« September 13, 2013 | Main | September 17, 2013 »

16 posts from September 16, 2013

September 16, 2013

Alan Grayson: Obama’s Syria saber-rattling not vindicated by UN report, undercut by German intelligence


U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson, a fiercely anti-war Orlando Democrat who recently raised questions about Syrian chemical-weapons use, said a new United Nation’s weapons report puts that matter to rest -- but it doesn’t vindicate the president’s case for war.

Though it indicates gas was used, the UN report doesn’t prove Obama Administration claims that Bashar al-Assad’s regime was responsible for the use of the chemical weapons, said Grayson.

Grayson puts more stock in little-reported German intelligence sources that say rogue Syrian army officials bucked Assad by deploying poison gas without permission.

Grayson said he therefore doesn’t believe President Obama’s saber-rattling over Syria led Assad to agree to talks about giving up his chemical stockpile.

“It’s a good outcome, if the president wants to take credit for it [Syrian chemical-weapons talks] that’s fine with me. Maybe he’ll win a second Nobel Peace Prize,” Grayson said.

Continue reading "Alan Grayson: Obama’s Syria saber-rattling not vindicated by UN report, undercut by German intelligence" »

Movers & Shakers

Jan Ignash takes helm as interim chancellor

Following Frank Brogan's departure, longtime higher education official Jan Ignash has been named interim chancellor of Florida's state university system.

Ignash, whose appointment was approved Sept. 12th by the Board of Governors, will oversee the state's 12 public universities.

Brogan's second in command moved to Florida 18 months ago. Before that, she was deputy director and chief academic officer of Washington state's Higher Education Coordinating Board. Ignash said she will not apply for the permanent job.

New chair for AIF

Mike Hightower, Florida Blue's vice president for governmental and legislative affairs, has been named the new board chairman for Associated Industries of Florida. He was voted in during the AIF Board of Directors annual conference on Aug. 21.

Hightower, of Jacksonville, holds leadership and board positions with several community and service organizations, including Enterprise Florida, Florida College System Foundation and Florida Ounce of Prevention.

Jeb Bush Jr. takes leadership role in PAC

Jeb Bush Jr. was among 20 lawyers and business and community leaders named co-chairmen of the Maverick PAC Florida, part of a national organization to engage young Republicans in the political process.

"MayPAC is changing the game by helping to elect a new generation of Republican that will help put our country back on track," Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford said in a press release.

Capital staffers on the move

Gov. Rick Scott has a new deputy chief of staff, Geoffrey Becker, who moves into the post held by Karen Zeiler, who is now the senior vice president of the Florida Hospital Association.

Becker was the Southeast government affairs director for Endo Health Solutions.

Continue reading "Movers & Shakers" »

Miami-Dade lobbyist caught in FBI corruption sting gets by with a little help from his friends


Richard Candia, the lobbyist-turned-informant in an FBI sting operation, is getting by with a little help from his friends.

Miami public relations maven Seth Gordon has circulated an email seeking donations for Candia’s legal costs. Candia is awaiting trial on recent kickback charges in two federal conspiracy cases featuring the suspended mayors of Miami Lakes and Sweetwater, Michael Pizzi and Manny Maroño, and another lobbyist, Jorge Forte.

In the email, Gordon praises Candia as a friend and colleague whom he has known for years since Candia was chief of staff a legislative aide for then-state Sen. Mario Diaz-Balart. The Republican lawmaker was Gordon’s business partner in a communications firm — before getting elected to Congress.

“I am mystified by recent events and have no idea what could have led Rich into the situation he is in,” Gorden writes. “But I think the world of him and want him to emerge from this mess with a future in front of him and positioned to live up to the potential I have always seen in him.

“If you feel the same way, I need your help. The ‘Legal Defense Fund for Richard Candia’ has been opened at BB&T Bank.”

Gordon points out that contributions can be made in any amount and are private — “not subject to public record requests.”

Donations may only be spent to cover the costs of Candia’s legal defense — not fees. Candia’s attorney is William Barzee, of the Barzee Flores law firm in downtown Miami.

Gordon ends the email, titled “A friend in need,” on a solicitous note: “Please let me know of others who might be interested in this request so I may contact them as well.”


Rick Scott announces trade mission to Dominican Republic

Gov. Rick Scott announced his next trade mission today from his @ItsWorkingFL Twitter account devoted to jobs and economic news:

Today, @FLGovScott announced his 11th trade mission to the Dominican Republic, FL’s 9th largest trading partner. #ItsWorking

Here are more details from the News Service of Florida:

Gov. Rick Scott plans to lead a trade delegation to the Dominican Republic in late February, according to Enterprise Florida, the state's public-private business recruitment organization. Enterprise Florida sent an email Monday announcing that it was looking for business to join the mission to Santo Domingo.

"The mission will be an excellent opportunity for small and medium-sized businesses in Florida to expand their reach into the Caribbean region," said Commerce Secretary Gray Swoope, who also serves as president and CEO of Enterprise Florida, in a press release.

Scott has also traveled to Panama, Canada, Brazil, Israel, Spain, Britain, Colombia, Chile and France on trade missions since taking office in 2011.

Minnesota data breach fuels Rick Scott campaign against health care law

A data breach in Minnesota has added fuel to Gov. Rick Scott's latest crusade against the Affordable Care Act: privacy concerns. Now, he's asking U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Speaker John Boehner to address the questions raised about whether patient information will be protected when they are assisted by enrollment advisors or use web-based programs to sign up for coverage.

Before you read Scott's letter, here's some background about the incident in Minnesota: An employee working for the state's health exchange incorrectly emailed the social security numbers and other identifying information for about 2,400 insurance agents to a man applying to becoming a "navigator."

From the Minneapolis Star Tribune report:

A MNsure employee accidentally sent an e-mail file to an Apple Valley insurance broker’s office on Thursday that contained Social Security numbers, names, business addresses and other identifying information on more than 2,400 insurance agents.

An official at MNsure, the state’s new online health insurance exchange, acknowledged it had mishandled private data. A MNsure security manager called the broker, Jim Koester, and walked him and his assistant through a process of deleting the file from their computer hard drives.

Koester said he willingly complied, but was unnerved.

In expressing concern about "navigators" last month, Scott said he worried they would become privy to private information as they helped Floridians sign up for coverage. The director of a non-profit organization responsible for hiring these enrollment advisors tried to allay those fears last week, saying  "navigators" won't need to collect patients' personal information in order to do their job.

Now, Scott is using the Minnesota incident to pivot on his argument. He's still worried the 'navigators' will be privy to patient personal information, but now he's expressing the same concerns about the health exchanges themselves.

Continue reading "Minnesota data breach fuels Rick Scott campaign against health care law" »

No cakewalk for birthday fund at Miami-Dade property appraiser's office


What does it take to create a kitty to celebrate employee birthdays?

Miami-Dade Property Appraiser Carlos Lopez-Cantera thought it’d be, uh, a piece of cake. No such luck.

He had to:

Submit a three-page resolution (establishing the Employee Recognition Trust Fund) plus three pages of supporting documents to the county commission.

Get commission approval.

And, of course, fight a four-page union complaint that says: no birthday cakes — or candles, or balloons, or streamers — without labor’s OK. “Benefits have been awarded pursuant to the program, and the Employer intends to award additional bonuses or benefits in the future,” the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees Local 199 warned on Aug. 29.

So far, Lopez-Cantera has used money from employee vending-machine sales to pay for four birthday celebrations — in May, June, July and August.

The first cake was purchased at Costco ($35.98 for chocolate and vanilla), the other three at BJ’s.

To Lopez-Cantera, the union action is just so much… party pooping.

“It is comical that the system requires taxpayers resources be spent on this complaint.”

Clemens asks Senate to review the 'serious conflict of interest' with staff outside employment

In a letter to the chairman of the Senate Ethics and Elections Committee, Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, is calling for legislative hearings on the revolving door that allows employees to take leaves of absence from the legislature to work for political campaigns.

In the letter to Sen. Jack Latvala, R-St. Petersburg, Clemens called it a "serious conflict of interest when legislative employees are allowed to leave work and earn money from campaigns and/or the companies that have business before the Legislature."

"The public deserves to feel confident that special interests are not buying influence with the Legislature by contributing to the bottom line wealth of employees who supposedly earn that money after-hours,'' he wrote. "It also places the employee in an awkward position, knowing he or she may have to make a decision that adversely impacts a special interest that has contributed to the well being of their family, either directly or through a campaign account."

The letter was sent on Sept. 5, after the Herald/Times reported on a three-year arrangement Senate chief of staff Chris Clark had with Senate President Don Gaetz. Clark was given permission to work part-time for the state during the legislative session and then take a leave of absence to work on the side for campaigns. According to public records, he earned more than $400,000 in consulting fees and payroll in the same years he drew a state salary.

Continue reading "Clemens asks Senate to review the 'serious conflict of interest' with staff outside employment" »

Memorial service scheduled for E. Clay Shaw Jr. on Saturday

Clay shawA memorial service honoring the life of former Congressman E. Clay Shaw, Jr. has been set for Saturday, Sept. 21, 2013, at 11:30 a.m. at St. Anthony’s Catholic Church, 901 NE Second Street, in Fort Lauderdale.

In lieu of flowers, the family is requesting that a donation in memory of Congressman Shaw be made to the Lung Cancer Alliance, P.O. Box 418372, Boston, MA  02241-8372, or online at www.lungcanceralliance.org


Pam Bondi's office ducks Florida National Guard gay-marriage question


The office of Florida’s attorney general has declined to offer an opinion on whether the Florida National Guard can process benefits enrollment for the spouses of gay troops on state property.

Maj. Gen. Emmett R. Titshaw Jr., Florida’s adjutant general, wrote Attorney General Pam Bondi seeking the opinion on Sept. 6, essentially asking whether processing gay Guard members’ spouses for benefits would conflict with the state’s constitution, which defines marriage as between a man and a woman.

Continue reading "Pam Bondi's office ducks Florida National Guard gay-marriage question" »

Florida college presidents press for immigration reform

Nineteen college and university presidents from Florida are calling on Congress to revamp the country's immigration policies.

"As leaders of Florida’s universities and colleges, educating the next generation of entrepreneurs, scientists, and global pioneers, we call on you to address a critical threat to America's preeminence as the center of innovation and prosperity: our inability under current United States immigration policy to retain and capitalize on the talented individuals we are training in our universities and colleges," they wrote in a letter to the Florida delegation.

The presidents added: "Fixing our immigration system will be critical to scientific growth at Florida’s universities and economic growth in our state. In 2009, 53 percent of the students earning Master’s or PhDs in STEM fields from Florida’s research-intensive universities were temporary residents, a group with no clear path to stay in America after graduation. More than 60 percent of our students earning engineering PhDs in recent years were also non-citizens."

Signees included University of Miami President Donna Shalala, Miami Dade College President Eduardo Padron, Florida International University President Mark Rosenberg, Barry University President Linda Bevilacqua, St. Thomas University President Frank Casale and Florida Memorial University President Roslyn Artis.

Download Presidents