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Associated Press

Feds sue Jacksonville over city refusal of homeless housing

Federal civil rights attorneys have sued the city of Jacksonville for refusing to allow a nonprofit organization to convert an old apartment building into housing for the homeless.

The Florida Times-Union reports that lawyers with the U.S. Department of Justice’s civil rights division on Tuesday asked a federal judge for an injunction blocking the city’s move on the grounds that it discriminates against disabled people.

Ability Housing of Northeast Florida has been trying to convert a 1920s-era apartment building into homeless housing.

But city officials used a zoning law to block the plan after neighbors and some city officials demonstrated against the project.

Ability has also sued, and that lawsuit is still in progress.

City spokeswoman Marsha Oliver told the newspaper that she would not comment on active litigation.

U.S. election voted top news story of 2016

The turbulent U.S. election, featuring Donald Trump‘s unexpected victory over Hillary Clinton in the presidential race, was the overwhelming pick for the top news story of 2016, according to The Associated Press’ annual poll of U.S. editors and news directors.

The No. 2 story also was a dramatic upset — Britons’ vote to leave the European Union. Most of the other stories among the Top 10 reflected a year marked by political upheaval, terror attacks and racial divisions.

Last year, developments related to the Islamic State group were voted as the top story — the far-flung attacks claimed by the group, and the intensifying global effort to crush it.

The first AP top-stories poll was conducted in 1936, when editors chose the abdication of Britain’s King Edward VIII.

Here are 2016’s top 10 stories, in order:

1. US ELECTION: This year’s top story traces back to June 2015, when Donald Trump descended an escalator in Trump Tower, his bastion in New York City, to announce he would run for president. Widely viewed as a long shot, with an unconventional campaign featuring raucous rallies and pugnacious tweets, he outlasted 16 Republican rivals. Among the Democrats, Hillary Clinton beat back an unexpectedly strong challenge from Bernie Sanders, and won the popular vote over Trump. But he won key Rust Belt states to get the most electoral votes, and will enter the White House with Republicans maintaining control of both houses of Congress.

2. BREXIT: Confounding pollsters and oddsmakers, Britons voted in June to leave the European Union, triggering financial and political upheaval. David Cameron resigned as prime minister soon after the vote, leaving the task of negotiating an exit to a reshaped Conservative government led by Theresa May. Under a tentative timetable, final details of the withdrawal might not be known until the spring of 2019.

3. BLACKS KILLED BY POLICE: One day apart, police in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, fatally shot Alton Sterling after pinning him to the ground, and a white police officer shot and killed Philando Castile during a traffic stop in a suburb of Minneapolis. Coming after several similar cases in recent years, the killings rekindled debate over policing practices and the Black Lives Matter movement.

4. PULSE NIGHTCLUB MASSACRE: The worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history unfolded on Latin Night at the Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando. The gunman, Omar Mateen, killed 49 people over the course of three hours before dying in a shootout with SWAT team members. During the standoff, he pledged allegiance to the Islamic State.

5. WORLDWIDE TERROR ATTACKS: Across the globe, extremist attacks flared at a relentless pace throughout the year. Among the many high-profile attacks were those that targeted airports in Brussels and Istanbul, a park teeming with families and children in Pakistan, and the seafront boulevard in Nice, France, where 86 people were killed when a truck plowed through a Bastille Day celebration. In Iraq alone, many hundreds of civilians were killed in repeated bombings.

6. ATTACKS ON POLICE: Ambushes and targeted attacks on police officers in the U.S. claimed at least 20 lives. The victims included five officers in Dallas working to keep the peace at a protest over the fatal police shootings of black men in Minnesota and Louisiana. Ten days after that attack, a man killed three officers in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. In Iowa, two policemen were fatally shot in separate ambush-style attacks while sitting in their patrol cars.

7. DEMOCRATIC PARTY EMAIL LEAKS: Hacked emails, disclosed by WikiLeaks, revealed at-times embarrassing details from Democratic Party operatives in the run-up to Election Day, leading to the resignation of Democratic National Committee chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz and other DNC officials. The CIA later concluded that Russia was behind the DNC hacking in a bid to boost Donald Trump’s chances of beating Hillary Clinton.

8. SYRIA: Repeated cease-fire negotiations failed to halt relentless warfare among multiple factions. With Russia’s help, the government forces of President Bashar Assad finally seized rebel-held portions of the city of Aleppo, at a huge cost in terms of deaths and destruction.

9. SUPREME COURT: After Justice Antonin Scalia‘s death in February, President Obama nominated Merrick Garland, chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals, to fill the vacancy. However, majority Republicans in the Senate refused to consider the nomination, opting to leave the seat vacant so it could be filled by the winner of the presidential election. Donald Trump has promised to appoint a conservative in the mold of Scalia.

10. HILLARY CLINTON’S EMAILS: Amid the presidential campaign, the FBI conducted an investigation into Clinton’s use of a private computer server to handle emails she sent and received as secretary of state. FBI Director James Comey criticized Clinton for carelessness but said the bureau would not recommend criminal charges.

Stories that did not make the top 10 included Europe’s migrant crisis, the death of longtime Cuban leader Fidel Castro, and the spread of the Zika virus across Latin America and the Caribbean.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

3 Pulse families sue social media, alleging aid for IS

Families of three patrons killed in the Orlando nightclub massacre sued Facebook, Google and Twitter, claiming the gunman who killed their loved ones was radicalized through propaganda found through social media.

The families of Tevin Crosby, Juan Ramon Guerrero Jr. and Javier Jorge-Reyes filed the lawsuit Monday in federal court in Michigan. They are seeking an unnamed amount of money under a federal law that allows the estates of victims of terrorist attacks to sue anybody who provided “material support” to the terrorists.

The complaint said terrorist groups like the Islamic State group use social media to spread their propaganda, raise money and recruit potential terrorists like Pulse nightclub gunman Omar Mateen, who opened fire in the Pulse nightclub where 49 patrons were killed in the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history.

During the June rampage, Mateen pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group in telephone conversations with a 911 operator and a police negotiator. He was killed in a shootout with SWAT team members after a three-hour standoff.

The social media companies should be doing more to delete the accounts of members of the Islamic group, also known as ISIS, and detect “replacement” accounts created after previous accounts are deleted, the lawsuit said.

“Most technology experts agree that defendants could and should be doing more to stop ISIS from using its social network,” the lawsuit said.

Facebook said in a statement the company takes the threat from terrorists seriously.

“Our Community Standards make clear that there is no place on Facebook for groups that engage in terrorist activity or for content that expresses support for such activity, and we take swift action to remove this content when it’s reported to us,” the Facebook statement said. “We sympathize with the victims and their families.”

Representatives of Google and Twitter didn’t respond to email inquiries.

A similar lawsuit against Twitter brought by the families of two men killed in Jordan was dismissed in August.

In that case, a federal judge in San Francisco agreed with Twitter that the company cannot be held liable because federal law protects service-providers that merely offer platforms for speech, without creating the speech itself.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Fact check: Florida not recounting election votes

A story claiming Florida is set to recount votes in the presidential election because of fraud is untrue.

The story posted on bipartisanreport.com on Dec. 6 was headlined: “Florida Moves For FULL RECOUNT Of State Over Massive Voter Fraud.” It received more than 73,000 likes, comments or shares on Facebook before it was removed from the site.

The story cited a report from the Tallahassee Democrat, which was republished by the Detroit Free Press, on a lawsuit filed on behalf of three central Florida voters. The voters alleged hacking, malfunctioning voting machines and other problems and demanded a recount of every paper ballot in the state.

A judge refused to issue an order to prevent electors from casting ballots for Republican President-elect Donald Trump. A higher court upheld that ruling Friday.

Trump beat Democrat Hillary Clinton in Florida by more than 112,000 votes.

Florida’s secretary of state certified the election results on Nov. 22 and no elections officials have moved for a recount.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Donald Trump picks Vincent Viola for Army secretary

President-elect Donald Trump has picked Vincent Viola as secretary of the Army. Viola is the founder of several businesses, including Virtu Financial, an electronic trading firm. He also owns the National Hockey League’s Florida Panthers and is a past chairman of the New York Mercantile Exchange.

In a statement Monday, Trump said Viola is “living proof of the American dream.” Viola grew up in a family of Italian immigrants in Brooklyn. His father worked as a truck driver.

Viola is a 1977 West Point graduate. He trained as an Airborne Ranger infantry officer and served in the 101st Airborne Division. He is a graduate of New York Law School. In 2003, he founded and helped fund the creation of the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point.

Viola bought the Panthers for about $250 million in 2013.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Donald Trump action on health care could cost Planned Parenthood

One of President-elect Donald Trump‘s first, and defining, acts next year could come on Republican legislation to cut off taxpayer money from Planned Parenthood.

Trump sent mixed signals during the campaign about the 100-year-old organization, which provides birth control, abortions and various women’s health services. He said “millions of women are helped by Planned Parenthood,” but he also endorsed efforts to defund it.

Trump once described himself as “very pro-choice.” Now he’s in the anti-abortion camp.

Still, the Republican has been steadfast in calling for repeal of President Barack Obama‘s health care law, and the GOP-led Congress is eager to comply. One of the first pieces of legislation will be a repeal measure that’s paired with cutting off money for Planned Parenthood. While the GOP may delay the impact of scuttling the law for almost four years, denying Planned Parenthood roughly $400 million in Medicaid funds would take effect immediately.

“We’ve already shown what we believe with respect to funding of Planned Parenthood,” House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., told reporters last month. “Our position has not changed.”

Legislation to both repeal the law and cut Planned Parenthood funds for services to low-income women moved through Congress along party lines last year. Obama vetoed it; Trump’s win removes any obstacle.

Cutting off Planned Parenthood from taxpayer money is a long-sought dream of social conservatives, but it’s a loser in the minds of some GOP strategists. Planned Parenthood is loathed by anti-abortion activists who are the backbone of the GOP coalition. Polls, however, show that the group is favorably viewed by a sizable majority of Americans — 59 percent in a Gallup survey last year, including more than one-third of Republicans.

“Defunding Planned Parenthood as one of their first acts in the new year would be devastating for millions of families and a huge mistake by Republicans,” said incoming Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.

Democrats pledge to defend the group, and they point to the issue of birth control and women’s health as helping them win Senate races in New Hampshire and Nevada this year. They argue that Trump would be leading off with a political loser. But if he were to have second thoughts and if the Planned Parenthood provision were to be dropped from the health law repeal, then social conservatives probably would erupt.

“They may well be able to succeed, but the women of America are going to know what that means,” said Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo., citing reduced access to services Planned Parenthood clinics provide. “And we’re going to call Republicans on the carpet for that.”

At least one Republican senator, Susan Collins of Maine, may oppose the effort. Collins has defended Planned Parenthood, saying it “provides important family planning, cancer screening and basic preventive health care services to millions of women across the country.” She voted against the health overhaul repeal last year as a result.

Continued opposition from Collins, which appears likely, would put the repeal measure on a knife’s edge in the Senate, where Republicans will have a 52-48 majority next year. Senate GOP leaders could afford to lose just one other Republican.

Anti-abortion conservatives have long tried to cut Planned Parenthood funds, arguing that reimbursements for nonabortion services such as gynecological exams help subsidize abortions. Though Planned Parenthood says it performed 324,000 abortions in 2014, the most recent year tallied, the vast majority of women seek out contraception, testing and treatment of sexually transmitted diseases, and other services including cancer screenings.

The drive against Planned Parenthood picked up steam in 2015 after an anti-abortion group called the Center for Medical Progress released secretly-recorded videos that it claimed showed Planned Parenthood officials profiting from sales of fetal tissue for medical research. The measure, however, would strip Planned Parenthood’s Medicaid funding for only a year, a step taken to give time for continued investigations of Planned Parenthood’s activities. A House panel is still active, but investigations by 13 states have been concluded without charges of wrongdoing.

Planned Parenthood strongly denied the allegations and no wrongdoing was proved, but the group announced in October that it will no longer accept reimbursement for the costs involved in providing fetal tissue to researchers.

The defunding measure would take away roughly $400 million in Medicaid money from the group in the year after enactment, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, and would result in roughly 400,000 women losing access to care. One factor is that being enrolled in Medicaid doesn’t guarantee access to a doctor, so women denied Medicaid services from Planned Parenthood may not be able to find replacement care.

Planned Parenthood says private contributions are way up since the election, but that they are not a permanent replacement for federal reimbursements. “We’re going to fight like hell to make sure our doors stay open,” said Planned Parenthood spokeswoman Erica Sackin.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Donald Trump says Michelle Obama’s ‘no hope’ comment about the past

President-elect Donald Trump said first lady Michelle Obama “must have been talking about the past” when she said there’s no sense of hope after his election.

Trump, speaking Saturday at the final rally of his postelection “thank you” tour, then resisted escalating the spat further, suggesting “she made that statement not meaning it the way it came out.”

But as Trump praised the Obamas for treating him so nicely when he visited the White House shortly after the election, many in the Mobile, Alabama, crowd booed the first family.

Michelle Obama, in an interview with Oprah Winfrey set to air Monday on CBS, said she was now certain that her husband’s victory had inspired people because “now we’re feeling what not having hope feels like.”

“What do you give your kids if you can’t give them hope?” she added.

Trump’s comments about Michelle and President Barack Obama was one of the few conciliatory notes he sounded during a victory tour in which he showed few signs of turning the page from his blustery campaign to focus on uniting a divided nation a month before his inauguration.

At each stop, the Republican gloatingly recapped his election night triumph, reignited some old political feuds while starting some new ones, and did little to quiet the hate-filled chants of “Lock her up!” directed at Democratic rival Hillary Clinton.

At the tour’s finale at the same football stadium in Mobile that hosted the biggest rally of his campaign, Trump saluted his supporters as true “patriots” and made little attempt to reach out to the more than half of the electorate that didn’t vote for him.

“We are really the people who love this country,” said Trump.

He reminisced about his campaign announcement and his ride down Trump Tower’s golden escalator. His disputed a newspaper’s account of the size of the crowd at one of his rallies and bashed the press as dishonest. And he joked that he had booked a small ballroom for his election night party so, if he lost, he “could get out!”

He paid homage to the August 2015 rally in the same stadium that he said jump-started his campaign. Though the crowd was not as large on Saturday, it was no less fervid, repeatedly chanting “Build the wall!” when Trump renewed his vow to build an impenetrable border at the Mexican border.

Trump brought his nominee for attorney general, Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, up onstage to receive cheers from his hometown crowd. When Trump’s plane landed, he received a water cannon salute from a pair of fire trucks and was greeted by several Azalea Trail Maids, local women dressed in antebellum Southern Belle outfits.

The raucous rallies, a hallmark of his campaign, are meant to salute supporters who lifted him to the presidency. But these appearances also have been his primary form of communication since the Nov. 8 election.

Trump has eschewed the traditional news conference held by a president-elect within days of winning. He’s done few interviews, announced his Cabinet picks via news release and continues to rely on Twitter to broadcast his thoughts and make public pronouncements.

That continued Saturday morning when Trump turned to social media to weigh in on China’s seizure of a U.S. Navy research drone from international waters, misspelling “unprecedented” when he wrote “China steals United States Navy research drone in international waters – rips it out of water and takes it to China in unpresidented act.”

He later corrected the tweet. China said Saturday it intended to return the drone to the U.S.

Within days of beating Clinton, Trump suggested to aides that he resume his campaign-style barnstorming. Though he agreed to hold off until he assembled part of his Cabinet, Trump has repeatedly spoken of his fondness for being on the road. Aides are considering more rallies after he takes office, to help press his agenda with the public – a possibility that Trump embraced from the stage Saturday.

But Trump has also sounded some notes of unity on the tour. In Mobile, he acknowledged that “now the hard work begins” and ended with a plea for all Americans, including those who did not support him, to “never give up.”

After the rally, Trump planned to return to Mar-a-Lago, his Palm Beach estate. Aides said the president-elect probably would spend Christmas week there and could stay until New Year’s.

Earlier Saturday, he announced the nomination of South Carolina Rep. Mick Mulvaney to head the Office of Management and Budget, choosing a Tea Partyer and fiscal conservative with no experience assembling a government spending plan.

Mulvaney, a founder of the hard-right House Freedom Caucus, has taken a hard line on budget matters, routinely voting against increasing the government’s borrowing cap and pressing for major cuts to benefit programs as the path to balancing the budget.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Dump Trump? Won’t happen when Florida electors vote

Florida’s electors will meet in the state Capitol Monday to cast their votes for president, after voters in the state chose Donald Trump. Don’t expect any surprises.

The people picked to cast Florida’s votes in the Electoral College are among the most faithful Florida Republicans, and it’s extremely unlikely any will be swayed by the tens of thousands of emails, letters and phone calls pleading with them not to cast their votes for Trump, who carried the state in November.

“I really appreciate all the postcards that I’ve gotten. The front side of them were pretty,” said Sharon Day, an elector who also serves as co-chair of the Republican National Committee. “I kind of find it amusing. What lemmings they are.”

It’s absurd to think a leader of the national GOP would vote for anyone other than Trump, and besides, it’s her duty, Day said.

“It’s my responsibility to support the wishes of the state of Florida,” she said.

That’s a sentiment that was echoed by other electors.

The Associated Press interviewed 22 of the 29 electors, and all expressed complete support for Trump. And all said the electoral college system should remain exactly as it is, saying that switching to a popular vote would give more sway to states like California and New York in choosing a president.

In Alabama, Georgia, Kansas, Indiana, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri and Wisconsin, the majority of electors who spoke to The Associated Press felt bound to honor their states’ popular vote and remain with Trump. Many said they were inundated with emails, letters and packages hoping to persuade them to change their minds.

However, the majority of Virginia’s electors did express support for changing the Electoral College, an original feature of the Constitution, though they were divided on how to go about doing so. Illinois electors were also split on the system.

Florida law requires electors to cast their vote for the candidate voters chose in November. Florida’s electors were chosen by the Republican Party of Florida and approved by Republican Gov. Rick Scott, who backed Trump for president. Scott will oversee the vote at 2 p.m. Monday in the Senate chambers.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Investigation launched after Tampa infant dies in foster care

Florida detectives have launched a criminal investigation into the death of a 17-month-old boy in foster care who was about to be placed with adoptive parents.

The Tampa Bay Times reported Saturday that Aedyn Agminalis died last Sunday after being taken off life support. The Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office has opened a criminal investigation. The boy suffered from bleeding on the brain, cardiac arrest and acute respiratory failure. The state Department of Children and Families is launching its own inquiry.

“The loss of this child is absolutely devastating,” DCF Secretary Mike Carroll told the newspaper in an email.

The boy was living in a foster home licensed by A Door of Hope, a subcontractor for Eckerd Kids, a non-profit contracted by the county. Details about the foster home have not been released.

Aedyn’s birth parents had signed adoption papers last month. He was schedule to be placed with Colleen Kochanek and Stephanie Norris, a 10-year married couple in North Carolina. A paperwork delay and the holidays had pushed the final court hearing until next month.

Kochanek, an attorney, and Norris, a civil engineer, adopted a 4-year-old girl at birth. To speed up Aedyn’s adoption, they had paid to have an FBI report expedited but paperwork proving they are not listed on a child abuse registry didn’t arrive until Dec. 5, three days before Aedyn was hospitalized.

“This is so soul-crushing to us,” Kochanek told the paper. “He could have been in our care.”

Artha Healton, the boy’s birth mother, told the paper that she and her husband, Brynn Agminalis, had decided to put Aedyn up for adoption after DCF removed him from their home in August after a tip was called into a child abuse hotline. The investigator was concerned about his nutrition and found feces on the floor. Healton said the boy didn’t like to wear his diaper and she had planned to steam-clean the carpet that night.

The couple, both freelance artists, decided they weren’t ready to be parents and agreed to put Aedyn up for adoption.

“We were struggling and stressed so badly that it was affecting our health,” she told the paper.

She said the hospital called her early Dec. 8 and she and her husband rushed to the baby’s side. She said the foster mother, whom she doesn’t know, was also there.

“She didn’t speak to me or hold eye contact,” Healton said.

By the next day, doctors told her that Aedyn was brain dead.

“I was unable to hold him because he was hooked up to the life support,” she said. “I was able to hold his hand and touch him and tell him goodbye even though he couldn’t hear me.”

Nearly 880,000 Floridians sign up for Obamacare

Nearly 880,000 Floridians have signed up for health coverage on President Obama‘s federal marketplace so far this year.

The deadline to enroll was Thursday for those seeking coverage starting on January 1. More than 4 million Americans chose plans on healthcare.gov this year. The figures were released by federal health officials and include both new and returning consumers who are updating or switching plans. Federal health officials say most consumers can find plans for less than $75 a month.

The robust enrollment comes amid uncertainty about the health care program as President-elect Donald Trump repeatedly promised to repeal it during his campaign. Few details about a replacement plan have been released and changes could take months or years to unfold.

No changes are expected next year for the more than 10 million people covered.

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

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