President Joe Biden is no stranger to Southwest Florida

The former Biden property on Keewaydin Island. in 2016 (Photo: Derrick Moreno)

Oct. 3, 2022 by David Silverberg

When President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden come to Southwest Florida as scheduled on Wednesday, Oct. 5, they will not be coming to unfamiliar territory.

Biden’s connection to Southwest Florida is through his brother, James Biden Jr., who bought a vacation home on five acres of Keewaydin Island for $2.5 million in 2013. He then sold it for $1.35 million in February 2018. This was after Hurricane Irma struck in September 2017.

Joe Biden spent Christmas 2013 on Keewaydin with the family.

The exact status of Keewaydin Island is unclear as of this writing, as is the fate of the house that Biden Jr. once owned.

Further to the south, the iconic dome homes of Cape Romano are now completely submerged due to Hurricane Ian.

Biden’s stops and itinerary in Southwest Florida for his Wednesday visit have not been publicly released. However, a common practice for officials is to do a flyover of an affected area to get an overview of the damage. Biden can be expected to do the same before meeting local officials and victims on the ground. If the flyover includes Keewaydin Island, he may get to see the house where he once visited—or at least what’s left of it.

Presidential visits to disaster-stricken areas can have a major impact on speeding recovery and assistance, particularly if the president is familiar with the region.

Liberty lives in light

© 2022 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate here!

Putin’s pawns and the price of gas in Southwest Florida

Cars line up to get gas in South Fort Myers, Fla., following the ban on Russian oil. (Image: NBC2)

March 11, 2021 by David Silverberg

There’s nothing quite like an outside threat to bring Americans together. After Dec. 7, 1941 or Sept. 11, 2001, Americans rallied to the country’s defense and dropped their domestic differences.

The United States is not in a shooting war with Russia right now but it is certainly in a conflict. Only this time, there’s no give in partisanship and Republicans are maneuvering to take advantage of the situation with an eye to the November midterm elections—especially in Southwest Florida.

With its embargo on purchases of Russian oil the United States is turning to Venezuela as a potential supplier, easing its decades-long tensions with the South American country and its opposition to its president, Nicolas Maduro.

This has created howls of protest from Florida Republicans, who sense an opening to expand their appeal to Florida’s Hispanic community, especially Venezuelan-Americans.

Their efforts can particularly be seen in the actions and statements of two Southwest Florida congressmen: Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-25-Fla.) and Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.).

While dealing with two dictators at the same time is certainly not a comfortable position for a democracy, at the same time their partisan attacks on the administration display some glaring inconsistencies.

The Doral gambit

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart and Rep. Byron Donalds

Maintaining an anti-Maduro drumbeat is especially important for Diaz-Balart whose district includes the city of Doral, whose population of nearly 76,000 is as much as 28 percent Venezuelan-American, many of them exiles and refugees from Venezuela’s socialist regime.  

This week, Diaz-Balart was early and adamant in his denunciations of a US rapprochement with Venezuela.

His most articulated and detailed attack came Wednesday, March 9 in a Miami Herald op-ed titled “Biden would be wrong to support the tyrant in Venezuela to fight the tyrant in Russia.”

“If the Biden administration agrees to weaken sanctions against the murderous and anti-American Maduro dictatorship, it would shamelessly betray the Venezuelan people and the cause of freedom, as well as the national security interests of the United States,” he wrote. “Instead, the United States must pursue a policy that puts American values first, rather than trading one type of blood oil for another.”

Noting the energy ties between the West and Russia, Diaz-Balart argued: “We must pursue a policy of ironclad sanctions that prioritizes U.S. national security interests, human rights and freedom, rather than securing a bad deal with a different devil.”

The same day Diaz-Balart and Donalds sent a letter to President Joe Biden and Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm expressing their concerns about opening up relations with Maduro. They were joined by three other members: Carlos Gimenez (R-26-Fla.), Daniel Webster (R-11-Fla.) and Scott Franklin (R-15-Fla.). (Interestingly, Southwest Florida’s other member of Congress, Rep. Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.), who does not have a significant Hispanic constituency in his district, was not included.)

Clearly intended for constituent consumption rather than any genuine policy impact, the letter was predictably accusatory and insulting.

“Since taking office, your administration has engaged in a relentless crusade against America’s energy infrastructure, killing jobs and making us more reliant on adversaries such as the Iranians, Russians, and yes, the evil Maduro regime,” it alleged. “We are concerned that your administration supports Maduro over Midland, the Kremlin over Colorado, and the Ayatollah over the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR).”

The letter calls the reaching out to Venezuela “a slap in the face to the half a million Venezuelans that call America home who fled his vicious and failed socialist nation” and calls the gas crunch a “mounting Green New Deal policy induced energy crisis at home.” Lastly it urges “complete reversal of your harmful energy and foreign affairs policies.”

Just days prior, Donalds had been demanding a cutoff of Russian oil imports: “This is a no-brainer BAN RUSSIAN IMPORTS NOW!” he tweeted on March 7.

Analysis: Inconsistency, illogic and insecurity

In their attacks Diaz-Balart and Donalds are simply following a larger Republican playbook that is just designed to score points against the Biden administration rather than seriously shape policy.

This strategy was exposed and neatly summarized by Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank in a column titled: “Biden heeded Republicans’ pleas to ban Russian oil. Then they pounced.”

“For days, Republicans called for a ban on imports of Russian oil, a move that, while the right thing to do to counter Putin’s attack against Ukraine, would cause already high gas prices to rise even further,” wrote Milbank. “Biden did as Republicans wanted — and they responded by blaming his energy policies for spiking gas prices.”

He continued: “It’s not only that the charge is bogus — the current price of gas has virtually nothing to do with Biden’s energy policies — but that the Republican officials leveling it are sowing division at home and giving a rhetorical boost to the enemy at a perilous moment when national unity and sacrifice will be needed to prevail against Russia.”

Milbank didn’t focus on Diaz-Balart or Donalds but their particular attacks on the outreach to Venezuela after demanding a Russian oil cutoff while still lambasting the president for high oil prices, is in keeping with the overall Republican flight from logic. Milbank called it “a gusher of mendacity.”

“Blaming Biden for the spike in prices around Russia’s Ukraine invasion isn’t just false — it’s an assist to Putin that damages national security,” Milbank pointed out.

It’s also interesting to note that the stridency of Diaz-Balart’s and Donalds’ criticism of Biden seems to be in direct proportion to their lack of criticism of Putin and the invasion of Ukraine.

None of this should be surprising. After all, all Republican politicians including Diaz-Balart and Donalds are just pursuing short term electoral advantage rather than responsibly trying to help the country navigate between the shoals of plague, war and now a fuel famine. Still, at a time when Americans should be pulling together to face a common, unmistakable threat, their inconsistency and illogic is disheartening at the least. At worst it’s unpatriotic and gives aid and comfort to the enemy.

Or, as Milbank put it: “Fighting Russian aggression while avoiding World War III is hard enough. With Republicans acting in bad faith, it’s that much harder.”

Liberty lives in light

© 2022 by David Silverberg

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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!

What starts in Ukraine may not stay in Ukraine: How war could affect Southwest Florida

Ukrainian soldiers train at US Marine Corps Camp Lejeune in 1998. The US-Ukrainian military relationship stretches back decades. (Photo: US DoD)

Jan. 26, 2022 by David Silverberg

In Southwest Florida, the crisis over the Ukraine may seem like a “quarrel in a faraway country, between people of whom we know nothing.”

That’s the way British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain described the dispute between a democratic Czechoslovakia and Nazi Germany in 1938.

The Czechoslovak government was pressured to give up parts of its territory to appease Adolf Hitler and once he had those pieces he swallowed the rest of the country whole. A full-scale world war eventually followed.

Today Vladimir Putin is endangering Ukraine, threatening war to get his demands met. It seems like a very close replay of Hitler’s moves on Czechoslovakia.

Two of the most knowledgeable Ukraine-Russia analysts have put forward their evaluations of the situation.

Alexander Vindman, a retired US Army lieutenant colonel, was director for European Affairs at the National Security Council when in 2019 he blew the whistle on President Donald Trump’s improper political demands on the Ukrainian government. He offered his take on the current situation on Jan. 21 in the magazine Foreign Affairs: “The Day After Russia Attacks: What War in Ukraine Would Look Like—and How America Should Respond.”

Fiona Hill was an intelligence officer on Russian and Eurasian affairs for presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama and served on the National Security Council under Trump. In a clinical and steely performance, she too testified against Trump’s improper use of his office during his first impeachment hearings. Her article appeared on Jan. 24 in The New York Times under the headline: “Putin Has the U.S. Right Where He Wants It.”

Both call for a strong, robust American response and in particular urge the United States to take the initiative and not just react to Putin’s moves. Hill believes Putin has a much larger goal: to kick the United States out of Europe altogether, allowing Russia to dominate the continent. Both warnings are scary, insightful and deserve heeding.

But why should anyone in Southwest Florida care? It’s not as though Naples is on the front lines or Russian tanks will be rolling into Fort Myers. No matter what happens on the frosty plains of Ukraine, Southwest Florida will still have its sun and beaches.

As World War II demonstrated 80 years ago, conflicts in faraway lands have a way of impacting even places very remote from them, especially in today’s interconnected world. What is more, shooting wars have a nasty tendency to spread their effects in unexpected and uncontrolled ways, especially the longer they go on.

Southwest Florida has already seen how a large, overarching crisis can affect daily life in countless everyday ways. The COVID pandemic emptied store shelves, disrupted travel, upended the supply chain and sowed deep and passionate political divisions over health precautions and vaccinations.

COVID is an assault by an impersonal force of nature; a war in Ukraine that expanded into a US-Russian conflict—presuming that it remained non-nuclear—would be the result of human decisions but would be no less and in some ways, even more impactful.

So how could a hot war in Ukraine immediately affect residents, retirees and tourists in Florida’s Paradise Coast?

Gas prices

United States officials are already negotiating with oil producers to make up for shortfalls in oil supply should Russian oil exports be shut off, either by the Russians or Western blockades.

While Southwest Florida doesn’t get its gasoline from Russia, a global tightening of supply would send prices at the local pumps higher—potentially much higher.

Indeed, gasoline supplies could be so straitened that Floridians—and all Americans—could see the return of gas lines reminiscent of the oil embargoes of the 1970s.

If the scarcity persists, US oil companies could again start eyeing oil drilling and exploitation in eastern Gulf of Mexico or under the Everglades and this time there would be little political will to stop them, even if it would take years for Florida oil to make a difference.

Cyber disruption

The Russians have mastered the art of the cyberattack as a weapon of war. Prior to what the military calls “kinetic” assaults they have launched major electronic onslaughts. They’ve done this in Estonia, Georgia and they just did it in Ukraine, one reason that the alert level of an imminent invasion went up so urgently.

As the Internet has broken down national boundaries, so it has dissolved protective barriers. Cape Coral, Fla., is as vulnerable to cyber-attack as Kyiv. It is not as likely to be a deliberate target since it holds no strategic interest or assets. Nonetheless, should war break out, it might experience collateral damage along with the rest of the United States.

Just how interconnected the electronic world is, was brought home to this author during the 2018 congressional campaign of Democrat David Holden in Southwest Florida’s 19th Congressional District. Staff discovered that the campaign website was being monitored from Moscow—and not just from Moscow but by someone in the Arsenal building, a very secure and secret spot in the very heart of the Kremlin complex. The campaign contacted US authorities. The incident proved that even a place as obscure, remote and strategically insignificant as Southwest Florida could find itself under a watchful Russian eye.

If war breaks out, every time there is an interruption in digital service, whether of the Internet, wi-fi, cable television or telephone, Southwest Floridians may be left wondering whether it’s the result of a technical glitch, a random accident or a deliberate attack. They will not know how long it will last. It will make the web of connectivity that binds us together unstable and affect virtually every human activity. It will make commerce, communications and control extremely difficult and in many cases impossible.

A key cyber vulnerability will be in the banking and financial system. If this system is disrupted, credit card transactions might not go through due to downed networks. Access to bank accounts may be blocked. Electronic payments and income may become erratic and undependable.

Stock market crash

Collier County, Fla., tops the country’s midsize markets in numbers of people who get passive income from stocks, bonds and investment, with Lee County a close second, according to a report from the US Chamber of Commerce. That passive income is dependent on a healthy and robust stock market.

Over the past weeks, the New York Stock Exchange has experienced precipitous plunges as a result of war jitters. If war actually breaks out it might crash on the scale of 1929. We might see halts in trading as circuit breakers kick in to stop free-falls. There could be massive losses of wealth that could have a very direct effect on Southwest Florida residents.

Inflation, already high but expected to decline later this year, could climb higher, eroding everyone’s purchasing power.

Supply chain disruption

The world is already dealing with supply chain disruptions caused by COVID. Shoppers in local stores are seeing empty shelves where once items like cream cheese or paper products or frozen vegetables were once plentiful. During the early days of the pandemic the rush was on for face masks, gloves, hand sanitizer and toilet paper.

Depending on the scale and scope of a Ukrainian war, supply chains might be disrupted around the world.

Russian attacks on cyber infrastructure combined with extremely high military demand for key elements like steel or silicon could result in scarcity in a wide variety of goods at the retail level, including here in Southwest Florida. However, it’s impossible to predict with any precision which goods might be affected or where scarcity might emerge.

Travel disruption

Anyone who has traveled, especially by air, has experienced travel delays due to weather or other unexpected obstacles. The COVID Omicron surge was a major disruptor, felling flight crews and introducing unpredictability into airline schedules and flights.

A US-Russian conflict could compound that with deliberate Russian efforts to disrupt air corridors, interfere with commercial aviation or confuse navigation systems on the ground or in the air.

Social media disinformation

As the Mueller Report detailed, Russian operatives substantially interfered in the 2016 election (especially in Florida), helping to put Donald Trump in office. They are now practiced and proficient in the use of American social media to achieve political and strategic aims. After all, the word “disinformation” is originally a Russian word (дезинформация).

A US-Russian conflict would likely see a tsunami of Russian-aided social media and Internet propaganda and disinformation aimed at confusing, misleading and dividing Americans.

A unique local aspect of this is the Florida presence of two major American pro-Russian sympathizers, Donald Trump and Michael Flynn. On Jan. 24, Flynn penned an op-ed in the conservative Western Journal that was characterized by Forbes magazine as voicing support for a Russian invasion. It presented the Russian viewpoint on Ukraine.

It will likely be impossible for Americans to wall themselves off from these efforts but with public discernment, skepticism and the efforts of social media platforms to responsibly weed out false and misleading disinformation, perhaps the impact can be kept to a minimum.

Avoiding the inevitable

Nothing in human affairs is inevitable except death and taxes. Even the most seemingly unstoppable force can be stopped if it’s controlled by human decisionmaking. War is one of these kinds of events.

A diplomatic solution in Ukraine is entirely possible although the alignment of forces doesn’t favor it at the moment. Putin simply doesn’t regard Ukraine as an independent country. He attempted to dominate it through subterfuge, first by putting his own candidate in the Ukrainian presidency, then by backing breakaway areas and competing regional governments. He put his own candidate in the American presidency to aid and abet these efforts but that puppet is now gone from power. His efforts to date have not yielded the desired result.

Now he’s left with either threatening physical force or using it on a massive scale.

The United States and its NATO allies recognize Ukraine as a separate, independent state and treat it that way. This irreconcilable difference is what is fueling the current crisis.

Though seemingly mild-mannered and quiet, President Joe Biden long recognized the Russian threat. In particular he had an early awareness of the danger presented by Russian corruption, bribery and subversion as a state tool to buy agents and defeat obstacles to its ambitions. The US government is taking action to thwart those efforts.

Obviously, a win-win-win (Ukraine-Russia-US) diplomatic solution would be the most desirable for all parties. However, if conflict breaks out, there exists the very real possibility that a Russian invasion could be thwarted, that Russian cyberattacks could be stopped and a successful counteroffensive launched. Americans could unite in defense of their country. Russia could suffer cyber damage as great or worse than any inflicted on the United States. Its economy could be shattered. Ukraine, the United States and NATO could emerge victorious—but at a cost in lives and treasure and all this amidst an ongoing pandemic.

There is no telling at this point how the Ukraine crisis will resolve itself. But only 80 years ago history provided an example: appeasement of Hitler did not work.

Appeasement of Putin will not work now. There come times when the forces of law and democracy must stand firm to survive. That’s true in international affairs and it’s true in domestic affairs.

Like an earthquake or a tsunami, the aftershocks from a Ukraine conflict will reach Southwest Florida in one form or another. This is not a “quarrel in a faraway country, between people of whom we know nothing.”

In this time and place that “faraway country” is right next door. And those “people of whom we know nothing” are our neighbors.

*  *  *

For further reading about post-Soviet Russia and the rise of Vladimir Putin (both available in the Collier and Lee county public libraries), see:

Putin’s People: How the KGB took back Russia and then took on the West by Catherine Belton.

From Cold War To Hot Peace: An American Ambassador in Putin’s Russia by Michael McFaul.

Liberty lives in light

© 2022 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate!

Biden’s infrastructure plan, Naples’ seawall and a Simpsons moment

President Joe Biden signs the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act into law on Monday. (Photo: White House)

On Monday, Nov. 15, President Joe Biden signed the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act into law.

The same day, the Naples City Council voted to repair an aging, sagging seawall running along Gulf Shore Blvd., outside Venetian Village. Its cost is estimated to be $900,000. The city spent a whopping $341,000 in litigation fees denying responsibility for the seawall, only to lose the case in May. On Monday it was presented with four alternatives to repair the wall by engineers and voted to proceed with a hybrid solution using the existing structure but improving it with a new section.

The deteriorating section of seawall along Gulf Shore Blvd. (Photo: City of Naples)

Is there a connection between Biden’s signing the Infrastructure Act and the Naples City Council voting to fix the seawall?

Well, yes and no. There isn’t right now, but there could be.

The Infrastructure Act will be pumping $19 billion into Florida over the next five years. A chunk of that change will be going toward helping communities build resilience against the effects of climate change. That includes things like bolstering seawalls holding back waters rising because of global warming.

Could the City of Naples present its crumbling seawall as a bulwark against those rising waters caused by climate change?

It likely could if it broadened its horizons beyond just Venetian Bay. The whole point of the Biden infrastructure plan is to reach down to local communities like Naples and help them improve the built environment that makes civilized human life possible and efficient.

Of course, the city would have to apply for a grant, presumably from the state, to get the money. That grant application might be rejected. Then again, it might be approved—but the city won’t know unless it tries.

Also, the City of Naples would be doing this in a state that is virtually in revolt against the federal government, led by a governor Hell-bent on rejecting all forms of federal assistance and blocking all efforts to keep Floridians safe, healthy and alive.

But if the City of Naples has the good sense to look beyond the partisan hysteria and sheer bile being hurled at Washington, DC from Southwest Florida’s more primitive residents, it just might find that its seawall problem is part of a much larger, global situation—and that it has a partner in a President and a federal government committed to addressing it.

A Simpsons moment

The Naples situation is reminiscent of an episode of The Simpsons animated TV show called “Last Exit to Springfield” (season 4, episode17). In the episode Homer Simpson’s daughter Lisa needs braces on her teeth. However, Homer’s union is about to give away its dental benefit in exchange for a keg of beer.

As Homer lines up to get his cup of beer, his friend Lenny’s voice repeatedly plays in his head, saying “dental plan!” It’s answered by his wife Marge’s voice saying “Lisa needs braces!”

Homer thinks there might be a connection—but can he make it?

Naples right now might just be the Homer Simpson of Florida, with two voices going through its head.

“Infrastructure plan!” “Seawall needs repair!

“Infrastructure plan!” “Seawall needs repair!

“Infrastructure plan!” “Seawall needs repair!

Can Naples make the connection? Let’s hope the answer isn’t “d’oh!

Liberty lives in light

© 2021 by David Silverberg

Hurricane Katrina vs. Hurricane Ida: Two storms, two presidents and two very different responses

President Joe Biden is briefed by FEMA officials on the danger of Hurricane Ida. (Photo: White House)

Sept. 3, 2021 by David Silverberg

Hurricane Ida shrieked onto the Louisiana coast on Sunday, Aug. 29, 16 years to the day after Hurricane Katrina made a similar landfall in 2005.

Many observers have made comparisons between the two hurricanes. Both were monster storms that wreaked terrible destruction and damage. Both resulted in extensive human suffering. Both afflicted multiple states.

However, to date there’s been little comparison of the responses to the two hurricanes by the sitting presidents and their administrations.

Hurricane Katrina struck during the presidency of George W. Bush. Hurricane Ida arrived during the presidency of Joe Biden.

As similar as the storms may be, the responses could not be more different.

“Katrina conjures impressions of disorder, incompetence, and the sense that government let down its citizens,” Bush himself wrote in his 2010 memoir, Decision Points.

In contrast, to date Biden has shown himself engaged, focused and effective. His administration was on alert and moved into action immediately.

Southwest Floridians in particular should take note of all this. The region has been lucky so far this year in avoiding hurricanes and damaging storms but the season is by no means over. Some Floridians, their elected officials and their governor instinctively disparage the federal government and attack this president. But if a storm comes that flattens the Paradise Coast the way Hurricane Ida flattened the homes of Louisiana, they will be able to look to a federal government and a president that is ready, willing and able to help them—so unlike the situation in 2005.

It’s worth comparing key aspects of the two events to see how far we have come.

Run-up to the storm

In 2005 the Bush administration was certainly aware of the oncoming storm. However, Bush was on a month-long vacation at his ranch at Crawford, Texas. On the day Katrina made landfall he traveled to Arizona for a brief, airport tarmac greeting with Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and a town hall meeting at a resort and country club in El Mirage. He was promoting legislative changes to the Medicare program. He then went to California where he spoke before a crowd of military personnel at the Coronado naval base. Then he returned to Air Force One and flew back to his ranch.

In looking back in his 2008 memoir What Happened, Scott McClellan, Bush’s press secretary, was critical of the administration’s distant, almost lackadaisical approach: “The problem lay in our mind-set,” he recalled.

“Our White House team had already weathered many disasters, from the hurricanes of the previous year all the way back to the unprecedented calamity of 9/11. As a result, we were probably a little numb (‘What, another tragedy?’) and perhaps a little complacent (‘We’ve been through this before.’). We assumed that local and federal officials would do their usual yeoman’s work at minimizing the devastation, much as the more seasoned Florida officials had done the year before, and we recalled how President Bush had excelled at reassuring and comforting the nation in the wake of past calamities. Instead of planning and acting for the potential worst-case scenario, we took a chance that Katrina would not be as unmanageable, overwhelming, or catastrophic as it turned out. So we allowed our institutional response to go on autopilot.”

Sixteen years later, on Aug. 28, the administration was alert and mobilized for the storm. At the White House, Biden—who was at work—was briefed by Kenneth Graham, director of the National Hurricane Center on the storm itself. Along with Deanne Criswell, the administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), he spoke with the governors of Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi to discuss their needs. He signed an emergency declaration for Louisiana in advance of the storm’s landfall.

Addressing the people of the area, he warned: “Pay attention and be prepared. Have supplies for your household on hand.  Follow the guidance from local authorities.  And if you have to move to shelter, make sure you wear a mask and try to keep some distance because we’re still facing the highly contagious Delta variant as well.”

Unengagement versus engagement

In 2005 Bush seemed detached and unengaged from Katrina and its impact. His decisionmaking appeared sluggish and reactive, always several steps behind events—as he himself admitted.

“The response was not only flawed but, as I said at the time, unacceptable,” Bush wrote in Decision Points. “As the leader of the federal government, I should have recognized the deficiencies sooner and intervened faster. I prided myself on my ability to make crisp and effective decisions. Yet in the days after Katrina, that didn’t happen. The problem was not that I made the wrong decisions. It was that I took too long to decide.”

In 2021 the administration—and indeed, the whole federal government—mobilized to help the affected area with an impressive effort.

In the immediate aftermath of the storm FEMA delivered 4.5 million meals, 3.6 million liters of water, 250 generators and rushed additional ambulances into affected areas, according to official figures.

FEMA and the Small Business Administration (SBA) immediately began helping disaster survivors, including providing grants to help pay for housing, home repairs, property losses, medical expenses and even funeral expenses.

A program called Critical Needs Assistance was activated by FEMA to give people left completely destitute $500. It reached 31,000 Louisiana households in the very first days after the storm passed.

Currently, the SBA is issuing low-interest loans to businesses, non-profit organizations, homeowners and renters affected by the storm. Federal officials in mobile units are helping victims apply for the assistance.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development is helping families, aiding with mortgage payments and insurance as well as direct housing.

The US Army Corps of Engineers immediately began working to get houses into habitable shape and distribute tarps for damaged roofs. Some 134,000 tarps were provided by Sept. 2. The Corps also rushed in teams to aid with debris removal and temporary housing.

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) set up a 250-bed medical station in New Orleans, established a medical evacuation site at the airport and sent a team to a hospital in Thibodaux, La., the only fully-working hospital in its region.

Other federal agencies pitching in included the US Coast Guard, the Department of Defense and the National Guard Bureau, which contributed personnel, vehicles, aircraft and watercraft.

Biden was also involved in coordinating electrical power restoration with energy company executives, authorizing military reconnaissance flights and the use of satellite surveillance to pinpoint problems.

In addition to these measures, federal workers immediately began clearing roads and restoring transportation and communications. Red tape is being cut and regulations streamlined.

All this effort is light years away from the response of 2005. It demonstrates what an activated federal government, with involved leadership, can accomplish in the face of a disaster.

Unseasoned versus seasoned

President George W. Bush tells FEMA Administrator Michael Brown he’s doing “a heck of a job.” (Photo: AP)

In 2005 FEMA was headed by Michael Brown, a lawyer, former commissioner of the International Arabian Horse Association, a failed Republican congressional candidate and a Bush campaign operative.

While Brown’s qualifications were criticized after Katrina, in fact he had handled some major disasters while at FEMA, notably the Sept. 11, 2001 aftermath and the four-hurricane season of 2004. He began his federal service as general counsel for FEMA and rose from there, rising to  undersecretary, where he oversaw a number of internal FEMA offices like the National Incident Management System Integration Center, the National Disaster Medical System and the Nuclear Incident Response Team.

So Brown was hardly a complete novice when it came to disasters and emergency management.

But Brown was in way over his head during Katrina. Although Bush praised him for “doing a heckuva job,” FEMA’s inability to anticipate, react and organize the response resulted in a spectacle of chaos, deprivation and incompetence. Brown repeatedly gave television interviews in which he expressed ignorance of the most basic facts on the ground and the suffering of New Orleanians.

He was ultimately fired in the midst of the response and replaced with retired Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Thad Allen.  

FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell (Photo: FEMA)

Today the administrator of FEMA is Deanne Criswell, a 21-year veteran firefighter. A member of the Colorado Air National Guard, she served in Iraq and Afghanistan. During a previous stint at FEMA she was leader of an Incident Management Assistance Team. She has tackled everything from wildfires, to severe droughts, catastrophic floods and even helped re-unite evacuated families 16 years ago after Hurricane Katrina.

Immediately before being appointed FEMA administrator by Biden, Criswell was New York City Commissioner for Emergency Management. There, she coordinated the city’s response to emergencies like blackouts, fires and power outages all while handling the COVID pandemic and working to prevent collapse of the healthcare system.

So when Hurricane Ida arrived, FEMA and the country had a seasoned, experienced and truly expert first responder at the helm, appointed by Biden. It is making a world of difference.

Flyover versus ground truth

President George W. Bush flies over a devastated New Orleans on Aug. 31, 2005. (Photo: White House)

An iconic image of Bush and Hurricane Katrina was Bush staring out the window of Air Force One, rigid and frozen as he gazes down at the destruction of New Orleans. He chose to fly over the destruction on his return from his vacation in Crawford to Washington, DC.

It was his first look at what the storm had done but the message it sent the nation was one of aloofness and detachment that seemed to sum up the entire federal response.

Bush later tried to make up for that impression. He visited New Orleans 13 times in the years that followed. He gave a speech from the city’s Jackson Square where he pledged $10.5 billion federal dollars for the city’s rebuilding.

But he never fully overcame that initial image of uninvolvement from the flyover.

“Bush needed to show that he was in control. But he also needed to show that he cared—that he understood the situation and shared Americans’ sense of horror and anger, that he was determined to do whatever it took to make the bureaucracy respond,” McClellan wrote. “The flyover images showed none of this. And while privately Bush was quickly becoming more engaged, it was too little, too late.”

Bush reflected in his memoir: “I should have urged Governor [Kathleen] Blanco and Mayor [Ray] Nagin to evacuate New Orleans sooner. I should have come straight back to Washington from California on Day Two or stopped in Baton Rouge on Day Three. I should have done more to signal my determination to help, the way I did in the days after 9/11.”

Biden, by contrast, made a point of visiting FEMA headquarters in Washington during the storm to talk to Criswell directly and thank the responders at FEMA and around the country managing Ida. As of this writing he is scheduled to visit New Orleans today, Sept. 3, to see the damage and hear from the officials and people on the ground about their needs and requirements.

President Joe Biden visits FEMA headquarters in Washington, DC in the runup to Hurricane Ida’s landfall. (Photo: FEMA)

Visiting the scene of a disaster is always a dicey decision for politicians. They don’t want to seem to be exploiting the tragedy or hindering the urgent response. At the same time they want to see the situation for themselves and show their concern—and also get credit for their leadership.

Many times their solution is to fly over a site as Bush did. It gives them an overview of the entire disaster and it can be useful. However, unless it’s combined with executive action and a genuine sense of caring for the afflicted, it can backfire, as it did in Bush’s case. It takes a skilled hand and good judgment to make a disaster visit work constructively, lifting the spirits of victims, while advancing the response.

But most of all, it takes a human being who actually empathizes with other human beings and wants to alleviate their suffering that makes leadership in a disaster effective.

Then, now—and tomorrow

More than just 16 years separate the responses to Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Ida. They are light years apart in presidential attentiveness, competence, care and reaction.

In his engagement and decisiveness and willingness to support the professionals and experts, Biden is demonstrating the presidential abilities that got him to the Oval Office. To some extent it is making up for the chaotic spectacle of America’s withdrawal from Afghanistan.

More importantly and immediately, though, Biden’s involvement will have profound effects on the afflicted areas, which now stretch from the bayous of Louisiana to the subways of New York City. This was a monster storm and an epic disaster and it will take years to restore the damage it did. But by being engaged and mobilizing the entire federal government and its expertise, a start has been made just as the winds and rain are dying down.

Southwest Floridians should take note and appreciate this. They may need that help next.


For a full history of past disaster responses, see the author’s book: Masters of Disaster: The political and leadership lessons of America’s greatest disasters.

For a detailed examination of the response to Hurricane Katrina, see:

Liberty lives in light

© 2021 by David Silverberg

SWFL Democrats elated by Biden speech as Republicans fume

President Joe Biden addresses a joint session of Congress last night, April 28. (Image: C-SPAN)

April 29, 2021 by David Silverberg

Southwest Florida Democrats were elated by President Joe Biden’s address to a joint session of Congress last night, April 28, laying out a sweeping vision and comprehensive plans for national recovery and improvement.

Unsurprisingly, Republicans were less than thrilled.

“It’s so refreshing to have a president leading and serving the people, instead of fanning the flames of division and insurrection,” Cindy Banyai, Democratic candidate for Congress in the 19th Congressional District, observed in a message to The Paradise Progressive.

The address to Congress demonstrated the success of his first 100 days, which included administering 200 million vaccines, providing a needed economic stimulus and revealing a vision for the future, she said.

She particularly praised the unveiling of the American Families Plan to boost and support working families and the next generation.

“When we take care of kids, they can get on a meaningful path and we integrate more women into the workforce,” said Banyai. “Family leave, universal pre-kindergarten and access to community colleges just make sense for our economy. We must make these investments if we want to remain global economic leaders.”

She added: “I’d be remiss if I didn’t also say that I so was proud to have two women, Speaker Pelosi and Vice President Harris, on the dais behind President Biden during the joint address. I’m feeling so optimistic for the future of our country!”

Annisa Karim, chair of the Collier County Democratic Party, was similarly effusive. “President Biden made it clear that we must move forward together as a country,” she said. Moving forward, she pointed out, means investing in the future, making sure everyone is treated equally under the law and acting immediately on the climate crisis by leading development of alternative energy and training people for future jobs.

“I’m proud to have a President that cares for the people of this country and about how we interact with the global community,” she said.  “Under President Biden, we can finally move forward together.”

Nationally, House Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-12-Calif.), who was seated on the dais behind Biden when he spoke, called the speech “a unifying message of resilience, resolve and hope.”

“As the President said,” she noted, “‘America is on the move again.  Turning peril into possibility.  Crisis into opportunity.  Setback into strength.’”

Republican complaints

Unsurprisingly, Republican congressional representatives were dismissive.

Both Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.) and Rep. Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.), complained that Biden removed his mask to speak, which they argued violated rules against going unmasked on the House floor, and they vowed to go similarly unmasked in the future, risking a $5,000 fine.

Both also criticized the speech for paying insufficient attention to the southwest US border and the influx of migrants there.

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-25-Fla.) did not issue any comments regarding the speech.

Donalds tweeted his criticisms of the speech in real time. They largely followed Republican doctrine to date.

  • He attacked Biden’s infrastructure proposal: “The American Jobs Plan is a plan to spend trillions we don’t have on liberal policies we don’t need.”
  • When Biden called for major investment in American public education and teachers, Donalds tweeted: “You don’t improve the quality of education (or anything) by making it free. You improve quality through competition.” Donalds and his wife Erika have long been active in promoting charter and private schools. (See “Byron Donalds and the war against America’s schools.”)
  • When Biden said “My fellow Americans, trickle-down economics has never worked,”  Donalds called it an outright falsehood: “Ok. That is a lie. Trickle down, supply side, or whatever you want to call it has always worked. It works far better than when politicians think they know better.”
  • When Biden called for passage of the For the People Act, House Resolution (HR) 1, protecting voting rights, Donalds tweeted: “HR 1 is a disaster” and argued it would destroy Florida election laws.

Rep. Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.) was similarly critical in a series of tweets:

  • “The Democrats’ ‘infrastructure’ package has nothing to do with real infrastructure. It’s an excuse to spend American taxpayer money on outrageous proposals related to climate change, supporting partisan unions, and increasing funding for schools that refuse to open.”
  • He also complained that the Biden administration was insufficiently hard on China and had emboldened Iran.

Nationally, House Minority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-23-Calif.) tweeted: “This whole thing could have just been an email.”

Initial national public response to the speech was overwhelmingly favorable, according to polls conducted by CNN and CBS immediately after it was delivered.

Liberty lives in light

© 2021 by David Silverberg

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

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

92 days Rep. Byron Donalds has been in office

582 days until Election Day 2022

April 5, 2021 by David Silverberg

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

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

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

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

Opposing rescue and jobs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Defending the filibuster and voter suppression

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Immigration and the southern border

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Donalds of course issued an appropriate tribute.

Commentary: Past and prologue

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Liberty lives in light

© 2021 by David Silverberg

SWFL poised for big gains from Biden infrastructure plan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aspects of the Plan that affect Southwest Florida include:

  • Upgrading and modernizing US drinking, wastewater and stormwater systems

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

  • Making infrastructure more resilient

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Mobilizing the next generation of conservation and resilience workers

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

  • Modernizing schools and early learning facilities

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

  •  Upgrading Veterans Administration (VA) hospitals and federal buildings

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

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

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

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

The journey begins

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

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

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

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

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

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

Coming next: SWFL reactions to the American Jobs Plan

Liberty lives in light

© 2021 by David Silverberg