Sunburn – The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics.
Today’s Rise and Shine Fact-iversary is brought to you by Sachs Media Group, the state’s dominant public affairs PR firm: In a moment that brought the world together, if briefly, three Apollo 8 astronauts produced one of the most watched broadcasts in television history on Christmas Eve 1968. Three days after their liftoff from Florida, the trio – Frank Borman, Jim Lovell and Bill Anders – began 10 lunar orbits, becoming the first humans to see the earth in its entirety and to see the dark side of the moon. Their broadcast, including a reading from the Book of Genesis, put a serene coda at the end of a tumultuous year. With the recent renewal in space exploration, perhaps we can look forward to seeing the first images of astronauts orbiting around Mars before too long.
Now, on to the ‘burn…
If the past year for our family can be summed up in a single word, “blessed” certainly comes to mind. Blessed by Ella Joyce’s continued good health, happiness, and development. Blessed by so many treasured moments, whether it be aboard (again) a Disney cruise or gathered around the fireplace in our new home. Blessed by the richness of so many considerate friends and blessed by continued professional prosperity. 2014 was one of the best years of our lives. Yet we’re so excited by the prospect of 2015. Best wishes to you and your family for a Merry Christmas, and may the New Year bring you boundless joy and success.
Sunburn will be off the rest of week, returning to inboxes December 28. Please check SaintPetersBlog.com and follow @SaintPetersBlog.com for any breaking news.
AP POLL: POLICE KILLINGS OF BLACKS VOTED TOP STORY OF 2014 via David Crary of the Associated Press
Here are 2014’s top 10 stories, in order:
POLICE KILLINGS: Michael Brown was unarmed and shot dead by a white police officer in Ferguson. In New York City, another unarmed black, Eric Garner, was killed after a white officer put him in a chokehold during an arrest for unauthorized cigarette sales.
EBOLA OUTBREAK: The first wave of Ebola deaths, early in the year, attracted little notice. By midsummer, it was the worst Ebola epidemic on record, with a death toll now approaching 7,000, mostly in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.
ISLAMIC STATE: Militant fighters from the Islamic State group startled the world with rapid, brutal seizures of territory in Iraq and Syria.
US ELECTIONS: For months, political oddsmakers sought to calculate if Republicans had a chance to gain control of the U.S. Senate. It turned out there was no suspense.
OBAMACARE: Millions more Americans signed up to be covered under President Obama’s health care initiative, but controversy about “Obamacare” raged on.
MALAYSIA AIRLINES MYSTERY: En route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 disappeared on March 8 with 239 people on board.
IMMIGRATION: Frustrated by an impasse in Congress, President Obama took executive actions in November to curb deportations for many immigrants residing in the U.S. illegally.
TURMOIL IN UKRAINE: A sometimes-bloody revolt that toppled President Viktor Yanukovych in February triggered a chain of events that continued to roil Ukraine as the year drew to a close.
GAY MARRIAGE: Due to a wave of federal court rulings, 19 more U.S. states began allowing same-sex marriages, raising the total to 35 states encompassing about 64 percent of the population.
VA SCANDAL: The Department of Veterans Affairs became embroiled in a nationwide scandal over allegations of misconduct and cover-ups. Several senior officials were fired or forced to resign, including VA Secretary Eric Shinseki.
DOW TOPS 18,000 ON GDP REPORT via Ryan Vlastelica of Reuters
U.S. stocks rose for a fifth straight session, with the Dow climbing above 18,000 for the first time ever after an unexpectedly strong report on economic growth.
Both the Dow and S&P 500 hit intraday records, and the S&P is on track for its 51st record close of 2014. The gains pushed the Dow as high as 18,051.14, and the blue-chip index is now up about 175 percent from a 12-year low hit on March 9, 2009.
The final estimate for third-quarter U.S. economic growth was revised up to a 5 percent annual pace, its quickest in 11 years and easily topping expectations calling for growth of 4.3 percent.
The report spurred a broad rally, with nine of the ten primary S&P 500 sectors higher on the day. The only group to fall was healthcare (.SPXHC), down 2.5 percent alongside a massive drop in biotech stocks.
The Nasdaq biotech index (.NBI) fell 5.4 percent, its biggest one-day decline since April 10. Components of the index made up the top six percentage decliners on the S&P; Celgene Corp (CELG.O) fell 8 percent to $104.49 while Biogen (BIIB.O) lost 6.6 percent to $329.14 and Regeneron Pharmaceuticals (REGN.O) lost 6 percent to $388.
In addition to the GDP report, data showed a solid rise in consumer spending while consumer sentiment hit its highest level in nearly eight years. Separately, durable goods orders unexpectedly fell in November while new home sales fell for a second straight month.
U.S. ECONOMY GREW AT FAST 5 PCT. ANNUAL RATE IN THIRD QUARTER via the Associated Press
The U.S. economy grew at a sizzling 5 percent annual rate in the July-September period, the fastest in more than a decade, boosted by strength in consumer spending and business investment.
The Commerce Department sharply revised up its estimate of third-quarter growth from a previous figure of 3.9 percent. Much of the strength came from consumer spending on health care and business spending on structures and computer software.
It was the fastest quarterly growth since the summer of 2003. It followed a 4.6 percent annual growth rate in the April-June quarter.
Most economists think growth is slowing to an annual rate of around 2.5 percent in the current October-December quarter. They foresee growth around 3 percent in 2015.
That would be the strongest figure since the economy expanded 3.3 percent in 2005, two years before the Great Recession began.
The 2007-2009 downturn, the worst since the 1930s, cost millions of people their jobs. Since then, the economy has struggled to regain full health. Even after the recession ended in June 2009, the economy has turned in mediocre growth rates averaging 2.2 percent annually.
With more people working and having money to spend, solid gains are expected in consumer spending, which accounts for about 70 percent of the economy.
***Things will be great when you’re downtown at 101 RESTAURANT and MINT Lounge in Tallahassee. 101 Restaurant has been voted the best meal in the Capitol City featuring steaks, seafood, and specialty cocktails. We offer $8.99 lunch specials all week long that include pastas, pizzas, burgers, wraps and salads. Mint Lounge is upscale and classy, and it’s the best place to enjoy live music and a good vibe. — $8.99 lunch specials; If you are not served in 15 minutes or less, your meal is on us! — Double Happy Hour 4:00-7:00 p.m. & 10:30 p.m.- 12:30 a.m. — Holiday gift card special, Buy $100 get $30 for FREE.***
STALKING SANTA: FOLLOW HIM ON HIS ROUNDS AROUND THE EARTH WITH SPECIAL NORAD TRACKER via JohnDruckenmiller.com
For almost 60 years, the North American Aerospace Defense has been tracking Santa’s flight around the world. It began with a wrong phone number. How NORAD tells the story: “The Director of Operations at the time, Col. Harry Shoup, had his staff check the radar for indications of Santa making his way south from the North Pole. Children who called were given updates on his location, and a tradition was born.” You can track Santa beginning Christmas Eve as he makes his rounds. The website offers additional information useful to kids and their parents. You’ll also find a countdown to when Santa takes off.
SANTA CLAUS IS COMIN’ TO #THISTOWN via Philip Bump and Chris Cillizza of The Washington Post
Is Kris Kringle a Republican or a Democrat? Politicians and pundits weigh in on the biggest question of Christmas.
WILL YOU GET A WHITE CHRISTMAS? via Clare Foran of the National Journal
If you’re dreaming of a white Christmas, you may be in luck.
According to a NOAA analysis, the U.S. has seen an overall uptick in the number of snowy days during the week of Christmas in the past two decades, compared with the previous two decades.
But all of that snow has not fallen evenly. The map below shows parts of the United States that have seen more snow-filled days marked in blue, while places where the number of snowy days has declined are shaded brown. The darker the color, the more stark the change.
To create the map, scientists at the Rutgers University Snow Lab calculated the change in the number of snow-covered days across the U.S. from 1990 to 2013 compared with 1966 to 1989.
Which states have gotten more snow at Christmas? New Hampshire and the southern half of Maine, along with central Iowa, western Virginia and North Carolina have all seen up to a 25 percent increase in the number of snowy days during the holiday week.
In contrast, much of Nebraska and parts of Montana and Oregon have seen as much as a 25 percent decrease in snow-covered days.
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FLASHBACK: CHRISTMAS EVE 2013 – “SCOTT LOSING EXPECTATIONS GAME TO CRIST” via Marc Caputo of the Miami Herald
FLORIDA STATE PARKS OPEN CHRISTMAS DAY Full story here
Christmas in the Sunshine State is undeniably unique, and a holiday visit to Florida State Parks can make the day even more exceptional.
Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Florida Park Service is inviting residents and visitors to spend Christmas at a state park or trail.
While some locations may be closed on Thursday, Dec. 25, most of Florida’s state parks and trails will be open 8 a.m. to sunset.
The holiday season is a perfect time for Florida residents to share award-winning state parks and trails with visitors and out-of-town guests. Florida’s state parks offer wonderful recreational opportunities, sure to keep friends and family active and happy.
“Florida is a wonderful place to visit during the holidays,” said Florida Park Service Director Donald Forgione. “Family and friends can escape from the colder weather and spend their time enjoying Florida’s natural treasures while they hike, bike or enjoy a walk at sunset at one of our state parks.”
With 171 state parks and trails, Florida offers an assortment of activities, from camping, biking and hiking to kayaking, boating and more. Many parks are also hosting special holiday-themed events.
***Today’s SUNBURN is sponsored by Corcoran & Johnston Government Relations. One of Florida’s Top Lobbying Firms, Corcoran & Johnston has demonstrated the ability to navigate government and successfully deliver results for clients, time and again. To learn more visit www.corcoranfirm.com.***
HOLIDAY RETAIL SALES: DOWN TO THE WIRE via the Associated Press
Despite an early start, sales data shows that stores may once again have to rely on procrastinators to save the holiday shopping season.
Sales were up 1.8 percent from Nov. 1 through Monday compared with the same period a year ago, according to data tracker First Data Corp., which declined to provide sales figures.
The numbers are modest considering the National Retail Federation, the nation’s largest retail trade group, expects sales for the entire season — November and December — to rise 4.1 percent to $616.9 billion.
The slow growth also comes at a time when retailers tried to do a number of things to jumpstart the season and encourage shoppers to spend. Some offered “holiday” discounts as early as Halloween instead of waiting until the day after Thanksgiving known as Black Friday. More stores opened on Thanksgiving Day itself to offer people early enticements to spend.
But the incentives seem to have backfired. Shoppers took advantage of the earlier sales and hours, but that had the effect of siphoning away sales from Black Friday, which is typically the biggest sales day of the year.
As a result of the modest sales, retailers are making a big final push to lure shoppers into stores. They are employing tactics they have had to use since the recession.
Dennis May, CEO and president of Hhgregg Inc., said the consumer electronics chain, added a “buy more, save-more” sales event for the week that ended Saturday. It also is extending the cutoff date for online shoppers who want to pick up their items in the store until noon Christmas Eve. Last year, the cutoff date was Dec. 23.
HOLIDAY SHOPPERS ARE SPLURGING ON PET GIFTS via Shan Li of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel
In another sign of the rising status of animals in U.S. households: Fluffy and Scout are scoring big this holiday season. Shoppers scrambling to buy Christmas and Hanukkah presents are picking up something special for their furry and feathered companions too.
During November and December, the average shopper is expected to spend $30.43 on pet gifts, up 14.2% from the same period a year earlier, according to the National Retail Federation. In comparison, spending on family is forecast to increase 6.5% to $459.87 and buying for friends is predicted to rise 6.7% to $80.
Sniffing an opportunity, big-box retailers and specialty boutiques alike have rushed out gift sets, party outfits and luxurious spa treatments — all for pets. There are even pet stockings to hang by the chimney with care.
The $58-billion pet industry is working extra hard to win over besotted owners.
Wal-Mart enjoys its highest sales of dog and cat treats during the last two months of the year, spokesperson Sarah McKinney said. “We see parents getting toys for their 5-year-old and also toys for their 5-year-old dog and cat,” McKinney said. “They are definitely adding more to the basket.”
Not only do more people own pets — nearly 70% of U.S. households, up from 56% in 1988 — but many are treating their cats and dogs as they would a friend or family member, said Bob Vetere, chief executive of the American Pet Products Assn.
The pets-as-people trend was unleashed by twenty- and thirtysomethings who are waiting to have offspring, and empty nesters whose critters are replacements for adult children.
LOWEST GAS PRICES ON XMAS SINCE 2008, AAA PREDICTS via Doreen Hemlock of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel
Here’s a welcome holiday gift: Gas prices should be the lowest on Christmas Day since 2008 and dip below $2 per gallon at some Florida stations next week, according to travel club AAA.
Those lower prices are spurring forecasts of heaviest year-end road travel since AAA began keeping records in 2001.
Already, gas is selling below $2 per gallon at some stations in Tennessee and Georgia. The cheapest prices in Florida — $2.10 a gallon — can be found around Jacksonville. Prices are continuing to drop largely because of increased U.S. oil production, AAA said in its weekly gas price update.
If prices keep falling at a rate of 2 cents a day, gas could sell below $2 by the end of this week at some Florida stations, AAA said. South Florida prices run higher than other areas in the state because of higher taxes.
The price for regular gas in Broward County averaged $2.59 per gallon, down by 11 cents from a week earlier and down 83 cents from a year ago. The price in Palm Beach County averaged $2.63 per gallon, down by 10 cents from a week earlier and by 84 cents from a year ago.
On average, Americans are saving $13 for a tank of gas compared to this time last year. If prices remain at these levels, households will save $550 next year, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
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CENSUS: FLORIDA SURPASSES NY AS NATION’S 3RD MOST POPULOUS STATE via David Smiley of the Miami Herald
Florida’s rapid growth has propelled the Sunshine State past New York as the nation’s third most populous state, according to newly released figures by the U.S. Census Bureau.
From July 1, 2013 to July 1 this year, Florida added 803 new residents each day, growing its population by 293,000 up to a total of 19.9 million, according to figures released Tuesday. New York’s population grew slightly, to 19.7 million.
California remains the nation’s most populous state with 38.8 million residents, followed by Texas at 27 million.
The United States as a whole saw its population increase by 2.4 million to 318.9 million.
Florida’s population grew at a faster clip than the country, and only California and Texas saw larger increases.
The Census Bureau produces population estimates each year. Local governments use estimates to locate services, and estimates are used by the private sector to locate businesses, according to the bureau.
COUNTY ASKS JUDGE TO CLARIFY GAY MARRIAGE RULING via The Associated Press
The county at the center of Florida’s gay marriage debate wants a judge to clarify his order allowing a same-sex couple to obtain a marriage license there.
In a motion filed late Tuesday, Washington County asked a federal judge to say whether his ruling applies to just one couple or to any same-sex couple seeking a marriage license in the county.
The Panhandle county became the focus of Florida’s gay marriage debate after a lawsuit filed by two men seeking to be married there became a key basis for the judge’s ruling that the state’s same-sex marriage ban is unconstitutional. The judge put the ruling on hold until Jan. 5.
Many of Florida’s county clerks say the ruling applies only to Washington County.
EDITORIAL: RULING WAS CLEAR: MARRIAGE EQUALITY FOR FLORIDA via the Tampa Bay Times
In an ideal world, when a federal judge declares that a state measure violates the U.S. Constitution, Florida officials wouldn’t need a road map to do the right thing. But four months after a federal judge struck down Florida’s ban on same-sex marriages, apparently more guidance is needed. The cleanest solution is likely for U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle to confirm what he probably feels he already said in the eloquent 33-page ruling he penned in August: Florida’s limit on whom someone can marry is unconstitutional and any same-sex couple seeking to exercise the right to marry should not be denied — no matter which Florida county they reside in.
Last week, all eyes turned to Florida’s elected court clerks to begin preparations for granting same-sex couples marriage licenses after the U.S. Supreme Court rejected Attorney General Pam Bondi’s request to extend past Jan. 5 the stay Hinkle had placed on his ruling. But even as headlines proclaimed gay marriage was coming to Florida, behind the scenes there had been reservations for months in the clerks’ ranks, fueled by the risk-averse warning from the Greenberg Traurig law firm, the clerks’ association counsel, that any likely court ruling may not be binding on any clerk other than those named in a lawsuit.
Then a follow-up letter from the law firm last week warned that if clerks — other than the Washington County clerk who was named in the case — issued wedding licenses to same-sex couples they risked criminal prosecution under Florida law that still bans such unions. On Tuesday, Lora Bell, the newly elected Washington clerk, asked the judge to clarify exactly who is bound by his order.
The irony, of course, is that the Washington County clerk wasn’t the only defendant in the case; so was the state of Florida. And in declaring the 2008 state constitutional amendment banning gay marriages unconstitutional under the U.S. Constitution, Hinkle never even appeared to entertain the idea his ruling would be interpreted with such a pinched view. Ideally, more state attorneys would follow the lead of Palm Beach State Attorney Dave Aronberg, a former state senator, who has announced he won’t prosecute any clerk who issues a marriage license to a same-sex couple. This has never been a question of whether court clerks are performing their ministerial duties properly, but whether the state’s limits on those duties violate fundamental rights. Hinkle was clear that they do.
Of course there remains a risk that Hinkle will be overturned. Progress on civil rights is not always linear. But it’s worth noting that while the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court have yet to hear an appeal on the substance of Hinkle’s ruling, both have now denied Bondi’s request that they extend Hinkle’s stay past Jan. 5 — paving the way for gay marriage to begin in Florida on Jan. 6.
And the mere momentum in Florida and across the nation shows the clear path forward. By one count, same-sex marriage advocates have lost just four of 60 cases since the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act last year. Florida’s elected officials should be more interested in upholding Floridians’ constitutional rights than complying with a state law rooted in bigotry.
NAACP CALLS ON SUPREME COURT TO PRESERVE DISPUTED DEMOCRATIC DISTRICT Full story here
The Florida NAACP is asking the state Supreme Court to preserve a disputed congressional district between Jacksonville to Orlando designed to help elect black lawmakers.
Represented by Democratic U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, the district was the foundation of an extended legal battle over possible violations of Florida’s anti-gerrymandering Fair Districts amendment.
This summer, a Leon County circuit judge ruled in favor of the League of Women Voters of Florida and other voting-rights groups in finding unconstitutional the congressional maps drawn by Republican state lawmakers in 2012. The Legislature then held a special session to change the map, but the revised version also forced a legal challenge now pending at the Supreme Court.
Although Brown’s Congressional District 5 changed during the special session, it still stretches from Orlando to Jacksonville. In a brief filed by the NAACP the last week, maintaining CD 5 is crucial for representation of black voters.
“The Florida NAACP’s involvement in the instant litigation was triggered by an attack on a district — Congressional District 5 — that was the result of its advocacy to remedy the decades of political exclusion that black voters in North-Central Florida faced,” the NAACP brief said. “The district is necessary still today to ensure that its members in the region are afforded representation of their choice.”
Groups opposed to the map filed another brief last month criticizing District 5, saying it helped Republicans in surrounding areas by filling one district with Democratic voters.
According to that brief: “Revised District 5 remains a bizarrely shaped, grossly non-compliant district that both benefits the Republican Party by leaching Democrats from surrounding areas and marginalizes minorities by denying them an additional opportunity district in Central Florida.
BILL WILL GIVE FLORIDA CABINET SAY IN CHOOSING CORRECTIONS CHIEF Full story here
Sen. Rob Bradley seeks to revamp how Florida chooses its Department of Corrections secretary, giving some of the responsibility to Cabinet members. Currently, only the governor is responsible for appointing the DOC secretary.
Bradley, a Fleming Island Republican, filed SB 212 on Tuesday, a bill that would require Cabinet members to sign off on appointments that serve “at the pleasure of the governor and Cabinet.”
As the chair of the influential Senate Criminal and Civil Justice Appropriations Subcommittee, Bradley is a leader on criminal-justice issues.
The bill, set for consideration during the 2015 legislative session, come after the DOC became the target of inquiries over inmate deaths and alleged misconduct by prison guards. The measure would create a nine-member Florida Corrections Commission to oversee the agency.
The commission would perform inspections of prison facilities, identify facilities with problems and monitor claims of violence concerning inmates and officers.
This month, Gov. Rick Scott appointed Julie Jones, who served as director of the state Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, to lead the Department of Corrections. Jones replaces Mike Crews, who stepped down last month.
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APPOINTED: Judge Ross L. Bilbrey to First District Court of Appeal.
APPOINTED: Samuel Salario and Judge Matthew Lucas to the Second District Court of Appeal.
APPPOINTED: Howard K. Coates, Kirk C. Volker, and Edward Artau to the Fifteenth Judicial Circuit Court.
AWAY MESSAGE OF THE DAY via Melissa Joiner Ramba – “I will be out of the office until January 2nd but as a true electronic addict I will be checking my email periodically.”
THE HOLIDAY SEASON IS BROUGHT TO YOU BY THESE LOBBYISTS AND POLITICAL ORGANIZATIONS
If you aren’t already experiencing a bit of “SALE!!” fatigue from the month-long blitz of email blasts attempting to draw you in for holiday shopping sprees, it is likely you will by the New Year. But to counter the incessant advertising (and much-welcome coupons), at least cute holiday photo cards from your friends and their kids and pets will accompany them. This month is a big one for the U.S. Postal Service.
Staggering statistic: about 40 percent of USPS revenue comes from online purchases. And, in January, 2014, it was reported that USPS delivered nearly 90 million packages, or about 10 million packages per day, in the days leading up to Christmas.
But this column isn’t just about holiday mail traffic. It’s about the organizations and individuals who keep the political wheels turning behind the scenes to ensure we keep the holiday spirit alive, year after year.
I’ll begin with the big retailers — some online, some just down the street — whose products are gifted and re-gifted and exchanged and returned, opened beneath trees and around menorahs, at office gift exchanges and in the sharing of charity with strangers.
Three partners share responsibility for lobbying Florida lawmakers for Amazon.com: Brian Ballard, Carol Bracy and Mathew Forrest; and one firm, Metz, Husband & Daughton, keeps the political boat a’sail for eBay.com in Florida waters. Thank Jim Daughton, Warren Husband, Aimee Diaz Lyon, Steve Metz, Andy Palmer, Patricia Green, and Gregory Black for that. Then, there’s Justin Sayfie, who alone lobbies for Google in Florida, the search engine that most likely brought you to those Amazon or eBay products to begin with.
Target, Wal-Mart and Best Buy share the distinction of being giants both in the brick-and-mortar and online retail worlds. For its Florida political needs, Target works with Acooa Ellis, David Griffin, Robert Stuart Jr., and Jason Unger; Best Buy with Chip Case alone; and Wal-Mart with a rock star team including Melissa Akeson, Michael Cantens, Michael Corcoran, Jeff Johnston, and four others.
Then, there’s the organization making it click — literally, and figuratively — in Florida’s universe of all things consumer: the Florida Retail Federation. Randy Miller is joined by the whizzes at Johnston & Blanton, as well as by Melissa Joyner Ramba, Samantha Padgett, Todd Steibly, Cameron Yarbrough and many more, to make this happen.
But, wait! How can we be talking about the holiday season without looking at who works on behalf of its spiritual core?
Representing the Florida Catholic Conference are three truly dedicated experts: Ingrid Delgado, James Herzog, and Michael Sheedy; and with the Florida Association of Jewish Federations, you have Mario Bailey, Bernie Friedman and Yolanda Cash Jackson to thank for their commitments, too. David Barkey also lobbies in Florida on behalf of the Anti-Defamation League.
Nationally on the religious/lobbying scene, the Christian Coalition, once a lobbying giant, has been effectively dormant for years. They dropped from spending a high of over $6 million on lobbying in 1998 to nothing over the past few years. Likewise, the Christian Coalition of Florida no longer retains a registered lobbyist.
Catholic Charities spends about $180,000 each year lobbying our federal government, while the American Jewish Committee spends about $130,000 per year doing the same. The Republican Jewish Coalition spent $60,000 so far in 2014 on lobbying, but gave $243,900 in contributions to candidates this year. Comparatively, in 2014, the National Jewish Democratic Council spent nothing on lobbying efforts, and gave $500 in contributions. Nationally, the Anti-Defamation League spent $160,000 on lobbying in 2013 and $80,000 reported so far this year.
Your Christmas trees are brought to you — at least when it comes to the political side of the industry — lobbyists Lee Ann Fisch, Alan Shelby and Jim Spratt, who represent the Florida Forestry Association.
And, to come full circle, we’ll return to those who work on behalf of those who deliver the millions of packages to our doorsteps each year. The Greeting Card Association holds up its weight on the national scene with spending of about $100,000 on lobbying so far in 2014 — a figure consistent with the past many years of reporting. But it is the FedEx Corporation that registers as a truly “heavy hitter” in its annual political activity. FedEx contributions for the 2014 election cycle rang in at $1.9 million, giving the company a rank of 121 out of over 16,000 groups. Lobbying expenditures are even more impressive: $12.2 million in 2013 and $9.6 million reported for 2014 so far — landing FedEx a rank of 23 out of 4,252 lobbying entities in 2014.
Nobody lobbies for your neighborhood carolers, however. And, nobody needs to. There are some things that are above the political fray. And holiday cheer — in whatever form it takes for you — needs no intervention from lawmakers to bring.
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CONTEXT FLORIDA: RICK SCOTT CHRISTMAS, RESOLUTIONS, CUBAN INSANITY AND “LEGAL” POT
On Context Florida: In a Christmas letter to Gov. Rick Scott, Daniel Tilson says it is not the time to instruct staff to delete leftover sensitive emails or texts from the past year. Nor is it time to claim credit for an economic recovery that most of us do not see in our incomes, debt loads, savings accounts or progress up the economic ladder. Marc Yacht decided this year to give greater thought to his resolution. The objectives: become a better husband and father, a healthier specimen, less angry and saner. The Cuban embargo is a spectacular example of insanity, says Martin Dyckman. After almost 53 years, it still is nowhere near to bestowing liberty on the Cuban people, which is supposedly the purpose. President Barack Obama’s decision to push for normalized relations with Cuba eventually can provide new access to special smoking materials for Floridians and tourists. Jac Wilder VerSteeg is not talking about Cohibas, but “legal” marijuana.
‘FROZEN’ IS NAMED TOP ENTERTAINER OF THE YEAR BY AP Full story here
If you have children, or know someone who does, or just listened to one recently, the choice of Associated Press Entertainer of the Year won’t come as much of a shock: It’s “Frozen,” and in 2014, we just couldn’t let it go.
Although the animated film opened late in 2013, the story of Elsa, Anna, Olaf, Kristoff and Sven easily outpaced other vote getters like “Sherlock” star Benedict Cumberbatch, TV guru Shonda Rimes, musicians Beyonce and Pharrell Williams, and even an entry for the culture’s fixation on the female rear.
In 47 ballots submitted by members and subscribers of The AP, “Frozen” won 12 votes. Taylor Swift had 8. Matthew McConaughey and Jimmy Fallon were tied for third with 7 votes each. Voters were asked to consider who had the most influence on entertainment and culture in 2014.
“Frozen” has earned Disney more than $1.27 billion at the box office worldwide, becoming the most successful animated movie of all time. Its signature song, “Let It Go,” won an Oscar, and a national touring live version on ice has been a huge draw. The lines of girls wearing sparkly dresses waiting for a chance to see Elsa and Anna at Disneyland are staggering. “Frozen” was the most searched movie in 2014, according to Google.
The film’s gravitational pull has now supplanted Barbie as No. 1 on the holiday wish lists of girls, according to a survey by the National Retail Federation. Barbie had been the queen for 11 years in a row, but felt a chill this year from the kingdom of Arendelle.
One Entertainer of the Year voter said the film had layers of magic: “‘Frozen’ has become nearly unavoidable. Before seeing the movie, I knew the names of each main character as well as the theme song. But it’s more than that. Sisterhood is something so important to little girls whether they are an only child or have 10 siblings,” wrote Jill Harry of The Derrick and The News-Herald of Oil City, Pa.
“Frozen” now becomes the eighth AP Entertainer of the Year. Past titleholders include Jennifer Lawrence, Adele, Lady Gaga, Tina Fey, Betty White, Taylor Swift and Stephen Colbert.
WHAT WE’RE SEARCHING FOR via Seth Stephens-Davidowitz of the New York Times
Google searches for “depression” are the lowest on Christmas and the days surrounding it. Over Christmas week, searches for “depression” are 10 to 20 percent below average, which is a highly significant difference. But it’s not just depression that drops. Searches for “anxiety” and “suicide” plummet during the holiday season.
I am not sure what it says about me, but I have chosen to spend the early part of the holiday season analyzing publicly available Google data. I am not alone in this obsession. Recently, Christopher Ingraham of The Washington Post reported that his 2014 “misery index,” based on a variety of Google searches, was lowest on Christmas.
If you think that the phenomenon of Christmas uplift is just a quirk of a new, funky data set, consider Gallup surveys. I downloaded four years of Gallup mood data. On average, Americans report substantially elevated levels of happiness and decreased levels of stress on Christmas, New Year’s and the surrounding days. Also contrary to popular belief, suicides drop around the holidays.
This does not mean the holidays are a time of uncomplicated joy for everyone. But by studying the patterns made by millions of Google searches, we can get a remarkably detailed view not only of how our thoughts and emotions change around the holidays, but of how they ebb and flow throughout the year.
Consider searches related to “loneliness.” These searches mostly consist of people looking for quotations or song lyrics about loneliness, which might be comforting to the lonely. Dec. 25 is the eighth-highest day for loneliness searches. First and second are Feb. 14 and Feb. 15.
Even more interesting is the pattern of “divorce” searches. These generally show only a small amount of seasonality, but there is a notable drop in the run-up to Christmas and a significant rise in the 10 days following Christmas.
What explains the post-Christmas surge of interest in divorce? Google searches for other terms help make that clear. First, Christmas allows for some reflection about family life. Searches for “dysfunctional family” reach their highest point every year around Christmas. Searches that include the word “hate” and a family member — “mom,” “dad,” “husband” or “wife,” for example — also rise on and around Christmas.
Second, whether consciously or subconsciously, people delay bad events until after the holidays. Dec. 26 is the date with the highest search rate for “doctor,” following a dip leading up to the holidays. Our bodies even somehow manage to delay trouble: Health researchers previously found a 33 percent increase in heart attacks in the four days after Christmas.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY to my friend Patrick Slevin (December 25). An early birthday wish to Skylar Zander (December 27).