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November 28, 2016

Eight months after losing confirmation fight, Armstrong leaves DOH


Since March, when it was clear the Senate would not confirm him as state surgeon general, Dr. John Armstrong has continued to cash a paycheck while on medical leave as deputy secretary of health.

On Nov. 21, he finally left the Department of Health.

The state announced Monday that Michele Tallent will officially take over the role of deputy secretary of health for administration after holding the job on an acting basis since January.

Tallent, who previously ran DOH's budget office and was Gov. Rick Scott's top adviser on the health and human services budget, will oversee the administrative functions of DOH. Her salary is $120,999.

"(Tallent's) years of service and extensive experience with finance and management will help ensure the department’s capacity to provide essential public health services," said Dr. Celeste Philip, the current surgeon general, in a statement Monday.

Armstrong has been undergoing treatment for colon cancer diagnosed last year. He continued to receive a $119,000 paycheck and benefits while on medical leave.

The state surgeon general and secretary of health from 2012, Armstrong left the job in March of this year, facing a state Senate that would not confirm him. Some senators criticized the department's handling of medical marijuana policy, the removal of sick children from a state-run health insurance program and cutbacks in county health departments that accompanied apparent rises in new HIV cases.

Absent 'better deal,' Trump pledges to 'terminate' Cuba opening



President-elect Donald Trump took it upon himself Monday to put political pressure on the Cuban government to deal with his incoming administration following Fidel Castro’s death.

“If Cuba is unwilling to make a better deal for the Cuban people, the Cuban/American people and the U.S. as a whole, I will terminate deal,” Trump posted on Twitter, his preferred medium of communication in the weeks following his election.

His tweet came a day after top transition advisers signaled Trump intends to keep the hardline position on Cuba he adopted late in his presidential campaign. The message to Cuba: Do more to reciprocate the opening offered by President Barack Obama, or pay the price when the White House is under new management beginning Jan. 20.
More here.
Photo credit: Carolyn Kaster, AP

Mar-a-Lago, Trump's winter White House in Florida

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via @learyreports

The 35-year-old vacationing New Yorker had to have it: Mar-a-Lago, a spectacular Mediterranean mansion in Palm Beach set on 17 lush acres spanning the Atlantic to the Intracoastal Waterway.

“Almost immediately I put in a bid of $15 million, and it was promptly rejected,” Donald Trump wrote in The Art of the Deal. Three years later, in 1985, he snagged the historic estate for $5 million plus $3 million for furnishings.

“It just goes to show that it pays to move quickly and decisively when the time is right,” Trump mused.

President-elect Trump, whose political timing shocked the world, spent Thanksgiving at Mar-a-Lago, closing the loop on a cosmic fate. When the original owner, cereal heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post, willed it to the federal government in 1973, she envisioned a winter White House. Upkeep costs forced it on the market and into Trump’s eager hands.

“It really is over-the-top architecture,” said Wes Blackman, who worked on restoring and converting Mar-a-Lago into a members-only club. “Someone can wear an expensive suit and look good while another person doesn’t. It takes a certain personality to wear the house. Marjorie Merriweather Post was a larger-than-life figure, ahead of her time. Some might say that about Donald Trump.”

Trump adds to a legacy of presidents who have found escape in Florida. Up the road from Mar-a-Lago, John F. Kennedy relaxed at his family’s estate while crafting his inaugural address.

“It’s almost a return to Camelot,” said Robin Bernstein, a Palm Beach resident and founding member of The Mar-a-Lago Club. “I imagine that instead of hopping in the Trump plane, he’ll hop on Air Force One and come on down.”

More here.

Photo credit: Carolyn Cole, TNS

Major pro-gun legislation likely next year in Florida


OT_383003_KEEL_4_FLGOV05021After two years of their proposals stalling in the Florida Senate, gun-rights advocates are in a prime position for big wins next year.

This week, Rep. Jake Raburn, R-Lithia, proposed the first pro-gun measure for the upcoming legislative session, which convenes March 7.

The bill (HB 6001) would allow concealed weapon permit holders to carry guns in airport terminals. Guns are not allowed past the security checkpoint, and state law currently bans them in terminals except as checked baggage. 

A similar plan failed to pass last year.

The Nov. 8 election secured strong Republican majorities in the Legislature and paved the way for a more gun-friendly state Senate.

“You’ve got, I believe, a much more favorable environment for Second Amendment legislation in the Senate,” said Sen. Greg Steube, R-Sarasota. “The House has always been a place where those types of bills move pretty easily.”

Steube, a former House member who was elected to his first Senate term this year, is one of the most ardent gun-rights lawmakers. He has backed measures to allow guns at public meetings, on college campuses and in schools, and he says he is drafting a broader bill to expand concealed carry permit holders’ rights this year.

With new Senate leadership, the traditionally more moderate chamber could be poised to pass some proposals they’ve balked at in the past.

Photo: Scott Keeler, Tampa Bay Times

A leader of Tallahassee's past praises the current winds of change

Change never comes easily to Tallahassee, and Richard Pettigrew can attest to that. He was a young and idealistic speaker of the Florida House of Representatives 45 years ago. Now, at 86, the former Democratic lawmaker from Miami is watching as Republican Speaker Richard Corcoran of Land O'Lakes takes aim at the status quo in the state Capitol. The full story is here.   

November 27, 2016

Trump’s harsh rhetoric may put Cuba in tough diplomatic spot

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Nearly two years after President Barack Obama undertook the biggest change in U.S.-Cuba policy in half a century, the island’s communist regime suddenly finds itself at a new diplomatic crossroads, awaiting a President-elect Donald Trump who has increasingly embraced the harsh rhetoric of Obama’s most forceful Cuba critics.

Whether Trump will immediately undo the executive actions that restored relations between the two countries remains unclear. But the language adopted by Trump and his closest advisers in the hours following Fidel Castro’s death and over the weekend, and one of the incoming president’s recent transition hires, suggest Trump might be serious about punishing Cuba for not doing more in return after the U.S. lifted many of its travel, banking and commercial sanctions.

Though Obama's overtures weren't conditioned on any specific concessions by Cuba, the Cuban government has not shown much willingness to reciprocate by loosening its grip on civil society. In the face of a Trump presidency, that could prove to have been a missed opportunity to build good will.

“President-elect Trump is going to be looking for some movement in the right direction in order to have any sort of deal with Cuba,” Reince Priebus, Trump’s White House chief of staff, said on “Fox News Sunday.” “I mean, it can’t just be nothing and then you get total and complete cooperation from the United States. There has to be something, and what that something is... is yet to be determined.”

Ever the negotiator, Trump has threatened to end all ties with the island so that, as president, he can extract some sort of concession from Cuba. The Obama actions Trump opposes have given him leverage to use against the island.

More here.


Photo credit: Al Diaz, Miami Herald

November 26, 2016

With Castro's death, Miami politicians spy opening for Trump to adopt Cuba hard line

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@PatriciaMazzei @doug_hanks

In Miami, the city where candidates built their careers on stridently resisting the Cuban dictatorship, Fidel Castro’s death marked the end of a political era — and, Cuban-American members of Congress hoped, the start of a new one, with reinvigorated support for a hardline policy under President-elect Donald Trump.

Republican politicians, some of them still uneasy about a Trump presidency, confidently declared Saturday that his incoming administration, set to begin less than two months from Castro’s unexpected demise, represents the best hope for the Cuban opposition — assuming Trump fulfills his campaign promise to sever the Cuba ties reestablished by President Barack Obama.

“President-elect Trump has correctly stated that Obama’s overtures to the Castro regime were one-sided and only benefited the Cuban regime,” said U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Miami, who wrote in Jeb Bush’s name for president instead of voting for Trump.

“I hope that the new administration, under the leadership of President Trump, seizes this moment as an opportunity to reaffirm its commitment to the Cuban people that it will pressure the Castro regime by rolling back these executive actions of the Obama administration.”

Trump’s candidacy had managed to pull together a majority of Cuban-American voters, according to exit polls — but not necessarily their elected leaders, who denounced Trump’s rhetoric on immigrants, especially Hispanics, and reported business interest in Cuba. Castro’s death late Friday appeared to do more to consolidate his standing among Miami’s Cuban-American political establishment than anything he said during the campaign.

More here.

Photo credit: C.M. Guerrero, el Nuevo Herald

Florida politicians react to Fidel Castro's death


Fidel Castro's death late Friday prompted a flurry of responses from politicians across the country and the world. We're compiling mostly Florida reactions here, and will update as they come in.

President Barack Obama:

At this time of Fidel Castro’s passing, we extend a hand of friendship to the Cuban people. We know that this moment fills Cubans - in Cuba and in the United States - with powerful emotions, recalling the countless ways in which Fidel Castro altered the course of individual lives, families, and of the Cuban nation. History will record and judge the enormous impact of this singular figure on the people and world around him. 

For nearly six decades, the relationship between the United States and Cuba was marked by discord and profound political disagreements. During my presidency, we have worked hard to put the past behind us, pursuing a future in which the relationship between our two countries is defined not by our differences but by the many things that we share as neighbors and friends - bonds of family, culture, commerce, and common humanity. This engagement includes the contributions of Cuban Americans, who have done so much for our country and who care deeply about their loved ones in Cuba.

Today, we offer condolences to Fidel Castro's family, and our thoughts and prayers are with the Cuban people. In the days ahead, they will recall the past and also look to the future. As they do, the Cuban people must know that they have a friend and partner in the United States of America.

President-elect Donald Trump:

Today, the world marks the passing of a brutal dictator who oppressed his own people for nearly six decades. Fidel Castro’s legacy is one of firing squads, theft, unimaginable suffering, poverty and the denial of fundamental human rights.
While Cuba remains a totalitarian island, it is my hope that today marks a move away from the horrors endured for too long, and toward a future in which the wonderful Cuban people finally live in the freedom they so richly deserve.
Though the tragedies, deaths and pain caused by Fidel Castro cannot be erased, our administration will do all it can to ensure the Cuban people can finally begin their journey toward prosperity and liberty.  I join the many Cuban Americans who supported me so greatly in the presidential campaign, including the Brigade 2506 Veterans Association that endorsed me, with the hope of one day soon seeing a free Cuba. 
Gov. Rick Scott, R-Florida:
I join Cuban-Americans and Floridians across the country who are incredibly hopeful for the future of Cuba.  After decades of oppression, the Cuban people deserve freedom, peace and democracy.  I have met so many Cubans who have come to Florida to flee the tyranny, brutality, and communism of the Castro brothers’ oppressive regime and now is the time to look at policy changes that will demand democracy in Cuba.  Today’s news should usher in an era of freedom, peace and human dignity for everyone in Cuba and the State of Florida stands ready to assist in that mission.  I spoke to President-elect Trump this morning to let him know that the State of Florida will help his administration in any way to support a pro-democracy movement in Cuba.
House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin:
Now that Fidel Castro is dead, the cruelty and oppression of his regime should die with him. Sadly, much work remains to secure the freedom of the Cuban people, and the United States must be fully committed to that work. Today let us reflect on the memory and sacrifices of all those who have suffered under the Castros
U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida:
Fidel Castro seized power promising to bring freedom and prosperity to Cuba, but his communist regime turned it into an impoverished island prison. Over six decades, millions of Cubans were forced to flee their own country, and those accused of opposing the regime were routinely jailed and even killed.

Sadly, Fidel Castro's death does not mean freedom for the Cuban people or justice for the democratic activists, religious leaders, and political opponents he and his brother have jailed and persecuted. The dictator has died, but the dictatorship has not. And one thing is clear, history will not absolve Fidel Castro; it will remember him as an evil, murderous dictator who inflicted misery and suffering on his own people.

The future of Cuba ultimately remains in the hands of the Cuban people, and now more than ever Congress and the new administration must stand with them against their brutal rulers and support their struggle for freedom and basic human rights.

Continue reading "Florida politicians react to Fidel Castro's death" »

The Miami Herald obituary of Fidel Castro


via @glenngarvin

Fidel Castro, who towered over his Caribbean island for nearly five decades, a shaggy-bearded figure in combat fatigues whose long shadow spread across Latin America and the world, is dead at age 90. His brother Raul announced the death late Friday night.

Millions cheered Fidel Castro on the day he entered Havana. Millions more fled the communist dictator’s repressive police state, leaving behind their possessions, their families, the island they loved and often their very lives. It’s part of the paradox of Castro that many people belonged to both groups.

Few national leaders have inspired such intense loyalty — or such a wrenching feeling of betrayal. Few fired the hearts of the world’s restless youth as Castro did when he was young, and few seemed so irrelevant as Castro when he was old — the last Communist, railing on the empty, decrepit street corner that Cuba became under his rule.

He held a unique place among the world’s leaders of the past century. Others had greater impact or won more respect. But none combined his dynamic personality, his decades in power, his profound effect on his own country and his provocative role in international affairs.

As he changed the face of Cuba, he remapped South Florida as well, transforming it from the southernmost tip of the United States to the northernmost point of Latin America. The suffering of the refugees he sent pouring into Miami eventually turned to triumph as they forged economic and political success.

He was a spellbinding orator who was also a man of action. His tall and powerful build was matched by an outsized ego, boundless energy and extraordinary luck that carried him to victory as a guerrilla leader in 1959 against nearly impossible odds, then helped him survive countless plots hatched by his countless enemies.

More here.

Photo credit: UPI file


Fidel Castro dies, and Miami rejoices

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Fidel Castro died, and Cuban Miami did what it does in times of community celebration: It poured onto the streets of Little Havana — and Hialeah, and Kendall — to honk horns, bang pans, and set off more than a few fireworks, saved for exactly the sort of unexpected special occasion that proved worthy of their detonation.

The scene across Miami-Dade County, the cradle of the Cuban exile community, was one of pure, raw emotion. This time, after decades of false alarms, Castro’s death was real.

“I wish my dad was here to see this,” 27-year-old Abraham Quintero cried just before 2 a.m.

Passing cars honked incessantly. People waved huge Cuban flags. Parents carried their children and puppies. A few people appeared clad in pajamas and, in one case, flamingo slippers, jolted out of bed — and out of their homes — by the late-night news.

Shortly after midnight, Cuban leader Raúl Castro announced on state television, his voice trembling, that his older brother had died at 10:29 p.m.

“Toward victory, always!” he said.

The streets in Havana appeared to remain quiet. Not so in Miami, the city across the Florida Straits shaped by exiles who fled Fidel Castro’s 1959 revolution.

More here.

Photo credit: Roberto Koltun, el Nuevo Herald