11 min read

Week of April 16-22, 2023

South Florida is out of gas. Is Ron DeSantis?
The sign board for a gas station has "$0.00" listed for every gas price.
An Exxon Station on the corner of Coral and SW 87th was one of many to run out of gas this week in South Florida

by Philip Cardella

South Florida is out of gas. Is Ron DeSantis?

News Recap

Thanks to the atmospheric bomb that hit Broward and Miami-Dade Counties last week—the largest single day rainfall total in Florida historySouth Floridians are having trouble finding gas at the pump. Why? The fuel tanker trucks that bring gas to the station must get that gas from somewhere, and last week, most if not all of those places were underwater—literally. As of Monday, seven of the 12 terminals in Broward County had reopened, but the impact sent a cascading shortage throughout the region, with people panicking about being able to get gas exasperating the problem.

Meanwhile, as Newsweek reported Monday, and a South Florida TV station reported the next day, Governor Ron DeSantis has not personally addressed the issue of gas nor the devastating flooding that precipitated the gas shortage, leading people such as Florida Democratic Party Chair Nikki Fried to tell a news conference, “Instead of fighting with Mickey Mouse, how about this Ron? Show up for the people of our state. Be here, see the damage, hear the stories of your constituents.”

DeSantis deputy press secretary Jeremy T. Redfern told the news station, NBC6, “It’s wrong for the media & political critics to rush to politicize every natural disaster,” and went on to point out that a state of emergency has been declared and that Florida’s Division of Emergency Management was working to address the gas supply issue.

Meanwhile, the governor of Florida was in Ohio signing copies of his book and glad handing Republican mega donors in Washington DC in his, as I keep reminding folks, literally by Florida state law illegal presidential run. And according to several reports, the not so secret by still illegal campaign was not going well there either.

Florida Rep. Greg Steube, who has endorsed Donald Trump for President, “bashed DeSantis for traveling across the country while the Florida Legislature is in session,” according to Rachel Bade of Politico on her Twitter account. “Floridians want him focused on Florida," he said, “which is the job they elected him to do.”

Ja’han Jones of MSNBC summarized on Wednesday, “While the governor was in Washington, Trump was “running up the score with endorsements in DeSantis’ own backyard.” Multiple Florida lawmakers have already endorsed Trump’s 2024 campaign, including three who made their announcements on Tuesday, during DeSantis’ visit. Last week, NBC News reported DeSantis’ team was hoping to avoid this scenario.” Jones noted in the story that, “It all started with a storm” and that “The political impact of DeSantis’ trip was dampened from the beginning,” referring to the two feet of rainfall in a day Broward County was drowning in.

“Then came the rodent problem,” Jones continued as he turned to the battle over Disney backing the LGBTQIA+ community in opposition to DeSantis’ “Parental Rights in Education Bill,” often referred to as the “Don’t Say Gay” law. This week DeSantis threatened to build a prison next to Disneyworld and started looking for ways to take control of the rides at Florida’s largest employer.

DeSantis is doing this because he needs to win the culture warrior vote to have a shot at the White House. In a story in the Washington Post this week, columnist Henry Olsen breaks down a New Hampshire poll that may illuminate DeSantis’s strategy. “DeSantis’s challenge is to give these voters a clear and positive opinion of him while reinforcing their sharply negative views toward Trump,” Olsen writes. “The governor can do that if he runs as a competent winner. Voters who back neither Trump nor DeSantis overwhelmingly pick ‘competence’ and ‘can beat Joe Biden’ as the primary candidate attributes they value. They also view DeSantis as someone who will ‘stand up to woke values,’ a highly prized attribute in the party (emphasis added).”

“It’s hard for him to back out,” Gregory Koger a political science professor at The University of Miami, told The Orlando Sentinel this week. “[Beating Disney is] in his book as something he’s very proud of doing. And to fail at this, having picked this very public fight, would really weaken his brand.” The paper goes on to note that DeSantis dedicated an entire chapter of his book “The Magic Kingdom of Woke Corporatism.”

A long-form piece in the Washington Post this week with four authors in the by line ends with an anonymous “prominent Republican who does not support Trump” telling the Post that suburban moms and other middle Americans love Disney World. “What is wrong with you?” The Republican demanded to know of DeSantis.

The piece, which is worthy of your time, also includes growing Republican unease with DeSantis’s extreme stance on abortion, which culminated in him signing a six-week abortion ban, secretly in the middle of the night: “Donors, activists and other supporters are increasingly voicing worries that DeSantis has made unforced errors or embraced extreme positions that could hurt him in a general election, including the abortion ban he signed last week.”

While DeSantis was continuing to double and triple down in a culture war with the state’s largest employer, the Florida State Board of Education reversed course on the Don’t Say Gay law, which lawmakers in 2022 promised was only about children in grades K-3, and expanded it to include all grades. That happened while the Florida state legislature, apparently undaunted by the flagrant hypocrisy of the chamber, is advancing a new version of the law that would expand the law that states teachers “’shall not intentionally provide classroom instruction' on sexual orientation or gender identity unless ‘expressly’ required by state standards, such as in a health education class.” It also limits “teacher and student use of pronouns to the gender they were born into.

Pronouns may be a new front in the culture war, but “gendered languages” that focus on nouns having gendered pronouns, such as Spanish and Russian,[1]both common languages in most Florida cities, are associated with a 15% decrease in female participation in the workforce, according to research by the Center for Global Development. But this is about the pronouns associated with things, such as a chair or a pen. What about people? 57% of all spoken languages do not have gendered pronouns for people, including the third most spoken language in Florida, Haitian Creole(where the word for “he” and/or “she” is the same word for each, “li.”)

So, while Florida Republicans are fighting a culture war in our classrooms over pronouns, which research shows, when gendered, lead to disparities for women, most languages in the world don’t even have any context to understand what we’re talking about.

“I can’t believe I’m writing this,” Carlos Guillermo Smith, a former House lawmaker, and the state’s first Latino LGTBQ representative wrote on Twitter last month: “This is fascist.” Guillermo Smith was tweeting about a Florida bill advancing that would allow the state to seize children from their parents. According to The Independent, "SB254 would allow the state to rip children from their parents when they are "at risk" or "subjected" to gender-affirming health care. The bill is written so that even a child of Floridian parents living out of state could trigger the law."

But people are pushing back. On Sunday in Miami Beach, with some estimates of 170,000 in attendance, Miami Dade County celebrated its 15th Annual Pride Parade, this year with a theme of “Not a Crime.” With the event mercifully moved from June to April, the sun still beat down relentlessly on pride marchers and spectators alike. However, the festive event was celebratory, if not fired up, to protect LGBTQIA+ rights. My church was there and caught the attention of the Miami Herald, “Members of a Coral Gables church congregation dragged a cart with “banned books” written on the side as others waved a sign that said “You are loved.” Children, too, marched in the parade, handing out pride swag to the crowd,” though unnamed, all are a reference to what my church, Coral Gables Congregational United Church of Christ was doing at the parade.

Five people wearing red shirts that say "we pray gay". The person in the center is wearing a rainbow pastoral shawl
Members and a pastor from Coral Gables Congregational United Church of Christ want you to know "you are loved" and "we pray gay."

This week Florida Republicans advanced a bill that would likely make this event illegal. As the Independent's Graig Graziosi reports, "SB1438 empowers the state to take punitive measures against businesses that host LGBTQ friendly shows or drag performances. It also gives the state the power to prohibit minors from attending events it deems "inappropriate." Minors will be barred from events even if their parents' consent, a policy that flies in the face of Governor Ron DeSantis’ educational agenda that favors parental consent to an extreme degree. If SB1438 is made law, it would also likely mean the end of most Pride parades."

A picture containing person, outdoor

Description automatically generated
Dressed in drag, the parade MC engages participants as they wave to the crowd on Sunday, April 16, 2023, on Ocean Drive in Miami Beach. Carl Juste cjuste@miamiherald.com

Life In South Florida

A great museum in Miami Beach

The front of the Wolfsonian museum with its walls hand painted to match art in one of the rotating exhibits inside. The most prominent painting is a yellow toned mural of workers dressed like every day people building a train track.

After the parade and celebratory ice cream, I took my children to one of the most unique and interesting museums I’ve ever visited.

There is a wonderful museum associated with my university, FIU, in Miami Beach called The Wolfsonian. It’s an exciting place where the main collector finds stuff no one else wants and adds it to the collection. When he bought the building and expanded it to become a museum, he built the expansion around the former ceiling of a 1920s-era car dealership that was going to be torn down (the link is to a great story by the museum curator). If you look closely at the image of the ceiling below, you’ll see that the circles are in fact, wheels, tires, and steering wheels.

Ceiling and chandelier from the showroom of the S.A. Ryan Motor Company. Built in Miami, 1926. Now the ceiling of the Wolfsonian Museum in Miami Beach.

I love the place. But one piece in their collection stood out to me today. I had taken my kids to the museum after Miami Pride Parade on Sunday and made sure the very tired kids took note of one piece in particular. It was a 1924 poster for the Fascist Party of Italy. In the poster, you see on the left side that Italy is depicted as a pluralistic society with many people with different interests. On the right side, the fascists have kicked them all out into the Mediterranean Sea.

On the left side of this tan and charcoal poster with a two frame cartoon, Italy is depicted as a pluralistic society with many people with different interests. On the right side, the fascists have kicked them all out into the Mediterranean Sea.

I had no intention of writing about it this week until I saw this quote in the Washington Post on Friday.

“Together, we are going to finish what we started,” Trump said at the Waco rally last month. “With you at my side, we will totally obliterate the deep state, we will banish the warmongers from our government, we will drive out the globalists, and we will cast out the communists and Marxists, we will throw off the corrupt political class, we will beat the Democrats, we will rout the fake news media, we will stand up to the RINOs, and we will defeat Joe Biden and every single Democrat.”

It was as if Trump, or his speechwriter, had seen this fascism campaign poster and written a caption. I doubt anyone in Trump’s orbit, especially him, has seen this poster or been in this museum. That’s not what I’m saying. It is just terrifying to me that the group that, along with the prejudices of Henry Ford, inspired Hitler to murder an entire people,[i]were being echoed so distinctly in 2023.

This week in Florida History

American trained Cuban soldiers of the 2506 Brigaide march as prisoners of war.
Image from CBS website, click image to find that link

The Bay of Pigs April 17, 1961

This week in Florida marks one of the most consequential moments in American history. An event associated with the assassination of John F. Kennedy, the Watergate Break In, and so much more: The Bay of Pigs invasion on April 17, 1961. Originally conceived by President Dwight D. Eisenhower and handed off to a reluctant President, John F. Kennedy, the planning of the infamous invasion went through several iterations over multiple years before that fateful day in April of 1961.[2]Despite the planning over two American presidential administrations, by the time the 2506 Brigade of Cuban expatriates eager to retake their homeland, who had secretly trained with the American CIA for months in Guatemala, the invasion was doomed before the unit arrived in the bay.

The operation, code-named Operation Mongoose, used the JMWAVE CIA base 12 miles south of the University of Miami as its operations center. During the build-up to the invasion, that base in the Greater Miami area would become the CIA's largest in the world outside of its headquarters in Langley, Virginia.

Among the issues, Castro had opened a resort of previously secluded landing site of the invasion. So, when the 2506 Brigade arrived the location was “lit up like Coney Island,” according to a “frogman” tasked with prestrike demolition for landing equipment.[3]

The plan had called for three waves of airstrikes to take out Castro’s air support, but Kennedy, who was involved in what one author described as “an almost Hamlet-like internal struggle over the invasion’s propriety and prospects for success,” balked at the thought of air strikes implicating the United States in the invasion. [4]Among Kennedy’s greatest concerns was the United States being implicated by the Soviet Union, leading Kennedy to call off most air strikes meant to cripple Castro’s air force.[5]Whether because the ships of the invasion had already launched when Kennedy made this fateful decision or because of “the CIA’s view that Cubans were never to be trusted,”[6]despite entrusting 1400 of them to the literal invasion of another country, the men of the 2506 Brigade didn't find out the air strikes were called off until they were on the shore being hounded by Cuban military aircraft.

What’s more, the Castro knew they were coming and when the men arrived on the beach they were met by klieg lights and machine gun fire.[7]As one navy admiral radioed the Pentagon, “Castro is waiting on the beach.”[8]Three days later, 114 of the original 1400 men to have landed in Cuba in the CIA attempt to overthrow Castro were dead, and 1,189 others were captured.[9]

As the State Department reports on its website, “The failed invasion strengthened the position of Castro’s administration, which proceeded to openly proclaim its intention to adopt socialism and pursue closer ties with the Soviet Union. It also led to the Kennedy administration's reassessment of Cuba policy.”[10] Over a year later, this invasion was one of the many complicated backdrops leading to the Cuban Missile Crisis. It was as that crisis was finally waning that the nearly 1200 members of the 2506 brigade who had been captured finally started to hear rumors they might be released, which finally happened around Christmas of 1962, when their nearly year-and-a-half-long ordeal ended in an Air Force Base just outside of Miami, Florida.[11]

Still, the ordeal permanently changed the relationship of Cuban expatriates with the United States. One of the books I draw from in this account is about the Cuban Mafia. In the opening pages the reporter who wrote the (gripping, fascinating) book, The Corporation: an Epic story of the Cuban American Underworld, T. J. English introduces the book stating, “The story of Cuban organized crime in America has its roots in what would become known as the Bay of Pigs invasion.”[12]

Honestly, because of its lasting impact on the United States and Cuba, the failed Bay of Pigs invasion is one of the more important dates in US History, a history that should make everyone uncomfortable. There’s simply no way I can do it justice.

[1]for instance, in Spanish “la” and “el” are both the word “the,” with the former being used for feminine nouns, so “la silla,” for chair, “el boligrafo” for pen

[2] English, The Corporation, 2.

[3] Ferrer, Cuba, 355.

[4] English, The Corporation, 2.

[5] Ferrer, Cuba, 362.

[6] de los Angeles Torres, In the Land of Mirrors, 58.

[7] English, The Corporation, 6.

[8] Ferrer, Cuba, 356.

[9] Ferrer, 362.

[10] Office of the Historian, “The Bay of Pigs Invasion and Its Aftermath, April 1961 - October 1962.”

[11] English, The Corporation, chapter 1, 22-23.

[12] English, Introduction, 11.

[i] Quote from the preceding link: Hitler was very much inspired by Ford's writing. And the idea that this could happen in the United States, I think, was very important to Hitler as well, because as people in the United States were speaking out against Nazism and were using a kind of rhetoric, "Well, it could never happen here," and "We are the bastions of democracy," I think Hitler would have derived a degree of satisfaction to be able to point to Ford as, in a way, just as good an anti-Semite as he was.