Peace on earth?
We’ll get back to you on that one. That’s because, in this season of good tidings of great joy that shall be to all people, we know that with Christmas less than a week away, the virus continues to intrude on what we used to know as normal.
Pro and college teams are postponing games again. Some restaurants have shut down. News reports seem like reruns from a year ago.
It should be obvious by now that we can’t wish COVID-19 away. We can’t legislate it out of existence, nor do we dare pretend it isn’t there. It’s always there in its various mutations.
And yet, even amid reports of rapidly increasing cases and ICU beds in short supply, we do have hope — at least compared to this time last year.
Now, there are vaccines for anyone who wants to receive a shot. It’s worth noting that the vast majority of people battling infections are not vaccinated. They chose the freedom to catch a deadly virus over the common sense of protecting themselves and their families.
Last year, people were advised to forego family gatherings because of the danger of infection. Grandparents didn’t see their grandkids. The glee of Christmas morning wasn’t quite the same if you had to watch it over Zoom.
This year, airlines are adding flights to accommodate the significant increase in the number of people traveling to meet with relatives they may not have seen in a couple of years.
They still must wear masks on those flights, which seems to be an issue for some, judging by the number of videos we’ve seen of people behaving badly on planes. Those grinches put a minor inconvenience over the mask requirement over courtesy and safety for their fellow passengers.
However, even the rude people can’t spoil this season. Not anymore.
Yeah, the virus won’t go away, but we have more ways to keep it at bay now. We will gather together, eat together, tell the old stories again, and laugh, and hug.
In that spirit, we wish you a Merry Christmas.
Even better, we wish you a Peaceful Christmas.
— SITUATIONAL AWARENESS —
—@PressSec: On Tuesday, the President will deliver remarks on the status of the country’s fight against COVID-19, as the country sees rising cases amid the growing omicron variant.
—@SamStein: A lot to process on the (Joe) Manchin news but, from a substantive standpoint, it’s just objectively devastating for the planet. The last best chance at climate change legislation is gone
—@brikeilarcnn: I have symptomatic COVID and am so thankful to have the protection of being double vaccinated and boosted. Please be careful about potential exposures and get tested before gathering with friends and family.
—@MiamiSup: Burying your head in the sand is not a health strategy. If I’m here and conditions worsen, expect me to follow, debate, argue and defend the best scientific advice that benefits and protects our children, our @ workforce, and our community. #
We’re going to dominate Ron DeSantis in South Florida, but we’re going to do just fine in North Florida, too. pic.twitter.com/7ptxgqh94V
— Nikki Fried (@NikkiFried) December 18, 2021
—@ChrisLatvala: Cancel culture got Urban (Meyer). Wouldn’t let him kick players, berate players and his staff, or skip the team flight home.
First day of my winter break! Snow blower broke and im remembering why I live in Florida. 🤣 pic.twitter.com/YbaS3A0ACc
— Rep. Andrew Learned (@AndrewLearned) December 19, 2021
— Rockettes (@Rockettes) December 17, 2021
’The Matrix: Resurrections’ released — 2; ’The Book of Boba Fett’ premieres on Disney+ — 9; Private sector employees must be fully vaccinated or tested weekly — 15; final season of ‘This Is Us’ begins — 15; CES 2022 begins — 16; Ken Welch’s inauguration as St. Petersburg Mayor — 17; NFL season ends — 20; 2022 Legislative Session starts — 22; Florida’s 20th Congressional District Election — 22; Special Elections in Senate District 33, House District 88 & 94 — 22; Florida Chamber’s 2022 Legislative Fly-In and Reception — 22; Florida TaxWatch’s 2022 State of the Taxpayer Day — 23; Joel Coen’s ’The Tragedy of Macbeth’ on Apple TV+ — 25; NFL playoffs begin — 26; ‘Ozark’ final season begins — 32; ‘Billions’ begins — 34; federal student loan payments will resume — 43; XXIV Olympic Winter Games begins — 46; Super Bowl LVI — 55; ‘The Walking Dead’ final season part two begins — 62; Daytona 500 — 62; Special Election for Jacksonville City Council At-Large Group 3 — 64; CPAC begins — 66; St. Pete Grand Prix — 67; ‘The Batman’ premieres — 73; The Oscars — 99; ’Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness’ premieres — 142; ’Top Gun: Maverick’ premieres — 161; ’Platinum Jubilee’ for Queen Elizabeth II — 164; ’Thor: Love and Thunder’ premieres — 201; San Diego Comic-Con 2022 — 212; ‘The Lord of the Rings’ premieres on Amazon Prime — 256; ’Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse’ sequel premieres — 291; ‘Black Panther 2’ premieres — 326; ‘The Flash’ premieres — 329; ‘Avatar 2’ premieres — 361; ‘Captain Marvel 2’ premieres — 424; ‘Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania’ premieres — 585; ‘Dune: Part Two’ premieres — 669; Opening Ceremony of the 2024 Olympic Games — 949.
— TOP STORIES —
“America is not ready for omicron” via Ed Yong of The Atlantic — The variant’s threat is far greater at the societal level than at the personal one, and policymakers have already cut themselves off from the tools needed to protect the populations they serve. Like the variants that preceded it, omicron requires individuals to think and act for the collective good — which is to say, it poses a heightened version of the same challenge that the U.S. has failed for two straight years, in a bipartisan fashion. First, the bad news: In terms of catching the virus, everyone should assume that they are less protected than they were two months ago. Second, some worse news: Boosting isn’t a foolproof shield against omicron. Third, some better news: Even if omicron has an easier time infecting vaccinated individuals, it should still have more trouble causing severe disease. The vaccines were always intended to disconnect infection from a dangerous illness, turning a life-threatening event into something closer to a cold.
“Late-stage COVID” via Charlie Warzel of The Atlantic — We’re entering a new phase with different dynamics. Even among many who take the pandemic seriously, this foreboding is mixed with a sense of resignation — that omicron is coming for everyone. They are (understandably) tired of rearranging their lives around the virus. They feel they’ve taken the precautions and must now go about the business of living their lives. There are those in vulnerable groups who resent those who are dismissive. There’s the subset of people traumatized by the last two years. They are still furious at their fellow Americans for reckless behavior. They are sad and angry — about lost loved ones, lost years of their children’s lives, lost jobs and incomes. Then, of course, the familiar cohort denies the seriousness of the pandemic or dismiss it completely.
“Ron DeSantis shares stage with activist who posted QAnon-related conspiracy theories on social media” via Gary Fineout of POLITICO — A Miami activist DeSantis’ office hand-picked to amplify his criticism of critical race theory has espoused views aligned with QAnon conspiracy theories and appears to support those who stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. Eulalia Maria Jimenez, the chair of the Miami chapter of Moms for Liberty, stood with DeSantis earlier this week as he touted legislation to combat critical race theory. During the news conference, Jimenez described last year’s demonstrations after George Floyd’s killing as “race wars” and railed against critical race theory teachings. This marks the second time this year where DeSantis has given the spotlight to someone who appears to embrace conspiracy theories.
“DeSantis blames Joe Biden for affordable housing crisis” via Jason Delgado of Florida Politics — DeSantis blamed Biden on Friday for the rising cost of rent in Florida. The political finger-pointing comes after Florida Democrats sent a letter to DeSantis Thursday, urging him to declare a state of emergency to address a growing lack of affordable housing in Florida. Rent prices, the letter notes, are on the rise. “This situation is no longer sustainable as Floridians simply cannot afford Florida,” the letter reads. DeSantis, however, swatted down calls for an emergency declaration soon after receiving the letter Thursday. The issue, he suggested, lies with Biden. “We should take that letter, and we should forward it to Joe Biden in the White House, because things are more expensive because of his policies,” DeSantis said.
“State now accepting applications from home- and community-based providers for Medicaid grants” via Christine Jordan Sexton of Florida Politics — The state Agency for Health Care Administration on Friday announced it is opening the application process for home- and community-based service providers to tap into hundreds of millions in additional federal Medicaid funds. Applications are being accepted for $403 million in one-time payments to aid eligible home- and community-based service providers in recruiting and retaining qualified staff. AHCA also is accepting applications from providers interested in tapping into $266.6 million being made available for retaining employees and recruiting new ones. “This is huge news,” Florida Association of Rehabilitation Facility President and CEO Tyler Sununu told Florida Politics. “It’s critical funding for our members.”
“A growing number of states are getting rid of requiring concealed weapons licenses. Florida could be next.” via Angie Dimichele of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — Florida could become the next state in a growing number that allows people to carry their guns, openly or concealed, without requiring a permit. Gun owners who now carry hidden under their clothes would be able to walk freely into coffee shops, grocery stores and other public places with their weapons visible.
“Disney Cruise Line to add second Florida home port” via Ashley Kosciolek of The Points Guy — In a move that might shock Disney Cruise Line fans, the line on Tuesday celebrated an agreement with Port Everglades, cementing a spot for a Disney ship to base itself at the Fort Lauderdale port year-round, beginning in fall 2023. According to a statement from the cruise line, the 15-year Port Everglades agreement also makes room for a second DCL ship to home port there seasonally, beginning in 2025. “All we need is a little pixie dust to transform Terminal 4,” said Jonathan Daniels, Port Everglades’ chief executive and port director.
— DATELINE TALLY —
Spotted — At the Governor’s Mansion Christmas party Friday night: Gov. Ron and First Lady Casey DeSantis; CFO Jimmy and Katie Patronis; Rodney Barreto, Slater Bayliss, Brian and Mimi D’Isernia, Helen Aguirre Ferré, Margy Grant, Nicole Hagerty, Greg Haile, Craig Hansen, Fred and Autumn Karlinsky, James and Logan McFadden, Toby Philpot, Emmett Reed, Richard Reeves, Rodney Reeves, Chris and Alli Schoonover, Danielle Scoggins, Caleb Spencer, Shane Strum, Ryan Tyson, Anna Upton, James Uthmeier and Katie Webb.
Spotted — At Anthony Pedicini and Tom Piccolo’s Strategic Image Management Christmas party: AG Ashley Moody, Sens. Danny Burgess, Gayle Harrell, Ed Hooper; Reps. Ralph Massullo, Lawrence McClure, Jackie Toledo, Josie Tomkow; Manatee County Commissioners Vanessa Baugh and George Kruse, Hillsborough Commissioner Ken Hagan, Lake Commissioner Kirby Smith, Hillsborough School Board member Stacy Hahn; Bill Galvano, Jamie Grant and Lori Pfister.
— CORONA FLORIDA —
“Florida adds 29,568 COVID-19 cases, 194 deaths in past week” via Ian Hodgson of the Tampa Bay Times — Florida reported 29,568 coronavirus cases over the seven days from Dec. 10-16, an average of about 4,224 infections per day. That’s more than double the number of cases from the week before. It’s not clear at this point whether the increase is due to the omicron variant, but “because of the increased transmission that’s associated with this variant,” said Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo on Friday, “it’s very important that we prepare.” The latest tally brings the total number of COVID-19 cases up to 3,739,348 since the pandemic’s first two cases in Florida were reported more than 21 months ago on March 1, 2020.
“Nearly a third of Florida’s new COVID-19 cases are breakthrough infections.” via Cindy Krischer Goodman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — Although the unvaccinated remain most at risk for COVID-19 with two variants in the state, the vaccinated Florida population clearly isn’t in the clear. According to the Florida Department of Health, about 30% of new COVID-19 cases in Florida in the last 30 days are breakthrough infections in people who have coronavirus vaccines but not a booster shot.
“‘The normal shot’: No COVID-19 booster vaccine for DeSantis” via A.G. Gancarski of Florida Politics — DeSantis continues to warn that the definition of fully vaccinated will shift to include receiving a booster shot. His latest comments suggest that his “one-shot” Johnson and Johnson “jab” from earlier this year was the only vaccination he’s received. “I’ve done whatever I did, the normal shot, and that at the end of the day is people’s individual decisions about what they want to do,” DeSantis said when asked if he had received a booster shot by host Maria Bartiromo on Sunday Morning Futures. DeSantis acknowledged the need to issue appropriate warnings with vaccines but criticized the move to “hastily” pause shots. “That was a very high-demand vaccine prior to that happening.”
“UF rushed Joseph Ladapo tenure vote, downplayed COVID-19 controversy, letter alleges” via Kirby Wilson of the Tampa Bay Times — As they rushed to install DeSantis’ soon-to-be appointed Surgeon General to a tenured position, UF administrators downplayed controversial views held by the doctor in communications with faculty. Some faculty members who voted on whether to grant tenure to Ladapo were not aware that his résumé included published editorials and media appearances “that directly contradict sound scientific evidence,” the letter states. They didn’t have a chance to review his teaching evaluations, either, the letter alleges, contrary to university policy.
“Florida’s nursing home residents are trailing most of the U.S. in getting booster shots” via Cindy Krischer Goodman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — Florida’s vulnerable nursing home residents lag all but two other states in booster shots, putting them at risk as the omicron variant spreads. AARP on Thursday released the Nursing Home COVID-19 Dashboard, which shows Florida ranks the third-worst state in the nation with only 24% of nursing home residents receiving boosters, well behind the national average of 39%, as of Nov. 21.
“COVID-19 cases surge in South Florida as region records 5 millionth case” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — COVID-19 cases shot up dramatically this past week in South Florida as the new omicron variant has made its way into the region. Experts are still studying whether symptoms caused by omicron are as severe as previous variants. But cases are now skyrocketing across the tri-county area after two more mild increases the previous two weeks. During the week of Nov. 26-Dec. 2, cases rose in all three counties for the first time since the summer surge in August. But those increases were slight. Cases rose 13% week-to-week in Broward and Palm Beach counties and 21% in Miami-Dade, and the numbers remained very low overall following weeks of case reduction. From Dec. 3-9, cases rose 31% in Palm Beach County, 37% in Broward, and 42% in Miami-Dade. Again, caseloads remained relatively low.
“Tampa Bay sees slight rise in COVID-19 cases as holidays approach” via Kelly Hayes of Florida Politics — The Tampa Bay community is seeing a slight rise in COVID-19 cases, with the weekly report showing over 1,000 cases in Hillsborough County, despite remaining below that number for the last couple of weeks. The most recent information, which covers Dec. 10 through Dec. 16, showed 1,363 new cases of COVID-19 in Hillsborough County, trending upward from only 850 weekly cases in the week prior. The county’s weekly positivity rate also rose to 4.3%, up from last week’s 3% positivity rate. Since the pandemic began, Hillsborough County reported 248,113 cases of COVID-19. The county also recorded 6,259 new vaccinations in the last week, bringing the number of vaccinated Hillsborough County residents to 925,875, or 65%. The week prior, the county reported 7,596 vaccinations.
“Avast! Tampa’s pirate ‘invasion’ returns after a virus break” via Curt Anderson of The Associated Press — Avast! Tampa’s century-old pirate “invasion” is coming back after a virus-related year off, and officials have a message: don’t throw plastic parade beads into the bay. The Gasparilla parade and other events are set to return in January, celebrating the pirate lore of Florida’s Gulf Coast. It’s like a miniature Mardi Gras but with eye patches, cannon fire, and many cries of “Arrrgh!” There’s a reason the Tampa NFL team quarterbacked by Tom Brady is called the Buccaneers. “Everyone is ready to get back to it,“ said Peter Lackman, captain of parade organizers Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla. “We’ve all been waiting for it.” Tampa Mayor Jane Castor, Lackman and others said at a news conference Thursday that the return of Gasparilla is a welcome bit of normalcy amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. But they wanted to stress that protecting the environment during the event is paramount.
— 2022 —
First in Sunburn — National Rifle Association and Unified Sportsman of Florida endorse Blaise Ingoglia for SD 10 — “[Ingoglia’s] support of pro-sportsmen, pro-Second Amendment, and pro-freedom record has earned you our endorsement and our appreciation. No other candidate in this race can match your background of advancing the cause of Freedom and Second Amendment rights,” said Marion Hammer, executive director of Unified Sportsmen of Florida and past president of the NRA. “My No. 1 job as a public servant has always been to advocate for protecting the freedoms of all Floridians. For this reason, I am proud to receive the endorsement. I will never back down in defense of our right to bear arms,” Ingoglia responded.
“DeSantis blasts Nikki Fried’s pay-to-play claim as ‘baseless conspiracy’” via A.G. Gancarski of Florida Politics — DeSantis rejected claims by a potential 2022 opponent that key board spots were pay-to-play gigs for major donors. Friday in Ocala, the Governor responded to Fried‘s assertion (made without tangible proof) that there was a tie between political donations and spots on prominent education boards in the state, saying it was a “baseless conspiracy charge.” Fried noted Tuesday night that state university trustees were required to donate $100,000 to DeSantis‘ campaign, or they would not be re-appointed. Yet, she provided little to back that up other than anecdotal examples of big donors serving on university boards.
— CORONA NATION —
“The Biden administration has been sidelining vaccine experts” via Philip R. Krause and Luciana Borio of The Washington Post — The U.S. government, over the past few weeks, has made three important decisions on vaccines without consulting independent panels of experts. Before last month, the standard practice was for the agencies to convene standing outside advisory committees, whose members inspect the relevant data, debate it and vote. That did not happen in these cases, meaning that the costs and benefits of these policy moves, from a medical perspective, were not fully aired publicly and discussed in advance. The recommendations of experts on the outside advisory committees are needed more than ever, so the scientific community can understand the empirical bases for decisions, and so the public can be assured that science, not politics, is driving vaccine policy.
“New York reports a record number of coronavirus cases for one day.” via Lola Fadulu and Joseph Goldstein of The New York Times — New York officials reported 21,027 new coronavirus cases on Friday, the highest single-day total since the earliest days of the pandemic, when the availability of testing was not as widespread as it is now. The data showed a drastic change in the virus’s presence in New York. For weeks, case counts rose steadily, primarily because of a winter surge driven by the Delta variant. Epidemiologists believe that the spike in recent days is because of the fast-spreading Omicron variant.
“Washington state Sen. Doug Ericksen dies after battling COVID-19” via Annabelle Timsit of The Washington Post — Washington state Sen. Ericksen, a vocal critic of coronavirus vaccine mandates, died Friday at age 52, weeks after reportedly testing positive for the coronavirus while abroad. Ericksen’s family confirmed his death in a statement. Ericksen is survived by his wife, Tasha, and two daughters, Addi and Elsa. No cause of death was provided. The lawmaker told his Republican colleagues he tested positive while on a trip to El Salvador in November and asked them for guidance in securing monoclonal antibodies. Former state lawmaker Luanne Van Werven later said Ericksen was evacuated from El Salvador and was in stable condition at a Florida hospital.
“CNN closes offices as COVID-19 cases rise” via Benjamin Mullin of The Wall Street Journal — CNN is closing its offices to nonessential employees, network President Jeff Zucker told employees in a memo Saturday, as COVID-19 cases rise at the network and nationwide. Zucker said that employees who don’t need to be in the office to produce shows or provide other essential functions for the network’s broadcast operations will be asked to work from home, citing a surge of cases of COVID-19 at CNN. “If your job does not require you to be in the office in order to do it, please work from elsewhere,” Zucker said in the memo. Zucker said the network would be making changes to studios and control rooms to “minimize the number of people in our spaces.” The network, which had been using its full-scale studios for its shows, will go back to using “flash studios.” These are small studios that can be operated remotely by fewer people.
— CORONA ECONOMICS —
“Hot economy collides with huge virus surge in pandemic’s latest twist” via Rachel Siegel and Laura Reiley of The Washington Post — The sudden surge of new coronavirus cases has jolted some parts of the U.S. economy that depend most on face-to-face interactions, while other businesses are preparing for record holiday seasons and so far appear unscathed by the spreading omicron variant. The impact is uneven but acute. It reflects how some American consumers and business owners have grown accustomed to making instant decisions to cancel their plans, while others are more undeterred after such a long period of setbacks and delays. In recent days there has been a flurry of other announcements about changes. Economists and policymakers say it may take weeks for the omicron variant’s full impact to come into view, and the situation is changing rapidly.
“Higher prices are evident, even though they’re not on Christmas wish lists” via Tom Hudson of the Miami Herald — Yes, the American economy is a consumption economy. And most of what we consume are services like haircuts, Uber rides and Netflix queues. Holiday shoppers are experiencing higher prices and lower supplies, as they work through their Christmas wish lists. This inflation may catch shoppers off guard, and it certainly has gotten the attention of investors, the Federal Reserve and Congress. The scrutiny paid to inflationary trends has been concentrated among the stuff we buy: cars, vegetables and bicycles. But don’t ignore the price of services, too. The Fed won’t. Consumer prices for goods were up 5% in November. That’s excluding the volatile swings of energy and food. Stripping out the price of gas and dinner can help give a clearer picture of long-term price trends.
“Restaurants anxious as omicron, high food costs take toll” via Dee-Ann Durbin, Mae Anderson and Sylvia Hui of The Associated Press — While restaurants in the U.S. and United Kingdom are open without restrictions and often bustling, they are entering their second winter of the coronavirus pandemic anxious about what’s ahead: They’re squeezed by labor shortages and skyrocketing food costs and the omicron variant is looming. “I’m extremely worried. I’ve never felt like we were out of the woods,” said Caroline Glover, chef and owner of the restaurant Annette in the Denver suburb of Aurora. The rapid spread of omicron is already pummeling the industry in Britain and elsewhere, with restaurants, hotels and pubs reporting cancellations at the busiest and most lucrative time of year. Businesses urged the U.K. government to offer relief after officials warned people to think carefully about socializing. Scotland and Wales have pledged millions of pounds for businesses, adding pressure for Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government to do the same in England.
“Restaurants are closing again as staff test positive for coronavirus amid omicron surge” via Emily Heil and Tim Carman of The Washington Post — Around the country, bars and restaurants are shuttering and reopening as COVID-19 cases and deaths are on the rise and as the omicron variant spreads. For many restaurant owners, this is not just about business. It’s about their responsibilities to staff and public health, and some say they don’t have a reliable road map for the omicron variant, which appears to be more contagious than previous strains of the novel coronavirus and more likely to evade vaccine protections. It’s not just restaurants feeling the new wave of COVID-19 disruption. About a hundred professional football players’ positive tests have led to the postponement of several NFL games. Some colleges around the country are sending students home and making final exams virtual.
— MORE CORONA —
“Some antibody treatments won’t work on the omicron variant, experts say” via Skylar Swisher of the Orlando Sentinel — Some of the monoclonal antibody treatments Florida deployed to combat the delta wave of COVID-19 over the summer won’t work against the new omicron variant that is rapidly spreading across the world, experts say. Regeneron Pharmaceuticals announced this week that its antibody cocktail has “diminished potency” against omicron but remains effective against delta. The U.S. government now is stockpiling another drug that appears to work against omicron, but supplies are a concern with cases rising across the country. DeSantis promoted Regeneron’s drug extensively during the delta wave, earning the moniker “Regeneron Ron” from critics who said he should have focused on vaccines at events, too, something he stopped doing in the spring.
“Highly vaccinated countries thought they were over the worst. Denmark says the pandemic’s toughest month is just beginning.” via Chico Harlan of The Washington Post — In a country that tracks the spread of coronavirus variants as closely as any in the world, the signals have never been more concerning. Omicron positives are doubling nearly every two days. The country is setting one daily case record after another. The lab analyzing positive tests recently added an overnight shift just to keep up. And scientists say the surge is just beginning. As omicron drives a new phase of the pandemic, many are looking to Denmark for warnings about what to expect. The emerging answer is dire. For all the defenses built over the last year, the virus is about to sprint out of control, and scientists here expect a similar pattern in much of the world.
“Paris cancels New Year’s Eve firework display over omicron fears” via France 24 — EU chief Ursula von der Leyen has warned the Omicron coronavirus variant could be dominant in Europe by mid-January. Since it was first detected in South Africa last month, many countries have decided to reintroduce travel restrictions and other containment measures. “With regard to the acceleration of the pandemic, and the risks related to the end-of-year festivities, authorities should impose significant restrictions,” France’s scientific panel said. And Paris municipal authorities announced “with regret that we will have to cancel all the festivities planned on the Champs Elysees on Dec. 31.
“The Crown series five filming is halted as eight crew members test positive for coronavirus … days after Blair family were first seen on set” via Eleanor Sharples of The Daily Mail — The Crown has become the latest victim of COVID-19, days after the Blair family were seen on set for the first time. Filming of the new series was halted on Wednesday after at least eight crew members tested positive, a source close to the Netflix hit told the Daily Mail. On Thursday night, Netflix confirmed: ‘The Crown finished filming one day earlier than planned for the Christmas break following a few positive cases within the team, thus ensuring others’ safety and so that everyone on production can enjoy a festive break with their loved ones.’ The coronavirus outbreak on set comes after Bertie Carvel and Lydia Leonard were pictured for the first time as Tony Blair and wife Cherie in Kent on Tuesday.
— PRESIDENTIAL —
“Biden administration eyes a potentially stark shift in messaging around ending the pandemic” via Kevin Liptak and Jeremy Diamond of CNN — Biden‘s top health officials came to an afternoon briefing at the White House Thursday with a warning — and a request. Sitting at the head of his long conference table surrounded by top members of his COVID-19 response team, Biden listened intently as the officials laid out the contours of a looming coronavirus surge that could accelerate rapidly, swamp hospitals and send the country into another bleak winter. Yet Biden’s team also came to the evergreen-bedecked Roosevelt Room with potentially more positive news: Many of those cases will remain mild or even asymptomatic in vaccinated people, particularly those who have gotten booster shots. It was a message the officials urged Biden to deliver to the public in the clearest terms possible. Only by laying out the stark difference in outcomes between vaccinated and unvaccinated infections could the gravity of the moment come through.
“White House lights up Joe Manchin after he crushes Biden’s megabill” via Burgess Everett and Jonathan Lemire of POLITICO — Manchin struck a decisive blow to President Biden’s sweeping social and climate spending bill, igniting a bitter clash with his own party’s White House. Biden left negotiations with Manchin this week thinking the two men could cut a deal next year on his sweeping agenda. Then the West Virginia Democrat bluntly said he is a “no” on the $1.7 trillion in an interview. His comments prompted an immediate war with the White House, which took personal aim at Manchin for what officials saw as a breach of trust. In the past week, he’s spoken directly to Biden several times, with the President and other Democrats furiously lobbying him to support the bill.
“Republicans resist saying 3 simple words: ‘Joe Biden won’” via Thomas Beaumont of The Associated Press — They are just three little words, but they have become nearly impossible for many Republicans to say: “Joe Biden won.” Eleven months after the Democrat’s inauguration, Republican lawmakers and candidates across the country are squirming and stumbling rather than acknowledging the fact of Biden’s victory in the 2020 presidential election. In debates and interviews, they offer circular statements or vague answers when asked whether they believe Biden won. In Minnesota this week, five GOP candidates for Governor came up with 1,400 other words when conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt asked for an answer. The hazy statements are one measure of election denialism within the Republican Party. Former President Donald Trump’s lies about a stolen election have so taken hold among GOP voters that many of the party’s candidates either believe them or fear the political repercussions of refuting Trump.
— D.C. MATTERS —
“The demise of Build Back Better comes at a dark moment for Democrats” via Hugh Hewitt of The Washington Post — Manchin was not the Grinch who stole BBB. That would be the Congressional Budget Office, which cast a skeptical eye on the Democrats’ accounting. A perfect storm of common sense, accountants and economists sunk BBB, which would have been gasoline on inflation’s already burning fire. Mitch McConnell months ago advised his colleagues to pass an infrastructure bill of one-time spending on roads and bridges that made sense in many places. McConnell’s strategy was to carve out just enough spending for Manchin to support so he could withstand a barrage of assaults from the left.
“Ted Cruz secures vote on Russian pipeline sanctions in deal with Chuck Schumer” via Andrew Desiderio of POLITICO — The Senate clinched an agreement early Saturday morning to confirm around three dozen nominees for ambassadorships and senior State Department positions, ending a stalemate between Sen. Cruz and Schumer. The agreement between Cruz and Schumer also sets up a vote in January on Nord Stream 2, the Russia-to-Germany natural gas pipeline. Cruz had been slow-walking dozens of foreign policy nominees over the Biden administration’s decision to waive sanctions on the pipeline, forcing Schumer to use valuable floor time on the nominees or cut a deal with Cruz. Cruz agreed to lift his holds on 32 nominees in exchange for the Senate voting on his legislation to sanction the pipeline in early January.
“Why so many guns on Christmas cards? Because Jesus was ‘manly and virile.’” via Peter Manseau of The Washington Post — When two members of Congress recently shared images of their well-armed families gathered in front of Christmas trees, many assumed it was merely an act of provocation, a loaded gesture designed to exasperate opponents and excite supporters. No matter their intended effect, the photos represent a tradition far older than our current penchant for political trolling, one that, like it or not, is part of widely held interpretations of the upcoming holiday and the beliefs of many who observe it. That is the tradition of Muscular Christianity. These photos represent a shift in attitudes among some evangelical Christians that may have broader implications, as the previously subtle influences of firearms on faith become impossible to ignore.
— CRISIS —
“Mitch McConnell says what the Jan. 6 committee uncovers is ‘something the public needs to know’” via Mariana Alfaro of The Washington Post — McConnell signaled support for the bipartisan House committee investigating the deadly Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol by a pro-Trump mob, saying what the panel is trying to uncover is “something the public needs to know.” In an interview, McConnell said he looks forward to hearing what else the committee will reveal about the insurrection, a view that puts him at odds with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who has attacked the work of the panel as purely political. “I think the fact-finding is interesting. We’re all going to be watching it,” McConnell said. “It was a horrendous event, and I think what they’re seeking to find out is something the public needs to know.” Earlier this year he opposed the creation of a bipartisan, independent commission.
“Jan. 6 investigators believe Nov. 4 text pushing ‘strategy’ to undermine election came from Rick Perry” via Jake Tapper and Jamie Gangel of CNN — Members of the House Select Committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol believe that Perry was the author of a text message sent to then-White House chief of staff Mark Meadows the day after the 2020 election pushing an “AGRESSIVE (sic) STRATEGY” for three state legislatures to ignore the will of their voters and deliver their states’ electors to Trump. A spokesman for Perry told CNN that the former Energy Secretary denies being the author of the text. Multiple people who know Perry confirmed the phone number the committee has associated with that text message is Perry’s number.
“Donald Trump ally Brandon Straka has provided potentially significant information” via Kyle Cheney of POLITICO — Straka, a Trump ally who spoke at a Jan. 5 “Stop the Steal” rally in Washington, and has since pleaded guilty for joining the mob that stormed onto the grounds of the U.S. Capitol the next day, has provided investigators with information they say “may impact the government’s sentencing recommendation.” It’s an indication that Straka, one of the few Jan. 6 defendants who is also of interest to congressional investigators, has cooperated with prosecutors in a substantive way. Straka, who describes himself as a “former liberal,” became a relatively prominent figure in Trumpworld in 2018, when he founded the “WalkAway campaign” to encourage liberals to abandon Democrats.
“Florida man sentenced to 5 years for attacking police, the longest Jan. 6 riot sentence yet” via Tom Jackman of The Washington Post — Robert S. Palmer pleaded guilty in October to assaulting law enforcement officers with a dangerous weapon, and his original plea agreement called for a sentencing range of 46 to 57 months. But after his plea, and his entry into the D.C. jail, Palmer arranged to make an online fundraising plea in which he said he did “go on the defense and throw a fire extinguisher at the police” after being shot with rubber bullets and tear gas. That was a lie, Palmer admitted Friday. He had thrown a fire extinguisher, a large plank, and then a four- to five-foot pole at police before he was struck with one rubber bullet. The falsehood indicated a failure to accept responsibility for his actions, prosecutors argued, and when U.S. District Judge Tanya S. Chutkan agreed, she increased his sentencing range to 63 to 78 months.
“Far-right using COVID-19 theories to grow reach, study shows” via The Associated Press — The mugshot-style photos are posted on online message boards in black and white and look a little like old-fashioned “wanted” posters. “The Jews own COVID-19 just like all of Hollywood,” the accompanying text says. “Wake up, people.” The post is one of many that White supremacists and far-right extremists are using to expand their reach and recruit followers on the social media platform Telegram. The tactic has been successful: Nine of the 10 most viewed posts in the sample examined by the researchers contained misleading claims about the safety of vaccines or the pharmaceutical companies manufacturing them. One Telegram channel saw its total subscribers jump tenfold after it leaned into COVID-19 conspiracy theories.
— EPILOGUE: TRUMP —
“Trump uses anti-Semitic tropes to again criticize Jewish Americans” via Gabby Orr of CNN — Trump claimed that Jewish Americans “either don’t like Israel or don’t care about Israel,” while also suggesting that evangelical Christians “love Israel more than the Jews in this country.” Trump’s comments are the latest in a series of controversial remarks he has been known to make about Jewish Americans. During his first campaign for President, Trump delivered a speech to the Republican Jewish Coalition that was rife with anti-Semitic stereotypes. More recently, he told conservative radio host Ari Hoffman that “Israel literally owned Congress … 10 years ago, 15 years ago … and today it’s almost the opposite.” Speaking to Israeli journalist Barak Ravid, during a sit-down interview earlier this year, parts of which aired Friday on the podcast “Unholy: Two Jews on the News,” the former President said, “It’s a very dangerous thing that’s happening,” as he claimed that Jewish Americans have turned their back on Israel.
“House oversight committee releases report detailing efforts of Trump administration officials to ‘undermine’ COVID-19 efforts in U.S.” via Lauren Fox and Daniella Diaz of CNN — Trump administration officials made “deliberate efforts to undermine the nation’s coronavirus response for political purposes,” the House Select subcommittee on the coronavirus crisis led by Democrats said in a report released Friday. The committee, which spent months working to interview former Trump officials, said the administration worked to undermine the public health response to the coronavirus pandemic by blocking officials from speaking publicly, watering down testing guidance and attempting to interfere with other public health guidance. Many pieces of the report were a summation of documents and interviews they’ve released throughout the year.
— LOCAL NOTES —
“Operative pitched secretive political spending plan to FPL exec’s email alias, records reveal” via Jason Garcia and Annie Martin of the Orlando Sentinel — On the Tuesday of Thanksgiving week 2019, a political consultant working for utility giant Florida Power & Light sent a pair of confidential documents to an email address under the name “Theodore Hayes.” “Attached is an updated funding memo along with a separate legal memo on federal elections support,” Jeff Pitts wrote. The memos laid out a proposal for how FPL money could be filtered through a network of companies and nonprofits that would then make campaign contributions to politicians in Florida and around the country. One of the chief goals was secrecy — to “minimize all public reporting of entities and activities.” “Theodore Hayes” was a pseudonym for the memos’ real recipient — Eric Silagy, FPL’s president and CEO.
—“Law firm that advised on botched JEA sale also helped former FPL consultants on dark-money projects” via Nate Monroe of The Florida Times-Union
“Accused of bias, lewd and racist comments, witness tampering, Jacksonville Inspector General faces firing” via Nate Monroe of The Florida Times-Union — An oversight committee on Friday charged Jacksonville’s Inspector General, Lisa Green, with nine wide-ranging and serious allegations of misconduct, including accusations she discriminated against Black employees, created both a toxic and hostile work environment, made “inappropriate and unwelcome” sexual comments about her colleagues and herself, and attempted with a boyfriend to influence the testimony of witnesses during the workplace investigation into her conduct. City attorneys allege Green confirmed some of those accusations willingly or unintentionally in her own interview during the workplace investigation. The committee unanimously agreed all nine allegations were substantiated by evidence gathered in the investigation.
“Judge denies request to keep J.T. Burnette out of prison pending appeal in corruption case” via Jeff Burlew of the Tallahassee Democrat — U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle ordered Burnette to report to federal prison early next month, ruling against a request by his lawyers to keep him out pending his appeal. Jurors found Burnette guilty in August on extortion and four other counts for arranging bribes for Tallahassee City Commissioner Scott Maddox and later making false statements about it to the FBI. The jury found him not guilty on racketeering and several other counts. Hinkle wrote that Burnette was convicted following a “full and fair” trial.” Hinkle last month sentenced Burnette, a wealthy and one-time politically influential local businessman, to three years in federal prison.
“Industry leaders meet in Miami to tackle $2.2T illegal trade, human trafficking problem” via Jesse Scheckner of Florida Politics — Florida industry leaders and elected officials are joining law enforcement agencies and economic policy wonks to fight illegal trade, which finances criminal networks, aids terrorism and puts a $2.2 trillion hole in the global economy every year. Last week, Florida TaxWatch hosted a roundtable discussion at World Trade Center Miami, the first of four planned meetings aimed at developing new approaches to combating the issue, which encompasses the illicit exchange of stolen and counterfeit goods, human trafficking, drug smuggling and the illegal wildlife trade. All are multibillion-dollar criminal industries. All have serious bearings on the Sunshine State, whose long coastline, 14 major deep-water ports, and proximity to drug-producing and transshipment countries make it an “ideal gateway” for illegal goods moving into and through the United States.
“Florida deputies jailed, suspended after brawl with sailors” via The Associated Press — Two sheriff’s deputies have been suspended after they were arrested for an off-duty brawl with U.S. sailors in Key West early Saturday, leaving one of the sailors injured, officials said. Monroe County deputies Connor Curry and Trevor Pike remained jailed Saturday morning, charged with disorderly conduct, jail records show. Pike faces an additional charge of felony battery. The two uninjured sailors, whose names were not released, were charged with disorderly conduct, Key West police said. They are part of a squadron visiting U.S. Naval Air Station Key West. Police said the deputies and sailors began arguing shortly before 2 a.m. on Duval Street, a popular area that has bars and restaurants.
“Universal worker accused of scamming $26K in fake pass refunds” via Gabrielle Russon of Florida Politics — A Lakeland man is facing criminal charges after he issued about $26,000 in fake refunds on Universal theme park tickets while working in guest relations this year, authorities said. Joshua Michael Thomas was arrested last month and is charged with two felonies for grand theft and engaging in a scheme to defraud between $20,000 and $50,000. Universal noticed something was wrong after there was a pattern of several large refunds going back onto the same credit cards from June through November, the Orlando Police arrest affidavit said. One Universal employee handled all the transactions: Thomas. Thomas, who spoke to Orlando Police, described how the scheme worked. “Thomas confessed to giving refunds to a family friend in exchange for money,” the arrest affidavit said.
— TOP OPINION —
“In Florida, worthy causes get funding — when lawmakers’ families are affected” via Scott Maxwell of the Orlando Sentinel — A few months ago, DeSantis’ wife, Casey, revealed she had breast cancer. Six weeks later, the Governor announced a $100 million commitment to funding cancer research. Several years ago, State Rep. Scott Plakon revealed his wife was waging a painful battle with Alzheimer’s. The next year, legislators rallied to unanimously pass a bill Plakon filed in support of a memory-care center in Orange County. Both of those causes are noble. I say so as the son of a mother who survived breast cancer and a father who will not survive his battle with frontotemporal dementia. But I am struck by all the similarly worthy causes neglected by politicians who aren’t directly impacted, underfunded programs meant to care for the disabled, the mentally ill and the uninsured.
— OPINIONS —
“‘We are closer to civil war than any of us would like to believe,’ new study says” via Dana Milbank of The Washington Post — If you know people still in denial about the crisis of American democracy, kindly remove their heads from the sand long enough to receive this message: A startling new finding by one of the nation’s top authorities on foreign civil wars says we are on the cusp of our own. Barbara F. Walter, a political-science professor, serves on a CIA advisory panel called the Political Instability Task Force that monitors countries worldwide. “No one wants to believe that their beloved democracy is in decline, or headed toward war,” she writes. But, “if you were an analyst in a foreign country looking at events in America — the same way you’d look at events in Ukraine or the Ivory Coast or Venezuela — you would go down a checklist, assessing each of the conditions that make civil war likely. And what you would find is that the United States, a democracy founded more than two centuries ago, has entered very dangerous territory.”
“Wealth and power collude in the dark” via the Orlando Sentinel editorial board — As the sticky saga entangling the nation’s largest electric utility and a web of secretive political committees unfolds on the Sentinel’s front page, the questions keep piling up. The answers, unfortunately, may be a long time coming if they ever emerge. And that’s a problem. Because this story is just one illustration of a vast and growing problem: The Sunshine State’s politics are being undermined by creeping darkness that goes beyond the age-old courtship between the state’s elected leadership and the wealthy, powerful corporations that fund their ambitions and expect a return on investment. That equation often circumvented or even undermined the people whose needs should have come first, but now it’s progressed to hoodwinking them, rigging elections to favor the candidates calculated to be the most amenable to the demands of the powerful interests writing the checks.
“3 retired generals: The military must prepare now for a 2024 insurrection” via Paul D. Eaton, Antonio M. Taguba and Steven M. Anderson of The Washington Post — As we approach the anniversary of the deadly insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, we are increasingly concerned about the aftermath of the 2024 presidential election and the potential for lethal chaos inside our military, which would put all Americans at severe risk. In short: We are chilled to our bones at the thought of a coup succeeding next time. One of our military’s strengths is that it draws from our diverse population. It is a collection of individuals, all with different beliefs and backgrounds. But without constant maintenance, the potential for a military breakdown mirroring societal or political breakdown is very real. The potential for a total breakdown of the chain of command along partisan lines is significant should another insurrection occur.
“Should the Johnson & Johnson vaccine be paused again?” via the Miami Herald editorial board — Should national health officials consider pausing the use of the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine following the latest warning that it is “not as safe” as the other two major brands, Pfizer and Moderna? The CDC and the FDA are concerned with studies that indicate the vaccine might have a propensity to create rare but deadly blood clots. At this point, we can say the Johnson & Johnson vaccine has a less than stellar reputation in the market. On Thursday, Rochelle Walensky, the CDC’s director, recommended that those seeking the “safest” COVID-19 vaccine select Pfizer or Moderna. Walensky said she endorsed the policy after the agency’s vaccine advisory panel cited concerns over the increased risk of a potentially fatal blood clot to those who received the single-shot vaccine. Nine deaths were confirmed in connection with the blood-clot issue through September.
“Florida has a teacher shortage. Low pay, disrespect: This state is reaping what it sowed” via Scott Maxwell of the Orlando Sentinel — Florida has driven away so many public-school teachers, this state doesn’t just have a teacher shortage; it can’t even find enough substitutes to cover the classrooms. Districts have resorted to begging retirees to come in so that students aren’t just staring at whiteboards. This state’s political leaders have waged a relentless campaign against public education for the better part of two decades. They have bashed and debased teachers. They’ve kept school-funding levels among the lowest in America and done everything in their power to steer families to private schools.
— JINGLE, JINGLE —
“Gainesville-grown Christmas trees popular amid nationwide shortage” via Gershon Garrell of The Gainesville Sun — The owners of Unicorn Hill Christmas Tree Farm in Gainesville have had enough for this season, and small independent sellers of cut trees are beginning to run short of stock, as shoppers at even big-box retailers are beginning to see. The Christmas tree shortage reported nationally is being felt in Alachua County as well. Cathryn and her husband John Gregory began preparing the trees at their Unicorn Hill Christmas Tree Farm, in northwest Gainesville, for the rush of holiday shoppers in early fall. This season, the couple started selling trees at the start of December. They managed to sell 120 trees in four days before they found that they couldn’t keep going. “We just said we’ve got to stop this for this year. We cannot do this. A part of the problem was we were having trouble getting help,” Cathryn said.
“Army vet pays off past due utility bills in Florida city” via The Associated Press — A man who was rewarded by the Planters peanut company for being a good Samaritan is continuing to help others in his Florida Panhandle city. Over the previous two Christmas seasons, Mike Esmond donated about $12,000 to pay off utility bills for people in Gulf Breeze who needed some extra help. Then, in March, Planters sent Esmond a check for $104,000 for his good works as part of the company’s “A Nut Above” campaign. Since then, Esmond has continued helping with past-due utility bills, paying off balances for 677 accounts. “In other words, I paid everybody’s past-due account for a while, about March to August, like six months straight,” Esmond said. “Nobody that had their utilities, Gulf Breeze utilities, had anything disconnected.”
“The history of Orlando’s Christmas star is like a plot from a Hallmark Christmas movie” via Rich Park of the Orlando Sentinel — For many, there is something that triggers the feels of Christmas, maybe the first time a Nat King Cole Christmas song plays over the radio or that specialty latte hits the menu at your favorite coffee shop. However, for downtown Orlando, the large star illuminating above Orange Avenue has become the most recognizable symbol of the holidays. For many, it is a sign that the Christmas season is in full swing. What most may not know is that the history behind Orlando’s signature decoration could be a plot straight out of a Hallmark Christmas movie. The story of the star begins nearly 70 years ago when Downtown Orlando was a busy shopping scene where many from the surrounding region traveled to for their Christmas shopping.
— ALOE —
“FSU partners with Simply Healthcare to improve treatment of patients with trauma” via Kelly Hayes of Florida Politics — Florida State University’s Center for Prevention and Early Intervention Policy has announced a new partnership with Simply Healthcare Plans to improve treatment of patients with trauma. The new partnership will provide specialized training and educational programming for Simply Healthcare team members in hopes of improving patient outcomes. The goal: to recognize the role trauma plays in overall health through. The partnership hopes to strengthen Simply Healthcare’s efforts to become a trauma-informed organization and ensure staff members are well-equipped to recognize and properly respond to patients with a trauma history.
— HAPPY BIRTHDAY —
Best wishes to Rep. Kelly Skidmore, our dear friend, Gregory Holden, as well as our tech geek, Daniel Dean, University of Miami President Julio Frenk, and Jerry McDaniel of The Southern Group. Belated happy birthday wishes to our bestie, Stephanie Smith of Anthem, and our near bestie, Jared Moskowitz, as well as Sean Jacobus and Danielle Alvarez Ryder.
Sunburn is authored and assembled by Peter Schorsch, Phil Ammann, Renzo Downey and Drew Wilson.