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Florida governor accused of playing politics with Covid vaccine – NBC News

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Florida’s governor was slow to respond to the pandemic and his Covid-19 vaccine distribution plan has been marked by chaos, but critics say he’s been quick to recognize the political gold in those precious doses.

Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, ignored federal guidelines and prioritized getting senior citizens — one of Florida’s most potent voting blocs — vaccinated first.

When Holocaust survivors and Cuban survivors of the Bay of Pigs debacle — revered members of two other key Florida voting blocs — got their first shots, DeSantis made sure he was there for the news conferences.

And now the governor stands accused of using the Covid-19 vaccine to reward powerful political supporters and developers by setting up pop-up vaccination sites in planned communities they developed and where GOP voters predominate.

Responding to recent criticism from both Republican and Democrats in Manatee and Charlotte counties, both south of Tampa, where one site was set up last week and another began dispensing doses on Wednesday, DeSantis said local lawmakers should be more grateful

“I’ll tell you what, I wouldn’t be complaining,” the governor said. “I’d be thankful that we are able to do it.”

DeSantis said that his “seniors first strategy” zeroes in on retirement communities that are willing to help organize vaccination events and that Manatee County has trailed other parts of the state in getting needles into the arms of residents ages 65 and older.

The governor said the state had set up similar sites at the Kings Point community in Palm Beach County, Sun City Center in Hillsborough County, and The Villages retirement community northwest of Orlando.

“If Manatee County doesn’t like us doing this, we are totally fine with putting this in counties that want it,” he said.

There was no response from the DeSantis administration when NBC News reached out for comment, but on Thursday the governor was in Largo in Pinellas County at another hurriedly arranged pop-up vaccination operation.

There DeSantis boasted about vaccinating the 2 millionth senior citizen in Florida, a 94-year-old Korean war veteran named Vern Cummings whose vaccination was broadcast live on FOX News.

Earlier, U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a South Florida Democrat, blasted DeSantis for threatening Manatee County.

“To threaten that he would pull vaccine if people don’t like the way the distribution system is working is vile and shows the callous indifference he has had in how the vaccine has been handled,” she said on Wednesday.

But there is little to stop DeSantis from distributing the vaccines any way he wants.

In December, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released recommendations on who should be getting vaccinated first. But the Trump administration essentially left the distribution of the doses up to governors, said Philip J. Palin, a veteran government consultant who specializes in delivering supplies to survivors of catastrophes.

This allowed DeSantis to put senior citizens in the same category as front-line health care workers, and the result was chaos when some counties began offering shots on a first-come, first-served basis.

In Charlotte County, officials said they were caught unaware when a vaccination station suddenly opened last week in the Kings Gate retirement community in Port Charlotte and 3,000 doses were dispensed.

Harvey Goldstein, who sits on the county’s GOP executive committee and does not live in the development, said he first learned of the pop-up when a regular Republican Party meeting was canceled so that some of the members could get their shots.

“It looks like they were allowed to jump the line ahead of the 90,000 people in the county who are still waiting to get a shot,” Goldstein, 81, told NBC News.

“If you set up rules about who should get vaccinated first they should apply to everyone. I haven’t heard any rationale for them to get their shots ahead of the people who registered in the county.”

Goldstein said he suspects the reason Kings Gate got special treatment is because it was built by Benderson Development and “they swing a heavy hammer in Tallahassee.” NBC News has reached out to the company’s marketing director, Julie Fanning, but there was no immediate response.

Charlotte County Democratic Party Chair Teresa Jenkins said DeSantis’ decision to open a vaccination center in Kings Gate created the appearance that “politically connected people who are likely to vote for the governor are getting prioritized.”

“There’s quite a bit of anger out there,” Jenkins told NBC News. “So many of us get online every morning trying to get a vaccination appointment. We have people who are waiting and waiting and waiting for their shots. And here we see vaccinations being distributed in areas where there are mostly political supporters of Gov. DeSantis.”

Of the 1,900 residents of Kings Gate, Jenkins said, only 150 are registered Democrats.

“That says something,” said Jenkins. “And we’re very angry about it.”

Some of that anger was on display Tuesday at a meeting of the Manatee County Commission, where many attendees first learned that 3,000 doses were being delivered Wednesday to another pop-up vaccination station in Lakewood Ranch, a wealthy development that straddles the Manatee and Sarasota county border.

“For the life of me, I can’t understand why we would vaccinate the most affluent neighborhoods in the county ahead of everyone else, especially the underserved neighborhoods and large number of manufactured home parks in our community,” Manatee County Commissioner Misty Servia, a Republican, wrote in a text message to The Bradenton Herald.

Lakewood Ranch’s parent company, Schroeder-Manatee Ranch, is owned by the Illinois-based Uihlein family, which has given millions to the Republican Party.

Family member Dick Uihlein gave $900,000 in 2018 and 2019 to the Friends of Ron DeSantis political committee, according to state election records. He and his wife, Liz, were also big bankrollers of ex-President Donald Trump’s campaign and were highly critical of federal pandemic restrictions.

Both later tested positive for Covid-19.

In an email to The Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, Schroeder-Manatee Ranch spokeswoman Lisa Barnott said that neither Dick nor Liz Uihlein were shareholders in the company.

“The state [Gov. DeSantis] called our CEO and asked to hold a pop-up clinic in Lakewood Ranch,” she wrote. “We connected them with our county commissioner, who coordinated the use of the county-owned Premier Sports Campus.”

The commissioner in question was Manatee County Commission Chairwoman Vanessa Baugh, a Republican who is close to DeSantis and who defended the decision at the public meeting Tuesday.

“It’s a good thing, not a bad thing,” Baugh said. “Did I even stop to think that this board and others would be so upset about it? No, to be honest, I didn’t. I think it was a great idea.”

Shortly after NBC News reached out to Baugh for elaboration, her spokesman sent a statement from the commissioner which read, in part:

”I fully support the Governor, his Covid-19 response and his team’s decision to vaccinate a group of seniors who have a below state average for receiving vaccinations,” it said.

Baugh closed by thanking DeSantis “for standing strong in the face of so much media criticism.”

“Florida has stayed open, kept families employed and still managed the pandemic better than most any other state,” she wrote.

Florida, according to the latest NBC News tally, has reported 1.84 million Covid-19 infections and nearly 30,000 deaths due to the coronavirus, some of the worst numbers in the nation.

Most of those infections and deaths came after DeSantis, a staunch Trump supporter, claimed victory over the virus during a White House visit in April and reopened the state over the objections of health experts.

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What ‘secular’ rejigging in Bengal means for national politics – Times of India

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Uday Deb
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It is unlikely that too many people outside the charmed circle of political buffs in West Bengal had even heard of Abbas Siddiqui a year ago. Although the Furfura Sharif mazar in Hooghly district run by the Siddiqui family plays a prominent role in the religious life of Bengali Muslims, its political involvement has hitherto been tenuous and very discreet. In forming the Indian Secular Front and almost hijacking the CPM-managed monster rally at Kolkata’s Brigade Parade Grounds on February 28, Abbas — or Bhaijan as he is popularly called — has catapulted himself to the front bench of state politics.

In electoral terms, the ISF is contesting only 37 of the 294 Assembly seats and that too mainly in south Bengal. However, a great deal of importance is being attached to Abbas’ potential ability to sway Muslim voters away from Mamata Banerjee’s AITC and in favour of its Congress and Left allies. If that indeed happens, the contest in West Bengal could well become triangular and to the detriment of Mamata whose over-dependence on Muslim support was established in the 2019 Lok Sabha election. At the same time, there is speculation that the fiery assertion of Muslim identity politics by the ISF could accelerate the process of Hindu consolidation behind the BJP.

The extent to which the ISF and its leader shape the outcome in West Bengal will be known on May 2. For the moment, however, a few trends are apparent.

First, it was clear from the chemistry of last Sunday’s Brigade rally that the ISF’s commitment to the Third Front is tenuous. Abbas made it clear that he believed the Muslim minority in Bengal were through with being regarded as a vote bank. They sought a bhagidari (partnership) role in a future dispensation. Read between the lines this meant that the ISF was willing to prop up any dispensation — apart from one led by the BJP— that would ensure such a power-sharing arrangement.

In other speeches — all available on YouTube — Abbas has compared his role to the fourth leg of a chair: he could either stabilise it or, if necessary, pull it out and cause the whole chair to collapse. In short, while being in a minority, the ISF would exercise the ultimate veto. Secondly, the entry of the ISF into electoral politics has the potential of breaking the mould of Bengal politics. According to the Census of 2011, Muslims comprise 27% of Bengal’s population, with a majority in the three border districts of Murshidabad, Malda and Uttar Dinajpur. In electoral terms, the Muslim weightage may be even greater and anecdotal evidence from the districts speak of a significant influx of Muslim Rohingyas in the past five years, most of whom have managed to secure Aadhar cards and enrol as voters.

Despite the numerical strength, Muslims haven’t forged a separate party since the Muslim League shut shop after successfully securing its goal of Pakistan in 1947. However, the community has played an important role in tilting the balance in favour of one party or another. Till 1972, the Congress was the principal beneficiary, subsequently it was the Left Front and then Mamata. Although the Congress retains its foothold in the Muslim-majority districts, exit poll data indicates that the 22 Lok Sabha seats Mamata’s AITC won in 2019 would have been impossible without overwhelming Muslim support. In this election, Abbas is attempting to demonstrate that ‘secular’ parties must pay a price for this support.

Finally, it would seem that Muslim politics in India is following a definite trajectory. Apart from the erstwhile Jammu and Kashmir, there are three states where Muslims comprise over a quarter of the population: Assam (34.2%), Kerala (26.6%) and West Bengal (27%). In Kerala, the Muslim League has been a partner of the Congress for long; in Assam, Badruddin Ajmal’s AIDUF has teamed up with the Congress for the Assembly election; and in West Bengal, a new Muslim party is being legitimised by the Congress and Left. In Muslim-dominated zones of Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Maharashtra and Bihar, Asaduddin Owaisi’s AIMIM has bared its muscle.

Hitherto, Muslim politicians had tried to make their mark within parties that claimed to rise above religion. The new trend suggests that with a rising share of the population, the thrust is towards putting the Muslim religious identity in the forefront, with both the Left and Congress also succumbing to the assertiveness of Abbas’ show of Muslim strength. In Bengal, the entire basis of ‘secular’ politics is being rejigged. The national implications are ominous.

X FACTOR? Abbas Siddiqui’s alliance with the Congress and Left could eat into TMC’s Muslim support base and make it a triangular contest

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Politics Report: BIA's Big Decision — Voice of San Diego – Voice of San Diego

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Homes under construction in the “Signature” development in the Otay Ranch area of Chula Vista. / Photo by Andrew Dyer

The local chapter of the Building Industry Association has long been a fixture of the region’s business-conservative establishment. Along with groups like the Chamber of Commerce, Restaurant Association, San Diego Association of Realtors and Associated General Contractors, it’s been a reliable constituency and donor base for Republican candidates and causes.

But just as the region’s politics shifted, giving way to a comfortable Democratic advantage in every influential agency in the county, something funny happened – the politics of land use and housing development changed too. Suddenly, increased homebuilding was a central goal of the ascendant Democratic coalition. The BIA’s audience changed, but its work was as relevant as ever.

Now, the organization needs to choose a new leader.

Borre Winckel is retiring. He led the group for the last 12 years, and his love for building single-family homes in undeveloped areas was matched only by his love for provoking environmentalists and the legislators who passed housing regulations.

In a 2018 blog post titled “Elitist Environmentalists Strike Again,” for instance, he ridiculed the state and local push toward urban housing development as part of a climate-focused agenda, arguing it would crush the state’s economy and that its supporters were indifferent to poverty.

So, yeah, not exactly a pal to the transit-bike-urban apartment vision championed by YIMBYs.

The group is now at a crossroads: Do they continue betting on sprawl, and their ability to strong-arm it through local governments? The BIA was the biggest supporter of the successful countywide No on A campaign a year ago, which would have put all such sprawl projects to a popular vote, and many of its members specialize in those projects, not the new infill alternative urbanists prefer.

Or do they pivot, and look to embrace the changing politics and demographics, by becoming something closer to a YIMBY group, or transit- and housing-focused interest groups adjacent to it? At some point, it won’t make sense to keep fighting the last decade’s land use disputes.

The group’s next leader should suggest where they’re going. They could bring in anyone from a conservative firebrand to a progressive urbanist – or something in between, like a business-friendly moderate who might not lead the charge on development as intersectional politics, but who can at least play nice with the county’s increasingly powerful progressive flank.

Police Shooting Draws Mayor’s Concern, or No?

This week the city released disturbing footage of a San Diego police officer shooting three rounds into a homeless man, who had been eating a bowl of something when he reached into his back pocket, after a police officer asked him repeatedly about a knife. As the U-T noted, when the footage came out, the Police Department slightly but significantly altered their earlier description that the man had threatened the officer with a knife. They ended up saying he reached for a knife, “which threatened” the officer.

Lisa Halverstadt was interviewing the mayor soon after video came out and she asked about this incident.

“I think the video speaks for itself, and I certainly have very strong opinions about it. I recognize it is part of a defined process now and we will see what happens, but we certainly have a lot of work to do to make sure we’re doing homeless outreach in a way that doesn’t involve people getting shot,” he said.

There was some discussion among reporters and others whether this was him saying he was really concerned because the video was so obviously bad but that he needs to wait for this process to play out. Or whether he was not saying, in any way, what he thought about the video or the officer’s actions.

Polilinks

On the big week in state politics: Sara Libby’s Sacramento Report is loaded this week. Leading the review is the multibillion-dollar deal on reopening schools that some legislators say will not open schools.

On unions in schools: One of the things former Mayor Kevin Faulconer claims is that he would be able to get school communities back together. That Gov. Gavin Newsom has failed at this effort and thus, we should recall him. But Faulconer has not outlined how exactly he’d get school campuses open. Schools are not opening because teachers do not feel safe and have been unwilling to return, and they have a de facto veto because they are united.

So would he go after that power? Faulconer told Politico’s Mackenzie Mays that he would not suspend collective bargaining and force teachers back to classrooms.

“I think it’s about sitting down at the table and demanding results,” Faulconer said. “Keeping our schools closed is not what I would accept.”

About that sort of leadership: This reminded Andrew of when, many years ago, Faulconer was running for mayor and he promised similar leadership to deal with a civic dilemma. Faulconer supported the effort to revoke the plan to separate Barrio Logan’s homes from its polluting businesses with a new land-use code that would change the area over time. The shipbuilding industry and neighborhood had come to an agreement but not on a few specific points. Faulconer would not take a position on those points but he said he would resolve the impasse with leadership as mayor. It remains unresolved.

Chargers Stadium content: The Politics Report knows that many of you miss stadium news. You remember the days when we could tap into that stream of journalism that always giveth: the stream of endless, scandalous, enthralling stadium politics content. Well, there’s just the podcast for you coming out. On Tuesday “Bolted” will debut. It’s a history of the Chargers in San Diego and their march out of town. Scott talked with the producers for a couple hours about the politics, policies and leadership stumbles during that period.

MTS Board Pursuing Transit Advocate’s ‘Free Transfer’ Policy

The Metropolitan Transit System could soon make a big change, allowing riders who purchase one-way tickets to enjoy free transfers to other buses or trolleys.

The fact that riders need to buy multiple tickets – or purchase a relatively expensive day pass – to take multiple legs of a trip has been a sore spot for transit advocates for a while now. At the start of the year, the transit advocacy group Circulate San Diego sent the agency a letter urging it to consider a change that would allow free transfers.

“This inequity disproportionately impacts low-income riders, who are stuck paying twice for a one-way trip,” Circulate wrote.

The agency’s full board in January told MTS staff to study the idea, which came before the agency’s executive committee this week for approval. It’s now set to go before the full board.

MTS staff concluded that it was in a distinct minority among 16 similar agencies by not allowing transfers (that conclusion was … odd, in that the staff report emphasized it in reverse. Instead of highlighting that the majority of agencies provided free transfers, staff instead emphasized that MTS was not alone in charging for them).

In the end, staff suggested making the change. The committee approved allowing riders using the system’s new “PRONTO” fare card to transfer for free, redued the cost of youth passes for one-way trips, and rejected a proposal to set a default fare increase in 2025.

San Diego Councilman Sean Elo-Rivera, who serves on the committee and had been a vocal advocate for providing free youth passes in his previous job as director of Mid-City CAN, praised Circulate for its advocacy on the issue.

“I don’t want to be the elected now who takes credit for being on a committee for two meetings, and now this happened,” he said. “There’s a culture shift that’s happening throughout various government bodies in San Diego. From the County Board of Supervisors to the City Council and MTS and SANDAG, these are large institutions, and there’s some immediate changes that happen when people in the decision-making seats change, but there’s also – in institutions of this size – there’s time required for the institution as a whole to change. Some of this was set in motion by AB 805, and realigning power. But also what we’re seeing now is the product of work by previous boards, to look at transit different in general, and the way fares are impacting communities.”

Tucker Carlson’s Father

A dispatch from VOSD contributor Randy Dotinga: The main villain of a new HBO documentary series is none other than Dick Carlson – a former local TV reporter, father of a famous talking head and major candidate for San Diego mayor in 1984 who somehow managed to lose in a landslide while outspending an indicted incumbent.

The Lady and the Dale,” which chronicles a con artist’s remarkable life, paints Carlson as a craven sideshow barker who reveled in exposing transgender people in the 1970s. He did it not once but twice.

The first time, when Carlson worked in Los Angeles in 1975, he outed the subject of the documentary – a genius of self-promotion named Liz Carmichael who made headlines by trying to develop an ultra-low-mileage, three-wheeled sports car called the Dale. Accusations flew that she was ripping off investors, and Carlson revealed she was a convicted swindler who’d changed her gender.

This was news. But Carlson refused to take Carmichael’s gender switch seriously although the documentary proves it was clearly genuine. In one news report, Carlson referred to Carmichael as “she, or rather he,” said she’s “in actuality a man,” and described her as looking “harried, bedraggled” in a “pink pantsuit” that she’d apparently worn for days.

“I know Liz,” Carlson chuckled in an interview for the documentary. “That had to be just terrible … He really disliked me, I have to say.” No wonder: Carlson testified in Carmichael’s trial and insisted on using male pronouns for her even after the judge told him to knock it off. “I thought it was ludicrous, and I didn’t think I had to,” Carlson declared.

For her part, Carlson said Carmichael paid money to have him killed. The documentary doesn’t clear up whether this really happened.

In 1976, Carlson was working at KFMB-TV/Channel 8 here in San Diego when he got a tip about player Renée Richards at the La Jolla Tennis Club’s summer tourney. While she was playing as a woman, Richards had earlier undergone a sex-change surgery after living as Dr. Richard Raskind.

Much later, Richards told a San Diego reporter that she begged with Carlson to keep her secret: “I said, ‘You can’t do this. I am a private person. His reply? ‘Dr. Richards, you were a private person until you won that tournament yesterday.’”

Carlson insisted on telling viewers that “he’s a man.”

Susan Stryker, a transgender professor at Mills College who studies gender and appears in the documentary, told me this week that Carlson exemplifies the media’s tendency to paint transgender people as “evil deceivers and make-believers.”

“He wasn’t an outlier,” she said, “although he clearly has a prurient interest in trans women.”

Now in his 80s, Carlson clearly has no regrets, cavalierly telling the filmmakers that transgender families like Carmichael’s are mentally unhealthy: “If you didn’t think that was kind of sick, you would think Jeffrey Dahmer was a normal person.”

A few years later, Carlson ran for San Diego mayor in 1984 against Roger Hedgecock, the then-indicted incumbent. The former TV reporter, who’d by then married a frozen-foods heiress, made his way into a one-on-one runoff in which he was accused of gay-baiting and then lost by a whopping 58-42 percent to Hedgecock. Carlson went on to head the Voice of America (and get into hot water) and become ambassador to the Seychelles, an island nation with fewer citizens than El Cajon.

Carlson’s son, Tucker, the high-rated Fox News host, who grew up here, rails against transgender rights and fixates on restrooms.

While “The Lady and the Dale” is fascinating and compelling, it turns Carmichael – who spent her life ripping people off – into a kind of heroine. And it fails to dig deeply into whether she brainwashed family members and employees who developed a cult-like devotion to her.

But the documentary doesn’t need to transform Dick Carlson into a mean, small-minded relic. He did that all on his own.

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Op-Ed: Hot Pot Politics – CHEK

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I don’t think I could handle being a politician. In fact, I’d guess that the majority of us couldn’t handle it. And wouldn’t want to.

All you have to do is peruse the “letters to the editor” page in any paper, or scroll through Twitter and news feeds, and you immediately see why.

Many people despise politicians, and no matter what mayors or premiers or prime ministers try to do, somebody’s going to be in a rage.

These days, that vitriol seems even more intense. Some of it, I’m sure, is because we are living through an exceptionally stressful time and leaders of any sort are an easy target for that pent-up frustration.

Some of it, though, is because these days it seems we have been given permission to be hateful.

Those of us who live here in Victoria, the provincial capital, are pretty close to the political action when it fires up. Many of my students and friends over the years have been government employees in one capacity or another, so I’ve heard lots of stories, good and bad, about the people who run our government.

I became involved in a campaign many years ago when someone talked me into volunteering for a political party during a provincial election. I was pretty young and naïve, and I thought it would be kind of exciting. Well, it certainly was an eye-opener.

One of my first jobs was canvassing, which meant going to a designated area within the riding and knocking on every door in the neighbourhood. A lot of volunteers didn’t like canvassing, for reasons I was about to find out. But I was game.

To be fair, many people whose doorbells I rang were polite and took the leaflet I handed them with a smile. But there were others who called me every name in the book, some even slamming the door in my face. It was humiliating. And here I was, thinking I was doing something positive and helpful.

I was supposed to canvass the whole area three times during the course of the campaign, but I think I probably only managed one cycle. That was enough for me.

I also worked the telephones at the campaign headquarters. One day, our candidate walked in to meet with all of the office workers and volunteers. He made the time to come up and sit by my desk, chit-chat a little, and thank me for volunteering. I immediately liked him and was suddenly filled with that sense of purpose I’d been seeking. Our little chat was the best thing about the whole campaign for me.

Years later, that candidate became the Premier of B.C.

There are many good people out there who truly want to make a difference in their community, province or country. They work hard and they put in long hours, often against all odds, to effect change. They are the ones who are passionate about their work, who try to reach across the aisle and find compromise. They’re the ones who will sit down at the desk of a lowly campaign worker and sincerely thank them for their efforts.

But as sincere and as passionate as these people might be, even if they succeed at getting something done, sometimes they just can’t win. Somebody’s always going to be seething.

Maybe we should consider being a little kinder to them. We can certainly disagree, but don’t make it personal.

Oh, I know there are the bad apples too: those with a sense of entitlement who care more about themselves and their rise to the top than they do their constituents. But that will always be true, in any career.

What I really hope for is that there will be enough younger people interested in fulfilling those important roles in the future, because we really do need them. Experience is one thing. A fresh, new outlook is another. And hopefully, they’ll have a thicker skin than I did when they go out on their first round of canvassing.

The only constituents I have to deal with these days are the members of my household. We disagree on a lot of things sometimes, but when it comes to Sunday dinner, this is an autocracy. I hold all the power.

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