Barack Obama Archives - Florida Politics

Conservatives welcome Donald Trump with delight – and wariness

For the past eight years, thousands of conservative activists have descended on Washington each spring with dreams of putting a Republican in the White House.

This year, they’re learning reality can be complicated.

With Donald Trump‘s presidential victory, the future of the conservative movement has become entwined with an unconventional New York businessman better known for his deal-making than any ideological principles.

It’s an uneasy marriage of political convenience at best. Some conservatives worry whether they can trust their new president to follow decades of orthodoxy on issues like international affairs, small government, abortion and opposition to expanded legal protections for LGBT Americans — and what it means for their movement if he doesn’t.

“Donald Trump may have come to the Republican Party in an unconventional and circuitous route, but the fact is that we now need him to succeed lest the larger conservative project fails,” said evangelical leader Ralph Reed, who mobilized his organization to campaign for Trump during the campaign. “Our success is inextricably tied to his success.”

As conservatives filtered into their convention hall Wednesday for their annual gathering, many said they still have nagging doubts about Trump even as they cheer his early actions. A Wednesday night decision to reverse an Obama-era directive that said transgender students should be allowed to use public school bathrooms and locker rooms matching their chosen gender identity has thrilled social conservatives.

“He’s said that on multiple occasions that he’s not a conservative, especially socially,” said Zach Weidlich, a junior at the University of South Alabama, “but my mind-set was, give him a chance, especially now that he’s elected.'”

“He was the better of two evils given the choice,” added Timmy Finn. “I agree with his policies, however, I think he’s moving a little too fast.”

Trump has a somewhat tortured history with the Conservative Political Action Conference, an annual convention that’s part ideological pep talk, part political boot camp for activists. Over the past six years, he’s been both booed and cheered. He’s rejected speaking slots and galvanized attendees with big promises of economic growth and electoral victory.

At times, he has seemed to delight in taunting them.

“I’m a conservative, but don’t forget: This is called the Republican Party, not the Conservative Party,” he said in a May interview on ABC’s “This Week.”

Matt Schlapp, chairman of the American Conservative Union, which hosts CPAC, said Trump’s aggressive style is more important than ideological purity.

“Conservatives weren’t looking for somebody who knew how to explain all the philosophies. They were actually looking for somebody who would just fight,” he said. “Can you think of anybody in America who fits that bill more than Donald Trump?”

Trump is to address the group Friday morning. Vice President Mike Pence is to speak Thursday as are White House chief of staff Reince Priebus and senior advisers Steve Bannon and Kellyanne Conway.

The tensions between Trump’s brand of populist politics and conservative ideology will be on full display at the three-day conference, which features panels like: “Conservatives: Where we come from, where we are and where we are going” and “The Alt-Right Ain’t Right At All.”

Along with Trump come his supporters, including the populists, party newcomers and nationalists that have long existed on the fringes of conservativism and have gotten new voice during the early days of his administration.

Pro-Brexit British politician Nigel Farage will speak a few hours after Trump.

Organizers invited provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos after protesters at the University of California at Berkeley protested to stop his appearance on campus. But the former editor at Breitbart News, the website previously run by Bannon, was disinvited this week after video clips surfaced in which he appeared to defend sexual relationships between men and boys as young as 13.

Trump “is giving rise to a conservative voice that for the first time in a long time unabashedly, unapologetically puts America first,” said Republican strategist Hogan Gidley. “That ‘America First’ moniker can very well shape this country, but also the electorate and the Republican Party and conservative movement for decades.”

Trump’s early moves — including a flurry of executive orders and his nomination of federal Judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court — have cheered conservatives. They’ve also applauded his Cabinet picks, which include some of the most conservative members of Congress. The ACU awarded his team a 91.52 percent conservative rating — 28 points higher than Ronald Reagan and well above George H.W. Bush who received a 78.15 rating.

But key items on the conservative wish list remain shrouded in uncertainty. The effort to repeal President Barack Obama‘s health care law is not moving as quickly as many hoped, and Republicans also have yet to coalesce around revamping the nation’s tax code.

No proposals have surfaced to pursue Trump’s campaign promises to build a border wall with Mexico that could cost $15 billion or more or to buttress the nation’s infrastructure with a $1 trillion plan. Conservatives fear that those plans could result in massive amounts of new spending and that Trump’s penchant for deal-making could leave them on the wrong side of the transaction.

“There is wariness,” said Tim Phillips, president of Koch-brothers-backed Americans for Prosperity.

But with a Republican-controlled Congress, others believe there’s no way to lose.

“He sits in a room with Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan. Is there a bad a deal to made with those three in the room?” asked veteran anti-tax activist Grover Norquist. “A deal between those three will, I think, always make me happy.”

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Senate Republicans begin targeting Bill Nelson in new digital ad campaign

Bill Nelson isn’t running for re-election for another year, but it’s never too early to start the campaign against him.

That’s what the National Republican Senate Committee is doing this week, unveiling a new digital ad campaign to inform Florida voters of what they call Nelson’s “liberal record” in Washington, comparing his Senate voting record to Massachusetts’s Elizabeth Warren.

“Bill Nelson has positioned himself squarely on the left, voting with Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren 92 percent of the time,” said NRSC Communications Director Katie Martin. “Bill Nelson may try to pose as a moderate as the election approaches, but his record shows that he has more in common with Washington liberals than with Florida voters.”

Although progressive Democrats in Florida have occasionally criticized Nelson’s voting record, he was largely in sync with Barack Obama over the past eight years on the main pieces of legislation.

He’s served in the Senate for over 16 years, defeating Bill McCollum, Katherine Harris and Connie Mack IV along the way. Although there are rumors of various Republicans who will challenge him in 2018, most observers believe Governor Rick Scott is the leading contender at this point.

Nelson has said he’s ready and willing for the challenge against Scott, saying“I only know one way to run, and that’s to run as hard as I can as if there’s no tomorrow.”

The digital ads will run on Facebook and are part of a national campaign targeting Senate Democrats representing states won by Donald Trump in November.

Donald Trump embraces legacy of Andrew Jackson

It was an ugly, highly personal presidential election.

An unvarnished celebrity outsider who pledged to represent the forgotten laborer took on an intellectual member of the Washington establishment looking to extend a political dynasty in the White House.

Andrew Jackson‘s triumph in 1828 over President John Quincy Adams bears striking similarities to Donald Trump‘s victory over Hillary Clinton last year, and some of those most eager to point that out are in the Trump White House.

Trump’s team has seized upon the parallels between the current president and the long-dead Tennessee war hero. Trump has hung a portrait of Jackson in the Oval Office and Trump’s chief strategist, Stephen Bannon, who has pushed the comparison, told reporters after Trump’s inaugural address that “I don’t think we’ve had a speech like that since Andrew Jackson came to the White House.”

Trump himself mused during his first days in Washington that “there hasn’t been anything like this since Andrew Jackson.”

It’s a remarkable moment of rehabilitation for a figure whose populist credentials and anti-establishment streak has been tempered by harsher elements of his legacy, chiefly his forced removal of Native Americans that caused disease and the death of thousands.

“Both were elected presidents as a national celebrity; Jackson due to prowess on battlefield and Trump from making billions in his business empire,” said Douglas Brinkley, a professor of history at Rice University. “And it’s a conscious move for Trump to embrace Jackson. In American political lore, Jackson represents the forgotten rural America while Trump won by bringing out that rural vote and the blue collar vote.”

The seventh president, known as “Old Hickory” for his toughness on the battlefield, gained fame when he led American forces to a victory in the Battle of New Orleans in the final throes of the War of 1812. He did serve a term representing Tennessee in the Senate, but he has long been imagined as a rough and tumble American folk hero, an anti-intellectual who believed in settling scores against political opponents and even killed a man in a duel for insulting the honor of Jackson’s wife.

Jackson also raged against what he deemed “a corrupt bargain” that prevented him from winning the 1824 election against Adams when the race was thrown to the House of Representatives after no candidate received a majority in the Electoral College. Even before the vote in November, Trump railed against a “rigged” election and has repeatedly asserted, without evidence, widespread voter fraud prevented his own popular vote triumph.

Jackson’s ascension came at a time when the right to vote was expanded to all white men — and not just property-owners — and he fashioned himself into a populist, bringing new groups of voters into the electoral system. Remarkably, the popular vote tripled between Jackson’s loss in 1824 and his victory four years later, and he used the nation’s growing newspaper industry — like Trump on social media — to spread his message.

Many of those new voters descended on Washington for Jackson’s 1829 inauguration and the crowd of thousands that mobbed the Capitol and the White House forced Jackson to spend his first night as president in a hotel.

Once in office, he continued his crusade as a champion for the common man by opposing the Second Bank of the United States, which he declared to be a symptom of a political system that favored the rich and ignored “the humble members of society — the farmers, mechanics, and laborers — who have neither the time nor the means of securing like favors to themselves.”

Jackson, as Trump hopes to do, expanded the powers of the presidency, and a new political party, the new Democratic party, coalesced around him in the 1820s. He was the first non-Virginia wealthy farmer or member of the Adams dynasty in Massachusetts to be elected president.

“The American public wanted a different kind of president. And there’s no question Donald Trump is a different kind of president,” Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said this past week. “He’s now comparing himself to Andrew Jackson. I think it’s a pretty good, a pretty good comparison. That’s how big a change Jackson was from the Virginia and Massachusetts gentlemen who had been president of the United States for the first 40 years.”

But there are also limits to the comparison, historians say.

Unlike Jackson, who won in 1828 in a landslide, Trump lost the popular vote by nearly 3 million ballots. Jon Meacham, who wrote a 2008 biography of Jackson, “American Lion,” said Jackson was “an outsider in style but not in substance” and his outlandish public pronouncements would often be followed by hours of deep conversations and letter-writing hashing out political calculations.

“He was a wild man during the day but a careful diplomat at night,” said Meacham, who said it was too early to know whether Trump, like Jackson, “had a strategy behind his theatrics,” and whether Trump had the ability to harness the wave of populism that has swept the globe as it did in the 1820s.

“The moment is Jacksoninan but do we have a Jackson in the Oval Office?” Meacham asked.

Trump’s appropriation of Jackson came after his victory. Trump never mentioned Jackson during the campaign or discussed Jackson during a series of conversations with Meacham last spring

But it is hardly unique for a president to adopt a previous one as a historical role model.

Barack Obama frequently invoked Abraham Lincoln. Dwight Eisenhower venerated George Washington. Jackson himself had been claimed by Franklin Roosevelt and his successor, Harry Truman, both of whom — unlike Trump — interpreted Jackson’s populism as a call for expanded government, in part to help the working class.

There could be other comparisons for Trump. A favorable one would be Eisenhower, also a nonpolitician who governed like a hands-off CEO. A less favorable one would be Andrew Johnson, a tool of his party whose erratic behavior helped bring about his impeachment.

Trump’s embrace could signal an about-face for Jackson’s legacy. Historians have recently soured on the slave-owning president whose Indian Removal Act of 1830 commissioned the forced removal of Native Americans from their ancestral homelands in the southeastern United States. More than 4,000 died along their journey west, a brutal march that became known as the “Trail of Tears.”

Jackson’s standing had fallen so much that in 2015, when the U.S. Treasury announced plans to replace Alexander Hamilton on the $10 bill with Harriet S. Tubman, the outcry in defense of the Founding Father — in part due to the success of the Broadway musical that tells his story — was so loud that the government changed course and opted to remove Jackson from the $20 instead.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

680 Cubans returned home since end of ‘wet foot, dry foot’

About 680 Cubans have been returned to the island from various countries since then-President Barack Obama ended a longstanding immigration policy that allowed any Cuban who made it to U.S. soil to stay and become a legal resident, state television reported Friday.

Cuba’s government had long sought the repeal of the “wet foot, dry foot” policy, which it said encouraged Cubans to risk dangerous voyages and drained the country of professionals. The Jan. 12 decision by Washington to end it followed months of negotiations focused in part on getting Havana to agree to take back people who had arrived in the U.S.

Cuban state television said late Friday that the returnees came from countries including the United States, Mexico and the Bahamas, and were sent back to the island between Jan. 12 and Feb. 17. It did not break down which countries the 680 were sent back from.

The report said the final two returnees arrived from the United States on Friday “on the first charter flight especially destined for an operation of this type.”

Florida’s El Nuevo Herald newspaper reported that the two women were deemed “inadmissible” for entry to the United States and placed on a morning flight to Havana.

Wilfredo Allen, an attorney for one of the women, says they had arrived at Miami International Airport with European passports. The women requested asylum and were detained.

The repeal of the “wet foot, dry foot” policy was Obama’s final move before leaving office in the rapprochement with the communist-run country that he and Cuban President Castro began in December 2014. The surprise decision left hundreds of Cubans stranded in transit in South and Central America.

Before he assumed the presidency on Jan. 20, Donald Trump criticized the detente between the U.S. and Cuba, tweeting that he might “terminate” it.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Immigrant-rich Miami-Dade split over sanctuary city order

The mayor is an immigrant, and more than half its residents are foreign born.

But unlike many cities with large numbers of immigrants, there’s no sanctuary for people living illegally in Miami-Dade County, Florida. A recent decision by Mayor Carlos Gimenez requires local authorities to cooperate with federal officials to enforce immigration law.

The decree by Cuban-born Gimenez has roiled the area, drawing criticism from the mayors of the cities of Miami and Miami Beach. The county’s commissioners have called for a special meeting Friday to confront the mayor on the issue.

They’re not the only ones who are unhappy with the mayor. Immigration advocates and others opposed to the shift have filled the streets in protest, and a long-standing divide between Cuban-Americans and other Latinos has reappeared. Meanwhile, farmworkers who have lived in the area for years to plant and harvest vegetables on vast commercial farms fear they’ll be deported.

“I have four children. To get picked up like that would break me,” said Itzel, 23, who arrived as a baby from Mexico, works in nurseries near the city of Homestead and whose children were born in this country. She spoke on condition that her surname not be used because she fears deportation.

“I would be lost in Mexico. I’ve never been there. I’ve never traveled out of here,” she said.

Gimenez says his order to end Miami-Dade’s status as a sanctuary city, where policy forbids local police from enforcing federal immigration laws, was a financial decision. President Donald Trump recently signed an executive order that would cut federal funds to local governments that did not fully cooperate on immigration enforcement. But immigration advocates say Gimenez’s decision sends the wrong message at a delicate time.

“To be fair, in a community where 50 percent were not born here it sends an erroneous and a somewhat negative image of our community,” said County Commissioner Xavier Suarez, who was born in Cuba.

The divide, however, is also rooted in immigration policy that gave preferential treatment to Cubans fleeing the island’s communist government. For more than 50 years, Cubans have arrived to open arms in the U.S. and been able to become citizens much more easily than people from other countries.

“Cuban families, in a general way, haven’t been as aware of what it means to be undocumented in this country,” said Michael Bustamante, a Florida International University expert on contemporary Cuban history. “They have had a different process to achieve legal status. Not to say that they haven’t faced other difficulties.”

Miami-Dade is the only county in the U.S. where a majority of residents— 51.7 percent— were born abroad. But the share of immigrants living there illegally is lower than places like Houston or Atlanta, precisely because Cuban immigrants could quickly get employment authorization cards, a social security number and become legal residents.

But that’s changed. Former President Barack Obama in January announced that Cubans without residency or visas would be treated as any other immigrant with similar status.

Many of Miami’s Cubans have openly embraced Trump’s ideas on immigration. Hillary Clinton may have won 63 percent of the vote in Miami-Dade County, but Trump drew more votes than Clinton in the three heaviest Cuban-American neighborhoods.

Ibrahim Reyes, a retired furniture salesman who was having coffee and reading a newspaper in Miami’s Little Havana recently, said he supported the president’s efforts to deport criminals and his actions toward Mexico, noting the country supported Fidel Castro after Cuba’s revolution.

“It’s bad what is happening in Mexico,” Reyes said. “But they didn’t show solidarity toward us when we were refugees.”

In 2013, Miami-Dade commissioners passed a resolution that local law enforcement officers would comply with federal immigration officials only in cases of serious charges or convictions and only when the federal government agreed to reimburse the county for holding an offender in jail for more than two days. Longer detention while awaiting deportation was costing local taxpayers, Miami-Dade officials said.

The move put the county on a list of sanctuaries in a 2016 Justice Department report. Gimenez contested the designation, and then on Jan. 26, a day after Trump announced he would strip federal funding from sanctuary cities, Gimenez sent a memo instructing the corrections director to honor all immigration detainer requests.

Gimenez defended his decision on local TV and said the county’s police were not actively chasing suspects in the U.S. illegally or asking for their immigration status — they were only agreeing to hold people flagged by Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

“I’m an immigrant. I believe in comprehensive immigration reform. I believe that the vast majority of undocumented immigrants in our county are law-abiding citizens — never had a run in with Miami-Dade police,” Gimenez said.

He acknowledged that immigration authorities had already requested 27 people be held during the first week of the order, and, reading from his smart phone, said they were wanted on charges including murder, domestic violence, petty theft and drug trafficking. County officials later said an additional seven immigrants had been arrested as of Feb. 9, bringing the total to 34.

Marina, a 34-year-old Mexican woman who arrived in Homestead in 1999, said she wishes the mayor would recognize the contribution migrants make to the region’s agriculture and construction industries and protect families like hers.

“All of us,” she said, “We are Latinos.”

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Miami U.S. attorney announces resignation from post

Miami U.S. Attorney Wifredo Ferrer, whose office prosecuted thousands of cases during his tenure ranging from terror plots to billion-dollar Ponzi schemes to purveyors of prescription drug “pill mills,” announced Wednesday he will resign after nearly seven years.

Ferrer, 50, said in a news release he will step down as South Florida’s top federal prosecutor effective March 3. Ferrer, whose previous posts included senior adviser to former Attorney General Janet Reno, was nominated for the Miami job by former President Barack Obama in early 2010 and confirmed by the Senate.

“There has been no greater honor than to serve and protect the same community that opened its arms to my parents when they immigrated to this country,” said Ferrer, who is Cuban-American. “I am incredibly proud of all that we have been able to accomplish together, in and out of the courtroom, including building meaningful bonds of trust with the diverse community we serve.”

He did not say why he was resigning but U.S. attorneys often step aside when control of the White House changes political parties.

President Donald Trump will appoint a successor. Ferrer’s top assistant, Ben Greenberg, will run the office in the meantime.

The U.S. attorney’s office for the Southern District of Florida, as it is formally known, is the nation’s third largest with almost 250 assistant prosecutors and 170 support personnel. More than 6 million people live in the district stretching from Fort Pierce south to Key West.

During his tenure, Ferrer’s office prosecuted several high-profile terrorism-related cases, including the conviction of a Muslim imam who funneled money to the Pakistani Taliban and a thwarted plot by two Pakistani-born brothers to detonate explosives at New York City landmarks.

More recently, prosecutors indicted Esteban Santiago of Anchorage, Alaska, on 22 charges that could bring the death penalty for the Jan. 6 shooting that killed five people and wounded six at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.

Other notable prosecutions included a crackdown on the South Florida “pill mills” that had been selling oxycodone and other drugs illegally by the tens of thousands and hundreds of health care fraud and identity theft cases.

Ferrer’s office also prosecuted 29 people charged in a $1.2 billion Ponzi scheme orchestrated by former attorney Scott Rothstein, who is serving a 50-year sentence for a scam involving investments in fake legal settlements. Wronged investors got all their money back.

In addition, the Miami U.S. attorney’s office is part of the prosecution team handling the case in Brooklyn, New York, against Mexican drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

U.S. Senate will consider blocking rule on guns and mentally ill

The Republican-led Senate is moving to block an Obama-era regulation that would prevent an estimated 75,000 people with mental disorders from being able to purchase a firearm.

The Obama administration had sought to strengthen the federal background check system with a rule requiring the Social Security Administration to send in the names of beneficiaries with mental impairments who also need a third-party to manage their benefits.

With a Republican ally in the White House, the GOP is moving aggressively on gun rights measures. The House earlier this month voted for the resolution blocking the rule. The Senate has scheduled a vote for Wednesday morning that would send the measure to President Donald Trump, who is expected to sign it.

Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, said during a debate on the Senate floor Tuesday that the regulation, set to go into effect in December, unfairly stigmatizes the disabled and infringes on their constitutional right to bear arms. He said that the mental disorders covered through the regulation are filled with “vague characteristics that do not fit into the federal mentally defective standard” prohibiting someone from buying or owning a gun.

Grassley cited eating and sleep disorders as examples of illnesses that could allow a beneficiary to be reported to the background check system if they also need a third party to manage their benefits.

“If a specific individual is likely to be violent due to the nature of their mental illness, then the government should have to prove it,” Grassley said.

The regulation was crafted as part of President Barack Obama‘s efforts to strengthen the background check system in the wake of the 2012 massacre of 20 young students and six staff at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. Adam Lanza, a 20-year-old man with a variety of impairments, including Asperger’s syndrome and obsessive-compulsive disorder, shot and killed his mother at their home, then went to school where he killed the students, adults and himself.

Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., said he didn’t know how he could explain to his constituents that Congress was making it easier rather than harder for people with serious mental illness to have a gun.

“If you can’t manage your own financial affairs, how can we expect that you’re going to be a responsible steward of a dangerous, lethal firearm,” Murphy said.

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., argued that anyone who thinks they’re treated unfairly can appeal, and are likely to win if they’re not a danger to themselves or others. But Grassley said federal law requires a formal hearing and judgment before depriving someone of owning a firearm due to mental illness.

“The Second Amendment, as a fundamental right, requires the government to carry the burden to show a person has a dangerous mental illness,” Grassley said. “This regulation obviously and simply does not achieve that.”

Gun rights groups such as the NRA are supporting the effort to repeal the Obama-era regulation. The American Civil Liberties Union has joined with the NRA in fighting the regulation, as has an independent federal agency charged with advising the president and Congress on government policy. The National Council on Disability said there is no nexus between the inability to manage money and the ability to safely possess and use a firearm.

The NAACP, the United States Conference of Mayors and the National League of Cities supported the Social Security Administration’s efforts. The groups said the Social Security agency is simply following through with its requirements under existing law. Citing the shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson, Arizona, the Newtown, Connecticut, massacre and the killing of 32 people at Virginia Tech, the groups said loopholes in federal law have allowed people who are clearly a danger to themselves and others to obtain guns.

“These killings must stop and this rule, as implemented last year, will help to do that,” said Clarence Anthony, the CEO and executive director of the National League of Cities.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Donald Trump’s visits to Florida costing sheriff $1.5 million in OT

Donald Trump‘s visits to his South Florida estate since he was elected president have cost the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Department $1.5 million in overtime costs.

Sheriff Ric Bradshaw is confident the money his department has spent while assisting the Secret Service will be reimbursed by the federal government.

“I do hope he is correct,” said Palm Beach County Administrator Verdenia Baker.

The county sent letters to federal officials in December seeking reimbursement for the overtime security costs from Trump’s five-day visit to the estate called Mar-a-lago in November, the Palm Beach Post reported Tuesday.

Those costs were originally estimated at $250,000, but Bradshaw said the total will be closer to $300,000. Based on the revised number, the sheriff said told the newspaper the security costs are amounting to about $60,000 a day during Trump’s visits to the county.

Aside from the five days in November, Trump stayed at Mar-a-lago 16 days in December. He has returned for two weekends so far in February.

The sheriff’s presidential detail is covered by overtime and doesn’t compromise law enforcement for the rest of the county.

“We don’t take anybody off the road that handles normal calls for service,” Bradshaw said. “I’m very confident that we’re going to get reimbursed. There’ll be a point in time where I’ll have a conversation, I hope, with the president personally or with someone high up in his administration.”

Baker said the sheriff works closely with the Secret Service and would have a better feel about any reimbursement. “I have not received that type of information from anyone in writing,” Baker said.

Presidential visits aren’t unusual in Palm Beach County as Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama all made multiple visits for fundraisers, golf outings and campaign appearances. But they didn’t involve extended stays.

“Obviously we take it very seriously and we’re fortunate we have the experience and the manpower to be able to handle it,” Bradshaw said. “We work seamlessly with the Secret Service because we’ve done it so much.”

In addition to the sheriff’s costs, West Palm Beach Chief Financial Officer Mark Parks estimated city police and fire rescue crews have incurred about $26,000 in overtime costs during Trump’s February visits. The Post reports the town of Palm Beach did not provide estimates for its costs.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

The new civics course in schools: How to avoid fake news

Teachers from elementary school through college are telling students how to distinguish between factual and fictional news — and why they should care that there’s a difference.

As Facebook works with The Associated Press, FactCheck.org and other organizations to curb the spread of fake and misleading news on its influential network, teachers say classroom instruction can play a role in deflating the kind of “Pope endorses Trump” headlines that muddied the waters during the 2016 presidential campaign.

“I think only education can solve this problem,” said Pat Winters Lauro, a professor at Kean University in New Jersey who began teaching a course on news literacy this semester.

Like others, Lauro has found discussions of fake news can lead to politically sensitive territory. Some critics believe fake stories targeting Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton helped Donald Trump overcome a large deficit in public opinion polls, and President Trump himself has attached the label to various media outlets and unfavorable reports and polls in the first weeks of his presidency.

“It hasn’t been a difficult topic to teach in terms of material because there’s so much going on out there,” Lauro said, “but it’s difficult in terms of politics because we have such a divided country and the students are divided, too, on their beliefs. I’m afraid sometimes that they think I’m being political when really I’m just talking about journalistic standards for facts and verification, and they look at it like ‘Oh, you’re anti-this or -that.'”

Judging what to trust was easier when the sources were clearer — magazines, newspapers or something else, said Kean senior Mike Roche, who is taking Lauro’s class. Now “it all comes through the same medium of your cellphone or your computer, so it’s very easy to blur the lines and not have a clear distinction of what’s real and what’s fake,” he said.

A California lawmaker last month introduced a bill to require the state to add lessons on how to distinguish between real and fake news to the grade 7-12 curriculum.

High school government and politics teacher Lesley Battaglia added fake news to the usual election-season lessons on primaries and presidential debates, discussing credible sites and sources and running stories through fact-checking sites like Snopes. There were also lessons about anonymous sources and satire. (They got a kick out of China’s dissemination of a 2012 satirical story from The Onion naming Kim Jong Un as the sexiest man alive.)

“I’m making you guys do the hard stuff that not everybody always does. They see it in a tweet and that’s enough for them,” Battaglia told her students at Williamsville South High School in suburban Buffalo.

“It’s kind of crazy,” 17-year-old student Hannah Mercer said, “to think about how much it’s affecting people and swaying their opinions.”

Stony Brook University’s Center for News Literacy pioneered the idea of educating future news consumers, and not just journalists, a decade ago with the rise of online news. About four in 10 Americans often get news online, a 2016 Pew Research Center report found. Stony Brook last month partnered with the University of Hong Kong to launch a free online course.

“To me, it’s the new civics course,” said Tom Boll, after wrapping up his own course on real and fake news at the Newhouse School at Syracuse University. With everyone now able to post and share, gone are the days of the network news and newspaper editors serving as the primary gatekeepers of information, Boll, an adjunct professor, said.

“The gates are wide open,” he said, “and it’s up to us to figure out what to believe.”

That’s not easy, said Raleigh, North Carolina-area teacher Bill Ferriter, who encourages students to first use common sense to question whether a story could be true, to look at web addresses and authors for hints, and to be skeptical of articles that seem aimed at riling them up.

He pointed to an authentic-looking site reporting that President Barack Obama signed an order in December banning the Pledge of Allegiance in schools. A “.co” at the end of an impostor news site web address should have been a red flag, he said.

“The biggest challenge that I have whenever I try to teach kids about questionable content on the web,” said Ferriter, who teaches sixth grade, “is convincing them that there is such a thing as questionable content on the web.”

Some of Battaglia’s students fear fake news will chip away at the trust of even credible news sources and give public figures license to dismiss as fake news anything unfavorable.

“When people start to distrust all news sources is when people in power are just allowed to do whatever they want, said Katie Peter, “and that’s very scary.”

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Pasco County GOP official in trouble after social media posts go national

Pasco County Republican Executive Committee Secretary Bill Akins is under fire  after a story about his history of pushing out racist jokes and conspiracy theories on social media was published Sunday by the Washington Post.

The reason that the previously little-known local Republican even earned the interest of the Post was because of what happened on Saturday at Congressman Gus Bilirakis raucous town hall meeting in New Port RicheyThat’s where Akins told a crowd of mostly supporters of the Affordable Care Act that it was a fact that they would face “death panels” at the age of 74 under the legislation.

“Death Panels” were often mentioned by Tea Party activists at town hall meetings back in 2009 when the ACA was initially being discussed. PolitFact called the term the “Lie of the Year” in 2009.

As soon as Akins finished pronouncing “panel,” the crowd erupted into arguably the loudest amount of jeering from the two hour meeting.

“OK, children. Alright, children,” Akins stated, mocking the crowd in an exchange that was repeatedly by CNN and MSNBC on Saturday.

Akins apparently deleted all of his posts on his Facebook page on Saturday night, after the story by the Post’s Dave Weigel went live. The earliest posts now available to see on his page go back to 2011.

Among the controversial statements that Akins made included comparing black protesters to monkeys, accusing former President Barack Obama of being a foreign-born Muslim, and that Bill and Hillary Clinton had potential trial witnesses against them murdered.

He claimed that former Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia might have been murdered, that “Climate Change” is a globalist hoax, and that Nancy Pelosi is mentally handicapped.

The Pasco County GOP Facebook page was filled with angry responses on Sunday.

“Rep Bilirakis SR was a truthful and honorable man,” wrote Chris Perfusion Clay. “The present Representative (who used to be my Representative until they gerrymandered again) makes a fool of himself by agreeing with a delusional Bill Akins. Mr Akins Facebook page is an example of why Republicans are seen as seriously problematic.”

Pasco County State Committeeman Bill Bunting said the revelation about Akins social media history was a definite “black eye for us, no question about it.”

At the town hall, Akins identified himself as being the Secretary of the Pasco REC. He was only recently elected to that post.

Akins did not return our request for comment on Sunday afternoon. Nor did Republican Party of Florida Chairman Blaise Ingoglia.

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