Ed. Note — As Peter continues to address the serious health issue with his wife, Michelle, the staff of Florida Politics also goes on to assemble Sunburn for you, our loyal readers and fans. Please, join us all in sending healing thoughts, prayers, and good wishes to Michelle and Peter as she begins the long road to recovery. Thank you for your support. God bless.
Believe it or not, “The Happiest Place on Earth” is the tagline for Disneyland, not Disney World. But try telling that to Orlando, which is about to snag as many as 2,000 high-paying jobs away from Disney’s California HQ. That made for many good weekends in Central Florida.
But it wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows this weekend. Unfortunately, the pandemic is still alive and well.
The delta variant is spreading like wildfire among the unvaccinated population. In Florida, hospitalizations numbers shot up 73% since mid-June after six months of decline. The state now has the fourth-highest hospitalization rate in the country, so maybe hold off a couple of weeks before ordering some “Don’t Fauci my Florida” swag.
But it’s worse in Missouri, where ICUs are filling up with young people. Some experts are even predicting the winter there — and other states lagging in vaccinations — could be worse than last, and some scientists say our chances of ending the pandemic are fast slipping away. The Show-Me State might need to become the Show Me Your Vaccine Passport State to get over the hump.
Speaking of vaccine passports, Florida’s ban may be on the way out.
A panel of the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 2-1 that the CDC’s cruise guidelines are rules — not suggestions — kneecapping Florida’s law banning cruise companies from requiring proof of vaccination to board.
The court decision probably put a damper on Gov. Ron DeSantis’ and Attorney General Ashley Moody’s weekend, but the folks at Norwegian Cruise Lines, which sued to overturn Florida’s ban in a separate case, are jumping for joy. Some of their future passengers are probably breathing a sigh of relief, too.
If their planning to board a ship on the Gulf Coast, however, they might not want to do much breathing. There’s a massive red tide outbreak in the Tampa Bay area and there’s no sign it’s slowing down.
It’s bad enough that more than 100 protesters spent their Saturday marching along the St. Petersburg waterfront calling on DeSantis to declare a state of emergency. Meanwhile, the City of St. Pete has moving workers from other departments to help remove hundreds of tons of dead fish from the bay — they even had to bring in a backhoe to get a 400 lb. grouper out of the water last week.
While notable, the Red Tide protest pales in comparison to what’s going on in Miami, where demonstrations in support of a free Cuba are entering their second week. Some have even decided to take their show on the road, boarding buses to Washington to call on President Joe Biden to intervene.
Let’s just hope they steer clear of Nationals Park, where America’s pastime collided with … well, America’s other pastime when three fans were shot during the sixth inning of Saturday evening’s game against the Padres.
The bad weekend streak continues for U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz. An Anaheim “America First” rally he was scheduled to appear alongside U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene was canceled over “public safety concerns.” Still, he did post one of the best finance reports in Congress last quarter, so maybe another dose of so-called cancel culture will give his campaign account (or legal defense fund) another shot in the arm.
Even though the Anaheim Event Center is only a few miles down I-5 from Knott’s Berry Farm, we can confirm that Gaetz was not the man arrested for climbing the park’s 300-foot tower.
On a happier note, the Tallahassee Democrat pulled in the Florida Society of News Editors Gold Medal for its deep dive into the poor state of kids’ health care in the 32304 ZIP code. The subject matter may be a downer, but it’s nice to see good work recognized. If you missed it last year, stop what you’re doing and give it a read — it holds up.
While industries recover after more than a year of pandemic, one of the state’s top communication firms is thriving — with a significant jump in national and international stature.
Moore, headquartered in Florida with locations in Colorado and Louisiana, moved up six spaces in the list of leading communications and PR firms nationwide, according to industry rating firm O’Dwyer’s.
In addition to climbing from No. 55 to No. 49 nationally, Moore, specializing in crisis counsel, public affairs, health care and other issues, also jumped 11 spots to No. 186 in the world.
As Moore gained prominence, they also grew in revenue. Globally, fee income in the industry declined by 4% in 2020 — a result of COVID-19. At the same time, Moore’s income increased by 7.3%.
“Even during a pandemic, our team’s dedication and diligence helped take this agency to even higher levels of success and historic growth,” said Karen Moore, Moore’s founder and CEO. “I attribute this to our team, culture and client success. And I believe our clients value and appreciate knowing they are partnering with one of the best in the nation.”
The numbers from O’Dwyer’s get even better: Moore is Florida’s No. 1 firm in the specialty areas of Public Affairs, Health Care, Education and Agriculture. Moore also ranks nationally in various key industries: No. 6 firm in the nation for Public Affairs; No. 6 firm in the nation for Education; No. 9 firm in the nation for Agriculture and No. 24 firm in the nation for Health Care & Medical Public Relations.
Representing both Fortune 500 companies and small organizations, Moore has been recognized for its business growth and culture by Inc. 5000 as a Fastest Growing Company and Best Place to Work.
— SITUATIONAL AWARENESS —
—@ryanstruyk: US coronavirus cases/day via @CNN: Right now: 30,887 cases/day, 7 days ago: 18,489 cases/day, 14 days ago: 13,562 cases/day, 21 days ago: 10,525 cases/day
—@MattLargey: By tomorrow, Texas will have doubled the number of people hospitalized for COVID in less than 3 weeks. We’re back at levels not seen since late April. Positivity rate now above 10%, which hasn’t happened since Feb. 24th.
—@TB_Times: Florida’s COVID-19 surge can be seen at Tampa General Hospital. It now has 40 infected patients, more than double two weeks ago. Every patient on a ventilator is unvaccinated and between the ages of 35 to 55.
—@SenPizzo: I’m taking the first 5 people in my district to lunch if they get vaccinated this week. If we reach 50 people, I’ll babysit (at the office) the first parent(s) who needs a day off. If we reach 100, I’m cooking, cleaning and doing laundry for someone.
—@ShevrinJones: I’ll cook the collard greens and mac&cheese —- count me in!
—@SenatorMenendez: Not a surprise, just a painful reminder that we need to stop relying on temporary immigration fixes. Congress must seize the moment and any and all opportunities to finally provide a pathway to legalization for millions of undocumented immigrants.
—@AGAshleyMoody: The border crisis created by @ makes our communities less safe and puts us all at risk. I am proud to stand with @ today at the southern border. We must secure our nation and protect our communities.
—@MaryEllenKlas: A spokesman for the Texas Department of Public Safety told the @ that states are sending troops “at their own expense,” and there will be no reimbursement. Gov. @ would not commit to reimbursing Florida for travel expenses associated with the mission.
—@DuboseforFL: Today, we honor the man who showed us the path to peace and reconciliation. We celebrate his life and his achievements, his tireless fight for equality, justice, and freedom for all. Through a remarkable life that included two decades of imprisonment on Robben Island, former South African President Nelson Mandela taught us how to stand up for what is right and respect individual dignity. He was — and continues to be — an inspiration and role model.
— McKinley Lewis (@McKinleyPLewis) July 17, 2021
— DAYS UNTIL —
Jeff Bezos travels into space on Blue Origin’s first passenger flight — 1; new start date for 2021 Olympics — 4; second season of ‘Ted Lasso’ premieres on Apple+ — 4; the NBA Draft — 9; ‘Jungle Cruise’ premieres — 11; ‘The Suicide Squad’ premieres — 18; ‘Marvel’s What If …?’ premieres on Disney+ — 23; Florida Behavioral Health Association’s Annual Conference (BHCon) begins — 30; St. Petersburg Primary Election — 36; Disney’s ‘Shang Chi and The Legend of The Ten Rings’ premieres — 46; NFL regular season begins — 52; California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s recall election — 57; Broadway’s full-capacity reopening — 57; 2022 Legislative Session interim committee meetings begin — 63; ‘The Many Saints of Newark’ premieres (rescheduled) — 67; ‘Dune’ premieres — 74; Walt Disney World’s 50th anniversary party starts — 74; MLB regular season ends — 76; ‘No Time to Die’ premieres (rescheduled) — 81; Florida Chamber Future of Florida Forum begins — 99; World Series Game 1 — 100; Florida TaxWatch’s Annual Meeting begins — 100; St. Petersburg Municipal Elections — 106; Florida’s 20th Congressional District primary — 106; Disney’s ‘Eternals’ premieres — 110; ‘Disney Very Merriest After Hours’ will debut — 112; ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ rescheduled premiere — 123; San Diego Comic-Con begins — 130; Steven Spielberg’s ‘West Side Story’ premieres — 144; ‘Spider-Man Far From Home’ sequel premieres — 151; NFL season ends — 174; 2022 Legislative Session starts — 176; Florida’s 20th Congressional District election — 176; NFL playoffs begin — 180; Super Bowl LVI — 209; ‘Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness’ premieres — 249; ‘Thor: Love and Thunder’ premieres — 291; ‘Platinum Jubilee’ for Queen Elizabeth II — 318; “Black Panther 2” premieres — 354; ‘Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse’ sequel premieres — 445; “Captain Marvel 2” premieres — 480.
“Federal judge finds DACA unlawful, blocks new applicants” via Sabrina Rodriguez and Josh Gerstein of POLITICO — A federal judge in Texas on Friday blocked the Biden administration from approving new applications for the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, but current DACA recipients will remain unaffected for now. In a 77-page ruling, U.S. District Court Judge Andrew Hanen found that DACA is unlawful and that the Department of Homeland Security can no longer approve new applicants into the program, which has granted work permits and protection from deportation to more than 600,000 young immigrants brought to the U.S. as children. He also ruled that DHS could continue to process DACA renewals for now as the issue continues to move through the courts.
“‘A blaring siren’ for Democrats after ruling halts DACA” via Astrid Galvan of The Associated Press — Immigrants and advocates are urging Democrats and Biden to quickly act on legislation to protect young immigrants … Calling the ruling a “blaring siren” for Democrats, United We Dream Executive Director Greisa Martinez Rosas said they would be solely to blame if legislative reform doesn’t happen.
—”Florida politicos react to DACA ruling” via Kelly Hayes of Florida Politics
— #SOSCUBA —
“‘Si Cuba está en la calle, Miami también.’ Thousands rally for end to Cuban dictatorship” via Marie-Rose Sheinerman of the Miami Herald — Chants of “Patria y Vida” and “Libertad” rallying cries in solidarity with protesters against the authoritarian government in Cuba, filled the streets outside the Freedom Tower on Biscayne Boulevard on Saturday as around 3,000 people gathered for a rally at the Miami landmark after police blocked off the street. Draped in Cuban and American flags, the crowd joined in singing “Patria y Vida,” which manipulates a famous slogan of the Cuban government: “Patria o Muerte,” Homeland or Death. Grammy-winning Cuban singer Albita opened the rally with soulful renditions of both the “Star-Spangled Banner” and the Cuban national anthem. Organizers played videos of protests from the streets of San Isidro de Cuba and Havana on two screens set up on either side of the stage.
“Cuban government holds mass rally in Havana after protests” via Nelson Acosta of Yahoo! News — Raul Castro was among thousands who attended a government-organized rally in Havana on Saturday to denounce the U.S. trade embargo and reaffirm their support for Cuba’s revolution, a week after unprecedented protests rocked the communist-run country. Government supporters gathered on the city’s seafront boulevard before dawn to wave Cuban flags and photos of late revolutionary leader Fidel Castro and his brother Raul. The latter retired as Communist Party leader in April but promised to continue fighting for the revolution as a “foot soldier.” The rally was a reaction to demonstrations nationwide last Sunday amid widespread shortages of basic goods, demands for political rights and the island nation’s worst coronavirus outbreak since the start of the pandemic.
“Cuba’s President confronts a nation in crisis. Among his challenges: ‘He’s no Fidel Castro.’” via Samantha Schmidt of The Washington Post — Moments after police quelled the 1994 protests, Castro stepped out of a Jeep to find, almost magically, a group of supporters shouting “Viva Fidel!” When the current President, Miguel Díaz-Canel, walked through streets of protesters this week, he was cursed at. While Díaz-Canel has shown no aversion to strong-arming and detaining protesters, neither does he have Castro’s decadeslong record of consistent and brutal repression of political opponents. Protesters and Cuba analysts alike wonder whether this could be a tipping point toward long-awaited economic reforms in the country.
“Cuba government rallies backers following big protests” via Andrea Rodriguez of The Associated Press — Cuban officials rallied tens of thousands of supporters in the streets on Saturday — nearly a week after they were stunned by the most widespread protests in decades. President Miguel Díaz-Canel— accompanied by 90-year-old former President Raul Castro — appeared on the seafront Malecon boulevard that had seen some of the largest protests against shortages and the political system the previous weekend. He made an impassioned speech blaming unrest on the U.S. and its economic embargo, “the blockade, aggression and terror,” as a crowd waved Cuban flags and those of the July 26 Movement that Fidel Castro led during Cuba’s revolution.
“Hundreds of Cubans are still detained after anti-government protests, human-rights groups say” via Nora Gámez Torres of the Miami Herald — Hundreds of dissidents, students, artists, journalists, priests and even children have been arrested in Cuba following islandwide anti-government protests that erupted Sunday and their violent aftermath. Many remain incommunicado. A Spanish-language list that has been shared on social media by the Cuban independent journalism outlet El Toque and other organizations includes details of 383 people arrested during the protests and the following days. Some have already been released. The number of arrests could be higher because there are obstacles to verification work.
“After the protests, Cuban government cracks down on social media leaders” via Abel Fernandez of the Miami Herald — The Cuban government has cracked down on social media activists and influencers after the protests that exploded across the island on Sunday and were harshly repressed, leaving at least one dead, dozens of injured and hundreds arrested. Several Twitter and other digital media activists who protested peacefully were detained in what observers described as a government attempt to teach them a lesson and discourage further protests. Cuban ruler Miguel Díaz-Canel and other government officials have alleged a social media campaign organized by the United States is provoking unrest and protests. Social media accounts with large numbers of followers have been suspended.
Explainer — “Could balloons power uncensored internet in Cuba?” via Tali Arbel of The Associated Press — DeSantis, called this week on the administration of Biden to greenlight a plan to transmit the internet to people in Cuba via high-altitude balloons when their government has blocked access. For years, Alphabet, the parent company of Google, worked to perfect an internet-balloon division service called Loon. It shut down that project in January, saying it wasn’t commercially viable. Before the shutdown, Loon balloons provided service in mountainous areas in Kenya through a partnership with a local telecom, Telkom Kenya. The Loon balloons were effectively cell towers the size of a tennis court. They floated 60,000 to 75,000 feet, or 11 to 14 miles, above the Earth, well above commercial jetliner routes.
“After 15 hours at sea, a Cuban refugee’s dream is deferred” via Maria Elena Vizcaino and Andrew Rosati of Bloomberg — More than 15 hours into Leonardo Herrera’s second attempt to reach the U.S., he was convinced he’d seen Florida. The 23-year-old mechanic from Boyeros, Cuba, had been focused on the rolling waves that rocked and lifted the wooden boat transporting him, 11 other Cubans, and all their hopes for a future free of repression and deprivation. Dolphins tracked alongside. And when Herrera raised his eyes, he believed he saw the dreamed-of coastline, though it was many miles away. Perhaps the celebration explained why they didn’t notice the U.S. Coast Guard plane until it was directly overhead. Minutes later, a cutter approached. Within four days, he was back on Cuban soil.
“Florida’s anti-riot law collides with Cuban American protests” via Bill Cotterell for the Tallahassee Democrat — Holding large rallies, getting permits for orderly marches in the streets, hearing their elected political leaders make impassioned speeches and publicizing conditions in Cuba are all important and effective ways of pressuring the Biden administration for serious action. Bringing the Palmetto Expressway to a standstill isn’t how. All the fired-up protesters accomplished with that was to irritate people already on their side. Under the new “anti-riot” laws the Legislature enacted this year, cops could have rounded up hundreds and jailed them pending first appearances. But the law is aimed at Black Lives Matter and other protesters like the people who staged demonstrations across the country last summer, not Cuban Americans who vote mostly for Republicans in Florida.
“Demonstrations may herald new political force as Sarasota Cuban community gains visibility” via Zac Anderson of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune — Unlike Miami and Tampa, the Sarasota region is not known for having a large Cuban community, and most Cubans who do live in the area have not been highly visible. That low-key presence changed last week when hundreds of people with Cuban roots descended on downtown Sarasota to demonstrate solidarity with anti-government protesters on the island. The size of the Sarasota demonstrations even surprised some local Cubans. “We didn’t know there was that many,” said Palmetto resident Ana Maria Milan. “We didn’t even know we had so many Cubans in Sarasota.” The Sarasota demonstrations stretched for days and drew upward of 200 people earlier in the week.
— 2022 —
“Money starts to pour into race to succeed Val Demings; Demings catching up to Marco Rubio herself” via Gray Rohrer of the Orlando Sentinel — In an already crowded Democratic primary to replace Demings, state Sen. Randolph Bracy reported raising $166,000 in the first month of the campaign, more than double the next-highest fundraiser, former Orange-Osceola state attorney Aramis Ayala. Meanwhile, Demings herself reported raising $4.6 million since launching her bid for Senate in early June, with $3 million cash on hand, while Republican U.S. Sen. Rubio has raised $5.6 million since the start of the year. The finance reports for the second quarter are the first glimpse of how Bracy, Ayala and civil rights attorney Natalie Jackson fared raising funds to replace Demings in her District 10 seat because they all entered the race in June.
“‘We didn’t have Surfside then.’ Charlie Crist reflects on 2010 repeal of inspection law” via Mark Harper of the Daytona Beach News-Journal — Crist is defending his 2010 decision to repeal a condominium inspection law that has come under renewed scrutiny in the wake of the tragic building collapse in Surfside. Operatives have attacked Crist, who from 2007 to 2011 served as Florida’s Republican Governor. At an appearance in Sarasota on Wednesday, Crist suggested no one had the value of hindsight 11 years ago when lawmakers did away with mandatory condo inspections for structural safety every five years. “We didn’t have Surfside then,” he said.
“Ron DeSantis fires up crowd of young conservatives in Tampa” via Michaela Mulligan of the Tampa Bay Times — Gov. DeSantis took the stage Sunday to the sounds of fireworks and a bumping bass as he was introduced to thousands of screaming young conservatives at the Tampa Convention Center. The event, called the Student Action Summit, featured prominent national figures like Donald Trump Jr. and former White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany. It was organized by Turning Point USA, an organization aimed at building an organized and active conservative presence on high school and college campuses. DeSantis greeted the crowd by welcoming everyone to the “free state of Florida.”
“‘Conservative pornstar’ derails Turning Point USA’s right-wing youth gathering” via Zachary Petrizzo of Salon — Turning Point USA, the right-wing youth student organization led by Charlie Kirk, found itself in an unusual controversy Saturday night after “conservative pornstar” Brandi Love was allowed into a Florida conference and welcomed as an “Adult VIP,” sparking backlash. The drama began early in the night when the adult entertainer’s presence in Tampa was first discovered by a follower of white nationalist Nicholas Fuentes and former Kansas State student Jaden McNeil, who wrote on Telegram, “Turning Point USA has a pornstar as a VIP at their Student Action Summit.”
“Nuts shell out for Greg Steube as he raises nearly $134K in second quarter of 2021” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — Steube pulled in more than $130,000 on his road to reelection to a third term in the U.S. House. And a look at his records show the Sarasota Republican to be a favorite among all kinds of nuts. The U.S. Peanut PAC shelled out $2,500 to the Congressman’s campaign. The National Peanut Buying Points Association and the National Pecan Federation’s PAC also donated $1,000 to Steube’s campaign. All told, the Sarasota Republican in the second quarter of 2021 reported $133,536 in contributions to his campaign. During his time in the House, Steube has been a vocal advocate for agriculture interests, which likely drew the interest of the nut industry and other growers.
—”Scott Franklin raises a modest $82K, but so far he doesn’t really need it” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics
—”Frederica Wilson raises $77K in Q2 to defend CD 24 seat” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics
—“Carlos Giménez reaps $436K in Q2 fundraising with gifts from big-name donors” via Jesse Scheckner of Florida Politics
—“Unopposed Maria Salazar raises $676,245 to defend FL CD 27” via Anne Geggis of Florida Politics
— DATELINE TALLY —
“Why isn’t another $1 billion a big thing?” via Christine Sexton of The News Service of Florida — DeSantis’ administration decided to seek more than $1 billion in extra Medicaid money made available through the American Rescue Plan Act, federal legislation that not a single Florida Republican voted for when it was passed. The Governor and his administration did not issue a single news release announcing Florida submitted an application to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services seeking the additional funds. The Governor’s office kept the request for the additional funds on the down low, as did the state Agency for Health Care Administration. The agency applied on behalf of the state late Monday. Instead of announcing the news in a release, the agency posted a link to the application on its website.
“$1B transferred from Lawton Chiles Endowment Fund as dismantling begins” via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics — The process of dismantling a vehicle for state health education and research funding is underway. Under a bill DeSantis signed last month, Florida is terminating and liquidating the Lawton Chiles Endowment Fund. Over the next 12 months, the state will fold those funds into the Budget Stabilization Fund, a reserve pot to buffer unexpected drops in revenue. The fund, named after former Gov. Chiles, was established by the Legislature in 1999 at the urging of Gov. Jeb Bush to pay for health programs and education in the state. On July 1, the bill closed off the endowment fund, which will be emptied and terminated by June 30, 2022, the end of the current fiscal year.
“Groups ramp up effort to block anti-protest law” via the News Service of Florida — Plaintiffs challenging a new Florida law aimed at cracking down on disruptive protests are asking a federal judge to block portions of the statute from being enforced, arguing that the statute includes a “guilt-by-association” provision allowing police to “round up” peaceful demonstrators who haven’t done anything wrong. In May, a coalition of groups, including the Dream Defenders and the Florida State Conference of the NAACP, filed a lawsuit challenging the new statute, which was one of DeSantis’ top priorities for the 2021 Legislative Session that ended April 30. The groups on Wednesday asked Chief U.S. District Judge Mark Walker for a preliminary injunction to block a central provision of the measure.
— STATEWIDE —
“Ron DeSantis visits Texas border, where Florida resources are spent on enforcement” via Ana Ceballos of the Miami Herald — Four years after escaping “terror” in Cuba, Gelacio Vera Gonzalez and his wife, Yenedi Monterrey Mena, touched American soil for the first time in the border city of Del Rio, Texas. Junior Sotomayor, a friend who crossed the Rio Grande with them with arms interlocked, said he wants to head to Miami, where he, too, has family. Within seconds of touching American ground, the three Cubans were apprehended by a group of Texas law enforcement officers who began the process of turning them over to U.S. Customs and Border Patrol. Just four hours earlier, DeSantis, Moody and Wilton Simpson had visited that very same spot. DeSantis’ team did not hesitate to use the mission in Texas as a fundraising pitch shortly after the news conference was over.
—“DeSantis sounds off on Democrats ‘double standard’ on immigration” via Kelsey Koberg of Fox News
“Failure at Piney Point: Florida let environmental risk fester despite warnings” via Bethany Barnes, Christopher O’Donnell and Zachary T. Sampson of the Tampa Bay Times — As early as 2008, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was predicting possible disaster at the old Piney Point phosphate plant in Manatee County if a plan to use the site for dredging went forward. The “worst-case scenario,” the Army Corps cautioned, would be a tear in the plastic liner that engineers were counting on to hold back water perched atop dangerous waste material. Another worry the Army Corps raised: What if the private company in charge went bankrupt?
“Protesters seek help dealing with fish-killing red tide” via The Associated Press — Amid the stench of dead fish, protesters marched Saturday along Florida’s Tampa Bay to call for state assistance in dealing with a growing outbreak of harmful red tide. More than 100 people took part in the event along the St. Petersburg waterfront carrying signs and shouting, “Save our bay, make polluters pay.” Among other things, the protesters want DeSantis to declare a state of emergency that would free up more resources for the bay. The St. Petersburg City Council this week adopted a resolution calling for an emergency declaration. The Governor’s office has said such a declaration is not necessary and that sufficient money is available for the outbreak from the state Department of Environmental Protection.
“Florida man arrested after crashing through airport gate, getting into Coast Guard plane cockpit” via Brie Stimson of Fox News — A Florida man faces multiple charges after he allegedly drove through a security gate at a Tampa-area airport and got into the cockpit of a Coast Guard C-130 airplane on Saturday morning, officials said. Hamilton Moreno is accused of leading deputies on a chase across a runway at St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport before 5 a.m. ET in a vehicle that had been reported stolen the night before, the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Department said in a statement. Moreno was arrested after he allegedly crashed through a Coast Guard security gate, left the car in a hangar and climbed into the empty C-130, the sheriff’s department said.
“Florida leads the nation in new HIV cases” via Christopher O’Donnell of the Tampa Bay Times — Florida leads the U.S. in the number of new HIV cases and has the nation’s third highest infection rate, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data. The state reported almost 4,400 new HIV infections in 2019, the most recent data available for the federal agency’s HIV surveillance report. Florida’s infection rate averages out to 23.7 cases per 100,000 people, trailing only the District of Columbia and Georgia. Florida is also well above the national average rate of 13.
“Drug overdoses climb in Florida amid pandemic” via Jason Delgado of Florida Politics — Floridians are overdosing at higher rates than many Americans. According to provisional data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, overdose deaths spiked in Florida amid the COVID-19 pandemic, surging at least 37% in 2020. In all, roughly 7,579 people died of an overdose in Florida last year. Comparatively, fewer than 5,550 died in 2019 within the state. The dramatic increase, Democratic Rep. Kelly Skidmore suggests, underscores the ongoing toll of a pandemic inflicting isolation and economic despair among the masses.
— CORONA FLORIDA —
“Appeals court sides with CDC, Norwegian Cruise Lines over DeSantis on vaccination rules” via David J. Neal of the Miami Herald — The CDC COVID-19 guidelines for cruise lines returning to operation are rules, not suggestions, a federal appeals court ruled Saturday night, reversing a lower court decision in favor of the state of Florida. The 2-1 decision by the U.S. Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals judges was a win for the CDC and, by extension, Norwegian Cruise Lines, which filed an amicus brief in this case. In a separate federal case, NCL has sued Florida Surgeon General Scott Rivkees for the right to require all passengers to be vaccinated against COVID-19 once it restarts its Florida cruises on Aug. 15.
“Florida’s Summer 2021 COVID-19 surge is looking awfully familiar” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics — The summer of 2021 is starting to look a lot like the summer of 2020 in Florida as the COVID-19 virus surges anew across the Sunshine State, though perhaps lagging about two weeks behind last year’s summer surge. Is it a signal to alarm public health officials, fueled by the new, more insidious delta variant, as many local officials have expressed? Vaccination rates, which began to fall off in May, began to pick up again last week statewide, perhaps as local public health officials expressed their alarm. And while only 58% of Floridians had at least one vaccination shot by last Thursday, the numbers are far higher among the groups most at risk, the elderly and people with high-risk health conditions.
“Three new vaccine sites open in Miami-Dade as COVID-19 cases surge” via Devoun Cetoute of the Miami Herald — As COVID-19 cases continue to surge in Florida, Miami-Dade County will be offering vaccines at three new locations. Appointments will be available for the Pfizer-BioNTech and the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines in locations in Homestead, Little Haiti and Miami. For the Pfizer vaccine, recipients must be 12 years of age and older. For J&J, recipients must be 18 years old and older. All recipients under the age of 18 receiving a vaccine must be accompanied by a parent or guardian and must complete the COVID-19 vaccine screening and consent form.
“Florida is accounting for 1-in-5 of nation’s COVID-19 cases, White House says” via Skyler Swisher and Caroline Catherman of the Orlando Sentinel —Florida is helping to fuel a rise in new COVID-19 infections with nearly one-in-five of the nation’s cases coming from the Sunshine State, said Jeff Zients, the White House coronavirus coordinator. Just four states accounted for more than 40% of the nation’s cases this past week as officials fear vaccination gaps and the highly transmissible Delta variant will lead to more infections in the weeks ahead. Zients highlighted Florida as a state where the virus is making a resurgence.
—“Tampa Bay doubles COVID-19 cases over past week” via Kelly Hayes of Florida Politics
—“COVID-19 is back on the rise in the Jacksonville area” via Clayton Freeman of the Florida Times-Union
—”Broward, Palm Beach counties now seeing worst COVID-19 case positivity rates since January” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics
—”New COVID-19 case count rises sharply in Central Florida” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics
— “It’s crazy in the Florida Keys: Record crowds pack tourist spots post-COVID-19 restrictions” via Lois K. Solomon of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel
—”Polk’s new COVID-19 cases more than double, hospitalizations rising” via Sara-Megan Walsh of The Lakeland Ledger
“9 total staff members test positive for COVID-19 at Freedom Square in Seminole, executive director says” via Niko Clemmons of WFLA — Freedom Square of Seminole Executive Director Michael Mason said nine total staff members have recently tested positive for COVID-19. Mason says eight staff members at Seminole Pavilion Health Center tested positive for the virus. Four of them had been vaccinated. Mason says one additional staff member within Freedom Square’s rehabilitation facility also tested positive for the virus. All staff members are quarantining at home and have not been on campus since becoming symptomatic. Mason says no residents at Seminole Pavilion Health Center tested positive for coronavirus. They’re still waiting on results from residents at Freedom Square’s rehabilitation facility who were tested.
“July Fourth concert may have spread COVID-19 among vaccinated residents at John Knox Village” via Cindy Krischer Goodman and Angie Diichele of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — A group of mostly vaccinated residents at a South Florida retirement village tested positive for COVID-19 after attending a crowded Fourth of July concert. The Department of Health in Broward arrived at John Knox Village in Pompano Beach this week to test residents and staff at the community after some residents began showing symptoms and tested positive. Bill Pickhardt, chief operating officer of John Knox Village in Pompano Beach, would not say how many people at John Knox are COVID-19-positive, nor would he provide a breakdown of residents and staff. Residents, including one with COVID-19, said as many as 30 have the virus.
“More than 30,000 have failed to get second dose of COVID-19 vaccine in Sarasota County” via Elizabeth Djinis of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune — More than 31,000 people in Sarasota County have received one dose of the Pfizer or Moderna COVID-19 vaccine but not the second. Does that mean there’s a widespread problem of people getting partially vaccinated and not making it the rest of the way? Not quite, says Sarasota health department spokesperson Steve Huard. He says there are various reasons why these numbers look the way they do; snowbirds who received their first dose in Florida and their second dose somewhere else and duplicate entries in the vaccine database are among the possibilities.
“‘We had to work twice as hard’: How the pandemic magnified inequities for Florida’s migrant students” via Janine Zeitlin — A full picture is yet to emerge of the pandemic’s impact on Florida’s migrant students. What is clear: virtual learning, economic trials and high COVID-19 rates in farmworker communities magnified inequities for students already prone to learning loss, according to early data and interviews with experts, advocates, and migrant families throughout the state. Florida schools lost migrant students at a rate nearly five times higher than the non-migrant population. Migrant student enrollment fell more than 9%, or about 1,500 students, from spring 2020 to spring 2021, while non-migrant students dipped by 2%, about 60,000 students.
— CORONA NATION —
“Joe Biden grappling with ‘pandemic of the unvaccinated’” via Zeke Miller of The Associated Press — Two weeks after celebrating America’s near “independence” from the coronavirus, Biden is confronting the worrying reality of rising cases and deaths and the limitations of his ability to combat the persistent vaccine hesitance responsible for the summer backslide. Cases of COVID-19 have tripled over the past three weeks, and hospitalizations and deaths are rising among unvaccinated people. While the rates are still sharply down from their January highs, officials are concerned by the reversing trendlines and what they consider needless illness and death. And cases are expected to continue to rise in the coming weeks.
— “Delta variant takes hold in U.S. as coronavirus cases rise nearly 70%” via Yasmeen Abutaleb and Frances Stead Sellers of The Washington Post
—“Arizona reports over 1,000 virus cases for 4th straight day” via The Associated Press
—”In undervaccinated Arkansas, COVID-19 upends life all over again” via Sharon LaFraniere of The New York Times
—“Mask up indoors in Los Angeles and Las Vegas — even if you’re vaccinated, officials say” via Bailey Schultz of USA Today
“COVID-19 still killing Americans faster than guns, cars and flu combined” via Tom Randall of Bloomberg — Even with half the U.S. vaccinated, COVID-19 continues to kill people faster than guns, car crashes and influenza combined. The situation had improved dramatically since January when COVID-19 deaths outpaced heart disease and cancer as the country’s top killer. Still, for June, coronavirus was responsible for 337 deaths a day. For comparison, the historic average deaths from gunshots, car crashes and complications from the flu add up to 306 a day. “The sad reality is that despite our progress, we’re still losing people to this virus,” Jeff Zients, the White House pandemic response coordinator, said.
“Surgeon General reveals he’s lost 10 relatives to COVID-19 as he campaigns against vaccine misinformation” via Jemima McEvoy of Forbes — U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy on Thursday made a personal appeal to the American public, revealing 10 of his family members have died of COVID-19, as he issued an urgent warning about the dangers of vaccine misinformation. The top doctor highlighted that these family members would likely still be alive if they had access to vaccines as data indicates nearly all COVID-19 deaths are now among the unvaccinated. He then outlined the “insidious” threat of wrong or misleading information about the vaccines spreading online, which he deemed “one of the biggest obstacles that is preventing us from ending this pandemic.”
— CORONA ECONOMICS —
“America’s workers are exhausted and burned out — and some employers are taking notice” via Soo Youn of The Washington Post — Employers across the country, from Fortune 500 companies such as PepsiCo and Verizon to boutique advertising firms and nonprofit organizations, are continuing pandemic benefits such as increased paid time off and child- or eldercare benefits as well as embracing flexible work schedules and remote work in recognition that a returning workforce is at high risk of burnout. Fidelity is granting U.S. full-time and part-time employees five additional paid “relief days” for unexpected events, as well as elder- and child care coordinators to help find and vet caregivers or tutors. The fund manager also expanded a program to help parents of children with behavioral or developmental disabilities.
“Florida’s June unemployment rate up slightly from earlier” via The Associated Press — Florida’s unemployment rate was 5% in June, up 0.1 percentage point from the month before, according to statistics released by the state on Friday. Florida’s June unemployment was still lower than the national rate of 5.9% and down 6.6 percentage points from a year ago. There were 523,000 unemployed Floridians out of a workforce of 10.4 million people. Monroe County had the state’s lowest unemployment rate at 3.5%, followed by St. Johns County at 4% and Okaloosa County, also at 4%. Hendry and Putnam counties had the highest unemployment rate at 7.6%, followed by Citrus, Osceola and Sumter counties at 7.2%.
— MORE CORONA —
“Senior Biden officials finding that COVID-19 lab leak theory as credible as natural origins explanation” via Natasha Bertrand, Pamela Brown, Katie Bo Williams and Zachary Cohen of CNN — Senior Biden administration officials overseeing an intelligence review into the origins of the coronavirus now believe the theory that the virus accidentally escaped from a lab in Wuhan is at least as credible as the possibility that it emerged naturally in the wild, a dramatic shift from a year ago when Democrats publicly downplayed the so-called lab leak theory. Still, more than halfway into Biden’s renewed 90-day push to find answers, the intelligence community remains firmly divided over whether the virus leaked from the Wuhan lab or jumped naturally from animals to humans in the wild. Little new evidence has emerged to move the needle in one direction or another, these people said.
“Vaccine inequity: Inside the cutthroat race to secure doses” via Lori Hinnant, Maria Cheng, and Aniruddha Ghosal — No one expected a vaccine gap between the global rich and poor that was this bad, this far into the pandemic. Inequity is everywhere: Inoculations go begging in the United States while Haiti, a short plane ride away, received its first delivery July 15 after months of promises, 500,000 doses for a population over 11 million. Canada has procured more than 10 doses for every resident; Sierra Leone’s vaccination rate just cracked 1% on June 20. In fact, European and American officials deeply involved in bankrolling and distributing the vaccines against coronavirus have said there was no thought of handling the situation globally. Instead, they jostled for their own domestic use.
“Canada could open to vaccinated U.S. tourists as soon as August, Justin Trudeau says” via Erin Cunningham of The Washington Post — Canada could reopen its borders to vaccinated travelers from all countries by early September, and possibly welcome immunized Americans as soon as mid-August, the office of Prime Minister Trudeau said late Thursday. Canada closed its land border with the United States in March 2020 as the pandemic first accelerated, and it has since restricted entry for other foreign visitors to help stem the spread of the virus. But now, as vaccination rates climb and transmission slows, those controls could be lifted in the coming weeks, Trudeau said in a call with Canadian provincial leaders Thursday.
“U.K.’s France curbs irk travelers; health chief tests positive” via Jill Lawless of The Associated Press — Tourists and the travel industry vented frustration and anger on Saturday after Britain reversed a plan to ease travel restrictions on France just two days after they were due to start, citing concerns about a variant of the coronavirus. The move comes even though France currently has lower rates of the virus than the U.K., where the highly contagious delta variant is driving a surge in infections. On Saturday, Health Secretary Sajid Javid, who is in charge of Britain’s coronavirus response, said he has tested positive for COVID-19 and is self-isolating while he awaits the results of a second test. Javid said in a video message that he had both shots of a vaccine, and “so far my symptoms are very mild.”
“A year after I contracted COVID-19, everything still smells like garbage and onions. One expert says it could last up to 3 years.” via Sophia Ankel of Insider — When I completely lost my sense of taste and smell in March 2020, it was the first thing I noticed. It was a completely surreal experience, even more so because, at the time, loss of sense of smell wasn’t officially recognized as a COVID-19 symptom yet. So when my nose started to pick up some aromas three months later, I was elated. Only this time, it wasn’t the same and hasn’t been the same since. For more than a year now, my nose has been plagued with what I like to call “COVID-19 smell.” The scientific term for this distortion of the ability to smell is parosmia, the “alteration of the sense of smell, that is usually unpleasant and caused by damage to olfactory neurons in the nerve center.” Living with this condition is incredibly frustrating and has had a massive impact on my everyday life.
— PRESIDENTIAL —
“The curious case of the quirky mortgage ads boosting Biden online” via Shane Goldmacher of The New York Times — The single biggest advertiser in Facebook’s political advertising database in recent months is not Biden, the Democratic or Republican parties or even any of the hundreds of candidates angling for advantage in the 2022 midterms. Instead, it is an obscure mortgage-related firm, Lower My Bills, which in an earlier internet era was best known for its omnipresent, if ostentatious, banner ads featuring dogs in goggles, dancing cowboys and strange green aliens that had little to do with interest rates. Now, the firm is spending millions of dollars on ads featuring headlines like “Biden is on a roll” as it pursues clicks it can convert into new customers.
— EPILOGUE TRUMP —
“Explosive interview directly implicates Donald Trump in tax scheme” via Jose Pagliery of The Daily Beast — A witness in the New York investigation against the Trump Organization has told prosecutors that Trump personally guaranteed he would cover school costs for the family members of two employees in place of a raise, directly implicating the former President in an ongoing criminal tax fraud case. The explosive claims come from Jennifer Weisselberg, the ex-wife of a longtime company employee, during a teleconference call with investigators on Friday, June 25. On that afternoon’s Zoom call, those sources said, investigators with the Manhattan district attorney and New York state Attorney General asked Weisselberg whether Trump himself was involved in the company’s alleged tax-dodging scheme of making corporate gifts instead of increasing salary that would be taxed. He was, she answered.
“Trump rages over post-presidential books he did interviews for” via Meridith McGraw of POLITICO — He knew it was coming. But Trump still was not pleased. He had read a new book excerpt, one of many about his presidency in the last few weeks, that described him telling his former chief of staff John Kelly that Hitler, for all his horrors, “did a lot of good things.” In particular, Trump officials are anxiously awaiting the books set to be published by actual colleagues, chief among them counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway and Jared Kushner, who plan to write their own accounts of the Trump presidency. Privately, former administration officials and top campaign aides have shared concerns about Conway’s upcoming tell-all in particular.
— “The media scramble at the heart of Trump Book Summer” via Paul Farhi of The Washington Post
“Few AZ voter fraud cases, discrediting Trump’s claims” via Bob Christie and Christina A. Cassidy of The Associated Press — Arizona county election officials have identified fewer than 200 cases of potential voter fraud out of more than 3 million ballots cast in last year’s presidential election, further discrediting Trump’s claims of a stolen election as his allies continue a disputed ballot review in the state’s most populous county. An investigation found 182 cases where problems were clear enough that officials referred them to investigators for further review. So far, only four cases have led to charges. No person’s vote was counted twice. The numbers illustrate the implausibility of Trump’s claims that fraud and irregularities in Arizona cost him the state’s electorate votes.
“‘A propaganda tool’ for Trump: A second federal judge castigates attorneys who filed a lawsuit challenging the 2020 results” via Rosalind S. Helderman of The Washington Post — Just before Christmas, two Colorado lawyers filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of 160 million American voters. The case was dismissed in April, but now a federal judge is considering disciplining the lawyers for filing a frivolous claim, sharply questioning the duo in a Friday hearing about whether they had allowed themselves to be used as “a propaganda tool” of Trump. “Did that ever occur to you? That, possibly, [you’re] just repeating stuff the President is lying about?” Federal Magistrate Judge N. Reid Neureiter asked the two lawyers, Gary D. Fielder and Ernest John Walker.
“At the kickoff event of the 2024 presidential race, Trump voters in Iowa say they are ready to move on” via James Pindell of The Boston Globe — To be sure, there was plenty of praise for Trump, and more than a few attendees said they have his back as he continues to make baseless claims about the 2020 election. But in interviews with 15 people at the conference, all of whom voted for Trump, none said they hoped the former President would run again. “I am interested in who comes next,” said 58-year-old Cheryl Prall. Trump himself has remained largely focused on bogus audits in states he lost to Biden. Denied access to major social media platforms, most days, he churns out news releases complaining about the election and those he feels have slighted him.
“Porsches, Gucci rings and billions of robocalls: Inside the PAC operation that raised millions by impersonating Trump” via Andrew Kaczynski and Em Steck of CNN — At first glance, “Matte Nox” looks like your typical 30-something wannabe internet influencer, flaunting a lavish lifestyle on his public Instagram and TikTok accounts. But like so many things on the internet, “Matte Nox” is not who he appears to be. “Matte Nox” is the assumed name and online persona of Matthew Tunstall, a 34-year-old from Texas who, over the past three years, raised millions of dollars operating two political action committees that impersonated the Trump campaign.
“To Trump’s hard-core supporters, his rallies weren’t politics. They were life.” via Michael C. Bender of The Washington Post — The deafening roars and vigorous choruses from the capacity crowd at the 20,000-seat Amway Arena showed that Trump’s supporters were excited to watch a rerun. They’d stood in line for hours or camped overnight. I had let the rallies, which formed the core of one of the most steadfast political movements in modern American history and reordered the Republican Party, turn stale and rote. But his rallies gave the Joes a reason to travel the country, staying at one another’s homes, sharing hotel rooms and carpooling. Two had married, and later divorced, by Trump’s second year in office. In Trump, they’d found someone whose endless thirst for a fight encouraged them to speak up for themselves, not just in politics but also in relationships and at work.
“Trump shower head rule on more water flow goes down the drain” via Matthew Daly of The Associated Press — The Biden administration is reversing a Trump-era rule approved after the former President complained he wasn’t getting wet enough because of limits on water flow from shower heads. Now, with a new President in office, the Energy Department is going back to a standard adopted in 2013, saying it provides plenty of water for a good soak and a thorough clean. The rule change will have little practical effect since nearly all commercially made shower heads comply with the 2013 rule, the pet peeve of the former President notwithstanding. The Energy Department said the action clarifies what’s been happening in the marketplace. Showers that provide the extra supply of water desired by Trump are not easily found.
— CRISIS —
“In Trump’s Jan. 6 recast, attackers become martyrs, heroes” via Calvin Woodward, Colleen Long and David Klepper of The Associated Press — A cocktail of propaganda, conspiracy theory and disinformation, of the kind intoxicating to the masses in the darkest turns of history, is fueling delusion over the agonies of Jan. 6. Hate is “love.” Violence is “peace.” The pro-Trump attackers are patriots. Months after the then-President’s supporters stormed the Capitol that winter day, Trump and his acolytes are taking this revisionism to a new and dangerous place, one of martyrs and warlike heroes, and of revenge. It’s a place where cries of “blue lives matter” have transformed into shouts of “f— the blue.” The fact inversion about the siege is the latest in Trump’s contorted oeuvre of the “big lie” compendium.
“Tampa man faces first sentencing for felony in riot at US Capitol” via Michael Tarm of The Associated Press — A Florida man who breached the U.S. Senate chamber carrying a Donald Trump campaign flag is scheduled to become the first Jan. 6 rioter sentenced for a felony, in a hearing that will help set a benchmark for punishment in similar cases. Prosecutors want Paul Allard Hodgkins to serve 18 months behind bars, saying in a recent filing that he, “like each rioter, contributed to the collective threat to democracy” by forcing lawmakers to temporarily abandon their certification of Joe Biden’s election victory and to scramble for shelter from incoming mobs.
“Two Florida police officers charged in new Proud Boys indictment in Capitol riot” via Spencer Hsu of MSN — A father and son, who are current and former Florida police officers, and a North Carolina man have been charged with joining alleged Proud Boys members in the Jan. 6 Capitol riots, according to a new, five co-defendant indictment unsealed. Kevin “Tito” Tuck and Nathaniel A. Tuck were arrested and released on $25,000 unsecured bond Thursday by a U.S. magistrate judge in Tampa, court records show. Edward George Jr. was also arrested Thursday and was scheduled to appear in federal court Friday in Raleigh.
“Facebook frenzy erupts after PCSO asks public for help finding Jan. 6 Capitol riot suspect” via Gary White of The Lakeland Ledger — The Polk County Sheriff’s Office has more than a third of a million followers of its Facebook page, and the agency regularly posts seeking public help in finding suspects, either those sought for local crimes or as an assist to another law-enforcement agency. Such posts typically receive mostly positive responses along the lines of, “Go get ‘em, Grady,” in reference to Sheriff Grady Judd. The response was different Friday when the PCSO posted about Jonathan Pollock. Federal authorities say he assaulted three police officers during the riot. The Sheriff’s Office post said the FBI had requested that the agency spread information about Pollock. Pollock’s sister, Olivia Pollock, and three friends have already been arrested and charged with multiple crimes, including assaulting officers.
“Protesters rally at D.C. jail against Jan. 6 riot arrests” via Karina Elwood of The Washington Post — About 100 people from around the country gathered under the blazing sun outside the D.C. jail on Saturday to protest the arrest of those involved in the Jan. 6 Capitol riot. While MAGA hats and Trump apparel were mostly missing outside D.C. Central Detention Facility by request of the event organizers, many sported bright-red hats and carried signs with slogans such as “protests are not insurrections” and “patriots are not terrorists.” The rally was organized by Look Ahead America, a nonprofit organization that aims to give voice to “rural and blue-collar patriotic Americans who are disaffected and disenfranchised from the nation’s corridors of power.” The group Saturday was protesting about 50 people held in the D.C. jail, who they called “nonviolent American patriots.”
— D.C. MATTERS —
“After third venue cancels, Matt Gaetz, Marjorie Taylor Greene take ‘protest against communism’ to Riverside” via Hannah Fry of The Los Angeles Times — After three Southern California venues canceled Gaetz and Greene’s America First rally amid significant public outcry, the lawmakers hosted a protest in Riverside on Saturday evening instead. In a video posted to Twitter on Saturday afternoon, Gaetz called on all California “patriots” to join him and Greene outside Riverside City Hall for a “peaceful protest against communism.” A group of loyalists joined them there. The city of Riverside said officials are “aware of the announced event and taking steps to ensure the safety of everyone involved.” The abrupt change occurred hours after the Anaheim Event Center backed out of allowing the lawmakers to use the venue, a decision made after city officials shared concerns about other events limiting police resources for the rally.
—“Gaetz goes with Jeffrey Epstein lawyer” via Andy Marlette of the Pensacola News Journal
“Investigation into Rick Scott ends with regulators on campaign violations” via Steve Contorno of the Tampa Bay Times — A three-year probe into Sen. Scott has ended with a federal panel deadlocked on whether the Florida Republican and a political committee he once led violated campaign laws during his 2018 bid for U.S. Senate. A 3-3 split decision along party lines by the Federal Election Commission, made public Friday, comes despite the commission’s general counsel concluding there was reason to believe Scott broke the law. The general counsel recommended further investigation into Scott and his former political committee, New Republican PAC.
— LOCAL NOTES —
“Judge: All options on table for site of collapsed building” via The Associated Press — A South Florida courtroom observed a moment of silence Friday to remember the dozens of people who died in the collapse of the 12-story condominium complex near Miami. Then it returned to the business of considering what should become of the property. That decision may be weeks or months from being made as families grapple with difficult decisions over personal and financial losses, including whether to rebuild, place a memorial on the site or accommodate both. Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Michael Hanzman said he was open to all options, but no decision came at a hearing Friday. The judge appeared pleased that discussions were underway to raise the financing necessary, perhaps from the government, to buy the property for a memorial.
“Before role in Surfside condo that fell, engineer had hand in another building mess” via Sarah Blaskey, Aaron Leibowitz, Ben Conarck, and Samantha J. Gross of the Miami Herald — Just a few years before structural engineer Sergio Breiterman signed off on the construction work at Champlain Towers South Condominium, he vouched for a new municipal building in Coral Gables that, within months of completion, “leaked like a sieve,” “smelled like wet dog,” and developed cracks in the garage due to a dangerous construction flaw. His firm was hired by Coral Gables’ architect Klements and Associates to provide structural engineering expertise on a new, five-story Public Safety Building. He overlooked insufficient steel reinforcements in parts of the concrete structure. Compared building plans to photos of the debris and found some evidence to suggest a similar construction deficiency in the reinforcement.
“Former Surfside mayor: Did beach project undermine condo tower before collapse?” via John Paneti of The Palm Beach Post —Unlike other renourishment projects where the sand is pumped up from the depths of the ocean, the precious commodity was trucked into Surfside. Up to 272 dump truckloads per day. Six days a week. Now the former mayor of this seaside village wants to know whether the vibration from such heavy loads right outside its door may have undermined an already troubled building and contributed to the collapse of the condominium tower. “This is just another factor that should be considered as a possible piece in the puzzle,” said attorney Paul Novack.
—”Florida insurance regulator tells insurers to provide data on Champlain South policies” via Lawrence Mower of the Tampa Bay Times
“Searching for answers, Surfside families take solace in medical examiner reports” via Samantha J. Gross and David Ovalle of the Miami Herald — Thrust into mourning without the benefit of goodbyes, the bereaved are beginning to find some semblance of relief as authorities identify their loved ones and, for the first time, detail the circumstances of their deaths, telling families that the severity of the collapse likely meant that the end came quickly. “If they were asleep, they would not have been conscious long enough to suffer,” Miami-Dade Medical Examiner Dr. Emma Lew, who is retiring in August, said.
“In Miami’s gentrifying neighborhoods, Surfside condo collapse deepens fears of displacement” via Rebecca Tan, Meryl Kornfield, and Michael Brice-Saddler of The Washington Post — In the early 2000s, gentrification crept into Liberty City under the label of “urban renewal,” Linda Sippio, a lifelong area resident, said, displacing many of the people she grew up with. In gentrifying communities like Liberty City and nearby Little Haiti, traditionally Black and Latino neighborhoods located inland and on higher ground, the tragedy has also stirred anxiety over a burgeoning trend that academics and activists have called “climate gentrification.” Environmental activists say Surfside isn’t likely to prompt a rapid exodus of residents from the waterfront, but the disaster could drive insurers to hike prices for properties or encourage developers to look for prospects inland.
“The promise and peril of a casino in downtown Jacksonville” via Nate Monroe of The Florida Times-Union — The Las Vegas Sands Corp., formerly run by the late casino tycoon and Republican megadonor Sheldon Adelson, injected $17 million last month into a brand-new political committee, Florida Voters in Charge, intending to push two state constitutional amendments that could pave the way for casino gambling in North Florida. The possibility of a major casino operation in Jacksonville has been bandied about before, but a complex series of special interests in Tallahassee, including pushback from the Seminole Tribe and Disney, have relegated those talks to the theoretical. There is a labyrinth of obstacles on a state level, and an additional layer of regulatory and growth management issues on a local level, standing between any such casino and reality, years of work on even the fastest track.
“J.T. Burnette trial, Day 5: Court abruptly shuts down due to potential juror COVID-19 exposure” via Jeff Burlew of the Tallahassee Democrat — Today is day five of the Burnette trial at the U.S. Courthouse in Tallahassee. Burnette is accused of giving former Tallahassee City Commissioner Scott Maddox a $100,000 bribe in exchange for his abstention on a vote involving a downtown hotel project. He’s also accused of arranging $40,000 in bribes from an FBI front company, Southern Pines Development, to a Maddox consulting firm. The delay involves an unvaccinated juror whose mother is in the hospital with COVID-19 and pneumonia. U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle issued a statement about the break in the trial. The juror visited her mother in the hospital last night. The two live in the same house but have not had close contact over recent days.
“Schools PR chief orchestrated secret attempt to save Superintendent Robert Runcie” via Scott Travis of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — The communications chief for Broward Schools orchestrated an aggressive but secret operation to try to save the job of Runcie within hours after he was arrested on a perjury charge. Amid calls for Runcie to step down or be fired after his arrest on April 21, Kathy Koch, a veteran public relations professional, hurriedly organized a pro-Runcie rally on school district property. She helped some of the county’s most prominent business leaders craft their remarks for the event on April 23, but she carefully tried to distance herself from the effort. His last day will be Aug. 10. Koch has worked for the district since 2018 and makes $168,000 a year. She said she organized the rally on her own personal time.
“Seminole’s effort to recoup losses from Joel Greenberg scandal could start with sports memorabilia” via Martin E. Comas and Jason Garcia of the Orlando Sentinel — As Seminole County seeks to claw back thousands of dollars in questionable or fraudulent spending by the Seminole County Tax Collector’s Office under Greenberg, one of its first victories could come in the form of sports memorabilia purchased with public money. “What I’m asking for — will be asking for — is not only the money that was used to pay for the memorabilia but also the memorabilia back so that we can sell it back out on the market,” Seminole County Attorney Bryant Applegate told commissioners this week. Greenberg used public funds to buy himself personal items, including memorabilia signed by NBA stars Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan.
“The Manatee County Commission and the greatest fight of them all” via Chris Anderson of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune — Leave it to the Manatee County Commission. They can’t even fight right. They’re using Facebook posts to settle scores. Does anyone remember back in 2018? When Scott Hopes claimed fellow board member Dave Miner tried to run him over in the parking lot after a particularly contentious Manatee County School Board meeting? So now we have Manatee County Commissioner George Kruse calling out fellow Commissioner Carol Whitmore on Facebook, and while it’s a tickle fight compared to Miner vs. Hopes, Car Wars I, it’s still nasty in its own passive-aggressive way, basically because of the underlying sleaze factor. This whole thing has something to do with Kruse’s trip to a conference in Orlando and somehow Whitmore’s name appearing on his hotel bill as a guest, even though she wasn’t there.
“‘This is holding us back’: Confederate statue overshadows pressing issues in Putnam County” via Jim Abbott of The Daytona Beach News-Journal — When a Putnam County Commission workshop boiled over into angry shouting and name-calling this past week, the festering debate over the fate of a controversial Confederate monument again put rural Putnam County in an unpleasant public spotlight. For longtime residents and newcomers alike, the scene was a discouraging display in a county that lags behind other counties statewide in per capita income, education, health care and other important areas. For some, the monument debate is an unhelpful distraction that has outlived its relevance. For others, the division over the statue is tied into deeper issues that also have affected the ability of the county of 74,521 residents to lift itself out of stagnation.
“The Lake O plans: What it means for Palm Beach County if Lake Worth Lagoon is labeled an estuary” via Kimberly Miller of The Palm Beach Post — For the first time since the Lake Worth Lagoon was perverted by saltwater inlets gouged into its sides, it may officially be considered an estuary by water managers, a move that would offer protection from belching discharges of black muck. Lake Worth Lagoon’s designation in the current plan was simply an outlet for water going south, another drain for Lake Okeechobee without much consideration given to its environmental health and community importance. The result was decades of damaging releases through the C-51 canal of sediment-laden water from Lake Okeechobee and a watershed 42-times larger than the lagoon itself.
— TOP OPINION —
“Kids deserve the vaccine, too. It will keep them — and adults — safe.” via Saad B. Omer of The Washington Post — States are instead focusing on at least partially immunizing a minimum of 70% of adults. There’s a problem with this strategy, though: It leaves out children. But teens and young children, if the vaccine is approved for them, must be part of our approach if we are to end this pandemic. It is hard to imagine gaining sufficient ground against the virus without vaccinating a large share of teens and children. Vaccinating children would eliminate the need to choose between keeping them safe and restoring a sense of normalcy for them. If there is a substantial increase in cases and hospitalizations in the United States, domestic pressure on the government will likely decrease the willingness to prioritize global vaccine access.
— OPINIONS —
“Why we’re protesting now, in Cuba and Florida” via Patrick Denny of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — My grandfather and great grandfather both suffered as political prisoners, but thankfully didn’t die in prison, like many others. My grandmother remembers being taught to read and write with propaganda-ridden books. The night before my family was to leave Cuba by plane, the secret police busted into their home searching for their passports and visas. Someone had tipped them off. I feel the pain of the Cubans protesting for their rights to simply live, to eat, drink and be happy, to think independently without fear of persecution, protesting for their basic freedoms. Unlike my great-grandmother, whose memories of days long gone made the island too painful for her, we still dream of being able to go back to the free Cuba our ancestors grew up in.
“Voter fraud is becoming Republicans’ monster under the bed” via David Von Drehle of The Washington Post — Fear of the monster is its own validation. Sooner or later, you will be crawling on the floor, scolding all monsters to go away. The same logic, if we can call it that, props up the remaining election audit efforts around the country. Republican officials are no longer defending audits by claiming the election was stolen. Trump’s senior law enforcement official, then-Attorney General William P. Barr, said, “we have not seen fraud on a scale that could have effected a different outcome.” Many Republicans are not necessarily saying they’ll find a monster. But then again, invisible monsters are the very worst kind.
“Biden is right. Purveyors of vaccine disinformation are killing people.” via Jennifer Rubin of The Washington Post — President Biden hit the nail on the head Friday in response to a question about platforms such as Facebook that amplify scientifically false anti-vaccine claims, and deter people from getting lifesaving shots. “They’re killing people,” he said. One can quibble over whether Facebook or a mendacious Fox News host actually affects an individual’s decision to avoid vaccination, but it is hard to deny they can reinforce life-threatening behavior. Disinformation spreaders, including elected officials such as Sen. Ron Johnson, are putting people at risk. Not only do these voices discourage vaccination and thereby endanger those inclined to follow their advice, they also put children too young to receive the vaccination at risk.
“Don’t fascist my Florida, DeSantis” via Steve Bousquet of the Orlando Sentinel — Whose Florida is it, anyway? I pose this question after seeing DeSantis hawking online sales of beer koozies that say, “Don’t Fauci my Florida.” Even for the Florida Governor’s political base, that message hardly needs an explanation. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert, is a public health menace who deprives us of our freedom. The koozies made their debut just as COVID-19 cases were skyrocketing in Florida, the state with one of the highest case rates in the U.S. That means more sickness, hospitalizations and deaths. Conditions are quickly and dramatically getting a lot worse. But don’t expect any help from your local leaders. DeSantis made sure to tie their hands.
“Gaming companies placed a $62 million bet against Florida voters. Don’t let them win” via the Miami Herald editorial board — Consider yourself warned, Florida. The door has been flung wide-open for more gambling, and everyone is scrambling to get a piece of the action. How else to explain this astonishing piece of news: Gambling interests pumped a whopping $62 million in political contributions last month into groups and efforts that could influence the future of sports betting and casino gambling via ballot initiatives in 2022. With that kind of money on the table, the potential market in Florida must be huge. No doubt much of this interest springs from the Legislature’s easy approval this year of a $500 million gambling deal negotiated between DeSantis and the Seminole Tribe.
“Glades farmers committed to community and environment” via Judy Clayton Sanchez of The Palm Beach Post — Glades farmers may be a small percentage of the county population, but they help ensure our country and its families have food on the table. In the rural farming region, our farmers play an even more important role as a critical community partner. In a 7,000-plus word story in this paper last Sunday, an article on sugar-cane harvesting practices ran with little input from its main subject — farmers. All of us live in this community and among the fertile farmlands and sugar-cane fields, yet this story was only interested in what a handful of Glades residents had to say. While U.S. Sugar was contacted one week before the “deadline,” we’ve since learned that the story had already been written before we were asked for comment.
— ON TODAY’S SUNRISE —
DeSantis returned from his trip to Texas, where he met Florida officers sent to patrol the Mexican border.
Also, on today’s Sunrise:
— As the Governor was helping fuel the culture war out West, COVID-19 was doing a number back home. We set a new low last week in the number of vaccinations. So many Americans are refusing to get vaccinated, the U.S. Surgeon General says misinformation has become a threat to public health.
— Florida had more than 45,000 new cases over the past week, which was responsible for more than 20% of all the new cases in America.
— A setback for the Governor’s plan to ban vaccine passports on cruise ships sailing from Florida. A federal appeals court overturned a lower-court ruling that said the CDC overstepped its bounds regulating the cruise industry.
— Unemployment was up slightly in June … it was the third month in a row where the rate ticked up by one-tenth of one percent. But there was also a significant increase in the labor force.
— Florida added more than 80,000 new jobs last month. That’s good news, regardless of the higher unemployment rate.
— And finally, two Florida Men: One broke into an airport and tried to hide in a Coast Guard plane; the other doused a store full of people with anti-bear bear spray to make his escape with some stolen candles.
To listen, click on the image below:
— ALOE —
“‘Everybody is waiting for it:’ Disney Cruise Line sets sail on ‘test cruise’” via Amanda Castro of Click Orlando — Disney Cruise Line took a big step in its cruising comeback Saturday. The Disney Dream had a “test sailing” out of Port Canaveral, making it the first cruise ship to depart from the port with passengers on board since the pandemic started. Brevard County residents Joe Woelich and Jan Barker visit Jetty Park often. The pair said they plan to watch the first cruise ship leave Port Canaveral since the start of the pandemic. “Everybody is waiting for it, so yeah, it’s cool,” Woelich said. Officials said the Disney Dream was the last passenger sailing to depart from Port Canaveral on March 13, 2020, before the cruising industry shutdown.
“World of oyster farming: OysterMom, Oyster Boss navigate salty joys, perils of aquaculture” via Marina Brown of the Tallahassee Democrat — Out in what is known as Oyster Bay in Crawfordville where Deborah Keller tends to her large family, well, they’re almost like family, her “children,” the hundreds of baby oysters in whose service she has christened herself, OysterMom. What most oyster-eaters won’t be thinking of as they down the little squirts, is how much work it has taken to get the erratically shaped, water-filtering bivalves to their plates. Or how precarious are the lives of both the oysters that seem to have no other ambition but to grow, or the oyster farmers’ margins, who, like Keller, in the last six years have striven to develop a Northwest Florida industry that will sustain thousands? Currently, the jury is still out on whether oyster aquaculture will be a growing and sustainable addition to Florida’s “crops.”
“Future Jeeps will be able to drive underwater, CEO says” via Gary Gastelu of Fox News — The new Jeep Wrangler Xtreme Recon can drive through 33.6 inches of water, but future Jeeps may be able to go much deeper than that. During a recent electric vehicle presentation by Jeep’s parent company Stellantis, a Wrangler was depicted driving while fully submerged, and that vision could become a reality. “There is a little wink we have at the end, which is probably post-2030, but I know a lot of enthusiasts and a lot of our communities are requesting it,” Jeep CEO Christian Meunier said. Electric vehicles don’t have air intakes or exhausts, so as long as their equipment is sealed, they can operate underwater without any issues.
— HAPPY BIRTHDAY —
Belated best wishes to two great women in Florida politics, Reps. Allison Tant and Jackie Toledo. Celebrating today is our friend, Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, as well as Tres Holton and Courtney Vandenberg.
Sunburn is authored and assembled by Peter Schorsch, Phil Ammann, Renzo Downey and Drew Wilson.