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148 posts from December 2014

December 23, 2014

Mario Diaz-Balart's claim about what Obama said about normalizing relations with Cuba in 2008

President Barack Obama’s announcement that the United States and Cuba would proceed toward normalized relations put Miami’s Cuban-American GOP Congressional delegation in the national spotlight.

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio and U.S. Reps Mario Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen held a press conference Dec. 18 to bash Obama’s announcement.

Diaz-Balart characterized Obama’s position as a significant change from what he said during the 2008 campaign.

Back in 2008, during Obama’s first White House bid, the future president said that "before normalization would take place, there would have to be liberation of all political prisoners and some basic steps toward freedom, including freedom of the press, political parties, labor unions, etc.," Diaz-Balart said at the press conference. "Then, once again, President Obama -- breaking his own word, breaking his own pledge -- has decided to do something absolutely without precedent, and that is to give an anti-American terrorist dictatorship exactly what they have been asking for."

Is Diaz-Balart correct about what Obama, then a senator, said would be his criteria for normalizing relations with Cuba? We went back to his campaign speeches and statements to find out. See what PolitiFact Florida found.


Does the U.S. already have the biggest diplomatic presence in Cuba? PunditFact says that's hard to prove

Critics of President Barack Obama’s move to normalize relations with Cuba have suggested they will do whatever they can to stand in the plan’s way, from holding up the appointment of an ambassador to denying funding for a new embassy.

But the moves would be more symbolic than anything, Obama’s former Cuba policy adviser Dan Restrepo told CNN.

While the Senate could block the formal confirmation of an ambassador, Obama could tap a career diplomat to lead the embassy without Senate approval. And as for the embassy itself?

"The U.S. has the largest diplomatic presence of any country in Cuba in Havana today," Restrepo told Anderson Cooper on Dec. 17. "The U.S. interests section is the largest diplomatic gathering in the country. It’s housed in the building that was the U.S. embassy before we broke off diplomatic relations. So the notion that you’re going to shut that operation down when really what you’re doing is changing the sign on the door doesn’t really square up with reality."

The idea that the United States already has the largest diplomatic presence in Cuba sounds shocking given our five-decade embargo of the island nation. So we wanted to learn more. Turn to Katie Sanders report from PunditFact.


December 22, 2014

Gov. Rick Scott lifts Michael Pizzi’s suspension following Florida Supreme Court ruling

@ChuckRabin @PatriciaMazzei

Gov. Rick Scott lifted the suspension against Miami Lakes Mayor Michael Pizzi late Monday, hours after the Florida Supreme Court had again sided with Pizzi in his legal quest to return to office since he was cleared of federal bribery charges.

The governor, in accordance with the ruling, did not reinstate Pizzi. Whether to restore the mayor to finish his second term is a question that will now likely fall to a local court. Town attorneys for Miami Lakes say the rightful mayor is Wayne Slaton, whom voters picked in a special election following Pizzi’s indictment.

Monday’s 5-2 decision rebuked Scott two months after Florida’s highest court warned the governor that Pizzi appeared to have a solid argument. But the court granted the governor a reprieve of sorts: It said it would wait until Jan. 2 before ordering Scott to take action, giving him 11 days to comply on his own.

He complied in less than four hours.

“This is huge, man. This is huge. I won,” Pizzi said in a telephone interview from his car after learning of the court’s decision. “This is the best Christmas present the Pizzi family and the people of Miami Lakes and everyone who cares about the rule of law could ever get.” 

More here.

This post has been updated.

Miami-Dade police union wants to subpoena mayor, county commission chairwoman in labor dispute


During a 12-hour Miami-Dade County Commission hearing a year ago, Mayor Carlos Gimenez and Chairwoman Rebeca Sosa spoke for about five minutes, on the dais but away from the microphones.

That conversation has become a focal point in a legal dispute between the county and its police union, which contends the two elected officials broke the law when they spoke privately during a public meeting.

A hearing officer for Florida's labor appeals board ruled last week that the Dade County Police Benevolent Association could subpoena Sosa and Gimenez to compel them to disclose what they talked about. The Dec. 5, 2013, hearing ended with commissioners voting to eliminate an unpopular worker healthcare contribution.

In her Dec. 18 orderSuzanne M. Choppin of the state's Public Employees Relations Commission, opined that the conversation is relevant to the PBA's case -- and that only the politicians who took part are in a position to disclose what was said.

"It is evident that, in this unusual case in which it is a private off-the-record- conversation between two high-ranking government officials that is at issue, the best and only reliable evidence on that crucial issue is the testimony of the participants in that conversation," Choppin wrote.

The county had argued in an earlier filing that the conversation was irrelevant to the union's complaint because it took place hours after the PBA was addressing the county commission -- and because Sosa ended up voting to eliminate the healthcare concession, as the union wanted.

Miami-Dade also argued the PBA should not be allowed to subpoena elected officials without first exhausting every other option. For example, the union could have compelled the mayor's then-deputy chief of staff, Alex Ferro, who was sitting next to him during the conversation with Sosa, to testify.

"Mr. Ferro is a lower ranking official who appears on the video as a person who may have knowledge of the conversation at issue," Candela wrote Dec. 16. "Notwithstanding, the PBA did not take even the most basic of steps to determine whether Ferro had knowledge of the alleged conversation."

Choppin dismissed that argument, saying Ferro was too far away from Gimenez -- and apparently not paying attention to the mayor's discussion with Sosa -- to be a likely source of accurate information.

The union is pursuing an unfair labor practice complaint against the county over its handling of the collective-bargaining impasse that resulted in last year's vote. 

Miami-Dade plans to appeal last week's order, Assistant County Attorney William Candela said Monday. 

Obama's claim about the cost of each Gitmo inmate

On his second day in office in 2009, President Barack Obama ordered that the detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, be closed within a year.

But it remains open nearly six years later, largely because of a difficulties figuring out what to do with the detainees who remain there.

On CNN’s State of the Union Dec. 21, 2014, host Candy Crowley asked Obama if the detention facility will be closed by the end of 2015.

"I’m going to be doing everything I can to close it," Obama said. "It is something that continues to inspire jihadists and extremists around the world, the fact that these folks are being held. It is contrary to our values, and it is wildly expensive. We’re spending millions for each individual there."

We wondered: Are American taxpayers spending millions of dollars per year for every detainee held in Cuba?

Turn to Lauren Carroll's fact-check from PunditFact.

Cuban spy's sperm, spirited out of U.S. prison, preceded prisoner swap

From CNN

It might be the most bizarre of the closely guarded secrets from last week's historic agreement between the United States and Cuba: How did the leader of a Cuban spy ring serving life in a California federal prison manage to impregnate his wife 2,245 miles away in Havana?

As part of the most significant diplomatic breakthrough between the United States and Cuba in more than 50 years, a prisoner swap was made. To uphold its part of the bargain, the U.S. released three Cuban spies, including Gerardo Hernandez, the head of the spy ring known as the Wasp Network....

The U.S. Justice Department confirmed the story, without going into the details.

"We can confirm the United States facilitated Mrs. Hernandez's request to have a baby with her husband," spokesman Brian Fallon said.

More here

President Obama brings hope to Cuba, but will Castro bring real change?


The U.S. president who brought us a hope-and-change campaign has helped spread the same message to Cuba after announcing the two countries would try to normalize relations.

But it’s likely Cuba will experience far more hope and far less change, at least in the short term.

Blame the Castro government for that. It doesn't want to change.

Raul Castro said as much on Wednesday, when he and Barack Obama simultaneously made the historic announcement of détente between the Cold War foes. Castro made sure to suggest socialism was in Cuba to stay, that he wasn’t “renouncing any of our principles.”

“The heroic Cuban people,” Castro said Wednesday, “will continue to be faithful to our ideals of independence and social justice.”

Putting aside the irony of a totalitarian state’s leader talking about “social justice,” Castro’s speech Wednesday was notable not just for what he said, but for how he said it — in his green army fatigues. The message was clear: the revolution lives. Cuba remains in a state of battle.

In war, truth is often the first casualty. But to Castro’s credit he has been honest about his intentions to remain wedded to a financial system that doesn’t work for the people, only for the select group of political-military elites who live like princes while their countrymen scrounge for food.

More here

December 20, 2014

GOP consultants have some fun and send out a doc-shredding Christmas card

Data Targeting Christmas
Data Targeting, the Republican political consulting firm that went to legal war for the last year to keep its redistricting documents shielded from the public record, has had some fun this holiday season at its own expense. 

It's animated Christmas card comes with jingling bells and features Pat Bainter in a Santa coat with colleagues Matt Mitchell and Mike Sheehan at his side. It announces "But there's one 'secret' we've made sure they'll never get."

A countdown clock notes that the message will self destruct in 15 seconds, and the card then slides into a paper shredder and ends with: "Merry Christmas." 

For the record, the company lost its legal fight but won the redistricting war.  The Supreme Court ordered its shielded documents released, but only after the trial had ended and the congressional redistricting maps were redrawn with minimal changes. The docs, however, may shed more light on the legislative map and could cause some heartburn for the GOP leadership in the next legal fight over the Senate maps.

Lawyers for the Legislature on Friday filed a brief renewing the argument that the Fair Districts amendments to the state constitution were unconstitutional. That argument was rejected as it relates to the congressional maps but it's yet another sign that the battle rages on. Merry Christmas Pat, Mike and Matt. 

December 19, 2014

Poll: Cuban-Americans split on Obama’s Cuba policy, divided along generational lines

Cuban-Americans nationwide are almost evenly divided over support for the embargo and for President Obama’s effort to normalize relations with Cuba, according to a new poll that shows a vast generational divide in reaction to this week’s historic announcement.

The poll by Bendixen & Amandi International also showed that Cuban-Americans are nearly split on whether Obama should have exchanged prisoners Wednesday with Raul Castro’s communist government.

But they strongly disapprove of Obama’s foreign policy overall and his approach to Cuba specifically, according to the poll of 400 Cuban-Americans conducted for The Miami Herald, El Nuevo Herald and the Tampa Bay Times.

Among the strongest responses from Cuban-Americans: Whether the United States should remove Cuba from the State Department’s list of state sponsors of terror. That move is opposed by 60 percent, with only 22 percent in favor. The Obama administration is reviewing Cuba’s designation.

“The Cuban people will not see any benefits,” poll respondent Gabriel Rivera, a 40-year-old Miami resident, said of Obama’s announcement. “They will remain in the same condition because the Cuban government doesn’t grant any freedoms.”

More here

In Coconut Grove, a huddle between a mayor and a lieutenant governor


Miami-Dade County Carlos Gimenez and Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera had a sit-down Friday to talk about Florida helping the county attract some new business, a spokesman for the mayor said. 

Details weren't forthcoming, but the morning get-together between the two Republicans at Coconut Grove's Green Street Cafe was called to discuss "economic development projects... that require state assistance or financing," said Michael Hernández, communications director for Gimenez. 

In recent months, Gimenez said there was an economic-development project he would not name that he is trying to put together. He mentioned the project when announcing his support to use economic-development money tied to property taxes to subsidize development of SkyRise Miami, the Miami Wilds theme park and other ventures. 

Hernández said the morning meeting with Gimenez, Lopez-Cantera, who lives in Miami, and Gimenez's chief of staff, Alex Ferro, did not touch on the issue of property-tax appeals. Lopez-Cantera, as the county's elected property appraiser until Gov. Rick Scott picked him as his No. 2, has expertise in the matter, since he ran the office that defended the valuation appeals. 

The county schools chief, Alberto Carvalho, has met with Gimenez twice this month on the topic, and Carvalho is pushing for county and state action on the appeals to the Values Adjustment Board. Miami-Dade is facing a suit by the county teachers' union on the appeals, and school board member Raquel Regalado, a potential Gimenez challenger in 2016, wants the school system to join the litigation. 

The appeal payouts cut into revenue for both the county and the school system. Gimenez and his staff say they'd like to see Florida reform the rules on appeals. But they note the mayor has no control of the process.

Hernández said Gimenez did not raise the VAB issue with Lopez-Cantera, and that the last-minute meeting was called to discuss economic development. "That's his focus," Hernández said of Gimenez.