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Florida editorial roundup

By The Associated PressJune 26, 2019

Recent editorials from Florida newspapers:

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June 25

The St. Augustine Record on a Florida representative’s push to pass a border wall funding law:

Mexican drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman is expected to be sentenced ... to life in prison. And Florida U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan is once again pushing for passage of a bill called the El Chapo Act. Its technical name, by the way, is the Ensuring Lawful Collection of Hidden Assets to Provide Order Act. Get it?

The law, if passed, would use what’s being termed as billions in ill-gotten gains from the drug kingpin to finance a wall across the border with Mexico. A figure of $14 billion is being tossed around.

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz is credited with first advancing the proposal back in February. It made a big splash, then nothing. Apparently the sentencing is a good springboard to kick-start the act again.

Buchanan told reporters ... “Guzman’s drug empire amassed an estimated $14 billion from narcotic sales, responsible for destroying the lives of countless Americans. As President Trump looks to secure the southern border, Congress should pass this commonsense measure to use seized drug money to staunch the flow or drugs and violence into our communities.”

It sound like poetic justice: making a drug dealer pay for a wall to stop drug dealers from pushing their products in the U.S. Cruz said back in April, “Coincidentally, the estimates of the cost to build a wall range from $14 to $20 billion, so my legislation provides that if those assets are forfeited, those assets from El Chapo will go directly to building and securing the border.”

What Cruz said, compared to other politicians joining the fray, is true — “if” the assets are forfeited.

And, according to experts weighing in, that’s a very big “if.”

First, the $14 billion number seems to come from an estimate of how much the cartel churned over its existence. There is no $14 billion stashed somewhere. When drug dealers here in the U.S. are tried and convicted there are usually legal assets to grab — bank accounts, yachts, properties; things like that.

El Chapo used legal third parties to purchase properties. Cartel money was never held in banks. It’s laundered overseas. It’s buried. It’s in the pockets of dirty law enforcement and government officials. It is, basically, phantom money.

And, if there is a stash, El Chapo’s underlings will be heading to parts unknown with it after his sentencing. El Chapo will be gone. Not the Mexican drug trade.

Mexican security analyst and former intelligence officer Alejandro Hope told Univision news “It’s just political grandstanding.”

“Trump and Cruz are drinking the same Kool-Aid,” said the former chief of international drug operations for the DEA, Mike Vigil. “This proposal by Cruz is delusional and it basically shows he has no clue about how much El Chapo is worth.”

Finally, what’s not being said anywhere by any lawmaker we’ve heard is this pesky fact: Mexico is the only entity that can legally confiscate El Chapo property, not the U.S.

Certainly we can file some sort of official grievance on behalf of Americans. But would you imagine the Mexican government handing over money to the U.S.?

And if there is a real grievance to be heard, it’s with the thousands of Mexican men, women and children killed by the cartels who turned their corners of that country into war zones.

If the act is resurrected politically, the only reason will be to sow more seeds of resentment against Mexico in order to stir up the hornet’s nest at the border.

If we get forfeitures from Mexico we’ll build a wall. And as the old saying goes, “If a frog had wings, he wouldn’t bump hit butt every time he jumped.”

Online: https://www.staugustine.com

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June 21

The Miami Herald, South Florida Sun Sentinel and the Palm Beach Post on the threat of climate change in South Florida amid 2020 presidential candidate debates:

As Democrats turn their eyes to South Florida ... they should know that there’s no greater issue facing this region than climate change.

And that’s why, in the opening debates of the 2020 presidential election cycle, they must talk about this existential threat.

For South Florida, sea-level rise isn’t some far-off dystopia. It’s already happening. In the next 15 years, experts expect the ocean to rise another 6 to 12 inches. Unless serious action is taken to curb greenhouse gas emissions, says the Union of Concerned Scientists, roughly 30 percent of Miami Beach and 25 percent of Key Biscayne will be chronically inundated by 2045. That’s the lifespan of a mortgage that a homeowner might be paying off now.

Our recognition of this reality goes beyond Miami Beach’s dramatic $650 million action to raise city streets. In south Palm Beach County, for instance, a dozen municipalities have banded together in a “resilience partnership” to coordinate on the challenges created by sea-level rise. Delray Beach has already sought a price tag for raising roads and seawalls, and improving pipes and drains. The answer: a stunning $378 million.

This is real money. It’s being spent or mulled today by local governments to grapple with an ever more evident threat. The question is, are the men and women who wish to be our next president ready to be as serious as South Florida’s mayors and commissioners?

If one of the 20 candidates debating in Miami ... is sent to the White House, how will he or she lead America through this challenge that’s so quickly altering our globe?

There’s been far too little talk on the campaign trail about this overriding menace. And there’s no better place to start than in this most vulnerable of states, where $26 billion in residential properties are at risk of chronic flooding by 2045, according to the scientists’ group. Where 2018′s Hurricane Michael, packing the power of today’s supercharged hurricanes, devastated the Panhandle with $5 billion in property insurance claims and $1.5 billion in crop losses. Where warming waters are killing coral reefs and fueling toxic red tide and algae blooms.

But of course it’s not just Florida. Wildfires are setting the West ablaze as never before. Record floods and monstrous tornadoes are devastating Midwestern towns and farms. Melting ice and permafrost are changing the very nature of the Earth’s polar regions. Drought and crop failures are forcing massive migrations of beleaguered people in the Middle East and Central America, their displacement upending the usual politics of Europe and the U.S.

And yet — astoundingly — even as the crisis mounts, the Trump administration seems determined to worsen it. This White House has pulled the U.S. out of the Paris Climate Accords, rolled back federal standards on emissions for vehicles, power plants and factories, and propped up the dying coal industry. It belittled the 2018 National Climate Assessment, which pointedly declared that “the world is warming and that human activity is the primary cause,” and forecast a catastrophic possible 6-foot increase in sea levels by 2100. Now it seeks to undermine climate science itself, for example by arranging for the next National Climate Assessment to be reviewed by a panel headed by a noted climate change skeptic.

The administration is fighting a tide of public opinion. Over the last five years, the percentage of Americans “alarmed” about climate change has more than doubled, to 29 percent; another 30 percent are “concerned.” Meantime, there’s been a 40 percent drop in those who are “doubtful” or “dismissive,” for a total of just 18 percent. It’s a “profound shift,” says Professor Edward Maibach of George Mason University, which conducted the survey with Yale University.

Attitudes have changed greatly in Florida, too. For eight years, Republican Gov. Rick Scott brought the state derision for allegedly banning the terms “climate change” and “global warming.” The yawning denial of a problem so pressing was why the editorial boards of The Palm Beach Post, Miami Herald and South Florida Sun Sentinel, along with WLRN Public Radio, began to work collaboratively last year to blare as noisily as possible that sea-level rise is a real and present danger. Our “Invading Sea” project has won national awards. More importantly, it has helped plant the issue in Florida’s consciousness.

We now have a Republican governor, Ron DeSantis, who despite being a Donald Trump acolyte is advertising for a high-ranking Chief Resilience Officer, someone who will work to “prepare Florida for the environmental, physical and economic impacts of climate change, especially sea-level rise.”

Still, a majority of Republicans deny climate change is happening. That’s in stark contrast with Democrats. In a CNN poll in April, 96 percent of Democrats or Democrat-leaning independents said that it was either very important (82 percent) or somewhat important (14 percent) for the Democratic nominee to take aggressive action to slow the effects of climate change.

An issue this important to Democrats demands discussion in these debates.

Climate change has never factored into a presidential race before. In 2000, even Al Gore steered clear of the topic, although he’d become famous for raising early alarms about global warming. But now Democratic voters say they’re hungry for action — although recent defeats for carbon-tax proposals raise doubts as to how much voters are willing to pay or sacrifice to avoid climate disaster.

All the while, more greenhouse gases are entering the atmosphere. Last year, in fact, emissions jumped the most in seven years.

It all means the candidates must be asked how, specifically, they would address this problem.

It’s too bad that one of those candidates, Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington state, who specifically pins his campaign on the issue, didn’t get his wish for a debate focused entirely on climate change. According to BuzzFeed, 14 of the 23 candidates have signed a “no fossil fuel money” pledge and 11 have vowed to tackle climate change as soon as they get into office.

Well, how? Push for a society-shaking program like the Green New Deal? Institute a carbon tax with citizen rebate, as U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch of Palm Beach and Broward counties has proposed? Use the federal government’s vast purchasing power to kick-start green industries?

Preventing a rise of 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit (2 degrees Celsius) over pre-industrial levels, the target of the Paris climate agreement, will be extremely difficult. However, if nations stick to the goals, then 93 percent of Florida’s at-risk homes would avoid chronic flooding by the end of the century and some of the worst foreseeable effects on this region would be avoided, according to Union of Concerned Scientists. Fail to meet those goals, and it’s easy to imagine the collapse of property values, even an exodus from the state.

Yes, putting a lid on global temperature rise will be tough. Yes, political opposition will be fierce. But the next president must try — and try mightily.

The seekers for that job must tell us how they intend to do it. Miami is the place for that.

“The Invading Sea” is a collaboration of the editorial boards of the Miami Herald, South Florida Sun Sentinel and Palm Beach Post, with reporting and community engagement assistance from WLRN Public Media. For more information, go to InvadingSea.com

Online: https://www.miamiherald.com

Online: https://www.sun-sentinel.com

Online: https://www.palmbeachpost.com

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June 21

The Orlando Sentinel on the condition of child migrant detention centers in Florida:

No matter how you feel about immigration, can we all agree that migrant children seeking asylum should not be kept in prison-like conditions wondering when they might get out?

Because of cost overruns, the federal government says it is cutting funding for education, recreation and legal services for the 2,500 or so children being held at the Homestead Temporary Shelter in Miami-Dade County, and other such centers.

What could soon happen at Homestead — the nation’s largest detention center for unaccompanied minors — is cruel and inhumane. It violates a 1997 federal court order that limits detention to 20 days. It violates our values as Americans.

For the moment, a spokeswoman said the center is still providing education and recreation activities, and access to legal services. She could not address how long that might last.

This so-called shelter should be shuttered and the children either united with family members or placed in licensed community-based programs and homes.

Our nation faces a humanitarian crisis at our southern border, we grant you that. But the answer is not to create a crisis of inhumanity in our community.

Consider recent headlines:

— ... Because of costs, the administration said it would stop funding classes, recess and legal aid to the 2,000 to 3,000 children at Homestead at the end of May.

What will their lives be like? “They will be in their rooms,” said Mark Weber, spokesman for the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), which oversees the Office of Refugee Resettlement.

First off, these kids don’t have rooms. Many reside in 144-bunk tents. And second, even prisoners are allowed outside for an hour a day.

— ... U.S. Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell asked to see the shelter’s hurricane evacuation plan. She said she was told “they were working on getting one ready.” Remember, Homestead was leveled by Hurricane Andrew.

On Wednesday, Mucarsel-Powell said she’d been told the camp now has a plan. The center’s spokeswoman told us the same. But no one can see it. Even Miami-Dade emergency managers are being kept in the dark. “They’re playing games,” she told the Miami Herald.

The secrecy is unacceptable. South Florida pulls together during hurricanes. Sometimes backup plans are needed. If the plan is to call the county for help sheltering a couple thousand kids, say so now.

— In April, when South Florida congressional members tried to inspect the facility, they were told they had to give two weeks’ notice. Two weeks’ notice?! How much time is needed to clean the place up?

— Also in April, the Herald reported that John Kelly, President Trump’s former chief of staff and the architect of the family-separation policy, now serves on the board of the company given a $341 million, no-bid contract to run the Homestead center. What a coincidence.

The company charges $775 per day per child. Advocates say the government could save at least half that amount by placing the children in licensed community facilities. What explains the government’s resistance?

Thankfully, human rights attorneys have gone to federal court in California to get the kids moved into shelters licensed and inspected by the state, or placed with U.S. relatives pending their asylum applications.

... They reported that more than 1,100 children have been detained between 31-90 days — a clear violation of the “20-day rule” created by the Flores settlement, a 1997 agreement rooted in a Supreme Court case about holding migrant children in custody.

In all, more than 10,000 kids have been processed through Homestead since it opened in March 2018.

After enduring tortured journeys in search of a better life, they are enduring prison-like conditions that experts say will leave scars.

According to their attorneys, the kids say they are:

— under constant video surveillance. A large number of security guards patrol outside. The fence includes barbed wire.

— given five minutes to shower and 15 minutes to eat.

— not allowed go to the bathroom without being accompanied by a youth counselor.

— allowed no more than two 10-minute telephone calls a week.

— not allowed to hug each other. Said one child: “Sometimes when your friend is crying because they can’t stand being here any longer, you want to be able to give them a hug. But you can’t because it’s against the rules.”

One child couldn’t even call his mother on his birthday because he had used up his allotment of telephone calls, the lawsuit says, and a teenage girl from Guatemala was so despondent that she began cutting herself.

Homestead officials say the lawsuit’s portrait of conditions inside the shelter are entirely inaccurate. They specifically note that children are allowed to use a phone whenever they need it.

The News Service of Florida reported ... that state officials had been told of a seventh report of child abuse at the facility. Two cases involved caregivers, one was linked to a staff member and another to a legal guardian of a minor, according to the Tallahassee-based media outlet.

The shelter’s coordinator, Bernadine Leslie Wood, said the kids had told her they felt like they are at a “slumber party,” according to the lawsuit. That would be laughable if the situation weren’t so serious.

It’s immoral to treat these children as if they were criminals when, in fact, illegal entry into the U.S. is a misdemeanor.

We applaud Mucarsel-Powell and her colleagues, Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Donna Shalala for keeping their sights trained on the center and demanding answers.

What makes the Homestead shelter such an ugly and painful issue for Floridians is that one in five of us — more than 4.3 million people — are immigrants.

The Trump administration should be able to review the asylum requests of children without treating them like convicts.

Online: https://www.orlandosentinel.com

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