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Rick Scott wants to hire counterterrorism agents

Vowing to do everything he can to prevent another terrorist attack like the June 12 Pulse nightclub massacre, Gov. Rick Scott pushed for nearly $6 million to create a new counter-terrorism and law enforcement intelligence task force in Florida.

“Terror, like we saw in the attack on the Pulse nightclub, is a threat to our state, our nation and each of us,” Scott said in announcing the proposal at the Florida Department of Law Enforcement’s Orlando Regional Operations Center Wednesday. “We need specialists who are solely dedicated to identify these terrorists and stopping them before they can attack.”

Joined by other law enforcement leaders including Orlando Police Chief John Mina, Scott and FDLE Commissioner Richard Swearingen outlined plans to seek $5.8 million in this year’s budget to hire 46 anti-terrorist specialists who would be divided into eight units and assigned to work with the eight joint anti-terrorism task forces coordinated in Florida by federal authorities.

The new positions would include 38 anti-terrorism special agents and eight crime intelligence analysts. He said the new positions would be in addition to anti-terrorism efforts the agency already has. But he said the current efforts sometimes require agents to be pulled off from other units on an ad-hoc basis and the new positions would better assure that full-time anti-terrorism officials are pursuing terrorists.

Swearingen said the current threat environment has “seen a vast expansion in terrorism relate threats in recent years and our federal law enforcement partners – who do a great job – have said they do not have sufficient resources to combat the spread of terrorism on their own,” he said. “This must be a collaborative effort of federal, state and local law enforcement.”

The budget request, of course, will have to survive in one form or another the Florida Legislature’s budget-writing. Two lawmakers present with Scott Wednesday, state Reps. Mike Miller of Orlando and Bob Cortes of Longwood, both spoke positively about the proposal Wednesday. Both are Republicans.

Miller, a member of the House Justice Appropriations Subcommittee, said he looks forward to championing anti-terrorism money this spring. Cortes said a recent national anti-terrorism symposium he attended has him convinced of the need and said $5.8 million is “not a big ask.”

“We live in a very difficult time, and we’re going to do everything we can to help keep everyone safe,” Scott said.

On Thursday, House Democratic Leader Janet Cruz of Tampa said she shared Scott’s “commitment to ensuring that our law enforcement community has the resources necessary for counterterrorism to ensure that another tragedy like the massacre at Pulse nightclub never occurs again.”

“While this critical investment will allow the state to better monitor and prevent acts of terror, it is my hope this is one part of a conversation about passing meaningful reforms that keep weapons from falling into the hands of dangerous criminals and those suffering from mental illness who seek to inflict violence upon Floridians,” she said in a statement.

Politics in Orlando now takes place in a post-Pulse city

A before-and-after time line now exists for Orlando – June 12, 2016 – and on this side of the Pulse massacre the city may be seen by the world and through its own citizens’ eyes as a very different place, with a new political perspective.

Before June 12, Orlando was a city without an an image, an identity or, most importantly, a unifying factor for its people that didn’t involve mouse ears or rocketing roller coasters.

It took horror, pain, shock, suffering, outrage to change that. It took the unthinkable, the unbearable. It took June 12. Nothing good may ever be attributed to the slaughter of 49 people and destruction of countless other lives that took place at the popular gay nightclub Pulse, perpetrated by the ISIS-pledging, gay-hating madman Omar Mateen.

But in the aftermath, a new, Orlando emerged, pledging unity, support, hope, faith, understanding and love. Politics in Orlando now takes place in a post-Pulse city.

That became clear in the responses of a score of Orlando political leaders who expressed to FloridaPolitics.com how Pulse has changed things.

“We are kinder to one another,” said longtime Democratic Orlando City Commissioner Patty Sheehan, the LGBT godmother voice for Orlando.

“Gay, straight, trans, black, Latino, Muslim, Evangelical, Atheist, Democrat, Republican – you name it. We were all there for each other,” said Democratic state Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, who also is gay.

For now, the post-Pulse period has only just begun, said Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs, a Republican. All of that unity, support, hope, faith, understanding and love still is needed, must continue for practical reasons, she said.

“I think it’s very important to realize that a lot of people – especially those most traumatized by the Pulse violence – are still in the beginning stages of processing what they’ve actually been through, and how it has affected them,” Jacobs said. “So I want to be very clear in reassuring people that how they feel, how they act, and how they grieve and recover is an incredibly personal and individual path. Each survivor, victim, family or friend of those who perished needs this community to be their soft shoulder, and to extend understanding and compassion as each of us travels the path to healing.”

And perhaps to extend that understanding, compassion and healing elsewhere. A number of area politicians, including Orange County Commissioner Pete Clarke, a Republican, and Commissioner Victoria Siplin, a Democrat, spoke of extending love and support beyond Pulse, to address the victims and communities such as Pine Hills experiencing their own violent horrors, or at least to keep the momentum going. Orlando City Commissioner Robert Stuart is formally looking for ways to foster that, through a “Compassionate City” project he, Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer and the city commission launched in August.

“I hope that the unity that brought our great community together these past few months continues into the new year,” said Congresswoman-elect Stephanie Murphy, a Democrat. “I also think this tragedy has caused many of us to get more involved in our community to honor the lives lost and to help prevent tragedies like this from happening again.”

Support for Orlando’s gay community is now the standard in political rhetoric. Recognition of Orlando’s Hispanic community, particularly the hard-hit Puerto Rican community, is nearly universal.

“It made everyone everyone confront the horrors of homophobia and its root causes,” said Anthony Suarez, a Republican lawyer who chairs the Puerto Rican Bar Association of Central Florida. “Those that profess that gays and lesbians are sinners and committing sin had to reflect on their comments and the results of such. For a very religious community, the reaction was overwhelming support and a mainstreaming of tolerance.”

“It’s been very fascinating,” added Clarke, “My circle of friends and other folks, I’ve seen a softening. It’s sad it takes a tragedy to do that.”

Yet some divides remain, now hardened by the affirmations Pulse brought to very different beliefs held by people on opposite sides of existing divides. Almost every Democrat believes the introspection of the massacre surely, finally, signals a change in the popular thinking tide on gun control, while virtually no Republican concedes that point.

“We have a moment in time where our voices can be louder than most in calling for serious gun safety reforms,” said Democratic activist Susannah Randolph.

Others prefer to put the focus on better-supporting law enforcement. “We must stay vigilant and ensure that law enforcement has the tools they need in order to protect us,” said Orange County Commissioner Betsy VanderLey, a Republican.

Sheriff Jerry Demings, a Democrat, couldn’t have agreed more, saying, “The Pulse nightclub incident represents a paradigm shift in how terror subjects now see soft targets within the continental US, as their primary targets for violence. American cities must prepare for the change in strategy and develop plans to prevent, respond to, and mitigate terror attacks.”

Many Republicans said they see the Pulse massacre as Demings implied, an act of radical Islamic terrorism.

“The tragedy at the Pulse nightclub confirmed to me that the appeasement of any radical group, such as ISIS and it’s supporters, will not work,” said Republican state Sen. David Simmons.

Few Democrat cite terrorism at Pulse, and some even dismiss it.

“Terrorism based on religion has nothing to do with it,” said Democratic attorney John Morgan. “That is the cover to give that miserable miscreant cover for a higher purpose.”

There also is a sense of fear, of driving the horrors of the world home.

“When I go to crowded public places, there’s a bit of anxiety while I constantly look over my shoulder at the people around me and the nearest exit points,” said Orange County Tax Collector Scott Randolph, a Democrat. “This is not how we should live, but it is embedded into our psyche now.”

Lost, perhaps, to many non-Puerto Ricans are the ties that Pulse has brought with the island.

“Many of these people who lost their lives on this tragic date are from Puerto Rico, the island of my parents, the place I few up in,” said state Rep. Bob Cortes, a Republican. “The tragedy not only affected Orlando, but also had a huge impact on Puerto Rico… We saw the whole world in mourning.”

And the whole world has watched, Mayor Jacobs said.

“I think it’s important for us to understand that how the world sees us – how the world views Central Florida – has changed,” Jacobs said. “We’ve long enjoyed a global reputation as a fantastic leisure and business destination, but now, the entire world has watched as we’ve come together, in seamless unity, like no community before us. The world has watched us respond to the victims’ families, those who survived, those with broken hearts and bodies, our first and second responders – our extraordinary outpouring of acceptance and love came naturally, from within the fabric of this community. So I would say that as we heal, let’s not forget that through our individual and collective actions, we’ve not only changed how the world perceives us, we’ve learned something wonderful about ourselves. Let’s cherish and nourish not only our famed culture of collaboration, but our extraordinary culture of caring.”

Farewell, 2016: Report takes a look at New Year’s Eve traditions

Spaniards try to gobble up 12 grapes at midnight. The Danes break dishes on their friends’ front doors. And here in the United States, we ring in the new year by drinking lots and lots of bubbly.

According to WalletHub, Americans will drink more than 360 million glasses of sparkling wine on New Year’s Eve. And where they drink it — and other holiday traditions — are part of a new report looking at how Americans “understand and enjoy the occasion.”

The report found 83 percent of Americans spend less than $200, on New Year Eve’s celebrations. An estimated 48 percent of Americans will celebrate New Year’s Eve at home, while 20 percent will head over to a friend’s house. According to WalletHub, just 9 percent of Americans plan to be “at a bar, restaurant or organized event.”

No matter the celebration, it’s very likely the ball drop in Times Square will be a part of it. An estimated 175 million people in the United States — and 1 billion people worldwide —are expected to watch the ball giant crystal ball drop at midnight. Only about 1 million of those people will be in Times Square for the event.

The price of admission is steep: The price of a ball drop pass is $229. And the average cost of dinner and a show in New York on New Year’s Eve is $1,160. Want a cheaper option? The nation’s capital might be the best bet, with the average cost of dinner and a show costing $480.

The Times Square ball drop tradition began in 1907 when a time ball was dropped as part of a celebration hosted by The New York Times at its building in Times Square. The ball has been redesigned several times over the years. The ball was originally made of iron, wood and 25-watt lightbulbs.

The ball that will drop Saturday night is made from Waterford crystal triangle and will be illuminated by thousands of LED lights. According to WalletHub, the Times Square Ball weighs about as much as three pickup trucks.

Not in New York, no problem. WalletHub ranked Orlando as the best place to celebrate New Year’s Eve. The town the Mouse built earned the No. 1 spot on the company’s list of 100 biggest cities. It also came in second in the organization’s entertainment and food category.

So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Orlando is the most popular travel destination over the holiday, followed by New York City and Honolulu. WalletHub estimates more than 100.5 million people will travel at least 30 miles from home for New Year’s.

More than 91 million of those people will travel by car, while 5.76 million are expected to fly to their destination.

Be careful when you head out on the roads this weekend. According to WalletHub, New Year’s Eve is the “most drunken night of the year.” The company estimates more than 40,000 people get hurt in car crashes and more than 340 traffic fatalities occur each New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day.

Here’s a few more statistics to wow your friends with this holiday weekend:

— There are on average 7,792 births on New Year’s Day;

— New Year’s Eve is the second most popular day for car thefts in the United States. The most popular day is Halloween, while New Year’s Day is the sixth most popular day for car thefts;

— New Year’s eve is the busiest night of the year for illegal “celebratory” gunfire;

— 44 percent of Americans plan to kiss someone at midnight, and 20 percent of all charitable donations are made in the final 48 hours of the year;

— 67 percent of Americans make a New Year’s resolution, but only 8 percent of Americans are successful in achieving their resolution. The most popular resolution? 49 percent of people say they want to lose weight and exercise more.

__The Associated Press contributed to this report, reprinted with permission.

 

Orlando, Miami ranked among top places for New Year’s Eve celebrations

If you can’t make it to Times Square to ring in 2017, have no fear: The nation’s best place to party might be closer than you think.

A new WalletHub report ranked Orlando as the best place to celebrate New Year’s Eve. And the Central Florida city wasn’t the only Sunshine State city on the best list. Miami ranked No. 7, while Tampa landed in the No. 13 spot on the WalletHub list.

The company compared the 100 biggest cities “based on 20 key indicators of an epic New Year’s Eve.” Analysts compared the cities across three areas — entertainment and food, costs, and safety and accessibility — and complied 20 metrics, including luxury shopping, average cost of a New Year’s Eve party ticket, and walkability.

Orlando ranked No. 1 overall, with a total score of 76.96 points. It ranked eighth in costs and 82nd in the safety and accountability category. The town the Mouse built came in second in the entertainment and food category.

The City Beautiful fared well in several other categories, including where to find the lowest average price of a New Year’s Eve party ticket and one of the communities with the most nightlife options per capita. When it comes to nightlife options, Orlando was tied for first with San Francisco, Portland, Las Vegas, Atlanta and New Orleans.

Orlando also ranked high in the number of restaurants per capita, sharing the top spot with Miami.

Miami ranked No. 7 in WalletHub’s overall list of the best place to for New Year’s Eve, with a total score of 66.96. It landed in the No. 7 spot in the entertainment and food category, and was ranked 48th in the safety and accessibility category. The South Florida city was ranked 65th when it comes to costs.

Tampa was in the No. 13 spot, with a score of 62.71. It was ranked 20th when it comes to entertainment and food, and earned the No. 14 spot in the safety and accessibility category. It landed in the No. 37 spot in the costs category.

Jacksonville (No. 53), St. Petersburg (No. 63), and Hialeah (No. 90) also earned a spot on WalletHub’s list.

And in case you were wondering, North Las Vegas was ranked No. 100 on WalletHub’s list of the “Best Places for New Year’s Eve Celebrations.”

Source: WalletHub

Pulse nightclub massacre is Florida’s top story of 2016

The massacre of 49 patrons of the Pulse nightclub in Orlando has been voted Florida’s top story of 2016.

The state’s newspaper editors said in an Associated Press poll that the second-biggest story of the year was Florida resident Donald Trump‘s defeat of Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton in Florida by 1.3 percentage points in the presidential race.

Florida’s two hurricanes, the impact of Cuban leader Fidel Castro‘s death and an outbreak of the Zika virus tied for third place.

In fourth place was the legal tussle over Florida’s death penalty.

Two solar power amendments and the indictment of U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown tied for fifth place.

The death of Miami Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez and the death of a toddler by a Disney World alligator tied for sixth place.

Reprinted 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.

In Orlando, Donald Trump decries ‘reckless interventions;’ vows to crush ISIS

Decrying the horrors of atrocities in the Middle East, President-elect Donald Trump both denounced reckless interventions and pledged to destroy ISIS and radical Islam during his “Thank You” tour stop in Orlando Friday night.

Speaking before a huge outdoor crowd that he said numbered 22,000, Trump argued that the United States can’t get involved in foreign conflicts with unclear American interests anymore. The declaration harkens to Trump’s position that he was long an opponent of the Iraq War, which he blames for the rise of ISIS and the catastrophic civil war in Syria.

He also pledged to “stand with the people of Cuba,” though he didn’t elaborate as to whether that means attempts to roll back the opening of relations with that dictatorial, communist government begun under President Barack Obama.

Yet while promising to strengthen America’s military, the primary theme of  his “peace through strength” address appeared to be avoiding more international conflicts, Trump declared: “Our foreign policy needs a new direction.”

“For too long we’ve been moving from one reckless intervention to another in countries that most of you have never even heard of before.

“It’s crazy, and it’s going to stop.”

Trump expressed outrage apparently at the humanitarian meltdown occurring this week in Aleppo, Syria, though he didn’t name the location explicitly.

“We spent $6 trillion in the Middle East. And now it’s in worse shape than it’s ever been before. Years of horror. And now look what’s happening over there right now,” Trump said. “Six trillion dollars, and look what’s happening. It’s a horrible thing. We’re going to do everything we can. We’re going to get it straightened out.

“Just think of all of that money, all of those lives, and I mean lives on both sides … and you have nothing. So we’re going to start using our head. And we’re going to try to patch that up.”

He pledged to build safe zones in Syria and to get Middle Eastern countries to pay for them.

Meanwhile, American taxpayers will be called upon to rebuild American infrastructure and schools.

“Instead of rebuilding foreign nations,” he said, “it’s time to rebuild our nation.”

Yet Trump also declared his intention to wipe out ISIS and radical Islam threatening the United States and to do so immediately.

“The Trump administration will focus on the vital national security interests of the Untied States, and that means crushing ISIS rapidly and defeating radical Islamic terrorism,” Trump said.

He also repeated one of his more recent policies, opposition to people burning American flags.

“I don’t like when I see people burning our flag, I don’t like it. I don’t like it. And you don’t like it. And we’re going to try to do something about it,” Trump said.

Rick Scott to appear at Donald Trump rally in Orlando

Florida Governor Rick Scott will appear at Friday night’s “thank you” rally in Orlando for President-elect Donald Trump.

The governor’s schedule has him slotted for a 6:00 p.m. appearance at the Trump event, to be held at the Central Florida Fairgrounds’ Orlando Amphitheater.

Trump’s event officially starts at 7:00 p.m., however.

Friday night’s gubernatorial appearance at the Trump rally in Orlando will be the first one for Gov. Scott in some time.

Scott introduced Trump at a June rally in Tampa, but the governor made no other appearances with Trump on the campaign trail.

Scott ran a Super PAC for Trump, Rebuilding America Now, so he was still involved heavily in Trump’s path to the White House.

“I’ve known Donald for about 20 years, long before either of us ever ran for office. He is a businessman and an outsider and he will bring the major change to Washington that our country needs right now. Donald’s race is also a lot like my race for Governor. No one said I had a chance of beating the career politicians when I ran, but I won anyway. We are going to win this Presidential race too,” Scott predicted over the summer.

Scott, termed out in 2018, is eyeing his own next move.

A Senate run has been rumored, and Scott’s own state PAC, Let’s Get to Work, is fundraising appropriately, with a $442,500 haul reported in November.

Trump’s rally was described by Randy Ross, the Orange County chairman of his 2016 campaign, as having an “eye on 2020.”

The crowd reaction for Gov. Scott, whose eye is on 2018, will be worth noting.

Our own Scott Powers will be on hand at the Trump rally Friday night; check back with FloridaPolitics.com and its sister site, OrlandoRising.com, for coverage from the event.

Gov. Scott will also make his monthly jobs numbers announcement in Orlando Friday morning, and Scott Powers will be on hand for that one as well.

Donald Trump bringing victory tour to Orlando next week

President-elect Donald Trump is returning to Orlando next week on his victory tour, appearing at the spot he spoke at just a few days before winning Florida and the presidency.

Trump will be joined this time by vice president-elect Mike Pence, for a “U.S.A. Thank You Tour” rally at the Central Florida Fairgrounds at 7 p.m. Friday, Dec. 16.

It’s the spot where Trump last visited Central Florida on Nov. 2, offering himself as a “better vision for America” and trashing Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton as “the candidate of yesterday.”

Doors at the Orlando Amphitheater there will open at 4 p.m. Tickets will be required, and can be obtained through the Donald J. Trump website.

 

Buddy Dyer at State of Downtown address: ‘We have one downtown’

Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer appeared before a crowd at the Bob Carr Theater to deliver his annual State of Downtown address, which focused not so much on new ideas as it did on refinement of old ones.

Namely, he spent most of the speech focused on the betterment of the Parramore neighborhood, long an area of concern for the city.

Once a thriving community, the neighborhood had sunk into crime and poverty by the time Dyer took office. Since then, local government organizations have put together programs to advance jobs and education in the area, intending to help the residents who need a hand.

Dyer said things have gotten better in Parramore this year, with lower crime rates (with juvenile crime down 61 percent as of Tuesday) and programs like Parramore Kidz Zone having helped many youths in the area go to school. There are more jobs, he said, and they’ve added new parks and amenities to make Parramore a more pleasant place to live.

“A lot communities would consider our work done,” he said. “But here in Orlando, we dream bigger, and the residents of Parramore have dreamed bigger, and they want more for their neighborhood. Our shared dream is to return Parramore to a neighborhood of opportunity that celebrates its rich history. We want Parramore to be a place where someone can grow up, have immediate access to education, and apply that education to a modern career, all without ever leaving downtown Orlando.”

Dyer then went on to speak of a number of improvements laid out for the years to come – UCF and Valencia’s new downtown campus, slated to open in 2019, and beyond that, a creative village poised to make downtown Orlando a hub of innovators, residents and businesses for as far in the future as one could imagine.

They’re also looking at more housing, especially with the intent of getting more people into Parramore – the numbers, as it has been reported in the past and as Dyer reiterated Tuesday, have shrunken drastically in the last few decades.

“In the 1960s, there were 18,000 residents in Parramore,” he said. “There are just over 6,000 today. The future of Parramore depends on bringing residents back. Anyone who wants to live here should be able to live here.”

Then he rattled off some of the city’s projects coming up: they’ll be putting out a RFP in 2017 for the development of over 20 city-owned lots into new affordable housing.

A vacant six-acre site will be transformed into a mixed-income housing development called Parramore Oaks, which will have 211 units split between affordable housing, permanent supportive housing and market-rate housing.

A new 256-unit multi-family development called Amelia Court at Creative Village will provide a new option for those looking to live near the Parramore Community School and the UCF/Valencia Downtown Campus, with groundbreaking expected late next year. That project will cost $56 million.

Dyer also touched on the fact that I-4 “divides” downtown into east and west factions, which is something he’d rather not have anymore.

“I-4, and the parking lot underneath, has been a barrier to downtown Orlando,” he said. “The overhaul going on – you’ve noticed it, right? – gives us an opportunity to transform that lot into a gathering space that will help tie downtown together, rather than divide us.”

The Under I project, as it’s been dubbed, will be a three-block park area full of various athletic, food, art and technology-based activities.

The underlying theme of everything Dyer brought up, from the city’s upcoming sports events to its efforts at helping the homeless the past few years, was unity. He posed that if the city could erase any semblance of being divided, that there was nothing that could stop it from growing and thriving into something of a modern Metropolis.

“We have one Downtown,” he said. “And every block, every street, every business every home is important to its prosperity and vitality.”
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