Apolitical Archives - Page 2 of 197 - SaintPetersBlog

White House taps billionaire to head intelligence review

The Trump administration asked the founder of a New York-based private equity firm to lead a review of the intelligence community as President Donald Trump vows to crack down on what he describes as “illegal leaks” of classified information.

A senior White House official said Thursday that Stephen Feinberg of Cerberus Capital Management has been asked to head the review of the various intelligence agencies and make recommendations on improvements to efficiency and coordination between the various intelligence agencies.

The official was not authorized to discuss private personnel matters and spoke on condition of anonymity. The official said that Feinberg’s role is not official until he completes an ethics review.

The president has vowed to crack down on leaks and add new oversight over intelligence. His moves have not been well received and look to many like retaliation against intelligence officials who are investigating his campaign aides’ ties to Russia.

Trump on Tuesday tweeted, “The real scandal here is that classified information is illegally given out by “intelligence” like candy. Very un-American!”

On Thursday, he accused Democrats of planting “fake news” stories on Russia in retaliation for their loss in the general election.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

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Sunshine State has another banner year for tourism

Florida had another record-setting year for tourism despite natural disasters, a virus outbreak and a tragic attack on an Orlando nightclub.

Gov. Rick Scott will announce Thursday at the Brevard Zoo that nearly 113 million tourists visited the state last year. This is the sixth year in a row that the numbers have climbed. Nearly 107 million tourists visited in 2015.

Scott will hail the continued growth during a time when the agency that promotes tourism is coming under fire. House Republicans are backing a proposal to shut down Visit Florida amid questionable contracts, such as one that paid rap star Pitbull $1 million to promote the state.

The governor in a statement noted that Florida still attracted record numbers despite the Zika virus outbreak, two hurricanes and the attack at the Pulse Nightclub that left 49 dead.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

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Florida Chamber hosting ‘International Days’ today

Today is the Florida Chamber of Commerce’s yearly International Days event, in which “policy experts and business leaders from here in Florida and around the world” talk about all things business.

The issues range from “economic diversification and foreign investment to overseas business expansion,” according to a Chamber press release.

Speakers include legendary businessman Chuck Cobb, who was U.S. Ambassador to Iceland under President George H. W. Bush; U.S. Chamber of Commerce Director of International Policy Christopher Wenk; Secretary of Commerce and Enterprise Florida President and CEO Chris Hart IV, Florida Department of Economic Opportunity Executive Director Cissy Proctor and state Sen. Bill Galvano, who is in line to become Senate President.

Some highlights: Hart and Proctor headline a 9 a.m. roundtable on “The Importance of International Trade to Florida’s Economy.”

At 10 a.m., Galvano – an attorney with Grimes Goebel Grimes Hawkins Gladfelter & Galvano – sits on a panel on “Expanding International Business Opportunities.”

At noon, a panel convenes on the “Future of U.S. Trade Policy” and its impact on Florida, leading off with a video message from Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.

Syd Kitson, Chairman & CEO of Kitson & Partners and the Chairman of the Florida Chamber of Commerce will moderate, with Cobb and Eric Silagy, President & CEO of Florida Power & Light Company, as panelists.

“Trade has been at the forefront of not just the U.S. Presidential election but all around the world,” the program says. “This panel will explore what a Donald Trump presidency means for the future of trade.”

The full schedule is here. The event will be held at Florida State University’s Turnbull Center, 555 W. Pensacola St. in Tallahassee.

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Personnel note: John Kennedy now with FLORIDA Channel

More evidence that you can’t keep a good man down: Former Palm Beach Post capital correspondent John Kennedy is now The FLORIDA Channel‘s newest on-air reporter.

Kennedy (via Facebook)

“We are very pleased that John’s solid, well-tested reporting skills will continue to help Floridians understand the workings of state government and the decisions made in Tallahassee,” Beth Switzer, its executive director, said Tuesday. Kennedy started this week.

The New Haven, Connecticut native has been reporting in Tallahassee for decades; he also was the Orlando Sentinel’s Tallahassee bureau chief from 1998-2008.

“He is a very even-keeled, talented professional and a welcome addition to The FLORIDA Channel team,” Switzer added.

Kennedy had been let go by the Post just before Christmas last year as the newspaper shuttered its Tallahassee bureau in a refocusing on local coverage.

The FLORIDA Channel, based in the Capitol, “is a public affairs programming service funded by The Florida Legislature and produced and operated by WFSU-TV,” according to its website.

“It features programming covering all three branches of state government, and is Florida’s primary source for live, unedited coverage of the Governor and Cabinet, the Legislature and the Supreme Court.”

Kennedy, who was on deadline Tuesday and unavailable for an interview, will be a general assignment reporter.

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Personnel note: Public strategy firm Mercury hires Brian Swensen as senior VP

Global public strategy firm Mercury is adding noted Republican political adviser Brian Swensen to its Florida public affairs team as a senior vice president.

Swensen comes to the firm following his role as deputy campaign manager for the successful re-election of Sen. Marco Rubio, the latest in a series of key political victories in Florida and Louisiana. He his tenure with Mercury began Jan. 19, 2017.

In his new role, Swensen will bring extensive experience in the political arena to provide solutions and winning strategies for the firm’s clients. He will be based in Mercury’s Miami office.

Mercury Florida, now in its fourth year of operation, is led by partner Ashley Walker.

“We are thrilled to welcome Brian, who is one of the leading political operatives in the Southeast region,” Walker said in a statement Tuesday. “Mercury continues to assemble the state’s most talented team of public affairs professionals, and the addition of Brian underscores our commitment to building Mercury into the strongest bipartisan consultancy in the nation.”

“I am excited to work with the incredibly talented team of strategists at Mercury to help address some of the most pressing policy issues facing many organizations and corporations today,” Swensen said. “The Mercury Florida team brings together the state’s top political advisers across party lines.  Nowhere else can you find such deep, diverse skills and experience, and a winning track record to boot.”

“As someone who prides himself on having a great work ethic and outside the box thinking,” he added, “I look forward to unleashing my unique skill set to shape strategy, solve problems, and create wins for our clients.”

Before joining Mercury, Swensen served as deputy campaign manager for Rubio’s re-election campaign, during which he built a political operation that benefited numerous campaigns up and down the ballot, while training and empowering the next generation of political leaders.

Previously, Swensen managed the successful campaign of Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, which helped set the tone for Florida Republicans in the 2016 cycle.

Additionally, Swensen was a part of the Bill Cassidy for U.S. Senate campaign, where he led the political and grassroots operation. He served as political director for the Republican Party of Florida, and was victory director for Gov. Rick Scott’s winning campaign in 2010.

Swensen got his start in the political process at The Leadership Institute, a conservative nonprofit based in Virginia, after graduating from Florida International University in Miami.

Mercury provides a suite of services including federal government relations, international affairs, digital influence, public opinion research, media strategy and a bipartisan grassroots mobilization network in all 50 states. With a global presence, Mercury has U.S. offices in Washington, DC, New York, California, New Jersey, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Florida, and Tennessee, as well as international offices in London and Mexico City.

Mercury is a part of the Omnicom Public Relations Group.

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The new civics course in schools: How to avoid fake news

Teachers from elementary school through college are telling students how to distinguish between factual and fictional news — and why they should care that there’s a difference.

As Facebook works with The Associated Press, FactCheck.org and other organizations to curb the spread of fake and misleading news on its influential network, teachers say classroom instruction can play a role in deflating the kind of “Pope endorses Trump” headlines that muddied the waters during the 2016 presidential campaign.

“I think only education can solve this problem,” said Pat Winters Lauro, a professor at Kean University in New Jersey who began teaching a course on news literacy this semester.

Like others, Lauro has found discussions of fake news can lead to politically sensitive territory. Some critics believe fake stories targeting Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton helped Donald Trump overcome a large deficit in public opinion polls, and President Trump himself has attached the label to various media outlets and unfavorable reports and polls in the first weeks of his presidency.

“It hasn’t been a difficult topic to teach in terms of material because there’s so much going on out there,” Lauro said, “but it’s difficult in terms of politics because we have such a divided country and the students are divided, too, on their beliefs. I’m afraid sometimes that they think I’m being political when really I’m just talking about journalistic standards for facts and verification, and they look at it like ‘Oh, you’re anti-this or -that.'”

Judging what to trust was easier when the sources were clearer — magazines, newspapers or something else, said Kean senior Mike Roche, who is taking Lauro’s class. Now “it all comes through the same medium of your cellphone or your computer, so it’s very easy to blur the lines and not have a clear distinction of what’s real and what’s fake,” he said.

A California lawmaker last month introduced a bill to require the state to add lessons on how to distinguish between real and fake news to the grade 7-12 curriculum.

High school government and politics teacher Lesley Battaglia added fake news to the usual election-season lessons on primaries and presidential debates, discussing credible sites and sources and running stories through fact-checking sites like Snopes. There were also lessons about anonymous sources and satire. (They got a kick out of China’s dissemination of a 2012 satirical story from The Onion naming Kim Jong Un as the sexiest man alive.)

“I’m making you guys do the hard stuff that not everybody always does. They see it in a tweet and that’s enough for them,” Battaglia told her students at Williamsville South High School in suburban Buffalo.

“It’s kind of crazy,” 17-year-old student Hannah Mercer said, “to think about how much it’s affecting people and swaying their opinions.”

Stony Brook University’s Center for News Literacy pioneered the idea of educating future news consumers, and not just journalists, a decade ago with the rise of online news. About four in 10 Americans often get news online, a 2016 Pew Research Center report found. Stony Brook last month partnered with the University of Hong Kong to launch a free online course.

“To me, it’s the new civics course,” said Tom Boll, after wrapping up his own course on real and fake news at the Newhouse School at Syracuse University. With everyone now able to post and share, gone are the days of the network news and newspaper editors serving as the primary gatekeepers of information, Boll, an adjunct professor, said.

“The gates are wide open,” he said, “and it’s up to us to figure out what to believe.”

That’s not easy, said Raleigh, North Carolina-area teacher Bill Ferriter, who encourages students to first use common sense to question whether a story could be true, to look at web addresses and authors for hints, and to be skeptical of articles that seem aimed at riling them up.

He pointed to an authentic-looking site reporting that President Barack Obama signed an order in December banning the Pledge of Allegiance in schools. A “.co” at the end of an impostor news site web address should have been a red flag, he said.

“The biggest challenge that I have whenever I try to teach kids about questionable content on the web,” said Ferriter, who teaches sixth grade, “is convincing them that there is such a thing as questionable content on the web.”

Some of Battaglia’s students fear fake news will chip away at the trust of even credible news sources and give public figures license to dismiss as fake news anything unfavorable.

“When people start to distrust all news sources is when people in power are just allowed to do whatever they want, said Katie Peter, “and that’s very scary.”

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

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Valentine’s Day not as sweet for Florida retailers; spending expected to decrease

Valentine’s Day spending is expected to be a little less sweet this year, dipping for the first time in a decade, according to an annual consumer survey.

Consumers plan to keep their budgets in check as they spend $10 less on gifts. Also, fewer people say they will celebrate the holiday this year.

“The slight decrease in spending is understandable given the record-breaking pace Valentine’s Day spending had reached the previous ten years,” said Randy Miller, president and CEO of the Florida Retail Federation, the trade association that represents retailers. “This day is still expected to mean significant revenues for Florida’s retailers as consumers shower their loved ones with gifts, flowers, candy, tickets to events and dinners at local restaurants.”

The average consumer will spend $136.57 on gifts, down from last year’s record high of $146.84 but total spending nationally is still expected to reach a robust $18.2 billion, according to the National Retail Federation‘s annual survey.

Back in 2007, consumers spent an average $119.67 for a total of $16.9 billion. Valentine’s spending grew most years over the past decade before hitting last year’s record. But the number of people surveyed who plan to celebrate the holiday has dropped from 63 percent in 2007 to 54 percent this year.

The most popular gifts are candy, cards, an evening out and flowers, in that order. Consumers plan to spend $4.3 billion on jewelry, $3.8 billion on an evening out, $2 billion on flowers, $1.9 billion on clothing, $1.7 billion on candy, $1.4 billion on gift cards/gift certificates and $1 billion on greeting cards.

Also popular this year are “gifts of experience” such as tickets to a concert or sporting event, a gym membership or an outdoor adventure. While 40 percent of consumers want an experience gift, only 24 percent plan to give one.

This year’s survey found consumers plan to spend an average $85.21 on their significant other/spouse, $26.59 on other family members such as children or parents, $6.56 on children’s classmates and teachers, $6.51 on friends, $4.27 on co-workers and $4.44 on pets.

The survey, which asked 7,591 consumers about their Valentine’s Day plans, was conducted January 4-11.

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Tim Tebow headlines Fla. prom for teens with special needs

Former quarterback Tim Tebow was the star attraction at a prom held for teenagers and young adults with special needs in Daytona Beach, Florida.

The “Night to Shine” prom was held Friday night. The idea for the event was created by Tebow’s foundation and similar ones are held around the world.

About 160 teens and adults, helped by hundreds of volunteers, attended the prom held at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach.

The Daytona Beach News-Journal reports that prom also was visited by Gary LeVox, lead vocalist for country trio Rascal Flatts and a friend of Tebow’s.

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

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Disney increasing park tickets for certain times of year

Walt Disney World is increasing single-day tickets at certain times of the year and setting expiration dates on tickets in hopes of preventing overcrowding during the theme parks’ busiest times, company officials said Saturday.

The single-day ticket prices are either staying the same or are increasing no more than $5 under the new price structure that goes into effect Sunday. Last year, Disney rolled out a pricing plan that allows visitors to view a planning calendar from eight to 11 months out to determine which days are considered “value,” ”regular” or “peak” times. Visitors pay more on “peak” days, which are the busiest times as forecast by park officials.

The goal of the varied price structure is to give park visitors an incentive to come during times that are not “peak” so that the experience can be better enjoyed by all, officials said. There have been times during holiday and spring break where the crowds have been so large that Disney has had to stop selling tickets.

“Our pricing provides guests a range of options that allow us to better manage demand to maximize the guest experience and is reflective of the distinctly Disney offerings at all of our parks,” said Disney spokeswoman Jacquee Wahler.

Starting Sunday, “value” days for Magic Kingdom will cost $107 for adults and $101 for children, which represent a $2 increase. During “regular” time, park visitors will pay $5 more with prices jumping from $115 for adults to $109 for children. The “peak” prices remain the same at $124 for adults and $118 for children.

At Epcot, Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom, “value” one-day tickets will now be $99 for adults and $93 for children, which is a $2 bump for both. “Regular” times for adults will be $107 for adults and $101 for children, and “peak” tickets jump to $119 and $113, respectively for adults and children. The new prices represent a $5 increase across the board during “regular” and “peak” seasons.

All tickets now will have expiration dates. In the past, only one-day and Florida resident tickets had expiration dates. Also guests will be able to save $20 on multiday tickets when they purchase them in advance. Park visitors can purchase the multiday tickets online at any time prior to entering the park to receive the savings.

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Florida Retail Federation installs Scott Shalley as president and CEO

The Florida Retail Federation has hired Scott Shalley as its next president and chief executive officer.

He replaces Randy Miller who is retiring, the federation said, and also will direct the Georgia Retail Association.

Shalley will be the sixth person to lead the federation during its 80-year history.

Word of the impending development first appeared in Sunburn Friday morning.

“We’ve been truly fortunate to have incredible leaders and visionaries to guide FRF in recent years, and we feel strongly that Scott has the experience in business development, association management and government affairs to step right in and make an immediate impact,” board chairman Dan Doyle said.

“I want to thank Randy for the extremely important role he has played in making sure that he is leaving FRF in capable hands, and we know that the leadership team we have in place will be a tremendous asset to Scott as he takes our organizations to the next level.”

Shalley has led the Florida Association of Counties since 2015.

“I am honored and excited to lead the Florida Retail Federation and work with the top notch staff and dedicated board members” Shalley said.

“I look forward to advocating on behalf of Florida’s 270,000 retailers to ensure the industry remains robust and that our member businesses continue to grow and succeed.”

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