Friday, March 2, 2012

Morning Joe goes to Fort Lee (Part 2)

Morning Joe will be broadcasting from Fort Lee High School in Fort Lee, New Jersey on Friday, March 2,




Morning Joe goes to Fort Lee (Part 1)

Morning Joe will be broadcasting from Fort Lee High School in Fort Lee, New Jersey on Friday, March 2, 2012.

A few scenes from today's education town hall in Fort Lee, New Jersey

Drew Katchen |
Fort Lee High School gymnasium designed for the Morning Joe education town hall at Fort Lee High School in Fort Lee, New Jersey.
Today Morning Joe decamped over the river to Fort Lee New Jersey for a town hall gathering on education. A lot of our friends came out, and it was a good time.
Here are some of the sights.
Have a great weekend.
Drew Katchen |
Fort Lee High School gymnasium for the Morning Joe education town hall at Fort Lee High School in Fort Lee, New Jersey
Drew Katchen |
Willie Geist hosts Way Too Early at the Morning Joe education town hall at Fort Lee High School in Fort Lee, New Jersey

Drew Katchen |
Mika Brzezinski, Joe Scarborough and Harold Ford Jr. at the Morning Joe education town hall at Fort Lee High School in Fort Lee, New Jersey.
Drew Katchen |
Fmr. Gov. Howard Dean, D-Vt., and Interim Superintendent of the Fort Lee Public Schools Steven Engravalle.
Drew Katchen |
Sharing a laugh at the Morning Joe education town hall at Fort Lee High School in Fort Lee, New Jersey.
Exterior shot of Fort Lee High School
Photo by Louis Burgdorf | Morning Joe producer

Fort Lee School Superintendent Steven EngravallePhoto by Louis Burgdorf | Morning Joe producer

Mike Barnicle, StudentsFirst's Michelle Rhee, NJ Gov. Chris Christie and Rev. Al Sharpton

At the Morning Joe education town hall at Fort Lee High School in Fort Lee, New Jersey
Photo by Drew Katchen |

Fanaticism trumps justice in student deportation case

No justice, none at all, was delivered this week when a federal immigration judge denied 18-year-old Daniela Pelaez, the valedictorian at North Miami Senior High School, her application for U.S. residency and put her on a deportation track.
The case has once again catapulted to the national spotlight the need to protect these children who, through no fault of their own, have ended up living in this country without legal residency status and are now, for all practical purposes, Americans.
Pelaez, born in Colombia, was brought to the United States by her parents when she was 4. The Pelaezes overstayed their tourist visa, seeking to build a better life here for their children, and they’ve paid plenty for that decision. The mother, Ana Gonzalez, had to separate from the family and return to Colombia in 2006 to get treatment for colon cancer and is not allowed to return.
But the children, who stayed with the father, are not only thriving but also giving back to their adopted country.
Pelaez’s older brother, Johan, has served in the Army for two years and did a tour in Afghanistan last year; he became a U.S. citizen and was able to obtain residency for his father. Only Daniela and her older sister, Dayana, remain without a means to legalize their status.
This is the only country Daniela Pelaez has known — and she has done plenty with the opportunity to live here. She has the highest GPA, 6.7, of her graduating class, as well the highest scores in the ACT college entrance exam. She’s a QuestBridge Scholar, a recognition and scholarship given to exceptional students who have excelled despite their socio-economic status, and she wants to be a heart surgeon.
But that dream will be farther from reach without residency status.
Not only does she face the constant threat of deportation, but even if the government does not act on that order, Pelaez must pay out-of-state tuition rates that are four times higher than the already pricey cost to Florida residents.
The increasingly conservative — and foolish — Florida Legislature had the opportunity this session to allow worthy Florida high school graduates like Pelaez to pay in-state tuition rates. But while they approved demagogic bills aimed at bringing back prayer in schools and sought to curtail legal abortions, legislators refused to grant true humanitarian relief to children who are already here and could have a promising future.
Some 192,000 Florida students could have had a better shot at an education, but the prayer-happy Legislature would rather monitor the coming together of eggs and sperm.
It’s heartbreaking to hear these young people speak of their love for this country, and the humiliation they feel at being rejected.
“I consider myself an American no matter what,” Pelaez said.
“Criminals have more rights now than I do.... I’m a good person, I know I am.”
She is a special person.
What parent wouldn’t want Daniela Pelaez as a daughter?
What state, what country wouldn’t want her as a resident, a citizen?
Only one in which right-wing fanaticism and xenophobia trump common sense and justice.

Rubio wants state ethics case closed

The Miami Herald

In a move sure to increase speculation he is angling to be the Republican vice presidential running mate, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio is demanding the Florida Ethics Commission close out a complaint that he misused Republican and campaign money “to subsidize his lifestyle.” “This complaint was filed for political reasons, and those who support the direction this president is taking our country will undoubtedly attempt to exploit it for political reasons,” Rubio wrote Friday in a letter, which was accompanied by an affidavit. “I’m not going to let them do that.”
The March 2010 ethics complaint came during Rubio’s Senate campaign against then-Gov. Charlie Crist, and was filed by Michael D. Ryan of Fort Lauderdale, who said he based it on articles in the Tampa Bay Times (then St. Petersburg Times) and Miami Herald. The newspapers reported that Rubio, former speaker of the Florida House, routinely charged personal expenses to his party-issued credit card between 2006 and 2008.
Rubio said he repaid personal expenses. Others raised questions, such as the nearly $4,000 he billed the Republican Party of Florida for a rental car in Miami and repairs to his family minivan, which he said was damaged by a valet at a political event.
Rubio acknowledged double-billing state taxpayers and the party for eight plane fares to Tallahassee, calling it a mistake and repaid the party.
A rising figure in national Republican politics, Rubio is considered a top candidate as a vice presidential running mate. He insists he’s focused on representing Florida but questions about his past are already drawing national media scrutiny. This week, the Wall Street Journal urged him to air out any vetting problems now so he would not become the next Sarah Palin or Dan Quayle.
“Sounds like he’s running for something,” said Republican political consultant Chris Ingram of Tampa, who said he once offered Rubio the same advice as he launched his bid for Senate. “It’s not the kind of thing a politician would want to bring up.”
Before becoming speaker, Rubio started two political committees to support other candidates and raised about $600,000. He failed to disclose tens of thousands of dollars in expenses and concealed others by lumping them in credit card charges, the Times/Herald reported.
“It appears that Mr. Rubio believes that PAC stands for 'personal access to cash,’ ” Ryan said in the complaint, calling it a “fraud upon his donors whose donations were solicited for political purposes, not to subsidize his lifestyle.”
Ryan’s complaint also accused Rubio of using his position to get an unadvertised teaching job at Florida International University when the school was laying off faculty. Rubio left that job but last year began teaching again, with clearance from the Senate.
Crist attempted to use the issues against Rubio in their bitter primary, but the governor’s moderate leanings proved more damaging among the conservative base. Rubio climbed in the polls and was branded a tea party hero. Crist, meanwhile, was forced to leave the GOP and run as an independent.
Rubio’s victory cemented his status as a rising star and the VP buzz has only grow around the charismatic 40-year-old son of Cuban immigrants. Even if he does not appear on the ticket, he is widely viewed as an asset to the GOP, which is trying to appeal to Hispanics. And many in Florida think some day he’ll run for president.
But Rubio’s past has always dangled, ripe for scrutiny from reporters, political opponents and others.
Last fall he acknowledged that his parents came to the United States before Fidel Castro came to power in Cuba, not after as his Senate biography read. The error, reported in the Times and the Washington Post, was unearthed by people who do not think Rubio is eligible to serve as president because his parents were not U.S. citizens when he was born in Miami in 1971.
In his letter Friday, Rubio said he did not get official notice of the complaint until August 2011, when one was sent to his Senate office in Doral.
“The complaint was filled with false information and reached absurd and incoherent conclusions,” he wrote. “Furthermore, the Democratic donor based the entire complaint on press accounts, not on any actual knowledge or evidence.”
In November, Rubio provided the ethics commission with information he said explained the circumstances and cleared him of wrongdoing. His letter Friday included an affidavit. He said, for example, that the double-billed flights issue arose because he did not book his travel as speaker. He said he reimbursed the Republican Party of Florida $2,417.
He said the college job and consulting work he did with Jackson Health Center and Miami Children’s Hospital — all of which seek state funding — came after he left the Florida House due to term limits.
“They were not contemplated by me during the 2008 state legislative session in any manner, way, shape or form and had absolutely no bearing on any official decisions I made at any time during my service as an elected official in the Florida House of Representatives,” Rubio wrote.
The affidavit, however, does not address some of the other issues, including the political committee spending.
Rubio spokesman Alex Conant said Friday that the ethics commission told Rubio verbally last fall that “even if it had been true, those issues in the complaint were legally insufficient. The affidavit only addresses the remaining issues that have yet to be dismissed.”
Rubio says he is confident it will be resolved. The ethics commission declined comment, as is standard with such cases.
“This complaint was filed in the middle of my campaign for U.S. Senate,” he states in the affidavit. “It was actually given to the media before it was even filed and was clearly politically motivated. Though I believe it is without any merit whatsoever, I understand the important work of the Commission and urge it to complete its review of these frivolous allegations in order to close out this matter which has now been pending for almost two years.”

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What was learned from Arizona, Michigan Republican primaries

The Miami Herald

Mitt Romney’s victories in Arizona and Michigan put him back in the lead position for Super Tuesday and the slow, sometimes painful march toward the Republican National Convention in Tampa. Though much attention was paid to Michigan, Romney’s commanding win in Arizona came with the winner-take-all prize of 29 delegates and bragging rights in a conservative state.
But challenges remain as the busy March primary season begins, and they were apparent as the results from Tuesday became clearer. Romney won the popular vote in Michigan, but he and Santorum split the 30 delegates there. A tie is how Santorum cast it Wednesday, eager to avoid another situation like the Iowa caucuses where Romney was prematurely declared the winner.
“If Romney was able to outspend us by as large a margin as he did in his home state ... I don’t know how you look at this as anything but a strong showing for Rick Santorum and somewhat of a disaster for Mitt Romney,” said John Brabender, the campaign’s senior adviser.
Whatever the case, Tuesday hammered home how different the landscape has become since the Jan. 31 primary in Florida, where it once appeared Romney would seal the deal. Here are five things we’ve learned since then:
1) Romney’s problem is real but not fatal.
Romney spared himself a calamity by winning Michigan. But only three points separated him and Santorum in a state Romney was born in, raised in, and had better organization. The struggle was another reminder that Romney suffers from an energy deficit among the Republican electorate.
Exit polls show Santorum, who made a big push on social issues, captured voters who strongly identified as conservatives. A long battle can make a candidate stronger (witness the 2008 Democratic primary). In this case, though, it’s only weakened Romney. But his faults are not fatal.
Like he did in Florida after a humiliating loss to Newt Gingrich in South Carolina, Romney demonstrated in Michigan that he can win when it counts. He blunted the Santorum surge and quieted, for now, concerns among the GOP.
2) Super Tuesday won’t settle this race.
Romney was supposed to have effectively wrapped up the nomination by now, spending his energy on President Barack Obama with a united GOP behind him. Exit polls have generally shown voters agree he is best to take on Obama, but Romney is going to have to work harder. Super Tuesday, when 10 states vote and award more than 400 delegates, will not likely settle the race.
Santorum is doing well in delegate-rich Ohio and is ahead in Tennessee. The favorite in Georgia is hometown son Gingrich. Oklahoma is another battleground. Romney should win in Virginia, where only he and Ron Paul are on the ballot, as well as Massachusetts and Vermont.
But 1,144 delegates are needed to secure the nomination and even by exceeding expectations on Super Tuesday, Romney has to keep going. His campaign recently acknowledged this, saying the race will extend to at least mid May.
3) Santorum blew his big chance.
Santorum began the month looking like a conservative white knight. Then he opened his mouth. He fumbled his answers in the last debate and made himself look like a Washington insider. Then he produced some head-shaking detours. Santorum blasted Obama’s call for more young people to attend college, saying he was a “snob.” He said John F. Kennedy’s 1960 speech on the separation of church and state made him want to “throw up.” Santorum’s support among women also fell with his strident talk on birth control. Santorum is still in the game, but he blew his big opportunity.
4) Romney, the rich guy, needs money.
During an otherwise strong election night speech in Michigan, Romney made an appeal for TV viewers to visit his website and contribute money. From anyone else, it would be unremarkable. But from Romney, it showed the protracted delegate fight and challenges from an array of rivals have taken a toll.
Romney never built the strong grassroots network needed to pull waves of small dollar donations, instead relying on wealthy donors. And of his donors, 66 percent have reached the maximum $2,500 for the primary according to the Campaign Finance Institute compared with 18 percent for Santorum and 17 percent for Gingrich. The Romney campaign told the Wall Street Journal that it was seeing an infusion of fresh cash from donors who had planned to wait until the general election or those worried about Santorum becoming the nominee. Romney continues to outraise the competition but his burn rate has grown considerably. In January, he raised $6.5 million but spent $18.8 million.
5) Paul and Gingrich are distractions.
Paul and Gingrich, who did not compete in Arizona or Michigan, increasingly look like afterthoughts, albeit ones that can cause trouble.
Gingrich is banking on Georgia, but even if he wins his home state, he’s still got a hard argument to make that he’s a viable contender. By sticking in the race he has the effect of helping Romney, taking away some votes that would go to Santorum. Paul has not yet to win a contest but pledges to continue. Still, his resolve does nothing to change the narrative that the race is down to Romney vs. Santorum.

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Thousands protest ruling to deport top high school student

The Miami Herald


Miami Dade Public Schools Superintendant Alberto Carvalho hugs honor student Daniela Pelaez after a press conference outside of North Miami High School, as her sister Dyana Pelaez-(L) looks on. Daniela might be deported because of improper documentation on March 2, 2012.
Miami Dade Public Schools Superintendant Alberto Carvalho hugs honor student Daniela Pelaez after a press conference outside of North Miami High School, as her sister Dyana Pelaez-(L) looks on. Daniela might be deported because of improper documentation on March 2, 2012.
More than 2,600 students and teachers at North Miami Senior High took to the streets Friday morning to protest a decision by an immigration judge ordering their valedictorian, 18-year-old Daniela Pelaez of Colombia, to depart the country.The demonstration, with placards and chanted slogans, was one of the biggest locally on the immigration issue since 2004 when President George W. Bush first proposed the legalization of millions of undocumented immigrants.
Although U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement already indicated that it has no plans to kick Daniela out of the country, students and teachers staged the protest to express solidarity with the bright student who wants to stay here and become a heart surgeon.
The demonstration also served as a stage for two prominent local officials, Superintendent of Miami-Dade Schools Alberto Carvalho and North Miami Mayor Andre Pierre, to voice sympathy for Daniela.
Both immigrants, Pierre and Carvalho, said it was time for politicians and policymakers in Washington to set aside differences so Congress can approve immigration reform, a step that would legalize millions of undocumented immigrants.
Carvalho, who emigrated from Portugal, was visibly moved during the post-demonstration news conference when he and Pierre, originally from Haiti, appeared before television cameras with Pelaez and her sister Dayana.
Carvalho, in particular, said he identified closely with Pelaez because of his past as an immigrant in the United States, sometimes without papers.
"I can hardly find words to express what I feel right now as an immigrant," said Carvalho. "As one having gone through what Daniela is going through today, I cannot say that every moment of my life in this country, that I produced papers. But you know what, I labored, I cleaned tables, I was a waiter, I did roofing, I did construction work and today I’m superintendant of schools. That is the power of education, a power and a right that shall not be denied to Daniela."
Adding that the North Miami Senior High student was “an inspiration” to him and the nation, Carvalho said he would do everything in his power to prevent her removal from the United States.
"Over my dead body will this child be deported," Carvalho said moments before embracing Daniela. "Where is the shame of our nation when we pick on somebody like her. This is a community that cares. We are not a community that turns our back on immigrants, on our young, on the invisible, the fragile. We wrap our arms around them. We protect them."

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North Miami students protest valedictorian’s order to leave country

The Miami Herald


Over twenty-five hundred students protest the possible deportation of student Daniela Pelaez 18, this Friday morning, March 2, 2012, at the North Miami Senior High School.
WALTER MICHOT / Miami Herald Staff
Over twenty-five hundred students protest the possible deportation of student Daniela Pelaez 18, this Friday morning, March 2, 2012, at the North Miami Senior High School.
Students at North Miami High School are protesting a judge’s order for their valedictorian to leave the country.Daniela Pelaez, 18, was given the order for voluntary departure by a federal immigration judge on Monday after her request for a green card was denied.
Pelaez came to the United States at age 4 with her family from Colombia on a tourist visa, which they overstayed. Her application for residency was denied in 2010.
“I consider myself an American, no matter what,” said Pelaez, who has applied to several Ivy League universities and hopes to become a heart surgeon. “I don’t agree with the judge.”
Her departure is not imminent, and her attorney is confident that an appeal will prevent her removal from the country. But her situation has mobilized her classmates, who plan to don red, white and blue Friday morning outside the school.
Her situation echoes the plight of Juan Gomez, a Killian High School grad who was picked up by immigration agents and threatened with deportation in 2007. Gomez and his brother Alex were spared deportation to Colombia.
But the climate has since changed. A new policy started under the Obama Administration last summer gives more leniency to immigration trial attorneys when it comes to undocumented immigrants like Gomez and Pelaez.
The policy lessened the focus on undocumented immigrants with no criminal record or who are caring for a sick child, who have been victims of domestic violence or crime, or who arrived in the country as children. Instead it turned the focus on the detention and deportation of dangerous foreign criminals and foreigners deemed threats to national security.
Those undocumented immigrants, like Pelaez, however, still must go through legal proceedings.
The ruling for voluntary departure only becomes final after 30 days, if an appeal is not filed, said her attorney, Jack Wallace. “If it’s filed within 30 days, she can’t be deported anywhere.” He plans to file the appeal next week, though he didn’t disclose on what grounds.
Wallace said he did not seek leniency under the new policy — called prosecutorial discretion — because he believes it’s best for those with no chance of winning approval to stay in the country. “Daniela has a good chance, if we win in court in Washington, to stay legally in the United States,” he said.
The deportation process can drag on for years, with all appeals from 59 immigration courts around the country going to Washington, D.C.
Pelaez’s family, who is originally from Barranquilla, Colombia, finds themselves on both sides of the immigration line. Her mother, Ana Gonzalez, returned to Colombia in 2006 to get successful treatment for colon cancer and now can’t return to the United States. Her older brother, Johan, is a U.S. citizen and serves in the U.S. Army, returning from a tour in Afghanistan last year. Her father, Antonio Pelaez, was able to receive residency through her brother. But Pelaez and her sister, Dayana, are struggling to find a way to stay in the country legally.
Meanwhile, Pelaez’s classmates and teachers have launched an aggressive online effort to gain support for her case — and keep her in the United States.
They have created a Facebook page and started an online petition, with more than 3,000 signatures as of Thursday afternoon, that they aim to send to the U.S. House of Representatives. They have made posters, banners and handed out fliers encouraging students to join Friday’s protest.
“We really are a family,” said Emily Sell, a 17-year-old senior. She and Pelaez attend the rigorous, college-prep International Baccalaureate program at North Miami Senior.
“I won’t allow that [deportation] to happen to her. For her to be deported means I’m losing one of my closest friends, our school is losing one of its brightest minds ... That means a lot of loss that’s felt not only by me but all of her friends and family,” Emily said.
The news of the judge’s order was “devastating,” said Larry Jurrist, who leads the school’s IB program and teaches Pelaez in advanced Spanish. “It’s shocking to think that someone you’ve known for four years is suddenly going to be shipped off somewhere.”
When students started the online petition, Jurrist signed it and posted it on his Facebook page. “Not only did a tremendous amount of my friends and families sign it, they shared it, and it’s spread around tremendously, not just through me, but everyone else who’s doing the same thing,” Jurrist said.
For a decade, immigrants’ rights groups have pushed the DREAM Act, a federal proposal that would allow undocumented children to obtain permanent residency, either by enrolling in college or serving in the military. The bill has been criticized for promoting illegal immigration — and has never been signed into law.
According to estimates by the Urban Institute, 192,000 students in Florida would benefit from the DREAM Act. That means they came to the United States when they were younger than 16, have lived in the country for more than five years and have graduated from a Florida high school.
Last month in the Florida Legislature, efforts to let undocumented students pay in-state tuition were shot down. Under current state law, undocumented students must pay out-of-state tuition, which is nearly three times higher than the rates for Florida residents.
Juan Rodriguez, the youth coordinator with the Florida Immigrant Coalition, said it’s important for students to reach out to their community.
“They need to create their network of trusted friends that they can share their story with or teachers they can trust,” he said. “We understand there’s a lot of fear. There’s more fear on the part of the parents ... The majority of cases of students that have been stopped, it’s been people whose community has been aware of their story and do advocacy for them.”
Pelaez said she’s grateful for the rally at her school.
“I am annoyed and humiliated by all of this; I don’t feel I deserve this,” she said. “Criminals have more rights right now than I do — that’s humiliating. I’m a good person, I know I am.”
El Nuevo staff writer Alfonso Chardy contributed to this report.

ALF reform may be in jeopardy

The Miami Herald

After years of people dying of abuse in Florida’s assisted living facilities, lawmakers this year unveiled some of the toughest legislation in the nation to protect residents and punish the worst abusers.But with just about a week left, major proposals to shut down dangerous homes, investigate deaths and dramatically raise credentials of caregivers will now require the Senate’s most powerful leaders to save it.
A Senate bill hailed by advocates as one of the most comprehensive in a generation was never heard in the overbooked budget subcommittee on Tuesday — a decision that can mean the death sentence. Two other ALF reform bills also stalled.
With committee hearings now ended, efforts to bring the bills to a vote will need top lawmakers to step in and steer it to the floor for a vote.
“It would certainly be disappointing if the Senate were to fail and not get something useful passed out of this session,” said Larry Polivka, who is leading a governor’s task force investigating problems in ALFs. “Why not at least complete what they have developed at this point?”
The impasse comes after a year of scrutiny of the state’s troubled ALF industry that began in May with a Miami Herald series showing dozens of people dying of abuse and neglect in facilities — nearly once a month since 2002 — but regulators failed to close the homes.
Months later, a legislative probe and a Miami-Dade grand jury found troubling problems in oversight of an industry now housing more seniors and people with mental illness than any other institutions in Florida.
Sen. Rene Garcia, a Republican from Hialeah whose district includes some of the most heavily fined ALFs in Miami-Dade, insists his proposal, SB 1884, still has the leadership support to move the reforms forward. The 60-day session ends next Friday.
“Absolutely the bill is not dead. It’s not dead at all,” Garcia said. “There’s a lot of work that has been put into this bill on both sides. I feel fairly safe this will be heard on the floor.”
On Wednesday afternoon, Gov. Rick Scott repeated his position that protecting frail elders is a top priority, although he steered clear of answering a question on whether he’d push legislative leaders to pass the bills. “We have got to make sure we take care of the citizens that end up being in our assisted living facilities, we have to make sure they get taken care of with respect,” he said. “It is significant.”
While the reforms are vulnerable to defeat, there are several possible routes for lawmakers to get the bills to a vote.
For example, the Senate could drop its own version and take up the House bill, which elderly advocate Brian Lee says goes easier on the industry and forfeits some of the key protections.
Alternatively, powerful Rules Chairman Sen. John Thrasher, R-Jacksonville, could ensure one or all of the Senate proposals get a full hearing.
“It’s moving,” he said. “It’s got to go through the process, but we’ve got plenty of time to deal with it so I think we will.”
The sponsor in the House, Eddy Gonzalez, R-Hialeah Gardens, says he and Garcia are negotiating to hammer out differences on their bills, which still vary in their training requirements for ALF workers and the severity of penalties for caretakers caught abusing or neglecting residents to death.
While the House bill would slap $10,000 on homes that cause a resident’s death, the Senate version is tougher, stripping state regulators of the power to cut deals with homes in egregious death cases and immediately revoking their licenses.
Additionally, a Senate bill gives residents the right to appeal when they’re thrown out of an ALF, while the House does not.
House Speaker Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park, said he’s going to let the process play out, but does not plan to throw his weight behind making sure the reforms pass.
Over the last two months, big differences have emerged between advocates for ALF residents and industry leaders, who have lobbied for years to remove what they call onerous regulations by the Agency for Health Care Administration.
Patricia Lange, executive director for the Florida Assisted Living Association, said she hopes to see something pass that punishes the bad actors without hurting homes that follow the rules.
“We believe there has always been adequate regulation in place... enforcement has always been the issue,” she said. “If you look at AHCA’s record in the past year, you’ll see they’ve been doing that.”
But a Herald investigation found that despite the agency taking harsher action on bad homes — closing more than a dozen since the newspaper series in May — AHCA continues to provide millions in state dollars to facilities where investigators have turned up abuse and neglect deaths.
Since 2007, the agency has doled out $23 million to nearly 90 homes that could have been cut off from public dollars under the law, including facilities caught beating and sexually abusing residents.

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Neglected to Death

ALF reform may be in jeopardy

Scott wants to renew effort to reform ALFs

Florida lawmakers: Get tough on ALFs

State keeps funding dangerous ALFs

La Casa Grande: An assisted-living facility’s track record of trouble

Inspections decline as elder watchdogs are muzzled

Grand jury demands state get tough on ALF operators

Grand jury demands Florida get tough on ALF operators

ALF watchdog: I was dumped for doing my job

Probe finds ‘unscrupulous’ absentee-voting practices at ALF

ALF operators, recruiters plead guilty in major Medicare fraud case

Task force pushes some ALF reforms, delays others

Some ALFs pay kickbacks for residents, task force told

Time to ban ALF caregivers who abuse, state is told

Governor’s task force to shape future of assisted living facilities

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The Myths That Are Killing Us

Dear Democrat:

As the Republican demolition derby rolls on, I continue to be amused by how each remaining contender tries to assume the “small government” mantle.

Mitt Romney wants a government so small that it provides universal health care.

Newt Gingrich wants a government so small that it will establish a permanent base on the Moon.

Rick Santorum wants a government so small that it will fit inside a woman’s uterus.

The only real remaining advocate of small government is Ron Paul.  Dr. Paul appears to be disqualified from the Republican Presidential Primary, however, because he is unwilling to drench himself with the blood of our imagined enemies, like Gerard Butler in the movie “300.”

But what about that Jon Huntsman guy?  This week three different people told me, quite independently of each other, how sorry they were that Governor Huntsman never gained any traction in the Republican Presidential Primary.

I told them that they should get over it.  Huntsman wasn’t any better.

It somehow counts as an act of courage for Huntsman to have tweeted:  “I believe in evolution.”  Of course, it would have been more courageous if Huntsman had said that to a Tea Party audience, and then they tore him limb from limb, thereby disproving the theory of evolution right before our eyes.

And evolution is not something that you “believe” or “disbelieve.”  Evolution is like gravity; it’s not like Santa Claus or the Abominable Snowman.  (Question:  Why do they both live at the North Pole?)

Be that as it may, neither Huntsman nor any other Republican Presidential candidate has been willing to take on the hard myths.  The myths that are killing us.  Here are a dirty dozen, right off the top of my head:

(1) The Government can’t create jobs.  (Tell that to FDR, who created four million jobs in three months.)

(2) Tax cuts reduce the deficit.  (Doesn’t it bother them that a man named “Laffer” came up with this one?)

(3) A fetus is a baby.

(4) The poor have too much money.

(5) Cutting the federal deficit will end the recession.

(6) The rich are incentivized by tax cuts, while the poor are incentivized by lower wages, no benefits, an end to the minimum wage, and unemployment.

(7) An unwanted child is God’s will.

(8) Everyone who wants health insurance has it.

(9) The problem with education is the teachers.

(10) The “free market” satisfies every human need.

(11) There is no discrimination in America anymore.

(12) The distribution of wealth and income are irrelevant.

I don’t remember Jon Huntsman disputing any of these myths.  And these are the ones that do the real damage.  Show me a candidate who is willing to take on these myths, and I’ll pay more attention.


Alan Grayson

Anti-abortion measure passes House, prospects in Senate uncertain


The House passed sweeping anti-abortion legislation, but the future of the bill remains in doubt in the Senate.

Herald/Times Tallahassee Bureau

Women seeking an abortion would first have to wait 24 hours and new clinics would be physician-owned as part of a sweeping anti-abortion measure passed by the House on Thursday.
Passage of HB 277 was unsurprising in the conservative-dominated House, though a handful of lawmakers from both sides broke party lines in the 78-33 vote.
“This isn’t an insidious war against women,” said Rep. James Grant, R-Tampa, echoing a talking point from debate. “It’s a righteous war for children.”
The proposal faces a steep hurdle in the Senate, where its companion (SB 290) is stuck in committees and is not scheduled to be considered again. Senate leaders can still revive the bill, but Senate President Mike Haridopolos sounded lukewarm to the idea when asked by reporters.
“If I believe we have the time to dedicate to that issue, I’m willing to take a look at it,” he said. “But at this point it’s still at the second committee of reference.”
Debate on Thursday picked up where it left off at 11 p.m. Wednesday, with House Democrats criticizing the proposal of Rep. Rachel Burgin, R-Riverview.
Rep. Elaine Schwartz, D-Hollywood, told Burgin on Thursday, “You have done a masterful job defending something that I truly think is indefensible.”
Aside from the waiting period and ownership requirements for new clinics — which targets Planned Parenthood — the bill would require physicians to describe the steps that could be painful to a fetus 20 weeks or older, though the idea of fetal pain is of ongoing debate among scientists. A physician also would have to offer to administer anesthesia to the fetus.
Physicians also would take three hours of ethics training each year, a requirement Democrats considered unfair along with the physician ownership portion.
This is not standard practice for medical businesses, said Rep. Mark Pafford, D-West Palm Beach. “One example of this is our governor, who has owned numerous hospitals and isn’t a physician,” he said.
Rep. Ronald ’Doc’ Renuart, R-Ponte Vedra Beach, countered by saying the bill provides “reasonable restrictions on the business of abortion,” and the requirement that clinics be wholly owned by physicians trained in abortion procedures “ensures accountability.”
Some questioned another provision in the bill: that the Agency for Health Care Administration, which regulates abortion clinics, collect data of each procedure, including patient age, gestational age, race, marital status, number of previous live births, number of previous abortions and hometown. The website would be submitted to the federal government and posted on a website for public view, leading Rep. Lori Berman, D-Delray Beach, to suggest it could identify women in small towns.
Senate sponsor Anitere Flores, R-Miami, said she hopes the bill — which could face a legal challenge from the American Civil Liberties Union — can find its way to the Senate floor before the session ends March 9.

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School prayer bill passes with bipartisan support in House


A handful of House Democrats joined Republicans in a vote to allow student-led prayer in public schools.

Herald/Times Tallahassee Bureau

After winning the overwhelming approval of the Florida House on Thursday, a bill that would allow student-led prayer in public schools seems all but certain to become law.
The bill’s backers say Gov. Rick Scott has told them he would sign the legislation.
Under the bill, local school districts would be able to vote to allow any student to deliver “inspirational messages” at public-school events. Teachers and other school employees could not take part.
The lopsided 88-27 vote in the House came after an hour of impassioned debate.
Sen. Gary Siplin, an Orlando Democrat who shepherded the proposal, has said the concept of an “inspirational message” is open to interpretation.
“It could be the I Have a Dream speech, the Pledge of Allegiance, a blessing before a luncheon,” he said. “It could also be a prayer.”
Other lawmakers felt differently – and said so on the House floor.
“Everyone in this room knows that ‘inspirational messages’ means religious indoctrination,” said Rep. Jeff Clemens, a Lake Worth Democrat.
Supporters stressed that participation by students would be optional. Some said the measure would teach tolerance and restore order to classrooms.
“Our students are inundated with sex, gambling and all of the moral decay that’s on our televisions and radios,” said Rep. Fred Costello, R-Ormond Beach. “It is time that we allowed... students to bring inspirational messages to share with each other.”
But opponents fought back with fervor.
Several challenged the bill’s constitutionality. Others worried it would lead to bullying — or to false information being spread in schools.
“What I’m concerned about [is that] the bill’s sponsor said these kids could say anything they want,” said Rep. Martin Kiar, D-Davie. “They could distort well-established historical facts. A child could preach that the Holocaust never occurred.”
The vote transcended party lines, with a handful of Democrats joining Republicans in support of the bill.
Among them: Cynthia Stafford of Miami, who said she had received emails, calls, letters and faxes from constituents wanting her to approve the prayer proposal.
Rep. Daphne Campbell, a Miami Democrat, signed on as a co-sponsor.
“Look at what just happened in Ohio,” said Campbell, referencing a school shooting that left three teenagers dead. “The kids need to have prayer at school.”
After the bill passed, the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida issued a stinging criticism, saying the policy would result in costly litigation for school districts.
“If any local school districts follow the Legislature’s suggestion and moves to allow religious speeches and prayers at official school functions, it will trigger a landslide of litigation,” executive director Howard Simon said in a statement.
The Anti-Defamation League chimed in, too, saying it would support any lawsuits with an amicus brief.
But Siplin was unapologetic, saying the bill will “stand legal muster.”
“I hope they have some cash in the bank,” he said of any parties considering a lawsuit. “We’re going to be seeking attorney’s fees from them if they file a frivolous lawsuit.”
Siplin said he was confident Scott would give the legislation his blessing. “He said [to] send it over, he’ll sign it and have a ceremony for it,” Siplin said of the governor.
Scott did not publicly say he would sign the bill, but indicated he had no reservations about it. “As you know, I believe in Jesus Christ and I believe individuals should have a right to say a prayer,” he said.
If the bill gets signed into law, it will be up to local school boards to make a decision.
Miami-Dade School Board Chairwoman Perla Tabares Hantman said she would be open to the idea. “But I would have to make sure that it is constitutional first,” she said.
Broward School Board officials did not return calls for comment.
Miami-Dade School Board member Wilbert “Tee” Holloway, who repeatedly pushed for school prayer when he served in the Florida Legislature from 2000 to 2007, said he would be especially happy to see the proposal carried out.
“In my communities, people have asked for this,” he said. “I would definitely be in favor of it.”
Herald/Times staff writers Steve Bousquet and Mary Ellen Klas contributed to this report.

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The JOBS (Jumpstart Our Business Startups) Act

The JOBS (Jumpstart Our Business Startups) Act is a legislative package designed to jumpstart our economy and restore opportunities for America’s primary job creators: our small businesses, startups, and entrepreneurs. These bipartisan measures will increase capital formation, spur the growth of startups and small businesses, and pave the way for more small-scale businesses to go public and create more jobs. The JOBS Act represents an opportunity for both parties to work together and deliver results on areas of common ground that boost small businesses, startups, and entrepreneurs. These measures have broad bipartisan support from Congress, President Obama, and successful entrepreneurs like Steve Case, the former Chair and Founder of AOL and a member of the President’s Council on Jobs and Economic Competitiveness.

Enable Startups to Gather Investors Through Crowdfunding:
  • H.R. 2930, introduced by Representative Patrick McHenry
  • Approved by the House 407-17
Allowing Small Businesses to Advertise for New Investors:
  • H.R. 2940, introduced by Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy
  • Approved by the House 413-11
Encourage Investment in Small Businesses by Removing Red Tape:
  • H.R. 1070, introduced by Representative David Schweikert
  • Approved by the House 421-1
Increase Investment Capital Access for High-Growth, Job-Creating Small Businesses:
  • H.R. 3606, introduced by Representative Stephen Fincher
  • Approved by Financial Services Committee 54-1
Ensure Small Companies Have More Time & Flexibility to Grow:
  • H.R. 2167, introduced by Representative David Schweikert
  • Approved by Financial Services Committee Voice Vote
Strengthen Community Banks So They Can Invest in More Local Entrepreneurs:
  • H.R. 4088, introduced by Representative Ben Quayle
  • House Version of S. 1941, which has bipartisan support

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for March 2, 2012

Fri Mar. 2, 2012 8:41 AM PST

Sgt. Craig McComsey, a member of the Mississippi Army National Guard, serving with the Zabul Agribusiness Development Team, keeps a close watch from the roof of the district center, Shah Joy, Afghanistan. Photo by the US Army.

How Deep Is REPUBLICAN DUMB? Women, Block The Blunt Amendment!

From: MrObamanos  | Feb 29, 2012  | 48 views
The level of Republican out of touch, Republican insult, Republican arrogance regarding the rights and health of Women is baffling.
Women, embrace your power. Pushback on the Republican ridiculous, insulting, demeaning, and purposefully humiliating legislative activity blocking women's access to health care, and health care services.
Get informed, get energized, get organized, and get busy pushing back on the Republican radical, extreme, and insulting legislative activity (federal and state level) telling American women we have no access to health care, health care services, and yes... contraception.

Romney's Blunt flip-flop 'More damage'

From: MrObamanos  | Mar 1, 2012  | 733 views
It's been another slip-up day for Willard M. Romney. First, he said today in an interview he's opposed to the Senate amendment which would allow employers to deny coverage for birth control.

"I'm not for the bill. But, look, the idea of presidential candidates getting into questions about contraception within a relationship