing is slowing the spread of feverish illnesses across the country,” the company states on its website.

04-02-20 SWFL fever trends
The dark blue indicates a reduction in the number of reported fevers, which have been declining statewide but particularly in Collier County.

However, the company cautions that this does not necessarily mean that cases of COVID-19 are declining—in fact those are expected to rise.

Nonetheless, it does show a decline in cases of atypical temperatures across the nation.

04-02-20 Lee County fever trendIn Lee and Collier counties the cases of atypical temperatures declined by 11.9 percent from their peaks, which occurred on March 18 and 19.

Nationally, fevers peaked on March 17, according to the company.

The data and what the company calls its “Healthweather Map,” comes from its QuickCare and Smart Ear digital thermometers. These connect to a Kinsa App digital application that collects the information from the thermometer and provides personalized guidance and information for the user. It also uploads anonymous data on local illnesses and fevers to Kinsa, allowing the company to map global trends.

04-02-20 Collier County fever trends“We believe that the biggest problem in healthcare globally is the spread of infectious illness. The key to stopping the spread is better information on where and when it is starting,” states the company’s mission statement. “Our mission is to stop the spread of contagious illness through earlier detection and earlier response.”

Kinsa was founded in 2012 by Inder Singh, a former executive vice president of the Clinton Foundation’s Clinton Health Access Initiative, a global non-profit organization fighting malaria and other diseases.  Following clearance from the Food and Drug Administration, the company began manufacturing and distributing its thermometers in 2014, initially aiming to track the seasonal flu and other diseases that caused fevers.

04-02-20 Kinsa products
The Kinsa app and thermometer.

The company was perfectly positioned to track the rise of fevers associated with COVID-19 when the pandemic broke out.





Liberty lives in light

© 2020 by David Silverberg




Florida virus cases projected to peak in May, states health research center

03-30-20 Coronavirus mapFlorida’s Coronavirus cases. As of March 30 Lee County had 152 confirmed cases and 6 deaths; Collier had 111 and 1 death.     (Map: Johns Hopkins University of Medicine Coronavirus Resource Center)

March 30, 2020 by David Silverberg.

Florida’s Coronavirus cases will peak in May according to a projection by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IMHE), an independent population health research center at the University of Washington.

The peak day is projected to be May 3—33 days from now.

By August, the Institute projects that Florida will have suffered 6,766 deaths, reaching a rate of 174 deaths per day at its peak. Deaths should cease by the end of June.

The projections do not break down by county, so a separate projection for Southwest Florida is unavailable.

Florida has the resources to cope with the pandemic, according to the Institute. On May 3, when demand will be highest, it will have 20,184 hospital beds to handle demand for 16,861 beds. However, it will require 2,538 intensive care unit (ICU) beds and be short 843. It currently has only 1,695 ICU beds. The state will also need 2,029 ventilators.

The IMHE model was cited by Dr. Deborah Birx, response coordinator for the White House Coronavirus taskforce, in an interview with journalist Chuck Todd yesterday, March 29, on “Meet the Press.

“No state, no metro area will be spared,” warned Birx. “And the sooner we react and the sooner the states and the metro areas react and ensure that they’ve put in full mitigation, at the same time understanding exactly what their hospitals need, then we’ll be able to move forward together and protect the most Americans.”

To date Florida has not implemented a stay-at-home order, closed non-essential services or severely limited travel within the state. It is testing incoming travelers at its northern and western borders.

Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) is coming under increasing pressure to implement strong measures like New York’s but has so far resisted. The Lee and Collier County councils have similarly resisted strong measures, fearing their impact on the state and local economy.

The IMHE model does not project the Florida infection and death rate if such measures are taken.

Nationally, IMHE projects peak resource use on April 15, when American hospitals will need 224,321 hospital beds and be short 61,509. The US will also be short 15,103 ICU beds and need 33,440 and will require 16,753 ventilators. Ultimately, it projects 82,141 American deaths from COVID-19.

This is lower than the number cited by Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Yesterday he told Jake Tapper on CNN’s “State of the Union,” “I mean, looking at what we’re seeing now, you know, I would say between 100 and 200,000 (deaths). But I don’t want to be held to that.” Fauci added that there could be “millions of cases” of Coronavirus infection.

Yesterday President Donald Trump dropped the idea of opening the nation for business on Easter and allowed social distancing standards to remain in force until April 30.

In the same press conference Trump said that when it came to vital supplies, “Florida has been taken care of.” In response to a follow-up question he added “Florida I looked, they’re very aggressive in trying to get things and they’re doing a very good job.” He went on to say that all governors are committed to responding to the pandemic and that most states were “very happy” with the federal response.

According to the Washington Post article, “Desperate for medical equipment, states encounter a beleaguered national stockpile,” Florida has received special treatment in receiving crucial supplies.

“Florida has been an exception in its dealings with the stockpile,” states the article. “The state submitted a request on March 11 for 430,000 surgical masks, 180,000 N95 respirators, 82,000 face shields and 238,000 gloves, among other supplies — and received a shipment with everything three days later, according to figures from the state’s Division of Emergency Management. It received an identical shipment on March 23, according to the division, and is awaiting a third.”

“‘The governor has spoken to the president daily, and the entire congressional delegation has been working as one for the betterment of the state of Florida,’” said Jared Moskowitz, the emergency management division’s director. “‘We are leaving no stone unturned.’”

Florida’s treatment is in contrast to states like Michigan and New York, whom the president has criticized as being disrespectful to him and where officials are complaining about being shortchanged by the federal government.

Liberty lives in light

© 2020 by David Silverberg



Coronavirus aid, a new Republican in the 19th, Figlesthaler unsuspends, journalists unionize–SWFL’s state of play UPDATED

03-26-20 Pelosi enrolls Coronavirus bilHouse Speaker Nancy Pelosi signs the Coronavirus support bill today.

March 27, 2020 by David Silverberg.

Updated at 6:12 pm with Trump signature and Republican candidate chart, also at 10:20 pm with Rooney and Steube tweets.

This afternoon the US House of Representatives approved the CARES Act, (HR 748) providing $2 trillion in relief for Americans and businesses hurt by the Coronavirus pandemic.

The measure passed on a near-unanimous voice vote, so the votes of Southwest Floridian representatives were not individually recorded. The measure had bipartisan support in both the Senate, where it passed 96-0, and the House and was endorsed by President Donald Trump. Trump signed it shortly after receiving it, enacting it into law.

Rep. Francis Rooney (R-19-Fla.) praised Pelosi for the bill’s passage in a tweet: “Thank you
@SpeakerPelosi for moving the CARES Act quickly and safely through the House of Representatives, and for your work on this legislation. As Americans, we must come together to defeat this virus. #Coronavirus.”

However, Rep. Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.) still found cause for complaint.  “Explain to me how allocating $1 billion of taxpayer money to fund an Obama era program that provides discounted phone service for people will save lives? Pelosi put this in her COVID-19 response bill. She is exploiting this national crisis to push her politics!” he tweeted yesterday.

Nonetheless, Steube managed to eke out praise for Congress and the legislation itself in a pair of tweets once it passed. “This bill will provide assistance for families, small businesses, and health care providers working on the front line to combat the virus. Although not perfect, and there are many pieces of this legislation I do not support, I think it’s important for unemployed workers and small businesses to get economic relief now so that we can quickly get our economy back on track.”

New candidate in the 19th

As though we did not have excitement enough, yet another Republican candidate is aspiring to attain the 19th Congressional District seat being vacated by Rep. Francis Rooney.

This time it’s Michigan businessman Casey Askar. Askar filed on March 20 and sent out a press release stating that he felt called upon to serve the nation.

03-27-20 Casey Askar
Casey Askar

According to his announcement, Asker, a Christian born in Iraq, came to the United States at the age of 7, attended Oakland College, a school in southeastern, Michigan,  joined the US Marine Corps and then graduated from Harvard Business School.

Askar is a very busy entrepreneur. He started the Askar Family Office portfolio, which promotes food brand franchises. He distributes food to Askar Brands restaurants through ASC Foods. He’s involved in commercial real estate through Askar Properties and manages back office operations for franchisees. He’s also a franchisee for brands such as Church’s Chicken and Dunkin’ Donuts.

Askar doesn’t say if he lives in Southwest Florida full time or resides in District 19. His campaign committee’s mailing address is a post office box in Naples. Representatives are required to reside in the state they represent.

“My life is the embodiment of the American Dream,” Askar stated in his campaign announcement. “From fleeing tyrants in Iraq at the age of seven, to enlisting in the US Marines at eighteen, to watching President Donald Trump get elected president, I am so grateful for the life I have been able to build in my great country,”

Like all the Republican candidates in the 19th District, Askar is a passionate Trumper.

“Now, watching President Trump fight the rise of socialism and a world-wide pandemic, I feel called to serve again. America has given so much to me, my family, and my children, it’s time to give back and save our land of opportunity for future generations. Our country’s future is worth fighting for.” His campaign video shows Democratic politicians while it excoriates socialism

Other than his allegiance to Trump, Askar makes no mention of policy positions on any other issue and certainly doesn’t address local or environmental issues on his website, which only asks for donations. He lists no political or government experience.

Askar is the father of six children. He does not give his age in his campaign materials.

Askar’s entry brings the number of Republican congressional candidates to nine and keeps the total number of candidates at 12, with two Democrats and one Independent.

Republicans currently running for the 19th Congressional District seat and their campaign committees.

The number of Republicans running dropped by one when Ford O’Connell ended his campaign on March 19. Another candidate announced suspension of his campaign the same day, but…

The unsuspension of William Figlesthaler

On March 19 Dr. William Figlesthaler solemnly announced the temporary suspension of his congressional campaign and conversion of its phone lines to Coronavirus response hotlines.

“My team has worked tirelessly over the last couple of days to transition our campaign operations into a resource center designed to help the citizens of Southwest Florida navigate the multitude of resources available to help them through this time of uncertainty,” he stated in an announcement at the time.

Normally, temporary suspension of a campaign is code for “it’s over, folks,” but that doesn’t seem to be the case here. New Figlesthaler campaign ads are appearing on Southwest Florida television channels and there’s no indication of any slowdown in his media platforms.

Commentary: The suspension, such as it was, seems to have lasted a week— perhaps in keeping with President Trump’s view of the severity of the Coronavirus pandemic.

Figlesthaler has issued a video explaining his positions and, of course, his loyalty to President Trump.

03-27-20 Fig video
Dr. Fig battles the late Sen. John McCain.

In the video, against an inset of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), he denounces Democrats, whom he says “want socialized medicine,” then he turns to the other side, saying, “while establishment Republicans have failed to implement President trump’s aggressive free market solutions”—and he shows an inset of Republican Sen. John McCain—who died two years ago.

This is the “establishment Republican” Figlesthaler is running against: a dead American hero.

It will be interesting to see if he can win against live Republicans.

Petition deadline

Both Democratic and Republican candidates have been seeking a delay in Florida’s Monday, March 23rd deadline to turn in ballot petitions to get on the August 18 primary ballot. They argued that with the Coronavirus pandemic, it was impossible to collect petitions or canvass neighborhoods. The alternative to a petition drive is payment of a $10,044 fee.

On Tuesday, March 24, Laurel Lee, Florida’s secretary of state, issued a statement to Florida Politics: “As is always the case, the Florida Department of State will closely assess all conditions that affect the August and November elections, including any ongoing impact of the coronavirus pandemic. We, like you and the rest of the nation, are monitoring the coronavirus pandemic, and we will recommend any appropriate accommodations or decisions as we move closer to the election dates and understand more about the ongoing impact to our state.”

An inquiry to the Division of Elections by The Paradise Progressive received a response that a reply would be forthcoming.

If the state chooses not to waive or postpone the deadline or make some other accommodation for petitions, the congressional field of candidates in the 19th District could be considerably reduced.

Union vote for local journalists postponed

Political elections are not the only ones being affected by the Coronavirus pandemic; union elections are impacted too.

Since local print journalists have endured repeated layoffs and employment insecurity, back in February they decided to unionize.

“We, the journalists of the Naples Daily News, The News-Press, The Banner and the Marco Eagle, are unionizing,” they declared. “We want a seat at the table and a stable work environment where outstanding journalism matters most.”

03-27-20 SWFL News GuildMembers of the SWFL News Guild.       (Image: SWFL News Guild)

The Southwest Florida News Guild, a unit of the Newsguild-Communications Workers of America, was to have held its union election on Wednesday, March 25. However, due to the Coronavirus pandemic, the National Labor Relations Board is putting off all union votes until April.

“Newspapers have reached a critical juncture as financial pressures and corporate mergers have decimated the staff of local newsrooms, including ours. A merger between our parent company, Gannett, and GateHouse Media will continue to gut our newsrooms. Even before the merger, we faced stagnant salaries, increased workloads, rising costs for health insurance, inadequate compensation for mileage and, most critically, the inability to retain many of our most talented peers,” the organizers stated.

“The Southwest Florida News Guild is being born from these conditions. Gannett has made bargaining as individual employees ineffective, which makes bargaining as a unit imperative. Collectively, we can fight for better pay, improved benefits and a diversity in our newsrooms that better reflects the communities we serve.”

Liberty lives in light

©2020 by David Silverberg


Where’s Rooney? Congressman missing in action on eve of major Coronavirus vote

05-10-19 Rooney at ConservancyRep. Francis Rooney, May 10, 2019 at a meeting at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida.   (Photo: Author)

March 26, 2020 by David Silverberg.

Tomorrow the House of Representatives is expected to take up the Senate’s $2 trillion economic stimulus bill, providing some relief to people and businesses badly hit by the Coronavirus pandemic and financial crash.

House Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-12-Calif.) is hoping to make it a quick vote, perhaps by voice, so there won’t be a record of how each member voted. While getting the job done, such a vote deprives the public of seeing their representatives’ positions.

That’s too bad for Southwest Florida.

A big question going into the vote is the presence or absence of Rep. Francis Rooney (R-19-Fla.). It is exactly one month since Rooney cast a vote on anything and in that time there have been some big issues before Congress—namely two bills on Coronavirus response and relief. In both cases, Rooney was missing in action.

03-26-20 Rooney missed votes

The track of Rep. Rooney’s missed votes.  (Chart: GovTrack.us)

While The Paradise Progressive reached out to his office by phone and e-mail to get an explanation, no answer has been forthcoming. He has made no statements on the state of his health. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-25-Fla.), who represents the district adjacent to the 19th, has tested positive for Coronavirus and is in self-quarantine.

It bears noting that voting is the core, the essence, of a congressperson’s job. Everything else—introducing legislation, making public statements, weighing in on local issues, debating the issues, giving speeches, whatever—is secondary to casting votes to determine the country’s course and future.

Ever since he announced his retirement from Congress last October amidst the furor over President Donald Trump’s impeachment, Rooney has faded further and further from active participation in Congress.

In fact, Rooney is now rising to the top of the congressional list for members absent, according to Pro-Publica, an independent, non-profit investigative news organization. He has missed 28.4 percent of the votes in the 116th Congress, making him the fourth most absent member. This is a far cry from the 115th Congress of 2016 to 2018 when he only missed 10 percent of the votes and was the 33rd most absent member.

There are no explanations for these absences on any of Rooney’s media platforms. At most he has posted generic Coronavirus information on his Facebook page. The most recent posting today was a link to information on the Senate Coronavirus bill. His most recent press release was posted Feb. 7.

On March 19, Rooney issued a statement calling for Congress to permit remote voting.

“We are in a serious, global pandemic and Congress should utilize modern technology to permit remote voting,” he stated. “Votes on spending and response to the pandemic are critical and will need quick action. Remote voting is the way to effectuate social distancing and follow proper health procedures. The technology exists—Estonia has used it for years.

“This remote vote capability is even more necessary now that there are two Representatives that have tested positive for the virus. The work of Congress must continue, but it need not put people at risk unnecessarily.”

While the House of Representatives is debating alternatives to in-person voting, as of this writing votes must still be done in person.

If Rooney is no longer voting, it means that the voters of the 19th Congressional District have no say in how the country is being run or in any of the issues affecting them and Southwest Florida is not represented in Congress.

With in-person town halls now impractical due to the Coronavirus, there are no scheduled virtual town halls or any other substitute for constituent input offered by Rooney’s office.

Rooney’s absence from Congress mirrors former Rep. Curt Clawson’s absence after he announced his retirement. Clawson announced in May 2016 that he would not seek re-election and his absentee rate rose as well.

03-26-20 Clawson missed votes

Rep. Curt Clawson’s missed votes. (Source: GovTrack.us)
Liberty lives in light

© 2020 by David Silverberg


Banyai appeals, Holden goes virtual, and a revolution in Naples: SWFL’s State of Play today

03-20-20 Banyai petition appealCindy Banyai appeals to Gov. Ron DeSantis to extend the petition deadline.     (Image: @SWFLMom2020)

 March 20, 2020 by David Silverberg

Monday, March 23 marks the deadline for turning in petitions to get on the August primary ballot—unless Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) and the Florida Division of Elections say it ain’t so.

That’s what 19th Congressional District Democratic candidate Cindy Banyai is hoping. She says candidates deserve an extension of the deadline because the Coronavirus crisis has made face-to-face petition gathering and door-to-door campaigning impossible.

But Banyai isn’t alone. In a March 18 letter to DeSantis, her appeal for a delay was joined by Gabriele Spuckes, chair of the Lee County Democratic Party and five other Florida Democratic congressional candidates: Adam Christensen of Florida’s 3rd Congressional District, Allen Ellison of the 17th, Kimberly Walker of the 12th, and Sakinah Lehtola and Christine Olivo, both of the 24th.

Banyai also made her appeal in a 4-second video on Twitter, in which she said directly to DeSantis: “Postpone the ballot petitions. We deserve a shot.” Adding in the letter, “we must take action to keep our election fair and balanced and to ensure the health and safety of the citizens of Florida.”

Under Florida election rules, by March 23 a candidate for federal office must submit petitions equal to 1 percent of a congressional district’s voting population, which comes to 5,052 signatures in the 19th Congressional District, or pay $10,044, the equivalent of 4 percent of a US representative’s salary.

As of this writing, Banyai told The Paradise Progressive that she had not heard back from the governor’s office or the Division of Elections and noted a new wrinkle: “I will add that the local supervisors of elections [offices] are closed. So we can’t even submit the petitions if we wanted to.”

Holden goes virtual

David Holden, the other Democrat seeking the 19th Congressional District’s seat, put his entire campaign on a digital footing and announced on March 12 that he was suspending face-to-face campaigning.

David Holden town hall portrait 2 3-21-18
David Holden

“To be clear,” he emphasized, “we are continuing our campaign, just with an abundance of caution.”

For Holden, going virtual means holding town halls, Qs&As and fundraising events by digital means. (A Holden virtual town hall meeting is scheduled for this evening, according to his campaign Facebook page.)

Most importantly, Holden announced that he was suspending petition collection but seeking donations to meet the $10,044 filing fee.

“Together we will get through this,” he vowed.

Allison Sardinas, Holden’s campaign manager, added further details.

“The technicalities of [going virtual] are several,” she pointed out in an e-mail. “One, our organizers are now focused on creating digital content and phone banking for various virtual events. We’re setting up town halls and virtual fundraisers as well as expanding out lists and digital presence.

“This also means that our staff meetings are held via Zoom and we skype into call time with David instead of providing call sheets for him in person. We’re also moving our house parties into the digital realm and fully utilizing the features [next generation platforms have] to offer to maximize contributions to our campaign.”

According to Sardinas, the Holden campaign is also focusing on turning out the vote and preparing for the possibility of a vote-by-mail-only election in November. Preparing a digital volunteer force now should serve the campaign later.

Republican response

With Coronavirus shutting down all face-to-face campaigning, one Republican congressional candidate dropped out of the race and one announced suspension of his campaign (tantamount to dropping out altogether), both yesterday, March 19.

Ford O’Connell, the bombastic Fox News pundit, announced the end of his campaign in a statement to followers.

William Figlesthaler, the Naples urologist, similarly issued a statement. However, Figlesthaler’s suspension was interesting because he had already begun running television commercials. Also, his was the highest financed campaign of all the 19th District candidates, thanks to a $410,000 loan from the candidate.

Commentary: We won’t have Figlesthaler’s urinal screens to pee on any more!

Figlesthaler’s suspension leaves State Rep. Dane Eagle (R-77-Cape Coral) as the best-financed candidate. Eagle hasn’t made any announcements regarding his campaign but has been frequently tweeting his support for President Trump despite the Coronavirus pandemic and the financial crash.

Analysis: Revolution in Naples City

On Election Day, Tuesday, March 17, the entire elected leadership of the City of Naples was voted out, with Teresa Heitman winning as mayor along with a completely new slate of city council members.

The election was non-partisan and there were many local issues that decided it. Nonetheless, Southwest Florida residents could see in this result a rising discontent and demand for complete change. If it’s so strong in a place as conservative and set in its ways as Naples, it just may be bigger in the region, the state and the country.

The blue wave could in fact turn out to be a blue tsunami.

Liberty lives in light

© 2020 by David Silverberg