Goodman: CHIP falls, jeopardizing health for 342,000 kids in Florida

Sens. Lindsey Graham and Bill Cassidy last week, after the collapse of their Graham-Cassidy health care bill, the GOP’s latest attempt to replace the Affordable Care Act. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

So intent were the Republicans in Congress on their latest gasping effort to gut Obamacare that they have threatened the health care of some 9 million children across the U.S., including almost 342,000 kids in Florida.

While all eyes were on the farcical Graham-Cassidy bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, the ever-dysfunctional Congress allowed funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program, or CHIP, to expire. This happened on Saturday (Sept. 30). Unless Congress quickly plays catch-up, states are projected to run out of program funding over the next 12 months. Florida’s funding is foreseen to expire by sometime in January.

CHIP is a noncontroversial program that is routinely renewed. A bipartisan initiative, it was originally co-sponsored, in 1997, by Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and the late Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass. The goal: Allow children from low-income families who live above the Medicaid threshold to obtain low-cost health insurance.

Children have no control over their financial circumstances, of course, so they’re especially vulnerable to the high price of health care — as well as to the need for checkups, immunizations, prescriptions and dental and vision care. All these have been covered under CHIP, as well as hospital care, lab work, x-rays and emergency services.

It’s funded primarily through federal funds that states match, $9.7 billion federal and $4 billion state funds in 2015. Florida is one of the states where parents are required to pay monthly premiums of $15 or $20 based on family income.

Just about everybody has been happy with this program for 20 years. But when you have a Congress that’s far more interested in grandstanding than governing, you get a fiasco like this.

All through September, almost every bit of energy on Capitol Hill was spent on the zombie-like moves by Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Bill Cassidy, R-La., to bring repeal-and-replace back from the crypt where Sen. John McCain’s no vote had seemed to consign it in July. But this latest bill was even worse than the GOP’s previous versions and even Graham admitted that Republicans didn’t know what they were doing.

Democrats were so focused on defeating Graham-Cassidy that they weren’t paying much attention to the looming expiration of CHIP funding, either.

Hatch and Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., did announce in September a plan for extending CHIP money for another five years and boosting funding over time. But that quickly got drowned out by all the drama over Graham-Cassidy.

A Senate and a House committee were scheduled to discuss bills today to continue CHIP funding. They’d better work fast. Arizona, Minnesota and North Carolina are projected to run out of funding by December. Funds for Florida’s 342,000 low-income children, infants and pregnant women would dry up soon after that.

Who is being affected? Dorothy R. .Novick, a pediatrician at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, recently wrote this in the Washington Post:

Every day I see patients in my practice who stand to lose their health care if Congress does not act to extend CHIP funding. Consider my patient who grew up in foster care, put herself through college and now earns a living as a freelance clothing designer. She is now a mother herself, and I treat her children. Her 1-year-old son has asthma and her 3-year-old daughter has a peanut allergy. They are able to follow up with me every three months and keep a ready supply of lifesaving medications because they qualify for CHIP.

Or consider the dad with a hearing impairment whose wife passed away two years ago. He supports his teenage daughters by working as a line cook during the day and a parking attendant at night. He sends the girls to a parochial school. He lost their Medicaid when he was given extra hours at his restaurant last year. But I still see them because they qualify for CHIP.

Congress, get to work.

 

Christie: Was Trump too focused on himself to feel Harvey victims’ pain?

Our president can’t help himself. He just cannot help himself.

As he exited a firehouse in Corpus Christi, Texas, on Tuesday, President Donald Trump noticed a crowd of about 800 people. He grabbed a lone star Texas flag and shouted back at his supporters: “What a crowd! What a turnout!”

And there you have it. Minutes after managing to show leadership while sitting at a table of local, state and federal officials managing the catastrophic mess of Tropical Storm Harvey, the president couldn’t resist the lure of the adoring crowd.

And as a result, raise questions about his inability to show true compassion for those who are suffering.

I know, I know… this simply sounds like nit-picking. Only it’s not.

Nit-picking would be making hay of first lady Melania Trump walking to Marine One in a pair of expensive snake-skin, spiked heels — on her way to “helping” storm victims. That’s trivial in the grand scheme of things. So I’m not doing that.

President Donald Trump, accompanied by first lady Melania Trump, holds up a Texas flag after speaking with supporters outside Firehouse 5 in Corpus Christi, Texas, on Tuesday, where he received a briefing on Harvey relief efforts. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

This is about our president, and the tens of thousands of Texans who want to believe that he feels their pain.

He had the opportunity, but he didn’t close the deal.

The president, despite criticism about pardoning former Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio on Friday, had pushed aides from the beginning to schedule a visit to Texas as early as possible after Harvey made landfall near Rockport, Texas on Friday night as a Category 4 hurricane. He has made sure to say repeatedly that all necessary federal resources would be made available to relief efforts; and the crucial Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has performed admirably, coordinating with Texas state and local officials.

RELATED LINK: Trump, in Texas, Calls Harvey Recovery Response Effort a ‘Real Team’

Trump even made the right call Tuesday by going to the Gulf Coast city of Corpus Christi, largely avoiding being a distraction from the catastrophic flooding that was ravaging the Houston area about 200 miles to the northeast.

“It’s a real team, and we want to do it better than ever before,” Trump said of the response effort during a briefing with officials in the Corpus Christi firehouse that resembled more a board meeting. “We want to be looked at in five years, in 10 years from now as, this is the way to do it.”

More than 9,000 and counting have gathered at the downtown evacuation center at the George R. Brown Convention Center on Tuesday in Houston. (Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times)

That’s all good. But even during the briefing, Trump had to be pulled back from P.T. Barnum-mode after introducing FEMA administrator Brock Long as “the man who’s really been very famous on television over the last couple of days.”

Long quickly responded that “all eyes are on Houston, and so are mine,” cautioning that rescue and recovery efforts still have “a long way to go.”

“We’re still in a life-saving, life-sustaining mission,” he added, as if intending to re-focus the president’s attention where it should be — on the victims, especially in Houston where 9,000 residents fleeing rising floodwaters crammed into a makeshift shelter designed to accommodate 5,000.

“This is not the Superdome,” Long said, referring to the chaos residents of New Orleans endured while seeking shelter at a sports arena after Hurricane Katrina 12 years ago.

“At the convention center, we are sustaining food,” he added. “I have an incident management team inside the city of Houston. And more and more people are being moved to shelters to stabilize the situation.”

People navigate through floodwaters with their belongings during flooding from Tropical Storm Harvey in Orange, Texas, Wednesday. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Long’s sobering focus was made surreal by the split-screen video feed from Houston that showed simultaneously on every major news channel that carried the briefing. Images of people wading through water chest deep, carrying babies and pets. The self-described “Redneck Navy” risking their own lives and boats to find trapped residents and get them to safety. Neighbors fighting against rushing floodwaters to form a human chain to get a nine-months-pregnant woman aboard a dump truck.

It was an awesome sight. America at its best, to be sure.

And in Corpus Christi, which, by comparison, had sustained relatively light damage from the storm, there was Trump still managing to seem like he was above it all standing atop a fire truck.

“Texas can handle anything,” he said, waving the state flag to cheers.

No handshakes. No hugs. No words of comfort whispered in any ears.

Well, even Trump knew this lack of empathy didn’t play well. This morning, he tweeted:

Indeed. It was a seeming disconnect made worse shortly thereafter by the mayor and police chief of Houston delivering the somber news that a Houston Police Department officer had died in the relief effort around 4 a.m. Sunday. Officer Steve Perez, a 34-year veteran of the force, drowned when his car was submerged driving through a flooded underpass as he tried to get to his “secondary” duty station after not being able to find a path to his primary station, according to Police Chief Art Acevedo.

“We couldn’t find him,” Acevedo said through tears.

Once the dive team got to the scene, it was “too treacherous to go under and look for him,” Acevedo said.

“We could not put more officers at risk,” he said.

The dive team went back out at 8 a.m. Tuesday and found Perez “within 20 minutes,” Acevedo said.

At last 20 people, including Perez, have been confirmed dead as a result of the storm, officials said.

Today would be a good time for the president to reach out to Acevedo and Mayor Sylvester Turner, whom Trump has basically avoided to this point.

It is possible, given all of the misery they are currently experiencing from the deluge of Tropical Storm Harvey, that Texas residents — especially those in Houston — could care less whether the president feels their pain.

Maybe this early test of Trump’s talents as comforter in chief will be less of a showcase for him to demonstrate compassion, and more one for leadership. To that end, maybe all frustrated and exhausted residents really care about is an adequate response.

Maybe. But they also want to know that the president cares more about them than he does himself. That he won’t be standing above an adoring crowd blowing kisses while they and their family are sleeping on cots in a over-crowded, makeshift shelter.

Sure, it’s symbolic; but symbolism matters — just ask former President George W. Bush.

President Trump plans on making a second trip to the region on Saturday. This time including a swing through Louisiana, which is starting to feel the brunt of the storm today.

Rarely do we get second chances to make good impressions. I hope the president makes the most of his.

Goodman: On opposing Trump on bigotry, Marco Rubio sets an example

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. speaks to reporters as he walks toward the Senate floor on July 18 (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

I’m usually quick to slam Marco Rubio for a lack of spine, so it’s only fair to applaud him when he shows some.

On Wednesday, he became the first Republican member of the Senate to slam President Donald Trump, blazing on Twitter:

-@marcorubio: “The organizers of events which inspired & led to #charlottesvilleterroristattack are 100% to blame for a number of reasons. 1/6

 Rubio: “They are adherents of an evil ideology which argues certain people are inferior because of race, ethnicity or nation of origin. 2/6”

 Rubio: “When entire movement built on anger & hatred towards people different than you,it justifies & ultimately leads to violence against them 3/6”

 Rubio: “These groups today use SAME symbols & same arguments of #Nazi & #KKK, groups responsible for some of worst crimes against humanity ever 4/6”

 Rubio: “Mr. President,you can’t allow #WhiteSupremacists to share only part of blame.They support idea which cost nation & world so much pain 5/6”

 Rubio: “The #WhiteSupremacy groups will see being assigned only 50% of blame as a win. We can not allow this old evil to be resurrected 6/6”

I particularly like Number 3.

To watch an American president all but side with armed, torch-bearing punks shouting Klan and neo-Nazi slogans was sickening. For many people in Palm Beach County, the home of his oh-so-precious Mar-a-Lago, this is personal.

This county has one of the densest Jewish populations in America. It’s been home for generations to many black people. It’s an important destination for immigrants from Haiti, Guatemala and other countries poor in political tolerance.

The Palm Beach Post editorial board warned about Donald Trump’s softness on bigotry as early as March 2016, during the primaries when there was still plenty of time for Republicans to repudiate the man and derail his candidacy. They didn’t.

And now this great nation is headed by a president who refuses to stand up for the most fundamental of American principles.

It is a time for everyone else — particularly other leaders — to do the standing up.

Be like Marco.

Goodman: 1.5M Floridians could lose coverage, but Obamacare foes forge on

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. speaks to reporters as he walks toward the Senate floor on Capitol Hill, July 18, 2017. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

The healthcare replacement bill that Senate Republicans are intent on pushing toward a vote this week, despite being declared dead a few days ago for lack of support within their own party, would mean the loss of health coverage for almost 1.5 million Floridians.

And if the GOP succeeds in repealing Obamacare without enacting a replacement, that number of newly uninsured Floridians would rise to about 2.3 million. So say estimates from the Urban Institute.

Those figures match up with Congressional Budget Office analyses showing that, nationwide, the Senate bill would strip coverage for 22 million Americans by 2026; 32 million, if the Affordable Care Act is repealed with no replacement.

No wonder the Republicans’ bumbling efforts to fulfill their most fervid promise of the Obama years are going so badly. The Senate replacement bill is so unpopular that only 12 percent of voters in key Trump counties think it’s a good idea, an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll shows.

Yet Gov. Rick Scott still sees political gold in attacking Obamacare tooth and claw. The Senate 2018 hopeful said in  Boca Raton this week, “I think you’ve got to understand Obamacare’s been a disaster. It’s caused health care prices to skyrocket.”

As if the problem of soaring healthcare costs didn’t exist before the ACA went into effect five years ago.

And Florida’s Republican U.S. senator, Marco Rubio, was ready last week to vote to repeal Obamacare without replacement, saying the health care law “has been bad for our country” — until that notion collapsed for lack of votes within a single day.

Rubio has hardly bathed himself in courage in this debate. Claiming to be undecided for weeks, he has refused to hold face-to-face town halls because, he said, activists will “heckle and scream at me.” And it appears he won’t meet with constituents who want to see the present law improved instead of voted or sabotaged into extinction.

Florida Voices for Health, a coalition of about 25 advocacy groups for expanded access to healthcare, has repeatedly sought to meet with Rubio, spokeswoman Louisa McQueeney told the Palm Beach Post Editorial Board. They’ve visited all his offices around the state. “The staff is very, very nice,” McQueeney said. “They take our materials. And then it just goes into a black hole.”

So Voices for Health proposed a “tele press conference call” and offered to give him written questions in advance. No response.

They sent Rubio a letter on July 10, asking that he commit to making sure that no Floridians lose coverage, that there are no cuts or caps to Medicaid and that no one is denied health insurance because of a pre-existing condition. They say he hasn’t answered.

The foes of the Affordable Care Act have done all they could over the past five years to badmouth the law. Scott, like other hardline Republican governors, refused to take advantage of the chance to expand Medicaid. Nevertheless, almost 1.5 million Floridians bought policies on Obamacare’s healthcare.gov marketplace — many of whom were going without insurance before.

Even if the Senate bills fail again this week, President Trump could fulfill his predictions of Obamacare’s death spiral by withholding the money to subsidize insurance companies to help sign up low-income customers. Just the uncertainty of future funding has caused some carriers to drop out of marketplaces.

And depending on what the Senate comes up with, Medicaid could be in for diminishment, either through cuts or caps or a restructuring to block grants. That’s a cloud over 4 million Floridians, including one half of the state’s children and 60 percent of seniors in nursing homes.

It’s bizarre that America is in this position. According to a Fox News poll last week — yes, Fox News — 60 percent of Americans want to keep Obama and for lawmakers to fix it. Seventy-four percent want Republicans to reach out to Democrats and find a compromise. That includes 59 percent of Republicans.

Yes, you read that right.

The public wants common-sense solutions, but the political system — wrapped up in tribal wars, ties to campaign contributors, the burning desire to score political wins … you name it — looks incapable of providing them. The very real danger is that millions of people will get hurt in the wreckage.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Christie: Trump a role model for kids whether he (or we) likes it or not

Friday’s Post Editorial CARTOON VIEW by award-winning cartoonist Lee Judge criticizing President Donald Trump for not being a good role model.

I love our readers. A phone call from one this morning critical of our choice of today’s editorial cartoon (above) touched an ongoing public debate about President Donald J. Trump.

“What is this supposed to be about?” the caller asked.

You see, among all the criticisms from the left (and right) about President Trump, an underlying theme appears to be either his fitness for the office or being a “role model” for our kids.

By the way, which side do you fall on this?…

 

The deluge of commentary from liberals is, of course, no surprise. But a steady stream of criticism from (establishment) conservatives can also be counted on.

Even the large stable of syndicated editorial cartoonists (about two dozen) that The Palm Beach Post subscribes to are not immune from this debate. Their takes often make for biting, some might say harsh, criticism of how President Trump’s actions and words raise questions about whether we should be shielding our children’s eyes and ears from his latest Twitter rant.

The cartoons, as is their wont, can evoke some pretty emotional and negative criticisms of their own from some readers as to their fairness, or bias for or against the president.

Then again, the cartoons are the opinions of the cartoonists, so by that very definition they are biased. The real question is whether or not they’re unfair. Let’s leave that one for another day.

Anyway, today’s cartoon by award-winning cartoonist Lee Judge, of the King Features Syndicate, sparked a bit of emotion (via phone calls) from a couple of readers.

The cartoon (above) depicts a little boy pulling a little girl’s hair in a sandbox, as one of the parents says: “Look at that… He’s acting presidential.”

The cartoon is obviously a shot at President Trump. It was sent in the wake of his Twitter war with MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” co-hosts Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski. Recall that what stood out most from that highly publicized back-and-forth was the president’s comments about Brzezinski.

Well, there you go.

You know, the president could just go the route of NBA legend Charles Barkley and just declare that he’s not a role model.

 

 

Or maybe we should just take Barkley’s advice.

Goodman: Florida should resist Trump’s bogus vote-fraud fishing expedition (but probably won’t)

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, right, meets with then President-elect Donald Trump in Bedminster, N.J., on Nov. 20, 2016. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File)

At least 44 states have pushed back against the White House’s jokingly named Election Integrity Commission’s request for detailed voter information — none so colorfully as Mississippi’s “They can go jump in the Gulf of Mexico” — but Florida is still ostensibly making up its mind.

“We are reviewing [the request],” Sarah Revell, a spokeswoman for the Florida Secretary of State, said Tuesday afternoon in an email.

Here’s a suggestion to Revell’s boss, Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner: Just say no.

MORE: Florida one of few states still silent about Trump voter data request

But this being the administration of Gov. Rick Scott, I don’t expect him to take the advice.

Last week, the voter-fraud panel sent a letter to all 50 states, asking their top election officials to send all available information, if publicly available in their state, about voters’ names, birth dates, the last four digits of Social Security numbers and their voting history going back to 2006.

Some of the resisting states simply don’t like the idea of the federal government amassing a master list of voters.

But some see this for what it is: an attempt by President Trump to find the phantom 3 million to 5 million “illegal voters” he claims, without a scintilla of evidence, to have voted for Hillary Clinton. It’s his explanation for losing the popular vote last November.

And at the same time, this sweep looks intended to amass a national database which will be used to spot supposed cases of voter fraud, Republicans’ favorite rationale for passing laws to suppress the vote.

It doesn’t take a deeply conspiratorial imagination to think that. The commission’s letter was written by its vice chair, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach — perhaps the most avid vote-suppressor in politics.

Just yesterday, Maryland became the latest state to refuse the commission, on the advice of its Attorney General Brian E. Frosh, a Democrat, who called the request a “repugnant” maneuver to “intimidate voters and to indulge President Trump’s fantasy that he won the popular vote.”

Frosh continued: “Repeating incessantly a false story of expansive voter fraud, and then creating a commission to fuel that narrative, does not make it any more true. There is no evidence that the integrity of the 2016 election in Maryland — or any other state — was compromised by voter fraud.”

Some of the 29 states are offering only partial information because their states prohibit the release of certain items. Ironically, one of the state officials unwilling to fork over everything, as requested by Kris Kobach, is Kris Kobach. He said Kansas won’t share Social Security information with the commission.

That’s Florida’s most likely route. Voter registration information is public record in Florida. In fact, it’s easily downloadable. So Trump’s commission should have no problem scooping up lots of data about Florida voters.

But some things cannot be made public, by law: Social Security numbers, driver license numbers and Florida I.D. numbers. Voters’ signatures can’t be copied.

Apart from that, the Scott administration will probably want to help Trump’s bogus crusade as much as it can. It has a history in this sorry pursuit.

In 2011, Scott ordered his then-Secretary of State, Kurt Browning to “identify and remove non-U.S. citizens from the voter rolls.” The non-citizens were supposed to be identified by comparing the voter rolls to the motor-vehicles department  records. Soon enough, the database matching coughed up 182,000 names. But Browning considered it so inaccurate, he refused to pass it along to county election officials. He resigned in February 2012. The new man, Detzner, was happy to comply.

Thousands of Floridians — no surprise, most were Hispanics, Democrats and independents — began receiving letters, informing them they’d be scrubbed from the voter rolls unless they produced proof of citizenship in 90 days. But before long, Palm Beach County Elections Supervisor Susan Bucher, along with the supervisor in Hillsborough County, refused to participate; the information was too old and too haphazard to trust. One of the targeted voters was a Brooklyn-born, 91-year-old World War II veteran living in Broward County.

Within weeks, all the state’s elections supervisors, including 30 Republicans, refused to take part in the purge, but not before about 85 people were tossed off the rolls. Federal courts eventually declared the scrubbing illegal.

So: We know from our own recent history here in Florida that these database searches for suspicious voters are prone to error.

We also know from plenty of studies that the supposed evil of widespread voter fraud is … well, itself a fraud.

As the Philadelphia-based national political writer Dick Polman (a former colleague of mine) writes:

An election specialist at the Loyola School of Law, Los Angeles, crunched the national numbers from 2010 and 2014, and found a grand total of 31 credible incidents of voter impersonation – out of one billion votes cast.

Elsewhere, the Brennan Center at New York University Law School found that the fraud rate in America is somewhere between 0.0003 percent and 0.0025 percent; it’s more likely, said the center’s report, that an American “will be struck by lightning than that he will impersonate another voter at the polls.”

Elsewhere, two studies at Arizona State University found 10 voter impersonation cases nationwide from 2000 to 2012.

Elsewhere, another national study looked at fraud cases from 2000 to 2012 and concluded that “the rate is infintesimal.”

All told, at least a dozen more studies, and court opinions, have reached the same conclusion. And lest we forget, when Pennsylvania’s ruling GOP tried to enact a photo ID law in 2012, ostensibly to thwart widespread statewide voter fraud, the GOP’s lawyers were compelled to admit in court papers that they were unable to cite a single case.

None of this, sad to say, is likely to sway Rick Scott. Which is too bad for the cause of genuine election integrity.

Goodman: Trump tweets on ‘bleeding’ ‘Crazy Mika’. Can the president please act like one?

Joe Scarborough, right, and Mika Brzezinski host MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” at NBC Studios in New York on April 14, 2010. (Michael Nagle/The New York Times)

It was just two weeks ago that a shooter with a rifle wounded a Republican congressmen on a baseball field, and pleas went out, from Republicans, Democrats and everyone else, to tamp down the hateful rhetoric.

Today, we have the president of the United States lashing out at a TV news team with undisguised rage, unmistakable sexism and intolerable vitriol.

On Twitter, President Donald Trump lit into Morning Joe hosts Joe Scarborough (“Psycho Joe”) and Mika Brzezinski (“low I.Q. Crazy Mika”), suggesting that he had seen the latter at Mar-a-Lago on New Year’s Eve “bleeding badly from a face-lift.”

Thankfully, the backlash has been swift, the tweets being roundly denounced by Republicans as well as Democrats. The glaring exception: the White House itself. Spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders, seemingly deaf to the ugliness of the president’s words, said, “This is a president who fights fire with fire and certainly will not be allowed to be bullied by liberal media, and the liberal elites within the media.”

The June 14 shooting at an Alexandria, Va., park, which severely wounded U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., elicited soul-searching prayers for more civility and unity in our increasingly fractious politics. Even Trump weighed in, after visiting Scalise in the hospital:

“Steve, in his own way, may have brought some unity to our long-divided country,” Trump said in the Roosevelt Room. “We’ve had a very, very divided country for many years, and I have a feeling that Steve has made a great sacrifice, but there could be some unity being brought to our country.” (CNN.com)

Today, we’re hearing much the same thing, but the catalyst isn’t some anonymous, disgruntled Midwesterner with a load of liberal resentments. It’s the leader of the free world. From earlier today:

Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, a Republican whose vote is considered critical to the success of Mr. Trump’s health care plan, wrote on Twitter, “This has to stop.” She said, “We don’t have to get along, but we must show respect and civility.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, also a Republican, wrote on Twitter, “Mr. President, your tweet was beneath the office and represents what is wrong with American politics, not the greatness of America.” (New York Times)

We are accustomed to thinking that the occupant of the White House represents the highest standard of respectful discourse, if not always behavior.

It is jarring to realize that it is the rest of us who must school this president on how to act like a president.

Goodman: New state law will put Florida science teaching under attack

Earth Science and Physics teacher Erich Landstrom, leading a discussion after watching a video of a meteor crashing in Russia during a freshman Earth Science class at Seminole Ridge High School in 2013 . (Bill Ingram/The Palm Beach Post)

Opening the floodgates for ideological fights over classroom content, a new Florida law is about to give climate change-deniers and evolution skeptics a fresh round of weapons to heave against science in the state’s classrooms.

In fact, it will help all kinds of people with axes to grind about what’s taught in the public schools.

Gov. Rick Scott signed House Bill 989, into law on Monday. It goes into effect July 1. An overhaul of the state’s policy on instructional materials, it allows any county resident — not just parents — to challenge materials used in the public schools.

According to PBS’ Frontline, Florida is “the first state to pass something like its classroom materials bill.”

A group called the Florida Citizens Alliance pushed for the measure. “We were getting a lot of complaints about religious indoctrination, political indoctrination, revisionist history and even pornography in the textbooks,” says its managing director, Keith Flaugh.

Among those complaints: books that teach that “global warming is a reality” and that “humans are just another animal.” Economics and history texts that criticize Ronald Reagan’s economic policies and fail to credit the former president for the breakup of the Soviet Union. Explicit sex in novels, including Toni Morrison’s “Beloved” and “The Bluest Eye.”

“Purchased at taxpayer expense, these materials teach our children that European Socialism is better than free markets and that the government is the answer to every problem,” the group’s website says. “They make use of sexually explicit material which tears down family values.”

The new law doesn’t mention climate change, evolution or any other topic, but it requires school districts to set up a formal process to field complaints from any resident about the content of educational materials, including anything in the school library or on a reading list.

The complaints must be heard by an “unbiased and qualified hearing officer” who’s not “an employee or agent of the school district.”

To help residents keep their eye out for material to object to, each district must post on its website “a current list of instructional materials, by grade level, purchased by the district.”

Who will sign up to be a hearing officer? Flaugh says members of his group would be happy to volunteer.

What this means is that every whackadoodle with an ideological ax to grind will get the chance — at taxpayer expense — to attack the school curriculum, and educators will have to defend modern scholarship.

Or as science teacher Brandon Haught has put it, hearing officers will have to consider nonsense complaints, “in essence giving protesters on a crusade nearly equal weight in the instructional-materials selection process as education and subject matter experts.”

Haught, who teaches in Volusia County, has written “Going Ape: Florida’s Battles over Education in the Classroom,” which he summarizes as “a book about the many times our state became a national embarrassment when the teaching of evolution was challenged.”

This looks like another embarrassment in the making.

But wait. It gets worse. Another new law, signed by Scott on June 9, protects students and educators who wish to express their religious beliefs in school from discrimination.

According to Frontline:

Flaugh said his group will use [the religious discrimination law] in conjunction with the instructional materials bill to contest textbooks that demonstrate “bias toward Islam and seldom mention Christianity,” and promote those that push for a Christian view of the origins of life.

“Darwin’s theory is a theory, and the biblical view is a theory, and our kids should be taught both in a balanced way,” he said.

So this isn’t just about removing so-called objectionable material from impressionable young minds. It’s about advancing a particular set of religious ideas.

That doesn’t belong in science class.

Congratulations, Florida. You’ve just opened a can of worms that’s bound to make public education more contentious. And, in all likelihood, dumber.

Christie: U.S. hypocrisy on human rights shows in Cuba policy ‘tweak’

Nelson Avila, center, joins anti-President Donald Trump protesters, calling for open relations with Cuba on Friday in Miami. Trump thrust the U.S. and Cuba back on a path toward open hostility Friday with a blistering denunciation of the island’s communist government. He clamped down on some commerce and travel but left intact many new avenues President Barack Obama had opened. (Leslie Ovalle/South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP)

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.

Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte.

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz… and lest we forget, Russian President Vladimir Putin.

All have been the subject of compliments from President Donald J. Trump during his infant presidency. From their strength in terms of silencing — even through violence — critics to their facility to write billion-dollar checks to the U.S. government, the president has not been shy about lauding these strongmen for their “leadership” in their respective countries.

President Trump has not been as willing to discuss their dark histories — former and current — when it comes to alleged human rights abuses.

That wasn’t the case last week, when the president made the grand announcement to reverse President Barack Obama’s opening of diplomatic relations with communist Cuba.

There, he drew a line of hypocrisy when it comes to what the U.S. will, and will not put up with when it comes to human rights by its partners.

President Donald Trump signs an executive order on a revised Cuba policy aimed at stopping the flow of U.S. cash to the country’s military and security services while maintaining diplomatic relations on Friday in Miami. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

“It’s hard to think of a policy that makes less sense than the prior administration’s terrible and misguided deal with the Castro regime,” Trump said.

“The previous administration’s easing of restrictions on travel and trade does not help the Cuban people. They only enrich the Cuban regime,” Trump said. “We will work for the day when a new generation of leaders brings this long reign of suffering to an end. And I do believe that end is within the very future.”
Trump said Obama’s policy has helped Cuba’s Castro regime rather than ordinary Cuban citizens. Of course, this is all about helping the Cuban people. Hard to argue against that. And the fact that the U.S.-Cuban thaw begun by Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro in 2014 hasn’t noticeably resulted in less human rights abuses — jailing of dissidents, imprisoning political opponents, etc.

A little more impatience about democracy isn’t such a bad thing.

But Trump joined a chorus of Cuban hardliners during his speech on Friday on stage at the Manuel Artime Theater who don’t bother drawing a distinction between our approach to Cuba’s Castro regime versus others of the same ilk.

Truthfully, Trump’s so-called “reversal” of Obama’s policies normalizing of relations with Cuba after 50-plus failed years of isolationism was little more than a “tweak.”

In this file photo, a tour bus along Havana’s Malecon. As President Donald Trump outlined a stricter policy toward Cuba on Friday travel industry representatives scrambled to decode new prohibitions and reassure clients that the island was not off limits. (Daniel Berehulak/The New York Times)

What remains: full diplomatic relations, including an embassy in Havana; reduced immigration favoritism for Cubans, otherwise known as the “wet foot, dry foot” policy; restored commercial flights and cruise-ship visits; enhanced cash remittances and visitation by Cuban Americans; and even removal of Cuba from the list of state terrorism sponsors.

What changes: tightening restrictions on tourist travel to Cuba — technically illegal already — and instituting a broad prohibition on financial transactions with companies significantly controlled by the Communist government’s military holding company.

The rest is mostly rhetoric. Questionable rhetoric that, while it sounds good on a campaign stump, won’t amount to much in terms of helping the Cuban people.

So why bother? Especially given how hypocritical it all sounds when compared to what he administration seems fit to put up with from other de facto dictatorships when it comes to human rights abuses.

Why didn’t we here the same compassion from the Trump administration for the Turkish people who are having their rights trampled on? Would the U.S. be wrong to demand the right to a fair trial for hundreds of alleged drug dealers shot down in the streets in the Philippines? Why didn’t we here the same for the thousands of Egyptians jailed and killed by el-Sisi? And was a $100 billion buy of U.S. military hardware enough to buy our silence on Saudi Arabia’s treatment of women?

Such selective ire makes the righteous indignation from Trump, Sen. Marco Rubio and Rep. Jose Diaz-Balart ring all the more hollow.

Human rights are human rights. You either care about them everywhere, or you don’t care about them at all.

Goodman: Alexandria shooting shows ‘there’s too much hate’ in our politics, GOP congressman says

We don’t yet know the motives of the gunman who opened fire on Republican congressmen and staffers who were practicing at a peaceful park in Alexandria, Va., for a charity baseball game.

But the vitriol in Washington, D.C., is so intense over our politics, the divisions in America so bitter, that it is easy to jump to the same conclusion as Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Ill., who was at the practice and survived the barrage of gunfire that severely wounded a colleague, Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., and wounded three others.

“This hatefulness that we see in this country today over policy differences, it’s got to stop,” Davis told CNN. This is his “breaking point,” he said. The political rhetoric of hate and division, including on social media and the 24-hour news cycle, has to end.

“I think Republicans and Democrats need to use this today, today, to stand together and say, ‘Stop! Let’s work together. Let’s get things done. We can have our differences but let’s not let it lead to such hate.'”

Even if it turns out that the shooter, identified as James Hodgkinson, 66, of Belleville, Ill., had no political motive, it speaks volumes that the nation’s current animosities leap to mind when processing such unprovoked violence.

Can America ratchet down the animosities? Is this a warning of what may happen if we do not?

UPDATE 12:16 p.m.

Washington Post reports:

The man suspected of firing dozens of rounds into an Alexandria baseball field Wednesday morning has been identified by federal law enforcement officials as James T. Hodgkinson, 66, of Belleville, Ill.

A Facebook page belonging to a person with the same name includes pictures of Democratic presidential candidate, Bernie Sanders, and rhetoric against President Trump, including a post that reads: “Trump is a Traitor. Trump Has Destroyed Our Democracy. It’s Time to Destroy Trump & Co.”

Hodgkinson was among those taken to a hospital Wednesday, and President Trump announced that he had died from “his injuries.”

Charles Orear, 50, a restaurant manager from St. Louis, said in an interview Wednesday that he became friendly with Hodgkinson during their work together in Iowa on Sanders’s presidential campaign. Orear said Hodgkinson was a passionate progressive and showed no signs of violence or malice toward others.

 “You’ve got to be kidding me,” Orear said when told by phone about the shooting.

Orear described Hodgkinson as a “quiet guy” who was “very mellow, very reserved” when they stayed overnight at the home of a Sanders’s supporter in Rock Island, Ill., after canvassing for the Vermont senator.

“He was this union tradesman, pretty stocky, and we stayed up talking politics,” he said. “He was more on the really progressive side of things.”

When informed that the suspect’s Facebook page prominently features Sanders’s image, the senator’s spokesman Michael Briggs said:

“Our prayers go out for a full recovery of Rep. Scalise, the congressional aides and police officers who were injured. We’ve got to stop the violence.”