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Florida editorial roundup

June 3, 2014
Associated Press

Recent editorials from Florida newspapers:

June 3

Tampa (Fla.) Tribune on prisoner swap:

The stony silence that followed Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel's announcement to troops in Afghanistan that the United States had arranged the release of an American prisoner from the Taliban was instructive.

Though the return of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, after five years of captivity, is certainly welcomed, the proceedings that made it possible were nothing to celebrate.

They are likely to increase the threat to American troops, especially in Afghanistan, so Hagel's audience had good cause to be subdued when he told them: "This is a happy day. We got one of our own back."

That accomplishment came at a grievous cost.

To win Bergdahl's freedom, the Obama administration released from Guantanamo five accomplished terrorists who are likely to soon be plotting to kill Americans again.

Sen. John McCain, himself a former POW and hardly indifferent to the suffering of Bergdahl's parents, calls the released Taliban the "hardest of the hard core."

They include the Taliban's former liaison to Osama bin Laden, a military commander who reported directly to Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar and the Taliban official responsible for forming anti-Western alliances with Islamic fundamentalists. One has been linked to mass killings.

Moreover, trading prisoners for hostages, though not unprecedented in this country, is likely to increase the dangers for American troops.

Terrorists are more likely to target Americans, knowing the Obama administration will negotiate — even to the extent of freeing high-ranking, exceptionally dangerous foes.

Also complicating the situation are the murky details surrounding Bergdahl's capture. He appears to have been disenchanted with his Afghanistan service.

A Pentagon official told a CBS news correspondent that Bergdahl was "at worst a deserter, at best a stupid kid."

This doesn't mean the United States should simply have abandoned the young man, who has endured a terrible ordeal. But the details don't quite support the administration's storyline that Bergdahl's freedom illustrates, as outgoing White House press secretary Jay Carney put it, the "United States does not leave armed men and women behind in armed conflict."



June 3

News-Journal, Daytona Beach, Florida, on hurricane season:

With the clock ticking on the 2014 Atlantic hurricane season and forecasters predicting anywhere from eight to 13 tropical storms and three to six hurricanes forming over the next six months, local residents should be concerned with only a single number: one.

Because it only takes that many hurricanes to do maximum damage.

The punishing years of 2004-05, when eight storms made landfall in Florida, causing more than $60 billion in damages, were unusually active; thankfully, the odds of a repeat are extremely low.

But in the ensuing years, the trend has swung wildly the other direction, with the state absorbing zero hits. Just as you wouldn't want to keep hitting on 17 at the blackjack tables, it would be foolish to bet on Florida's lucky streak to continue indefinitely.

We are going to be hit with a hurricane again sometime, and it doesn't take multiple storms to do a lot of damage. Even though forecasters predict a relatively calm season in terms of sheer numbers, one Category 4 or 5 hurricane could wreak havoc. Andrew in 1992 was a Cat 5 that occurred during a low-activity period. It killed 44 people and caused $25 billion worth of damage.

The good news is that eight straight hurricaneless years have allowed state-backed Citizens Property Insurance to rebuild its coffers that were depleted in 2004-05. Citizens begins this season with a $7.3 billion surplus, and the state's catastrophe fund, which backs up private insurers, stands at a healthy $13 billion. That means the state could withstand a 1-in-70-year storm without having to impose an assessment (read: tax) on all vehicle and property insurance policyholders in Florida to cover a shortfall in its obligations.

Prepare for a hurricane now, not when a storm is forecast to make landfall.

Be ready and watch the skies.



June 3

Gainesville (Fla.) Sun on damaging rhetoric:

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi contends that recognizing same-sex marriages performed in other states would "impose significant public harm."

That statement has garnered criticism but is just a small part of Bondi's wrongheaded approach to defending a same-sex marriage ban destined for the dustbin of history.

A more troubling part of Bondi's recently filed court argument is a suggestion that gay marriage harms children. In addition to being offensive to gay couples and their children, the contention simply isn't supported by research.

Bondi last month filed the court documents in response to a lawsuit against the state. Eight gay couples and the American Civil Liberties Union sued in March, contending that Florida is discriminating against the couples by failing to recognize same-sex marriages in the states where they're legal.

Bondi wrote in her response that Florida's marriage laws "have a close, direct, and rational relationship to society's legitimate interest in increasing the likelihood that children will be born to and raised by the mothers and fathers who produced them in stable and enduring family units."

The statement ignores the fact that there are already same-sex couples raising children in Florida. A marriage license would only help to strengthen their families.

Florida rightly ended its ban on adoptions by gay people after a court found it unconstitutional in 2010. The ban only served to deny stable, loving homes to foster children who desperately need them.

To be fair to Bondi, she has sworn to uphold the state Constitution. Nearly 62 percent of state voters approved adding a ban on same-sex marriage to the Constitution in 2008.

But the legal landscape has changed dramatically since the Supreme Court ruled last summer that the federal government must recognize same-sex marriages performed in states where they are legal. Nineteen states and the District of Columbia now have legal same-sex marriages, including every state in the Northeast.

If Bondi insists on defending Florida's ban until the bitter end, she should at least avoid political rhetoric that is damaging to the state and unfair to same-sex couples. Let the court do its work, and the sooner the better.




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