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Donald Trump meets with 4th graders, private school leaders in Orlando

[The following is drawn from pool reports provided by Ted Mann, reporter for The Wall Street Journal.]

Accompanied by U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, Florida Gov. Rick Scott, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio and others, President Donald Trump dropped in on a Catholic school 4th-grade class the met with Orlando Diocese leaders Friday to talk about school choice.

With the 4th grade class of Jane Jones at St. Andrew Catholic School, Trump, who also was accompanied by his daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner, heard the students declare they were “scholars” and would be going to college and heaven.

St. Andrew is located in the largely-African American and low-income Pine Hills neighborhood of west Orange County, and some though not all of the students there are African-American.

Trump complimented them as “beautiful” and asked a few questions and advised them to “make a lot of money, right? But don’t go into politics after,” before moving on, after about 15 minutes, to a 2 p.m. meeting with Bishop John Noonan, from the Orlando Catholic Diocese, Henry Fortier, the superintendent of Catholic schools in Orlando, and others involved in private, parochial and charter schools.

Fortier told him he saw school choice creating “a partnership. It’s not a situation of us versus them,” he said. Of private schools, he said, “It shouldn’t be just for the wealthy who can afford it.”

John Kirtley, founder of Step Up for Students, which administers school choice aid, said the program provides tuition assistance for 100,000 kids, and that the average household income is $24,000 per year.

Trump said the school was doing a “fantastic job” and that it’s a school that “enriches both the mind and the soul. That’s a good education.”

He quoted Martin Luther King, saying that he “hoped that inferior education would become a thing of the past.”

Trump noted that he had said during his speech to Congress that education in the “civil rights issue of our time,” and added, “Betsy’s going to lead the charge, right?”

“You bet,” DeVos answered.

They left after about 30 minutes.

Judge says Pulse gunman’s wife should stay in jail, for now

The wife of the Orlando, Florida, nightclub shooter must remain in jail, at least for the time being, a federal judge in Florida ruled Thursday, a day after a magistrate judge in California said she could be released.

U.S. District Judge Paul Byron in Orlando issued an order saying Noor Salman should stay in jail while he decides if she should be detained or released pending her trial on charges that she helped her husband scout out potential targets and created a cover story for him.

A day earlier, a federal magistrate judge in Oakland, California, ordered Salman’s release as early as Friday, saying it’s “debatable” whether the government has enough evidence to convict her. U.S. Magistrate Judge Donna Ryu also said Salman, 31, is not dangerous and there is no proof she has ties to the Islamic State group or holds extremist views.

The criminal charges were filed in Florida, but the detention hearing was held in California because Salman was living in the Bay Area at the time she was taken into custody.

Salman has pleaded not guilty to charges of aiding and abetting, and obstruction of justice. She faces life in prison if she is convicted.

Salman’s husband, Omar Mateen, pledged allegiance to the Islamic State during the attack at the Pulse gay nightclub on June 12. The deadliest mass shooting in recent U.S. history left 49 people dead and dozens more injured. Mateen was eventually killed by police.

In their motion asking that she be detained, prosecutors said there is a presumption in the law for Salman to be held in jail since the crime involves terrorism, and that prosecutors need not show anything more than an indictment to back up their request.

“Here, the defendant proffered evidence of her husband’s alleged abuse, the affidavits of friends and family, and her lack of overall danger in support of an argument that she does not constitute a flight risk or danger to the community,” the prosecutors said. “Such proffered evidence falls far short of justifying a finding in favor of release, particularly in light of the nature of the charged offense.”

Salman’s attorney, Linda Moreno, said the motion seemed a rehash of what was argued in the California courtroom.

“The court found that the evidence they claim supports these allegations was debatable,” Moreno said. “It’s far more than debatable. It’s groundless.”

This time, David Smith feels fully prepared as he seeks House District 28

David Smith does his homework; anyone who’s ever worked with him knows that.

So as the former Marine colonel who now is a business consultant enters his 21-month race for Florida House District 28, the Winter Springs Republican is coming more prepared than he was in his humbling loss in his last attempt at public office, his 2014 primary challenge to then U.S. Rep. John Mica, until it was too late.

Even early on in that 2014 race – which he lost by more than 50 points – Smith was fully up on the the district’s demographic trends, its voting history, Mica’s record, polling on issues, and the names and addresses of important contributors. But he never quite caught on to Mica’s enormous popularity within the Republican Party of the Seminole County-based district.

That’s not a problem this time. Smith, 56, is running for a seat that will be vacated by the term-limit of incumbent Republican state Rep. Jason Brodeur. And this time, he’s touched key bases before he filed Tuesday, sitting down with Brodeur and other area Republican leaders, most notably state Reps. Scott Plakon and Bob Cortes.

Other Republicans may yet enter the race, and names have been floated. But this time Smith knows from homework what others are telling him: that the path is his. And he knows this is a district Republicans ought to win, though Mica thought the same thing about Florida’s 7th Congressional District until Democratic U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy bumped him off in November. Smith had been right about something in 2014, when he suspected Mica was vulnerable because of the changing demographics in Seminole County. But that theory just didn’t work within the party.

Currently the only other candidate for HD 28 is 19-year-old University of Florida student Devin Guillermo Perez, a Democrat.

This time Smith has advice of top Seminole officials encouraging him, rather than wondering what the heck he’s doing, particularly that of Brodeur, Plakon and Cortes.

“We really have prepared. And all three of them basically said ‘Launch early, make yourself the front-runner, the guy to beat, and don’t worry if anybody else gets in,'” Smith said. “You know, I’m well-known, I’m well-liked. I guess I’m probably more well-liked than well-known. But we’ll fix that.”

He’s not looking at a Florida house district as a step down from his earlier congressional ambitions. He’s looking at it as the logical result of what he learned in his 2014 campaign. In his 2014 canvassing, he asked voters what issues “keep you up at night?”

“So as I was listening to people, many of the issues voters wanted to talk about were local and state issues. Not the federal tax code. Not national defense,” Smith said. “That really got the spark in me to say, ‘Hey, I can be affective. I can make a difference win the lives of people in Central Florida.”

The biggest issue on voters minds in that race, he said, was education. Smithwants to re-assert vocation education in high schools, and to find ways to better promote high school Junior ROTC. It’s not just a realization that college is not for everyone, he said; it’s a matter that those programs also can create paths through higher education. They did for him.

“I went to a vo-tech high school. I learned to weld in high school, and worked my way through college as a welder,” Smith said. “I had a Marine Corps scholarship that helped a little bit but I worked as a welder through college and graduated debt free because I had a trade.”

That Marine Corps scholarship, which was tied to college Reserve Officer Training Corps, led him to a 30-year career in the Marines, the last few years as director of the Marine Corps’ modeling and simulation center at the University of Central Florida’s Research Park. Since retiring, he’s worked in the modeling and simulation industry, most recently as a business consultant, primarily but not exclusively in the modeling and simulation industry.

But it’s not enough. Smith has been looking for a way to get back to public service.

“If my campaign had a tagline, it would be, ‘just because you take the uniform off doesn’t mean you want to quit serving,'” Smith said.

Darren Soto to file Zika bill

Democratic U.S. Rep. Darren Soto is introducing a bill that would extend funding to fight the Zika virus through the year 2023 and expand a local mosquito-control grant program to address other infectious mosquito-bourne diseases.

Soto, an Orlando Democrat, is expecting to file his bill today, dubbing it the “Strengthening Mosquito Abatement for Safety and Health Act” or SMASH Act.

“During the recent outbreak of Zika, instead of strengthening this program, Congress decided to provide money solely for mosquito control to combat Zika. When that money runs out, that’s it,” Soto stated in a news release issued by his office. “Instead of waiting for another crisis necessitating another expensive one-off Band-Aid bill, we should make the urgent investments needed to maintain the tools we already have.”

In addition to extended funding and an expanded focus to include other potential emerging mosquito-borne diseases, the bill requires the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to give preference to grant applicants that either have a public health emergency due to mosquito-borne diseases or to control programs that are consistent with existing state plans.

It also allows for the requirement of matching funds to be waived if the area covered by a grant application has an extreme need.

Stephanie Murphy declares support for Puerto Rico to become state

U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy declared on the floor of Congress Thursday morning that she would like to see Puerto Rico become America’s 51st state.

The Democrat from Winter Park represents a district, Florida’s 7th Congressional District, with a large Puerto Rican population.

In her speech, the freshman congresswoman said the decision ultimately needs to be up to the resident of the island territory, but that she hopes they chose statehood. Residents there will get that chance in a referendum scheduled for this June.

Her remarks came on the 100th anniversary of when Puerto Rican residents were granted U.S. Citizenship. However, it is a limited citizenship.

Here is the text of Murphy’s remarks:

“A century ago today, a federal law granted U.S. citizenship to individuals born in Puerto Rico.

“Island residents have made countless contributions to this country in times of peace and war, serving with exceptional valor in our armed forces.

“The bonds between Puerto Rico and Florida are unbreakable. The state is home to over one million Puerto Ricans, with most living in central Florida.

“Puerto Rico is going through difficult times, and I am determined to help the island get back on its feet.

“The main reason Puerto Rico is struggling is because, as a territory, it is treated unequally under federal law.

“I support equal treatment for Puerto Rico because I oppose second-class citizenship.

“Ultimately, I believe Puerto Rico should discard its territory status and become a state or a sovereign nation.

“The choice lies with the people of Puerto Rico.

“My personal hope is that they will choose statehood, so they have full voting rights and full equality.

“Puerto Ricans have earned the right to become first-class citizens of the nation they have served with honor. “

Augustus Invictus accuses Libertarian Party chairman, vows challenge

Former Libertarian Party U.S. Senate candidate Augustus Sol Invictus is accusing his national party chairman of collaborating with communists and vowing to challenge him at the party’s national conference in Pennsylvania in April.

Invictus, an Orlando lawyer, was a candidate who made the party nervous from his announced candidacy until he was defeated in a primary in August. A self-avowed nationalist, he’s openly admitted to pagan rituals such as drinking goats blood, to multiple LSD uses, and to homicidal fantasies, and has advocated ideas that many critics characterized as neo-Nazi and anarchist.

But he’s not going away.

In an open letter he sent to Nicholas J. Sarwark, national chair of the Libertarian Party and posted on his website on Wednesday, Invictus claims that Sarwick had made supportive comments toward anti-fascist groups that Invictus contends are actually communist groups.

Several times in the letter Invictus said he would challenge Sarwark in some unspecified way and made references to the “upcoming fight.” He ended the letter by declaring, “I will see you at the Pennsylvania Convention next month.”

In a text to FloridaPolitics.com, Invictus elaborated, writing, “He has allied the Libertarian Party with the communists by defending the Antifa, and in doing so he has betrayed the party.”

Libertarian Party officials declined to comment about Invictus or his letter. His primary opponent, the Libertarian Party’s U.S. Senate nominee  Paul Stanton in November, said Invictus should not be taken seriously, adding, “Mr. Invictus’ brand of neo-fascism does not represent Libertarian values.”

The issue appears to arise from altercations Invictus himself had with such groups a year ago. In March, 2016, he spoke at private meetings in bars in Oregon and Washington, and members of local anti-fascist groups – which Invictus referred to as “Antifa,” a common generalization for them – confronted the attendees, leading to violence outside the bars.

“You personally crossed a line that cannot be uncrossed. You have taken sides with the communists, and in doing so you have betrayed the Libertarian Party and the movement generally. Until this point I was happy to work independently within the movement, far away from your domain; now I am compelled to action against the established order,” Invictus wrote.

“Today I open hostilities against the leadership of the National Libertarian Party,” Invictus wrote.

“Recently you made the remark that it was ‘understandable’ that the Antifa, a violent gang of communists, would initiate violent protests to shut down a speech,” he added.

Invictus apparently was referring to Sarwark’s Feb. 5 speech in California in which he expressed sympathy and understanding for the violent protesters at the University of California at Berkeley.

He refers to the March attacks against his speeches as “an assassination attempt” on him, and expresses outrage that the party did nothing to respond.

Invictus has personal reasons to oppose Sarwark and the Libertarian Party leadership, who sought to stop his 2016 candidacy and quietly backed Stanton of Deland, who defeated Invictus in the primary. Invictus raises those matters in his letter, but tries to dismiss them as not relevant to the point he now is trying to make.

“I do not question your commitment to libertarian principles, as you have questioned mine,” Invictus wrote. “What I call into question is your leadership of the Party. Despite what is about to unfold, I do have great respect for you.”

Invictus posted the letter on the website of a new organization he has formed, called “The Revolutionary Conservative,” which links to “allies” that include nationalist and anarchist groups.

Invictus contends in the letter that he has a following, supporting him for some sort of revolution within the Libertarian Party.

“Many people have, in the past two years, professed their hope that I would lead a reform of the libertarian movement,” he wrote.

Judge: Casey Anthony may have accidentally killed daughter

The judge who presided over Casey Anthony‘s murder trial says the Florida mother may have killed her 2-year-old daughter by accident.

Anthony may have been trying to quiet the child, Caylee, with chloroform and accidentally used too much, former Circuit Judge Belvin Perry Jr. said Wednesday in an interview with the Orlando Sentinel.

“There was a possibility that she may have utilized that to keep the baby quiet … and just used too much of it, and the baby died,” he said.

Perry said it’s a theory and if jurors in Anthony’s 2011 trial had come to that conclusion, they might have convicted her of second-degree murder or manslaughter.

But Perry, who retired and joined a private law firm in 2014, stressed that was just one of several theories about what may have happened to Caylee.

“As I’ve expressed, the only person that really knows what happened was Casey,” he said.

Anthony, now 30, was acquitted in a trial that was broadcast live on television and garnered worldwide attention.

Perry didn’t fault the verdict but said evidence showed Anthony had gone online to research how to use chloroform as a sedative.

The child’s remains were found five months after she was reported missing and authorities were unable to determine a cause of death.

During Anthony’s trial, defense attorney Jose Baez told jurors the toddler accidentally drowned in the family pool and someone else hid the body. Prosecutors said Anthony used chloroform and then suffocated the child by putting duct tape over her mouth.

Linda Stewart, Amy Mercado introduce bills to protect bears, their food and habitat

As state Rep. Amy Mercado declares, Florida’s now-annual black bear hunt has become a “slaughter.”

Mercado and fellow Orlando Democratic state Sen. Linda Stewart laid out bills Wednesday to ban the hunts for 10 years, as well as steps to keep bears happy enough in the forests and stop raiding neighborhoods.

“The bears, we’ve encroached on their homes,” Mercado said. “They were here first. And a slaughter of the bears is unacceptable.”

Mercado’s House Bill 491 and Stewart’s Senate Bill 1304 would call for the state to stop the harvest of the bears’ primary food before they go into winter denning season, saw palmetto berries, on state lands. They also seek to redirect controlled burns so that they do not affect bears’ habitats at the wrong times of the year and channel some money from the state’s Non-Game Wildlife Fund into grants to purchase bear-resistant trash cans for neighborhoods near bear habitats, such as the Wekiva Springs neighborhoods of Orlando plagued by numerous wandering bears in recent years.

It also would have state officials run more bear census studies.

The bills, entitled “The Florida Black Bear Habitat Restoration Act,” would also place a 10-year ban on bear hunting, which was resumed three years ago due to the assumption that Florida’s bear population had grown so much that it was forcing bears into the suburbs.

“What has been happening is that people have been going out into the forests, our public lands, and they have been harvesting the palmetto berries. And that is one of the primary foods of the black bear. So when you see the bears coming into your neighborhood and swimming in your swimming pool, they are looking for a food source,” Stewart said. “If we can just keep them where they are supposed to have their habitat by not infringing on their habitat, then that is what we should attempt to do.”

Similar bills including one by then-state Sen. Darren Soto of Orlando were introduced last year but died.

Stewart and Chuck O’Neal, co-chair of The League of Women Voters Florida environmental committee, said he and Stewart’s staff have worked with state officials to try to alleviate some of their concerns, and have made five significant changes from Soto’s bill.

O’Neal said the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has agreed to some parts of the bill, including the funding. Of other disagreements from last year, he said “the sharp edges have been shaved off,” though that does not necessarily mean the Commission now supports them.

“There was no buy-in by the FWC last year. This year Sen. Stewart’s staff has worked with the FWC,” O’Neal said. “So with their buy-in this year we hope it passes.”

O’Neal claimed that 90 percent of Floridians want to protect black bears, and the issue is garnering worldwide attention.

“So the eyes of the world are on Florida,” he said. “Are we going to do the right thing?”

“We want to see this bill scheduled. We want to see it heard. And we want the people of this state to have the opportunity to come to the stand and testify before the Legislature that they want this bill passed.”

Robert Bigelow tweets he wants his space stations in lunar orbit

If SpaceX founder and billionaire Elon Musk is preparing to send civilian space-tourist astronauts around the moon by the end of 2018, how about having a place they can stop while they’re there? Take pictures? Buy souvenirs? Relax with some Tang?

Another New Space billionaire entrepreneur is floating that proposition, or something like it, Wednesday. By Twitter.

Bigelow Aerospace founder Robert Bigelow‘s company makes in-space habitats. One is now attached to the International Space Station and he and his company are developing permanent, stand-alone habitats to serve as private space stations in orbit around the Earth, ready to house private astronauts.

As NASA tries to figure out how to get to Mars on its $20 billion a year budget, talk of going to the moon, or developing a base there or nearby, has been key. But NASA envisions spending billions of dollars for such a base, while Bigelow contends his costs about $500 million, with delivery costs extra.

And, he tweeted, if he got the chance he could have a lunar-orbit space station up and running by 2020.

Bigelow’s proposals likely would involve launches from Kennedy Space Center or Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, using SpaceX Falcon 9 and United Launch Alliance Atlas rockets to get his units into space. Once in space, he envisions them as commercial alternatives to the International Space Station for private research and civilian space tourism.

Bigelow’s dreams often have sounded as bold as those of Musk or Blue Origin’s Jeff Bezos, another New Space billionaire entrepreneur. They’re not without some measure of credibility, though several of his proposals have never gotten off the ground. Many in the space industry perceive his company as being the leader in developing future private space stations. Bigelow, like Musk and Bezos, is investing much of his own personal fortune to get the business up in the air, or beyond the air. And much like Musk and Bezos, he’s apparently starting a penchant to use twitter to communicate his New Space announcements. As for the viability of the technology, last year NASA installed Bigelow’s $18 million “Bigelow Expandable Activities Module” to the International Space Station, adding 16 cubic meters of living area, in a section that puffed out from the station like a Jiffy Pop popcorn tray.

Bigelow just opened himself a Twitter account. And Tuesday and Wednesday he debuted it by tweeting promotions of his company’s B330 space human habitat module – suggesting it could be put into lunar orbit, as soon as 2020.

Bigelow Aerospace describes the B330 as 57 feet long, capable of housing six people in 330 cubic meters of living space, with a 20-year lifespan. And B330s can be linked together for more and more room.

A Bigalow Aerospace spokesman was not immediately available Wednesday to comment on the bosses’ tweets.

Tuesday Bigelow tweeted:

Wednesday morning he added:

And then:

And finally:

Judge to weigh freeing Orlando shooter’s widow before trial

A California judge will decide Wednesday whether to free the widow of the gunman who killed dozens of people at a Florida nightclub or keep her behind bars until she faces trial on charges of aiding his attack.

Noor Salman, 31, also has been charged with lying to investigators after the shooting at Pulse nightclub in Orlando where her husband Omar Mateen killed 49 people and wounded 53 others. She has pleaded not guilty.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Donna Ryu had ordered a psychiatric evaluation for Salman before making a decision. After the June 12 attack, moved from Orlando to her mother’s suburban San Francisco home, where she was arrested in January.

Prosecutors have argued against her release, saying she is a danger to the public. They accused her of accompanying Mateen on scouting trips to the bar. Mateen pledged allegiance to several terror organizations during the attack before police shot and killed him.

Salman initially said she didn’t know anything about the attack but later told investigators Mateen abused steroids, was “pumped up” on the night of the attack and said “this is the one day” as he walked out the door, federal prosecutor Sara Sweeney has said in court.

Sweeney also said the couple ran up $25,000 in credit card debt and spent $5,000 in cash in the days before the shooting. Among the purchases was an $8,000 diamond ring for Salman. In addition, they made Salman the death beneficiary of his bank account, prosecutors said.

Salman’s attorney, Charles Swift, didn’t return a call seeking comment Tuesday.

He said outside court earlier this month that Salman made those statements without a lawyer present during an 18-hour interrogation immediately after the attack.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

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