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142 posts from September 2017

September 29, 2017

Carlos Curbelo blocks Democratic operatives on Twitter



Miami Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo has a habit of blocking critical voices on Twitter. 

Curbelo has blocked at least seven Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee staffers from his official or personal accounts, according to DCCC spokesman Cole Leiter. This comes after local progressive activist Tomas Kennedy was blocked by Curbelo's personal account in August after pointing out that the second-term congressman does not live in Florida's 26th district. Curbelo lived in the 26th district until the lines were redrawn in 2015 and members of Congress are not required to live in the districts they represent.

Leiter said that none of the seven accounts that were blocked are Curbelo's South Florida constituents.

Curbelo's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.  

Curbelo's blocking habits mirror President Donald Trump, who has blocked many advocacy groups and constituents on the social media platform. Miami Beach mayor Philip Levine was sued last year by a local radio host for blocking people on Facebook and Twitter. 

Trump is also the subject of a lawsuit by Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University over blocking people on Twitter. This week, Trump admitted that he blocks people on Twitter as part of a process in the lawsuit where both sides agree to a set of facts. 

Alice Visocchi, a researcher with the DCCC, was blocked by Curbelo after asking him a sarcastic question about his vote in favor of the American Health Care Act, which repealed parts of Obamacare.


In July, a federal judge in Virginia ruled that a politician committed "a cardinal sin under the First Amendment" after blocking a constituent on Facebook.  The politician argued that the page was personal but the judge ruled that the politician was using the account as a public official because it asked for comments from constituents. 

Curbelo's personal account, @carloscurbelo, is mostly links to news articles and his work as a member of Congress. His official account, @repcurbelo, includes information that assists constituents. On Thursday, his official account included an office phone number so that constituents recovering from Hurricane Irma could receive assistance in applying for a Small Business Administration loan.

Court: No rehearing for Death Row inmate scheduled to die next week



The Florida Supreme Court on Friday said it won’t reconsider the case of a longtime Death Row inmate who is scheduled to be put to death next week.

The ruling means the execution of convicted double-murderer Michael Lambrix will, for now, take place as planned at 6 p.m. Oct. 5.

Lambrix had filed another challenge to his death sentences — his eighth successive post-conviction motion, the court said — on the basis of recent changes to Florida’s death-penalty sentencing procedures, which were prompted by a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in a case known as Hurst v. Florida.

That ruling in January 2016 demanded Florida fix its then-unconstitutional procedures. The Legislature enacted changes this spring so now a unanimous jury recommendation is required in all death penalty cases.

In his latest request for the Florida Supreme Court to rehear his case, Lambrix argued that his death sentences are unconstitutional under Florida’s new law because they came from non-unanimous juries.

More here.

Photo credit: Tampa Bay Times file photo

U.S. to withdraw most personnel from embassy in Cuba

US Cuba

The United States will withdraw most of its staff from its embassy in Havana following mysterious sonic attacks that have caused several health problems to about 20 diplomats, a U.S. government source confirmed to El Nuevo Herald on Friday.

The U.S. government has ordered 60 percent of its staff removed from the diplomatic headquarters in Havana. Additionally, it will issue an alert recommending to the Americans not to travel to the island due to the attacks. The issuance of visas in Havana was also suspended indefinitely.

The measures, first reported by the Associated Press, seek to protect diplomats and their families from what Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called a “attacks on the health” of diplomatic staff in Havana.

The diversity of symptoms, from hearing loss to brain damage, as well as the diversity of descriptions of the sounds the diplomats say they have heard, have left experts confused.

According to a State Department source, there are 21 confirmed cases of affected persons, not 25 as originally reported. The source also stressed that the attacks did not occur at the U.S. embassy. Previously, U.S. government officials believed the attacks occurred at diplomats’ homes — all leased from Cuban government — and in the Hotel Capri in Havana.

More here.

Photo credit: Desmond Boylan, Associated Press

Fresen sentenced to 60 days in jail, probation in tax case

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Former Miami state Rep. Erik Fresen will serve 60 days in jail and a year of probation for failing to file a 2011 tax return on more than $270,000 in income, a federal judge sentenced Friday.

He will begin his jail term on Nov. 17 and serve 15 days in jail per month for four months — an intermittent sentence intended to keep him earning some income to pay back his tax penalties.

“I want him to spend Thanksgiving and Christmas in jail so that every holiday for the rest of his life he’ll think back to that,” U.S. District Judge Robert Scola said.

Fresen’s mother, wife and three sisters, seated two rows behind him in court, cried.

Fresen faced up to a year in prison. Prosecutors asked for a sentence of six months in jail and six months of house arrest, while Fresen’s defense attorneys requested only probation.

Scola said he couldn’t be as lenient as the defense requested because Fresen didn’t properly report his income to the Internal Revenue Service from 2007-16 — a nine-year period that included his eight years as a Republican lawmaker the Florida House.

More here.

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

After lifting sanctions earlier this year, regulators now target ALF affiliated with Broward home where 11 died

Floridian GardensFlorida regulators moved to shut down Floridian Gardens Assisted Living Facility in South Miami-Dade on Thursday, a 180-bed elder care center operated by the owner of a Hollywood Hills nursing home where 11 people died when their air-conditioning unit stopped working for days after Hurricane Irma.

The Agency for Health Care Administration said that the facility at 17250 SW 137th Ave., owned by Jack Michel and Larkin Community Hospital, “has a history of regulatory issues.” Inspections last year found widespread deficiencies — chronic understaffing, repeated incidents of residents hospitalized after falling, ignoring complaints from female residents when a male resident sexually harassed them, and systemic failures relating to medication, training and records.

In a strongly worded order, AHCA attempted to deny a renewal of the ALF’s license in December and imposed an immediate moratorium on new residents. Larkin challenged the action in administrative court, and the case is pending.

But on Aug. 24, AHCA lifted the moratorium suggesting that “necessary corrections” had been completed. On Thursday, after waiting more than nine months to take additional action, the agency cited the deaths at the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills, where the 11 elderly patients died, and removed Floridian Gardens from the Medicaid program, essentially starving it of two-thirds of its revenue source. Read more here. 

September 28, 2017

Lawmakers urge Trump to let U.S. companies assist in Cuba's hurricane recovery (updated)

Cuba Hurricane Irma


A group of lawmakers who want more trade with Cuba are urging President Donald Trump to suspend an Obama-era restriction on what types of relief and reconstruction supplies can be sent to the island from the United States after Hurricane Irma made landfall on Cuba's north coast as a Category Five storm. 

On Thursday, 65 lawmakers, including 60 Democrats and five Republicans, signed a letter to Trump asking him to let U.S. businesses send construction supplies to Cuba without approval from the Treasury and Commerce Departments. 

"Historical grievances should be put aside during a humanitarian crisis like this, the people of Cuba need urgent support to rebuild," the letter said. "Fortunately, there is a simple change you can make that would provide necessary support to the Cuban people while at the same time helping U.S. businesses: remove restrictions on the ability of U.S. companies to export needed relief and reconstruction supplies to the Cuban government and its people." 

The plan only applies to private U.S. companies that want to provide construction materials and other forms of relief to the Cuban government and citizens. It does not ask the U.S. government to provide taxpayer funds for Cuba's recovery from Irma. 

Current regulations allow pre-approved sales of construction materials to private entities in Cuba serving privately-owned buildings. Public structures in Cuba, including schools and hospitals, are not eligible for U.S. materials to rebuild after a storm. 

"At the end of the day America is a very big economy, we’re capable of selling building supply products to Cuba and working on aid packages in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico at the same time," said James Williams, head of Engage Cuba, a group that lobbies for closer Cuba ties. "It would be different if we were saying pull money out of one pocket and put it into another." 

The Cuban government hasn't reached out to U.S. officials asking for relief after Hurricane Irma. Southcom Commander Adm. Kurt Tidd said in a briefing last week at that Cuban officials did not ask U.S. military personnel in Guantanamo Bay for help after the storm. 

“The Cubans do not ask for assistance there typically," Kenneth Merten, deputy assistant secretary for Western Hemisphere affairs at the State Department, said last week. "I’m hard pressed to remember if the Cubans have ever asked us for assistance after a hurricane or some kind of natural disaster." 

The letter was led by Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., one of the more liberal members of Congress. But conservatives who want to end the embargo like Reps. Mark Sanford of South Carolina and Ted Poe of Texas also signed the letter. 

"At this difficult time for the Cuban people, denying them the ability to purchase high-quality, American-made construction, medical and other crucial supplies is cruel and counterproductive," the letter said. "This change would not be controversial." 

Hurricane Irma killed at least 10 people in Cuba and caused billions in damage along the island's north coast.

Update 7:41pm Miami Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the longest-serving Cuban-American in Congress, sharply criticized the letter in a statement to the Miami Herald.

"In the aftermath of previous hurricanes that have ripped through Cuba, the Castro regime has responded to the suffering of the people in a feckless and callous manner, as demonstrated by its refusal to accept assistance that comes from the U.S.," Ros-Lehtinen said. "Because they are blinded by ideology, some Members foolishly believe that US regulations are responsible for the destruction of Cuba's infrastructure and are hampering the island's recovery. The regime cares little about the citizens before, during and after hurricanes but it does care deeply about spreading its lies about our warm and generous nation."

Update 11:20pm Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, a Miami Republican who helped draft Trump's tougher Cuba policy earlier this year, is also against the proposal. 

"When the United States generously offered humanitarian aid in the wake of hurricanes Ike and Gustav, the Castro regime flatly rejected that offer," Diaz-Balart said in a statement. "Instead, it cynically attempted to leverage the devastation to demand financing that would bolster its coffers. I wholeheartedly support humanitarian and pro-democracy assistance to the Cuban people.   But as the regime has demonstrated for more than half a century, business deals with the regime only benefit the regime."

Supreme Court: Criminal immunity under 'Stand Your Ground' doesn't guarantee civil immunity

Florida Redistricting


Just because a criminal defendant might be granted immunity under the state’s “Stand Your Ground” law, that doesn’t mean they’ll be automatically protected from potential civil repercussions, the Florida Supreme Court said in a ruling released Thursday.

The seven justices unanimously found that separate determinations are needed in criminal versus civil court when it comes to a defendant’s claim that they acted lawfully in self-defense when fearing for their life or property.

The ruling was prompted by a use-of-force case in Tampa involving a violent confrontation between two men at a local bar.

Full details here.

Photo credit: Tampa Bay Times file photo

An ideal venue for DeSantis to enter governor's race? Not so fast

2017-Lincoln-Day-Dinner-Flyer-7-25-17On paper, it looks like a fitting venue for U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis to declare his intentions to seek the Republican nomination for governor. It’s the Volusia County Republican Party’s annual Lincoln Day Dinner on Sunday, Oct. 8, in Daytona Beach.

DeSantis shares top billing on the program with Fox News host Judge Jeanine Pirro, and the congressman’s wife, Jacksonville TV personality Casey Black DeSantis, is the night’s mistress of ceremonies. There's even a "Trump Fan Zone."

Not so fast, says Brad Herold, a DeSantis spokesman. Herold said “late October or early November” is a likely time window for DeSantis to declare his candidacy, adding that the congressman is “very seriously” looking at running, but “he has not fully made a decision yet. It‘s probably a month away.”

Herold said DeSantis has to make up his mind that there’s room for a real “constitutional conservative” in the race. “If he got in, he would be the conservative in the race,” he said.

DeSantis would join a GOP field that includes Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and Senate Appropriations Chairman Jack Latvala. House Speaker Richard Corcoran is also considering running.

Rubio urges Trump to put Pentagon in charge of recovery in Puerto Rico


@francoordonez @alextdaugherty 

As the humanitarian crisis in Puerto Rico spirals, Sen. Marco Rubio urged President Donald Trump to put the U.S. military in charge of recovery efforts on the island.

The Florida Republican said the government in Puerto Rico does not have the capacity — in money, staff or even communications resources — to lead such a massive effort as more than 3 million American citizens struggle amid rapidly deteriorating conditions.

Rubio, who has emerged in recent months as a key advisor to the president on Latin American issues, said the Defense Department is the only institution with the organizational capabilities and logistics skills needed to confront the devastation.

“This is what they do,” Rubio said Thursday. “They’re the best responders to natural disasters on the planet. And we need to employ them.”

Rubio, who clearly has the president’s ear, is leading a growing chorus of politicians who have become dissatisfied with the Trump administration’s response more than a week after Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico as a Category 4 storm. Puerto Rico is now suffering food shortages and is at risk of disease outbreak, and both local and federal officials are pressuring the Trump administration to dramatically ramp up its efforts.
“I would like to see the fire and fury of this administration when it comes to a rescue effort,” said Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill.

Read more here.

September 27, 2017

José Javier Rodríguez endorsed by Congressional Hispanic Caucus

007 Amendment 4 DS

@alextdaugherty @patriciamazzei

State Sen. José Javier Rodríguez, one of seven Democrats seeking to replace retiring Miami Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, was recently endorsed by the political arm of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, a potential source of campaign cash in a crowded primary field. 

Rodriguez is one of three Democrats nationwide to get CHC's endorsement for the 2018 election cycle. CHC's political arm, chaired by California Rep. Tony Cardenas, has also endorsed a Senate candidate in Nevada and a House candidate in Texas.

During the 2016 cycle, the group raised just over $6 million and between January and March of this year the group raised more than $2 million.

"José Javier has proven he can win tough races," Cardenas said in a fundraising email that will go out to Rodriguez supporters tomorrow. "We need him in Congress to expand access to health care and stand up to Donald Trump in support of a fairer and more inclusive America." 

Six others are vying for the party’s nomination to the rare open seat: former state Judge Mary Barzee Flores, state Rep. David Richardson of Miami Beach, former Knight Foundation director Matt Haggman, Miami Beach Commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez, University of Miami academic adviser Michael Hepburn and Mark Anthony Person. Miami Commissioner Ken Russell is also mulling a run.