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Blake Dowling: Websites and politics

The new resident at the White House and technology are an interesting pair, with the Russians, Twitter, etc.

Speaking of the new guy on Pennsylvania Avenue, make sure to check out the Showtime documentary Trumped.

Regardless of your status — love him, hate him, internet troller, hater Facebook over-poster, fan, rioter, protester, etc. — if you are a fan of the political process, the behind-the-scenes coverage is spectabulous.

The scene where Bernie asks the journalist what network is this anyway because the reporter is dropping the F-bomb, is a riot.

To that end, I have always thought Showtime needed to cover a couple of college football games each year.

The colorful language could be epic: “what kind of sh*t-ass hula hoop offensive scheme is Richt running at Miami this year,” etc.

Back to tech, so WhiteHouse.gov got the standard new President overhaul, and they went very simplistic with their web presence, the picture going from each side of the screen to the next is compelling, and the use of white space is in line with the latest designs.

From a technology perspective, cyber warfare and cyberbullying are two items that get a lot of attention on the page; that is a good thing. The White House fired their cyber expert, so that is a bad thing, as we all know there are those seeking to damage our nation, infrastructure and our processes through digital means.

Back to Florida; the lobbying team at the Advocacy Group at Cardenas Partners has a cool site. Crisp and to the point. You get introduced to the team on the first look and can easily contact them if needed as email addresses are clearly spelled out.

Obviously, contact info is critical; there is nothing more frustrating than not finding a phone number or email address with ease. If you don’t have a contact button, add one ASAP.

Or even better have a generic email contact address right on the home page, for example, questions@CharlieSheen.com and the phone number too.

You must decide at what level you want to engage your audience with your web brand.

Look at Sen. Bill Nelson’s site for example. It would be the opposite of the White House and The Advocacy Group, it is loaded with info and color and extremely busy — billnelson.senate.gov.

That said, he gives you access to social media, video clips, newsletter sign up, track record, request a flag, tours, internships and anything else you could possibly want. It is a very informative site, it is odd however that the header does not say, “Senator Bill Nelson.”

Maybe he is keeping his options open. These three sites give you an excellent view into the vast world of political websites and perhaps you might see something you want to add.

My web development partner, Michael Winn of Digital Opps said this:

“In today’s fake or not fake news era, having a dedicated website to strengthen your organization’s initiative or campaign is paramount. An often-overlooked digital strategy is to integrate your original content into a blog or individual news brief format in order to provide the public, journalist and/or elected officials an information hub to check the facts. When done correctly, these bite-sized articles will garner the search engines’ attention and ultimately lead the readers to your website.”

Well said sir.

At Aegis, our site has a link to follow us on Twitter, like Sen. Nelson’s, but takes it a step further with an auto-feed of every piece of extremely helpful info I might be tweeting — like these three smoking hot tweets from Peter, Tim and John.

If you want to see a site that provides visitors an education, info, certifications, news, updates, and anything else you might want, check out the Florida School Boards Association site: fsba.org it is slick, from legislative updates for their members to a link to download their mobile app. It can keep a visitor engaged for days (if you are into that sort of thing). There a massive amount of info, like Nelson’s page, but arranged in manner that is easier on the eyes.

Other ideas to keep your site interactive and engaging: 360 tours, cams, links to blogs and columns, aegisbiztech.com or even a password protected area for clients, members, etc.

Your web presence is a part of your brand, and you will be judged by your clients and constituents, so make sure you are giving it a serious look.

___

Blake Dowling is CEO of Aegis Business Technologies and writes for various organizations. He can be reached at dowlingb@aegisbiztech.com.

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Patrick La Pine: Make 2017 the year for depository choice

As private citizens, most of us are trying to make the best financial decisions for our family, which starts with where we bank and who we trust with our money.  And, it stands to reason that, as taxpayers, we would want our local government entities to do the same.

Yet, Florida law does not allow for credit unions to accept deposits from local government entities and, instead, only allows for local governments to bank with commercial, for-profit banks. This means school boards, universities and colleges and local governments, to name a few, cannot take advantage of, and bank at, their local credit unions.

While it seems like common sense that our local government entities should have the same freedom we do as private citizens to bank where our needs will be best met, year after year the banking lobby protects the interest of banks and their shareholders, and blocks all attempts to grant public offices and municipalities depository choice. As the 2017 Legislative Session quickly approaches, we urge lawmakers to allow municipalities and public offices the freedom to bank where they want.

Credit unions return all of their profits back to their members, and in turn, the community. Credit unions are also 100 percent member-owned, whereas banks are usually shareholder-owned, management and board driven, for-profit establishments that transfer their earnings back to shareholders.

As current law only permits commercial, for-profit banks to receive deposit requests from local government entities, credit unions are forced to turn them down, limiting municipalities from seeking more competitive return rates for their investments with financial institutions. Credit unions are not asking for special treatment when it comes to the public funds market, rather the opportunity to provide depository choice for such entities, which many can provide lower rates and bigger savings to, and would allow universities, local governments and school boards, to keep their funds within local communities.

While opponents may argue that credit unions should not serve local governments because “they do not pay taxes,” this is simply a self-serving and disingenuous argument. It is strictly a claim so that for-profit banks may maintain their monopoly to conduct business with municipalities and public offices, and keep credit unions — accessible, competent and deserving institutions — from widening the marketplace and spurring competition for public deposits.

Because their mission is to serve the community and their not-for-profit structure, credit unions are exempt from paying federal income taxes. However, credit unions pay tangible personal property taxes and property taxes, and as employers, pay all employment taxes, as would any other bank. Credit unions essentially pay the same taxes as a Sub S corporation, of which there are currently 29 in Florida — 20 of which are qualified public depositories.

Just as many Florida’s families are under economic pressure, so too are our local government entities and it’s imperative that they are granted freedom in banking, in order to make the best financial decisions for their respective entity and maximize their returns.

Let’s make this the year fairness prevails for depository choice. This legislation is good for the community, as well as those public entities that could achieve financial savings from this move.

___

Patrick La Pine is president and CEO of the League of Southeastern Credit Unions & Affiliates.

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Drs. Christine Laramée, Chad Masters: ‘Three Cs’ – choose the right health care at the right time

If you start having chest pains or receive a head injury, you probably realize you should go to the emergency room (ER) right away.

But for medical issues that are urgent but not an emergency – such as a sinus infection or an ankle injury – many people aren’t sure whether they should go to the emergency room, a walk-in care center or their primary care physician (PCP). One way to make the right choice is to think of the “three Cs”: condition, convenience and cost.

Condition:

The seriousness of your condition is the most important concern. If you experience a life-threatening illness or serious injury, seek care at the ER immediately. Illnesses and injuries that require an ER visit include head injuries, coughing up or vomiting blood, severe burns, paralysis and chest pains. Less urgent health issues such as fever, flu, earache, pink eye, urinary tract infection and cold can be treated either at a walk-in care center or your doctor’s office. Most walk-in care centers can also perform X-rays, electrocardiogram tests, blood tests, minor surgery, stitches, and treatment for broken bones and sprains.

Convenience:

The second factor to consider is convenience. PCPs often have limited office hours and require an appointment. But for some medical conditions, waiting for an appointment may be difficult. For example, if you wake up with a urinary tract infection on Saturday morning, it may be very uncomfortable to wait until Monday for a doctor’s appointment. Walk-in care centers are typically open seven days a week and don’t require an appointment.  Emergency rooms are open 24/7, but often have long wait times for non-emergency care.

Cost:

Third, consider the cost. Under most health benefit plans, patients pay a low or no co-pay to visit their doctor.  A visit to a walk-in care center typically has a higher co-pay but costs less than the ER. In addition, tests and treatments performed at the ER are usually more expensive than if they were performed at an outpatient center. According to UnitedHealthcare data, in Florida, the average cost for a non-emergency ER visit is $1,500 to $2,000, compared to $150 to $200 on average for a visit to an urgent care center.

The most important factor in choosing the right care setting is that you get the care you need. Choosing the right place for you – depending on your condition, convenience and cost – can make a big difference and save you money.

___

Dr. Christine Laramée is Medical Director of United Healthcare of Central and North Florida; Dr. Chad Masters is Regional Medical Director for Florida for MedExpress.

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Dennis Freytes: Safe fracking — good for America

Many veterans of war, including myself, have concerns with foreign products being purchased from countries at war, namely the Middle East. We have come a long way in recent years to obtain our own oil and natural gas within the U.S. However, we can’t lift our feet off the proverbial pedal. Our country must use all forms of energy to become energy independent for the good of all. There is a direct correlation between energy reliability on the Middle East affecting matters of national security. Many American veterans agree in order to improve our quality of life at home, it’s imperative we continue safely improving all energy infrastructure on our homeland.

One safe and viable option for domestic oil and natural gas production is through hydraulic fracturing. Contrary to popular belief, this process has been used in the United States for nearly 70 years. It’s not a new technology; the practice has been tested and refined for decades. Another important point to remember is fracking falls under at least eight different federal regulations, not to mention state and local laws.

Fracking serves to enhance the flow of energy from a well. Many people who are nervous about the concept just don’t understand how it works – it’s actually quite simple. First, a hole is drilled vertically to form a well that is thousands of meters underground, and then drilled horizontally into an oil or gas deposit. The hole is cased with a steel pipe cemented into place, which isolates the area of the rock to protect our water supply. Then, a special perforation gun is lowered through the pipe, and forms holes through small, quick charges. Once the holes are formed, fracking fluid is pumped through with pressurized bursts. This creates small cracks throughout the rock so that trapped oil or gas can easily flow through.

The fracking fluid is a mixture of 99.5 percent water and sand, combined with chemical additives which control bacteria growth and prevent corrosion. These chemicals make up less than 1 percent of the fracking fluid and are significantly below the maximum levels required by the Environmental Protection Agency. Any water or fluid that is released through fracking is stored in a safe treatment facility. And once the process is complete – which can take anywhere from a few hours to a few days – a well can produce energy for years, even decades.

Currently, there is inaccurate information circulating the media about fracking’s effect on our drinking water. I want to be clear: there have been no confirmed cases of groundwater contamination from hydraulic fracturing in the 2 million wells fracked since the 1940s. Before fracking even begins, casings are placed into the well, and the space between the casings and the drill hole is filled with cement. This ensures neither the water and sand mixture that is pumped through the well, nor the oil and gas eventually produced, will enter the water supply.

In fact, a 2015 study conducted by Yale University found that fracking fluids do not contaminate aquifers. The researchers also found that contamination to drinking water does not occur because of casing failures, which has been an argument by those opposed to the practice.

Here in the sunshine state, scientists are currently considering using deep injection wells, a form of fracking, to restore Lake Okeechobee and the South Florida Water Management District has stated that this process would not affect Florida’s drinking water supply.

Fracking is one of the ways we can obtain reliable, homegrown energy to power our homes, buildings, phones, cars – you name it.

Oil and natural gas production keep our everyday conveniences — ones that many countries do not have — at our fingertips. Let’s avoid national security risk and ensure progress for our beloved U.S.A. by continuing processes like fracking within our borders and keep things moving, literally.

___

Lt. Col. Dennis Freytes, United States Army (Ret.) – Florida Veterans Hall of Fame, is co-chair of Florida Vets4Energy, a group of volunteer veterans who continue to serve America as advocates for energy policies to sustain our national security.

 

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Blake Dowling: Smart delivery – a new disruption

The Leon County Research and Development Authority called the other day and asked me to give a chat about artificial intelligence.

I gave them the standard JJ-from-Good-Times response … Dyn-o-mite! … love to, thanks for thinking about me!

They had read something on AI I had put together for INFLUENCE Magazine last year and thought I would be a great “expert” on the subject.

I am no expert, ladies and gents, but I am a true believer in the cause that one should embrace all things.

So, I set out on a perilous journey to find something interesting to discuss with these fabulous folks. What you will read here is my dramatic exploration into a world of machines and the discovery that the Terminator series is a prophecy and we are all doomed! Just being dramatic to get your attention.

We may be doomed, we may be blessed, we will see where the future takes us, in the meantime …

I was talking to the team at Greenberg Traurig (Leslie Dughi, Gus Corbella and Michael Moody); they asked me if I had heard of Starship Technologies.

My first thought was “terrible name, folks,” with an image in my head of Starship Troopers (Denise Richards rocks, she should have won an award for her gutsy performance). But diving in, I was intrigued by what these cats were up to.

Starship was founded by the team that brought you Skype, and what they bring to the market is called a Personal Delivery Device (PDD) which they say will “transform” local delivery.

These wicked little bots are on wheels, cruising the sidewalks to bring whatever you seek. They can carry the about three bags of groceries and head straight to your door.

Partners in this venture range from Mercedes to Just Eat, both of whom (for obvious reasons) would like to get in on the ground floor.

If you are going to have a robot on wheels, it might as well be a Mertz: The best robot or nothing.

So, what are the uses? Grocery stores, FedEx, and restaurants, for starters. Other things to consider; the robot is locked, so robbing it would be difficult.

How far along are these folks? They have commercial trials going on in the U.S., Germany and Switzerland right now. So far, their robots have traveled 9,500 miles in 56 cities, all without any recorded incidents, while encountering an estimated 1,700,000 people.

Electrically powered, these robots have zero emissions, so that the lefty green crowd can applaud. They operate as true robots, learning routes and sharing routes with the other robots (Skynet-like world take over), and they have a range of about 3 miles before needing to return home for a charge (and secretly plan to take over the world, presumably).

Keep an eye on the Virginia legislature, which is on the verge of approving the use of PDDs on sidewalks statewide.

All kidding aside, “disruption” is a word used in tech all the time. Well, here we go again. This is awesome, cool and is happening now.

Look to see these disruptors potentially hit the streets in force next year; and get ready for a Starship heading your way soon – pending some massive lobbying.

To close today’s piece, let’s stick to the Starship theme and roll out some 80s lyrics …

And we can build this dream together

Standing strong forever

Nothing’s gonna stop us now

And if this world runs out of lovers

We’ll still have each other

Nothing’s gonna stop us now

STARSHIP – Nothing’s going to stop us now – 1986 (from the “Mannequin” soundtrack, for which it is well suited. Arrrgh.)

 ____

Blake Dowling is CEO of Aegis Business Technologies and writes for several organizations. He can be reached at dowlingb@aegisbiztech.com.

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Travis Hutson, Mike La Rosa: Florida needs 5G now

What do smart cities, driverless vehicles, autonomous drones, and instantaneous 3D downloads all have in common? The need for 5G wireless technology.

Under Senate Bill 596 and House Bill 687, which creates the Advanced Wireless Infrastructure Deployment Act, Floridians have the opportunity to bring ultra-fast speeds – speeds that were previously only available through a wired connection – to your wireless devices.

With the deployment of 5G across Florida, we are looking at the future of machines talking to machines and wireless network speeds that are 10 times faster than today. This advancement to 5G will dramatically impact our everyday lives, allowing for the next innovation in communications.

So, what is 5G technology, why do we need it and how do you get it?  Simply put, 5G is the next generation of wireless networks that will allow users to move data at much faster speeds. As technology advances, just as it did from 3G (which brought texting and photos) and 4G (which provided for the capability to have social connections like FaceTime and video), our state will need to be prepared to give its consumers the tools needed to be able to participate in the technology revolution.

Which leads us to how we get this technology and why we are pushing for this legislation this session. In order for Florida to be a part of this technological revolution that is beginning to happen in other states, wireless communication providers, like Verizon and AT&T, need to be able to put in place the proper infrastructure needed to support 5G technology from the Panhandle to the Keys.

To help clear the path for this vital innovation, we introduced SB 596 and HB 687, which lays the framework and guidelines for the installation, placement, maintenance and replacement of micro-wireless facilities across the state.

As we begin to reach capacity levels with our current 4G technology, it is time now for Florida to be forward-thinking and not allow for there to be a gap in our wireless coverage. Florida is known for being a protagonist state. Let’s not lose our lead now. Let’s bring 5G to Florida and make our communities smarter, healthier, safer and more efficient. Let’s support SB 596 and HB 687 this session.

___

Palm Coast Republican Travis Hutson represents Senate District 7.

Saint Cloud Republican Mike La Rosa represents House District 42.

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tourism

Carol Dover: Florida’s future depends on tourism

Marketing is a contest for people’s attention, and state tourism marketing is no different. However, the detrimental impacts of removing a powerful marketing mechanism mean a world of difference when your state budget revenue depends on your share of the market.

The proposed bill spearheaded by the House Careers & Competition Subcommittee that eliminates VISIT FLORIDA will have severe and irreversible impacts on the state’s hospitality industry. We must protect the tourism industry, Florida’s top employer and chief economic driver, not only for the industry’s 1.4 million employees, but for the local communities whose livelihood is contingent on bringing tourists to the Sunshine State. In 2015, more than 106 million visitors came to Florida, spending $108.8 billion and generating $11.3 billion in state and local tax revenue.

Unfortunately, some lawmakers would put Florida’s economy at risk based on a philosophy financed by Americans for Prosperity. Other states have already suffered from this failed, free-market experiment. In 1993, Colorado cut their state tourism marketing budget from $12 million to zero dollars. Within one year, Colorado lost $1.4 billion in traveler spending. Tax receipts declined by $134 million from 1993 to 1997. Eighteen years later, Colorado still hasn’t recovered market share.

We must build on the successes of Florida’s hospitality and tourism industry by committing the necessary dollars to VISIT FLORIDA that will create jobs and generate revenue for the state. With a 2 percent reduction in travel, Florida would lose $2.2 billion in traveler spending, $225 million in tax revenue and 28,000 jobs.

Florida’s future depends on our lawmakers’ investment in the state’s destination marketing efforts that continue to bring record visitation numbers. VISIT FLORIDA funding isn’t about “corporate welfare” for Fortune 500 companies; it’s about sustaining hospitality employment, and the myriad related local businesses that depend on tourism. For every 76 visitors to the state, one tourism job is supported.

I urge our lawmakers to build on the successes of Florida’s hospitality and tourism industry by committing the necessary dollars to VISIT FLORIDA. It is critical that our lawmakers rally behind the Governor’s recommendation to continue to invest $76 million in VISIT FLORIDA’s marketing efforts. For every $1 the state invests in VISIT FLORIDA, $3.20 in tax revenue is generated.

The Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association (FRLA) is vehemently opposed to any legislation that removes VISIT FLORIDA’s ability to operate as a separate entity and inhibits their efforts to market the state as a global destination successfully. The success of our hotels, restaurants, and attractions contributes to a stronger state economy and creates more opportunities for Florida’s families.

I look forward to working closely with our lawmakers, leadership, and agencies to develop meaningful reforms that preserve the overall integrity of our world-class tourism industry and reputation for providing premier hospitality services.

___

Carol Dover is President and CEO of the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association.

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Blake Dowling: Drones, drones everywhere — Super Bowl to Prison

Yay sports!

Or “yay ball,” as one of my techie staff members used to say (she had zero interest in football, etc.)

Yay sports, indeed. This weekend was awesome for sports, with the most thrilling Super Bowl ever. And I also attended the Kentucky-Florida basketball game; what a battle in the brand-new Gville arena.

If you love hoops, watching 6 of the top 10 teams get knocked out Saturday was exciting; for Gator fans, a 20-point whipping of Kentucky (doesn’t happen often) so we get to enjoy that one for a while.

Fast forward to Sunday; seeing Lady Gaga bring the thunder in her Super Bowl halftime performance, then wondering how she got on the roof.

And HOW IN THE WORLD IS THAT AMERICAN FLAG FLOATING IN THE SKY?

Also, on another subject, a huge shoutout to LG for her message of unity and being pro-America. So many haters out there nowadays. Best country ever, 42 years as a resident. No plans to leave — regardless of Carter, Reagan, Clinton, Bush, Obama, Trump or whoever is in the White House.

I would stay even if Lady Gaga was president. Cool outfit she was rocking; very presidential.

Anyway…

There is no need to comment on a flying drone pug, is there?

So, how are there lights in the sky above the game?

My dad lives in Houston and the only flights he says are allowed around the Dome game weekend are Military Black Hawk choppers. So, what are those lights again?

Drones, my friend.

Each dot is actually a flying drone, part of Intel’s Shooting Star Drone squad. Each one is about a foot long and covered in LED lights. The drones are all programmed from a central location that runs a dance routine.

Talk about a big stage, taking account the fact that security was as tight as any game in history, the stadium is in Houston Hobby Airport’s flight path, as well as the aforementioned aircraft ban around the stadium.

How about this, it really didn’t happen during the Super Bowl. The drone show was taped the week earlier and overlaid into the live broadcast for the TV audience.

That is the world we live in. Princess Leia is in Rouge One looking 19 and drones are on the television, but not live. POW!

In years to come, drones change the way we do a lot of things: weaponized drones, real-estate drones and cargo drones.

What’s next? How about reconnaissance drones for missing persons lost in the woods? Drones for agriculture, police, elections (dropping pamphlets) and firefighting.

Cartels down south are early adapters of this kind of tech for drug smuggling at borders and in prisons.

Think about it, a drone operator a mile away from a prison packs up a drone with Oxycodone, weed and the like, flies it over the walls of the prison, dropping the package into the common area. Pickups are smooth and no one gets shanked.

Same with drugs at the border: fly it, drop it, head back to base for another. Drones fly low and are small, making radar useless.

Prisons are beginning to use low-tech countermeasures, with nets over a facility’s yard. Meanwhile, high-tech options like DroneShield are rolling out, and others — like the DroneGun — can disable a drone by jamming it.

Although as done tech moves forward, I am sure some Polk County residents will take them out with a high-powered rifle.

With any new tech, it is very interesting and cool to see where the journey goes, but also scary to see how bad guys will take advantage.

Enjoy the day when a drone brings you a pizza. And if you ever see something like that heading your way, duck and cover, brother.

(By then, though, it’s most likely too late.)

 ___

Blake Dowling is CEO of Aegis Business Technologies and writes for several organizations. He can be reached at dowlingb@aegisbiztech.com.

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Blake Dowling: The Russian (hackers) are coming

We hear about the Russian mob and Russian hackers all the time, especially in politics and technology.

The Russian mob is all over the dark web selling ransomware toolkits and fake credit cards. The Russians created ransomware, a threat that continues to wreak havoc all over the world in various forms.

We can’t all be comedian Bert Kreischer and be friends with the Russian mob. Nice work, Machine.

See the Showtime special about Bert in Russia if you dare. I knew Bert when he was a young Florida State frat boy (ATO) and was always up for a rowdy evening.

You can see the clip here; be warned, it contains adult language.

Moving on …

In recent years, talk has moved from the Russian mob and hackers to the Russian government.

We all know the stories about the Democratic National Committee emails and stories of our new POTUS (An acronym I hate, by the way. So annoying. I used it just to bother myself).

So, what is really going on? Is the Russian state backing hackers to cause chaos around the globe, interfering with our elections, communications and media? It would certainly appear so.

Let’s be real, their president does not mess around; their Olympic Athletes are more juiced up than an Orange Grove, and their attempts at hacking appear to be legit, but the Kremlin has always denied involvement.

Bulgaria, Germany, France, Britain and the U.S. – all targets of various types of cyber-attacks.

Last month, a joint report by the National Security Agency, CIA, and FBI concluded that the Russian intelligence services did, in fact, target U.S. organizations involved with our most recent presidential election.

Their goal? To create chaos, steer public opinion and disrupt our democratic processes.

This type of warfare has been going on for years, but in the past year, it has really taken a more public spin. A few years ago, China, for example, might be trying to hack into Boeing to steal plans for the latest Boeing-Saab TX jet. Or they may hack the energy grid, which I think they did.

The public usually doesn’t hear about it.

Now with resources like WikiLeaks, Twitter and so many others and the people are in the know, and it is nerve-wracking to hear regularly that foreign entities are knocking on our door, looking to do us harm.

Steven Adair, of the security company Volexity, said in an interview with ZDNet: “We assess Moscow will apply lessons learned from its campaign aimed at the U.S. presidential election to future influence efforts in the United States and worldwide, including against US allies and their election processes. We assess the Russian intelligence services would have seen their election influence campaign as at least a qualified success because of their perceived ability to impact public discussion.”

We are just now seeing the beginning of this type of war, so set your firewall to block all IP addresses outside of the U.S., support whatever funds are needed for state, local and federal cyber task forces, and keep that password complicated.

Don’t be like Bert; he took Russian 1,2 and 3 at FSU, and never learned a word.

___

Blake Dowling is CEO of Aegis Business Technologies and writes for several organizations. You can reach him here: dowlingb@aegisbiztech.com.

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Carl Domino: Bridging the justice gap pays off for Floridians in multiple ways

Carl Domino

When I was a member of the Florida Legislature, I always supported efforts to expand access to justice. It’s a right that’s enshrined in the Pledge of Allegiance, the U.S. Constitution and the Florida Constitution: “The courts shall be open to every person for redress of any injury, and justice shall be administered without sale, denial or delay.”

But let’s be honest. Our legal system can be complex and difficult to navigate without an attorney, and many people cannot afford one. Faced with problems like foreclosure proceedings, evictions, divorces, probate or consumer disputes, they try to manage on their own. That’s costly, not just for them, but for all of us.

Investing in civil legal aid makes sense not just because it’s the right thing to do, but because that investment pays off for all of us, with a return of more than $7 for every $1 spent, according to a newly released study commissioned by The Florida Bar Foundation. From the $83 million spent on civil legal assistance in Florida in 2015, businesses experienced $274.8 million in increased revenue, and this, in turn, helped generate 2,243 new jobs, according to the study’s calculations.

The overall $600 million return on investment also comes from savings to the court system as it runs more efficiently and avoids cases that shouldn’t be there. It comes from fewer domestic violence calls to police; from less demand for welfare and housing assistance; from more stable communities and home values; and from payments of past-due child support. And it comes from legal help in capturing the veterans’ benefits due to those Floridians who served their country, as well as reimbursements from federal Medicare and Medicaid programs, and more.

I’m a lifelong Republican who, after a long and rewarding career in finance and politics, decided to seize the challenge of studying law in my late 60s. Since passing the Florida Bar exam, I’ve taken quite a few pro-bono cases, because the need is so great.

These are real people with real problems. They may not be getting alimony payments; their condo association may not be responding to them. Sometimes all I need to do is write a letter, and a situation can be resolved, keeping it out of the courts. Having a lawyer on your side in meritorious cases can really make a difference.

Community-based legal aid agencies have long served as that safety net for low-income Floridians in need of legal support. But due to in large part to the interest-rate sensitivity of one of Florida’s primary legal aid funding mechanisms, funding for civil legal aid in Florida has fallen to its lowest level in 10 years.

According to the new study, “Economic Impacts of Civil Legal Aid Organizations in Florida,” every additional $100,000 of funding enables legal aid organizations to generate an additional $719,000 in economic benefits.

That’s why bridging the justice gap will benefit us all.

So what’s the answer? More volunteering by lawyers would help. Broader philanthropic support of civil legal aid as part of the spectrum of human services would also help. Contributions from businesses, including in-kind support for civil legal aid organizations, would help. The Florida Bar Foundation’s study, conducted by The Resource for Great Programs, offers solid evidence that foundations, donors and businesses can make a real positive impact by supporting civil legal services.

Access to the justice system is a basic right, so let’s make sure that that access continues, for the good of all.

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Carl Domino served in the Florida House of Representatives from 2002 to 2010. He serves on the board of The Florida Bar Foundation. An investment manager who founded Northern Trust Value Investors, in 2014 he earned a law degree from Nova Southeastern University at the age of 70.

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