Christie: Is Gov. Rick Scott to blame for the worsening red tide, toxic algae blooms?

Lifeguards at Riviera Beach beach wear covering over their faces. The life guards (did not want to give names) said that if asked they would advise people not to risk a beach visit. Many beaches remains open Sunday morning while others remained closed to to Red Tide warnings. (Melanie Bell / The Palm Beach Post)

For years now, coastal Palm Beach County residents has been able to watch the environmental disasters caused by toxic blue-green algae and red tide from afar.

We’ve watched our neighbors to the north in the Treasure Coast have their lives buffeted; our fellow county residents to the west in the Glades have their way of life threatened; and our fellow coastal residents in Southwest Florida shutter businesses.

RELATED: Beaches remain closed due to ‘airborne irritant’

But that was before this weekend. Before the red tide we’ve all been reading about elsewhere in the state was suspected of making the air so bad here that local health officials in Martin and Palm Beach counties were forced to shut down 27 miles of beaches.

Health officials, on Monday, were still trying to confirm that it is indeed red tide that forced beachgoers — especially those with respiratory issues — to stay away, and had many complaining about burning eyes.

Jill Desplain brings her daughter Quinn in from the surf. She is visiting from Kentucky and and was unaware of the red tide warnings. Riviera Beach beach remains open Sunday morning while other beaches are closed due to Red Tide warnings. (Melanie Bell / The Palm Beach Post)

Apropos that at the center of it all is Gov. Rick Scott and his dismal environmental record of budget cutting and lax regulation. But will county residents blame Scott for if the red tide disaster has indeed made it to our shores?

If it is red tide, this may be a game-changer for Scott — who prides himself among other things on shamelessly promoting our state’s all-important tourism industry. The embattled governor, who has already been taking hits for weeks in every coastal community he deigns to visit, usually sees Palm Beach County as a sanctuary for the Scott train. In fact, he was just here a couple weeks ago raising money in Palm Beach with former President George W. Bush.

RELATED: Editorial: Scott must answer for environmental malpractice

That was then. Today, drivers can see signs for “Red Tide Rick” hanging from Florida’s Turnpike overpasses in the county. And again, if health officials confirm that red tide is the cause of the current “airborne irritant” at our beaches, Scott may have to scratch another coastal haunt off of his U.S. Senate campaign tour for a while.

Take our poll here, and let us know what you think: Is Scott’s handling of the environment to blame for the worse-than-normal red tide and toxic blue-green algae blooms?

Christie: Sex assault allegations make it tough to have Kavanaugh confirmation vote

Judge Brett Kavanaugh, President Donald Trump’s nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court. Christine Blasey Ford, who has accused Kavanaugh of sexual assault is willing to testify about her allegations before Congress, her attorney said Monday. (T.J. Kirkpatrick/The New York Times)

As the old saw goes: “What a difference a day makes.”

On Saturday, the sexual assault allegations contained in a leaked confidential letter from U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein against U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh was being treated like an act of political desperation on the part of Democrats.

In fact, it was being characterized as a joke by many political insiders and even veteran journalists, as this Friday image from editorial cartoonist Signe Wilkinson shows:

CARTOON VIEW SIGNE WILKINSON

By Sunday morning, however, the allegations were no longer joke-worthy. Christine Blasey Ford, a Stanford University research psychologist, told The Washington Post that she is the woman alleging that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her more than three decades ago, when they were high school students in suburban Maryland.

As one might expect, no one’s been laughing since. In this age of #MeToo, when powerful men are being taken down all over the place for sexual misconduct going back years, the seriousness of Ford’s allegations cannot be understated.

To that end, Wilkinson caught on quick and sent out another cartoon Monday morning:

CARTOON VIEW SIGNE WILKINSON

For the record, Kavanaugh has strenuously denied that the sexual assault recounted by Ford ever happened. A Republican-leaning group is preparing to launch a $1.5 million advertising and marketing campaign in his defense; focusing I’m sure on how desperate Dems timed the release of these allegations to shut down an upcoming vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Well, mission accomplished.

There’s really no way, either politically or ethically, that the Republican-controlled Senate can move forward without a complete airing of these accusations. Truth be told, the Kavanaugh confirmation process has been a politically motivated cluster from the beginning. After being rushed by the Republican leadership, tens of thousands of pages of documents were dumped on Democratic committee members hours before the confirmation hearings began. Democrats, knowing they couldn’t stop the confirmation, fostered an almost circus-like atmosphere during the hearings.

It’s been almost laughable. Which is probably why when Feinstein released Ford’s letter, in which Ford had asked to remain anonymous, most saw it as just a last-ditch attempt to stymie the inevitable.

But then Ford, seeing this decided that she wanted to be the one to tell her story. To say that she isn’t a joke. That she alone has had to bear this trauma for 35 years; and that despite a successful career, marriage and family, the scars from being held down with a hand over your mouth while your clothes are being pulled at never really go away.

This is what Republican leaders must now navigate. They must somehow re-assure the thousands of American women like Ford. Though highly educated and successful, they carry around the memory of heinous incidents from their youth that they are loathe to discuss, even with those closest to them.

And by the way, here we are again, nearly 30 years after the infamous confirmation hearings for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, with a group of old, white men — at least on the GOP side of the judiciary committee — presiding over a woman’s virtue.

But this is not the same culture that greeted Anita Hill.

Not taking the claims of woman willing to go public, and on the record with serious allegations of sexual assault allegations would likely carry a steep political price for the party in power.

Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Ranking Member Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) of the Senate Judiciary Committee during an executive business meeting to consider the nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. (Erin Schaff/The New York Times)

Thus, Senate Judiciary Chairman Charles Grassley has already offered for both Ford and Kavanaugh (again, who denies the allegations) to testify before the committee. But not in public.

As of Monday, Grassley and the rest of the GOP leadership still seem determined to rush this confirmation through.

That could be a mistake, especially since Ford has offered to testify publicly. Also, at least two GOP senators — Susan Collins of Maine and Jeff Flake of Arizona (a member of the judiciary committee) are no longer solid “yes” votes for Kavanaugh. And that can hardly be afforded with a narrow 51-49 vote margin in the Senate.

To be sure, the margin for error for handling Ford’s allegations against Kavanaugh is razor thin. But the GOP also faces a political deadline in that their control of the Senate could be gone on Nov. 6.

The Senate could delay a confirmation vote on Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination to allow for a complete vetting of the sexual assault allegations against him.

But should it?

Take our poll and let us know what you think.

Christie: Moore sex controversy throws moral test for political candidates out the window

NEW YORK — Beverly Young Nelson (L) speaks to the media with her lawyer Gloria Allred, at a news conference where she has accused Alabama Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore of sexually abusing her when she was 16 on Monday. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

There is no more moral test for political candidates. There is only hypocrisy.

That’s about the only conclusion you can come to in the wake of the sexual assault allegations against former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore, the Republican candidate to fill an Alabama seat in the U.S. Senate.

For those of you who’ve been too busy binge-watching “Stranger Things 2” on Netflix or traveling overseas like President Donald J. Trump, The Washington Post published an explosive report last week in which four women say Moore pursued them sexually or romantically when they were in their teens — allegations corroborated by more than two dozens witnesses. The youngest accuser, Leigh Corfman, said she was 14 and Moore was 32 when he sexually touched her.

Former Alabama Chief Justice and U.S. Roy Moore.

Moore has repeatedly denied the allegations made by Corfman, and is staying in the race.

But as expected, this news touched off an avalanche of condemnation from Democrats. And more importantly, dozens of Republicans — including Marco Rubio of Florida — have also offered more tepid calls for Moore to drop out of the Senate race, “If the allegations turn out to be true.”

Well, at least in Corfman’s case, her stepfather has corroborated her story. And Mike Ortiz, an ex-boyfriend of Corfman told CNN she relayed the story to him when they dated for about two years around 2009. Corfman’s description to the Post fits what she told him to a tee, he said.

“But I believed her when she told me and I still believe her,” he said on CNN. “She wouldn’t lie about something like that.”

What’s been eye-opening for many observers is hearing Bible-thumping, morality preaching evangelicals in Alabama imply just the opposite. Yep… these same evangelicals who castigate liberals and progressives for the slightest moral failing are willing to set aside the word of four women accusing the former judge of sexual assault. A fifth woman, Beverly Young Nelson, came forward on Monday with a detailed and particularly creepy encounter with Moore when she was 16 years old.

Conservative talk radio host Sean Hannity asked Moore Friday on his show whether Moore would have dated teenagers when he was in his 30s.

“No, not generally,” said Moore, who also said he always asked the permission of a girl’s mother before dating her.

Uh… “not generally”?

Small wonder Republicans are scrambling ahead of the Dec. 12 special Senate election between Moore and Democrat Doug Jones, with the deadline for replacing a candidate on the ballot well past. The polls now have them virtually tied at about 46 percent; putting the GOP’s already tenuous 52-48 Senate majority in further jeopardy on big votes like tax reform.

Dozens of Republicans — including Marco Rubio of Florida — have offered tepid calls for Moore to drop out of the Senate race, “If the allegations turn out to be true.” (Editorial cartoon by Ken Siers)

On Monday, Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell had enough. The Kentucky conservative  came around to calling for Moore to drop out of the race, after saying “I “believe the women.” Senators Mike Lee of Utah and Steve Daines of M0ntana publicly rescinded their endorsements after the Hannity interview. And the Republican’s senatorial campaign committee has pulled its funding.

Even those recriminations, however, smack more of political calculus than moral turpitude.

Over the weekend, a former prosecutor who once worked alongside Moore in the early 1980s told CNN it was “common knowledge” at the time that Moore dated high school girls.

“It was common knowledge that Roy dated high school girls, everyone we knew thought it was weird,” former deputy district attorney Teresa Jones told CNN in comments aired Saturday. “We wondered why someone his age would hang out at high school football games and the mall … but you really wouldn’t say anything to someone like that.”

Still, Moore remains defiant.

“To think grown women would wait 40 years before a general election to bring charges is unbelievable,” he said at an event in Alabama over the weekend. He later added, “Isn’t it strange after 40 years of constant investigation, that people have waited four weeks before a general election to bring their complaint? That’s not a coincidence.”

I agree. This is the kind of stuff that doesn’t usually come out unless someone is running for office. The bigger the office, the more stuff that will typically come out.

The Rev. Tom Brown, pastor at First Baptist Church of Gallant, speaks to the media before the church service Sunday, Nov. 12, in Gallant, Ala. The First Baptist Church of Gallant is the church the Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore attends. “He’s always been a man of character, of integrity, of honor, and there’s nothing in those 25 years that I’ve seen that would challenge that,” Brown said. “That’s all I can go by.” (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

Again, that hasn’t much weakened Moore’s support among the evangelical Christian voters of Alabama who write the whole thing off as a Washington establishment plot.

That would be a bit easier to accept if these same good people hadn’t bought, hook line and sinker, the false allegations that former President Barack Obama was not born in the United States. These same voters, with regard to Moore, now ask: “Whatever happened to innocent until proven guilty?”

Here’ another couple questions: Whatever happened to their morality test? Does anyone really believe these same Moore supporters would give Democratic rival Jones the benefit of the doubt if such allegations were made?

Moore says he will sue The Washington Post over the story.

No, he won’t.

He says that he will come forward this week with evidence that some of the women have been paid to make the accusations.

No, he won’t.

But will that matter to the moral hypocrites who still support Moore despite these awful allegations?

No, it won’t.

Christie: Tough questions may signal tough re-election for Mast

Suzanne Reynolds of Jupiter plans to work to defeat Brian Mast in next election over his support of repealing and replacing Obamacare. (Photo/Bill DiPaolo)

Are U.S. Congressional District 18 voters having some buyer’s remorse when it comes to Rep. Brian Mast?

You can bet the Florida Democratic Party hopes so; especially after last month’s House vote for the controversial American Health Care Act — or Trumpcare

Mast, like other GOP House members (and some senators) around the country, has faced down some tough questioning from constituents at town halls the last few weeks. To the freshman congressman’s credit, he did not back down from his vote to essentially back President Donald J. Trump’s pledge to “repeal and replace” the troubled Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

Before Rep. Brian Mast, R-Palm City, met with constituents earlier this month, some protesters stood along PGA Boulevard to criticize his vote for a Republican health care bill. (George Bennett/The Palm Beach Post)

Take this exchange with a voter, according to the Post’s George Bennett earlier this month:

“I am ‘pre-existing’ along with my family,” one woman told Mast at Tuesday’s meeting. “If they pull the ACA and they pull the pre-existing, what are we going to do?”

Said Mast: “This bill has my support because I absolutely do not believe that it will be pulling coverage from people with pre-existing conditions.”

Many in the crowd groaned, but Mast continued, saying “This is the reality. It is in word, written in the law, that you cannot do this. You cannot pull it away from people.”

“If they pull my pre-existing, can I come to your office and ask for your help to get insurance?” the woman asked Mast.

“I hope you do so, ma’am,” Mast replied.

Mast, who in 2010 lost both legs after stepping on a roadside bomb in Afghanistan, also told an occasionally raucous town hall meeting  in April:

“There are positives and negatives” in the health law known as Obamacare, said Rep. Brian Mast, who noted he gets his health care from the Veterans Health Administration. “I’m not going to pretend this is the easiest thing to work through.”

Indeed. And Dems are relishing that Florida’s 18th Congressional District, which includes Stuart, Port St. Lucie and part of northern Palm Beach County, an opening despite Mast winning last fall with 53.6 percent of the vote.

Politico reports that retired Army Major Corinna Robinson is talking to state and national Democrats about getting in, and she confirmed her interest. She has run unsuccessfully for Congress once before, but in South Dakota. In 2014, Robinson challenged GOP Rep. Kristi Noem in a campaign that generated very little outside attention, and lost 67-33. Robinson relocated to Florida in January for what Politico describes as “via a Pentagon job and Brookings congressional fellowship to support the counter-terrorism program at Joint Special Operations University at U.S. Special Operations Command in Tampa.” (On the other side of the state.) One enthusiastic unnamed Democratic strategist praised Robinson as a “fucking unicorn.”

Worth mentioning: Another military veteran Pam Keith, who took 15 percent of the vote in the 2016 Senate primary, recently formed an exploratory committee.

U.S. Rep. Brian Mast, R-Palm City, smiles as he greets supporters during his successful campaign last fall. (Richard Graulich / The Palm Beach Post)

Not sure what other Dems are interested in challenging Mast. But a pushover, he won’t be.

Despite taking hits at three town hall this year, he hasn’t backed down from meeting with constituents (like some of his congressional brethren).

Also while those town halls have been noticeably packed with Democrats, party leaders shouldn’t forget that his district leans to the right.

In April, attendee Rhonda Giacomelli of Palm Beach Gardens said the gathering didn’t provide an accurate picture of Mast’s Palm Beach County-Treasure Coast district.

“They are passionate Democrats and I applaud their enthusiasm,” Giacomelli said of Mast’s critics, “but they don’t represent this district.”

Will Mast be able to hold on to his seat in 2018? Take our poll here.

Christie: GOP silencing of Elizabeth Warren was outrageous, divisive

The U.S. Senate’s rebuke of Elizabeth Warren last night for reading a letter from Coretta Scott King that criticizes Sen. Jeff Sessions is an outrageous abuse of freedom of speech and a dismaying display of the extreme partisanship that has helped poison our politics.

Republican senators formally silenced Sen. Warren, the Democratic firebrand from Massachusetts, during debate on Sessions’ nomination for attorney general as she read from a letter that King wrote in 1986, when Sessions was being considered for a federal judgeship.

In that 31-year-old letter, the widow of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. urged senators to reject the then-U.S. Attorney in Alabama because he had “used the awesome powers of his office in a shabby attempt to intimidate and frighten elderly black voters.”

Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, interrupted Warren as she read the letter, objecting that she had demeaned a peer, invoking a rule against insulting fellow senators. The Senate then voted, 49-43, along strict party lines, to force Warren into silence, at least on the Senate floor, until the battle over Session’s attorney general confirmation is finished.

In one blow, the Republicans moved to muzzle both Warren, who has been a piercing critic of the new Trump administration, and Mrs. King, an icon of the Civil Rights Movement.

They looked clumsy in doing so. Warren later went on Facebook Live outside the Senate chambers to read the letter in full. Twitter and social media erupted with support for her.

And hours later, Sen. Jeff Merkley, a Democrat from Oregon, picked up the Coretta King letter and read it in full. He received no censure.

That fact alone suggests powerfully that, as much as Republican senators wanted to protect the reputation of Sessions, one of their own, they were equally keen to squelch Warren. She must be getting under their skin.

They sure didn’t worry about the optics of sexism. Especially when McConnell justified his move by saying this:

“She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.”

The hashtag #ShePersisted became a top trender on Twitter.

And quite frankly, the notion of being forbidden to criticize a fellow senator when that senator is up for confirmation for a Cabinet post — especially top law-enforcement official — is ludicrous.

Animosities are clearly rising to boiling point in the Senate, where the Democrats are doing all they can to slow, if not defeat, the confirmation of Trump cabinet nominees. Republicans, some of whom had once promised to be a check on Trump, are complaining that the Democrats are being obstructionist. But the Democrats are fighting an almost comically inappropriate host of nominees: an education secretary who doesn’t believe in public education; an Environmental Protection Agency administrator who opposes the Environmental Protection Agency; and an attorney general who disdains the Voting Rights Act.

But these heavy-handed tactics by McConnell are likely to backfire. Yes, the Republicans look like heroes to their base, but Warren is also looking more heroic to progressives.

As Barack Obama’s former political adviser, David Axelrod, put it:

 

 

Christie: Post reader raises voucher issue in opposing DeVos as education secretary

Education Secretary-designate Betsy DeVos testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington at her confirmation hearing before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. The Senate poised today to confirm Devos by the narrowest possible margin, with Vice President Mike Pence expected to break a 50-50 tie, despite a last-ditch effort by Democrats to sink the nomination. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File)
Education Secretary-designate Betsy DeVos testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington at her confirmation hearing before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. The Senate poised today to confirm Devos by the narrowest possible margin, with Vice President Mike Pence expected to break a 50-50 tie, despite a last-ditch effort by Democrats to sink the nomination. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File)

UPDATE: Betsy DeVos has been confirmed as U.S. Secretary of Education after Vice President Mike Pence voted to break a 50-50 tie.

As a divided U.S. Senate moves closer today to voting on the confirmation of billionaire Betsy DeVos as U.S. Education Secretary, the country appears just as divided over whether she should be the next person to guide policy for our public schools.

There is of course, the division over DeVos’ unfettered support for “school choice” in the form of taxpayer money going to charter schools and private school vouchers.

But there is also the question whether she is qualified to make decisions about our traditional public school system. The concerns largely arose from her testimony before the Senate committee wherein she apparently gave less-than-stellar answers to questions about public schools — which she admitted that she has have very little experience with.

A demonstrator holds signs during a gathering with Democratic Senators and education advocates calling on the Senate to reject the nomination of Betsy DeVos, President Donald Trump's pick for Secretary of Education, in Upper Senate Park on Capitol Hill in Washington on Monday. (Al Drago/The New York Times)
A demonstrator holds signs during a gathering with Democratic Senators and education advocates calling on the Senate to reject the nomination of Betsy DeVos, President Donald Trump’s pick for Secretary of Education, in Upper Senate Park on Capitol Hill in Washington on Monday. (Al Drago/The New York Times)

Today’s controversial vote motivated West Palm Beach attorney Kimberley Spire-Oh to write a Point of View op-ed opposing DeVos — but for an unexpected reason.

Spire-Oh echoed the concerns of a growing number of parents who favor school choice, but oppose DeVos based on her lack of concern around vouchers — especially those used for disabled students like Sprie-Oh’s own son.

“I am not opposed to school choice. My son is a beneficiary of choice programs, having attended an arts magnet school that provided him with support and motivation by allowing him to pursue one of his passions. There are excellent private schools in the McKay program (and charter schools) that work collaboratively with families and meet a need in the community. On the flipside of this success, I have seen that the voucher programs being held as shining examples often do not serve the needs of many of the most difficult-to-educate students, the ones these programs are touted to help.

We need a Secretary of Education who understands these considerations and is willing to do the hard work required to make high-quality school choice options available to truly all students, not just those that are easy to educate.”

Do you believe that DeVos is qualified to be the next Education Secretary?