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Pam Bondi says charities she helps aren’t required to register with state

Attorney General Pam Bondi’s office this week responded to a lawsuit claiming she forces businesses to pony up millions of dollars to unregistered charities as part of settlements in consumer protection cases.

Deputy Solicitor General Jonathan L. Williams, writing on Bondi’s behalf, said in part that some of the organizations criticized by Orlando entrepreneur John D. Smith aren’t “require(d) … to register (with the state) before receiving contributions from governmental entities.”

Rather, they need to register as charities if they plan to “solicit,” or ask for, charitable contributions, Williams added.

Circuit Judge Charles Dodson of Tallahassee ordered Bondi to show why he shouldn’t find for Smith, giving Bondi 40 days to respond. Williams’ response, filed Monday, came on the 40th day.

“Florida law expressly and unambiguously authorizes (the Attorney General’s office to require) a settling party’s promise to make a contribution to a third party,” said the response to the order to show cause. “Nowhere in the relevant statutes does it say that these third-party entities must be registered charities.”

In 2015, Bondi’s office launched an investigation against Smith, who invented Storm Stoppers plastic panels as a “plywood alternative” to protect windows during storms. He was one of many companies that chose to settle in what’s known as an “assurance of voluntary compliance.”  

Smith filed a petition for a “writ of quo warranto” in Leon County Circuit Civil court, saying Bondi “exceeded (her) authority” under a state law aimed at protecting consumers and businesses from abuse.

Some of the unregistered charities that Bondi makes settling parties give money to is her own “Law Enforcement Officer of the Year” award and various “scholarship funds designated by the Attorney General.”

Smith also said Bondi was wrongly directing contributions to her office’s nonprofit, Seniors vs. Crime, which is a “conflict of interest,” the suit says. Two of its directors work for Bondi.

“Seniors vs. Crime was created in 1989 by then-Attorney General Bob Butterworth,” Williams countered. “Since 2002, OAG (Office of Attorney General) employees have consistently served on the organization’s board. In keeping with that close historical relationship, OAG and Seniors vs. Crime share a common interest—protecting Florida’s senior citizens against fraud.”

“(A)bundant authority holds that such eminently laudable public service does not run afoul of applicable ethical requirements,” he added. Since she first assumed office in 2011, Bondi’s office settled enforcement actions with 14 businesses in which they wound up paying more than $5.5 million to 35 unregistered charities, the quo warranto petition says.

Moreover, Williams said Smith doesn’t have standing to challenge Bondi: “The Legislature has not authorized third-party challenges to the voluntary settlement agreements at issue here, and it would be unprecedented to permit such challenges.”

In a previous statement, Bondi called the legal action “meritless” and “harassment.” A next hearing in the case was not docketed as of Tuesday.

Rick Scott signs bill to fight terrorism

Gov. Rick Scott signed a bill Thursday that creates new criminal offenses to combat terrorism and funds more agents to investigate terrorist acts.

The Governor was in Orlando to attend the Orlando Counter Terrorism Conference, where 210 agents from the law enforcement agencies from across the southeast are sharing ideas to stop terrorism.

“This bill helps our local, state and federal law enforcement community work together to keep people safe,” Scott said. “We’ve all got to open our eyes and help. If you see something, say something.”

House Bill 457, which passed unanimously in both the Senate and House, creates five new criminal offenses for people who work with terrorist groups or commit acts of terrorism. It also provides the resources to hire 47 Florida Department of Law Enforcement officers to investigate acts of terrorism.

Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings said that local agencies are better prepared to fight terrorism because of their experience after the Pulse massacre. He added that he wants to encourage people to visit Central Florida, especially on this busy Memorial Day weekend.

“We’re glad to have two new attractions open at the parks and are prepared for the bigger crowds this holiday weekend,” Demings said. “We don’t want our citizens to live in fear. We have rapid response teams trained and ready to handle any type of emergency.”

The bill makes acts of terrorism a new first-degree felony offense under state law. Another new offense would make it a first-degree felony to use “military-type training” provided by a foreign terrorist organization to harm someone or disrupt critical infrastructures. It would also be a first-degree felony to provide resources to terrorist groups.

It would be a second-degree felony to join a foreign terrorist group.

The three-day Counter Terrorism Conference is hosted by the Florida Sheriffs Association, National Sheriffs’ Association, Major County Sheriffs’ Association and Orange County Sheriff’s Office. Attendees share information on what drives acts of violence, the signs of an attack and how to prevent them. Agents from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and Federal Bureau of Investigation are also at the conference.

In letter, Gus Bilirakis demands justice for American attacked by Turkish security detail

Like most Americans, Gus Bilirakis was repulsed after seeing footage last week of bodyguards for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan beating up peaceful protesters in Washington D.C.

State Department officials expressed “concern to the Turkish government in the strongest possible terms” and summoned the Turkish Ambassador for a visit.

That was pretty much it.

Now, Bilirakis is joining 39 other members of Congress in a letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson demanding that those Turkish officials based in the U.S. or Turkey involved in the attacks be expelled immediately. The latter also calls for them to be barred from entering the U.S. in the future.

“I was outraged to see remorseless acts of violence carried out by the Erdogan government against individuals exercising their First Amendment rights on American soil. This is unacceptable in any situation, but even more so when Turkish leaders visit our nation and claim to be faithful allies. We must uphold the law and demand accountability from all who are responsible,” said Bilirakis, who serves as Co-Chair of the Congressional Hellenic Caucus and the Congressional Hellenic-Israel Alliance.

Overall, 11 people were injured in the melee, including a police officer and two Secret Service agents.

Washington police said they arrested two people who in the D.C. Area. However, Erdogan’s security forces enjoy diplomatic immunity, which means none can be held accountable for their actions.

The House of Representatives passed a resolution Thursday condemning the violence that took place at the Turkish Ambassador’s residence on May 16. It was backed by Speaker Paul Ryan, who said: “[T]he violent crackdown on peaceful protesters by Turkish security forces was completely indefensible, and the Erdogan government’s response was wholly inadequate.”

Charlie Crist cheers Army Corps’ $30M for Pinellas beach restoration

Pinellas Democratic Representative Charlie Crist proudly announced Thursday that the Army Corps of Engineers will fully fund the Pinellas County Shore Protection Project, to restore and protect Pinellas County’s beaches.

The announcement comes after Crist worked with Pinellas County Commission Chair Janet Long for the past few months to secure the Corps’ approval.

“Pinellas County is a peninsula on a peninsula, surrounded almost entirely by coastline. With rising sea levels, increasing storm surges, and erosion caused by hurricanes like Hermine, the importance of nourishment projects is urgent to protect our economy, infrastructure, and coastal properties,” Crist said in a statement. “I thank Commissioner Long and the entire Commission for their commitment to our beaches, and the Army Corps for listening to our concerns. I look forward to continuing our work together, to push forward with this major project benefiting Pinellas.”

“The Army Corps of Engineers allocation of $30 million to complete the Pinellas County Beaches projects, including Sand Key, Treasure Island, and Upham Beach, is great news for our entire region,” said Long. “Thank you to Congressman Crist for his work on this issue as well as the Army Corps of Engineers for recognizing the importance of these projects to our local economy.”

According to Crist’s office, the Corps’ work plan also includes the full federal cost share of $9 million for the Port Tampa Bay Big Bend Channel navigation project, as well as a “New Start” designation for this deepening and widening project.

 

Popularity is part of the problem for Straz Center, with a serious lack of parking

As the Straz Performing Arts Center celebrates its 30-year anniversary, it has never been more popular.

That’s part of the problem.

With three new museums, a busier-than-ever Curtis Hixon Park, and area construction continuing, the Straz — in the heart of downtown Tampa — is suffering from a serious lack of parking, a problem that’s only getting worse.

It’s become so bad, longtime patrons are telling the Straz they will no longer attend events there.

“We are truly and deeply concerned that we, along with our city, we’ll suffer significant economic reputational harm if this trend continues,” Straz Center President Judith Lisi told the Tampa City Council Thursday.

It’s not hard to figure out why the area is being so stressed. The Poe Garage — sitting across the street from the Straz — was able to handle the 30,000 people who attended events at the facility when it was built in 1987.

Now more than 600,000 people visit the Straz annually, while the Poe remains the only nearby parking garage.

Perhaps the worst night for parking was Valentine’s Day 2017, when a 20-minute delay for a performance of “Wicked” still wasn’t long enough for 547 ticket buyers to make it by showtime.

Recently, the Straz convened a task force of board members, community advisers, venue leaders and an engineer to work with Tampa officials (including the Tampa Police Department) to come up with solutions.

The long term solution, task force chairman Doug Dieck said, is ultimately more parking spaces and a new parking garage somewhere in the vicinity of the Straz.

Straz officials said that on a short-term basis, “optimizing” the Poe and the nearby Royal Street Regional parking lot “functionality” was a top priority, as well enhancing ways to provide signage for cars and those walking to the center.

Although there are no plans to build a parking garage anytime soon, Councilman Charlie Miranda said that garages always ended up paying for themselves.

Other council members discussed the notion of having Straz customers have greater accessibility to the Downtowner, the free on-demand ride service available exclusively in downtown Tampa.

Tampa City Councilman Harry Cohen mentioned the possibility of Straz patrons parking in the Channelside area and taking a water taxi over to the Straz.

Cohen said he recently attended a performance of the Florida Orchestra at the Mahaffey Theater in St. Petersburg, where he said he saw a significant number of Tampa residents who preferred traveling across the Howard Frankland Bridge to dealing with traffic at the Straz.

Bob McDonaugh, the city’s administrator for economic opportunity, said a lot of potential remedies were “on the immediate horizon” to relieve the parking issues at the Straz, but admitted that “doesn’t cure things today.”

The Council will pick up the conversation on solutions at their June 22 meeting, where heads of the city’s parking, transportation, stormwater and economic development agencies will be asked to discuss possible short-term remedies.

NOAA predicts active 2017 hurricane season

The 2017 Atlantic hurricane season is forecast to be more active than normal, with five to nine hurricanes.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration forecasts 11 to 17 named tropical storms will develop in the region, which includes the Atlantic, the Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico, the agency announced Thursday. NOAA predicted that five to nine could become hurricanes with winds of 74 mph or higher, including 2 to 4 major hurricanes with winds of 111 mph or higher.

Hurricane season officially begins June 1 and runs through Nov. 30.

The upcoming season could be comparable to the 2016 seasonthe most active since 2012, with 15 named storms, including seven hurricanes and four major hurricanes. An average season produces 12 named storms of which six become hurricanes, including three major hurricanes.

The numbers include Tropical Storm Arlene, a rare pre-season storm that formed over the eastern Atlantic in April.

“The outlook reflects our expectation of a weak or non-existent El Nino, near- or above-average sea-surface temperatures across the tropical Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea, and average or weaker-than-average vertical wind shear in that same region,” said Gerry Bell, Ph.D., lead seasonal hurricane forecaster with NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center.

Strong El Ninos and wind shear typically suppress the development of Atlantic hurricanes, so the prediction for weak conditions points to more hurricane activity this year. Also, warmer sea surface temperatures tend to fuel hurricanes as they move across the ocean.

“Regardless of how many storms develop this year, it only takes one to disrupt our lives,” said Acting FEMA Administrator Robert J. Fenton, Jr. “Get ready now with these easy, low-cost steps that will leave you better prepared and will make all the difference: Know your evacuation route; tune into your local news or download the FEMA app to get alerts, and finally – listen to local authorities as a storm approaches.”

NOAA will update this outlook in early August, just before the peak of hurricane season.

Donald Trump lectures NATO members on cost sharing

The Latest on President Donald Trump’s first trip abroad (all times local):

4:48 p.m.

President Donald Trump is lecturing members of the NATO alliance to pay their fair share on defense during a ceremony at NATO headquarters.

Trump says NATO members must “finally contribute their fair share” and meet their obligations.

The president has been urging NATO leaders to live up to a 2011 decision to increase spending on defense to 2 percent of gross domestic product by 2024.

Trump says 23 of the 28 member nations are not paying what they should and he says it’s “not fair” to the people of the United States. He says many of these nations owe “massive” amounts of money from previous years.

The president spoke as the other NATO leaders looked on.

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4:41 p.m.

President Donald Trump is calling for a moment of silence for the victims of the Manchester concert attack.

The president is speaking at a dedication ceremony for a new 9/11 memorial at NATO headquarters in Brussels.

He says that “today is a day for both remembrance and resolve” and that the attack demonstrates “the depths of the evil we face with terrorism.”

Trump has urged NATO members to spend more money on defense.

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4:37 p.m.

President Donald Trump is attending a dedication service for two new memorials at NATO headquarters.

Trump stood on as German Chancellor Angela Merkel and NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg unveiled two sections of the Berlin Wall that divided the German city until 1989.

The pieces, standing together, form a monument that symbolizes the efforts to end the division of Europe.

Trump and Stoltenberg are also unveiling a steel beam from the 107th floor of one of the World Trade Center towers that collapsed on Sept. 11, 2001.

It’s a reminder of NATO’s commitment to its collective defense clause — so called Article 5. It has only ever been activated once, after 9/11.

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4:35 p.m.

President Donald Trump is pledging to “get to the bottom” of leaks of sensitive information.

In a written statement Thursday, Trump called recent leaks “deeply troubling.” He said he is asking the Justice Department and other agencies to “launch a complete review of this matter.”

Trump adds that “if appropriate, the culprit should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”

Trump’s comments come amid anger from Britain over intelligence leaks and a decision by Manchester police to withhold information from the United States about the investigation into this week’s bombing.

British Prime Minister Theresa May has said she will make it clear to Trump that intelligence shared between law enforcement agencies “must remain secure.”

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4:20 p.m.

President Donald Trump has arrived at NATO headquarters for an afternoon of meetings with fellow world leaders.

Trump was greeted by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at the organization’s new headquarters in Brussels.

Stoltenberg visited the White House last month and touted NATO’s benefits at a joint news conference with Trump.

Trump had previously questioned NATO’s relevance.

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4:15 p.m.

President Donald Trump has done an about-face on NATO, the military alliance he once dismissed as ineffective.

Trump says at a White House news conference with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg that the organization is “no longer obsolete.”

As a candidate, Trump said the 28-member organization had outlived its usefulness. Since taking office, he has expressed support for NATO but has reinforced his view that European members must meet a 2014 agreement for member countries to boost defense spending to 2 percent of gross domestic product within a decade. Just the U.S. and a handful of other countries are meeting the target.

Trump says NATO countries will be more secure and the partnership strengthened if other countries pay their fair share and stop relying on the United States.

He’s set to participate in a memorial dedication and dinner with other NATO member leaders.

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4:04 p.m.

British Prime Minister Theresa May says she will press U.S. President Donald Trump on keeping shared intelligence confidential, after leaks from the investigation of the Manchester concert attack.

Speaking to reporters upon arrival at a NATO summit in Brussels, May said that the U.S.-British defense and security partnership is built on trust.

But she says, “part of that trust is knowing that intelligence can be shared confidently.”

She said that when she sees Trump at the summit Thursday she will stress “that intelligence that is shared between law enforcement agencies must remain secure.”

She said the Manchester attack shows why it’s important for the international community and NATO to do more about the fight against terrorism.

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3:59 p.m.

President Donald Trump is on his way to NATO headquarters in Brussels for his first meeting with a group he criticized mercilessly during his campaign.

Trump has rattled the group with musings about pulling out of the pact because other countries aren’t dedicating enough money to defense and called the alliance “obsolete.”

But he’s softened his stance considerably since taking office in January.

Trump is set to deliver remarks at the unveiling of memorials dedicated to the Berlin Wall and one that will serve as a reminder of NATO’s commitment to its collective defense clause — so called Article 5. It has only been activated once, after 9/11.

He’ll also attend a working dinner with other member leaders.

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3:32 p.m.

Several hundred protesters have gathered outside the NATO summit in Brussels to demonstrate against NATO and U.S. President Donald Trump.

The group was tiny compared to the 10,000 demonstrators who came out Wednesday to protest Trump’s visit. But the summit won’t start until late afternoon, so the crowds could still swell.

Security officials have cordoned off a large protest zone outside NATO headquarters. Protesters there are holding banners that say “NATO game over” and “peace.”

At one point, some 50 demonstrators tried to block a road using banners.

Stephanie Demblon of the “Agir pour la paix” pacifist group says Trump “makes people scared” and says he’s “shown over the past months that he isn’t a man of peace.”

The anti-NATO activist says she’s worried that Trump, who criticized NATO during his campaign, is now beginning to see the partnership as “something very useful to his aims.”

___

2:09 p.m.

The White House is condemning recent violence in the Philippines by militants linked to the Islamic State group.

In a statement released Thursday, the White House says, “cowardly terrorists killed Philippine law enforcement officials and endangered the lives of innocent citizens.”

It adds that the United States will provide “support and assistance to Philippine counterterrorism efforts.” The statement from the press secretary says the United States is a “proud ally of the Philippines.”

Army tanks packed with soldiers have rolled into a southern Philippine city to try to restore control after militants linked to the Islamic State group launched a violent siege. Thousands of civilians have been fleeing Marawi, a city of some 200,000 people.

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1:38 p.m.

French President Emmanuel Macron says he has a long list of issues to discuss with U.S. President Donald Trump, including the fight against terrorism, the economy and climate and energy issues.

The two leaders are meeting for the first time over lunch at the U.S. Ambassador to Belgium’s residence. They’ll dine on tomatoes and buffalo mozzarella, veal filet with potatoes, tri-colored vegetables, and a duo of Belgian chocolate mousse.

The two also shared an intense handshake, gripping each other’s hands so tightly that Trump’s knuckles appeared to turn white.

Macron has been critical of Trump in the past, including denouncing Trump’s musings on abandoning the Paris climate treaty. White House officials say Trump has not made a decision yet about whether the U.S. will fulfill its obligations under the deal.

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1:25 p.m.

President Donald Trump is praising newly-elected French President Emmanuel Macron as the two leaders meet for the first time.

Trump and Macron met at the U.S. Ambassador to Belgium’s residence Thursday for a working lunch.

Trump says Macron had an “incredible victory, all over the world they’re talking about it.” He added that the two have a lot to discuss, including terrorism.

Macron has said he expects to discuss defense and security issues during the pair’s first face-to-face meeting. He has been critical of Trump in the past, including denouncing Trump’s musings on abandoning the Paris climate treaty.

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1:19 p.m.

President Donald Trump did not respond to a shouted question about whether the British can trust America with intelligence following a series of leaks blamed on U.S. officials.

British authorities are livid over leaks related to the Manchester concert bombing. They include photos detailing evidence about the bomb used in the attack that were published by The New York Times. It is not clear that the newspaper obtained the photos from U.S. officials.

British Prime Minister Theresa May said she plans to raise the issue with President Donald Trump at the NATO summit in Brussels later Thursday.

She says she plans to “make clear to President Trump that intelligence that is shared between our law enforcement agencies must remain secure.”

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1:15 p.m.

President Donald Trump is meeting with newly-elected French President Emmanuel Macron.

Trump and Macron are holding a working lunch at the U.S. Ambassador to Belgium’s residence Thursday.

Macron was elected over far-right opponent Marine Le Pen in the French presidential runoff earlier this month. Trump called him after his victory to congratulate him.

Macron has said he expects to discuss defense and security issues during the meeting. He has been critical of Trump in the past, including denouncing Trump’s musings on abandoning the Paris climate treaty.

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12:43 p.m.

U.S. first lady Melania Trump cheered up children in a Belgian hospital with Dr. Seuss books and crepe paper flowers while her husband met with European Union leaders.

Young patients at the Queen Fabiola Children’s University Hospital used a sketch toy to make a sign reading “Welcome Mrs. Trump.”

The first lady, wearing a knee-length dusty rose leather jacket and skirt, toured the hospital Thursday and joined a group of children making paper flowers, a Belgian tradition. Two of the children sitting with her were hooked up to IVs.

They shared opinions on favorite flowers. The first lady said she likes peonies, tulips, roses and especially orchids.

Mrs. Trump also visited the Vatican’s children’s hospital earlier this week and gave the children Dr. Seuss books.

She’s expected to join the spouses of other leaders in town for a NATO summit for a visit to the Magritte Museum and the Belgian royal palace later Thursday.

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12:31 p.m.

Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis has joined President Donald Trump for the next leg of his trip and is participating in meetings with European leaders.

The composition of the U.S. delegation has evolved over the course of the president’s maiden foreign trip.

Chief of staff Reince Priebus, chief strategist Steve Bannon and commerce secretary Wilbur Ross all returned home after the president’s first stop in Saudi Arabia.

And Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner and daughter Ivanka Trump broke off before Trump traveled to Brussels, as previously planned.

The president will be returning to Washington Saturday after nine days abroad.

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12 p.m.

European Union Council President Donald Tusk says talks with President Donald Trump reveal differences on key issues, including how to deal with Russia.

Tusk said Thursday that he was not “100 percent sure” the two leaders have “a common position, a common opinion, about Russia.” But he said that regarding Ukraine “it seems that we were on the same line.”

Trump met with European Union leaders Thursday morning in Brussels.

Tusk also said that “Some issues remain open like climate and trade,” where the EU is pushing for full respect of the Paris Agreement on climate and open multilateral trade deals.

But he insisted there was full agreement on many issues, including “first and foremost, on counter terrorism.”

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11:30 a.m.

President Donald Trump got to meet two European Union Presidents at the same time.

Under the convoluted rules of the 28-nation bloc, Donald Tusk presides over the Council of EU leaders and chairs summit meetings while Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker heads the EU executive.

“You know, Mr President, we have two presidents in the EU,” Tusk said as they started their meeting. “I know that,” Trump said.

Juncker joked: “There is one too much.”

Trump concluded his meeting at the European Union headquarters at about 11:30 a.m. He headed to the U.S. Ambassador to Belgium’s residence where he was set to have a working lunch with newly elected French President Emmanuel Macron.

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11 a.m.

President Donald Trump is speaking with European Union leaders during a meeting in Brussels.

Trump sat down Thursday with Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council, Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the European Commission, and other officials.

Trump publicly cheered for the dissolution of the body when the United Kingdom voted to leave the EU last summer.

Trump is in the midst of a nine-day international trip. It is his first foreign trip and has included stops in Saudi Arabia, Israel and the Vatican.

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10:10 a.m.

President Donald Trump is meeting with European Union leaders.

Trump arrived at European Union headquarters Thursday morning. He was greeted by the group’s president.

Trump publicly cheered for the dissolution of the body when the United Kingdom voted to leave the EU last summer.

The visit comes as part of Trump’s first international trip. The nine-day tour has included rapturous receptions in Saudi Arabia and Israel, and a polite meeting with Pope Francis in Rome.

___

8:30 a.m.

U.S. President Donald Trump woke to a gorgeous spring morning in Brussels — and a huge flag from Greenpeace criticizing his policies.

Around 7 a.m., the environmental group got on top of a construction crane close to the U.S. embassy where Trump stayed overnight and unfurled a huge banner saying “#RESIST.”

Two activists were up in the air to make sure the flag hung straight and would be clearly visible.

Greenpeace has been an ardent critic of Trump’s environmental views on climate change and global warming. Those issues will take central stage at the G-7 summit in Sicily starting Friday.

___

6:15 a.m.

President Donald Trump will be in the heart of Europe Thursday to address a continent still reeling from his election and anxious about his support.

Trump is slated to attend his first meeting of NATO, the decadeslong partnership that has been rattled by the new president’s wavering on honoring its bonds.

Trump has mused about pulling out of the pact because he believed other countries were not paying their fair share. He also has so far refused to commit to abiding by Article 5, in which member nations vow to come to each other’s defense.

The president is slated to meet with the heads of European Union institutions after having publicly cheered for the dissolution of the body when the United Kingdom voted to leave the EU.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Joe Henderson: If some Democrats don’t care about ‘issues’ maybe that’s leaders’ fault

Um, Sally Boynton Brown?

If you’re trying to explain why Democratic voters didn’t turn out in sufficient numbers last November to deliver Florida to Hillary Clinton, I suggest a different approach than saying basically “they don’t get it.”

That’s not a direct quote from the newly hired executive director of the Florida Democratic Party, but it is the essence of her intemperate remarks at a progressive caucus gathering in Broward County.

The Miami New Times, on the scene at the event, quoted Brown saying, “This is not going to be popular, but this is my belief of the time and place we’re in now: I believe that we’re in a place where it’s very hard to get voters excited about ‘issues,’ the type of voters that are not voting.”

She was right about one thing: that isn’t popular. In fact, that’s just plain dumb.

First, let’s just say what everyone knows: She is effectively blaming lower-income people and minorities for her party’s problems, as if it’s their civic duty to vote for Democrats.

These are people profoundly affected by the issues of the day, and you can be damn sure they care about those things. If they aren’t voting, it’s because there is a disconnect between them and party leaders.

Democrats outnumber registered Republicans by more than 330,000 voters in Florida, according to state elections data. There also are about 3.5 million voters unaffiliated to either major party.

With numbers like that, how do Democrats keep losing?

Start with their message — or lack thereof.

Republicans have been consistent about how they want to shape state government: fewer regulations, pro-business, lower taxes, squash any attempt at gun control, charter school expansion.

Republicans repeat those talking points until they’re ingrained in voters’ minds, particularly the independents. It worked well enough to give the GOP and Donald Trump wins in 58 of Florida’s 67 counties last November.

Issues obviously matter to Republicans. Is Brown saying they’re more passionate and responsive than those of her party? If that’s the case, point the finger at the person looking back in the mirror.

Part of the problem, in my opinion, is that Democrats approached the last election with a cocksure smugness. They didn’t explain themselves to voters because their attitude seemed to be that no one would be dumb enough to vote for Trump.

Guess what, Dems? There are millions of people right here in Florida who believe all you want to do is take their guns and give their money to someone else. Democrats used to be the party of working people, but now are painted as the playground of Hollywood elite. It’s their own fault.

In the battle for the hearts and minds of the people, Democrats seem to have lost the zest for battling in the trenches.

One stray word from a Democrat about gun control can send the National Rifle Association into rapid response. Democrats have allowed themselves to be pushed, shoved, bullied and ultimately defeated, and yet their response always seems to be “How could you?”

That, Sally Boynton Brown, is the problem that you don’t get. If you want more people to turn out on Election Day for your candidates, they need a better reason than, “It’s your duty to vote for us because we’re not them.”

2 southwest Florida cities among nation’s fastest-growing

Two southwest Florida cities were among the nation’s fastest-growing last year.

The U.S. Census Bureau on Thursday said Bonita Springs and Fort Myers respectively had the 8th and 15th fastest growth rates in the nation.

Both cities are located in the Cape Coral-Fort Myers metro areas, and both had growth rates just under 5 percent.

In pure numbers, the city of Jacksonville and the city of Miami were among the nation’s leaders in population gains from July 2015 to July 2016.

The city of Jacksonville increased by almost 13,500 people, and the city of Miami increased by almost 13,000 people.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Clearwater cop fired for using excessive force on teenager

A Florida police officer was fired after an internal review found he used excessive force on a 13-year-old boy who had been involved in a fight at a youth shelter.

Clearwater Police Chief Dan Slaughter told reporters that 33-year-old Michael Leonardo made mistakes that “cannot be overlooked” when he responded to the call on April 2.

Surveillance video shows Leonardo grab the teen across the chest and slam him face-first onto a sidewalk outside the shelter. The boy chipped a tooth and had scratches on his face.

Leonardo told investigators he thought the boy was trying to escape. The boy said he tripped on his shoe, which could have come across as resisting the officer.

Two backup officers were given training and counseling for conduct after the takedown.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

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