Editorial Roundup: Florida

South Florida Sun Sentinel and Orlando Sentinel. September 30, 2022.

Editorial: Lessons from Hurricane Ian that Florida must heed

Every time a major hurricane approaches landfall in Florida, one question dominates most people’s minds, no matter how much outward bravado they may show.

Is this the big one?

By that, they usually mean “Will this storm be the storm so massive, so costly, so deadly that it forces Florida to change the way it responds to global climate change and extreme weather? Will this finally force us to fix our eternally precarious insurance market?” Yet before the storm winds even really subside, the discussion takes a subtle shift, with the phrase “dodged a bullet” coming into heavy use.

The ravaged communities of Fort Myers, Venice and Cape Coral can’t say they dodged anything. As of Friday afternoon, 21 people were dead, most of them in these southwest Florida communities. Yet even as rescuers searched for survivors of Hurricane Ian, Floridians in other parts of the state were talking about how much worse it would have been if it had hit Tampa. Floodwaters were still rising in Orange, Osceola and Seminole counties, but Orlando residents seemed focused on the fact that the storm shifted south instead of ripping through downtown like a buzzsaw.

It’s an ongoing pattern of desensitization, one that fails to realize how many “big ones” have slammed into this state or scored near-misses. Floridians have taken in shocking images — ambulances waiting for bodies of senior citizens who died in the sweltering heat of a Hollywood nursing home after Hurricane Irma’s 2017 power failure; the street grids littered with smashed debris after Hurricane Michael flattened the Panhandle resort of Mexico Beach a year later. They watched the approach of Dorian, a massive Category 5 storm that in 2019 threatened to wipe Daytona Beach off the map only to stall out over the Bahamas. All of this, and much more, within the last five years alone.

For southwest Florida, Ian is the big one. Recovery will be measured in years, not months. The storm will reshape the character of southwest Florida, including the charming and irreplaceable resort islands of Sanibel and Captiva. Gov. Ron DeSantis has performed ably so far, staying in constant contact with local officials, talking with President Joe Biden and appearing on TV regularly to communicate with Floridians. But if he is re-elected, the single largest challenge of his second term will be to steer that recovery — and put his muscle behind a more comprehensive defense against fiscal and meteorological devastation.

The alternative — waiting for some divine hand to write “This is the big one” across a storm-black sky before confronting reality — is unthinkable.

Insurance, from the ground up

Florida’s private property insurance market is fundamentally broken and needs a comprehensive reboot. There is no pretense of a free market here; state regulations have companies so bound up, there’s almost no room for innovation. But the ties are made of gilded rope, designed to maximize profit potential while maintaining legal fictions (such as the law that allows companies to trade on national brand recognition but minimize their risk by walling Florida off into separate companies). Add to that the billions of dollars of backup catastrophic funding — taxpayer-backed “reinsurance” that lowers companies’ exposure to large-scale emergencies. Meanwhile, lawmakers tried to balance the scales with laws that were originally intended to force quick, consumer-friendly response to legitimate claims. As crafted by trial-attorney lobbyists, however, these measures created safe havens for myriad scams, which have now become so prevalent that several smaller insurance companies have collapsed.

It’s a mess too tangled to repair. Florida lawmakers need to rebuild the system from the ground up.

Fight climate inaction

At the same time, the governor must confront his own party’s persistent blindness toward the reality of climate science, which sharply limits Florida’s ability to manage the risk of impacts of future big storms. Researchers have already estimated that climate change added at least 10% to Ian’s rainfall totals; this gives the governor real-life examples of how much less devastation southwest Florida might have seen.

If anyone can do it, he can. DeSantis has never really been a climate-change denier and has, in fact, kept the challenges of resilience and related water-quality issues in an awkward side hug. He’s signed off on hundreds of millions in allocations, including projects to restore marshes and wetlands that should be buffering the state against the violence of big storms.

At the same time, however, his activist battle on all things “woke” includes a frontal attack on companies that embrace the ideals (and economic benefits) of clean, renewable energy.

He should drop that nonsense and become the climate warrior he’s always promised to be, rebuking those across the political spectrum who have learned to talk big on climate while stalling on action that might offend their allies in the fossil-fuel industries. Florida has big questions to answer, including whether it makes sense to keep crowding residents into the coastal areas that we already know are most vulnerable to the ravages of climate change, and forcing state taxpayers to foot the bill for endless cycles of devastation and recovery.

As cities like Fort Myers and Cape Coral begin the painful process of rebuilding, DeSantis should demand standards that respect reality. Around the world, weather is becoming increasingly violent and unpredictable, with bigger, more destructive storms and increased vulnerability to high heat and other perils. He should also force the acknowledgement that as sea levels rise, flooding will emerge as the No. 1 threat to lives and property in Florida. Any reconstruction along the coast must consider the inevitability that sooner or later, the invading sea will prevail.

It’s not just coastal areas: In every inland county Ian passed over, flooding threatened homes and washed out roads. Florida has to stop paving over the areas that allow water to seep back into the ground (where it eventually becomes the state’s critical drinking-water supply.) State leaders should also recognize the need to minimize the state’s contribution to global warming by reducing reliance on fossil fuels.

The good fight

Even for those still awaiting the mythical monster of the “big one,” there’s no longer any excuse to avoid the reality playing out in Southwest Florida: Over the course of 24 hours, the lives of hundreds of thousands of Floridians were dramatically remade by Hurricane Ian, and recovery will take generations. This will keep happening, and it’s time to acknowledge that reality.

If DeSantis wants a culture war, this is the righteous choice.

___

Tampa Bay Times. September 30, 2022.

Editorial: Three big jobs for Florida after Hurricane Ian

FEMA’s challenge, dealing with insurers and providing the basics.

Even by Florida’s hurricane-hardened standards, the devastation wrought by Hurricane Ian is agonizing — and the full extent of the damage has yet to be calculated. As of Friday afternoon, barely 48 hours after the Category 4 storm tore through southwest Florida, leveling roads, bridges, buildings and homes, Ian had caused at least 21 deaths and left 2 million Florida customers without power.

The immediate task, of course, is to reach survivors and to provide life-saving shelter and essentials. That will require a Herculean effort and tight coordination by federal, state and local agencies, all of whom will play a critical role in getting storm victims back on their feet. In the coming days and weeks, three tasks seem especially vital to the recovery.

Federal leadership. The Federal Emergency Management Agency has its hands full, managing the ongoing relief effort in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Fiona, the new disaster in Florida and readying for the impacts from Hurricane Ian as it bore down Friday on the Carolinas. FEMA administrator Deanne Criswell was in Florida inspecting the damage on Friday and tweeted that “the entire federal family is committed to responding and supporting Floridians for however long it takes.” That’s reassuring. The agency must meet the needs of these disaster areas in a timely manner. The administration and Congress should provide FEMA what it needs to stabilize these crises on the ground and to kick-start the cleanup and rebuilding effort.

Helping with insurers. Florida’s property insurance market was a mess long before Ian smashed ashore near Fort Myers. But now tens of thousands of Floridians whose homes were lost or destroyed face the additional struggle of dealing with their insurers. Jimmy Patronis, the state’s chief financial officer, who oversees insurance, needs to help Floridians navigate the claims process. Many property owners have lost everything, including photographs and documents they may need to process an application. Many victims are also suffering from anxiety, economic hardship and personal loss. The state needs to assist these Floridians and ensure they are not stymied by predatory business practices or bureaucratic hurdles.

Beyond bottled water. With businesses destroyed, and thousands of homes leveled or unfit for habitation, southwest Florida faces a range of needs over the medium term. Governments and nonprofits will need to provide temporary housing over a sustained period of time. The state will need to expedite jobless claims and help assist workers and small employers access the social safety net. Public transportation also will be more important as residents who lost their vehicles or income struggle to get to and from their destinations. Residents need to feel they are on track to regaining a sense of normalcy. And they need to see a sense of urgency and sustained commitment to the massive reconstruction job ahead.

Average Floridians across the state can help, too, by donating to a reputable charity that assists storm victims and by urging elected officials in every corner of Florida to make the recovery effort a statewide priority. Ian showed that hurricanes are an unpredictable, indiscriminate punisher. They are a reality of living in Florida, which require everyone to pull together with an efficient, coordinated and compassionate response.

___

Miami Herald. October 2, 2022.

Editorial: Receiving Florida unemployment benefits better be easier for Ian’s victims than it was for COVID’s

Those left jobless by Hurricane Ian, mainly the thousands of people who worked in the tourism industry in Sanibel, Fort Myers and Naples and Pine Island, are about to learn whether the state’s improved unemployment website will handle the load more effectively than it did during the COVID-19 pandemic. It better. These hurricane-stunned Floridians do not need another headache.

In 2020, when the pandemic left service, hospitality and retail workers from Miami to the Panhandle without employment, many experienced inhumane wait times and log-on problems with the CONNECT system to claim to request benefits. CONNECT crashed repeatedly. The unemployed could not be blamed for thinking the state did not want them to receive benefits.

Now it’s a new year and a new disaster for Florida’s working people, many of whom helped sustain the tourism industry in hard-hit Lee and Charlotte counties.

Sunday, the state’s Department of Economic Opportunity issued this statement in anticipation of another onslaught of unemployment claims this week:

“Right now, Floridians impacted by Hurricane Ian are trying to meet their critical needs, and what they don’t need are roadblocks interfering with their recovery,” said DEO Secretary Dane Eagle in a news release. “Gov. DeSantis’ swift action to cut red tape and waive reporting requirements for reemployment assistance is the right choice to get families the help they need to get back on their feet faster, and DEO stands ready to distribute this vital assistance as quickly as possible.”

The release added, “Disaster Unemployment Assistance (DUA) is available to Florida businesses and residents in FEMA disaster-declared counties whose employment or self-employment was lost or interrupted as a direct result of Hurricane Ian and are not eligible for regular state or Federal Reemployment Assistance benefits.”

The state has made filing easier by lifting the requirement that the jobless search for new employment immediately.

That’s great news. It will be greater still if the whole thing functions smoothly. After all, in 2021, the Florida Legislature allocated $72 million for DEO to transform CONNECT into a fully cloud-based system over the next two years. It’s unclear how much work has been done, and we know the state was in the process of hiring 435 more people for behind-the-scenes work.

Last year, Eagle gave the end of the summer 2022 as the date when the streamlined system would be working.

That’s right about now, meaning CONNECT has to get it right this time. The state cannot add insult — again — to shell-shocked Floridians’ injury.

___

Palm Beach Post. September 28, 2022.

Editorial: Ken Burns’ Holocaust documentary: What the 1940s teach us about the 2020s

America, where were you? More than a million Jews were slaughtered before we even entered World War II in December 1941.

America knew what was going on in Europe — not just the territorial loss but the desperation and death. Refugees sailed to our shores by the hundreds of thousands and yet, we turned them away, shipping many back to certain death. There were German spies mixed with them in the boats, some insisted, and the United States already had enough foreigners in its midst, let alone Jews; that’s what the xenophobes said in dissuading the public from opening arms to those with no place to turn.

The message we can learn from Ken Burns’ ‘The U.S. and the Holocaust’ documentary

If there was a message in the black and white footage of Ken Burns’ The U.S. and the Holocaust, which aired last week on public television, it was in what it left unsaid: That the full-color, real-life horror of mass exodus never stopped playing out when that war ended. It confronts us now, begs for us to act. At European and American borders, refugee suffering mounts, ignored by some, misconstrued by others and derided with the same foul sentiments we should have surmounted long ago.

The documentary is must-watch, for adults who think they know all they need to about what transpired and yet fail to apply its lessons to the current day, and for students limited to STEM curricula that give them no time or tools, nor sufficient concern, to address the hatred that continues to grow among us.

Our political leaders should watch, too, to be reminded of the inevitable result of the cynical games they play to this day.

In a piece on the opposing page in our print edition today, New York Times columnist Charles Blow recounts a conversation with Texas gubernatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke. O’Rourke describes how his opponent, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, ships immigrants out of state — an act Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis imitated recently — as “an effort to incite fear and hatred and connect with people at a very base, emotional level,” an “effort to dehumanize people.”

Abbott’s and DeSantis’ rewards, better poll numbers, come at the expense of stripping immigrants’ individual lives, stories and feelings from the public narrative.

The 48 Venezuelan asylum candidates that Ron DeSantis’ operatives plucked from Texas and tricked into traveling north weren’t told where they were going; nor were the people of Martha’s Vineyard alerted to their arrival. DeSantis got the microphone time he craved but at what cost to our humanity as a people descended from immigrants, DeSantis included.

“Obviously there are issues with the border and immigration,” Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg recently told an interviewer. “But these are the kinds of stunts you see from people who don’t have a solution. Gov. DeSantis was in Congress... What have any of these people done to be part of the solution?”

Lost in these stunts, and in the incomplete footage often broadcast of waders in the Rio Grande and broken rafts on South Florida shores: acknowledgement of the roots of the suffering.

Americans too easily forget that most of these travelers would have been happy never to leave their homelands, whether Haiti, Venezuela or Central America. They’re fleeing violence, hunger and the absence of any opportunity to survive and create better lives for their families.

The solution is not to add Coast Guard interceptors, roll out more miles of razor wire or erect taller border walls. That hasn’t worked and there’s no reason to believe it will. The solution is to invest in a massive international effort to rebuild the homelands these refugees felt forced to leave.

That’s not easy, either, but the structures are there to be scaled up, whether through the United Nations, individual nations, corporations or nongovernmental organizations and volunteers. What’s missing is the will, a will that weakens every time a politician whips the public into a frenzy but refuses to sit with members of an opposing party to shape a compassionate response.

So, as we document World War II and the damage done by our inaction, it’s instructive to ask where America was while millions died in the streets and death camps. But we will have learned nothing from that question if we do not then ask ourselves: Where are we now, when refugees again beg for our help?

END