Good morning, dear readers.
While this is not the final edition of Sunburn for the year (it will be back next week for New Year’s Eve festivities), the stockings are hung by the chimney with care and the knowledge that Session will soon be here; we plan this week to stay nestled all snug in our beds, with visions of the 2020 campaign cycle dancing in our heads.
Merry Christmas from the greatest gift Michelle and I ever received, Ella Joyce. Michelle had these very cool photos taken of her, and I hope you’ll forgive me for sharing a few of them with you. Most of you have watched, in this email, Ella Joyce grow up, one Christmas season after another, so I trust you don’t mind.
and one more …
I hope these photos of Ella Joyce help you feel the magic of Christmas all around you!
It’s Christmas on He Said, She Said — While Michelle is getting ready for the big day, I take over the mic with special guest Reggie Cardozo, who talks about how 2019 was a tremendous year for him: marrying Stephanie and the birth of his son, Sutton James. Also, Rep. Chip LaMarca gives a preview of what he has in store for the upcoming Legislative Session.
Reggie and I read the proverbial tea leaves on what the candidates needed to do to stand out in this week’s Democratic debate. Cardozo suggests a complete victory would be nearly impossible, but coming out unscathed itself counts as a win. We also break down the state of the 2020 presidential race, particularly with the exit of Kamala Harris.
“What if [Joe] Biden wins Iowa?” I ask. “What happens then?”
What’s the deal with Florida? We discuss presidential primary operations in the state — or the lack of — and why more candidates aren’t focusing on the region. On reason, Reggie explains, is cost. Setting up operations in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and a few other states combined, are much less expensive than in Florida.
Now, the most important topic — Christmas! Cardozo and I talk about how much our wives love the holidays. We both acknowledge the challenges of giving the perfect gift to the ones we love most.
Gus Corbella visits to give his Top 10 TV shows of 2019: Apple TV’s The Morning Show; Amazon’s Catastrophe; Country Music by Ken Burns; Netflix’s Fyre Festival documentary; HBO’s Chernobyl, Succession, Euphoria and Fleabag. I throw in a few of my own: Netflix’s When They See Us and HBO’s Watchmen.
I give kudos to an emerging trend in the TV industry: A move away from anti-heroes, as well as shows that are more inclusive of women and people of color.
Lest we forget … Star Wars! Ryan Smith joins the show to talk “Rise of Skywalker,” the mixed opening reviews and its (rightful?) place in the entire Star Wars saga.
For the record, Alan Suskey has won Christmas for the NSFW Cameo Christmas wish he had roast master Jeff Ross send to me. Watch it here.
— TODAY’S SUNRISE —
It’s a #Sunrise Christmas — a collection of holiday stories past and present from the staff at Florida Politics, as well as from some newsmakers featured on the podcast.
— The lighting of the official Capitol Christmas tree in the lobby of the Governor’s office. Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried presented the tree, and Gov. Ron DeSantis accepted it on behalf of Floridians.
— Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis took part in the tree ceremony. A week later, he helped burn a Christmas tree to illustrate stories about the potential terror lurking in your living room.
— One of the people covering the press conference was Sarah Mueller, who recently signed on as a Tallahassee reporter for Florida Politics. Mueller talks with Sunrise about her new gig.
— Renzo Downey joined the Florida Politics crew just a few weeks before Mueller. His favorite Christmas memories come from his mom’s side of the family; she’s from the Dominican Republic.
— Florida Politics publisher Peter Schorsch loves the holidays. He talks to Sunrise about where he gets the spirit of the season.
— Getting teens in the spirit of the holidays is a special challenge. Florida Politics Tampa Bay reporter Janelle Irwin Taylor has found a way.
— Department of Economic Opportunity chief Ken Lawson talks about his latest traditions and favorite Christmas memories, a classic case of making lemonade when life gives you lemons.
— Veteran TV reporter Noah Pransky, who contributes to Florida Politics, offers his Christmas traditions from his younger days, including watching “A Charlie Brown Christmas” the first time it aired.
— Florida Politics Orlando reporter Scott Powers shares a Christmas memory about a holiday miracle at the Miami airport.
To listen, click on the image below:
— SITUATIONAL AWARENESS —
—@MarcoRubio: Media obsessed with Dem impeaching @& ignored GOP Senate confirming 13 more judges this week alone. Impeachment is better for ratings, but what is going to matter more & longer? A partisan impeachment? Or 187 judges including 1/4 of appellate courts? Happy Sunday!
—@MattGaetz: Weird, Senator. @said it was a “crime spree in progress” @ said “nothing could be more urgent” Now you admit impeachment was all about agitating @ & Republicans. You people are sick to put our country through this for petty politics.
—@NewsBySmiley: No time like 5 p.m. on the Friday before Christmas to release records requested by every political reporter in Florida
—@NikkiFriedFL: As Chanukah begins tonight, may the light within each of us be a beacon of hope, faith, and humanity shining through the night. Chag Sameach and #HappyHanukkah from my family to yours, and to Floridians near and far!
—@FLSecofState: I recently visited the @#’s history! Important historical records, photographs, and maps are available to access anytime for free at: floridamemory.comimaging lab to get a hands-on experience of what they do everyday to preserve
—@MarcACaputo: Just took a survey about plans for a Miami Formula 1 race track. It sounded as if the client is message-testing opposition. Some of the questions were moronic. If you want to beat this thing, focus on how billionaire Dolphins owner Steve Ross could walk away with tax money
—@ChrisSprowls: A genuinely great guy, person of deep faith and fair news man. Tampa Bay news will not be the same without Al Ruechel. Al shows us all that kindness and fairness never go out of fashion. Congratulations to him on his retirement.
— CONGRATULATIONS —
A great day in Howey in the Hills to celebrate the marriage of Mr & Mrs @AnthonySabatini and some of his closest Florida House classmates. Congratulations to my fellow member of the #ItalianCaucus pic.twitter.com/0xe2Q93hye
— Chip LaMarca❗️ (@ChipLaMarca) December 21, 2019
— DAYS UNTIL —
Donald Trump to launch “Evangelicals for Trump” coalition in Miami — 11; CES® 2020 begins — 15; College Football National Championship — 21; 2020 Session begins — 22; Florida Chamber Legislative Fly-in — 22; Seventh Democratic presidential debate in Des Moines — 22; Florida TaxWatch State of the TaxPayer Dinner in Tallahassee — 23; New Brexit deadline — 39; Super Bowl LIV in Miami — 41; Great American Realtors Day — 42; Iowa Caucuses — 43; Eighth Democratic presidential debate in Manchester — 49; New Hampshire Primaries — 50; Ninth Democratic presidential debate in Las Vegas — 58; Nevada caucuses — 61; 10th Democratic presidential debate Charleston — 64; South Carolina primaries — 68; Last day of 2020 Session (maybe) — 81; Florida’s presidential primary — 85; “Black Panther 2” debuts — 134; Florida Chamber Summit on Prosperity and Economic Opportunity — 148; “Top Gun: Maverick” premiers — 186; 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo begin — 212; Florida primaries for 2020 state legislative/congressional races — 239; First Vice Presidential debate at the University of Utah — 289; First Presidential Debate scheduled at the University of Michigan — 297; Second presidential debate at Belmont — 304; 2020 General Election — 316.
— TOP STORY —
“Donald Trump begins his Florida stay calling Democrats communists and ripping windmills” via David Smiley of the Miami Herald — Appearing before hundreds of students attending a Turning Point USA conservative youth conference in West Palm Beach, Trump touted new, record spending on defense and praised a new trade pact with Mexico and Canada that fulfills one of his campaign promises. And, following a tangent about windmills, he fired up a crowd of hundreds of high school and college students by telling them they are holding at bay a liberal movement that is veering past socialism and into communism — a word he wouldn’t quite say. “Generations of patriots before us didn’t work, fight and sacrifice so we can surrender our country to a raging left-wing mob,” Trump told the audience.
— DATELINE: TALLY —
“Florida is buzzing about a raise for teachers. Will it happen?” via Emily Mahoney and Jeffrey Solochek of the Tampa Bay Times — DeSantis recently declared 2020 the “year of the teacher,” championing a minimum statewide teacher salary of $47,500 and a new bonus program he hopes will soothe the controversies of previous bonus structures. His pitches, if enacted, would total nearly $1 billion, create a potential bipartisan win and bring praise for finally addressing the state’s long-festering teacher shortage. But it’s already become clear it won’t be that easy. Despite broad support for boosting teacher pay, that backing splinters when you go below the surface. Among school boards, teachers’ unions, and even Republican lawmakers, no clear consensus has emerged on how to make it a reality.
“Ron DeSantis welcomes Tyndall reconstruction funds, makes play for space force” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — Trump signed the National Defense Authorization Act, which includes more than $2 billion for Tyndall. Hurricane Michael largely leveled the base in 2018. “While not the first appropriation successfully secured by your Administration to rebuild this critical base, the decision to spend over $2 billion for reconstruction efforts for Tyndall Air Force Base (AFB) sends a strong message to the personnel assigned to the base and residents of Bay County that they are not alone in their efforts to rebuild from Hurricane Michael,” DeSantis wrote. DeSantis also took the opportunity with the budget approval to make a pitch for Florida to become home to the Space Force.
“DeSantis asks special prosecutor to investigate Sunshine complaint at Orlando airport” via Beth Kassab of the Orlando Sentinel — DeSantis asked State Attorney Phil Archer to step in as a special prosecutor to investigate a possible violation of Florida’s open meetings law earlier this year at Orlando International Airport. A spokesman for Archer, the top state prosecutor in Seminole and Brevard counties, said Archer agreed to look into the matter, which originated from a controversy over lucrative attorney contracts that erupted on the board that controls the state’s busiest airport. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement is conducting an investigation and will turn over its findings to Archer’s office.
“Are Gary Farmer’s fingerprints all over the Keith Perry congressional poll?” via Brian Burgess of The Capitolist — A well-known Democrat polling firm run by Steven Vancore asked GOP voters in Republican Congressman Ted Yoho‘s 3rd Congressional District which candidate they prefer as his replacement. The survey by Vancore included the name of State Sen. Perry and omitted the name of longtime Yoho staffer Kat Cammack, who announced her bid for the seat last week. A deeper dive into this particular rabbit hole strongly suggests State Sen. Farmer may have the most to gain from attempting to lure Perry into the race with the polling shenanigans. As Minority Leader for Florida Senate Democrats, Farmer is charged with helping pick up seats, like the one Perry now occupies in the state Senate.
— SESSION IS COMING —
“Bill Galvano intends to keep ‘em busy” via Ana Ceballos and Jim Turner of the News Service of Florida — The Senate president is optimistic that lawmakers in both chambers will be “productive” when the new Session begins. “I feel like we’re well-positioned to be productive for the people of Florida,” Galvano told reporters during a Chick-fil-A breakfast gathering in his fourth-floor Capitol suite. Galvano stressed the need for his legislative colleagues to maintain a civil and respectful discourse, echoing the call for decorum he issued after taking the helm as Senate president late last year. “Turn on the TV right now and watch what is going on right now in Washington (D.C.) and other states,” Galvano said. “We here are trying to get done what we need to get done and not put points on the board.”
“Joe Gruters’ online sales tax could secure as much as $670M in new revenue” via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics — The bill (SB 126) requires internet retailers and online marketplaces to collect state sales tax on items delivered within Florida. The Sarasota Republican has said the effort to balance the playing field for Florida businesses would generate more than $700 million for the state. That guess remains in the ballpark of what the Legislature’s Office of Economic and Demographic Research (EDR) found Friday, EDR coordinator Amy Baker said. In the estimating conference, budget experts made revisions to its methodology. The office’s estimate will not be finalized until this week, still ahead of any changes it might make during the 2020 Legislative Session.
“’Driving while broke’: Lawmakers want to stop suspending driver’s licenses for unpaid fines” via Jeffrey Schweers of the Tallahassee Democrat — Legislation filed by Rep. Byron Donalds, and soon to be filed by Sen. Tom Wright, would eliminate the suspension of driver’s licenses for nonpayment of fines and fees for certain violations. A recent study by the national Fines and Fees Justice Center (FFJC) show these fees adversely and disproportionately affect the poor and people of color. Many of those take their chances driving to work on a suspended license. But that puts them at risk of losing their jobs, their income, their homes, and their ability to pay the government what they owe. Often, they get caught and wind up losing everything, anyway.
“Clay Yarborough expects movement on prison reform issue in 2020” via AG Gancarski of Florida Politics — Yarborough visited Miami’s Everglades Correctional Institute, a facility built in 1991 that houses 1,788 inmates. “It’s in decent shape,” the Republican lawmaker said, compared to those he had seen in North Florida. Despite Everglades being the prison system’s equivalent of the honors dorm, Yarborough noted that some problems are universal. One such: a preponderance of inexperienced guards. Nearly half of them have less than two years of experience. “Retention is a challenge,” Yarborough said, and overtime and vacancies are issues at Everglades as they are everywhere else. Help may be on the way. While Everglades is not on the first-wave of prisons where guards will move to 8.5-hour shifts from the current 12-hour stretches, all expectations are that will happen.
“Democrats in Legislature want age limit for arresting juveniles” via Mike Synan Florida Daily — State Rep. Anna Eskamani filed a bill that would prevent children under the age of 12 from being arrested. The push comes after two six-year-olds were arrested at an Orlando charter school this fall. They were facing charges of misdemeanor battery with reports that one of them kicked a staff member after being restrained. The news hit Eskamani and much of Orlando hard. “Complete shock,” she said. “Children, especially children that are literally acting like kids, shouldn’t be incarcerated because they are kids, and the idea of not one, but two six-year-olds actually being arrested at that time was shocking to all of us.”
“Renting the family dog? Florida lawmakers want to outlaw pet leasing” via Skyler Swisher of the Orlando Sentinel — Animal advocates and state legislators want to outlaw the practice known as pet leasing. Pet owners are paying more than double what their dog is worth and then face a hefty charge at the end of the lease if they want to own their dog outright. Consumers often are duped into signing the contracts and only later discover that they don’t own the dog or cat they thought they had purchased on a payment plan, said Jennifer Hobgood, senior director of state legislation for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals’ Southeast region: “It preys on people’s emotions. It takes advantage of a legal loophole that needs to be closed forever in Florida.”
Happening today — The Revenue Estimating Conference meets to discuss communications-services and gross-receipts taxes, 9 a.m., 117 Knott Building.
— CHRISTMAS IN FLORIDA —
“10 fun Florida experiences worth the drive” via Laura Jazmin Tolliver of Gannett Media — Nights of Lights: Don’t miss out on a chance to watch the oldest city in Florida come alive. Where: St. Augustine When to go: Now through Feb. 2. Surfing Santas: Watch the action or grab your board and hang 10 like Santa. Where: Cocoa Beach When to go: Dec. 24, 2019, 8 a.m. ICE! featuring A Christmas Story: Two million pounds of interactive, hand-carved ice pay homage to the classic holiday film “A Christmas Story.” Where: Orlando When to go: Now through Jan. 5. Old Trolley Tour: Hop on a holiday trolley tour in Key West, soak in the sights, munch on holiday cookies and sip on cider while riding around town. When to go: Now through Dec. 23.
“In Orange County, we truly have Christmas all year long” via Joy Wallace Dickinson of the Orlando Sentinel — How did a crossroads on the palmetto prairie of far-east Orange County — the tiny community of Christmas, Florida — become a kind of far-south branch of North Pole central? The story goes way back to 1837 and the Second Seminole War, when people in what’s now Orange County were fewer than a gator’s teeth. John R.A. Tucker came to Fort Christmas “at a very early period,” according to William Blackman’s 1927 history of Orange County, and “went into the business of raising cattle and hogs, and also the citrus business, which was quite a novelty at that time.” In a state where people consider themselves old-timers if they’ve been here since 1960, the Tuckers have 100 years on them.
“Surfing Santas! Brevard gears up for another year of its favorite holiday spectacle” via Eric Rogers of FLORIDA TODAY — Starting 8 a.m. on Christmas Eve, hundreds of surfers will don their finest Santa garb and take to the waves for the area’s beloved holiday spectacle, now in its 10th year. “Surfing Santas is truly a sight to behold,” event organizer George Trosset said. The original Surfing Santa, Trosset inadvertently started the tradition when a FLORIDA TODAY photographer snapped him in the big red suit while surfing with his family in 2009. The event, which has been featured on the Hallmark Channel and advertised in New York City’s Times Square, annually draws thousands of spectators and since 2013 has raised over $130,000 for charity through donations and sales of official Surfing Santa T-shirts.
“Soul Santa delivers presents to good boys and girls in Tallahassee” via Tori Lynn Schneider of the Tallahassee Democrat — Soul Santa visited two Tallahassee community centers this weekend with record crowds gathering to see him. He arrived by helicopter to the LeVerne Payne Community Center Friday afternoon and by firetruck at the Walker-Ford Community Center Saturday morning. Around 1,000 people flocked to see him at both locations, leaving with gifts and photos of the kids with him and Mrs. Claus. The free Tallahassee tradition of Soul Santa’s visit has been celebrated for over 30 years at the LeVerne Payne and more than two decades at Walker-Ford. Gifts were given out by age group, and local organizations donated all.
“Lone Christmas tree a sight to see at Stuart Beach” via TC Palm — “I think it’s really cute,” Justin Allison said. “I think it represents Florida really well, the wonderful star on top, a wonderful starfish, and all the other seashells going up and down, I think it’s really cute.” The Christmas tree was placed on the beach sometime last week, as a tradition started by Martin County Ocean Rescue lifeguards, and has been a popular photo spot with locals and tourists. “We’re happy to have a tropical simple Florida Christmas, and not be in the cold,” Allison said.
“Retail sweep finds holiday specials ring up wrong at 4% of Florida stores” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — A shopping sweep by the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services found four retail locations out of 100 checked failed to meet accuracy standards. At those sites, between 4% and 20% of items did not ring up with the advertised pricing. Officials ordered those items to be pulled from shelves until problems could be resolved. “While finishing any last-minute holiday shopping, it’s crucial that consumers pay close attention to what they’re being charged at the checkout counter — especially for items marked for a holiday special,” said Agriculture Commissioner Fried.
“How Pensacola celebrated Christmastime in the 1800s” via John Appleyard for the Pensacola News Journal — It’s difficult to imagine today that general stores, even along Palafox Street, did not specialize in holiday merchandise in the 1880s, but that was true. But by 1890, the new railroads were bringing gift merchandise from faraway centers, and the presence of ‘modern’ newspapers provided tales of holidays in other times and places. It was then that local men and their sons began cutting holiday trees, and their wives were actively gathering greens. Stores such as Moreno’s were displaying all manner of imported giftware, and within several of the downtown churches, it had become custom to gather young folks well ahead of Dec. 25, to join for the fun of preparing homemade gifts.
— STATEWIDE —
“Lawyers, judges sprucing up for possible Supreme Court appointment” via the News Service of Florida — Some top-notch lawyers and judges will be polishing their resumes as they try to get appointed to the Florida Supreme Court. Wannabes for two seats on the high court face a Tuesday deadline to submit applications. As of Friday evening, 12 applicants had already handed in their paperwork in a process that stems from Trump naming former Florida Supreme Court justices Robert Luck and Barbara Lagoa to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The openings offer DeSantis an opportunity to appoint two more justices to a Supreme Court he’s already reshaped. After the Tuesday deadline, the Florida Supreme Court Judicial Nominating Commission will review the applications, interview candidates and submit finalists to DeSantis, who will make the appointments.
“Crisis of school violence calls for urgent action, Florida leaders say” via Brittany Wallman and Megan O’Matz of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — Florida’s schools are teeming with disturbed students who endanger their classmates, but the problem is not hopeless. There are clear solutions to reduce the threat to all students, experts say. The Sun-Sentinel heard from officials ― from the Governor to mental health providers to the Broward schools superintendent ― calling for intervention. The comments came in response to the series revealing the frightening number of emotionally disturbed kids with access to guns who routinely threaten the lives of teachers and classmates. Protected by state and federal disability laws, violent children can remain in classrooms until they seriously injure other students.
“Proposals call for more educational and vocational opportunities in Florida prisons” via Ryan McKinnon and Josh Salman of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune — DeSantis has suggested increasing the prison system’s education budget by 20% next year, to ensure every institution in the state has at least one academic teacher. Sen. Jeff Brandes also filed legislation reinstating the inmate welfare trust fund, which would steer the proceeds from commissary sales and inmate phone calls toward more rehabilitative programming. The additional funding for prison education as part of a proposal by DeSantis to increase the Department of Corrections’ annual budget by $115 million, the most significant increase of any state agency.
“Florida dental program draws concerns for people with disabilities” via Christine Sexton of the News Service of Florida — Florida in 2018 placed people with disabilities into a dental program that is run by a handful of managed-care companies. But Agency for Health Care Administration Secretary Mary Mayhew said she’s “acutely concerned” that the program is not working as it should. “Currently, Florida is not meeting the mark on access to dental care, and I am acutely concerned about appropriate access for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities,” Mayhew said. “I intend to hold plans accountable to meeting the necessary targets to ensure timely access to dental care within our Medicaid program.”
“How much did Florida schools lose on bowl games? They won’t say” via Noah Pransky of Florida Politics — Bowl games can be expensive — especially for small and mid-major programs that can’t sell out their required ticket allotments. A bowl game invitation comes with strings attached, as the university is required to sell a certain number of tickets to the game. FSU had to eat the cost of nearly 5,000 tickets to the Independence Bowl, while USF had to eat the cost of more than 7,000 tickets to the Birmingham Bowl. The cost to the school for any unsold or comped tickets is $47 each. Six years ago, UCF — the largest university in the nation — reportedly had to return millions of dollars in tickets to the BCS Fiesta Bowl when it couldn’t sell half of its bowl allotment.
What Craig Pittman is reading — “Part of historic Desert Inn and Restaurant collapses after semi-truck hits building, FHP reports” via Sara Marino of TCPalm — Florida Highway Patrol troopers said around 3:15 a.m. they went to the historic building, located at 5570 South Kenansville Road, next to SR 60 in Osceola County, after a man driving an orange juice semi-truck crashed into it. The driver of the semi-truck, 50-year-old Mareo Crawley, of Illinois, told troopers he was driving northbound on U.S. 441 when he went westbound and hit the building. Crawley told troopers he didn’t realize he drove off the road and that it was dark.
— MOTHER NATURE —
“U.S. Sugar won’t appeal court ruling and trusts Army Corps won’t go ‘rogue’ with discharge schedule” via Florida Politics — The agricultural leader made clear it still had concerns about past discharges, which took Lake Okeechobee levels down near the shortage range. But company officials expressed confidence the Corps will cease such actions in the future. “The Court’s recent ruling accepted the Army Corps’ statements that it has ceased all discharges of Lake Okeechobee water under the 2018 and 2019 Additional Operational Flexibility actions,” said U.S. Sugar spokeswoman Judy Clayton Sanchez. “While the court case was dismissed because it involved the Army Corps’ past actions, the Army Corps clearly acknowledged it will not continue discharging water as it did in 2018 and 2019.”
“Florida boaters broke the all-time record for killing manatees this year” via Colin Wolf of Creative Loafing Tampa Bay — According to preliminary data from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, boat strikes have killed 129 manatees through December 13 of this year, which is a record. Despite having a couple more weeks to go in the year, Florida has already passed 2018’s record of 125 manatee deaths by boat. In total, 545 manatees died in Florida waters so far this year. Natural causes were the leading source of death, claiming 230 manatees. But things like cold stress (53), and perinatal death (72), also contributed to these numbers. Locally, 26 manatees died in Hillsborough County, and Pinellas County added another 25. Overall, 16 manatees died in the Tampa Bay area because of watercraft collisions last year.
“Surfside prepares for sea rise with new resilience fund” via Alex Harris of the Miami Herald — Surfside, a small island town north of Miami Beach, is facing sea-level rise issues head-on with a new climate crisis plan that includes what could be a first-of-its-kind fund for relocation and retreat. Surfside is a half-square-mile town of hard ground. The island town faces two feet of sea rise by 2060. With that much water, the town has $45 million of property value at risk. By the end of the century, that number jumps to $1.3 billion. This month, Surfside’s commission unanimously approved a laundry list of climate measures, like taking an inventory of the city’s emissions, updating a stormwater master plan, and developing a retreat strategy.
— CHRISTMAS READS —
“Notre Dame Cathedral to miss first Christmas in centuries” via Thomas Adamson of The Associated Press — Notre Dame kept Christmas going even during two world wars — yet an accidental fire in peacetime finally stopped the Paris cathedral from celebrating Midnight Mass this year, for the first time in over two centuries. Officials are trying hard to focus on the immediate task of keeping burned out Notre Dame ’s spirit alive in exile through service, song and prayer. It has decamped its rector, famed statue, liturgy and Christmas celebrations to a new temporary home pending the restoration works, just under a mile away, at another Gothic church in Paris called Saint-Germain l’Auxerrois. And there it will remain, as works slowly progress to rebuild the cathedral.
“From Rudolph to Charlie Brown, your favorite Christmas cartoons hold political messages” via Blair Davis of the Tallahassee Democrat — I’ve noticed a pattern in the holiday hijinks of Rudolph, Charlie and Mr. Grinch: Their stories are really about deeper issues to do with social status, class struggles, identity politics and capitalism. This year, especially, the themes running through these Yuletide yarns seem to echo those peppering many a presidential campaign. Here is what I’ve gleaned: All of these cartoons offer up main characters who are exiled from their communities, be it through choice or duress. In each case, these festive fellows are faced with a stark choice: social conformity or isolation. These shows continue asking the same questions about some of our most important concerns, like whether capitalism offers all the answers about what society should value.
“Blame the Society for the Prevention of Useless Gifts for that overly practical present” via Livia Gershon of Quartz — In the early twentieth century, gift advice began to focus on useful things. The movement toward practical gifts represented a dovetailing of two trends. The Arts and Crafts movement promoted a simple aesthetic, while home economics and domestic hygiene advocates worked to rationalize domestic life. A Progressive-Era coalition of wealthy and working-class women formed an organization to address the issue, the Society for the Prevention of Useless Giving (SPUG). They pledged to tell those taking up such collections to tell them, “I am a SPUG. I don’t believe in giving useless Christmas gifts.” Former President Theodore Roosevelt joined in, becoming the first male SPUG.
But why? — “How to pull off a no-gifts Christmas” via Michelle Singletary of The Washington Post — Start with a commitment to get off the gift-giving train, at least until you’ve taken care of some important things like saving for retirement or building an emergency fund. (By the way, having a credit card “in case of an emergency” is not the same as having a rainy-day fund.) Now, if you’re going to do a no-gift Christmas, here are some rules you need to follow: Give people plenty of warning; You don’t need buy-in from everyone; Don’t spring your no-gift idea while you’re opening presents; Don’t overshare; Don’t tell people what do to with their money. A no-gift Christmas doesn’t have to mean you can’t be generous. Time is such a precious commodity, so spend more of it with the people you love. That’s a gift they can’t regift or take back to the store.
“In Sweden’s Arctic, ice atop snow leaves reindeer starving” via David Keyton of The Associated Press — Climate change is altering weather patterns here and affecting the food supply. Sami herding communities fear climate change could mean the end of their traditional lifestyle. Unusually early snowfall in autumn was followed by rain that froze, trapping food under a thick layer of ice. Unable to eat, the hungry animals have scattered from their traditional migration routes in search of new grazing grounds. The Arctic is warming twice as fast as the rest of the globe. Snowfall is common in these areas, but as temperatures increase, occasional rainfall occurs — and ‘rain-on-snow’ events have devastating effects. The food is still there, but the reindeer can’t reach it.
“Eggnog, a Christmas drink rich in holiday tradition” via Trevor Fraser of the Orlando Sentinel — Eggnog has kind of a weird rap. Half of the word is “egg,” which isn’t something most people think of as a drink. Then the other half is “nog,” a mystery syllable that doesn’t exactly conjure appetizing thoughts. It’s either a sweet, creamy treat, or it’s a thick, sugary glop that coats your tongue, depending on how your taste buds fall. So what is the appeal that brings people back to it year after year? Some of the answer lies in the history of the drink. But that’s not the history that connects people to it. It’s the part where Charles Dickens writes about it, the part where it becomes a Christmas treat.
— D.C. MATTERS —
“Escape to Mar-a-Lago: Trump gets a post-impeachment mood lift” via Meredith McGraw of POLITICO — “He’s very happy to be back at what he calls the winter White House and is happy to take a break from the cold and craziness of his job,” said George “Guido” Lombardi, a Mar-a-Lago member and longtime Trump friend. “It’s the only time that he’s got to be his real self and let down.” For aides, Mar-a-Lago can sometimes be a headache, as there is less control over who gets face time with the president and who might be able to whisper an idea in his ear. But that’s the way Trump likes to be, unfettered and able to do what he loves best — playing host, golfing with friends, watching television and working away from the confines of the West Wing.
“Trump airs his grievances as MAGA millennials mingle” the Meridith McGraw of POLITICO — Trump rallied a crowd of young supporters with a colorful airing of grievances Saturday night, just days after becoming the third president in American history to be impeached. “Crazy Nancy, she’s crazy,” the president said of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. “So now she says she has no case, so let’s not submit it. That’s good, right? But you know what, so unfair. She has no case,” Trump said, lingering on Pelosi’s decision to, at least temporarily, withhold the articles of impeachment in a bid to force Senate Republicans to hold a fair trial. Trump’s remarks came as he kicked off his two-week winter getaway with the keynote address to Turning Point USA’s annual student action summit.
“Space Force will start small but let Trump claim a big win” via The Associated Press — In signing the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act that includes Space Force, Trump claimed a victory for one of his top national security priorities just two days after being impeached by the House. It is part of a $1.4 trillion government spending package — including the Pentagon’s budget — that provides a steady stream of financing for Trump’s U.S.-Mexico border fence and reverses unpopular and unworkable automatic spending cuts to defense and domestic programs. “Space is the world’s new war-fighting domain,” Trump said during a signing ceremony. “Among grave threats to our national security, American superiority in space is absolutely vital. And we’re leading, but we’re not leading by enough, and very shortly, we’ll be leading by a lot.”
“Expect testy Trump during holiday stay” via Antonio Fins of the Palm Beach Post — Trump arrived in Palm Beach Friday night for a 17-day holiday sojourn, his longest visit to his now home state since his inauguration. The respite comes as Trump suffered the stinging ignominy of becoming only the third president in the nation’s 230-year constitutional history to be impeached on accusations of high crimes and misdemeanors. But it is a combative and defiant Trump, far from a chastened or sulking president, who is expected to be received with cheers and jeers in South Florida. On Friday, he taunted House Speaker Nancy Pelosi with a tweet. “Nancy Pelosi is looking for a Quid Pro Quo with the Senate. Why aren’t we Impeaching her?” he wrote.
“$1 billion for Briny Breezes? Real estate broker thinks Trump would buy … and residents are listening” via Jorge Milian of the Palm Beach Post — A Palm Beach County trailer park could be the site of a future Donald J. Trump presidential library. That’s the vision of James Arena, a real estate broker and resident of Briny Breezes, the 43-acre coastal town just south of Boynton Beach that’s made up entirely of a mobile home park. Arena says he thinks he can convince the president to buy the land. Arena said he has the ball rolling by reaching out to his friend, rapper and Palm Beach County resident Vanilla Ice, who is close to the Trump family. “Vanilla Ice ran it by Donald Jr.,” Arena said of the president’s eldest son. “He called me back and said, ‘Man, I think they’re really into it.’”
“Trump’s loyal apprentice in Congress” via Jacob Bacharach of The New Republic — If Trump owes his fame to saying, “You’re fired!” to a crew of fake businesspeople, then Matt Gaetz is perfectly positioned to assume the role of cocksure reality TV contestant: confident in his own inevitable status as a finalist on the biggest soundstage of all. Gaetz describes himself on Twitter as a “Florida man proudly serving the First District in Congress,” a tongue-in-cheek reference to a meme in which a generically identified “Florida Man.” The joke is rooted in the popular image of Florida as the slightly sinister underbelly of America. But Gaetz has a Trumpian penchant for turning the worst things one might say about him into a point of pride.
“1 in every 4 circuit court judges is now a Trump appointee” via Colby Itkowitz of The Washington Post — After three years in office, Trump has remade the federal judiciary, ensuring a conservative tilt for decades and cementing his legacy no matter the outcome of November’s election. Two of his picks sit on the Supreme Court. And this past week, as the House voted to impeach the president, the Republican-led Senate confirmed an additional 13 district court judges. In total, Trump has installed 187 judges to the federal bench. Trump’s mark on the judiciary is already having far-reaching effects on legislation and liberal priorities. Just last week, the 5th Circuit struck down a core provision of the Affordable Care Act. One of the two appellate judges who ruled against the landmark law was a Trump appointee.
“House asks for documents in Jeffrey Epstein probe from DOJ” via The Associated Press — House Democrats asked for documents from federal prosecutors and Florida law enforcement officials as part of a probe into how Epstein received a secret plea deal more than a decade ago after he was accused of molesting underage girls. The House Committee on Oversight and Reform sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General William Barr, asking for all emails about the plea deal and how victims should have been notified. Earlier this year, a federal judge ruled Epstein’s victims should have been consulted under federal law about the deal.
— 2020 —
“Trump to hold evangelicals event in Miami” via the News Service of Florida — Trump will hold a campaign event Jan. 3 in Miami to launch an “Evangelicals for Trump” coalition. “The event will bring together evangelicals from across the nation who support President Trump’s reelection,” the announcement said. The event is scheduled for 5 p.m., though the campaign did not announce the location. The announcement comes just days after a blistering editorial by Christianity Today, a prominent evangelical magazine founded by Billy Graham, calling for the President’s removal from office.
— “Voters in Sarasota-Manatee reflect partisan split on impeachment” via Zac Anderson of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune
“Will St. Lucie County, pro-Trump in 2016, be bellwether in 2020 election?” via Laurence Reisman for TCPalm — As we consider 2020, counties like St. Lucie might be bellwethers in the 2020 presidential race. Why? Democrats have controlled St. Lucie County for years. About 39 percent of the county’s voters are Democrat vs. 33 percent Republican and 28 percent independent. The St. Lucie Democrats’ website notes the county’s five constitutional officers, four of five (supposedly nonpartisan) school board members, and three of five county commissioners are Democrats. What’s missing from the Democrats’ page is a congressman. Members of both parties have represented the county, most recently Republican Brian Mast, who followed Democrat Patrick Murphy.
“Trump campaign plagued by groups raising tens of millions in his name” via Maggie Severns of POLITICO — As President Trump raises money for his reelection campaign, he’s competing for cash with a growing mass of pro-Trump PACs, dark money groups and off-brand Facebook advertisers neither affiliated with nor endorsed by Trump’s campaign, which have pulled in over $46 million so far. The groups mimic Trump’s brand in the way they look and feel.They borrow the president’s Twitter avatar on Facebook pages, use clips of Trump’s voice in robocalls asking for ‘an emergency contribution to the campaign’ and, in some cases, have been affiliated with former Trump aides, such as onetime deputy campaign manager David Bossie. But most are spending little money to help the president win in 2020, POLITICO found. The unofficial pro-Trump boosters number in the hundreds and are alarming the actual operatives charged with reelecting the president: They suck up money that Trump aides think should be going to the campaign or the Republican National Committee, and they muddy the Trump campaign’s message and make it harder to accumulate new donors, Trump allies say.
“Pete Buttigieg leads his 2020 rivals in Wall Street contributions” via Alexandra Jaffee of The Associated Press — The Mayor of South Bend, Indiana, has collected more campaign cash from donors and political action committees tied to the financial, insurance and real estate sector than any other White House hopeful, according to data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics. The $3.06 million in contributions compares to $2.8 million directed toward former Vice President Biden and $2.03 million for Sen. Cory Booker, whose home state of New Jersey has strong ties to Wall Street. While Buttigieg is hardly alone in turning to the finance industry for support, the data could leave him exposed to further attacks from his progressive rivals, especially Sen. Elizabeth Warren.
“Buttigieg shifts to center, embodying the Democratic primary’s rightward drift” via Chelsea Janes of The Washington Post — Eleven months after entering the race, Buttigieg is looking more like a traditional centrist than a leftist force. Instead of Medicare-for-all, he favors a more limited public option. Environmentalists complain his climate plan is less sweeping than his early rhetoric suggested. After raising his hand at a debate to show support for decriminalizing border crossings, he clarified that he doesn’t actually hold that position. The shifts reflect in part the broader trajectory of the Democratic primary, which initially appeared to herald a dramatic leftward surge. The center of gravity is settling in a less revolutionary place. Many liberals — at first excited by Buttigieg and the change he promised — now see him as embodying a dynamic they find deeply frustrating.
“Amy Klobuchar works to boost momentum in Iowa” via Ken Thomas and Chad Day of The Wall Street Journal — Klobuchar, whose bus tour includes stops in 27 counties through Monday, is campaigning at a breakneck pace as her stock rises in Iowa polls, and growing audiences cheer her most recent debate performance. She has visited nearly all of the state’s counties and has maintained a schedule that kept her at public events more than 12 hours a day. Once considered a long-shot, Klobuchar has worked her way into a group of five leading contenders in Iowa, outlasting better-known candidates such as California Sen. Kamala Harris and former Rep. Beto O’Rourke of Texas.
— THE TRAIL —
“John Morgan challenges GOP leaders on minimum wage: ‘Put up or shut up’” via Steven Lemongello of the Orlando Sentinel — Morgan made a direct challenge to Florida Republicans over their opposition to his campaign to raise the state’s minimum wage to $15 by 2026: “If you’ve got a better idea than my idea, do something.” Morgan also harshly criticized business groups for their opposition what will Amendment 2 on the 2020 ballot, claiming they prefer “slave labor.” He spoke directly to José Oliva, DeSantis and Senate President Galvano, asking what they’ve done to fix the issue. “Look, you have had a lot of time to do something about these inadequate wages,” Morgan said. “You had Session after Session after Session after Session. And you’ve got a Session coming up. … Put up or shut up.”
“Jimmy Buffett backs Make It Legal Florida marijuana petition drive” via Mark Skoneki of the Orlando Sentinel — In a video, Buffett holds a petition being circulated through the mail by the group, and says, “Hello, Florida, it’s Jimmy here. Pot, weed, marijuana, cannabis — whatever you call it, it’s good medicine. Make it legal.” Make it Legal Florida has reached more than 190,000 verified signatures and “is currently awaiting the verification of hundreds of thousands more from supervisors of elections around the state,” according to a news release.
To watch the video, click on the image below:
“Senate leaders to hold January fundraiser for Ana Maria Rodriguez Senate bid” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — Republican leadership in the Senate is once again pushing to raise money for state Rep. Rodriguez as she pursues the Senate District 39 seat. A fundraiser for Rodriguez is Monday, Jan. 13. Galvano, President-designate Wilton Simpson and Senate Majority Leader Kathleen Passidomo will host. Passidomo is in line for the Senate President position as well in 2022. The January fundraiser will be in Tallahassee from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. Top Republicans have been behind the Rodriguez Senate campaign since before it even began.
“How Scientology is playing in a critical Clearwater election” via Tracy McManus of the Tampa Bay Times — Forty-four years after the Church of Scientology established its international spiritual headquarters downtown, its profile is more prominent in this election than any other in recent years. An activist who spent years speaking against what he calls Scientology fraud and abuse is running for a council seat. A candidate for mayor has family on church staff. And the church is staying silent about its intentions after revelations that companies tied to Scientology have been buying up dozens of downtown retail properties over the last three years. But ideas on how to address Scientology’s growing stronghold in downtown are still absent from most of the 13 candidates’ public platforms, websites and flyers. Instead, the topic surfaces the way it has for years — in private conversations, with code words and generalities, and in public only at the prompting of a few.
— LOCAL —
“How will Miami-Dade teachers fare in DeSantis’ ‘Year of the Teacher?’” via Emily Mahoney Jeffrey Solochek and Colleen Wright of the Tampa Bay Times — DeSantis recently championed a $47,500 starting salary and a new bonus program designed to soothe the controversies of previous bonus structures. In the Legislature, Miami Republicans have raised the issue of equity when it comes to places with higher costs of living. Monroe County’s minimum teacher salary is already $47,500, and Miami-Dade’s falls just below when the temporary boost from a property tax referendum is included. Miami-Dade’s starting base pay for a teacher is $41,000, not including any additional money from the referendum. But that doesn’t mean their teachers don’t deserve raises, or that South Florida taxpayers should bear the costs of boosting salaries in other parts of the state, some argue.
“State Rep. Michael Grieco to face ‘formal complaint’ from Florida Bar over fundraising scandal” via Nicholas Nehamas and David Smiley of the Miami Herald — Grieco has already been charged with a crime and is battling civil sanctions over a fundraising scandal during his failed run for Miami Beach Mayor. Now Grieco, a criminal defense attorney, could face professional repercussions from the Florida Bar as well. In a notice issued to Grieco earlier this month, the Bar said it had found “probable cause to prepare a formal complaint” against the Democrat, who pleaded no contest in 2017 to a misdemeanor charge that a political committee that he was secretly running accepted $25,000 worth of foreign money funneled through a straw donor.
“Did a Miami-based modeling agency fuel Epstein’s ‘machine of abuse’?” via Linda Robertson, Julie Brown and Nicholas Nehamas of the Miami Herald — The MC2 Model Management office has been locked for at least two years, and the parade of aspiring cover girls has ceased. Here Epstein and Jean-Luc Brunel created the boutique firm MC2, years before Epstein’s arrest on charges of sex-trafficking minors. What better pipeline than a modeling agency that would recruit young girls dreaming of a glamorous career and provide a stream of slender bodies as if they were strutting down Epstein’s personal catwalk? The underage girls from Royal Palm Beach High, shopping malls and trailer parks enticed to Epstein’s waterfront estate to give him massages — massages that turned into sexual assaults. He also had an appetite for models, and Brunel fed that appetite.
“Super Bowl python hunt ‘glorifies’ slaughter of snakes, should be canceled, PETA says” via Adriana Brasileiro of the Miami Herald — People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) wants the Miami Super Bowl Host Committee to cancel the 2020 Python Bowl. In a letter to Rodney Barreto, chair of the Host Committee, and to all committee members, PETA President Ingrid Newkirk said the event could potentially upset animal-friendly football fans because it’s disrespectful to the Burmese pythons, which are an invasive species. “The NFL should play no part in Florida’s war on wildlife. When inexperienced and untrained individuals go barging about in forests and swamps on a macho mission to kill, things don’t end well,” Newkirk wrote in the letter.
— MORE LOCAL —
“Feud shows outside investigators, not city lawyers, need to probe JEA controversies” via Nate Munro of the Florida Times-Union — The top lawyer at City Hall and JEA’s former chief legal counsel exchanged explosive accusations in emails amid continued bloodletting at JEA over a slew of controversies and a possible investigation by the State Attorney’s Office, casting a cloud over the ability of city lawyers to internally investigate issues surrounding ousted JEA CEO Aaron Zahn. Lynne Rhode, who resigned as JEA’s legal counsel, accused city General Counsel Jason Gabriel of sending two underlings to ambush Rhode. The meeting prompted her resignation, and she said she plans to retain a lawyer. “I was stunned and appalled at being ambushed at a meeting this afternoon by your deputies … Of course, you were not there,” she wrote.
“Florida cities get smart with ‘The Internet of Things’” via Carole Hawkins of the Palm Beach Post — Last year, the Bay Street Innovation Corridor got its first capital infusion — half of a $25 million federal grant paired with state and local matches. That money sent the Jacksonville Transportation Authority shopping for a fleet of autonomous vehicles for Bay Street. The Innovation Corridor is not just a collection of tech gadgets, though. It’s a more fundamental shift to a city that runs smarter and leaner by plugging its assets into the Internet of Things. In that broader tale, The Innovation Corridor is neither the first act nor that final scene. The Internet of Things has been quietly developing in Jacksonville for over a decade. Its future is much larger than a 3-mile stretch of Downtown roadway.
“Indian River County loses main fight against Virgin Trains in U.S. Court of Appeals” via Joshua Solomon of TCPalm — Indian River County lost its primary, long-standing legal battle with Virgin Trains on Friday. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia firmly struck down the case, which once included Martin County and Citizens Against Rail Expansion in Florida. By the end, though, Indian River County, $3.5 million into the fight, failed to convince the courts that tax-exempt private activity bonds improperly financed the higher-speed passenger rail company formerly known as Brightline. “The county is disappointed with the D.C. Circuit’s decision,” County Administrator Jason Brown. The possibility of an appeal to the Supreme Court was not immediately ruled out, Brown said, “but we have to evaluate all of our options.”
“Inside the negotiations that led to the breakup between Tallahassee and its new police chief” via Jeff Burlew of the Tallahassee Democrat — City Manager Reese Goad was at a holiday party when he said he first got wind Tallahassee’s new police chief, Antonio Gilliam, was thinking about walking away. Gilliam had been talking and texting with Deputy City Manager Cynthia Barber, who was at the party. They realized he had reservations about taking the job and called him to address his concerns. “When we spoke, I shared with him that we could work out any issues that he had,” Goad said. “That there had been no disagreements, and we would work directly the next day to resolve all concerns.” But the next morning, Gilliam sleep called Goad to say he’d made up his mind. Goad couldn’t talk him out of it.
“I was a member of TPD’s brass. The excessive micromanagement from the city was unrelenting” via Richard Schill for the Tallahassee Democrat — When I was hired at TPD, my background and experience had already afforded me a 25-year career within law enforcement in a much larger urban metropolitan area. The practical experience brought a fresh perspective to organizational management within the police department. Over a two-year period, I would constantly see direct, unneeded oversight and micromanagement of former Police Chief Michael DeLeo and his executive staff (of which I was a member) from the assistant city manager level. This micromanagement and over-involvement with direct organizational and personnel matters was constant. It was so excessive and intense that virtually every decision was pushed to the assistant city manager before a decision could be made.
“Volusia tourism weathers the storm in 2019” via Jim Abbott of the Daytona Beach News-Journal — After logging a record 10.2 million visitors in 2018, the tourism industry in Volusia County struggled to maintain momentum this year in the face of challenges that included a costly brush with a Labor Day hurricane and the looming prospect of a cloudier economic forecast. “Will we do the 10.2 million that we did last year?” said Bob Davis, president and CEO of the Lodging & Hospitality Association of Volusia County. “I can’t project that. It’s not that I don’t think so, it’s that I know so. How can we do it when we lost September, October, and part of August?”
“UWF football wins national championship with historic offensive explosion” via Eric Wallace of the Pensacola News Journal — The University of West Florida held off Minnesota State 48-40 on Saturday afternoon in McKinney, Texas, obliterating the NCAA Division II championship game record book in a historic title-winning performance. For the fourth consecutive week, UWF defeated a previously unbeaten foe, this time avenging a 2017 loss in the NCAA Division II National Championship Game. It’s a moment only made sweeter by 2017’s heartbreaking end. “(2017) left a bitter taste in our mouth,” UWF wide receiver Quentin Randolph said. “ … You can Google UWF-Texas A&M-Commerce, and there are bad photos on there of us losing. Now when you Google ‘UWF national championship,’ you’re gonna like what you saw.”
— OPINIONS —
“Jeff Flake: The president is on trial. So are my Senate Republican colleagues.” via The Washington Post — Trump is on trial. But in a very real sense, so are you. And so is the political party to which we belong. I ask you to remember yourself at your most idealistic. We are conservatives. The political impulses that compelled us all to enter public life were defined by sturdy pillars anchored deep in the American story. Chief among these is a realistic view of power and of human nature, and a corresponding and healthy mistrust of concentrated and impervious executive power. Mindful of the base human instincts that we all possess, the founders of our constitutional system designed its very architecture to curb excesses of power.
“Matt Gaetz: Democrats’ new plan: Tax breaks for millionaires” via Florida Politics — The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act has been very good to Florida — especially the provision limiting state and local tax (SALT) deductions to $10,000. By freeing taxpayers from the burden of subsidizing millionaires, capping the SALT deduction has created legions of new Floridians. But blue-state Democrats, bowing to the demands of the donor class, are determined to throw sand in the gears of Trump’s economy. Democrats are doubling down on ideas the American people hate, and just voted to suspend the $10,000 cap on SALT deductions. The Joint Committee on Taxation has estimated that repealing the cap would decrease the tax burden of 13.1 million taxpayers. 99% of those taxpayers are those with annual incomes of $100,000 or more.
“Florida’s prisons need deep reforms, and even deeper funding” via the Florida Times-Union editorial board — Florida’s prison system has gone from excellent, to satisfactory, to marginal. That’s the opinion of Mark Inch, Florida’s secretary of the Department of Corrections. “The status quo is not sustainable,” he said. “We are now at the point that we must pay for the savings garnered in previous years.” Heading into Session, Inch is asking lawmakers to spend $2.8 billion on the corrections department during the 2020-2021 fiscal year, a $142 million boost from the agency’s current year’s budget. That will go to address a trifecta of problems: crumbling facilities, health care costs and staffing levels. A significant portion of the extra dollars, Inch said, would go toward retaining staff, which he believes is the biggest problem in the department.
“Guns don’t belong under your Christmas tree. They don’t belong in your home, either” via Steven Sainsbury of the Miami Herald — I have worked in both inner-city and small-town emergency rooms. I have treated hundreds of gunshot victims and pronounced so many patients dead from gunshot wounds that I prefer not to keep count. Guns don’t mean anything positive to me. They signify only death and destruction. They are certainly nothing to put in a festive box with a bow under a Christmas tree. When you buy a gun, you may think you are purchasing a weapon to protect your family, your home, or your possessions. Perhaps you want to own a weapon in case society or the government breaks down, and you need to defend yourself in troubled times. You may as well be worrying about a zombie apocalypse.
— ALOE —
“‘Super Saturday’ expected to rake in billions more than Black Friday” via WINK News — Even bigger than Black Friday, “Super Saturday” is supposed to be the biggest shopping day of the year this weekend. According to some predictions, it’s supposed to be $3 billion bigger. ”I think it’s pretty similar. These are the last-minute shoppers,” Julie Arensman said. “And I think the Black Friday people might have more wisdom than we realized.”
“’Rise of Skywalker’ opens with $175.5 million; ‘Cats’ flops” via Jake Coyle of The Associated Press — The Force was a little less strong with “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.” J.J. Abrams’ Skywalker finale couldn’t match its recent predecessors on opening weekend, but it still amassed a $175.5 million debut that ranked as the third-largest weekend of the year. “The Rise of Skywalker” came in with worse reviews than any “Star Wars” movie except for 1999′s “The Phantom Menace.” “The Rise of Skywalker” pulled in $374 million worldwide, according to studio estimates. Such expectations did not await Tom Hooper’s adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Cats.” The much-ridiculed big-screen musical, featuring infamous “digital fur technology,” scratched out just $6.5 million in ticket sales.
“Florida hospital dresses newborns in Star Wars outfits” via WFLA — A Florida women’s hospital dressed up a cast of newborns as everyone’s favorite Star Wars characters. AdventHealth for Women in Orlando is now home to a newborn Baby Yoda (literally), BB-8, Luke and Leia Skywalker, and other Star Wars favorites. Advent says the babies are getting into character in celebration of the new Star Wars movie “The Rise of Skywalker.”
“How Hallmark took over cable television” via Sarah Larson of The New Yorker — Hallmark films tend to center on independent women with interesting jobs (novelists, chocolatiers) and appealing romantic prospects (princes, firemen). Programming is seasonal; as the year progresses, characters pair up amid winter wonderlands, Valentine’s Day chocolate-making contests, fireworks celebrations, pumpkin patches, and Christmas parties. The familiarity of the films is essential to their success. Hallmark’s America is also straight, often Christian, and, until recently, mostly white. A key tenet of Hallmark screenplays, the veteran writer-director Ron Oliver told me, is that conflict “can never seem like it’s gone so far that it can’t be resolved.”
“The art of imperfection: People are turning to robots to write their ‘handwritten’ cards” via Abha Bhattarai of The Washington Post — Technology is being deployed to try to replicate a human touch, as a growing number of consumers turn to pen-wielding robots that can mimic the loops and patterns of the human hand. These robot-scribed cards and letters are testing the proposition that machines can generate the intimacy of a handwritten note. Some services include smudges and ink blots in their mailings. Others program the robots to be imprecise — varying the pressure on the pens, for example, or inconsistently sizing characters and spacing — to make the writing appear believably human. At Handwrytten, a fast-growing service in Phoenix, robots are outfitted with Pilot G2 pens in blue ink because, founder David Wachs says, it’s “more realistic-looking” than black.
— HOLIDAY CHEER —
“NORAD is tracking Santa again for Christmas 2019” via WTSP — NORAD is springing back into action this year as a dependable resource for children and parents to track Santa Clause as he delivers Christmas presents to children across the globe. This year, just like in previous years, you will be able to track Santa right alongside NORAD, with their online Santa tracker. It takes a lot of modern technology to complete this mission each year. NORAD says they use satellite systems, high-powered radar, and special Santa Cameras to keep an eye on St. Nick as he works hard to get those presents out. Santa has to compete with the likes of Amazon and other major retailers with fast delivery options.
“Trying to reach the North Pole? Check your Wi-Fi” via Emily Rueb of The New York Times — Yes, Virginia, children still handwrite wishes to the North Pole and whisper them into Santa’s ear at the mall. But today’s insta-culture demands responses faster than Santa’s sleigh. While some attempts at digitizing Santa have failed spectacularly, a growing number of companies are making renewed attempts to connect children with Santa via text message, email and video chat. In the old days, only parents were listening in on these conversations, and Santa Claus was not in the business of collecting data. Now there are new rules of engagement around privacy and security for parents, children and even Santa himself.
“Shocked? Electric eel powers aquarium’s Christmas lights” via The Associated Press — Visitors to the Tennessee Aquarium may be shocked to learn that an electric eel named Miguel Wattson is lighting up a Christmas tree. A special system connected to Miguel’s tank enables his shocks to power strands of lights on a nearby tree, according to a news release. Miguel releases low-voltage blips of electricity when he is trying to find food, aquarist Kimberly Hurt said. That translates to a rapid, dim blinking of the Christmas lights. When he is eating or excited, he emits higher voltage shocks which cause bigger flashes. Wattson has his own Twitter account where he shares tweets generated by his sparky self, courtesy of coding by Tennessee Tech University’s iCube center.
“Is it Hanukkah, Chanukah or Chanuka? Eight things to know about the festival of lights” via Carli Teproff of the Miami Herald — The word (no matter how you spell it) means dedication. The holiday is the rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem after Jews were banned from practicing their faith there more than 2,000 years ago. The main Hanukkah foods are latkes (potato pancakes) and sufganiyot (doughnuts). The reason: Oil. Oil is synonymous with the holiday’s miracle. And lots of it is used to fry up these favorites. Hanukkah music tends to follow three basic themes — miracles, light and freedom, said Temple Beth Am Cantor Rachelle Nelson. Hanukkah rarely begins on the same night every year. Because of the Lunar calendar, Hanukkah can be as early as Thanksgiving (which it was in 2013) or even fall into the new year.
— HAPPY BIRTHDAY —
Celebrating today is the classiest of state Senators, Lizbeth Benacquisto. Also celebrating today are Anne Gannon, Mark Hanisee, Nikki Lowrey, and our dear friend, Amy Zubaly. Happy Christmas Eve birthday in advance to Barney Bishop and the very considerate Dave Murzin. Those with Christmas birthdays include former Gov. Bob Martinez, Rep. Ralph Massullo, Chris Arbutine, Tim Miller, and Jamie Yarbrough, as well as our friends Logan Lewkow, Winn Peebles and Patrick Slevin. The day after Christmas belongs to Lobby Tools’ Mark Herron. Celebrating on Dec. 27 is Emma‘s dad, Skylar Zander, as well as Kim Hawkes, Lindsay McGee of GrayRobinson, and Michelle Ubben, the force behind Sachs Media Group. Next Saturday’s birthday wishes go out to Rep. Nick Duran, Michael Danish, Amy Hollyfield of the Tampa Bay Times, and Ali Vincent.
Sunburn is authored and assembled by Peter Schorsch, Phil Ammann, A.G. Gancarski, Renzo Downey and Drew Wilson.