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234 posts from February 2015

February 28, 2015

Venezuela bans 'terrorists' Marco Rubio, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Mario Diaz-Balart


Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Miami Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen have been banned from traveling to Venezuela.

President Nicolás Maduro announced Saturday that his government has created an "anti-terrorist list headed by George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, ex-CIA chief George Tenet, ultra right-wing Congressman Bob Menendez, by Marco Rubio, by the she-wolf Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, by Mario Diaz-Balart."

"The won't be able to come to Venezuela for being terrorists!" Maduro told raucous supporters in a speech. "Out of here, terrorists!"

All will be unable to obtain travel visas to the country. Maduro also unveiled the visa program for U.S. citizens Saturday, along with restrictions on U.S. diplomats. Menendez is a Democratic senator from New Jersey.

Nicaragua, a Venezuelan ally, said in December that it would ban Rubio and Ros-Lehtinen, both Republicans, from the Central American country to protest U.S. sanctions on members of the Venezuelan government. Rubio took to the Senate floor Friday to push for full implementation of the law, signed by President Obama in December.

Diaz-Balart, who is also a Republican, and Ros-Lehtinen took to Twitter on Saturday to characterize Venezuela's decision as an honor.

Columnist Fred Grimm: The morning docket in the Broward County court of tears

via @grimm_fred:

Coos and giggles of two toddlers added a kind of harmony to the babble of lawyers, clients, social workers, guardians, all whispering among themselves, scurrying in and out of a chaotic little courtroom.

Applause broke out as the smiling judge pronounced their adoption official. He descended from the bench to pose for photographs with the happy parents and the squirming twin boys with the new last name.

The happy parents were teary — a contagious condition in the courtroom. Even an old cynic like me, there to see about another case on the morning docket, could feel emotion nibbling at his composure.

It wouldn’t be the last weepy moment in Broward Circuit Judge Kenneth Gillespie’s courtroom that morning. But the subsequent tears were elicited by wretched circumstances suffered by children. One heartbreak after another.

We heard prison inmates (one serving a life sentence) connected to the courtroom by speakerphone, telling the judge from their various lockups that they intended to contest efforts to terminate their parental rights. Despite the inevitable outcome. Despite the best interest of their children. Maybe because some future hearing in Judge Gillespie’s child welfare court would break up the monotony of prison life. “I don’t know why we’re playing games here,” the judge wondered aloud.

More here.

Rand Paul wins CPAC straw poll, Jeb Bush 5th, Marco Rubio 7th

via @LightmanDavid

Rand Paul won the Conservative Action Political Conference straw poll Saturday, but Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker continued his surge to the top tier of potential Republican candidates with a strong second place showing.

Paul, a U. S. senator from Kentucky, won for the third straight year. But his 25.7 percent total was lower than his 31 percent showing last year. Walker won 21.4 percent.

Walker was a favorite of the audience here, along with Paul. Some 3,007 people voted in the survey, conducted during the final three days of CPAC, which ended Saturday.

The result is another boost for Walker, who vaulted into national prominence in January with a fiery speech at the Iowa Freedom Summit, a gathering of Republican activists. He has since led Iowa Republican presidential surveys.

Paul, though, retains a sizeable following. His father, former Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, won the straw poll in earlier years.

Finishing third and fourth were Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, 11.5 percent, and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, 11.4 percent.

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who was often booed by the audience, was fifth at 8.3 percent.

No one else got 5 percent. Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum got 4.3 percent, followed by Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, 3.7 percent, real estate developer Donald Trump, 3.5 percent, former business executive Carly Fiorina, 3 percent, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, 2.8 percent, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, 1.1 percent and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, 0.9 percent.

--DAVID LIGHTMAN, McClatchy Washington Bureau

Email shows how Jeb Bush organized CPAC supporters

via @learyreports

Setting aside Jeb Bush's solid performance on the CPAC stage yesterday, the headlines would have been quite different today had he been repeatedly booed or faced a mass walk out.

People booed and heckled, and some walked out. But hundreds of Bush supporters filled the spacious room and sent up waves of cheers and applause. The strategy began with a Feb. 19 email:


A group of JEB! '16 supporters are heading out to National Harbor to support Governor Bush during his speech at CPAC next Friday, 2/27.  We're working on having a location at CPAC for Governor Bush to visit with supporters after the speech.  If you have friends or co-workers who support the Governor, please encourage them to attend as well.  Let's show the nation that Governor Bush's proven conservatism and leadership is what America needs right now.

Please plan on being there by noon as we want to make sure every supporter is able to get a seat for the Governor's speech, which will be approximately 1:30pm."

The email was provided to the Tampa Bay Times by one of the organizers, who disputed the characteriztion in some reports that the troops amounted to Astroturfing. "Far from that, it was Jeb alumni who wanted to help the cause. I think the haters are mad because us being able to flood CPAC with 500 people illustrates the depth of the network and the passion that Jeb Bush invokes."

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

As session opens, legislators are forced to confront the 'cannibalizing' of Florida's prisons

Cross City Correctional ceilingThe two DVDs were only minutes long but they depicted deplorable conditions in the state’s prison system: uninhabitable dorms, inmate-on-staff assaults and roofs that were so porous that prison staff rigged sheets of cardboard to serve as makeshift gutters.

It was a vivid example of chronic underfunding and understaffing at the Florida Department of Corrections, and then-Secretary Michael Crews wanted to show them to legislators last year in his effort to make the case for more money.

But the graphic pictures didn’t fit the jobs message of Gov. Rick Scott, who came into office vowing to cut $1 billion from prisons. The governor’s office ordered Crews not to show them. He made copies and distributed them to the chairmen of legislative committees anyway and, while no one agreed to show them publicly, Rep. Charles McBurney, R-Jacksonville, encouraged his budget committee to take a look.

The governor’s office says it doesn’t know who Crews shared the videos with, but it is now embracing the need for more money. Last year, however, the governor’s budget staff downsized Crews’ request for inmate food and for additional corrections staff, and the Legislature gave the DOC only some of what Crews sought. Another year of budget struggles at the troubled agency was underway. Story here. 


Jeb Bush aims for conservatives conservatives who 'don't know that they're conservative'

via @lesleyclark

Jeb Bush didn’t back down Friday as he faced skeptical conservatives, staunchly defending his stands on immigration and education policy while pointing to his record as a tax-slashing governor as proof of his conservative bona fides.

The former Florida governor’s appearance before the Conservative Political Action Conference served as a reminder of his overall challenge and strategy: working to keep conservatives from rebelling and rallying behind a strong alternative for the Republican presidential nomination but not giving up the positions that could help him in a general election battle with likely Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.

Bush started down that path with his 26-minute appearance at the conservative meeting, aided by a boisterous crowd of supporters who drowned out the occasional jeer. Electing to take questions from Fox News’ Sean Hannity rather than deliver prepared remarks, Bush didn’t retreat from any of the stances that have made many conservatives wary of his possible candidacy.

Instead, he urged his critics to consider him as a “second choice” and called on Republicans to broaden their tent.

More here.

February 27, 2015

Rush Limbaugh: Jeb Bush thinks U.S. is 'flawed,' wants to make it more like Miami


Miami politicians and civic leaders like to say that their city looks like what the rest of the country will look like in coming decades. What that means in effect is that American cities will have more and more immigrants and people speaking Spanish.

That seems to scare conservative radio host and Palm Beach County resident Rush Limbaugh, who this week used his show to expound on whether former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush appreciates the U.S. enough, as noted earlier Friday by the Miami New Times.

Limbaugh cited a piece in the conservative National Review comparing Bush to President Obama in that they want to "change" the country. But in making that argument, author Mark Krikorian -- and later Limbaugh -- appeared to express a distaste for Bush's ties to Hispanics.

Despite what some might say, the problem here is not that Jeb’s wife is from Mexico, their kids grew up speaking Spanish, and they live in a Latin American cultural enclave in the U.S. — it’s that he wants to use government policy to “fix” America by making it more like Miami. If Jeb had so little affection for and grounding in his own heritage that he wanted to assimilate into a Latin-American milieu, that’s a perfectly legitimate choice; I know a number of non-Armenians who’ve basically chosen to assimilate into Armenian life. But to try to impose that personal choice on the nation as a whole is beyond the pale. We don’t need another president who thinks Americans are defective and need to be fixed by the State.

Here's Limbaugh commenting on the argument:

Okay, so Jeb thinks America is flawed, and he wants it to be something else. He wants it to be more like the place he chose to live, the Latin-American enclave in Miami. But to take that personal emotional choice and to impose it on the nation as a whole is beyond the pale. And Obama is doing the same thing. They have different reasons, but their desired results are the same. I don't know how to react to some of these things that Jeb is quoted here as saying. It's clear that emotion is behind this, not reason. 

That kind of talk could turn off Hispanic voters at a time when Republicans need more -- not fewer -- Hispanics to vote for them to win the White House. As noted Friday morning in Politico's Florida Playbook, Hispanics in the nation's largest swing state comprise an increasingly larger chunk of the electorate, and lean increasingly more Democratic.

Limbaugh and Krikorian may not want Miami's "Latin American enclave" exported elsewhere. But the numbers, at least in Florida, aren't on their side.

CONNECT's unemployment system blasted by Auditor General


Gov. Rick Scott has repeatedly refused to answer questions about problems with Florida's unemployment claims system, CONNECT, since it launched in October 2013.

But according to an audit released Friday by the state's Auditor General, there are a number of critical issues with CONNECT, which is now estimated to cost taxpayers $77.9 million.

Chief among them is that the system broke Florida law by requiring its users to log in by using their Social Security Numbers, exposing them to an unnecessary risk. Florida law prohibits agencies from requiring SSNs if it's not imperative.

"The use of SSNs as user IDs is contrary to state law and increases the risk of improper disclosure of SSNs," the audit states.

Another finding by audits concluded there were no controls in place to ensure "the confidentiality, availability and integrity of its data."

In short, the system relies on millions of data records that are neither accurate or secure.

Read DEOconnectREPORT.  

"Oh my goodness," said Ali Bustamante, an economic policy analyst at Loyola University in New Orleans who reviewed the audit for the Times/Herald.  "This just shows (Scott's administration officials) had no idea how bad it was. They kept saying it was under control, but this audit clearly shows it wasn't under control."

On Senate floor, Marco Rubio blasts 'horrifying, human-rights catastrophe that is Venezuela'


Making his pitch as a the foreign-policy go-to guy in a crowded field of potential Republican presidential contenders, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio took to the Senate floor Friday to denounce the government of Venezuela (and, at one point, of Cuba). He also continued his push for the Obama administration to move more quickly on implementing sanctions against Venezuelan leaders signed into law late last year.

"There's something happening here in our hemisphere that's not getting enough attention," Rubio said at the beginning of his 12-minute speech on what he called "the horrifying, human-rights catastrophe that is Venezuela." 

A high-school student was shot and killed in an anti-government protest in the South American country this week. In addition to saying he was worried about future instability in Venezuela, Rubio laid out a moral argument for opposing President Nicolás Maduro's regime, which he tied to Cuban communists who have advised the Venezuelan government since the late President Hugo Chávez took power.

In a jab at Obama, Rubio said that while he challenged Latin American heads of state to speak out about the Venezuelan situation, those countries might not be moved to action if the U.S. didn't set an example.

"And instead from the White House and the President, there is silence," Rubio said. "There is silence."

The bad news at FDLE traveled fast -- to CFO's office

Florida Cabinet members have said they were blindsided by Gov. Rick Scott's decision to oust former FDLE Commissioner Gerald Bailey on Dec. 16.

"(It) caught a lot of us by surprise," Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater recently told Capitol reporters.

It appears that it wasn't a complete surprise to Atwater, whose office began lobbying for one of his top aides to get the FDLE job before the ink was dry on Bailey's letter of "departure" (he refused to use the word resignation).

Emails show that Atwater's chief Cabinet affairs aide, Robert Tornillo, began promoting deputy CFO Jay Etheridge as the new head of FDLE even before Bailey's ouster was became publicly known. Bailey has said he got a surprise visit from Scott's former general counsel, Pete Antonacci, at about 11:45 a.m. on Dec. 16,and minutes later, Tornillo hand-delivered Etheridge's resume to Attorney General Pam Bondi's office on the first floor of the state Capitol building in Tallahassee.

Asked to explain the timing, Atwater spokeswoman Ashley Carr said: "At that time, it was known that the Governor's Office wished to make leadership changes at several agencies, including at FDLE. We offered the credentials of an individual who would make a candidate for consideration when the selection process was to begin."

It was nearly four hours later before Scott's office announced that he had appointed Rick Swearingen as interim FDLE commissioner. Atwater later called for a re-opening of the FDLE appointment, but neither his two Cabinet colleagues nor Scott agreed with him.

Here's Tornillo's email:

From: Tornillo, Robert
To: "Kent Perez"; Rob Johnson
Subject: FDLE
Date: Tuesday, December 16, 2014 11:52:39 AM

I dropped off two folders to Emery containing cover letter/resume for Jay Etheridge. Please call me if you have any questions.

Thanks, rt

Robert Tornillo
Director, Cabinet Affairs
Office of Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater