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Associated Press

Being a White House kid comes with pluses and minuses

If it’s tough being a kid, try being a “first kid” — the child of an American president.

Just ask President Bill Clinton‘s daughter, Chelsea. Or President George W. Bush‘s twins, Jenna and Barbara. And now, President Donald Trump‘s youngest child, Barron, is finding out.

Ten-year-old Barron was the target of a poorly received joke tweeted by a “Saturday Night Live” writer on Jan. 20 as the new first family reveled in Inauguration Day events. Separately in Chicago, comedian Shannon Noll played the title character in “Barron Trump: Up Past Bedtime,” which had a recent run at a theater in Hyde Park.

Both instances have revived age-old questions about the sometimes less-than-kid-glove treatment of presidential kids.

“I think the children are off-limits,” said Lisa Caputo, who was White House press secretary when “Saturday Night Live” made fun of then-13-year-old Chelsea Clinton. “They didn’t run for public office, they don’t hold an official role.”

“SNL” cast member Mike Meyers sent the Clintons a letter of apology after the incident.

The teenage Chelsea Clinton also was mocked by talk radio host Rush Limbaugh, who called her a dog.

Katie Rich, the “SNL” writer who tweeted about Barron, was suspended indefinitely. After deleting the tweet and deactivating her Twitter account, she reactivated the account, saying she wanted to “sincerely apologize” for the “insensitive” tweet and that she deeply regretted her actions.

“It was inexcusable & I’m so sorry,” Rich said. Fellow comedians have risen to her defense, but Noll told the Chicago Reader that she has been the subject of a social media backlash, including death threats, as well as homophobic, transphobic, anti-Semitic and racist comments directed at her. The theater also has been harassed.

All presidents and first ladies seek a life outside the spotlight for minor children who live in the 132-room mansion, except when they themselves put their kids in the spotlight.

Days after the incident involving Rich, the White House appealed for respect for Barron’s privacy.

“It is a longstanding tradition that the children of presidents are afforded the opportunity to grow up outside of the political spotlight,” the White House press office said in a brief statement. “The White House fully expects this tradition to continue.”

That same week, Trump told Sean Hannity of Fox News that it was “a disgrace” for NBC “to attack my 10-year-old son.” Trump also suggested the dustup may have bothered Barron, who has only been seen publicly during big moments of the past year, such as the night Trump addressed the Republican National Convention and election night. He continues to live full-time in New York City with his mother, first lady Melania Trump.

“It’s not an easy thing for him. Believe me,” Trump said of his son.

In contrast, Trump’s adult children, Don Jr., Eric, Ivanka and Tiffany, are sharing the limelight with their famous father. Don Jr. and Eric are running the family business, and Ivanka could end up joining the administration. All three Trump children sat in on meetings their father conducted before and after he took office.

Doug Wead, who wrote a book about the children of presidents, said it’s the “ultimate hurt” when the offspring become the vehicle for the ire that some grown-ups wish they could direct toward the president. He said kids become targets because they’re seen as weak.

“Barron can’t fight back,” Wead said.

Anita McBride, who worked for three Republican presidents and was first lady Laura Bush‘s chief of staff, said President Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle, did a good job shielding their daughters from most public scrutiny. Bush’s daughters were college-bound when he was elected in 2000, so they didn’t live in the White House. But their underage drinking made headlines.

“Why in a matter of 24 hours should it be different for this child?” McBride said of Barron.

And Chelsea Clinton said on Twitter that “Barron Trump deserves the chance every child does — to be a kid.” But she also added that standing up for kids means opposing Trump policies that hurt them.

The supportive tweet from the former first daughter — who is good friends with Barron’s sister Ivanka — shed light on the exclusive club of “first children,” who seem to be looking out for one another.

Jenna and Barbara Bush recently applauded Malia and Sasha Obama for surviving the “unbelievable pressure of the White House” and enduring “harsh criticism of your parents by people” who don’t know them.

“Take all that you have seen, the people you have met, the lessons you have learned, and let that help guide you in making positive change. We have no doubt you will,” they encouraged the Obama girls in a letter. The Bush sisters also wrote a letter to the Obama girls when they moved into the White House in 2009 at ages 10 and 7.

Wead said few tears should be shed over the fact that these children sometimes get rough treatment from the public.

As children of privilege, they are steps ahead of so many of their peers.

“Two of them became presidents themselves,” Wead said, referring to George W. Bush, son of President George H.W. Bush, and John Quincy Adams, son of President John Adams.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Fed lawyers deciding next step in Donald Trump travel ban fight

Government lawyers fighting to defend President Donald Trump‘s executive order on immigration said Friday that “all options” are being considered after a federal appeals court ruled against the president’s ban on travelers from seven predominantly Muslim nations.

A Justice Department lawyer who spoke at a hearing in Virginia said the administration was weighing whether to challenge a 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that upheld a temporary block on Trump’s ban, saying it was unlikely to survive a legal challenge.

“We may appeal. We may not,” attorney Erez Reuveni said. “All options are being considered.”

It could appeal the restraining order on Trump’s travel ban to the U.S. Supreme Court or it could attempt to remake the case in the district court.

Reuveni was appearing at a hearing before Judge Leonie Brinkema at which the state of Virginia was challenging the ban. The judge did not rule. She noted that “the status quo remains” because of the 9th circuit’s decision and suggested that a well-reasoned ruling would take time and could not be written “overnight.”

Michael Kelly, a spokesman for Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring, said Friday’s hearing in a federal court in a Washington, D.C., suburb posed the most significant state challenge yet to Trump’s order. In a statement, he said it “will be the most in-depth examination of the merits of the arguments against the ban.”

Lawyers for Herring, a Democrat, are asking the judge for a preliminary injunction barring the Trump administration from enforcing that portion of the Jan. 27 executive order that bars anyone from those countries — Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen — from entering the U.S. for 90 days. The state is not challenging that portion of Trump’s order suspending entry of refugees for four months.

“If the Commonwealth is successful in securing a preliminary injunction, it would indicate that Virginia is likely to prevail on the merits of its challenge to President Trump’s ban, and it will be a more durable injunction that will last all the way through trial — so potentially weeks or months,” Kelly wrote.

In a court document filed ahead of the hearing, Virginia’s lawyers challenge the constitutionality of the executive order and say there is “overwhelming evidence” that the executive order “resulted from animus toward Muslims.” Virginia also says the state, its residents and its public universities are harmed. One example it gives: university students and faculty from countries named in the executive order who are in the U.S. on work or student visas can’t leave for fear of not being allowed back in.

Until it was temporarily blocked by a federal judge in Seattle a week ago, the ban made headlines amid tearful stories of families separated and lives upended. Among them were two Yemeni brothers whose family sued in Virginia before the brothers, both green card holders, were allowed back into the country. The federal government has since said green card holders will not be barred from re-entering the U.S.

In the specific Virginia challenge, lawyers for the federal government wrote in a court filing opposing a preliminary injunction that Virginia doesn’t have the right to challenge the ban — and that the court doesn’t have the power to review the president’s executive order.

“Judicial second-guessing of the President’s determination that a temporary suspension of entry of certain classes of aliens was necessary at this time to protect national security would constitute an impermissible intrusion” on his constitutional authority, lawyers Dennis Barghaan and Reuveni wrote.

Even if Virginia’s challenge is allowed to proceed, a preliminary injunction is not warranted, the U.S. government lawyers wrote.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

For Donald Trump, a solitary start to life in the White House

Around 6:30 each evening, Secret Service agents gather in the dim hallways of the West Wing to escort Donald Trump home.

For some presidents, the short walk between the Oval Office and the White House residence upstairs is a lifeline to family and a semblance of normal life. Others have used the grand residence for late night entertaining and deal-making with lawmakers.

For Trump, life in the White House residence is so far a largely solitary existence. With his wife and youngest son living in New York, and his grown children busy with their young families, Trump’s first evenings have been spent largely alone, tethered to the outside world only by his phone and his television. The dramatic change of scenery has left the 70-year-old president, a known creature of habit, a little adrift in the evenings, according to one person who spoke with him recently.

Another regular contact described the president as still adjusting to this new digs and his somewhat more confined schedule. His advisers initially said they expected him to spend his evenings holding working dinners, like one scheduled Thursday with Republican mega-donor Sheldon Adelson.

While Trump has marveled at the history and beauty of his new home, “it’s still government housing,” said Christopher Ruddy, the CEO of Newsmax and a friend of the president’s.

A half-dozen other friends, advisers and associates of the president spoke about his first weeks in the White House on the condition of anonymity in order to detail private conversations.

The interviews underscore the relatively large circle of people who have spoken with the new president, despite the busy schedule and enormous pressures of the job. Trump has been spending his nights making and taking calls to an expanding network of old friends, lawmakers and others.

Calls often come in to Trump’s personal cellphone, which he fought staff and his security team to keep. Rather than hold lengthy conversations on the unsecured line, Trump often calls people back on other lines, sometimes going through the White House switchboard.

The president, who says he’s sleeping four or five hours a night, is dialing up associates late at night and early in the morning, before he returns to the West Wing. He recently reached House Speaker Paul Ryan while the Wisconsin Republican was in the middle of an early morning workout.

Ryan has become a more frequent point of contact for the president, who has been touting his improved relationship with the speaker in conversations with advisers and associates. Their discussions are said to largely focus on policy, including health care and tax reform, the latter an issue where the speaker’s office is trying to bring the White House closer to House Republicans’ position.

Trump has privately conceded some early missteps after a turbulent start to his term, including the flawed rollout of his controversial refugee and immigration plan and a lack of clear lanes for his top advisers. But despite public opinion polls showing less than 50 percent of Americans approve of his presidency thus far, Trump has sounded confident about his standing.

During one late night discussion, Trump was already talking about seeking a second term. When an associate suggested he was weakening Democrats by usurping some of the party’s best policy ideas, the president readily agreed.

When he isn’t talking about his early presidency, Trump — who is sometimes joined by his longtime security chief, Keith Schiller — is often watching others talk.

The president’s advisers have tried to curb his cable news consumption during the workday. But there are no limits when the president returns to the residence. During another recent telephone conversation, Trump briefly put down the phone so he could turn up the volume on a CNN report. When he returned to the call, he was complaining about “fake news.”

In some ways, his new lifestyle in the White House resembles the routines he created during decades living atop Trump Tower. He long has preferred the comforts of home, eschewing much of Manhattan’s social scene in favor of evenings in his penthouse with close friends, family and his television.

First lady Melania Trump and the couple’s 10-year-old son, Barron, are staying in New York at least until the end of the school year. Mrs. Trump hasn’t been seen in Washington since the weekend of the president’s inauguration, and Trump has yet to return to New York. The Trumps did spend last weekend together at Mar-a-Lago, the president’s palatial South Florida club.

Trump’s daughter Ivanka and her husband, White House senior adviser Jared Kushner, made the move to Washington, but have focused on getting their young family settled into life in a new city. The couple also spend some evenings dining with business and political contacts.

Trump is returning to Mar-a-Lago again on Friday with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and may keep making weekend trips for the rest of the month. Friends who saw the president at the coastal estate last weekend described him as relaxed, particularly at a black tie gala for the Red Cross and on the golf course with some of his regular playing partners.

Despite Trump’s weekend escapes, advisers say he has taken to the White House. He’s told associates it feels like a movie set and has spent time making sure it looks up to his standards, according to one person who has been in contact with him. The Trumps have hired Tham Kannalikham, a low-profile interior designer, to help put their touch on the White House residence.

During a recent interview with Fox News, Trump said he was walking into the main entrance of the White House one day and said to himself, “This is sort of amazing.”

“It’s like a surreal experience, in a certain way,” Trump said. “But you have to get over it.”

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

In unanimous ruling, U.S. appeals court refuses to reinstate Trump travel ban

A federal appeals court refused Thursday to reinstate President Donald Trump‘s ban on travelers from seven predominantly Muslim nations, dealing another legal setback to the new administration’s immigration policy.

In a unanimous decision, the panel of three judges from the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals declined to block a lower-court ruling that suspended the ban and allowed previously barred travelers to enter the U.S.

An appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court seems likely and would put the decision in the hands of a divided court that has a vacancy. Trump’s nominee, Neil Gorsuch, could not be confirmed in time to take part in any consideration of the ban.

Moments after the ruling was released, Trump tweeted, “SEE YOU IN COURT,” adding that “THE SECURITY OF OUR NATION IS AT STAKE!”

The appeals panel said the government presented no evidence to explain the urgent need for the executive order to take effect immediately. The judges noted compelling public interests on both sides.

“On the one hand, the public has a powerful interest in national security and in the ability of an elected president to enact policies. And on the other, the public also has an interest in free flow of travel, in avoiding separation of families, and in freedom from discrimination.”

The court rejected the administration’s claim that it did not have the authority to review the president’s executive order.

“There is no precedent to support this claimed unreviewability, which runs contrary to the fundamental structure of our constitutional democracy,” the court said.

While they did not rule on the actual merits of the states’ argument that the travel ban was intended to target Muslims, the judges rejected the government’s claim that the court should not consider statements by Trump or his advisers about wishing to enact such a ban. Considering those remarks, the judges said, falls within well-established legal precedent.

Last week, U.S. District Judge James Robart in Seattle issued a temporary restraining order halting the ban after Washington state and Minnesota sued. The ban temporarily suspended the nation’s refugee program and immigration from countries that have raised terrorism concerns.

Justice Department lawyers appealed to the 9th Circuit, arguing that the president has the constitutional power to restrict entry to the United States and that the courts cannot second-guess his determination that such a step was needed to prevent terrorism.

The states said Trump’s travel ban harmed individuals, businesses and universities. Citing Trump’s campaign promise to stop Muslims from entering the U.S., they said the ban unconstitutionally blocked entry to people based on religion.

The appeals court sided with the states on every issue save one: the argument that the lower court’s temporary restraining order could not be appealed. While under 9th Circuit precedent such orders are not typically reviewable, the panel ruled that due to the intense public interest at stake and the uncertainty of how long it would take to obtain a further ruling from the lower court, it was appropriate to consider the federal government’s appeal.

Josh Blackman, a professor at South Texas College of Law in Houston, said the “million-dollar question” is whether the Trump administration would appeal to the Supreme Court.

That could run the risk of having only eight justices to hear the case, which could produce a tie and leave the lower-court ruling in place.

“There’s a distinct risk in moving this too quickly,” Blackman said. “But we’re not in a normal time, and Donald Trump is very rash. He may trump, pardon the figure of speech, the normal rule.”

Both sides faced tough questioning during an hour of arguments Tuesday. The judges hammered away at the administration’s claim that the ban was motivated by terrorism fears, but they also challenged the states’ argument that it targeted Muslims.

“I have trouble understanding why we’re supposed to infer religious animus when, in fact, the vast majority of Muslims would not be affected,” Judge Richard Clifton, a George W. Bush nominee, asked an attorney representing Washington state and Minnesota.

Only 15 percent of the world’s Muslims are affected by the executive order, the judge said, citing his own calculations.

“Has the government pointed to any evidence connecting these countries to terrorism?” Judge Michelle T. Friedland, who was appointed by President Barack Obama, asked the Justice Department attorney.

After the ban was put on hold, the State Department quickly said people from the seven countries — Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen — with valid visas could travel to the U.S. The decision led to tearful reunions at airports round the country.

The ban was set to expire in 90 days, meaning it could run its course before the Supreme Court would take up the issue. The administration also could change the order, including changing its scope or duration.

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

 

Donald Trump’s assertions echo site filled with tales of dark plots

President Donald Trump‘s assertion that the media often fails to cover terrorist attacks is false, but he’s hardly alone in making the claim. The statement is just the latest by Trump to echo a website known for trafficking in dubious allegations of plots and cover-ups.

“You’ve seen what happened in Paris and Nice. All over Europe it’s happening. It’s gotten to a point where it’s not even being reported. And in many cases, the very, very dishonest press doesn’t want to report it. They have their reasons and you understand that,” Trump said in a speech to military commanders at Tampa’s MacDill Air Force Base Monday.

That allegation was quickly disproven by numerous articles and broadcast clips detailing many of the very attacks the White House said had been overlooked or underreported. But versions of the same accusation have long gone unquestioned on Infowars, a website run by former public access cable host Alex Jones.

“Scandal: Mass media covers up terrorism to protect Islam,” a headline on Jones’ site alleged last July. “Fake news: Mainstream media whitewashes Islamic terror in Berlin,” proclaimed another, last December.

There’s no evidence that Trump gets his information from the site. But Trump voiced his admiration for Jones when the Infowars host interviewed him in December 2015.

“Your reputation is amazing,” then-candidate Trump told Jones. “I will not let you down. You will be very impressed, I hope, and I think we’ll be speaking a lot.”

Jones responded: “I hope you can uncripple America…”

Days after the election, Jones said that Trump had called him to “thank your viewers, thank your listeners for standing up for this republic.”

Jones, whose site has alleged that the Newtown, Connecticut, school shooting was a hoax and that the September 11, 2001, terror attacks involved the federal government, is “America’s leading conspiracy theorist,” said Mark Fenster, author of “Conspiracy Theories: Secrecy and Power in America.”

Such allegations have always had their believers, but those who traded in the tales mostly existed on the fringes, said Kathleen Hall Jamieson, a University of Pennsylvania professor specializing in political communication.

“You weren’t watching it. I wasn’t watching it. Certainly our political leaders weren’t watching it,” she said. But the internet has given organs devoted to such claims more visibility and acceptability. Jones’ YouTube channel has nearly 2 million subscribers.

With Trump, the country has a leader who repeats such allegations as if they are plausible, said Fenster, a professor of law at the University of Florida. Political campaigns sometimes see candidates make vague references to dark forces, but for a sitting president to regularly engage in an “unfiltered set of allegations” is well beyond the norm, Fenster said.

Trump’s allegations about the media and those made on Infowars are just the latest to echo one another. Their shared assertions include:

— President Barack Obama may not have been born in the United States.

It’s hard to know where these allegations originated, but Infowars has been making the “birther” argument for years, alleging that documents showing Obama was born in Hawaii were fake.

“Shocking new birth certificate proof Obama born in Kenya?” asked an Infowars headline in August 2009. “New Obama birth certificate is a forgery,” said another, in April 2011.

The latter was shortly after Trump appeared on the television show “The View,” in March 2011, during which he falsely said that nobody from Obama’s childhood remembered him, and that he was obligated to prove his birth in Hawaii. “Why doesn’t he show his birth certificate?” Trump said. Last September, Trump said he accepted that Obama was born in the U.S.

— Thousands of Muslims in New Jersey celebrated after 9/11.

Trump was criticized after a November 2015 political rally in which he said that “thousands and thousands of people were cheering” in New Jersey when the World Trade Center came down. Questioned afterward, Trump insisted that he had seen the celebrations on television that day.

There’s no evidence such celebrations took place. But accounts of Muslims cheering terrorist attacks have been a repeated theme on Infowars.

“I live in Jersey and Trump is right: Muslims did celebrate on 9/11 in NJ… We saw it!” headlined an article in November 2015. Soon afterward, the site ran another story, “Exclusive: Radical U.S. Muslims celebrate, shoot fireworks after terrorist attack,” featuring an anonymous man who said that on the night of the Paris attacks he heard people celebrating four or five blocks away from his home outside Detroit.

— Millions of people voted illegally for Hillary Clinton.

Trump won the presidency with an Electoral College victory despite losing to Hillary Clinton by nearly 3 million votes. He has said he was cheated out of a rightful win in the popular vote.

“In addition to winning the Electoral College in a landslide, I won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally,” the president said on Twitter on November 27. Numerous state elections officials, many of them Republicans, said there is no evidence of widespread voting fraud. But Trump ordered an investigation.

His allegations have been echoed, if not preceded, on Infowars, which alleged widespread voter fraud well before Election Day.

“Dead people and illegal immigrants are being registered to vote all over America,” the site headlined in early October.

In mid-November, Infowars posted a story headlined: “Report: Three million votes in presidential election cast by illegal aliens.” The story cited a Texas businessman, Greg Phillips, who claimed to have compiled a list of 3 million illegal votes by non-citizens. On January 27, Trump Tweeted that he was looking forward to seeing Phillips’ evidence. “We must do better!” Trump wrote.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Donald Trump nominee decried criticism of judges, senators agree

President Donald Trump insisted Thursday that comments by his Supreme Court nominee criticizing his own attacks on the judiciary were “misrepresented,” even as Republican and Democratic lawmakers vouched for the veracity of the remarks.

Trump responded after private rebukes from Judge Neil Gorsuch, who said in meetings with lawmakers on Wednesday that the president’s comments about federal judges were “disheartening.”

Gorsuch, who was nominated by Trump last week to the nation’s highest court, made the comments in meetings with senators after Trump accused an appeals court panel considering his immigration and refugee executive order of being “so political.” Over the weekend, he labeled a judge who ruled on his executive order a “so-called judge” and referred to the ruling as “ridiculous.”

Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut first relayed Gorsuch’s remarks on Wednesday following a meeting with him. Trump’s own confirmation team for Gorsuch later confirmed he had made the remarks.

But Trump said during a Thursday luncheon with senators that Blumenthal had misrepresented Gorsuch. “His comments were misrepresented. And what you should do is ask Senator Blumenthal about his Vietnam record that didn’t exist after years of saying it did,” he said.

Blumenthal, who served in the Marine Corps Reserves during Vietnam, apologized in 2010 for saying he had served in Vietnam.

The president made the comments while making the case for Gorsuch during a luncheon with 10 senators, including six of Blumenthal’s fellow Democrats.

Blumenthal, a former state attorney general, argued Thursday that Gorsuch would need to go further to publicly denounce Trump’s verbal assault on judicial independence.

“He needs to condemn Donald Trump’s attacks publicly and it needs to be much stronger, more explicit and direct than has been done so far,” Blumenthal said. “Unless it is done publicly in a clear condemnation, it will not establish his independence.”

Lawmakers from both parties quickly vouched for the veracity of the remarks the senator said Gorsuch made. GOP former Sen. Kelly Ayotte, who is helping with Gorsuch’s confirmation and was at the meeting, issued a statement saying Gorsuch made clear he was not referring to any specific case. But she said the nominee said he finds any criticism of a judge’s integrity and independence to be “disheartening and demoralizing.”

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., each confirmed that Gorsuch made the same comments to them.

Sasse told MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” ”Frankly, he got pretty passionate about it.” He added that Gorsuch said any attack on the “‘brothers or sisters of the robe is an attack on all judges’.”

Fellow Connecticut Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy came to Blumenthal’s defense Thursday, lashing out in a tweet directed at Trump: “Ha! As a prosecutor, Dick used to put guys like u in jail. Now, u use your position to mock vets, he uses his to make their lives better.”

Gorsuch’s comments came at the end of a week of meetings with members of the Senate, which is considering his nomination. His response may have been aimed at drawing a line of separation with the new president.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is weighing the appeal of Trump’s executive order on immigration, which included a temporary travel ban on people from seven Muslim-majority countries. In a hearing Tuesday, judges on the appeals court challenged the administration’s claim that the ban was motivated by terrorism fears, but they also questioned an attorney’s argument that it unconstitutionally targeted Muslims.

Trump told visiting police chiefs Wednesday that a portion of the immigration law gives him the power to enact the ban, calling it “beautifully written” and saying, “A bad high school student would understand this.”

“Courts seem to be so political and it would be so great for our justice system if they would be able to read a statement and do what’s right,” Trump added. “And that has to do with the security of our country, which is so important.”

Since a lower-court judge blocked the order last week, Trump has assailed the decision, leading legal experts, Democrats and some Republicans to question whether his remarks might jeopardize the independence of the judiciary. Others have expressed fears he may be attempting to use political influence to sway the courts.

The president has repeatedly said foreigners are “pouring in” since the ban was put on hold and suggested that blocking the order would be dangerous for U.S. citizens.

On Wednesday he tweeted, “Big increase in traffic into our country from certain areas, while our people are far more vulnerable, as we wait for what should be EASY D!”

The administration has not provided any information to support his claims.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Term limits for top Florida judges clears first hurdle

A push by House Speaker Richard Corcoran to limit how long top judges can remain on the bench is moving in the Florida House.

A divided House panel on Thursday approved a measure (HJR 1) that would ask the state’s voters to approve a 12-year term limit for all Supreme Court justices and appeals court judges. If passed by the Florida Legislature it would go before voters in 2018.

Justices and appeals court judges currently must go before voters every six years for a merit retention vote. Supporters of the term limits proposal note that no judge has ever lost a merit retention vote.

But opponents say the amendment would undercut the independence of the judicial branch and argued it would lead to fewer people seeking to become judges.

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

 

Pulse nightclub massacre: Some patrons upset at not getting funds

Some Pulse nightclub patrons are upset that they aren’t receiving money from a $29.5 million victims’ compensation fund since they were outside the club when the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history began, newly released emails show.

In one email sent to Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, a Pulse patron said he and his boyfriend were in the valet area outside the gay nightclub when a gunman began his attack last June 12 at the club entrance. The patron said they were traumatized but aren’t getting compensation from the OneOrlando Fund because it requires patrons to have been inside to be eligible for funds.

The fund was set up to help out the families of the 49 deceased and the patrons who were inside. It’s distributing money for 305 claims.

“Although it’s impossible to accurately or adequately assess any one individual’s degree of trauma or stress experienced due to the massacre, I think we can all agree that being 10 feet away from the building’s front door after having spent several hours in the company of 49 people who are now dead IS TRAUMATIC,” David Jourdenais wrote the mayor.

That email and others belonging to Dyer and his chief of staff, Frank Billingsley, were obtained through a public records request.

A spokeswoman for the mayor, Cassandra Lafser, said Tuesday that the standards remain unchanged. She said an additional $1 million has come in since the original distribution, and the fund’s board will reconvene to figure out how to distribute the rest of the money.

Other emails show that Orlando city officials are making plans for the anniversary of the massacre, including seeking prominent performers for a possible concert. In a memo, an official wrote that artists are interested in performing but may have scheduling conflicts, according to the emails.

Pulse owner Barbara Poma said in an email to city officials that she wanted to start a dialogue about planning for the anniversary. “I look forward to working together to create a day that will reinforce the strength, compassion and love that has made OrlandoStrong,” Poma said in an email.

Last June, Omar Mateen was killed by police after opening fire at the Pulse nightclub in the rampage that claimed the 49 lives and another 53 wounded. Mateen professed allegiance to the Islamic State group.

The emails also describe the commitment city officials were making toward establishing a memorial at the club – before a deal for the city to buy the nightclub was nixed. Pulse’s owners ultimately decided not to sell the nightclub to the city even though a contract had already been signed by the owners.

Poma said at the time she couldn’t walk away from the property, feeling a personal obligation to make sure a memorial was created at the club she had opened to honor her gay brother, who had died from complications from AIDS.

Emails received by the mayor and chief of staff show how residents had mixed feelings about the city offering to spend $2.25 million on the property, more than half a million dollars above its appraisal value. Some others, however, praised the city for moving ahead with a memorial, which was awaiting approval from the city council before the deal fell apart.

City officials received unsolicited design plans for the memorial from architects and designers around the world.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Disney’s wonderful world may be too good to last

Disney has been on a tear the past few years, thanks to popular channels like ESPN, its “Star Wars” and Marvel superhero franchises, and improving results at its global parks.

Now comes the hard part.

CEO Robert Iger’s contract runs out next year, creating management uncertainty just as Disney needs to keep its lucrative television offerings relevant in a world increasingly dominated by streaming services.

The company faces “a time of transition” as consumers abandon expensive cable subscriptions, said Morgan Stanley analyst Benjamin Swinburne. That shift threatens Disney mainstays such as ABC and ESPN.

Here’s a look at Disney’s evolving realities.

LIVE TV NOT SO HEALTHY

ESPN has been one of Disney’s crown jewels, but with cable viewership on the decline, its ratings have been under pressure.

Disney revenue and profit both fell in the October-December quarter, hurt by a decline at ESPN and tough comparisons to a year ago, when it released “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” Profit dropped 14 percent to $2.48 billion on revenue that declined 3 percent to $14.78 billion.

Cable network revenue fell 2 percent to $4.4 billion, hurt by lower ESPN revenue. Disney blamed the ESPN results on higher programming costs and lower advertising revenue, partially offset by affiliate revenue growth.

STREAMING AHEAD

So Disney has been working hard to adapt to the new realities of online TV watching.

Its channels — ABC, The Disney Channel, ESPN and others — are all part of less expensive “skinny” channel bundles on streaming services such as Sling TV, Sony PlayStation Vue, and DirecTV now.

Disney also took a $1 billion stake in BAMTech , which provides streaming for Major League Baseball. Disney plans to use that technology for an ESPN streaming service, set to launch this year, which will offer live game streaming and programming not offered on regular ESPN.

Disney might also one day offer a standalone streaming version of ESPN, much the way HBO has with its $15-a-month-service HBO Now.

In a conference call with analysts, Iger said Disney won’t rush to offer the ESPN standalone service, in part because the company still makes a lot of money from cable and satellite fees. But he said ultimately it is Disney’s “powerful intent to go out there aggressively with digital offerings directed to consumers for ESPN” and other Disney offerings.

Nomura analyst Anthony DiClemente suggests Disney first wants to see how Hulu’s live TV service, expected in the next few months, fares. Disney owns 30 percent of Hulu, and will benefit from any subscriber growth the live TV service sparks.

IGER’S FUTURE

Disney is also contending with the looming end of Iger’s contract, which expires in June 2018. Since taking the top role in 2005, Iger has acquired Star Wars owner LucasFilm, Pixar and Marvel and driven improvements in Disney’s consumer products and parks division, most recently with the opening of Shanghai Disneyland, which opened in 2016.

Speculation has been swirling whether Iger will extend his contract in June. There’s no obvious successor at Disney; one heir apparent, COO Tom Staggs, left last year.

Iger, 65, seemed amenable to extending his contract during a conference call with analysts. “If it’s in the best interest of the company for me to extend my term, I’m open to that,” he said.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Donald Trump still fixated on 2016 election results

The 2016 election is never far from President Donald Trump‘s mind.

When Trump met Tuesday with a group of sheriffs from around the country, he saw not just lawmen but battleground states.

Trump talked about his victories with officials from Pennsylvania and North Carolina. And when a sheriff from Minnesota introduced himself, Trump said if he had campaigned in the state one more time he would have won it.

More than two weeks into his presidency, the president is still fixated on the 2016 campaign.

Many of his public comments include references to his election performance. At times, the comments appear to be light and boastful while in other moments, he’s awkwardly interjected election talk into forums that are decidedly apolitical.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

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