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DeSantis shifts from provocateur to crisis manager after Ian

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DeSantis shifts from provocateur to crisis manager after Ian

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has whipsawed his way through the national conversation this month, first by putting migrants on planes or buses to Democratic strongholds and then shifting to a more traditional role of crisis manager as one of the strongest hurricanes to ever hit the U.S. barreled into his state.

Facing a reelection in November that could be a precursor to a presidential campaign, the approach has been awkward at points. Navigating one of his state’s darkest moments, DeSantis, a Republican, must partner with a Democratic president he has spent the better part of two years demeaning. He’s also gladly accepting the type of federal disaster aid and assistance he rejected as wasteful while he was a member of Congress.

But together, the developments over the past two weeks offer insight into how DeSantis might govern if he wins another term as governor or advances in a 2024 presidential contest. He’s willing to use — and potentially exceed — the raw executive power of his office to pick at America’s most sensitive divides on issues like immigration. In a sudden moment of disaster, however, he’s capable of striking a more unifying tone in a way that former President Donald Trump — once a close ally and now a potential 2024 rival — rarely demonstrated.

“At the end of the day, I view this as something that you’ve got folks that are in need, and local, federal and state, we have a need to work together,” DeSantis said at a briefing late Thursday, taking a far more conciliatory tone toward an administration he bitterly criticized just days earlier. He expressed appreciation that FEMA has approved every request for aid he has made, and said he welcomed the agency’s director to travel with him to view destruction.

The shift in tone is almost certainly temporary. When a 12-story condo building in Surfside, Florida, collapsed last year and killed 98 people, DeSantis appeared with local officials, including Democrats who praised his assistance. He sat next to President Joe Biden during a briefing with first responders and local officials in Miami. Within months, however, he returned to partisan brawls.

Facing another tragedy, DeSantis didn’t answer questions this week about whether he would meet with Biden, saying he wasn’t sure about the president’s travel plans. At a FEMA briefing on Thursday, Biden also aimed to set aside hostilities, saying he would visit Florida when conditions allow and meet with DeSantis “if he wants to meet.”

Biden and DeSantis both said they have spoken more than once. And at DeSantis’ request, Biden on Thursday declared a major disaster in parts of Florida, freeing up additional federal assistance to state and local governments and individuals.

“We’re going to build it back with the state and local government,” Biden said.

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White House Press Secretary Karine Jean Pierre tweeted that Biden and DeSantis spoke again by phone on Friday, as the FEMA administrator is on the ground in Florida.

DeSantis’ embrace of federal help is a shift from his early days as a congressman, when he voted against a federal relief package for New York and New Jersey after Hurricane Sandy. That drew criticism this week from some New York-area officials and other Democrats who described the turnaround as a move from cruel to hypocritical.

Richard Conley, a University of Florida political science professor, said DeSantis is doing what he needs to do, pragmatically and politically. While DeSantis is popular in the reliably Republican area of southwest Florida that was hardest hit by Hurricane Ian, he said people will inevitably become frustrated if it takes too long to get help, and will look for someone to blame.

“He’s just got to get the job done,” said Conley. “The question will be: Going forward, does he look very statesmanlike? Does this help him with an eventual 2024 run? I don’t know, it remains to be seen.”

Since his early years running for governor, DeSantis has been linked to Trump. DeSantis was a relatively obscure third-term congressman when he announced his 2018 bid for governor — and a Trump endorsement — on Fox News. He echoed some of Trump’s favorite lines as he campaigned, pledging, for example, to “drain the swamp” in Tallahassee. Trump took credit for the victory, though their relationship is said to have chilled amid the 2024 talk.

As governor, DeSantis has elevated issues that excite the conservative base and used his resources and the power of his office to get things done his way, even if it pushed the limits of his legal authority.

During the COVID pandemic, DeSantis insisted Florida would remain open. He shunned guidance from federal health experts and once said of Dr. Anthony Fauci that someone should “chuck him across the Potomac.” He also stripped funding from school districts that implemented mask mandates.

This spring, DeSantis signed legislation stripping Disney of a special agreement that allowed the theme park to govern itself, after the company criticized a new state law that critics called “Don’t Say Gay. ”

DeSantis also suspended an elected Democratic prosecutor in Tampa from office over statements about not pursuing criminal charges in abortion, transgender rights and certain low-level cases. The prosecutor has since filed a federal free speech lawsuit against the governor.

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In recent weeks, Florida under DeSantis’ direction paid for two flights of migrants from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard. DeSantis was the latest GOP governor, frustrated over the federal government’s response to policing the southern border, to transport the migrants to Democratic cities.

DeSantis defended the move as a way to make immigration a “front-burner issue” ahead of the midterms. Critics questioned the legality, and his Democratic opponent for governor said it represented a new low level of shrewdness.

“It’s amazing to me what he’s willing to do for sheer political gain,” Charlie Crist, his gubernatorial challenger, said.

Conley, who wrote a book about Trump and populism, said he understands the comparisons between the two men, both often provocative Republicans. But he noted key differences, including that DeSantis is more disciplined and restrained with statements on social media.

“He may say controversial things, but I don’t think he’s going to sit around at 3 or 4 in the morning and contemplate how to get back at (Senate GOP Leader) Mitch McConnell or something” as Trump would do, Conley said.

Trump also drew criticism for his responses to natural disasters, which often failed to convey empathy.

After Puerto Rico was flattened by Hurricane Maria, he flew to San Juan and threw paper towels into the crowd, withheld aid and questioned whether a death toll in the thousands was contrived by Democrats to make him look bad. On a trip to Houston after Hurricane Harvey, he was criticized for not meeting with storm victims. When he returned days later, Trump urged those at a shelter to “have a good time.”

Natural disasters have historically put U.S. political leaders in predicaments.

Years earlier, President George W. Bush left the impression of overlooking Hurricane Karina’s devastation in New Orleans when he flew over the city while returning to Washington from vacation. He later praised FEMA Director Michael Brown as doing “a heck of a job.”

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Both New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican, and Democratic President Barack Obama felt political effects of a friendly greeting after Hurricane Sandy. The image may have helped Obama project a moderate, bipartisan front days before his election for a second term but conservatives derided Christie for what they called a “hug.”

At Thursday’s afternoon briefing, DeSantis spoke of surveying the damage, from a wiped out causeway between the mainland and Sanibel Island off Fort Myers to destroyed homes and hundreds of people rescued.

“These are resilient folks,” he said. “They will bounce back, but we just want to make sure that we can kind of pave the way for them.”

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Israel hails ‘success’ after blocking unprecedented attack from Iran

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Israel hails ‘success’ after blocking unprecedented attack from Iran

TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) — Israeli leaders on Sunday credited an international military coalition with helping thwart a direct Iranian attack involving hundreds of drones and missiles, calling the coordinated response a starting point for a “strategic alliance” of regional opposition to Tehran.

But Israel’s War Cabinet met without making a decision on next steps, an official said, as a nervous world waited for any sign of further escalation of the former shadow war.

The military coalition, led by the United States, Britain and France and appearing to include a number of Middle Eastern countries, gave Israel support at a time when it finds itself isolated over its war against Hamas in Gaza. The coalition also could serve as a model for regional relations when that war ends.

“This was the first time that such a coalition worked together against the threat of Iran and its proxies in the Middle East,” said the Israeli military spokesman, Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari.

One unknown is which of Israel’s neighbors participated in the shooting down of the vast majority of about 350 drones and missiles Iran launched. Israeli military officials and a key War Cabinet member noted additional “partners” without naming them. When pressed, White House national security spokesman John Kirby would not name them either.

But one appeared to be Jordan, which described its action as self-defense.

“There was an assessment that there was a real danger of Iranian marches and missiles falling on Jordan, and the armed forces dealt with this danger. And if this danger came from Israel, Jordan would take the same action,” Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman al-Safadi said in an interview on Al-Mamlaka state television. U.S. President Joe Biden spoke with Jordan’s King Abdullah on Sunday.

The U.S. has long tried to forge a regionwide alliance against Iran as a way of integrating Israel and boosting ties with the Arab world. The effort has included the 2020 Abraham Accords, which established diplomatic relations between Israel and four Arab countries, and having Israel in the U.S. military’s Central Command, which oversees operations in the Middle East and works closely with the armies of moderate Arab states.

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The U.S. had been working to establish full relations between Israel and regional heavyweight Saudi Arabia before the Oct. 7 Hamas attack sparked Israel’s war in Gaza. The war, which has claimed over 33,700 Palestinian lives, has frozen those efforts due to widespread outrage across the Arab world. But it appears that some behind-the-scenes cooperation has continued, and the White House has held out hopes of forging Israel-Saudi ties as part of a postwar plan.

Just ahead of Iran’s attack, the commander of CENTCOM, Gen. Erik Kurilla, visited Israel to map out a strategy.

Israel’s military chief, Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi, on Sunday thanked CENTCOM for the joint defensive effort. Both Jordan and Saudi Arabia are under the CENTCOM umbrella. While neither acknowledged involvement in intercepting Iran’s launches, the Israeli military released a map showing missiles traveling through the airspace of both nations.

“Arab countries came to the aid of Israel in stopping the attack because they understand that regional organizing is required against Iran, otherwise they will be next in line,” Amos Yadlin, a former head of Israel’s military intelligence, wrote on X, formerly Twitter.

Israel’s defense minister, Yoav Gallant, said he had spoken with U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and that the cooperation “highlighted the opportunity to establish an international coalition and strategic alliance to counter the threat posed by Iran.”

The White House signaled that it hopes to build on the partnerships and urged Israel to think twice before striking Iran. U.S. officials said Biden told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that Washington would not participate in any offensive action against Iran.

Israel’s War Cabinet met late Sunday to discuss a possible response, but an Israeli official familiar with the talks said no decisions had been made. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was discussing confidential deliberations.

Asked about plans for retaliation, Hagari declined to comment directly. “We are at high readiness in all fronts,” he said.

“We will build a regional coalition and collect the price from Iran, in the way and at the time that suits us,” said a key War Cabinet member, Benny Gantz.

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Iran launched the attack in response to a strike widely blamed on Israel that hit an Iranian consular building in Syria this month and killed two Iranian generals.

By Sunday morning, Iran said the attack was over, and Israel reopened its airspace. Iran’s president, Ebrahim Raisi, claimed Iran had taught Israel a lesson and warned that “any new adventures against the interests of the Iranian nation would be met with a heavier and regretful response from the Islamic Republic of Iran.”

The foes have been engaged in a shadow war for years, but Sunday’s assault was the first time Iran launched a direct military assault on Israel, despite decades of enmity dating back to the country’s 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Iran said it targeted Israeli facilities involved in the Damascus strike, and that it told the White House early Sunday that the operation would be “minimalistic.”

But U.S. officials said Iran’s intent was to “destroy and cause casualties” and that if successful, the strikes would have caused an “uncontrollable” escalation. At one point, at least 100 ballistic missiles were in the air with just minutes of flight time to Israel, the officials said.

Israel said more than 99% of what Iran fired was intercepted, with just a few missiles getting through. An Israeli airbase sustained minor damage.

Israel has over the years established — often with the help of the U.S. — a multilayered air-defense network that includes systems capable of intercepting a variety of threats, including long-range missiles, cruise missiles, drones and short-range rockets.

That system, along with collaboration with the U.S. and others, helped thwart what could have been a far more devastating assault at a time when Israel is already deeply engaged in Gaza as well as low-level fighting on its northern border with Lebanon’s Hezbollah militia. Both Hamas and Hezbollah are backed by Iran.

While thwarting the Iranian onslaught could help restore Israel’s image after the Hamas attack in October, what the Middle East’s best-equipped army does next will be closely watched in the region and in Western capitals — especially as Israel seeks to develop the coalition it praised Sunday.

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In Washington, Biden pledged to convene allies to develop a unified response. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the U.S. would hold talks with allies. After an urgent meeting, the Group of Seven countries unanimously condemned Iran’s attack and said they stood ready to take “further measures.”

Israel and Iran have been on a collision course throughout Israel’s war in Gaza. In the Oct. 7 attack, militants from Hamas and Islamic Jihad, also backed by Iran, killed 1,200 people in Israel and kidnapped 250 others. Israel’s offensive in Gaza has killed over 33,000 people, according to local health officials.

Hamas welcomed Iran’s attack, saying it was “a natural right and a deserved response” to the strike in Syria. It urged the Iran-backed groups in the region to continue to support Hamas in the war.

Hezbollah also welcomed the attack. Almost immediately after the war in Gaza erupted, Hezbollah began attacking Israel’s northern border. The two sides have been involved in daily exchanges of fire, while Iranian-backed groups in Iraq, Syria and Yemen have launched rockets and missiles toward Israel.

___

Federman reported from Jerusalem. Associated Press writers Zeke Miller and Michelle L. Price in Washington; Amir Vahdat in Tehran, Iran; Samy Magdy in Cairo; Omar Akour in Amman, Jordan; and Giada Zampano in Rome contributed to this report.

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How to get rid of NYC rats without brutality? Birth control is one idea

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How to get rid of NYC rats without brutality? Birth control is one idea

New York lawmakers are proposing rules to humanely drive down the population of rats and other rodents, eyeing contraception and a ban on glue traps as alternatives to poison or a slow, brutal death.

Politicians have long come up with creative ways to battle the rodents, but some lawmakers are now proposing city and statewide measures to do more.

In New York City, the idea to distribute rat contraceptives got fresh attention in city government Thursday following the death of an escaped zoo owl, known as Flaco, who was found dead with rat poison in his system.

City Council Member Shaun Abreu proposed a city ordinance Thursday that would establish a pilot program for controlling the millions of rats lurking in subway stations and empty lots by using birth control instead of lethal chemicals. Abreu, chair of the Committee on Sanitation and Solid Waste Management, said the contraceptives also are more ethical and humane than other methods.

The contraceptive, called ContraPest, is contained in salty, fatty pellets that are scattered in rat-infested areas as bait. It works by targeting ovarian function in female rats and disrupting sperm cell production in males, The New York Times reported.

New York exterminators currently kill rats using snap and glue traps, poisons that make them bleed internally, and carbon monoxide gas that can suffocate them in burrows. Some hobbyists have even trained their dogs to hunt them.

Rashad Edwards, a film and television actor who runs pest management company Scurry Inc. in New York City with his wife, said the best method he has found when dealing with rodents is carbon monoxide.

He tries to use the most humane method possible, and carbon monoxide euthanizes the rats slowly, putting them to sleep and killing them. Edwards avoids using rat poison whenever possible because it is dangerous and torturous to the rodents, he said.

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Some lawmakers in Albany are considering a statewide ban on glue boards under a bill moving through the Legislature. The traps, usually made from a slab of cardboard or plastic coated in a sticky material, can also ensnare small animals that land on its surface.

Edwards opposes a ban on sticky traps, because he uses them on other pests, such as ants, to reduce overall pesticide use. When ants get into a house, he uses sticky traps to figure out where they’re most often passing by. It helps him narrow zones of pesticide use “so that you don’t go spray the entire place.”

“This is not a problem we can kill our way out of,” said Jakob Shaw, a special project manager for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. “It’s time to embrace these more common sense and humane methods.”

Two cities in California have passed bans on glue traps in recent years. On the federal level, a bill currently in committee would ban the traps nationwide.

“It ends a really inhumane practice of managing rat populations,” said Jabari Brisport, the New York state senator who represents part of Brooklyn and sponsored the bill proposing the new guidelines. “There are more effective and more humane ways to deal with rats.”

Every generation of New Yorkers has struggled to control rat populations. Mayor Eric Adams hired a “rat czar” last year tasked with battling the detested rodents. Last month, New York City reduced the amount of food served up to rats by mandating all businesses to put trash out in boxes.

While the war on rats has no end in sight, the exterminator Edwards said we can learn a lot from their resilience. The rodents, he said, can never be eradicated, only managed.

“They’re very smart, and they’re very wise,” he said. “It’s very inspiring but just — not in my house.”

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Coachella: Earthquake shakes SoCal desert during music fest

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Coachella: Earthquake shakes SoCal desert during music fest

RIVERSIDE, Calif. (AP) — A small earthquake shook the Southern California desert Saturday near Coachella, where the famous music festival is being held this weekend. No damage or injuries were reported.

The quake, with a preliminary magnitude of 3.8, hit at 9:08 a.m. about 8 miles (13 kilometers) northeast of Borrego Springs in Riverside County, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

The epicenter was about 20 miles (32 kilometers) southeast of Coachella. It struck at a depth of about 7 miles (11 kilometers), the USGS said.

A dispatcher with the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department said there were no calls reporting any problems from the quake.

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