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Rowdies add Damion Lowe to their defense, prepare for upcoming season

The Tampa Bay Rowdies got a little bit better on defense Monday, announcing the signing of former Minnesota FC defender Damion Lowe.

Lowe, 23, joins the Rowdies back line after an impressive 2016 season in the North American Soccer League with Minnesota United FC. He was in Minnesota on loan from Major League Soccer’s Seattle Sounders and featured in 27 games for Minnesota United, starting 25 matches and logging 2,241 minutes as one of the Loons’ first-choice center backs.

“We got to see Damion up close last year when we played against him,” Rowdies’ coach Stuart Campbell said. “He’s a handful to play against due to his size and strength, but he’s also a smart defender. He’s got the grittiness we’re looking for and we’re excited to bring him to Tampa Bay.”

After a collegiate career at the University of Hartford from 2011 to 2013, Lowe signed with MLS as a member of the Generation Adidas. He was selected eighth overall by the Sounders in the 2014 MLS SuperDraft.

Lowe played for the Seattle Sounders’ reserve team in 2014 and Seattle Sounders FC 2 in the 2015 USL season before joining the Loons on loan last season, where he became a key player for Minnesota and took the step onto the international stage.

Lowe made his senior international debut for Jamaica in October of 2016 against Guyana in the Caribbean Cup. He is the son of Onandi Lowe, who was capped 65 times by the Reggae Boyz from 1995 to 2004.

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Joe Biden: Donald Trump should retain sanctions on Russia

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, on a last foreign trip before leaving office, has met with Ukraine’s president and called on the impending Donald Trump administration to retain Ukraine-related sanctions against Russia.

Biden’s comments Monday at a briefing with President Petro Poroshenko came after Trump indicated in a Times of London interview that he could end sanctions imposed in the aftermath Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea in return for a nuclear arms reduction deal.

“The Crimea-related sanctions against Russia must remain in place until Russia returns full control to the people of Ukraine,” Biden said.

Other U.S. sanctions are connected to Russia’s involvement in the separatist war in eastern Ukraine. Biden said that Russia must fulfill its obligations under the 2015 Minsk agreement on ending that conflict.

Republish with permission of The Associated Press.

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Bob Graham: Daughter Gwen Graham hasn’t told him her plans yet

Like much of the rest of Florida, former U.S. Sen. Bob Graham said he’s waiting to hear what his daughter former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham will decide about running for governor.

The younger Graham has been talking about it for months, and even told FloridaPolitics.com that she wants to run for governor of Florida in the 2018 election, a job her father held while she was in junior high. But she also said she would not make that decision until after she left office as a member of the U.S. Congress.

She’s also dealing with the health of her husband Steve Hurm, who is being treated for prostate cancer.

Her last day in Congress was last week.

“She’s only been out of office for a few days. And she’s thinking about what to do. She’ll let her friends, and I hope parents, know when she makes the decision,” the former senator told FloridaPolitics.com during a stop in Orlando Friday.

“She hasn’t closed the book yet.”

Regardless of when she does, the elder Graham expressed keen interest in the 2018 gubernatorial election cycle, particularly because of the issue of protecting Florida’s natural resources — a passion he and his daughter have shared. He said he’s been very concerned about what recent administrations.

“Over the last few years, we’ve had a very distinct orientation towards the role of government in lives of Floridians. I’ve been particularly concerned about the role in protecting the natural resources that distinguish Florida,” he said. People are going to essentially have a referendum on the question of is this the way we want it to be permanently, or are we going to go back to a government we had at the end of the 20th century? That will be a very significant and with long-duration impacts, that decision Floridians will make.”

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Charlie Crist looking forward to attending Donald Trump inauguration

There are now 24 Democratic members of Congress who say they won’t attend the inauguration of Donald J. Trump as America’s 45th president on Friday.

Charlie Crist isn’t one or them.

“I will be attending the inauguration, and I look forward to it,” Crist told this reporter on Sunday, after hosting a press event where he called for Republicans not to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

The growing number of Democrats who say they will boycott the inauguration began after Trump publicly rebuked civil rights icon John Lewis, on Saturday morning, following Lewis’ remarks to NBC’s Chuck Todd that he didn’t consider Trump “a legitimate president” and wouldn’t attend the inauguration.

“I think the Russians participated in helping this man get elected and they helped destroy the candidacy of Hillary Clinton,” the Georgia Democratic added.

Trump responded in characteristic fashion early Saturday morning, tweeting that Lewis was “all talk” and “should spend more time on fixing and helping his district.

That response angered Tampa Representative Kathy Castor, who wrote in her own tweet that Trump’s attack on Lewis “shows what a small, graceless person he is,” perhaps her most provocative statement regarding the President-elect.

Lewis was in Miami on Monday morning, serving as the keynote speaker for the city of Miami’s MLK Day breakfast.

Meanwhile, the inauguration is taking place at the end of this week. Crist says it’s “important to focus on the peaceful transition of power.”

“I didn’t support Mr. Trump, but I respect the fact that he’s been elected president of the U.S.,” the St. Petersburg Democrat adds.

Crist has made it clear that he was elected by his constituents to get things done in Washington, and  has said that he will work with Trump to help get more Americans “back to work.”

Miami area Representative Fredericka Wilson says she won’t attend the inauguration, but not because of Trump. She tells the Miami Herald that she had a previous commitment. No other Florida Democrats have said they won’t be attending the inauguration.

 

 

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Mike Pence looks like he will be Donald Trump’s inside man in Congress

When Mike Pence landed in Congress after the 2000 election, he was a conservative agitator who often bucked President George W. Bush‘s agenda. Seventeen years later, he’s the vice president-elect and Donald Trump‘s inside man on Capitol Hill.

Pence, who spent a dozen years in Congress before becoming Indiana’s governor, is visiting frequently with lawmakers and promising close coordination after Trump’s inauguration Friday. In a sign of his attentiveness, Pence will have an office in the House as well as the traditional honorary office for the vice president in the Senate.

Pence’s role takes on greater importance, given Trump’s ascension to the White House without any experience in elective office.

Trump has few long-standing political alliances in Congress and a strained relationship with the Republican establishment, a hangover from the 2016 campaign. Trump’s agenda doesn’t always align with Republicans’ priorities, and his inflammatory remarks about immigrants, Muslims and women made many in the GOP cringe.

Pence has forged an enduring friendship with House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., dating to their early years in Congress, along with other House Republicans crucial to advancing Trump’s agenda. In early meetings with lawmakers, Pence has passed out his personal cellphone number and promised an open line to the administration.

“He’s the trusted intermediary. He’s the person that people on both sides of Pennsylvania Avenue know and trust,” said Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla.

If Trump is known for his brash form of disruptive politics, Pence represents the incoming administration in a more traditional manner, exemplified by his polite, Midwestern demeanor. He joined Trump in New York on Wednesday for the president-elect’s first news conference since the Nov. 8 election. Pence soon returned to Capitol Hill for meetings with several senators, including Democrats Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Tim Kaine of Virginia. The latter was Hillary Clinton‘s running mate and Pence’s adversary in October’s vice president debate.

“Opportunities to work together on issues like infrastructure and child care we think represent a significant chance to bring together leaders in both political parties,” Pence said after meeting with Kaine.

Pence’s early days in Washington were marked more by his role as a conservative purist than deal-maker.

He opposed the Bush administration on issues such as the president’s No Child Left Behind education law and an overhaul of Medicare that provided new prescription drug coverage in 2003. Pence was a leading conservative voice, often arguing that the Republican administration had strayed from conservative principles and had failed to curb federal spending.

After Republicans were swept from power in the 2006 elections, Pence unsuccessfully challenged Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, to become minority leader. Two years later, Boehner backed Pence’s entry into the leadership team, elevating the Indiana congressman to chairman of the House GOP conference, the party’s No. 3 post.

One of the ways Pence built lasting ties with fellow lawmakers was through Bible study.

Pence often joined Ryan, House Financial Services Chairman Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, and Georgia Rep. Tom Price, Trump’s pick to lead the Department of Health and Human Services, for weekly Bible study sessions. House Republicans say those are the types of interactions that will help him in Trump’s administration.

“Mike Pence is a House man. He cares about us and he will make sure that we are in the loop,” said Rep. Jack Carter, R-Texas, who also attended Bible study with Pence.

By having an office in the House along with the ceremonial one in the Senate for his role as the chamber’s president, Pence will follow a path set by Vice President Dick Cheney, a former Wyoming congressman who maintained a House office during the Bush presidency.

Pence’s conservative record gives rank-and-file Democrats few reasons to be hopeful that he could be a bipartisan deal-maker on Trump’s behalf.

Planned Parenthood, for example, mobilized after Ryan said he planned to strip federal dollars from their organization as part of repeal of Obama’s health care law. The organization pointed to Pence’s anti-abortion record and history of seeking to block federal dollars from the health care provider as one of the reasons for the quick GOP push.

“Mike Pence’s fingerprints are all over that,” said Dawn Laguens, Planned Parenthood’s executive vice president.

But Pence has tried to build some bridges.

When Manchin, a centrist Democrat facing re-election next year, called incoming Trump White House adviser Katie Walsh in early January to request a meeting with Pence, the senator found himself face to face with Pence only a few hours later. They exchanged cellphone numbers and Manchin again sat down with Pence on Wednesday for a discussion that included the Supreme Court vacancy and federal judicial appointments.

“My job is going to be trying to find pathways forward – how do you find a way to fix things, repair things and make things happen? So you’ve got to build these relationships,” Manchin said.

Republish with permission of The Associated Press.

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Human trafficking cases increase 50 percent in Florida

Officials say the number of human trafficking cases have increased more than 50 percent in the state from the previous year.The Florida Department of Children and Families says Florida received 1,892 reports of human trafficking. That’s a 54 percent increase from the previous year. The increase in reported allegations of human trafficking was due in large part to increased training and a new screening tool developed between DCF, the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice and the attorney general.

The Statewide Council on Human Trafficking also implemented specialized training for first responders and other child welfare professionals to help recognize the signs.

DCF tracks human trafficking by three primary categories: sexual exploitation by a non-caregiver, such as an adult entertainment club or escort service; sexual exploitation by a parent, guardian or caregiver; and labor trafficking.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

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Personnel note: Audra Burch to NYT

The Miami Herald’s Audra Burch is departing the newspaper to join the New York Times as a Miami-based national enterprise reporter.

Burch, Audra
Burch

The Random Pixels blog last week shared a staff memo about Burch’s hire.

Burch, whom Herald editors called their “extraordinarily talented enterprise reporter,” collaborated with Carol Marbin Miller on 2014’s Innocents Lost.

The Herald’s series “painstakingly examined 477 deaths of children who perished despite being under the protective umbrella of the Florida Department of Children & Families,” the memo said. “The series led to an overhaul of DCF’s leadership, new legislation, and won a boatload of prestigious awards.”

Burch “came to the Herald in the mid-1990s after stints at the Sun-Sentinel and the Gary Post-Tribune,” according to the memo.

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Florida Blue Foundation symposium to focus on health care, poverty and community

Purpose Built Community President Carol Naughton

The Florida Blue Foundation will hold its 2017 Community Health Symposium and Sapphire Awards April 19-20 at the Gaylord Palms Resort and Convention Center in Kissimmee. The two-day event will feature speakers from leading health professionals, and focus on a variety of issues facing the industry.

The event kicks off at 9:45 a.m. April 19 with a keynote address from Carol Naughton, the president of Purpose Built Community. Naughton is expected to discuss how to create healthy neighborhoods to help break the cycle of poverty.

Several panels are scheduled for April 19, including presentations about building a culture of a healthy community, meeting future needs in the industry, strategic planning and health care reform. Mark Brewer, the president and CEO of the Central Florida Foundation, is also scheduled to facilitate a session titled “How to Engage a Community After an Attack.”

The event continues April 20 with a keynote address from Dr. Daniel Dawes, a health care strategist and attorney. Dawes is scheduled to give a presentation titled “Health Equity for All: Looking Back & Moving Forward with Health Reform in America.”

Dawes is also scheduled to moderate a panel titled “Affordable Care Act: Where Do We Go from Here – The Politics of Health Care.” Panelists will include Tom Feeney, the president and CEO of Associated Industries of Florida; Dr. Antonia Novello, the former U.S. Surgeon General; Jason Altmire, the senior vice president of public policy and community engagement at Florida Blue; and Susan McManus, a distinguished professor of government and international affairs at the University of South Florida.

The Sapphire Luncheon and Awards ceremony is scheduled for 12:30 p.m. April 20. Patrick Geraghty, the CEO of Guidewell Holding Company, is scheduled to be the keynote speaker during the luncheon.

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Donald Trump, government is not a business. Reject Rex Tillerson.

If it is to be believed, as Donald Trump evidently does, that government is just another business, then Rex Tillerson is a plausible nominee for secretary of state. Hasn’t he been running one of the most powerful and profitable businesses in this corner of the universe?

But government is not a business.

The duty of a business is to produce profits for its owners. Period. How it’s done rarely matters so long as there are profits. Whether a business treats its customers and employees with consideration or stiffs them, as Trump so often did to his, is “right” or “wrong” only in the light of the profit margin or loss. A CEO who doesn’t put profits first won’t last, and he or she is most unlikely to find a soft landing on a business school faculty.

The competitive situation of a business requires keeping certain secrets from the public. In a proper democracy, however, there are no secrets to be kept from the public, other than those that directly implicate national security. The personal assets of a wealthy Cabinet nominee are no such exception. And certainly those of a president are not. We deserve to know, we need to know, what conflicts of interest may exist. Florida Governor Reubin Askew maintained that full financial disclosure was the only way to earn the trust of the people, and the voters agreed with him overwhelmingly.

A business can fail. It can declare bankruptcy, freeing its owners to foist off the losses on other people and start over, as Trump has done four times. A local government can do that too, but a national government, one with the power and the duty to maintain the economy, cannot do that without catastrophic consequences. It cannot even suggest renegotiating its debts, as Trump casually speculated during the campaign, without risking the collapse of its currency and runaway inflation.

The fundamental duties of a government are so obviously different that they shouldn’t need explanation, but there seem to be more than a few folks who don’t grasp them.

One of the differences is that a government’s stockholders and its customers are one and the same, and its duty to them is to protect and serve them as efficiently as possible. There is no place for profit in that equation. Pay-as-you-go projects, like toll roads and park fees, should take in only enough revenue for operation, maintenance and improvement.

I’m speaking of a democracy, of course. The other kind of government, the kind run by Vladimir Putin, gauges its success by the extent of its power over its own people and others. Its loyalty is to the tyrant, not the citizens.

And that inescapably calls into question the loyalty of multinational corporations, like Tillerson’s Exxon Mobil, which occasionally find it necessary to do business with such despots. When a man who would be our secretary of state can’t acknowledge the simple fact that Putin’s conduct in Syria is that of a war criminal, he is tacitly confessing the moral cost of doing business with Putin. Tillerson’s professional accommodation to the realpolitik of the international energy market is an inherent conflict of interest with the duty of a secretary of state to put our country first and always.

We have Senator Marco Rubio to thank for making that point in his deft interrogation of Tillerson at the Foreign Relations Committee hearing. As someone who hasn’t exactly been one of his fans, I have to say that would have been anyone’s finest hour. It certainly was Rubio’s.

That brings us to the second profound difference between a democratic government and a business. Most people expect their government to embody, represent, assert and advance their national character and ideals. We don’t really expect that of a business. This is why the British still support and revere their monarchy long after it was reduced to a splendid but powerless symbol. This is why until now, Americans have believed that character is what defines the suitability of a candidate for president. When we think of George Washington, what comes to mind? His towering reputation for patriotism and personal integrity.

We revere our country. We don’t revere corporations, not even the ones we work for. We don’t sing, “My company, ‘tis of thee.” We sing of purple mountain majesties, not towering smokestacks. We pledge our allegiance to our flag, not to the Chamber of Commerce.

Americans have been accused, sometimes fairly, of preaching too much to people elsewhere about the superiority of our form of government. Most of the time, though, we do it for the best of reasons: our belief that democracy is the only suitable environment for personal liberty and economic opportunity and a sincere wish to see others enjoy what we do. We are proud of what we have. It speaks well of us that we want to share it. Our hearts fill with pride and admiration for those who gave their lives for our country and for those who still risk theirs.

That does not mean trying to be the “world’s policeman” in places where our influence is unwanted or likely to be ineffective. It does mean taking care, in consort with allies, to keep our part of the world safe from a hostile power’s quest for unhealthy dominance in trade and military affairs. World War II was in large part a consequence of the self-centered isolationism that led to the Senate rejecting the League of Nations and to our indifference as tyrants rose “over there.”

We expect — reasonably so — that those we elect or who are appointed to serve us will embody the ideals that make us proud to be Americans. That’s what so confounding about Trump’s impending presidency. What’s done is done, but as it considers the qualifications of his Cabinet nominees, the Senate can still redeem our national character. Rejecting Tillerson’s nomination would be a good start.

___

Martin Dyckman is a retired associate editor of the Tampa Bay Times. He lives in Asheville, North Carolina.

 

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Pittsburgh gives Kansas City the boot to advance to AFC title game

Consider it being kicked out of the playoffs.

The Pittsburgh Steelers advanced to the AFC title game Sunday night, edging the Kansas City Chiefs 18-16 on the foot of Chris Boswell. Boswell made all six of his field tries, accounting for all the Steelers’ points.

The Chiefss came within two points with 2:43 to play and seemed to tie the score when Alex Smith passed for the conversion to Demetrius Harris. But tackle Eric Fisher was called for holding on the play, and the Chiefs missed on their next try.

“Referee No. 51 shouldn’t even be able to wear a zebra jersey ever again,” tight end Travis Kelce told ESPN. “He shouldn’t even be able to work at f—— Foot Locker.

“For it to end like that, with the referee literally taking it out of our hands, that hurts,” Kelce said. “You try to play this game with integrity, to the end of the whistle and when the refs want to take over the game and make it their own platform, there’s nothing you can do about it. That wasn’t a hold on my guy Eric Fisher. I hope (Fisher) doesn’t go the entire offseason thinking it was his fault. That was horse—-, flat out.”

Pittsburgh moved the ball all day — getting 170 yards from Le’Veon Bell on the ground and 170 yards receiving from Antonio Brown. But the Steelers weren’t able to get into the end zone.

The Pittsburgh defense made it stand up, giving only 61 yards rushing and 227 yards of total offense.

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