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Ask Amy: Parents worry Santa is delivering a toy that will ‘reinforce gender stereotypes’

Mon, 12/04/2023 - 05:57

Dear Amy: My husband and I have a daughter, “Emma.” She is three.

We are thoughtful and responsible parents (at least we think so…).

We have a question about gift-giving.

Our daughter goes to a nursery school program a couple of mornings a week, and it’s going very well.

While at school, she loves to play with a miniature kitchen set. It’s got a little sink and a pretend stove with pots and pans.

We told my sister that we are thinking about getting a version of this for our daughter for Christmas (my sister also has children), but she is strongly disapproving because, as she says, this sort of toy “reinforces gender stereotypes.”

Now we feel weird about it and decided to seek your take.

— Wondering Parents

Dear Wondering: Many parents are concerned about reinforcing gender stereotypes … right up until that moment when their toddler son really loves to play with his cousin’s toy bulldozer, or their daughter falls in love with a Tiny Tammy doll.

Are you willing to deny your child the joy and learning experience of playing with an object she really loves in order to please your sister, or to pat yourselves on the back about adhering consistently to your powerful ideals?

I hope not.

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In my opinion, you have absorbed the very real issue of gender stereotyping in a sideways fashion.

The idea is not to deny your child toys that are stereotypically associated with their gender, but to expansively offer them toys and experiences that are typically associated with any gender.

You might think of play (like gender) as occurring across a spectrum that the child has the power and autonomy to determine as they go — not the parents (or, for that matter, the marketing departments of toy companies).

And so — if your son wants a Tiny Tammy doll, he should receive it and be encouraged/allowed to play with it, and if your daughter chooses to wash her toy bulldozer in her pretend kitchen sink, then more power to her.

The boundary I would draw (this Christmas and on into the future) is around toys that encourage violence or mimic weaponry.

(And yes, we all know that your daughter can pretend her wiffleball bat is a gun, but at the end of the day, she knows it’s a wiffleball bat.)

Dear Amy: My mother died five years ago.

I financially supported my stepfather for three of those five years, and spent quality time with him.

He met another woman and deliberately hid the fact that he was dating her from me and my sister.

He decided to sell the house I grew up in. He wouldn’t tell me where he was moving to.

Now my sister is angry with me, because I choose not to participate in her family gatherings, which he attends with his new partner.

This man refused to tell me the truth, after I asked him repeatedly.

The members of my mother’s family have disowned me for it.

Am I in the wrong?

— JD

Dear JD: Let’s say that I could somehow magically determine that you are “right.”

Would it then fix things for you to present an Ask Amy Certificate of Rightness to your family members?

I doubt it.

So let me sidestep trying to determine whether your behavior is wrong.

This is more a social and family dilemma than an ethical one.

I don’t know why your stepfather is avoiding you.

Perhaps he is worried that you believe he owes you money (because of your previous financial support).

He might be ashamed of some of his own actions, and too embarrassed to face you.

He might be cowardly overall, or legitimately afraid of you.

Your family members seem to have circled the wagons around this man, and your reaction has placed you outside the circle.

If you were open to it — versus only defending your own position — you might take a look around and at least ask yourself what you might be doing to inspire your entire family to disengage from you.

Dear Amy: Responding to “TikToked-Off,” like them I used to feel uncomfortable having my photo and video taken.

I had a friend who would film no matter what I said.

This friend died suddenly and now looking at the videos frozen in time helps me grapple with my loss and closure.

From my perspective, unless you’re in the witness protection program or filmed indecently you may someday truly treasure those captured moments.

— Remembered

Dear Remembered: I genuinely appreciate your perspective. Thank you.

(You can email Amy Dickinson at askamy@amydickinson.com or send a letter to Ask Amy, P.O. Box 194, Freeville, NY 13068. You can also follow her on Twitter @askingamy or Facebook.)

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A wet future: South Florida’s plan to fight flooding if sea levels rise 3 feet by 2075

Mon, 12/04/2023 - 04:20

Everyone had to soak: South Florida’s western suburbs faced rain floods, and coastal properties were inundated by king tides.

Last month, over the course of a few days, 12 inches of rain fell on much of Broward and Miami-Dade counties. As western suburbs began to flood, king tides pushed in from the ocean, and there was nowhere for the floodwater to go.

Twenty years ago, the South Florida Water Management District would have simply opened spillways and sent the flood water to the ocean. But not this time. The king tides were just as high or higher than the flood waters to the west.

This scenario is a harbinger of things to come for South Florida, as sea-level rise creeps inland and storms become more intense. The multitude of canals and spillways that drain Miami-Dade and Broward counties are becoming obsolete, and the Army Corps of Engineers and SFWMD are concerned enough to hatch a plan.

“We experienced that in the southern Miami canals,” SFWMD Director Drew Bartlett said during a resiliency panel discussion at the recent Southeast Florida Regional Climate Leadership Summit. “As the storms were coming, we couldn’t do anything to lower the canals because the tides were too high. You could open the gate two to three hours a day to try to get some water out to prepare for that storm, then when the storm hit, you had to wait for the canal water to get to a level that was higher than the coast to let it out.”

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The plan, currently in an exploratory phase known as the 216 Study, will end up being very complex and very expensive. In a nutshell, the entire flood control system of South Florida, built in the 1950s and ’60s when Florida had a population of 5 million people, relies on gravity.

We now have a population of 22 million, with less open space to absorb rainfall. Sea levels have risen 8 inches since 1950, according to Florida State’s Florida Climate Center, and NOAA projects them to be 3 feet higher than they are now by 2075.

As sea levels rise, gravity will no longer do the trick. Most, if not all, of the canals and spillways, which send water east toward the Atlantic, will need pumps to keep the western two-thirds of the region from flooding during heavy rain events.

Bartlett said that it’s not the coastal communities that benefit from these plans, as much as the inland communities. “These canals run all the way to the Everglades. … It’s not a coastal issue. It’s an urban-area issue.”

South Florida Water Management DistrictA map showing the network of canals in Broward and Miami-Dade counties. The gravity-driven canals drain flood water, but they are becoming obsolete as sea levels rise. (South Florida Water Management District)

“You used to be able to operate (spillway) gates whenever you needed to,” said Broward County’s chief resiliency officer Jennifer Jurado. “Now, because of the amount of sea-level rise, there are times when you can’t open them, and you have to wait several hours, and of course several hours can generate massive volumes of water that could then take extensive time to discharge.” In other words, vast inland flooding.

Jurado said that 75% of Broward’s taxable real estate lies on the west side of the flood gates, making the 216 Study crucial to the region’s future.

South Florida Water Management DistrictThis map show the areas upstream from the flood control spillways, in orange, and the areas downstream from the spillways in green. Orange areas cannot remove flood water when king tides, or the sea level rise of the future, match the water levels in the orange areas. (South Florida Water Management District)

If everything goes to plan, the Army Corps of Engineers and SFWMD would install 20 pumps in the matrix of canals in Miami-Dade and Broward counties. “Some gates would be raised in height, but we would also have to tie in the gates to higher lands,” said SFWMD resiliency officer Carolina Maran.

The need for taller gates is not lost on Jurado. “Water can actually lap over the top of some of the gates during extremely high tides,” she said.

Gauging sea-level rise

The “study” phase means the Army Corps of Engineers is asking lots of questions about what life looks like 100 years from now in South Florida, and what the flood infrastructure will need to be to protect it, said Col. James Booth of the Army Corps of Engineers during the panel discussion. “The Corps is taking into consideration what sea-level rise curves we’re going to be using, what’s actually going on with rain intensification, are we using the right models? Are we designing a system that’s ready to handle that?”

In an email, Tim Gysan, the Corps’ project manager for the study, and lead hydraulic engineer Amanda Bredesen, said that their study will assess sea-level rise across the project life cycle of 50 years, from 2035 to 2085, and will be “evaluated under low, intermediate, and high sea-level rise scenarios to determine the overall project performance.” The low scenario shows 1.2 feet of rise since 1992, intermediate shows 2 feet or rise and the high scenario predicts 4.4 feet of rise since 1992.

Army Corps of EngineersThis Army Corps of Engineers graph shows three different South Florida sea-level rise scenarios projected for the year 2085. (Army Corps of Engineers)

Maran said SFWMD is doing its own sea-level rise modeling. “When we run our studies we look at plus-one feet, plus-two feet and plus-three feet of sea-level rise.”

According to NOAA, plus-three feet will be the sea-level rise in the year 2075. NOAA uses various models, and Maran said 3 feet by 2075 was an “intermediate” scenario.

The most vulnerable spot in Broward

SFWMD studies show that the most vulnerable spot in Broward are gates in C14 West Basin, which encompasses Tamarac, Coconut Creek, North Lauderdale and Margate adjacent to the Stranahan River. They only provide service for a five-year event.

“One of the big reasons, of course, is the higher sea levels,” Maran said. “But it’s also because development occurred in this basin, and when we have a five-year rainfall event, we already see some ponding — the capacity of the system is undersized for the development we have there.”

The Middle River spillway in Oakland Park shows higher water on the inland side, and low water on the downstream side. During king tides, or as sea levels rise, salt water can breach the top of the spillway, making flood control impossible. (Mike Stocker/South Florida Sun Sentinel)

Maran said that a five-year rain event or a 50-year rain event mean different things in different flood basins, so she could not say what that specific amount of rain would be countywide.

Adding canal storage

Jurado said that in addition to beefing up gates and adding pumps, the county should consider making canals larger to hold more water.

The Army Corps study does not currently address this. “We may need to be able to hold more water for longer periods of time, and you can’t do that without widening the cross section, which might mean dredging deeper, wider, and elevating banks. So that’s something that we would intend to take up,” she said.

Who’s going to pay for all this?

This a vastly expensive tentative plan, with costs in the billions of dollars.

Each gate and therefore each pump is different, but the ballpark cost to design, build and install each pump is $100 million, Maran said.

Bartlett said SFWMD is chasing funding sources with federal and state partners, and that the Army Corps of Engineers is a “partner for funding and expertise.”

Booth said he wants to get the plan considered by congress for the Water Resources Development Act of 2026.

If the Corps’ chief of engineers approves the recommendations, Congress can consider it for approval. Then comes appropriations and detailed designs.

Another concern is drinking water supplies. “Typically (we) have gates close to prevent salt water from coming inland. The gates protect the water supplies,” Jurado said.

South Florida Water Management DistrictThis map shows the encroaching saltwater intrusion line around Fort Lauderdale. The dotted black line is for 2009. The dotted green line is for 2014 and the red line is for 2019. (South Florida Water Management District)

Fresh water from the Everglades is one of the primary buffers against saltwater intrusion.

Bartlett said that’s why the Comprehensive Everglade Restoration Plan, which congress passed in 2000 but which has languished in fits and starts, is so crucial.

“We’re trying to get more water in the Everglades to supply that head to keep the saltwater out. Trying to keep the water in the canals and keep the saltwater from coming in the canals has that same effect.” Expanding canal volume with higher gates and deeper canals would aid that effort.

More than pumps

Three feet of sea-level rise may require more than just pumps.

“It’s going to become challenging with additional sea-level rise because the coastal areas that are not behind a gate are subject to what’s happening tidally. With time, we might choose to add additional gates, to expand the areas farther east that is provided flood protection by these gates,” Jurado said.

“Or we might find that there’s a need for some other sort of tidal barrier that is enclosing these areas. It could be that there are areas that with enough sea-level rise we’re just pulling back, and in time we might not occupy that area.”

Jurado said that Broward does not have a “managed retreat” policy, but that the 216 Study could illuminate the situation.

“The study and adaptation strategies that we put in place will reveal areas that longer-term might look difficult in terms of residential occupancy. But it would be premature to offer conjecture as to where those areas might be.”

ASK IRA: Did the Pacers crack the code of the Heat’s defense?

Mon, 12/04/2023 - 04:05

Q: Ira, did the Pacers crack the code? If I’m an opposing team, I’m attacking off the dribble at every opportunity. – Gary.

A: And opponents might well do that, if they have the personnel to do that. And that means also shooting from the 3-point line like Indiana did on Saturday night, when they went 16 of 32 from beyond the arc. But also consider that Bam Adebayo was out Saturday and that Haywood Highsmith was lost 2:47 into the game. The Heat have better point-of-attack defenders, they just weren’t available against the Pacers. Still, it was sobering enough that Erik Spoelstra assuredly will have a Plan B if needed, be it with his strategy or his rotation.

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Q: Ira, did you notice that beyond Kyle Lowry’s eight rebounds, no one on the Heat had more than five Saturday? Small ball loses again. – Chris.

A: When the opposition shoots .659 and when the Heat shoot .539, there aren’t that many rebounds to be secured. Other than Myles Turner’s 10 rebounds, no one on the Pacers had more than five, either.  But it would have been nice to see more off the boards for the Heat from Orlando Robinson, Kevin Love and Caleb Martin. It also says something that even on a night limited to 28 rebounds, Erik Spoelstra still had no inclination to play Thomas Bryant or Nikola Jovic.

Q: The Heat were better off not making the In-Season Tournament. Instead of getting the Bucks, Knicks, Pacers or Celtics, they get to get the Raptors and Cavaliers. – Ken.

A: And there is something to be said about the imbalance in schedules created for teams that advance to the knockout round of the NBA’s latest novelty. But the road trip to Toronto becomes protracted due to customs and immigration, with the Heat to stay overnight in Toronto and then fly back Thursday, the day before hosting the Cavaliers. And in Cleveland, the Heat have to again face the Cavaliers’ height amid the uncertainty with Bam Adebayo, with Cleveland likely seeking retribution for their 129-96 home loss to the Heat on Nov. 22.

How to flock a real Christmas tree with spray snow

Sun, 12/03/2023 - 23:13
Step-by-step guide to flocking your Christmas tree

The quintessential view of Christmas morning is one in which the family is gathered, opening presents around a snow-kissed tree. However, few people know that you can make this dream a reality.

A little-known process called “flocking” can make your Christmas tree look like a scene out of your favorite Christmas movie. This means that flocking your tree can make it look like it’s just been powdered by a fresh sprinkling of snow.

What equipment do you need for flocking a Christmas tree?

The good news is that almost any tree can be given a snow-kissed glow by flocking. However, to kick off, you need to know what you need and get familiar with the steps before you are confident enough to get going.

To flock a tree, the first thing you’re going to need is a tree. Using a natural tree is best for this process. It’s not advisable to use a fiber optic or self-lighting tree, as flocking could cause excessive heat build-up or even an electrical fire.

Next, you are going to need snow flocking and a sieve. Finally, you’re going to need a spray bottle and a hose with a mist spray setting so you can flock effectively. It’s also advisable to use a step ladder so you can flock the tree vertically, just like it would happen naturally.

Steps for flocking a real Christmas tree with spray snow  Set up the tree

The first thing you need to do is prepare the tree. Make sure your real Christmas tree is properly secured onto a base. Once the tree is upright and stable, you need to take it outside as you don’t want to get your home covered in artificial snow. If you have a deck outside, sit the tree next to it so you can get above it later on in the process. Alternatively, prepare a step ladder with a partner to make sure you are safe.

Check the weather conditions

It’s also wise to check the weather conditions before getting going. You want to avoid windy or rainy conditions while being mindful that the process could take anywhere from half an hour to 2 full hours, depending on the size of your tree.

Water and flock the tree 

Once your tree is outside and set up, you’re going to spray the entire tree with water. This spray should be light and sprayed consistently up and down and also around the tree. This will ensure that the snow flock stays on the tree when it’s ready to be applied.

Next, get the snow flock ready. You should get a large lunch box or dish and put all your snow flocking in it. After that, get up on your ladder and, using the sieve, shake out the snow top-down and workaround. Using your other hand, make sure that you spray water out simultaneously. This will ensure that the tree looks lightly dusted with snow, just like it would on Christmas morning.

Hose the tree down

Now that the tree is flocked, it’s essential to hose or spray down the tree. This can be done with either a hosepipe on a low mist function or with a spray bottle. Starting from the top and working down and around, lightly mist the tree, making sure not to spray the flock off.

What you need to buy for flocking a real Christmas tree

SnoFlock Original Premium Self-Adhesive Snow Flock Powder ]

This particular brand of snow flock will give your tree the light, brisk snow-kissed look you desire. What’s more, the thickness and breakability of the flock will allow you to put the flock in a sieve and evenly distribute it around the tree.

Cuisinart Set of Three Fine Mesh Stainless Steel Strainers ]

This set of three strainers will allow you to spread your flock consistently across wider and narrower sections of the tree. Moreover, you can use it for cooking throughout the rest of the year.

Komax Extra Large Food Storage Bins with Lids ]

This large container will allow you to load your flock so that you can hand-hold it while using the sieve to distribute it around the tree.

Rubbermaid RMS-3T Three-Step Steel Step Stool ]

This step ladder is great for getting up and around the tree to spread your flock. It reaches high enough to stand over the top of your tree with a handy tray for holding your spray bottle or storage container while you work.

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Lauren Farrell writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.

BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. BestReviews and its newspaper partners may earn a commission if you purchase a product through one of our links.

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How waking up to a sunrise alarm clock helped me get over darker winter days

Sun, 12/03/2023 - 23:10

The mood in which I wake up can set the tone for my entire day. If I wake up happy, there’s an excellent chance it will be a good day. At the very least, I’ll feel energized and ready to take on any challenges the new day might bring.

Unfortunately, the abrupt blaring of my alarm clock yanks me out of my sleep. Being startled awake means from my first morning breath, my heart is pounding, my blood pressure is elevated and my adrenaline is spiking. This is not the ideal way to wake up.

I wanted to find a better way, so I looked into buying a sunrise alarm clock.

What is a sunrise alarm clock?

A sunrise alarm clock is designed to help you wake up more naturally in the morning. It features a light that gradually gets brighter, so you can gently be coaxed awake rather than having your senses assaulted by a jarring noise.

How a sunrise alarm clock works

A sunrise alarm clock works in the opposite manner of a Bluetooth alarm clock that has a nightlight feature. The sunrise alarm clock stays dark while you sleep and turns on gradually when it’s time to wake up.

The JALL Wake Up Light Sunrise Alarm Clock is my favorite because you can set how long it takes to turn on. The manufacturer recommends starting at a 30-minute gradual increase from 10% to 100% brightness, but for me, setting the light to turn on fully within 10 minutes worked better.

The increasing brightness subtly alerts you that it is morning so your body can start revving up to greet the day. There is also an audio component to a sunrise alarm clock. However, because of the light, the alarm can be much more gentle, a whisper rather than a shout, so you wake up without a start.

What you need to know before purchasing a sunrise alarm clock

While experimenting with my JALL sunrise alarm clock, I found it could do a lot more than just wake me up. For instance, it has a built-in FM radio and a fall-asleep mode that gradually gets darker to help me fall asleep. I also enjoyed customizing the clock by choosing my preferred lighting color, brightness level and length of time it took to reach maximum brightness.

After using the JALL sunrise alarm clock for a few weeks, I realized that I do still need that audio component because the light alone didn’t always wake me. However, it did help prepare me for the alarm. And many times, I did wake up before the alarm sounded. The important takeaway for me was that I woke up feeling refreshed and energized rather than stressed and cranky.

Where to buy a JALL sunrise alarm clock

You can get a JALL sunrise alarm clock at Amazon. There are three models: white, wood and fabric light gray. The white model is regularly $52.98 but is currently on sale for $32.88. The wood model is regularly $52.98 but is currently on sale for $39.99. The fabric light gray model is regularly $42.38 but is currently on sale for $32.88.

Other products worth considering

Hatch Restore Personalized Sleep Solution ]

The Hatch Restore is a high-end alarm clock that has a sunrise feature. It also has a mood library, so you can listen to relaxing sounds that help you fall asleep.

La Crosse Technology Soluna Mood Light Alarm Clock ]

If budget is your primary concern, La Crosse’s offering is the way to go. It features 20 color options so you can set whatever lighting mood you’d like, and also displays temperature and humidity.

iHome Zenergy Bluetooth Bedside Sleep Therapy Machine ]

Besides a sunrise alarm, iHome’s sleep therapy machine has a collection of 16 nature sounds and white noise recordings along with 14 specially designed light therapy programs to help you get a better night’s sleep.

Want to shop the best products at the best prices? Check out Daily Deals from BestReviews.

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Allen Foster writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.

BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. BestReviews and its newspaper partners may earn a commission if you purchase a product through one of our links.

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The next Republican debate is in Alabama, the state that gave the GOP a road map to Donald Trump

Sun, 12/03/2023 - 22:03

ATLANTA (AP) — Republican presidential candidates will debate Wednesday within walking distance of where George Wallace staged his “stand in the schoolhouse door” to oppose the enrollment of Black students at the University of Alabama during the Civil Rights Movement.

The state that propelled Wallace, a Democrat and four-term governor, into national politics is now dominated by Republicans loyal to Donald Trump, another figure who leans heavily on grievance and white identity politics. The former president will not be on stage in Tuscaloosa but remains the prohibitive favorite to win Republicans’ nomination again.

Alabama’s path since Wallace ‘s rise helps explain the 2024 dynamics and how Republicans evolved nationally from the Party of Lincoln into the Party of Trump. Certainly, Trump argues he helps all races as a defender of everyday Americans forgotten by Washington elites. He even uses that as a defense against four criminal indictments, accusing establishment powers of attacking him as a way to quash citizens. That sort of approach resonated in conservative strongholds like Alabama long before Trump.

“Alabamians, and I think most people, just don’t like to be told how to live,” said former state Republican chairwoman Terry Lathan, referencing Alabama’s motto: “We dare defend our rights.”

For Wallace, that meant fighting federal authorities on integration and then running nationally with the slogan “Stand Up for America.” Trump set up his 2016 rise by spending years questioning the citizenship of President Barack Obama, the first Black president. Like Wallace, Trump is backed strongly by culturally and religiously conservative whites moved by his slogan: “Make America Great Again.”

“Different from Wallace, but Donald Trump is offering a form of nostalgia,” said national GOP pollster Brent Buchanan, who founded his Washington-based firm, Cygnal, in Alabama.

Historian Wayne Flynt said the common thread across the eras is a swath of voters “who feel they are not paid attention to … that there’s not much future for them.” Trump, like Wallace, he said, has “brilliantly analyzed the angst and anxiety.”

That doesn’t mean Alabama Republicans are in lockstep. Lathan, who said “we know how wrong Wallace was” for his racism, backed Trump during her chairmanship. Now she supports Ron DeSantis; she called the Florida governor a “Reagan conservative who gets things done without being a bully.”

But, she acknowledged Trump’s “steamroller effect” makes him “very popular in Alabama.”

Wallace, a four-time presidential candidate, was governor for 16 years spread from 1963 to 1987. That period marked a Southern political realignment, spurred in part by President Lyndon Johnson signing civil rights legislation in the 1960s: Democratic-controlled states shifted to Republicans in presidential politics and, later, other offices.

Alabama Democrats, especially, cite deep historical roots involving racism, class and urban-rural divides when explaining Wallace, Trump and the decades between them.

“To understand it, you really have to go back to the Civil War and Reconstruction,” said Bill Baxley, a former state attorney general and lieutenant governor.

Now 82, Baxley said he knows how stereotypically Southern that sounds. But it’s fact, he said, that Republicans being the “Party of Lincoln” made white Southerners vote Democratic for generations after the 16th U.S. president won the war.

The more layered reality of the so-called “Solid South” was that two unofficial parties operated under one banner. Moderate to progressive “national Democrats” were concentrated in north Alabama, Baxley explained, while reactionary “states-rights Dixiecrats” cohered in south Alabama. Not coincidentally, south Alabama is where plantations anchored the antebellum slavery economy. Politics became “economic populism in the north,” Baxley said, and “race-issue populism” in the south.

Those fault lines shaped Democratic primaries until the late 20th century. National Democrats claimed more federal than state offices: Baxley listed Alabamians instrumental in President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal programs that paved roads, built hospitals, ran electrical and telephone lines, and spurred development in rural areas mired in poverty even before the Great Depression.

Then “Wallace came along as a talented politician who figured out how to bridge all that better than anybody else,” Baxley said, adding his disappointment that Wallace still made segregation his main argument.

Dixiecrats’ shift to Republicans accelerated in 1964, the first presidential election after Johnson, a Democrat from Texas, signed the Civil Rights Act. Republican challenger Barry Goldwater opposed the act and won five Deep South states. It was Alabama’s first flip from Democrats since Reconstruction.

Wallace won four Deep South states as an independent in 1968. Yet in 1970, he secured his second term as governor only through a close Democratic primary runoff. That same electorate made Baxley attorney general. An unapologetic national Democrat, Baxley prosecuted Ku Klux Klan members who bombed Birmingham’s 16th Street Baptist Church in 1963, and he memorably told a Klan leader in an open letter to “kiss my ass.”

Meanwhile, Wallace retooled his pitch for a national audience. He sneered about “inner-city thugs” and a “liberal Supreme Court” and Washington “overreach” — a coded version of his Alabama campaigns. It wowed working-class Democratic primary audiences beyond the South. Flynt, the historian, said Trump “does best almost exactly where George Wallace did best, and for many of the same reasons.”

In 1968 and 1972, Wallace held raucous rallies, railing against protesters. At New York City’s Madison Square Garden he said such behavior in Alabama “gets a bullet in the brain.” Wallace’s 1972 campaign ended with a bullet in his spine; it paralyzed him from the waist down.

Richard Nixon wrote in his memoirs that he adopted the “Southern strategy” — law-and-order and cultural rhetoric similar to Wallace’s — to stave off Wallace. Ronald Reagan employed his versions in 1980 and 1984 landslides.

Since Wallace’s first presidential bid in 1964, Alabama’s electoral votes have gone to a Democrat once: Jimmy Carter, a neighboring Georgian, in 1976. Even then, Carter sought Wallace’s endorsement after defeating the governor in Florida’s presidential primary.

After Reagan’s inauguration, Alabama’s down-ticket races still turned on what candidate could bridge economic populism and cultural conservatism, said Democratic pollster Zac McCrary, whose firm worked for Hillary Clinton’s and Joe Biden’s presidential campaigns.

“Democrats won when they were able to play up economic sentiments and turn down the volume on the culture wars,” McCrary said. In office, they implemented more liberal economic policies at the state level, especially K-12 education spending.

Wallace won his fourth term as governor in 1982 after disavowing segregation and winning over enough Black voters. Democrats won U.S. Senate seats, including recently retired Sen. Richard Shelby’s 1986 victory. Shelby switched parties to the GOP only after Republicans’ 1994 midterm romp driven by Newt Gingrich, the eventual House speaker whom Wallace biographer Dan Carter called an heir to the Alabama governor’s legacy.

In 1996, Alabama’s other Senate seat flipped. Jeff Sessions, a staunch conservative and lifelong Republican, went on to become the first U.S. senator to endorse Trump’s 2016 presidential bid, giving him high-profile validation on his way to the nomination. Trump made Sessions attorney general but ultimately fired him.

Alabama voters had previewed the turn to Trump: While Republicans nominated moderates John McCain and Mitt Romney for president in 2008 and 2012, Alabama’s primaries went to conservative populists Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum. Between those elections, Republicans finally took control of the Alabama Legislature in the first midterms after Obama’s election.

Today, Alabama’s two U.S. senators represent two styles of Republican politics, offering a rough analogue to Southern Democrats’ split in Wallace’s heyday.

Sen. Tommy Tuberville is a Trump acolyte. He talked to Trump from the Senate floor as Trump supporters began storming Capitol Hill on Jan. 6, 2021; now he’s blocking military promotions to protest Pentagon policies for servicemembers seeking abortions.

Sen. Katie Britt, meanwhile, is a former head of the state chamber of commerce and chief of staff to Shelby, the old-guard dealmaker first elected as a Democrat. Like her old boss, Britt operates more behind the scenes and campaigns generically on “conservative Alabama values.”

Still, as Shelby did, she avoids criticizing Trump.

Buchanan, the Republican pollster, said: “It’s Donald Trump’s world and we’re all just living in it.”

—- Associated Press reporter Kim Chandler contributed from Montgomery, Alabama.

OxyContin maker’s bankruptcy deal goes before the Supreme Court, with billions of dollars at stake

Sun, 12/03/2023 - 22:02

By MARK SHERMAN (Associated Press)

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court on Monday is hearing arguments over a nationwide settlement with OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma that would shield members of the Sackler family who own the company from civil lawsuits over the toll of opioids.

The agreement hammered out with state and local governments and victims would provide billions of dollars to combat the opioid epidemic. The Sacklers would contribute up to $6 billion and give up ownership, and the company would emerge from bankruptcy as a different entity, with its profits used for treatment and prevention.

But the justices put the settlement on hold during the summer, in response to objections from the Biden administration.

The issue for the justices is whether the legal shield that bankruptcy provides can be extended to people such as the Sacklers, who have not declared bankruptcy themselves. Lower courts have issued conflicting decisions over that issue, which also has implications for other major product liability lawsuits settled through the bankruptcy system.

The U.S. Bankruptcy Trustee, an arm of the Justice Department, contends that the bankruptcy law does not permit protecting the Sackler family from being sued by people who are not part of the settlement. During the Trump administration, the government supported the settlement.

Proponents of the plan said third-party releases are sometimes necessary to forge an agreement, and federal law imposes no prohibition against them.

Lawyers for more than 60,000 victims who support the settlement called it “a watershed moment in the opioid crisis,” while recognizing that “no amount of money could fully compensate” victims for the damage caused by the misleading marketing of OxyContin, a powerful prescription painkiller.

A lawyer for a victim who opposes the settlement calls the provision dealing with the Sacklers “special protection for billionaires.”

OxyContin first hit the market in 1996, and Purdue Pharma’s aggressive marketing of it is often cited as a catalyst of the nationwide opioid epidemic, persuading doctors to prescribe painkillers with less regard for addiction dangers.

The drug and the Stamford, Connecticut-based company became synonymous with the crisis, even though the majority of pills being prescribed and used were generic drugs. Opioid-related overdose deaths have continued to climb, hitting 80,000 in recent years. Most of those are from fentanyl and other synthetic drugs.

The Purdue Pharma settlement would be among the largest reached by drug companies, wholesalers and pharmacies to resolve epidemic-related lawsuits filed by state, local and Native American tribal governments and others. Those settlements have totaled more than $50 billion.

But the Purdue Pharma settlement would be one of only two so far that include direct payments to victims from a $750 million pool. Payouts are expected to range from about $3,500 to $48,000.

Sackler family members no longer are on the company’s board, and they have not received payouts from it since before Purdue Pharma entered bankruptcy. In the decade before that, though, they were paid more than $10 billion, about half of which family members said went to pay taxes.

A decision in Harrington v. Purdue Pharma, 22-859, is expected by early summer.


Follow the AP’s coverage of the U.S. Supreme Court at https://apnews.com/hub/us-supreme-court.

FSU’s dispatching to Orange Bowl fuels dismay

Sun, 12/03/2023 - 20:33

By Bob Ferrante

Orlando Sentinel Correspondent

TALLAHASSEE — Unconquered on the football field. Blemished on the eye test.

In the end, 13-0 wasn’t good enough for Florida State in the view of the College Football Playoff selection committee on Sunday.

Florida State was stunningly out of the four-team CFP field, the first unbeaten Power 5 conference champion in 25 years of creating college football championship games or playoff fields to be left in the dark and in favor of a one-loss team. Instead, the top 4 includes a pair of one-loss teams — Michigan (13-0) vs. Alabama (12-1) and Washington (13-0) vs. Texas (12-1)  — in the semifinals.

FSU finished at No. 5, due to two factors: Jordan Travis’ leg injury and how that impacted the Seminoles’ offense as well as the team’s strength of schedule.

“In the eyes of the committee, Florida State is a different team without Jordan Travis,” CFP chairman and NC State athletics director Boo Corrigan said. “One of the things we do consider is player availability.”

The Seminoles went 12-0 in the regular season and claimed the ACC title with a 16-6 win over Louisville on Saturday. Coach Mike Norvell and players were asked about the CFP outlook postgame and openly campaigned for FSU to be among the top four, citing how the team led the nation with eight wins over Power 5 teams that are bowl-eligible.

Corrigan said strength of schedule was a factor, citing that Alabama’s was “significantly higher” but quickly acknowledged, “You can only play the teams in front of you.”

Norvell and FSU athletics director Michael Alford released strong statements on Sunday rebuking the CFP’s decision.

“I am disgusted and infuriated with the committee’s decision today to have what was earned on the field taken away because a small group of people decided they knew better than the results of the games,” Norvell said. “What is the point of playing games? Do you tell players that it is OK to quit if someone goes down? Do you not play a senior on Senior Day for fear of injury? Where is the motivation to schedule challenging non-conference games?

“We are not only an undefeated P5 conference champion, but we also played two P5 non-conference games away from home and won both of them. I don’t understand how we are supposed to think this is an acceptable way to evaluate a team.”

FSU was the No. 4 team in the CFP standings on Tuesday night, just days before the conference-championship games. Alabama’s win over No. 1 Georgia vaulted the Crimson Tide as well as Texas — which won at Tuscaloosa in the regular season — over the unbeaten Seminoles.

“The consequences of giving in to a narrative of the moment are destructive, far reaching and permanent,” Alford said. “Not just for Florida State, but college football as a whole.”

“The argument of whether a team is the ‘most deserving OR best’ is a false equivalence. It renders the season up to yesterday irrelevant and significantly damages the legitimacy of the College Football Playoff.”

On the ESPN panel that announced the decision earlier Sunday, a number of analysts shared how they understood the committee’s decision. Another spoke out in criticism.

“This is a travesty to our sport,” said ESPN analyst Booger McFarland, who played at LSU.

FSU will instead play in the Orange Bowl against Georgia (12-1) on Dec. 30 at 4 p.m. (ESPN) in a matchup of two teams that have reason to feel slighted by the CFP considering their perfect regular seasons.

“When did you start getting rewarded for losing?” FSU senior safety Renardo Green, a Wekiva High alum, posted on X/Twitter



Jim Leyland, manager who led Marlins to 1997 World Series title, elected to baseball’s Hall of Fame

Sun, 12/03/2023 - 18:32

By RONALD BLUM (AP Baseball Writer)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Jim Leyland, who led the Florida Marlins to a World Series title in 1997 and won 1,769 regular-season games over 22 seasons as an entertaining and at-times crusty big league manager, was elected to baseball’s Hall of Fame on Sunday.

Now 78, Leyland received 15 of 16 votes by the contemporary era committee for managers, executives and umpires. He becomes the 23rd manager in the hall.

Former player and manager Lou Piniella fell one vote short for the second time after also getting 11 votes in 2018. Former player, broadcaster and executive Bill White was two shy.

Managers Cito Gaston and Davey Johnson, umpires Joe West and Ed Montague, and general manager Hank Peters all received fewer than five votes.

Leyland managed Pittsburgh, Florida, Colorado and Detroit from 1986 to 2013.

He grew up in the Toledo, Ohio, suburb of Perrysville. He was a minor league catcher and occasional third baseman for the Detroit Tigers from 1965-70, never rising above Double-A and finishing with a .222 batting average, four homers and 102 RBIs.

Leyland coached in the Tigers minor league system, then started managing with Bristol of the Appalachian Rookie League in 1971. After 11 seasons as a minor league manager, he left the Tigers to serve as Tony La Russa’s third base coach with the Chicago White Sox from 1982-85, then embarked on a major league managerial career that saw him take over the Pittsburgh Pirates from 1986-96.

Honest, profane and constantly puffing on a cigarette, Leyland embodied the image of the prickly baseball veteran with a gruff but wise voice. During a career outside the major markets, he bristled at what he perceived as a lack of respect for his teams.

“It’s making me puke,″ he said in 1997. ”I’m sick and tired of hearing about New York and Atlanta and Baltimore.”

Pittsburgh got within one out of a World Series trip in 1992 before Francisco Cabrera’s two-run single in Game 7 won the NL pennant for Atlanta. The Pirates sank from there following the free-agent departures of Barry Bonds and ace pitcher Doug Drabek, and Leyland left after Pittsburgh’s fourth straight losing season in 1996. Five days following his last game, he chose the Marlins over the White Sox, Red Sox and Angels.

Florida won the title the next year in the franchise’s fifth season, the youngest expansion team to earn a championship at the time. But the Marlins sold off veterans and tumbled to 54-108 in 1998, and Leyland left for the Rockies. He quit after one season, saying he lacked the needed passion, and worked as a scout for the St. Louis Cardinals.

“I did a lousy job my last year of managing,″ Leyland said then. ”I stunk because I was burned out. When I left there, I sincerely believed that I would not manage again. … I always missed the competition, but the last couple of years — and this stuck in my craw a little bit — I did not want my managerial career to end like that.”

He replaced Alan Trammell as Tigers manager ahead of the 2006 season and stayed through 2013, winning a pair of pennants.

Leyland’s teams finished first six times and went 1,769-1,728. He won American League pennants in 2006, losing to St. Louis in a five-game World Series, and 2012, getting swept by San Francisco. Leyland was voted Manager of the Year in 1990, 1992 and 2006, and he managed the U.S. to the 2017 World Baseball Classic championship, the Americans’ only title.

He also was ejected 73 times, tied with Clark Griffith for 10th in major league history.

He joins closer Trevor Hoffman, outfielder Tim Raines, catcher Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez, catcher Mike Piazza, outfielder Andre Dawson and Tony Perez as Hall of Famers who were employed by the Marlins at one point.

Ask Amy: Betrayed wife could move on by moving on

Sun, 12/03/2023 - 04:30

Dear Amy: My husband let me know that he and our two daughters will be traveling 2,000 miles to celebrate his brother’s 70th birthday, which is two days before my 70th birthday.

I am so angry and disappointed that he would do this.

His brother and wife have never visited us in our home state.

This was all done behind my back, and then after I learned about it, I was told that we would celebrate my birthday sometime in the following month.

We’ve had many problems in our marriage, but this feels like the last straw.

But I can’t seem to move on.

Any ideas on how to move on and get over my anger?

— Had It

Dear Had It: One way to move on would be to actually move on.

Given the way you have described this (topping off a troubled marriage, your husband plans a secret trip with your daughters to celebrate his brother’s landmark birthday, while deliberately ignoring yours), I think you should use their time away to contact a lawyer and educate yourself about your financial prospects, as well as the personal and emotional consequences of you leaving the marriage.

Truth be told, it seems that your husband has already at least partially left.

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After doing this research, you may decide to stay, at least for now, but it will be your choice.

You can use the anger you feel to spur you to action. Being armed with real information and an actual choice could empower you to feel more in control of your own life, and your anger should dissipate. (It may morph into other very challenging emotions.)

If you do decide to stay, a therapist could help you to move through the emotional fallout from this “last straw.”

Dear Amy: Many years ago, while I was at work, my sister-in-law asked my 3-year-old daughter (who is very mature) if she would like her to be her godmother.

I found out later when my daughter asked me, “Auntie asked me if I wanted her to be my godmother. What is that?”

I was completely offended by this very inappropriate behavior by an adult. This is not a conversation to be conducted with a young child in the absence of the parent.

When I confronted my brother about this, he did his usual behavior of hiding the truth by claiming it was a misunderstanding. He was certain she meant “fairy godmother” or something imaginary like that.

I hated being played for stupid. I expected an apology, so later, I confronted my SIL. To this day, she blames my daughter for misunderstanding, and has never apologized for stepping over a serious boundary.

And to make matters worse, she threw my very daughter “under the bus” for misunderstanding her, rather than acknowledging her own misdeed!

This has caused a many-year rift in family compatibility, which has been uncomfortable.

So, trying to be practical about things, I told my SIL, “I will drop this, but I will never believe you about this.”

I am tired of their obnoxious attitude of betterment and disrespect for others.

Now things are a bit better in the family relationship.

How do you recommend I move forward knowing that my SIL will NEVER admit an error and makes terrible judgment calls?

— Played for Stupid

Dear Played: You say this happened “many years ago.”

You have ruminated and fumed about this incident all that time. Surely it is time to stop, if only for your own sake.

At this point, you have all the information you need to have regarding your sister-in-law’s long-ago behavior, as well as the fact that she will never apologize for it. You have acted on this information and have stated your boundary.

Your daughter is older and should be able to defend herself against manipulation and create her own boundaries.

Moving on is now a choice you need to make.

Think of yourself as a detective working for years on a “cold case.” You’ve done your investigating and made your determination. Now it’s time to declare this case officially closed.

Dear Amy: I did not like your response to “J,” who wondered about inviting family members of a deceased classmate to a 50th high school reunion.

Doing so would turn this event into something else, entirely!

— Disappointed

Dear Disappointed: There are many factors to consider, including the size of the class. But I do believe that inviting surviving family members to attend one reunion event over the course of a weekend could be meaningful for everyone.

(You can email Amy Dickinson at askamy@amydickinson.com or send a letter to Ask Amy, P.O. Box 194, Freeville, NY 13068. You can also follow her on Twitter @askingamy or Facebook.)

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Appellate courts to decide if statewide office has power to prosecute voter fraud cases

Sun, 12/03/2023 - 03:40

It has been more than a year since Gov. Ron DeSantis announced the arrests of 20 people across the state who allegedly voted illegally in 2020 elections.

DeSantis touted the arrests as cracking down on election fraud, a national hot-button issue for Republicans after former President Donald Trump’s loss in the 2020 election and his subsequent false claims of voter fraud. However, not long after the arrests were announced, judges started dismissing cases, ruling that the Office of Statewide Prosecution did not have jurisdiction.

After cases were dismissed in circuit court last year, the Legislature in February amended state law to “make abundantly clear” that the Office of Statewide Prosecution has authority to bring these cases, the state has said in court documents — addressing the reason judges early on were throwing them out of court.

Statewide prosecutors have argued that they have had the authority to prosecute these cases all along, even before lawmakers amended the statute earlier this year, and that the judges erred in their decisions. Advocates and defense attorneys disagree. Some experts believe the question of the office’s authority will be decided by the Florida Supreme Court.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement previously released the names of 17 of the 20 people whose arrests were announced. Five of the 17 remain pending in multiple counties, including two in Palm Beach County and one in Broward County, and at least three are pending before district courts of appeal.

Some cases ended with guilty pleas and probation sentences, court records show. At least one went to trial, resulting in a split verdict, and a trial is scheduled for next month in one Orange County man’s case.

Judges in Broward and Miami-Dade counties last year and earlier this year dismissed the cases against Robert Lee Wood, 57; Ronald Lee Miller, 59; Terry Hubbard, 65; and Eugene Suggs, 67.

The state appealed each of them, and all but one are still pending. Statewide prosecutors voluntarily dismissed their appeal in Suggs’ case, his defense attorney Lawrence Wolk said.

After multiple requests by email, interviews with statewide prosecutors were not arranged by the Attorney General Office by Friday night.

‘Voter confusion’

Florida voters passed Amendment 4 in 2018, which restored voting rights for people convicted of felonies. Not included, though, were people convicted of murder and sex-related offenses. DeSantis’ office said that each of the 20 arrested were convicted of those crimes.

Experts and attorneys described the process for people to determine whether they were eligible to vote after the amendment as chaos or “nearly impossible” for the everyday citizen.

Many of the accused believed their voting rights were restored by the 2018 amendment, and they received voter registration IDs after applying before allegedly voting in their respective counties, according to probable cause affidavits.

Luis Villaran, 64, of Delray Beach, voted in the 2020 primary election and the 2020 general election, according to a probable cause affidavit. He was convicted of a sexual offense in 2014.

He told officers in an interview last year that he made a “mistake” when he checked the box on the application indicating his voting rights were restored, the affidavit said. “Maybe I am confused,” Villaran told investigators. He ultimately entered a plea agreement earlier this year and was sentenced to six months probation and credit for his one day spent in jail, court records show.

Patrick Berry, voting rights counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice, said nearly all of the 20 people whose charges were announced “were either confused or misled about their eligibility to vote.” The center filed amicus briefs in support of those arrested in several appeals cases.

More than 85,000 people who were convicted of felonies completed voting applications in the 16 months after Amendment 4 was approved, Division of Elections officials said, according to an amicus brief filed by the Due Process Institute in support of one of the men arrested. A federal court in 2020 said it could take until 2026 at minimum to screen all of those applications, the brief said.

“The state is claiming on appeal this unprecedented power to punish what is essentially isolated incidents of voter confusion that the state itself caused by making voter eligibility for people with past convictions nearly impossible to determine,” Berry said.

Leo Grant Jr., 56, of South Bay, was convicted of a felony sex offense in 1999. When he spoke to officers last year, he said he remembered getting paperwork in the mail about his right to vote, a probable cause affidavit said.

His defense attorney Kevin Anderson said Grant voted in the 2020 primary and general elections after registering and receiving voter documentation in the mail.

“There wasn’t a screening process to stop him,” Anderson said. “The screening process is his arrest … Now, had the screening process stopped him in the beginning … or everyone else, then we wouldn’t have all these arrests.”

Grant’s case is still pending in Palm Beach County with his next court date later this month.

Robert Simpson, 65, of Pahokee, was convicted of second-degree murder with a firearm in 1992. His case is also pending in Palm Beach County.

The first time he voted in his life was in the 2020 general election, he told officers, according to a probable cause affidavit, after registering in 2019 upon hearing that voting rights had been restored for people convicted of felonies. Eisinger said his client got multiple voter registration cards, “alerting him in his mind that he was eligible to vote.”

He received a letter in the mail from the Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections about his “potential ineligibility to vote” in June 2022, according to the affidavit — after he had already allegedly voted in elections in 2020, 2021 and 2022.

“He really did not believe that he was doing anything unlawful,” Eisinger said. “He thought he had the ability to vote.”

Simpson will likely have a trial date some time in early 2024, Eisinger said.

“For someone who hasn’t been in trouble for a while, it was definitely shocking to him, and he was pretty surprised that these were the charges they were sort of investigating,” Eisinger said.

Some defense attorneys said their clients had no willful intent to illegally vote, which is something the state would have to prove.

Davis, defense attorney for Wood, whose case is pending in the Third District Court of Appeal, said he would argue that point if his client ends up going to trial — “that he had no intent to break the law.”

Statewide prosecutors wrote in a brief in Miller’s appeals case that Miller falsely affirmed he was eligible to vote, and “had he been truthful, he could not have registered.”

“How can you have specific intent to defraud when you’re issued a voter registration card from the state of Florida that tells you, go ahead, vote?” said Miller’s attorney Robert Barrar. “I mean, to me it’s as simple as that.”

Since the Office of Elections Crimes and Security’s creation in 2022, it received over 2,000 complaints of alleged election law violations or “irregularities,” its first annual report published in January 2023 said. The office “conducted hundreds of preliminary investigations, with many resulting in criminal referrals to law enforcement,” the report said, and secured “a number of criminal convictions” while others were pending at the time of the report.

It is not clear how many arrests have been made in total since last August. The Department of State will publish its second annual report next month.

Law change

Prosecutors have asked for oral arguments in the appeals cases of Miller and Wood in the Third District Court of Appeal.

The law they and the others were initially charged under said the Office of Statewide Prosecution had authority to prosecute election crimes that occurred in more than one county as part of a related transaction or that was connected with an organized criminal conspiracy that affected more than one county. The change earlier this year removed the conspiracy element and said it need only occur in or have affected two or more counties.

The Legislature amended the statute to “make abundantly clear” that the Office of Statewide Prosecution can prosecute election-related crimes that affected multiple counties, the state said in its briefs in Miller’s appellate case. Statewide prosecutors argued in the briefs that the new law, which took effect immediately, applies.

Even before the amendment change though, the state said in its briefs, they had authority because Miller’s alleged crime occurred in Miami-Dade County where he registered and voted and in Leon County where his application and vote was sent.

Statewide prosecutors also argued in its initial brief that the alleged crime affected the entire state of Florida by creating mistrust in election integrity and by affecting an election’s outcome, which “may well decide close elections that determine how Florida is governed.”

“Voter fraud strikes at the heart of our democracy. In two ways, its pernicious effects reverberate across the whole state,” the state wrote.

Patrick Yingling, partner at Reed Smith who has filed amicus briefs in the cases, said the state “relies so heavily on the new law to try to relive their case.”

“I think that issue of whether the new law can be applied retroactively is going to be front and center in a lot of these appellate cases,” Yingling said.

Wood’s defense attorney Davis said there’s not been a decision about whether the new law will apply retroactively; he said that is part of the appeal. He argues that under either the new or old statute, they still don’t have jurisdiction.

Rutgers Law School Professor and state constitutional law expert Robert F. Williams said when the Office of Statewide Prosecution was created by constitutional amendment in 1986, it was granted the limited authority to prosecute organized crime that occurred in more than one judicial circuit.

The state has argued that the alleged criminal acts of registering and voting in Florida counties created a domino or ripple effect, impacting more than one county in the state. But the creation of the statewide office in 1986 “never authorized a ripple effect,” Williams said.

Williams, who has filed an amicus brief in at least one of the appellate cases, said the question of whether the new law can apply retroactively is irrelevant; he believes there needed to be a constitutional amendment passed by voters in order to expand the Office of Statewide Prosecution’s authority rather than by passing a law.

“In a simplified sense, we say to do what they want to do, they would have had to propose a constitutional amendment that the people of Florida might have voted for or might not have voted for …” Williams said.

Barrar said he believes the change to the statute only bolstered his and the circuit court judge’s position.

“The fact that whoever the powers may be that thought they needed to amend the statute, to me it tells me I was right because if I wasn’t right, why would they amend the statute?” Barrar said. “Of course the judge was right in dismissing it.”

Defense attorneys said the local state attorneys’ offices across the state could have brought the charges against their clients and their jurisdiction would not have been questioned. While some state attorneys’ offices have filed such charges, like in Alachua County, others have chosen to not.

In June 2022, the Lake County State Attorney’s Office said in a close-out memo they would not prosecute six people who were alleged to have illegally voted because the evidence did not show willful intent, writing in the memo that they “were mistakenly issued registration cards.”

“There is a fundamental fairness aspect of this that I think probably a lot of state attorneys have recognized and therefore not pursued charges, given the circumstances of how this all arose,” attorney Yingling said.

‘Wait and see’

The Office of Election Crimes and Security in its January report said that the 2020 and 2016 presidential elections created an “increased awareness and heightened scrutiny” of the process nationwide and that its goal is improving the integrity of Florida’s elections.

“Enforcing Florida election law has the primary effect of punishing violators, but also and equally as important, acts as a deterrent to those who may consider voting illegally or committing other election related crimes,” the report said.

Professor Quinn Yeargain, an assistant law professor at Widener University Commonwealth Law School and state constitutional law expert, said in their opinion the arrests were intended to “chill anybody who has ever been convicted of a felony from voting.”

“It’s going to make them afraid and that is one of the big problems here,” Yeargain said. “It’s for that reason that I think any time we bring the criminal law to bear in the election context, we should be so skeptical and so, so wary of doing so.”

Yeargain, who has also joined amicus briefs in at least one of the cases, said “the odds are very high” that the district courts of appeal will come to different conclusions about the statewide office’s authority and that it is a matter of when rather than if it goes before the state Supreme Court.

Barrar said he believes the prosecutions are “nothing more than political theater.”

“He’s just trying to put this behind him and go on with his life,” Barrar said of his client Miller. “It obviously caused him a great deal of trauma initially, and (he) was very pleased of course that the case was dismissed. And he, like everyone else who is pending before the district court of appeal, is anxious for the ruling. We all just have to wait and see.”

Monarch High transgender athlete: What to know about the law at center of controversy

Sun, 12/03/2023 - 03:40

Legally, the participation of a transgender athlete on the girls’ volleyball team at Monarch High school seems clear cut: It’s against Florida law.

Transgender girls are not allowed to play on girls’ teams at public schools in Florida under a state law enacted in 2021. The Fairness in Women’s Sports Act bans students who were born male from playing on girls’ sports teams.

But what appears unambiguous isn’t necessarily the final word. Federal law, and regulations based on federal law, also play a role — and may protect a transgender player from discrimination based on gender identity.

It’s murky. The U.S. Department of Education said its enforcement policy is “consistent with existing law that protects students on the basis of sex, including LGBTQI+ students.” The Biden administration has also begun a rulemaking process that would guarantee transgender athletes’ ability to compete on most, but not all, sports teams.

Supporters of such laws argue they’re needed because biological differences give transgender girl and women athletes, who were identified as boys at birth, an unfair advantage in athletic competitions. Opponents have argued bans are unfair to transgender girls, and that there are few instances in which they are playing on girls’ teams.

High school athlete

The Monarch case burst onto public attention this week when Broward Schools Superintendent Peter Licata suspended or temporarily reassigned five school officials.

Gov. Ron DeSantis’ state Department of Education demanded “serious consequences” for those who allowed the transgender student to play girls’ volleyball.

“Under Governor DeSantis, boys will never be allowed to play girls’ sports. It’s that simple,” Cailey Myers, the agency’s communications director said in a statement. “It is completely unacceptable for the male student to have been allowed to play on a girls’ team.”

Students at the school held noontime walkouts in support of their transgender classmate and in opposition to Licata’s action against the school staff.

“Right now she’s not being treated like a human. She’s not being treated like she’s worth anything to anyone,” Jordan Campbell, captain of the volleyball team, told WTVJ-Ch. 6.

“No one had a problem with her. She was probably one of the favorites on the team that everyone loved. Everyone got along with her,” Campbell said, adding her teammate’s identity was never an issue during the volleyball season. “No one mentioned it. It’s never even been controversial whatsoever.”

Public opinion

One thing is clear: Public opinion strongly opposes allowing athletes to play on teams that don’t correspond to their gender at birth.

The 2023 edition of the Gallup Values and Beliefs survey found 69% of Americans say transgender athletes should only be allowed to compete on sports teams that conform with their birth gender. That’s up seven percentage points from 62% in 2021.

Just 26% in this year’s survey support allowing transgender athletes on teams that match their current gender identity — a decrease of eight percentage points from the 34% who felt that way two years earlier.

Gallup found support for allowing transgender athletes to play on teams that match their current gender identity:

  • Is highest among Democrats (47%) and lowest among Republicans (6%).
  • Decreased among Democrats, Republicans and independents over the past two years.
  • Went down among both Americans who know transgender people and who don’t know transgender people.
Florida law

The 2021 law declares it is state policy “to maintain opportunities for female athletes to demonstrate their strength, skills, and athletic abilities and to provide them with opportunities to obtain recognition and accolades, college scholarships, and the numerous other long-term benefits that result from participating and competing in athletic endeavors.”

The law required interscholastic, intercollegiate, intramural, or club athletic teams or sports sponsored by public schools, colleges and universities to be designated — based on the biological sex at birth of team members — for “males, men, or boys,” “females, women, or girls,” or “coed or mixed.”

Boys’ and men’s teams can be open to girls and women, although sports or teams designated for females “may not be open to students of the male sex.”

And the biological sex is determined based on an official birth certificate if it was filed “at or near the time of the student’s birth” — precluding birth certificates changed later in accordance with a person’s gender identity.

The law allows lawsuits to obtain court orders — and damages — for people who suffer “direct or indirect harm.”

“We are going to protect fairness in women’s sports,” DeSantis said when he signed the measure into law. “We believe that it is important to have integrity in the competition, and we think it is important that they are able to compete on a level playing field.”

Related Articles Federal rules

Federal law known as Title IX prohibits sex discrimination at schools and colleges that receive federal money.

President Joe Biden’s U.S. Department of Education has proposed changing the rules governing Title IX so that they would prohibit schools from automatically banning all transgender athletes from participating on teams consistent with their gender identity.

The proposed rule would allow limits on transgender athletes from participating on teams that align with their gender identity in some cases — particularly highly competitive high school and college sports.

“The proposed rule would establish that policies violate Title IX when they categorically ban transgender students from participating on sports teams consistent with their gender identity just because of who they are,” the Department of Education said in a fact sheet when it proposed the rule change in April.

The rule “would allow schools flexibility to develop team eligibility criteria that serve important educational objectives, such as ensuring fairness in competition or preventing sports-related injury. These criteria would have to account for the sport, level of competition, and grade or education level to which they apply. These criteria could not be premised on disapproval of transgender students or a desire to harm a particular student.”

The timetable for completing the lengthy rulemaking process — and whether it will be completed before the 2024 election — isn’t clear.

In response to questions about whether the Department of Education sees Title IX as protecting a transgender girl’s right to participate on a girl’s team without a new rule and about the status of the rulemaking, the agency’s press office emailed this statement:

“The Biden-Harris Administration remains resolute in our commitment to support all students and ensure they receive a quality education free from discrimination. The notice of proposed rulemaking for the upcoming regulations on Title IX of the Education amendments of 1972 received a historic number of comments, and the Department is working overtime to ensure that each one is thoroughly read and carefully considered.

“We are utilizing every resource at our disposal to complete this rulemaking process as soon as is practicable. In the meantime, we continue to enforce Title IX consistent with existing law that protects students on the basis of sex, including LGBTQI+ students.”

Florida Education Commissioner Manny Diaz Jr., a Republican state senator until DeSantis picked him to head the state Education Department, denounced the proposed rule.

“The Biden Administration is attempting to bully states into a radical gender ideology that has no basis in science,” Diaz said. “As a father of young daughters, I know the importance of safeguarding sports for girls and women. Florida will continue to protect the rights of biological female students to participate in athletics without being discriminated against by an administration that has chosen to prioritize a political agenda over America’s children.”


Courts in different parts of the country have come down differently on the state laws.

The transgender volleyball player at Monarch High and her parents sued the state and school district in an effort to overturn the law. A federal judge upheld the law in early November, dismissing the student’s claim the ban is discriminatory.

In his 39-page order on Nov. 6, U.S. District Judge Roy Altman wrote that the law does not violate the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution because its “sex-based classifications are substantially related to the state’s important interest in promoting women’s athletics.”

He also ruled that the law does not violate Title IX.

Altman had temporarily placed the case on hold until the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit decided a case in St. Johns County involving the state’s transgender bathroom law. The entire court decided that Title IX’s reference to “sex” does not include gender identity.

Political implications

Opposition to transgender girls playing on girls’ teams has become a conservative cause in recent years.

The 2021 measure to ban transgender females from competing in girls’ and women’s sports was one of the most contentious issues of that year’s annual legislative session in Florida.

It passed almost entirely along party lines with Republicans in support and Democrats opposed and was signed into law by DeSantis, one of the earliest in a string of culture war issues embraced by DeSantis and legislative Republicans.

Over the next two years they went on to limit the way sexual orientation and gender identity were addressed in schools, restrict discussions of race and racism in schools and in employee-training programs, restrict gender-affirming care for transgender people, impose limits aimed at drag shows, and prevent transgender people from using restrooms that fit their gender identity in a range of public buildings.

Underscoring the political subtext of the issue, DeSantis signed the Florida ban — which applies to public, not parochial schools — at a Christian academy in Jacksonville.

When he signed it into law on June 1, 2021 — notably the first day of that year’s LGBTQ Pride month — Florida became the seventh state with such a law. There are now 23 states with such laws, according to the Movement Advancement Project, an organization that tracks LGBTQ+ issues.

DeSantis has continued to use transgender issues to portray himself as in the mainstream and Democrats as out of the mainstream.

During his Thursday night debate on Fox with Gov. Gavin Newsom of California, DeSantis didn’t focus on athletics, but he sought to use the issue to portray Newsom and his state as out of touch.

DeSantis asserted that minors are able to travel to the Golden State to receive hormone therapy, puberty blockers and gender-affirming surgery without parental knowledge or consent.

The LGBTQ news site the Advocate reported DeSantis’ claim “is not true. California requires parental consent for such care, and in any case, genital surgery is not usually recommended for minors anywhere.” Newsome did sign a law, the Advocate reported, that protects young people and their families from legal action in their home states if they receive gender-affirming care in California.

This report includes information from Sun Sentinel archives.

Anthony Man can be reached at aman@sunsentinel.com and can be found @browardpolitics on Facebook, Threads.net and Post.news.

Broward leads the state in investment in affordable housing, and it’s paying off | Opinion

Sun, 12/03/2023 - 03:40

The Broward County Commission is making a tremendous positive impact on the lives of Broward residents and our local economy by their state-leading investment in addressing the housing affordability crisis.

Since 2018, and mostly since 2020, county commissioners have invested $123 million in gap funding that has yielded 2,660 housing units. In addition to providing good quality affordable housing to those who need it most, these units produced substantial positive economic impacts for our local economy, including $865 million in construction contracts and nearly 6,000 construction
jobs. Additionally, the estimated ongoing annual spending by nearly 5,600 residents and operation of the communities amount to approximately $52.8 million in annual economic output. Since these residents are not overly cost burdened by excessive rent payments, they are better consumers. Further, the ongoing operation and resident spending associated with the 2,660 housing units also creates 665 ongoing jobs.

According to the 2022 Broward County Affordable Housing Needs Assessment recently conducted by Dr. Ned Murray of the Jorge Perez Metropolitan Center at FIU, since 2020, unprecedented changes have occurred in the housing market that have impacted both owner and rental housing supply and demand. Overall, affordability has only worsened since the COVID‐19 pandemic. This has placed Broward’s economic competitiveness and resilience at great risk. It has also put many families and seniors at risk of being priced out of their homes.

Walter Duke III is chair of the Broward Workshop Housing Affordability Subcommittee and a former mayor of Dania Beach.

The vast majority of Broward workers earn wages in low‐wage service sector occupations. Currently, there are tremendous employee shortages within our leading industries — health services, retail trade and leisure and hospitality. Even if we can find and attract them, the question is, where are they going to live?

A recently enacted state law, the Live Local Act, provides funding sources and other incentives for affordable housing. It’s effects are still playing out, and while it looks promising, it’s not without its flaws, and it’s certainly not a fix‐all. All of our industries and stakeholders need to be at the table, and we must continue to collaboratively lean into this housing crisis — there is just so much more work to do. The FIU study notes that 61.9% of renter households are categorized as cost‐burdened, and Broward is one of the most unaffordable places to live in the U.S. Further, over the past five years, Broward has lost an average 15,711 affordable owner units and 9,602 affordable renter units through market appreciation.

Given these facts, the investment in affordable housing by our county commissioners is making a big difference in the long‐term economic sustainability of our local economy and the quality of life of our most vulnerable residents. The 2,660 housing units produced — and additional units we hope to deliver — are a direct investment in our long‐term economic infrastructure and resiliency.

On behalf of the many stakeholders advocating to make Broward County a more affordable place to live and work, I would like to publicly recognize and thank our county leaders for their vision and leadership. They include not only the current county commissioners, but recent, previous office holders as well as prior and current county administrators Bertha Henry and Monica Cepero and their highly capable staff. Their stellar leadership in addressing our nation-leading housing affordability crisis and their willingness to take decisive and bold action for the betterment of Broward County should be noticed and applauded.

The housing crisis is not going away anytime soon, but with continued leadership at the county level and collaboration with our municipalities, the business community, nonprofits and our institutional and industry stakeholders, we can make a difference that will help set Broward County on a path to economic sustainability for future generations.

Walter Duke III is chair of the Broward Workshop Housing Affordability Subcommittee and a former mayor of Dania Beach.

Readers see the fascist threat from within | Letters to the editor

Sun, 12/03/2023 - 03:35

The Sun Sentinel editorial, “America’s most dire threat is from within,” about Donald J. Trump, was right on the mark.

The problem is that those for whom it was intended will not read it, and the D.J.T. cultists who do will not believe it. Some of those who do read it believe in the old expression, “Don’t confuse me with the facts — my mind is made up.”.

Alan B. Wackerling, Plantation

The fascist playbook

Florida Veterans for Common Sense agrees with your editorial, “America’s most dire threat is from within.”

On Veterans Day, we sponsored a talk by fascism expert Dr. Ruth Ben-Ghiat. She spoke about how the great MAGA leader is following the fascist playbook to grab and hold power.

We are confident that if Americans know this fascist drill, they will reject it. The MAGA movement, once in power, will strip our rights and freedoms from us such as abortion rights, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, academic freedom and even the right to vote.

In her talk, Dr. Ben-Ghiat provided details, explaining in short that MAGA does not respect American democratic norms.

As Dr. Ben-Ghiat warned us in her talk, “If Trump is elected, he will never leave.”

Gene Jones, Sarasota

The writer is president of Florida Veterans for Common Sense.

The right thing to do

With admiration, thank you to you all. This was a milestone in the newspaper’s history and a turning point in the role of journalism.

There is always an understandable desire to find a middle road, but in a contest between good and evil, right and wrong, democracy and autocracy, informed and ignorant, neutrality is inappropriate.

This was a big risk in many ways. But it was the right thing to do.

Jeff Kleiman, Boynton Beach

The lessons of a news carrier

Thank you, Sun Sentinel, for your recent thank you letter to the readers (“Inspired by you, our loyal readers,” November 29).

As a teenager, I sold your subscriptions door to door all over the county as part of your traveling sales crew, and I delivered your newspapers when more than half of the people on each street subscribed.

I earned enough money doing that to buy my first car, too. The lessons of life I learned at a young age from your diverse subscriber base still benefit me today.

So thank you, Sun Sentinel, for still being here, and for being committed to balanced coverage of the news.

Michael Allison, Fort Lauderdale

The disaster of Bidenomics

I’m wondering out loud what alternate universe letter writer Michael Cantwell lives in, as president of the Democratic Club of Delray Beach, to the surprise of nobody.

He criticizes those “obsessing on inflation” and he refers to Bidenomics as a “major success.”

One must contemplate whether Cantwell has visited a grocery store or gasoline station recently.

If he is fortunate enough to be so wealthy that price tags don’t matter, then bravo for him. But he needs to wake up and realize that the overwhelming majority of working Americans are not that lucky. I am retired and am blessed to be relatively comfortable financially, but I am not willfully blind enough to fail to see that I am in the vast minority, and not so callous to not feel for the many struggling to pay rent and put food on the table thanks to the disaster that is Bidenomics.

If any Democrat wonders why most working people despise their party and why they are losing minority and middle class voters in droves, all they need do is read the words of Mr. Cantwell.

Barry Godofsky, Port St. Lucie

Fired Orlando Museum of Art director answers email, FedEx label, forgery claims

Sun, 12/03/2023 - 03:00

Former Orlando Museum of Art director Aaron De Groft is giving his point of view on the Basquiat scandal that ended his tenure at the Loch Haven Park institution — and in doing so, provides a glimpse at the direction his lawsuit against his former employer could go.

De Groft, who was fired in June 2022 days after the FBI raided the “Heroes & Monsters” exhibit of art attributed to the late artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, spoke with the Orlando Sentinel on multiple topics, including his firing and dealings with the museum’s board, days after countersuing OMA in response to the institution’s fraud suit against him and the owners of the seized paintings.

Among his statements in conversation with the Sentinel:

  • He expressed regret for being rude to a Basquiat expert in the now-infamous “Stay in your lane” email.
  • Hinted that his official emails could have been tampered with.
  • Said he will present evidence that the brouhaha over a pivotal FedEx shipping label is unfounded.
  • And introduced a new element to the continuing saga of the museum’s doomed “Heroes & Monsters” exhibit:  Another set of possible Basquiat forgeries, discovered in Norway and sold by the man who told the FBI he had made fake art that ended up at the Orlando museum.

Throughout the interview, De Groft was in turn angry over what happened and wistful for what might have been.

“Just think if they’d supported me, and the paintings were real — which we are proving they are,” he said, before adding: “What’s done is done, but see, what’s coming is coming.”

Ex-director Aaron De Groft countersues Orlando Museum of Art

As museum director, De Groft had championed the “Heroes & Monsters” exhibition, which lies at the core of OMA’s lawsuit against him, claiming he failed in his fiduciary duty to the museum. It later emerged that the paintings were part of an FBI investigation, and the museum had been served a subpoena before the artwork was even hung — though board of trustees members were unaware of it.

In April, it was revealed that California auctioneer Michael Barzman had told the FBI he helped create “Heroes & Monsters” artwork years after Basquiat’s 1988 death. He pleaded guilty to making false statements to investigators but avoided jail time at his August sentencing.

The twists and turns in discovering OMA’s ‘Basquiats’ were fakes

Later that month, Orlando Museum of Art sued De Groft and the owners of the paintings it had displayed. While documents indicate the museum has been negotiating with some defendants, and a court order has given them more time to respond to OMA’s suit, De Groft said he was not one of them.

“No representative of Orlando Museum of Art or their attorneys has reached out to me,” he said.

Had De Groft not filed a response, he would have faced a summary judgment against him — as spelled out in an email he received from the museum’s law firm.

“We are unable to grant any further extensions,” wrote Ginny Childs of Akerman, which has been handling the Basquiat matter for the museum.  “If we do not receive a timely response, we will move for a default judgment.”

“I was not going to let that happen,” De Groft told the Sentinel. “They filed a lawsuit with absolutely no proof other than speculation. They have defamed me and smeared me.”

In a statement sent to the Orlando Sentinel from the museum’s public-relations firm, OMA reiterated its claims against its ex-director.

“De Groft was in breach of his fiduciary duty to the museum because of his actions authenticating and appraising of the works — no museum director is allowed to do this — which he did in secret with the painting owners for months,” the statement said.

Orlando Museum of Art sues ex-director, others over ‘Basquiat’ art

De Groft dismissed the lawsuit as a face-saving measure for the museum, which has been under public scrutiny over its handling of the exhibition, calling the suit “clearly a public-relations document.”

He said the ongoing legal battle was hurting him financially, indicated in court records by a Nov. 28 notice from the Orange County Clerk of Courts that he still owes the $395 filing fee for his countersuit.

“I definitely didn’t get jobs I was more than qualified for because of this frivolous lawsuit,” De Groft said.

‘Future potential’

De Groft joined Orlando Museum of Art in 2021 as the institution began preparations to celebrate its centennial in 2024. At the time, he spoke of the museum’s “impressive past” and its “tremendous future potential.”

“I was hired to reinvigorate this mediocre place before its 100th anniversary,” is how he puts it now.

He did make well-received changes in the role, things he said that have been forgotten now.

He pointed to across-the-board raises given to employees shortly after his arrival. He also instituted paid maternity leave, which benefited two employees. People who worked at the museum at the time confirmed the benefits, noting the new maternity-leave policy was instituted while staff members were starting to question the Basquiat art. The staff’s skepticism about the paintings, backed by emails, forms part of the museum’s suit against De Groft.

Orlando Museum of Art gets major makeover for big-name exhibits

A fundraiser in which museum guests watched the annual Met Gala in New York was successful, and he led a redo of the gift shop and a major refresh of the galleries with new paint and lighting.

“We were cooking with gas,” he said.

One aspect of his “reinvigoration” was to bring big-name exhibits to the museum, such as “Heroes & Monsters.” Basquiat was one of the most acclaimed contemporary artists of his time, and his works have sold for more than $110 million.

De Groft said he followed proper protocol before exhibiting the works, including seeking professional opinions on their authenticity and presenting the works to the museum’s trustees.

“I showed the board every image of the Basquiats,” he said. “There was no disagreement at all.”

He was taken aback when he became aware of the FBI subpoena: “I said, ‘What the hell is this all about?’ “

But he insisted that an FBI agent told him the museum was not a target and there was no reason to cancel the exhibit.

“The FBI said you’re not under investigation, and neither is the museum,” he recalls being told.

Orlando Museum of Art: We’ll ‘cooperate’ with FBI in Basquiat probe

That matches what a museum spokeswoman said after news of the subpoena became public.

“The museum complied with a request for information,” the spokeswoman told the Sentinel in May 2022.  “The museum has never been led to believe it was or is the subject of any investigation … We see our involvement purely as a fact witness.”

But in its statement to the Sentinel last week, the museum pointed to the FBI as raising warning flags, whether the museum was the target of its investigation or not.

“The FBI took the works off the walls of the museum with no notice because they believe they are fraudulent,” read the statement, provided by Tucker/Hall, a Tampa-based crisis-management firm. “This is the foremost investigative law enforcement agency in the world — [you] don’t have to take OMA’s word about this fraud.”

A court filing by the Department of Justice, related to the sentencing of Barzman, makes the government’s position clear. It states that, “The fraudulent paintings have been the subject of numerous overlapping schemes over the past decade. The government’s investigation into those schemes is ongoing.”

Email questions

De Groft can’t prove that the FBI told him the exhibit could go on, but he says that’s because he lost access to his work emails when he was fired.

The museum’s lawsuit cites numerous emails sent from De Groft’s account to the owners of the “Heroes & Monsters” artwork and others, but De Groft raised questions about their authenticity. He said there are some  “I don’t recall writing — and I’m not the only person who had access to my email account.”

Basquiat expert in OMA scandal: Authentication claims are ‘false’

In one email cited in the museum’s lawsuit, De Groft apparently dreams of a luxurious future should the paintings be sold, writing to a correspondent, “Then I will retire with mazeratis and Ferraris.”

But De Groft pointed out pie-in-the-sky talk with friends isn’t proof of wrongdoing: “Even if I was just mouthing off, that’s not illegal,” he told the Sentinel.

He did say, however, that he regrets an angry email sent to Jordana Moore Saggese, a Basquiat expert hired by the collection’s owners to examine the works. She later said her report was used incorrectly in the “Heroes & Monsters” catalog and marketing.

“You want us to put out there you got $60 grand to write this?” De Groft wrote her, according to an email cited in the FBI’s investigation. “OK then. Shut up. You took the money. Stop being holier than thou … Do your academic thing and stay in your limited lane.”

De Groft told the Sentinel the email — which played a part in his firing — was “part of a larger dispute with her” but also said, “There’s no excuse.”

“I was rude to her; I apologize,” he said. “I should never be rude to anyone.”

Saggese later issued a statement saying she in no way authenticated any of the paintings and would not comment further on the situation.

The museum last week told the Sentinel “the boorish language in the Dr. Saggese emails is not the point — the point is that he appears to have threatened her with blackmail if she spoke out about the exhibition, specifically that she did not provide clear confirmation of their authenticity.”

Label in the spotlight

Another key aspect of the case has been a Federal Express shipping label on one of the paintings, which was created on discarded cardboard. It has been said that the now-common abbreviation of FedEx and the corresponding logo were not in use during Basquiat’s lifetime.

But De Groft told the Sentinel there were documents, including company annual reports and patent-office filings, that would show otherwise.

“We have documents and advertisements that show the word FedEx was being used,” he said.

And he cast doubt on Barzman’s story of creating the art displayed at the museum, referencing a legal document filed at the time of the California man’s sentencing by Pierce O’Donnell, a California attorney and one of the works’ owners. That filing contains emails and photos from an art dealer in Oslo, Norway, whose client bought alleged Basquiat artwork from Barzman — art that De Groft said  was definitely faked.

“These are amateurish paintings that are absolutely forged,” De Groft said.

O’Donnell’s statement reads: “They are so pathetically amateurish and do not even remotely resemble authentic Basquiats. As two renowned Basquiat experts have declared, the persons who painted these self-evident forgeries could not (and did not) paint our 25 paintings.”

O’Donnell and other owners of the paintings had filed their victim impact statements before Barzman was sentenced, arguing Barzman was lying about faking all of the paintings that ended up in the “Heroes & Monsters” exhibit by pointing to numerous discrepancies in his various FBI interviews.

Barzman’s admission that he forged the six paintings owned by the Basquiat Venice Collection Group, of which O’Donnell is co-manager, had damaged O’Donnell’s reputation, the filing stated, and “the value of our paintings — once appraised at $25 million before Barzman’s treachery — was totally trashed.”

A judge, however, ruled that the owners were not direct victims of the crime to which Barzman pleaded guilty — making false statements — and rejected their claims.

Still, De Groft also believes Barzman lied about forging the “Heroes & Monsters” works and admitted to it solely to get a better deal from the FBI — a strategy he said worked as Barzman was not charged with forgery or fraud, and his sentence did not include jail time.

“Isn’t that telling after you’ve admitted that you forged these paintings,” De Groft asked rhetorically.

According to court records, the government requested a lenient sentence for Barzman, which the judge approved.

“Defendant [Barzman] undeniably has had a difficult life, physically and emotionally,” stated a pre-sentencing court filing. “Defendant’s struggles with substance abuse and financial difficulties likely contributed to some of the unfortunate decisions he made regarding the fraudulent paintings. To be clear: were it not for defendant’s physical problems and mental health issues, the government would be seeking a prison sentence here.

Fears of firing

Although OMA’s trustees were unaware of the FBI activity, board chair Cynthia Brumback — De Groft’s boss — did know. When she did not tell the trustees about the FBI subpoena, could he have laid the whole matter to rest by telling them himself?

“I would have been fired,” for going over his boss’s head, De Groft said. Brumback, who resigned from the board of trustees in December 2022, didn’t respond to an offer to comment for this article.

Ex-Orlando Museum of Art chair Cynthia Brumback leaves board of trustees

But the museum said any fear of firing is overexaggerated.

“What evidence is there to show De Groft had a fear of being fired?” the museum statement queried. “No one board member — including the chair — could have fired De Groft by themselves.”

Ultimately, however, he was unceremoniously terminated.

De Groft had gone on vacation shortly before the FBI raided the museum, he said, which confirmed what an OMA spokesperson said at the time.

But after hearing about the raid, he “tried to get back on my OMA email, and it didn’t work,” he said.

De Groft was then fired over the phone, he said, while “my wife and I were at lunch at Lake Baldwin, looking out at a beautiful lake. They did not return all my possessions. I was not let back into the building. It was pretty draconian.”

“Why hasn’t De Groft, in the past year-plus found an employment lawyer to take his case if he’s thevictim of wrongful termination?” the museum statement rhetorically countered.

But De Groft said he was confident he would prevail in court.

“I have been subjected to a major injustice,” he said. “There will be a ‘Come to Jesus’ moment, one way or another.”

Follow me at facebook.com/matthew.j.palm or email me at mpalm@orlandosentinel.com. Find more arts news and reviews at orlandosentinel.com/arts, and go to orlandosentinel.com/theater for theater news and reviews.

Trump’s defense to charge that he’s anti-democratic? Accuse Biden of it

Sun, 12/03/2023 - 01:38

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa — Former President Donald Trump, who has been indicted by federal prosecutors for conspiracy to defraud the United States in connection with a plot to overturn the 2020 election, repeatedly claimed to supporters in Iowa on Saturday that it was President Joe Biden who posed a severe threat to American democracy.

While Trump shattered democratic norms throughout his presidency and has faced voter concerns that he would do so again in a second term, the former president in his speech repeatedly accused Biden of corrupting politics and waging a repressive “all-out war” on America.

“Joe Biden is not the defender of American democracy,” he said. “Joe Biden is the destroyer of American democracy.”

Trump has made similar attacks on Biden a staple of his speeches in Iowa and elsewhere. He frequently accuses the president broadly of corruption and of weaponizing the Justice Department to influence the 2024 election.

But in his second of two Iowa speeches Saturday, held at a community college gym in Cedar Rapids, Trump sharpened that line of attack, suggesting a more concerted effort by his campaign to defend against accusations that Trump has an anti-democratic bent — by going on offense.

Polls have shown that significant percentages of voters in both parties are concerned about threats to democracy. During the midterm elections, candidates who embraced Trump’s lie that the 2020 election was stolen from him were defeated, even in races in which voters did not rank “democracy” as a top concern.

Biden’s reelection campaign has frequently attacked Trump along those lines. In recent weeks, Biden aides and allies have called attention to news reports about plans being made by Trump and his allies that would undermine central elements of American democracy, governing and the rule of law.

Trump and his campaign have sought to dismiss such concerns as a concoction to scare voters. But on Saturday, they tried to turn the Biden campaign’s arguments back against the president.

At the Cedar Rapids event, aides and volunteers left placards with bold black-and-white lettering reading “Biden attacks democracy” on the seats and bleachers. At the start of Trump’s speech, that message was broadcast on a screen above the stage.

Trump has a history of accusing his opponents of behavior that he himself is guilty of, the political equivalent of a “No, you are” playground retort. In a 2016 debate, when Hillary Clinton accused Trump of being a Russian puppet, Trump fired back with “You’re the puppet,” a comment he never explained.

Trump’s accusations against Biden, which he referenced repeatedly throughout his speech, veered toward the conspiratorial. He claimed the president and his allies were seeking to control Americans’ speech, their behavior on social media and their purchases of cars and dishwashers.

Without evidence, he accused Biden of being behind a nationwide effort to get Trump removed from the ballot in several states. And, as he has before, he claimed, again without evidence, that Biden was the mastermind behind the four criminal cases against him.

Here, too, Trump conjured a nefarious-sounding presidential conspiracy, one with dark ramifications for ordinary Americans, not just for the former president being prosecuted. Biden and his allies “think they can do whatever they want,” Trump said — “break any law, tell any lie, ruin any life, trash any norm, and get away with anything they want. Anything they want.”

Democrats suggested that the former president was projecting again.

“Donald Trump’s America in 2025 is one where the government is his personal weapon to lock up his political enemies,” Ammar Moussa, a spokesperson for Biden’s reelection campaign, said in a statement. “You don’t have to take our word for it — Trump has admitted it himself.”

Even as he was insisting that Biden threatens democracy, Trump underscored his most anti-democratic campaign themes.

Having said that he would use the Justice Department to “go after” the Biden family, on Saturday he swore that he would “investigate every Marxist prosecutor in America for their illegal, racist-in-reverse enforcement of the law.”

Trump has frequently decried the cases brought him against by Black prosecutors in New York and Atlanta as racist. (He does not apply that charge to the white special counsel in his two federal criminal cases, who he instead calls “deranged.”)

Yet Trump himself has a history of racist statements.

At an earlier event Saturday, where he sought to undermine confidence in election integrity well before the 2024 election, he urged supporters in Ankeny, a predominantly white suburb of Des Moines, to take a closer look at election results next year in Detroit, Philadelphia and Atlanta, three cities with large Black populations in swing states that he lost in 2020.

“You should go into some of these places, and we’ve got to watch those votes when they come in,” Trump said. “When they’re being, you know, shoved around in wheelbarrows and dumped on the floor and everyone’s saying, ‘What’s going on?’

“We’re like a third-world nation,” he added.

Trump’s speeches Saturday reflected how sharply he is focused on the general election rather than the Republican primary contest, in which he holds a commanding lead.

With just over six weeks until the Iowa caucus, Trump dismissed his Republican rivals, mocking them for polling well behind him and denouncing Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida as disloyal for deciding to run against him.

He also attacked Iowa’s Republican governor, Kim Reynolds, for endorsing DeSantis and suggested her popularity had tumbled after she had spurned Trump.

“You know, with your governor we had an issue,” Trump said, prompting a chorus of boos.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

Earth is running a fever. And UN climate talks are focusing on the contagious effect on human health

Sun, 12/03/2023 - 01:30

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — With Planet Earth running a fever, U.N. climate talks focused Sunday on the contagious effects on human health.

Under a brown haze over Dubai, the COP28 summit moved past two days of lofty rhetoric and calls for unity from top leaders to concerns on health issues like the deaths of at least 7 million people globally from air pollution each year and the spread of diseases like cholera and malaria as global warming upends weather systems.

World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said it was high time for the U.N. Conference of Parties on climate to hold its first health day in its 28th edition, saying the threats to health from climate change were “immediate and present.”

“Although the climate crisis is a health crisis, it’s well overdue that 27 COPs have been and gone without a serious discussion of health,” he said. “Undoubtedly, health stands as the most compelling reason for taking climate action.”

After two days of speeches by dozens of presidents, prime ministers, royals and other top leaders — in the background and off-stage — participants were also turning attention to tough negotiations over the next nine days to push for more agreement on ways to cap global warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 Fahrenheit) since pre-industrial times.

Saturday capped off with the COP28 presidency announcing that 50 oil and gas companies had agreed to reach near-zero methane emissions and end routine flaring in their operations by 2030. They also pledged to reach “net zero” for their operational emissions by 2050.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said “the promises made clearly fall short of what is required.”

In comments Sunday, Guterres called the methane emissions reductions “a step in the right direction.” But he criticized the net zero pledge for excluding emissions from fossil fuel consumption — where the vast majority of the industry’s greenhouse gases come from — and said the announcement provided no clarity on how the companies planned to reach their goals.

“There must be no room for greenwashing,” he said.

Temperature rises caused by the burning of oil, gas and coal have worsened natural disasters like floods, heat waves and drought, and caused many people to migrate to more temperate zones — in addition to the negative knock-on effects for human health.

John Kerry, the U.S. climate envoy, said it was “astonishing” to him that it’s taken so long for health to become a centerpiece of the climate discussion.

“Our bodies are ecosystems, and the world is an ecosystem,” Kerry said. “If you poison our land and you poison our water and you poison our air, you poison our bodies.”

He said his daughter Vanessa, who works with Tedros, “repeats to me frequently that we should not measure progress on the climate crisis just by the degrees averted, but by the lives saved.”

A COP28 declaration backed by some 120 countries stressed the link between health and climate change. It made no mention of phasing out planet-warming fossil fuels, but pledged to support efforts to curb health care sector pollution, which accounts for 5% of global emissions, according to the WHO head.

Diarmid Campbell-Lendrum, head of climate and health at WHO, said heat alone has put pressure on the body and led to higher rates of infectious disease.

“Climate change doesn’t need to be on a death certificate for us to be confident that climate change is causing deaths,” Diarmid Campbell-Lendrum, WHO’s head of climate and health, said.

Dubai, the largest city in oil-rich United Arab Emirates, often faces higher levels of air pollution than other places on Earth due to its location — and haze is common. The city sits on the coast of the Persian Gulf, but further inland begins the Empty Quarter, the massive desert that takes up a third of the Arabian Peninsula.

The city’s boom has led to rapid construction, industrial areas and pollution from automobiles, adding to the impacts of sand and particulate churned by the desert winds. Some 3.5 million people now live in Dubai, up from 183,000 less than 50 years ago, and estimates suggest another million commute into the city-state each day for work.

The Dubai government, on its web site devoted to the environment, listed its Air Quality Index level mostly at “good” on Sunday. Switzerland-based IQAir, a technology company that sells air-quality monitoring products, listed Dubai as the city with the 18th-worst air quality in the world with “moderate” air quality levels as of noon local time on Sunday. It cited high levels of two types of particulate matter in the air, and recommended mask-wearing for “sensitive groups” and a reduction of outdoor exercise.


Associated Press writers Jon Gambrell and Peter Prengaman contributed to this report.


Associated Press climate and environmental coverage receives support from several private foundations. See more about AP’s climate initiative here. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

Israel widens evacuation orders as it shifts its offensive to southern Gaza amid heavy bombardments

Sun, 12/03/2023 - 01:21

KHAN YOUNIS, Gaza Strip (AP) — Israel’s military on Sunday ordered more areas in and around Gaza’s second-largest city of Khan Younis to evacuate, as it shifted its offensive to the southern half of the territory where it says many Hamas leaders are hiding.

Heavy bombardments were reported overnight and into Sunday in the area of Khan Younis and the southern city of Rafah, as well as parts of the north that had been the focus of Israel’s blistering air and ground campaign.

Many of the territory’s 2.3 million people are crammed in the south after Israeli forces ordered civilians to leave the north in the early days of the 2-month-old war, sparked by an Oct. 7 attack by Hamas and other militants that killed about 1,200 people, mostly civilians, in southern Israel. Around 240 more were taken hostage.

With the resumption of fighting, hopes receded that another temporary truce could be negotiated. A weeklong cease-fire, which expired Friday, had facilitated the release of dozens of Gaza-held Israeli and foreign hostages and Palestinians imprisoned by Israel.

“We will continue the war until we achieve all its goals, and it’s impossible to achieve those goals without the ground operation,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in an address Saturday night.

Since the cease-fire collapsed, Hamas has fired scores of rockets into Israel, setting off air raid sirens across southern and central areas. Most rockets are intercepted or fall in open areas, but the fire continues to disrupt life across wide swaths of Israel. Over 200,000 Israelis have been evacuated from their homes along the Gaza and Lebanon borders due to rocket fire since Oct 7.

On Sunday, the Israeli military widened evacuation orders in and around Khan Younis, telling residents of at least five more areas and neighborhoods to leave for their safety. Several hundred thousand Palestinians have received evacuation orders since the fighting resumed but they have few places to go.

Residents said the Israeli military dropped leaflets ordering them to move south to Rafah or to a coastal area in the southwest. “Khan Younis city is a dangerous combat zone,” the leaflets read.

U.N. monitors said in a report issued before the latest evacuation orders that those who were told to leave make up about one-quarter of the territory of Gaza — home to nearly 800,000 people before the war.

Much of Gaza’s population is now packed into the territory’s southern half. The territory itself, bordering Israel and Egypt to the south, is sealed, leaving residents with the only option of moving around within Gaza to avoid the bombings.

There are nearly 958,000 displaced people in 99 United Nations facilities in the southern Gaza Strip, including 34 in Khan Younis, according to Juliette Toma, director of communications at the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees.

The average number of displaced people in U.N. shelters is 9,500, more than four times their usual capacity, according to the agency’s report on Nov. 30. The United States, Israel’s closest ally, has warned Israel to avoid significant new mass displacement.

The main hospital in Khan Younis received at least three dead and dozens wounded Sunday morning from an Israeli strike that hit a residential building in the eastern part of the city, according to an Associated Press journalist at the hospital.

Separately, the bodies of 31 people killed in Israeli bombardment across the central areas of the strip were taken to the Al-Aqsa Martyrs hospital in Gaza’s central city of Deir al-Balah, said Omar al-Darawi, an administrative employee at that hospital.

AP video showed bodies in white bags on the ground outside the hospital in Deri al-Balah as dozens of people held funeral prayers Sunday morning. One woman wept, cradling a child’s body on her lap as she sat on a chair. Another adult carried the body of a baby as he got into a truck taking the remains for burial.

The Israeli military said Sunday that its fighter jets and helicopters “struck terror targets in the Gaza Strip, including terror tunnel shafts, command centers and weapons storage facilities” overnight, while a drone killed five Hamas fighters.

In northern Gaza, rescue teams with little equipment scrambled Sunday to dig through the rubble of buildings in the Jabaliya refugee camp and other neighborhoods in Gaza City in search for potential survivors and dead bodies.

“They strike everywhere,” said Amal Radwan, a woman sheltering in Jabaliya, an urban refugee camp. “There is the non-stop sound of explosions around us.”

Mohamed Abu Abed, who lives in the Sheikh Radwan neighborhood in Gaza City, also said there were relentless airstrikes and shelling in his neighborhood and surrounding areas.

“The situation here is unimaginable,” he said. “Death is everywhere. One can die in a flash.”

The Health Ministry in Hamas-ruled Gaza said Saturday that the overall death toll in the strip since the Oct. 7 start of the war had surpassed 15,200, a sharp jump from the previous count of more than 13,300 on Nov. 20. The ministry does not differentiate between civilian and combatant deaths, but it said 70% of the dead were women and children. It said more than 40,000 people had been wounded since the war began.

U.S. appeals to protect civilians came after an offensive in the first weeks of the war devastated large areas of northern Gaza.

“Too many innocent Palestinians have been killed. Frankly, the scale of civilian suffering and the images and videos coming from Gaza are devastating,” U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris told reporters Saturday during the COP28 climate conference in Dubai.

Mark Regev, a senior adviser to Netanyahu, said Israel was making “maximum effort” to protect civilians and the military has used leaflets, phone calls, and radio and TV broadcasts to urge Gazans to move from specific areas. He added that Israel is considering creating a security buffer zone that would not allow Gazans direct access to the border fence on foot.

Israel says it targets Hamas operatives and blames civilian casualties on the militants, accusing them of operating in residential neighborhoods. It claims to have killed thousands of militants, without providing evidence. Israel says at least 78 of its soldiers have been killed in the offensive in northern Gaza.

Bombardments on Saturday destroyed a block of about 50 residential buildings in the Shijaiyah neighborhood of Gaza City and a six-story building in the urban refugee camp of Jabaliya on the northern edge of the city, said the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

More than 60 people were killed in the Shijaiyah strikes and more than 300 buried under the rubble, the monitors said, citing the Palestinian Red Crescent.

Mahmoud Bassal, a spokesman for Gaza’s Civil Defense, said rescuers lack bulldozers and other equipment to reach those buried under the rubble, confirming the Red Crescent estimate of about 300 people missing. He said the block had housed over 1,000 people.

Meanwhile, Harris told Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi in a meeting that “under no circumstances” would the U.S. permit the forced relocation of Palestinians from Gaza or the West Bank, an ongoing siege of Gaza or the redrawing of its borders, according to a U.S. summary.

The renewed hostilities have heightened concerns for 137 hostages, who the Israeli military says are still being held after 105 were freed during the recent truce. Israel freed 240 Palestinians during the truce. Most of those released by both sides were women and children.

The hostages’ plight has drawn widespread attention and sympathy in Israel, and the release of some during the cease-fire put pressure on the government to negotiate additional releases. The resumption of fighting appears to have put those efforts on hold and raised fears that the remaining hostages could be in danger.

The families of hostages have called for an urgent meeting with Israel’s Security Cabinet, saying time was “running out to save those still held by Hamas.”

A group formed by family members of hostages said Sunday the prime minister and Security Cabinet had a “moral and ethical obligation” to meet with the relatives. “Security Cabinet members must provide families an answer to the question: How do they plan to maintain the supreme goal of the war – returning the hostages alive. Now,” they said.


Magdy reported from Cairo and Becatoros from Athens. Associated Press writer Tia Goldenberg in Tel Aviv, Israel contributed to this report.

Using 3rd-string QB, FSU relies on defense to go 13-0 and win ACC title over Louisville

Sat, 12/02/2023 - 22:56

Matt BakerTampa Bay Times

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — As Florida State celebrated Saturday night’s 16-6 triumph over Louisville in the ACC championship, a fitting song blasted at Bank of America Stadium:

“All I do is win.”

That is all the No. 4 Seminoles do. They win with game-breaking rushes and jump-ball passes. They win with diving interceptions and bone-rattling hits. They win in blowouts and comebacks, with transfers and homegrown talent, at home, at hostile road environments and, twice now, on a neutral field. Thirteen games. Thirteen wins, one after another — good, bad and (on Saturday) ugly.

We won’t know until shortly after noon Sunday whether it’s enough to send FSU to its first College Football Playoff appearance since 2014. No. 7 Texas and No. 8 Alabama will be in the conversation, too.

Those debates can wait. Saturday night was about FSU winning its 16th ACC championship — and, by far, its unlikeliest.

“We made the plays necessary,” coach Mike Norvell said. “That’s what this team is all about.”

A month ago, this team was all about star quarterback Jordan Travis, who was on the sideline in crutches as he recovers from the devastating leg injury he suffered against North Alabama. Travis’ backup, Tate Rodemaker, went through warmups but was ultimately ruled out because of lingering effects from a hit to the head he took in last week’s win at Florida.

That meant the start went to Rodemaker’s backup, Brock Glenn — a true freshman who was inexperienced even by those standards (he missed a month with a hand injury this fall and entered Saturday with four career passes).

Glenn looked the part of a raw rookie. He was nearly sacked on his first snap and brought down on his second and fifth dropbacks. His offense sputtered, opening with four consecutive three-and-outs.

Glenn missed on six of his 12 first-half passes and took a disastrous sack at the end of the second quarter. A shanked punt had given the Seminoles the ball at the Louisville 38. A pair of big plays by Trey Benson moved FSU into the red zone. Then Glenn couldn’t avoid a pass rush and was sacked. The 9-yard loss pushed a field goal attempt back to 45 yards. It missed wide left, leading to the lowest scoring first half (3-0, FSU) in ACC championship-game history.

Fortunately for FSU, the Seminoles had another quarterback: running back Lawrance Toafili.

Facing a stingy Louisville run defense, FSU added more wildcat quarterback plays into the plan to try to find an edge. One of those options was Toafili.

“I was just trying to be ready for my moment,” he said.

That moment came in the third quarter after Louisville (10-3) tied the score at 3. Toafili took a direct snap on the first play of the ensuing drive and found a hole to the right. He hit it and sped 73 yards down the sideline, then pounded in for a 2-yard touchdown on the next snap.

“It was a spark we needed,” Norvell said.

It was a spark that helped Toafili rush for 118 yards — his first 100-yard game of the season and third of his career — and earned him MVP honors. It was also enough to secure FSU’s first conference title since 2014. That’s because, though FSU’s offense did not look playoff-worthy, its defense played at a championship level.

The Seminoles held one of the nation’s top 30 offenses to 188 total yards — less than half the Cardinals’ season average (438.6). Veteran quarterback Jack Plummer missed on eight consecutive throws in the first half. Louisville went three-and-out five times and four-and-out three more. FSU finished with seven sacks, 14 tackles for a loss and a season-high 10 pass breakups.

A special-teams breakdown led to punter Alex Mastromanno getting tackled at the FSU 12 in the fourth quarter. UCF alum Tatum Bethune shrugged it off by intercepting a pass intended for UCF alum Joey Gatewood in the end zone to end the threat.

For the second consecutive game, the Seminoles held their opponent to negative yardage in the fourth quarter; the Gators lost 15 last week, and Louisville lost 23 Saturday.

The Cardinals’ final eight plays: one completion, one stuffed run, three broken-up passes and three sacks. The last one was by Braden Fiske, who dominated with three sacks, 4½ tackles for a loss and two other hurries.

“They just rise up,” Norvell said.

As they did, the entire team rose with them, completing the climb Norvell started four years ago. The once-proud program he inherited was a mess on and off the field. Its NCAA-record bowl streak was over. A team that was once the hallmark of stability was on its third coach in four seasons. A team that once had 14 consecutive top-5 seasons had back-to-back losing campaigns — with more on the way.

Bit by bit, player by player, win by win, FSU climbed out of it and back to national relevance. That’s why Saturday was worth celebrating.

“These guys are champions,” Norvell said.

We’ll find out soon whether that’s enough to earn a trip to the playoff or be relegated to the Orange Bowl. Norvell’s Seminoles made their case for four quarters Saturday the same way they have a dozen other times this season, no matter the injury or adversity, matchup or moment.

“We win,” Norvell said. “We win.”

Affordable homes are granted to families in Delray Beach. More are on the way.

Sat, 12/02/2023 - 05:00

Even when she and her husband were collectively making only about $300 a month, Ernestine Holliday never wanted her family to live in an apartment — they could not fathom giving up the property their home sat on.

Holliday, 81, wanted to pass it on to her children and grandchildren, but that dream only became more difficult as the house aged and money wasn’t available for repairs. That’s when The Set Transformation Plan stepped in.

“Can you imagine a house built in the 1950s?” Holliday said.

Thrive Collective, a community organization, created the “We Are Home” initiative to build affordable homes on the properties of legacy families in a historically Black neighborhood called The Set in Delray Beach.

The Hollidays were one of three families who received new homes each valued under $200,000, which was celebrated during an event Thursday. Plans are in the works to expand the effort across the county, bringing more affordable homes to more families. For some families, it might mean necessary repairs while others’ homes might be so dilapidated that they are demolished and started anew, with the families still having to be approved for a mortgage.

These first three homes were part of the initiative’s phase one. Future phases will include starting new homes from a “We Are Home” waiting list, raise funds for construction costs and expand efforts into cities outside of Delray Beach.

Ali Levin, the executive director of the Delray Beach Community Development Corporation, which will take charge on the future of the project, said the organization collects the names and addresses of interested families. That data can be used to push for more funding, she said.

“This may not be in the next year,” she said. “But most of the families that we’ve worked with, they don’t have another option.”

Levin said she hopes increased exposure to the program will also capture the attention of Palm Beach County officials who could commit funds, especially toward construction costs.

Jonathan Brown, the county’s housing and economic development director, was present at Thursday’s event and said the county’s workforce housing program had a hand in the process, and other areas, like Northwood in West Palm Beach, are looking to replicate what The Set Transformation Plan conducted.

Separately, the county has several ongoing affordable housing efforts, including a first-time homebuyer assistance program, a $200 million bond set aside specifically for affordable housing and a 20,000 affordable housing unit goal in the next 10 years.

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