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Associated Press

Rick Scott tries to lure ‘upset’ Connecticut firms

Florida’s governor says there are “a lot of business people upset” in Connecticut and he’s hoping to persuade them to move to the Sunshine State.

Republican Gov. Rick Scott met Monday with community and business leaders in Norwalk. He made a similar trip in 2015 to lure Connecticut business to Florida as part of an “economic development mission.”

Scott’s visit comes as health insurer Aetna Inc. considers relocating its long-time headquarters from Hartford.

Scott says he would “love every company in Connecticut” to think about moving to Florida, where he says taxes and regulations have been cut since he first took office.

Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy‘s spokeswoman says “it’s no wonder” Scott would look to Connecticut and be “envious” of its’ high quality of life, good schools and skilled workforce.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Fact check: Donald Trump keeps much of Barack Obama’s Cuba policy

President Donald Trump’s announcement that he’s “cancelling” his predecessor’s policy toward Cuba is a good deal less than meets the ear.

Trump’s move, announced Friday in Miami, actually leaves in place most of the important elements of President Barack Obama’s moves to open relations with the island.

And while his policy has the stated aim of helping the country’s nascent private sector, it contains a measure that could damage thousands of small-business people who host, feed and transport independent American travelers to Cuba.

Trump’s policy keeps a U.S. Embassy open in Havana and allows U.S. airlines and cruise ships to continue service to Cuba. Cuban-Americans can still send money to relatives and travel to the island without restriction. U.S. farmers can continue selling their crops to the Cuban government.

The new policy aims to starve military-linked businesses of cash by banning any U.S. payments to them. It pledges to help the entrepreneurial class that has grown since President Raul Castro enacted changes after taking office a decade ago.

“Effective immediately, I am canceling the previous administration’s completely one-sided deal with Cuba,” Trump said. “We will very strongly restrict American dollars flowing to the military, security and intelligence services that are the core of the Castro regime.” He promised, “concrete steps to ensure that investments flow directly to the people so they can open private businesses and begin to build their country’s great, great future.”

The policy will undoubtedly reduce the flow of cash to GAESA, the military-linked conglomerate that operates dozens of hotels and other tourism-related businesses. But those businesses host hundreds of thousands of Canadian, European and Latin American tourists a year, and do unfettered business with corporations from around the world, reducing the impact of any U.S. cutoff.

Weakening the impact further, Trump’s policy carves out exceptions in the military ban for airlines, cruise ships, agricultural sales and remittances.

The policy also allows Americans to continue patronizing state-run hotels and other businesses that are not directly linked with Cuba’s military and state security services. And, of course, nothing prevents the Cuban government from simply moving revenue over to the military or state security, a vulnerability in the policy that the White House has not addressed.

The policy risks harming independent business people by restoring a requirement for most American travelers to visit Cuba as part of tightly regulated tour groups. The Cuban government has traditionally steered those tour groups to state-run business, meaning the majority of American travelers to Cuba will probably no longer be able to patronize private restaurants, bed-and-breakfasts and taxi drivers.

Private entrepreneurs say Americans represent a disproportionate share of their revenue because they spend more than other travelers for high-end services that badly run state-operated business typically cannot provide.

Trump also demanded the return of U.S. fugitives including Joanne Chesimard, a black militant convicted in 1977 of the murder of a New Jersey state trooper.

“The harboring of criminals and fugitives will end,” Trump said. “You have no choice. It will end.”

Many of the high-profile fugitives in Cuba are black or Puerto Rican militants who were offered political asylum by Fidel Castro during the 1970s and 1980s.

Cuba has repeatedly said it will not renege on the promise of the former president, who died in November.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

 

Bernie Sanders says man ID’d as shooter was on campaign

Virginia shooting suspect James T Hodgkinson

Democratic Sen. Bernie Sanders says the man authorities identified as opening fire on the Republican congressional baseball practice had apparently volunteered on his presidential campaign.

Sanders, of Vermont, says in a statement: “I am sickened by this despicable act.”

He says that “violence of any kind is unacceptable in our society and I condemn this action in the strongest possible terms.”

He paid tribute to Capitol Police for their response to the shooting, and said his “hopes and prayers” are with House GOP Whip Steve Scalise and others who were wounded.

Sanders challenged Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination in the 2016 presidential election.

He adds in his statement that “real change” can only come through nonviolent action.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Top House GOP leader shot at congressional baseball practice

A top House Republican, Steve Scalise of Louisiana, was shot Wednesday at a congressional baseball practice just outside of Washington, officials said. Several other people were also believed to have been hit, according to a lawmaker who witnessed the shooting.

Scalise, the House majority whip, was in stable condition at George Washington University Hospital, according to one congressional aide. His injuries were not believed to be life-threatening.

President Donald Trump said he was “deeply saddened by this tragedy” and was monitoring developments.

The shooting occurred at a baseball field in Alexandria, Virginia, where lawmakers and others were gathered for a morning practice. Alexandria police said a suspect was taken into custody and “not a threat.”

Rep. Mike Bishop, R-Mich., said Scalise was at second base when he was shot.

“I was looking right at him,” Bishop told Detroit radio station WWJ. “He was a sitting duck.”

Rep. Mo Brooks, an Alabama Republican, said two law enforcement officers were believed to be among the others shot.

Brooks said that Scalise, 51, was down on the ground with what Brooks described as “a hip wound.” The Alabama lawmaker said he colleague “crawled into the outfield, leaving a trail of blood.”

“We started giving him the liquids, I put pressure on his wound in his hip,” Brooks said.

House Speaker Paul Ryan‘s office said Scalise’s wounds were not believed to be life-threatening and that a member of the security detail was also shot.

Scalise is the No. 3 House Republican leader. He was first elected to the House in 2008 after serving in the state legislature.

Katie Filous was walking her two dogs near the field when she heard “a lot of shots, probably more than 20.” She said the shooting “went on for quite a while.”

Filous said she saw the shooter hit a uniformed law enforcement officer, who she said was later evacuated by helicopter. She said the officer had gotten out of a parked car, drawn a handgun and shouted something to the gunman, who then fired.

Rep. Jeff Duncan said in a statement that he was at the practice and “saw the shooter.”

“Please pray for my colleagues,” Duncan said.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Congressional Democrats — incl. 9 from Fla. — sue Donald Trump over foreign payments

Democratic lawmakers are suing President Donald Trump over foreign money flowing into his global business empire.

Almost 200 senators and representatives are plaintiffs in a lawsuit alleging Trump is violating the so-called emoluments clause of the Constitution. It’s being filed early Wednesday in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, the lawmakers said.

Among the U.S. Reps. from Florida who have joined the suit are Ted Deutch, Kathy Castor, Val Demings, Lois Frankel, Alcee Hastings, Al Lawson, Darren Soto, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, and Frederica Wilson.

The plaintiffs argue they have standing to sue because the clause says only Congress may approve foreign gifts and payments.

“The framers gave Congress a unique role, a unique right and responsibility,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat who helped organize the lawsuit.

Although Trump turned over control of his real estate development, management and marketing company to his adult sons and a senior executive, he did not divest from it. That means he stands to benefit financially from the Trump Organization’s profits, including from foreign governments.

Since he’s become president, the Trump Organization has secured dozens of potentially valuable patents, including in China, and collected fees from lobbyists working for Saudi Arabia and other countries using his properties.

The new suit — the third of its kind — says the full scope of foreign payments to the Trump Organization cannot be known because the president has not made public his tax returns.

Earlier this week, two Democratic attorneys general filed a similar claim. Days after Trump’s inauguration in January, a liberal-funded government watchdog filed an emoluments lawsuit. A restaurant group and two individuals in the hotel industry later joined as co-plaintiffs.

Trump and the Justice Department have called these lawsuits baseless. They argue the clause isn’t intended to prevent normal business such as hotel payments and real estate transactions.

Rep. John Conyers, a Michigan Democrat, said he and Blumenthal have amassed the “greatest number of congressional plaintiffs on any lawsuit against a president.” He said they’re taking the action “not out of any sense of pleasure or partisanship but because President Trump has left us with no other option.”

Ahead of the filing, only Democrats were asked to sign on, but Blumenthal and Conyers plan to send letters to their Republican colleagues Wednesday asking them to join the effort.

Cuba hardliners, U.S. defenders battle over new Donald Trump policy

Cuba’s best friends in the U.S. used to be a smattering of Washington policy wonks and leftists who sent donated school buses and computers to the communist-led island.

Five months into the Trump administration, Cuba has a new set of American defenders: a coalition of high-tech firms, farming interests, travel companies and young Cuban-Americans thrown into action by the looming announcement of a new Cuba policy. On the opposite side, hardline members of Miami’s Cuban exile community who suddenly have a direct line to the White House through Cuban-American Republican members of Congress and the administration.

President Donald Trump planned to announce the new policy on Friday in Miami but had not yet decided all the details, according to a White House official who spoke on condition of anonymity in order to discuss internal deliberations.

The U.S. Embassy in Havana will remain open, but Americans can expect actions by the Departments of State, Treasury and Homeland Security to ban U.S. trade with any Cuban entity linked to the military. Also planned: a reduction in the number of categories for which Americans do not need U.S. government licenses to go to Cuba. The U.S. will demand greater internet access and the release of prisoners and return of American fugitives in Cuba. President Barack Obama’s repeal of the special Cuban immigration privileges known as wet-foot/dry-foot will not change, the official said.

“If this were a traditional policy environment, we’d be having great success,” said Collin Laverty, head of one of the biggest Cuba travel companies and a consultant for U.S. corporations seeking business in Cuba. “We’re certainly winning the debate for public opinion and in foreign policy circles, but unfortunately it appears that it’ll come down to a backroom political deal between the president and Cuban-American members of Congress.”

The most prominent figures still seeking a reversal in the opening are Sen. Marco Rubio and Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, both Cuban-Americans. The Trump government wants to maintain good relations with both Rubio, who sits on the Senate committee investigating Trump’s relations with Russia, and Diaz-Balart, a member of the powerful House Appropriations Committee.

Laverty is one of the most prominent figures in the new pro-Cuba lobby, which has been furiously tweeting and writing letters to the White House in a last-minute rush to sell the Trump administration on the benefits of the friendly relations established by President Barack Obama on Dec. 17, 2014. A particular focus is saving Obama’s easing of U.S. travel to Cuba, which tripled the number of American travelers to the island and pumped tens of millions of dollars into the island’s private hospitality sector.

“Thousands of Americans are visiting Cuba and fueling the fastest growth in its private sector since 1959,” CubaOne, a group of young pro-engagement Cuban-Americans, wrote in an open letter to Trump Monday.

After months of public silence, Airbnb last week released a report on its activities in Cuba, which have put $40 million into the hands of private bed-and-breakfast owners since the online lodging giant became the first major U.S. company into Cuba in the wake of Obama’s declaration of detente. Google, which installed servers on the island to speed Cuban internet service last year, spoke out for the first time Monday in favor of maintaining relations.

“Google has played a formative role in the first chapter of Cuba’s connectivity story, but this is just the beginning,” Brett Perlmutter, head of strategy and operations for Google Cuba, said at a conference in Miami on Monday. “Connecting Cuba will require an entire ecosystem of players … It will also require the US maintaining a policy that allows telecommunications firms work in Cuba.”

Even the Cuban government is getting into the game, with high-ranking diplomats tweeting pro-engagement articles and foreign correspondents given a series of interviews with officials from the powerful, secretive Interior Ministry about the new era of U.S-Cuban cooperation in areas such as human trafficking, drug smuggling and the prosecution of fugitives.

Two officials told The Associated Press that they were now in regular contact with the FBI, DEA and other U.S. law-enforcement agencies, sharing information about investigations that cross jurisdictions.

“The start of direct relations between the agencies has already shown results,” Lt. Col. Yoandrys Gonzalez Garcia, head of the Cuban National Police, told the AP. “Going back now would send a bad message to delinquents and criminals that there can be impunity.”

Those messages are scoffed at by many members of South Florida’s Cuban-American exile community, who call for starving Cuba of funds in order to topple its communist government and bring capitalism and multi-party democracy to the island. While most Americans support closer relations with Cuba, Cuban-Americans’ ability to influence Florida’s 29 electoral has long given them heavy influence over American policy.

“We’re confident that the president has listened to us. We’re confident that it will be a step in the right direction,” said Marcell Felipe, president of the Inspire America Foundation, an anti-Castro group that has been running ads on Spanish-language stations in Miami urging Cuban-Americans to demand a hardline policy from Trump.

He said he agreed with pro-engagement forces that their efforts were likely in vain.

“The real question to them there is, ‘Why is it that we have an inside line to the White House?” Felipe said. “It’s because we have the votes.”

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

CFO Jeff Atwater says he will leave June 30

Florida Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater is leaving his job at the end of the month.

Atwater on Monday turned in his formal resignation letter to Gov. Rick Scott. Atwater announced back in February that he planned to step down from his elected post to take a position at Florida Atlantic University.

In his letter, Atwater says his last day in office will be June 30.

Scott will be responsible for picking someone to replace Atwater for the next 18 months. Voters in 2018 will elect a new chief financial officer.

Florida’s chief financial officer is elected statewide and is a member of the state Cabinet that oversees several key agencies. The chief financial officer plays a key role in helping regulate the financial and insurance industries and also functions as the state’s treasurer.

 Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Orlando trauma surgeon: the Pulse attack ‘changed me’

Life seems more precious these days to Dr. Chadwick Smith, an Orlando Regional Medical Center trauma surgeon who was on call that night a year ago when a gunman opened fire at the Pulse nightclub.

Smith is used to confronting human suffering head-on in the operating room. But the sheer number of victims that night – 49 dead, 53 wounded – and the flood of relatives to the hospital left its mark on even a veteran like Smith.

“It’s affected me. It’s affected my family. How I describe that, I don’t know. It’s something that has changed me,” Smith said Wednesday.

It took weeks, if not months, he said, to reflect on what he and his colleagues did that night, the lives they saved. And how different the victims were from more routine gunshot victims.

“You deal with, say, somebody’s robbing somebody and they get shot, you deal with that a little bit differently than you do somebody in a terrible, innocent situation,” he said. “Then you multiply that by 80-some-odd people, combining those that lived and died, and emotionally that affects you a lot more.”

A year later, the Pulse attack has affected the daily operations of the hospital and the way employees plan for future disaster events. For example, instead of having dozens of public entrances to the hospital, there are now only a few to address safety concerns.

The hospital also modified its disaster plan, Smith said, including how to handle relatives of victims who show up looking for their loved ones.

“Most people are emotional. They may need medical attention. They may need pastoral care,” Smith said. “Having cellphone chargers for them, having food for them, it requires a lot of people and a lot of support, other than just a room to put people in and give them some water.”

They’ve also tried to improve on employee counseling and issues with patient identification, Smith said. The goal is to quickly and accurately tell anxious family members a loved one’s condition.

Hospital staff participated in an annual disaster drill in April.

“I will say everybody took that drill even more seriously this year than we have in the past,” Smith said.

Carlos Carrasco, the medical center’s chief operating officer, called his team’s response to the Pulse attack “remarkable,” the product of a culture built over decades.

“When you think about the team, people automatically think about those folks who were there that night,” Carrasco said. “But there were people that came in and sustained the efforts for months, all the way through to rehab.”

Donald Trump says James Comey’s ‘leaks’ are more prevalent

The Latest on President Donald Trump and the investigation into his campaign’s potential ties to Russia (all times local):

8:30 a.m.

President Donald Trump is predicting that former FBI Director James Comey‘s “leaks will be far more prevalent than anyone ever thought possible.” Trump says on Twitter, “Totally illegal? Very ‘cowardly!'”

Trump is again challenging Comey after the ousted FBI director’s testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee last week.

While many of Trump’s Republican allies have found Comey’s testimony credible, the president has called the man he fired a liar and a “leaker.”

Comey said during his testimony that he asked a friend to release contents of the memos he’d written about his conversations with the president to a reporter. He contended that information was not classified or otherwise protected.

2:45 a.m.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions has agreed to appear before the Senate Intelligence Committee.

The former Alabama senator was an early supporter of Donald Trump, and Sessions’ contacts during the campaign with Russia’s ambassador to the United States have raised questions.

Back in March, Sessions stepped aside from overseeing a federal investigation into contacts between Russia and the Trump campaign after he acknowledged meeting twice last year with the Russian diplomat, Sergey Kislyak.

Sessions had told lawmakers at his confirmation hearing in January that he hadn’t met with Russians during the campaign.

Sessions has been dogged by questions about possible additional encounters with the ambassador.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Trial delayed until January in Florida airport shooting

Trial will be delayed until at least January for an Alaska man charged with killing five people and wounding six in a Florida airport mass shooting, a federal judge said Friday.

U.S. District Judge Beth Bloom set a new Jan. 22 trial date for Esteban Santiago of Anchorage, Alaska, whose trial initially was scheduled for October.

Bloom noted at a hearing that extra time is needed for the Justice Department to decide whether to seek the death penalty, including arguments from Santiago’s attorneys about why prosecutors should not seek capital punishment. Bloom ordered the defense to submit what’s called a “mitigation packet” outlining those arguments by Nov. 3.

“That certainly is sufficient time,” she said.

Addressing Santiago directly, the judge asked if he had any objection to the trial delay.

“No, your honor,” he replied.

Santiago, a 27-year-old Iraq war veteran, pleaded not guilty to a 22-count indictment in the Jan. 6 shooting at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport. Santiago has been diagnosed as schizophrenic but his lawyers say he is competent for trial and is continuing to take prescribed anti-psychotic medications.

“I have no concern at all about his competence,” said public defender Eric Cohen.

After the shooting, the FBI says Santiago told agents he acted under government mind control, then claimed inspiration by the Islamic State extremist group. No terrorism links have been found.

According to the indictment, Santiago flew from Alaska to Fort Lauderdale with a 9mm handgun in a box he put in checked luggage. After landing he retrieved the weapon, loaded it in a bathroom and came out firing randomly in a crowded baggage claim area until he exhausted his ammunition.

The FBI says several video cameras captured the shooting and that Santiago himself admitted committing the shootings in recorded interviews with agents after his arrest.

Santiago was treated at an Anchorage psychiatric hospital last year after he showed up at the local FBI office saying he was under CIA mind control and was hearing voices. He was released after a brief stay. His gun, which had been confiscated during that time, was returned to him. It was later used in the Florida shooting.

Cohen said the defense needs months to go through the video evidence and obtain Santiago’s medical records, including his service in the Army National Guard. He questioned whether the January trial date was realistic for a potential death penalty case.

“We believe this is premature. We will certainly do our best,” he said. “We need to be particularly careful that we do everything we’re obligated to do.”

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

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