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Atlantic City and Miami Beach: two takes on tackling the rising waters

Sea level rise is making floods more common and as the New Jersey resort braces for the next Sandy, the well-heeled Florida city is throwing money at the problem

The Irish Pub near Atlantic Citys famed boardwalk doesnt have any locks on the doors as it is open 24 hours a day. So when Hurricane Sandy crunched into what was once known as the Las Vegas of the east coast in 2012, some improvisation was needed.

Regular drinkers helped slot a cork board through the frame of the door, wedging it shut and keeping out the surging seawater. The wild night, which severely damaged more than 320 homes and caused a week-long power blackout, was seen out by those taking shelter with the help of several bottles of Jameson.

But Sandy was just the headline act among increasingly common flooding events that are gnawing away at the thin island upon which the city sits.

Sandy, as devastating as it was, isnt the greatest barometer because we have flash floods, said Cathy Burke, who has run the Irish Pub since 1973. Burke, a gravelly voiced institution along the boardwalk, has hoarded treasures from Atlantic Citys zenith. The upstairs of the pub is replete with vintage furniture, gramophones and china dogs.

We can have floods at the drop of a hat, Burke said. Without even realizing were going to have them. Itll be raining and within seconds youll see flooding in the street. You dont read about it in the paper. You dont hear about it on the radio or television. You just have water that just comes up and if you dont have warning and move your car, you have water in the car.

These flooding events have increased seven-fold in Atlantic City since the 1950s, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and are spurred by rainfall or simply a spring tide abetted by unhelpful gusts of wind.

The casinos and boardwalk are protected on the ocean side by a network of beach dunes. But the western side of the city, where few tourists venture and poverty lingers, is more vulnerable. Several times a month water swells in the bay behind Absecon Island the barrier strip dotted by the resorts of Atlantic City, Ventnor, Margate and Longport and with nowhere to go can slosh into the streets, wrecking cars and stranding residents.

The rising ocean, fed by melting glaciers and the expansion of warming water, is piling up water along Americas entire eastern seaboard. To compound the problem much of the mid-Atlantic coast is sinking, a hangover from the last ice age, meaning life and property is being swamped like never before.

atlantic city sea level

And yet with no overarching national sea level rise plan and patchy commitment from states, many coastal communities are left to deal with the encroaching seas themselves. Wealthier areas are raising streets and houses, erecting walls and pumps. Those without the funds or political will have several state or federal grants they can access but often make muddled choices in the face of this sisyphean task.

There is no central place that makes all the decisions, so you get one town building a pump station to push water out and another town pumping the water back to the same place, said Rouzbeh Nazari, an environmental engineering expert at Rowan University.

Nazari is critical of outdated flood maps, risky building in areas prone to flooding and what he considers an undue haste to buy up water-ravaged houses on the cheap to compensate homeowners rather than improve ragged coastal defenses.

It kind of feels like weve just given up, that we cant do anything about it, he said. Im less worried about a Sandy-like event than nuisance flooding. They are losing 20 cars a month to nuisance flooding on Absecon Island. We need a regional solution but New Jersey has no specific plan to deal with it.

A spokesman for New Jerseys department of environmental protection disputes claims that it lacks a plan, pointing to work with the army corps of engineers over future levees and a solution to inadequate stormwater systems that can exacerbate flooding.

We will be working very closely with coastal communities in identifying problem areas and the best ways to deal with them, the spokesman said. Chris Christie, the New Jersey governor, has previously said there was no evidence that Hurricane Sandy was linked to climate change. Asked about flooding at Cape May last year, Christie said: I dont know what you want me to do, you want me to go down there with a mop?

Tom Quirk, a lifelong resident of Atlantic City, stands in a recently flooded area. Photograph: Laurence Mathieu-Leger for the Guardian

In Atlantic Citys heyday, its Steel Pier hosted concerts by Frank Sinatra and the Beatles, as well as a recurring attraction where a horse was required to dive off a 60ft platform into a pool of water a colossally stupid idea according to the then president of the US Humane Society. Today, it abuts the shuttered Trump Taj Mahal casino, which was sold by the president last year, as well as a tidal gauge that is quietly recording the fate of the city.

The numbers are stark the sea is rising at nearly 1.5 inches (38mm) a decade, streaking ahead of the global average and eroding away the tips of the island. Slender barrier islands such as Absecon arent easy to tame even with a stable sea level. Native Americans used to holiday, but never live, on the shifting sandy outcrop because they knew that it would be perennially mauled by the sea. Today, there are about 40,000 people living in Atlantic City, with the boardwalk drawing in millions of tourists to its hulking casinos.

The Native Americans were a lot smarter than the European settlers, said James Whalen, a former Atlantic City mayor turned state senator. The barrier islands up and down the coast really should not have been built on, but here we are.

And then there are the storms. Ben Horton, a climate scientist at Rutgers University, said that a Sandy-like storm used to occur on the east coast once every 500 years, before industrial activity began loading the atmosphere with greenhouse gases. Now such a storm arrives once every 25 years or so. Should the sea level continue to rise sharply, by 2100 Sandy would visit Atlantic City every five years.

If you chat to people here and you say, How sustainable is the New Jersey shore or Atlantic City to an event of the magnitude of Hurricane Sandy occurring every five years?, youll get a very negative response, Horton said.

The sustainability of Atlantic City consumes the thoughts of Elizabeth Terenik, the citys spry planning director. Terenik said the rise in nuisance flooding has become a major quality of life issue for back-bay residents. Many of those able to have raised their homes new buildings must now be a foot higher than previous codes due to the flooding.

Terenik is plotting new sea walls, a curb on new development in flood-prone areas and an underground canal that can funnel away stormwater. Perhaps most ambitiously, she is taken by an idea, put forward by Princeton University, that would raise the streets and houses in Chelsea Heights, a vulnerable neighborhood, and allow the water to seep into vacant land to create a sort of New Jersey twist on Venice.

Its an exciting project but one that really needs to be looked at closely before anythings moved forward and of course it would need funding, Terenik conceded. A lot of funding.

Miami Beach: climate gentrification

Funding isnt such a problem 1,200 miles south at another barrier island facing a daunting challenge from the seas Miami Beach. While it shares much of Atlantic Citys bygone glory, with its art deco grandeur and former celebrity playground status, Miami Beach linked by causeways to the mainland city of Miami has managed to retain much of the wealth that has allowed it to hurl money at the sea level rise problem.

Pancake flat and built on porous ground that is slowly sinking back to the seabed, Miami Beach is surrounded by seas accelerating at an astonishing 9mm a year vastly more than the 3mm-a-year global average. Should slabs of Antarctic ice start to crumble away into the ocean and fuel a 6ft sea level rise by 2100, Miami Beach will pretty much be swallowed up.

We are facing an existential threat here, said Kristen Rosen Gonzalez, Miami Beachs city commissioner. Gonzalez, a college professor, focused heavily on sea level rise when she was elected last year. Its not really much of a choice these days the mayor, Philip Levine, paddled down a flooded street in a canoe as part of an election stunt.

miami beach sea level

Once known as a sunny place for shady people due to its popularity with pre-war gangsters, Miami Beach is now often referred to as ground zero for the sea level rise phenomenon. But its perhaps more like a living laboratory experiment into what happens when you give a cashed-up place the task of avoiding drowning.

Miami Beach is spending $400m on a network of pumps, sea walls and raised streets in order to beat the tides. One vulnerable neighborhood, Sunset Harbor, has had its streets raised by 2ft at a cost of over $30m. All over the island, predominantly in the wealthier neighborhoods where properties go for $10m or more, streets are being torn up.

Kristen Rosen Gonzalez: Were literally going to have to rise above this. Photograph: Michael Landsberg for the Guardian

Were literally going to have to rise above this, Gonzalez said. Thats very scary for many of us because right now, we cant really picture what that looks like. It is so hard to imagine parts of Miami Beach disappearing. A lot of this island is fill. We filled it in once. Well fill it in again.

City engineers admit that they are merely buying themselves time, perhaps 20 years or so, until Miami Beach will need to work the problem out again, possibly with some new technology. The seas are relentless, and rising ever further without end in sight. Much of southern Florida will eventually be reclaimed, but for now there is trillions of dollars of real estate to save.

Retreat isnt on the agenda, but as in Atlantic City theres an equity issue at play. The affluent can afford to raise their homes, lobby for sea walls and water pumps, and stay in a nice hotel if it all gets a bit much.

Poorer residents are less able to do this, nor can they foot the bill for the work Miami Beach has eye-watering average water bills of $350 a month in order to pay for the street work. Some people may have to leave if the costs mount further. Even some of the wealthier residents are buying insurance properties in areas of the mainland, farther from the coast.

Valencia Gunder calls this phenomenon climate gentrification. Gunder is a nascent climate campaigner and resident of Liberty City, a Miami district known for its problems with crime and poverty. Gunder has been agitating, so far unsuccessfully, for some large trees to help shade the Liberty City populace from increasingly frequent heatwaves. She gives a wry smile at the mention of Miami Beachs extreme engineering.

Were noticing things like heatstrokes and people passing out because its so hot outside, people cant take the heat, she said.

I do understand that you want to take care of the community thats right on the shore, but we all are affected. Four hundred million dollars, yes, is needed for resiliency, but just to put it in one neighborhood I think is ridiculous.

Michel Rodriguez tries to jump to a shallow spot as he crosses a flooded street in Miami Beach in 2015. Photograph: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

We pay taxes. We live here. We go to school here. We work here. We deserve the same treatment as other communities.

Federal leadership for communities like Atlantic City and Miami Beach is unlikely to arrive before the situation escalates further. Donald Trumps administration has already taken aim at existing coastal resiliency funding and has disparaged basic scientific understanding of climate change.

Should the seas rise by 6ft, 13 million Americans in coastal areas will have to relocate by the end of this century, according to recent research. There will need to be a plan, beyond just cutting emissions, well before this time.

In the meantime, threatened cities such as New York and Boston will mull gargantuan sea barriers, Miami Beach will hoist itself further upwards, and Atlantic City will hope a solution, or a combination of solutions, is found before the next Sandy arrives.

What links these places is the reluctance to abandon them. Miami Beach is one of the most special places in the entire world and we dont plan on going anywhere, said Gonzalez. Were going to be here for the long haul. I love this city. Its my home. I cant imagine there not being a Miami Beach.

Back in Atlantic City, Cathy Burke, surrounded by her Boardwalk Empire-style refinements, is similarly defiant.

I am a diehard Atlantic City native, she said. I love Atlantic City. I dont want to live anywhere else.

Ive seen hotels demolished. Storms, whatever. And as far as Im concerned, Atlantic City will always be here and it will only get bigger and better than ever.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/mar/20/atlantic-city-miami-beach-sea-level-rise

Trump on track to spend exorbitant amount of taxpayer dollars on travels

By one estimate the president has already rung up as much in travel costs as the Obama and Biden families did in eight years all at the expense of taxpayers

Nothing used to rile devoted Barack Obama critics like the presidents winter Hawaiian vacation. A watchdog group once calculated that the Aloha state trips cost taxpayers $3.5m a pop in airfare, security arrangements, communications and medical staff.

Among the harshest critics of Obamas travel was Donald Trump, then a private citizen. President Obamas vacation is costing taxpayers millions of dollars—-Unbelievable! Trump tweeted in 2012. Two years later, Trump tweeted that Obamas motto was: If I dont go on taxpayer funded vacations & constantly fundraise then the terrorists win.

The joke, it turns out, is on Trump. Now he is the president and it appears that he is on track to spend many more millions of taxpayer dollars on trips that might be construed as vacations for him and his family than Obama ever dreamed of. The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward… Mar-a-Lago?

By one sketchy estimate, Trump and his family, in their security and travel demands, have already rung up as much in accounts payable by taxpayers as the Obama and Biden families did in eight years, a figure elsewhere calculated, by the Washington DC-based Judicial Watch, as topping $97m.

How is it possible? The complicated receipt involves weekend trips by Trump to Mar-a-Lago, his resort in Palm Beach, Florida; travel by his children and their government security details on Trump family business; and costs associated with protecting Trumps Manhattan home, the high-rise Trump Tower building, where Trumps wife and youngest child live but where the real estate mogul himself has not set foot since becoming president.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/mar/04/donald-trump-travel-costs-mar-a-lago-taxpayers

From book to boom: how the Mormons plan a city for 500,000 in Florida

The Mormon church owns vast tracts of US land, and now envisages a huge new city on its Deseret Ranch but at what cost?

Everything about the Deseret cattle and citrus ranch, in central Florida, is massive. The property itself occupies 290,000 acres of land more than nine times the size of San Francisco and almost 20 times the size of Manhattan. It is one of the largest ranches in the country, held by the one of the biggest landowners in the state: the Mormon church.

On an overcast weekday afternoon, Mormon missionaries give tours of the vast estate. Fields, orange trees and grazing animals stretch as far as the eye can see. While central Florida may be best known for Disney World, the ranch roughly an hours drive away is nearly 10 times bigger. It is home to a jaw-dropping 40,000 cows and has grown oranges for millions of glasses of juice.

Now there are ambitious, far-reaching plans to transform much of this land into an entirely new city, home to as many as 500,000 people by 2080. Deseret has said that while nothing will be built here for decades, its plans are necessary because urban growth in the area is inevitable and the alternative is piecemeal development. A slide from a 2014 presentation explains: We think in terms of generations.

The Deseret Ranch in central Florida. The Mormon church has said it plans are necessary because urban growth in the area is inevitable. Photograph: John Raoux/AP

Deserets plans, which were given the green light by local county commissioners in 2015, are thought to be the largest-ever proposed in the state and have attracted high-profile attention. Critics have accused the plans of putting already stressed natural habitats and critical resources, such as water, in further jeopardy.

This is not a typical housing development. It is an entire region of the state of Florida and it is the last remaining wilderness, said Karina Veaudry, a landscape architect in Orlando and member of the Florida Native Plant Society. It is, she stressed, a plan on an unprecedented scale: This project impacts the entire state, ecologically.

For years, environmental groups protested that it was too risky to build so much on such ecologically important land particularly in one of the few areas of Florida that hasnt already been consumed by sprawling developments. We fought it and fought it and fought it, said Veaudry, who described it as nothing less than a David and Goliath struggle.

Except this time, Goliath was part of the property empire of the Mormon church.

Faith and property

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has long influenced urban developments in America through specific ideas about town planning. In the 1830s, the churchs founder, Joseph Smith, laid out a vision for compact, self-sufficient agrarian cities. These were utopian in conception and have been hailed as a precursor to smart growth planning.

The plans for the Deseret ranch in central Floridahave shone a spotlight on another side of the churchs influence: its investments in land and real estate. Today, the church owns land and property across the US through a network of subsidiaries. Its holdings include farmland, residential and commercial developments, though it remains notoriously tight-lipped about its business ventures.

The church has been buying up land in central Florida since the 1950s, starting with 50,000 acres for Deseret Ranch since expanded almost sixfold. Its most recent major acquisition, by the church-owned company AgReserves, was another 380,000 acres in the states north-western panhandle the strip of land that runs along the Gulf of Mexico. Deseret Ranchs website quotes the late church president, Gordon B Hinckley, as saying that farms are both a safe investment where the assets of the church may be preserved and enhanced and an agricultural resource to feed people should there come a time of need.

Across America, subsidiaries of the church reportedly hold 1m acres of agricultural land. This is thought to include land in Nebraska, Oklahoma, Utah and Texas. Church companies are also thought to hold land outside the US, including in Canada and Brazil. In 2014, when church-owned farms in Australia were put up for sale, reports estimated their worth at about $120m (72.8m).

The Salt Lake Temple in Salt Lake City where the church has its headquarters. Photograph: George Frey/Getty Images

Recent real estate investments by church companies include the 2016 purchase of a 380-unit apartment complex in Texas, estimated to be worth tens of millions of dollars, and, in Philadelphia, a shopping area, a 32-storey apartment block and a landscaped plaza being built across the street from a newly constructed Mormon temple.

In Salt Lake City, where the church has its headquarters, a church company is currently working on a new master-planned community on the citys west side for almost 4,000 homes. Last year, another investment was unveiled: the new high-end 111 Main skyscraper. Goldman Sachs is reportedly signed up as a tenant.

This city was built by Mormons. In the 19th century, early Mormon settlers gave Salt Lake City bridges, miles of roads, rail and other infrastructure. Hundreds of businesses were also set up: banks, a network of general stores, mining companies. The citys Temple Square is filled with statues glorifying the pioneers.

Nearby is a more contemporary monument to the investing and enterprising church: the City Creek Center, a new shopping mall with 100 stores and a retractable glass roof. It cost an estimated $1.5bn. At its grand opening, a church leader cut a pink ribbon and cheered: One, two, three lets go shopping!

The church said its investment in the mall would help revitalise central Salt Lake City as part of a wider multibillion-dollar initiative called Downtown Rising. Bishop H David Burton said it would create the necessary jobs and added that any parcel of property the church owns that is not used directly for ecclesiastical worship is fully taxed at its market value.

The City Creek Center project has been controversial, however even among Mormons. Some current and former church members have questioned why money invested in such projects isnt spent on charitable initiatives instead.

In 2013, Jason Mathis, executive director of Salt Lake Citys Downtown Alliance business development group, said the church was an interesting landlord. Theyre not worried about the next quarter, he explained. They have a much longer perspective they want to know what the city will look like in the next 50 or 100 years.

The City Creek shopping centre in Salt Lake City, which reportedly cost $1.5bn. Photograph: Rick Bowmer/AP

Black box finances

Projects such as the Salt Lake City shopping centre have certainly focused attention on the churchs investments, but it remains secretive about its revenues and finances.

An entity called Deseret Management Corporation is understood to control many of the churchs enterprises, through subsidiaries focused on different commercial interests including insurance and publishing.

Several church ventures bear the name Deseret itself a term from the Book of Mormon meaning honeybee and intended to represent goals of productivity and self-sufficiency.

In central Florida, the churchs Deseret Ranch is understood to sell cows to Cargill, a Minnesota-based trading company, and oranges to Tropicana, as well as renting land to hunters and other companies.

Deseret, however, declined to confirm this. It said: As a private investment affiliate of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Deseret Ranch does not release financial information or details about our production and customers.

The churchs press office in Salt Lake City also did not respond to emails from the Guardian.

Previously, church officials have emphasised that finance for its companies investments do not come from tithing donations (church members are supposed to contribute 10% of their income each year) but from profits from other such ventures.

But these and other claims, even when offered, are also difficult to verify. Ultimately their finances are a black box according to Ryan Cragun, associate professor of sociology at the University of Tampa.

Cragun previously worked with Reuters to estimate in 2012 that the church owns temples and other buildings worth $35bn and receives as much as $7bn in members tithing each year. But he says the church stopped releasing annual financial information to its own members many years ago.

Estimating their total land holdings? Good luck, says Cragun. Nobody knows how much money the church actually has and why theyre buying all of this land and developing land.

The Mormon church-owned skyscraper at 111 Main in Salt Lake City. Photograph: City Creek Reserve

A new city for Florida

Over the last half-century, Florida has become something of a laboratory for ambitious and sometimes surreal master-planned communities. In southern Florida, for example, the founder of Dominos Pizza funded the construction of a Catholic town called Ave Maria. Closer to Orlando is the town of Celebration, developed by the Walt Disney Company, where shops on meticulously maintained streets sell French pastries and luxury dog treats.

Across Florida, more new subdivisions and developments are planned. Many of these projects have drawn criticism for their potential impact on Floridas already stressed water resources.

Sprawl is where the money is, and people want homes with big lawns and nearby golf courses, a columnist for the Florida Times-Union newspaper recently lamented. He suggested the state should step in to ban water-hungry grass varieties and introduce stronger planning procedures to limit large-scale developments.

The ranchs plans are the largest of these yet. Indeed, they are thought to be the largest-ever proposed in the state, and this land lies in an area thats been called Floridas last frontier.

In 2015, local Osceola county officials approved the North Ranch sector plan, which covers a 133,000-acre slice of Deseret property. As part of this plan, tens of thousands of these acres have been earmarked for conservation lands, not to be built on; and, in addition, Deseret has insisted that it will also continue ranching operations here for generations in the future.

But most of this land, under the approved plan, could be transformed into a new urban landscape. By 2080, it could be home to as many as 500,000 people. The plan explicitly refers to a new fully functioning city.

It envisages a massive development complete with a high-intensity, mixed-use urban centre and a variety of centres and neighbourhoods. There would be 16 communities and a regional hub with a footprint of around one square mile equal to [that] of downtown Orlando.

The Lake Nona complex of master-planned communities where the grass is greener. Photograph: Claire Provost

New office blocks, civic buildings, high-rise hotels and apartment buildings are among the structures anticipated, along with new schools, a hospital, parks and a university and research campus. New motorways and rail lines would connect it all to Orlando and cities along Floridas eastern coast.

The document argues that the plan is necessary to prepare for expected population growth. More than 80% of the vacant developable land in the very area where demographic and economic forces are propelling an increasing share of the regions population and job growth is located on Deserets North Ranch, it says.

In an email to the Guardian, Dale Bills, a spokesperson for Deseret Ranch, said it offers a framework for future land use decisions but will not be implemented for decades.

Were not developers, but the sector plan allows us to be involved in shaping what the ranch will look like over the next 50-60 years, Bills said. When growth does come to the region the plan will help create vibrant communities that are environmentally responsible and people-friendly, he said.

The plan also provides for continued farming operations, Bills added, meaning that generations from now, Deseret will still be doing what we love growing food and caring for the land.

Meanwhile, the ranch has set aside another, smaller block of its land for a separate and more immediate project called Sunbridge, to be developed by the Tavistock Group known in the area for its Lake Nona complex of master-planned communities just south-east of Orlandos international airport.

A render of the Lake Nona development. Photograph: KPMG

On a weekday afternoon, the still largely empty Lake Nona development is silent. Signs planted by the road proclaim it is where the grass is greener. At the visitors centre, a pair of well-dressed women chat over coffee. A sales agent hands out glossy brochures with aspirational verbs embossed on its cover: DISCOVER. EVOLVE. INNOVATE.

Still under construction, Lake Nona describes itself as a city of the future with super-fast internet connections, one of the top private [golf] clubs in the world and homes ranging from luxury apartments to sprawling estates. Less than an hours drive from the ranch, it offers a potential hint of whats to come.

The damage is done

Until this happened [the ranch] was a quiet neighbour, said Jenny Welch, 54, a registered nurse and environmental activist who lived in the area for decades before leaving earlier this year. When I first moved here in 1980, I thought it was great because it would never be developed. This is such environmentally important land. Its a wildlife corridor. There are wetlands.

Major concerns about the Deseret North Ranch plan have included how much water it will consume, the impact of proposed new roads and the amount of land set aside for conservation.

Veaudry, the Orlando landscape architect, said environmental groups tried to engage with the Deseret plans from the beginning by raising concerns but also suggesting enhanced measures to protect local ecosystems.

But, she said, what was ultimately approved was pretty much the nail in the coffin for decades-long efforts to establish a north-south ecological corridor to allow wildlife and ecosystems to flow across the state. It would put literally a city right in the middle of it, she said.

The new city envisaged for this land wont be constructed overnight. While the overall plan for the area has been approved, more approvals will be needed on specific details. This has not reassured critics.

Florida environmentalist Charles Pattison has argued that the long time frame only makes it harder to monitor the project. People involved in this today will not be around to see [it] through to completion, as many new administrative and elected officials will come and go over that time, he said.

The main guidelines, the amount of conservation, how wide the buffers have to be, all of that is already approved and set, said Veaudry. As far as I understand it, the damage is done. Locals know what happened. The Mormon church is the largest landowner here. And they have enormous resources.

The second half of Claire Provosts exploration of Mormon city planning will appear tomorrow. Follow Guardian Cities on Twitter and Facebook to join the discussion, and explore our archive here

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2017/jan/30/from-book-to-boom-how-the-mormons-plan-a-city-for-500000-in-florida

Fort Lauderdale shooting: FBI agent who interrogated Saddam leads probe

George Piro investigates airport shooting in which five people died, as suspect Esteban Santiago revealed to be Iraq veteran who was known to authorities

The FBI agent who interrogated Saddam Hussein is leading the investigation into the Florida airport shooting in which five people were killed on Friday. An Iraq war veteran has been charged over the incident.

George Piro, special agent in charge of the FBIs Miami field office, was sole interrogator of the former Iraqi leader, beginning in January 2004.

In previous interviews, Piro has said Saddam did not know his true identity calling him Mr George and that he posed as a high-level envoy who answered directly to President George W Bush.

Now Piro, a native of Beirut who is fluent in Arabic and Assyrian, is in charge of the FBI investigation into the shooting at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport that left five people dead and six wounded.

Federal prosecutors have charged Esteban Santiago, 26, with airport violence and firearms offenses that could bring the death penalty if he is convicted.

Since Friday, Piro has been careful to say no evidence linking Santiago to terrorism has been found but such connections have also not been ruled out.

Its way too early in the investigation, he said on Saturday. Were looking over all of his social media, things like that. Its giving us a picture of the individual but its way too early for us to rule out anything.

Were pursuing all angles on what prompted him to carry out this horrific attack.

On Saturday, officials Florida and Alaska detailed Santiagos extensive contacts with law enforcement relating to mental health issues.

Santiagos brother, Bryan Santiago, told the Associated Press: The FBI failed there … were not talking about someone who emerged from anonymity to do something like this.

The federal government already knew about this for months, they had been evaluating him for a while, but they didnt do anything.

Announcing the charges on Saturday, Piro said his thoughts were with the victims and their families.

I want to ensure these families that law enforcement is working tirelessly in order to ensure justice is served, he said.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/jan/08/fort-lauderdale-airport-shooting-fbi-agent-saddam-hussein

The solar-powered town: a dream for the environment or a wildlife nightmare?

Babcock Ranch, the brainchild of ex-NFL player Syd Kitson, aims to be a model of sustainability but campaigners fear it will be tragic for endangered panther

Florida real estate has a bad habit of reflecting the boom-and-bust cycles of the US economy but Babcock Ranch, a new development opening early next year and designed to be the worlds first solar-powered town, is hoping it can provide the Sunshine state with a model for sustainable living.

That, at least, is the hope of Syd Kitson, a former offensive guard with the Green Bay Packers turned real estate developer, who is behind an ambitious project that Kitson describes as the countrys most sustainable, most innovative and health-focused new town in the US.

Bordered by the Babcock Ranch preserve and the 65,000-acre Cecil M Webb wildlife management area, Babcock Ranch is at the centre of south-west Floridas newest growth corridor, just 20 minutes east of downtown Fort Myers.

Kitson and his backers bought the estate for more than $500m in 2006 from the heirs of Edward Vose Babcock, a former mayor of Pittsburgh. The developer sold 73,000 acres to the state, creating the preserve, and designated 18,000 acres to the development and 9,000 acres to parkland.

At its completion, Babcock is expected to grow to 19,500 homes, with a downtown with commercial space and extensive infrastructure, including a 75-megawatt solar facility generating electricity for the town, self-driving cars, groves of oak and natural plants for landscaping, community and kitchen gardens, a farm-to-table restaurant, a charter school and an extensive network of lakes and irrigation designed to reduce the developments environmental impact.

Environmentalists claim the project threatens the habitat of the Florida panther. Photograph: Alamy

I want to prove that development and preservation can work hand in hand, says Kitson. You see the carelessness of new developments in terms of energy consumption, care for the environment, how you think about energy, technology, transportation, theres a responsibility on us to prove it can be done differently.

But can it? Florida is expecting population growth of 6 million by 2030. Many of the states natural resources are under pressure from environmental degradation, including from sea level rise and overuse of ground water. Babcock is 20ft above sea level, and built on land that had been disturbed by rock mining.

Kitsons plan was to make Babcock sustainable from the outset. Gone are energy-draining McMansions and water-demanding lawns. The houses are designed smaller in scale, with dining rooms eliminated, and built in traditional Floridian ranch style with front and back porches.

Were looking at the average house performing 10-20% better than Florida energy code, says Dr Jennifer Languell, a green practices adviser on the project. Ultimately, however, theres no way to get around the demand for air conditioning in Floridas environment.

We can create airflow through the house, but the bottom line is we have to address the humidity and the only way to get the moisture out is to mechanically remove it.

Kitson says he toured large-scale communities to see how sustainability could be incorporated into real estate developments, including Serenbe on the edge of Atlanta; he travelled as far as Abu Dhabi in the process. Kitson says surveys he commissioned revealed that people want to be part of something that is sustainable, and want to know that where theyre going to live is not only not harmful to the environment but actually helps it.

Kitson says his determination was to create a sustainable community that functioned as a complete community. Its about a well-rounded good life, he says, not about being locked away from the world. Its kind of like going back to the way things used to be.

But how much of that is feasible? Egrets and a large alligator moving through a channel in the Babcock preserve suggest that the 10-year delay in starting the development has been beneficial to indigenous species. Kitsons environmental projects include placing a pollinating garden around the solar field to attracting bees and beetles to help the environment and sustainability; the Babcock plans envisage landscaping that can be beautiful but not thirsty.

One expectation is that by using a network of driverless cars, Babcock residents will ultimately scale back on car ownership, bring a familys auto needs down from two cars to one, allowing land that would be used for multi-car garages to be reassigned.

Still, the development of land in south-west Florida is controversial. Babcock lies close to one of the last habitats of Floridas dwindling panther population. Wildlife groups say the Babcock development risks cutting off the big cats passage between the two parcels of land large enough to support a population.

A 2006 report by the Fish and Wildlife Service found there would be no direct effect in the form of mortality or injury of the Florida panther resulting from this project. But it is feared that additional habitat loss from development of land around Babcock, and injury to the animals from traffic and illegal hunting, will further reduce the viability of the population.

The Florida panther is an endangered species and this development is locking them into a small area, says Matthew Schwartz of the South Florida Wildlands Association. Roadkill and habitat loss is just destroying the population because it has nowhere to expand into.

Schwartz says the town of Babcock Ranch is going smack into what the Fish and Wildlife Service identified as a possible expansion area. Thats tragic not only for the panther, but for black bears, eastern indigo snakes, red-cockaded woodpeckers and a whole range of species living under its umbrella.

The environmentalist says the threat to wildlife is not simply the development of Babcock itself, but the development of surrounding areas.

They say theyre only using land that was previously disturbed but other private lands nearby will also be developed once people start moving in. People will want movie theaters and shopping centres, all the things that are part of urban sprawl. This project is making undeveloped habitats around it much more vulnerable.

The developers didnt need to come into undeveloped habitat to start a solar project there are plenty of communities they could have retrofitted with solar, Schwartz adds.

When Babcock opens to the public early next year, it will be greeted as a new model town. How far it can serve as a model for a more sustainable future remains open to question.

Its an experiment, says Kitson. Ive spent half my life hiking, camping, being part of nature. A lot more people are thinking about how theyre living and how theyre affecting their environment. We have a unique opportunity to create a place in a way that hasnt been done before. If we can get it right, we think its going to set a standard.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/dec/25/solar-powered-town-babcock-ranch-environmentalist-panther

Genetically modified mosquitoes could be released in Florida Keys by spring

In fight against Zika, British company Oxitec must seek approval from FDA for insects release into the wild following Monroe County referendum

Genetically modified mosquitoes could be released in the Florida Keys as early as this spring, an official said, after voters in Monroe County, Florida, approved the experiment in a referendum on election day.

The British company Oxitec will still need to apply to the US Food and Drug Administration for approval, as the original location for the trial Key Haven voted against the trial. The experiment could be the first time a genetically modified animal is released into the wild in the United States.

We decided we have so many other options in the county that we are going to pick another site in the county, and not worry about Key Haven for the trial, said Phil Goodman, a commissioner with the Florida Keys mosquito control district and longtime supporter of the trial.

The male mosquitoes modified by Oxitec are designed to control Aedes aegypti mosquito populations by mating with wild females, and passing a gene to their offspring that stops them from reaching maturity. Only male mosquitoes are to be released (one out of every 1,000 could be female). Male mosquitoes do not bite.

The mosquitoes are meant to undermine the same mosquitoes that spread Zika, a virus that can cause birth defects in children born to infected mothers. The virus ravaged Brazil before arriving this spring in Puerto Rico, an American territory, and then parts of Miami.

Oxitec has billed the mosquitoes as a way to control populations without poisonous insecticides. However, opposition to the trial was widespread in Key Haven, a small, upscale community near Key West. Just 35% of Key Haven residents supported the measure, whereas 58% of voters supported it in Monroe County as a whole.

Though Oxitec plans to abandon the Key Haven location, countywide support means the company can look for a new location to run the trial in Monroe County.

While we did not win over every community in the Keys, Oxitec appreciates the support received from the community, Oxitec CEO Hadyn Parry said in a release. He said the company, is prepared to take the next steps with the Florida Keys Mosquito Control Board to trial its environmentally-friendly and non-persisting mosquito control solution.

Some opposition also came from the broader Florida Keys community. Mila de Mier, a real estate agent in Key West, said she planned on personally shepherding lawsuits against the trial should it go forward elsewhere in Monroe County.

I wasnt surprised, I wasnt very surprised at all, said de Mier about the referendum result. De Mier is one of the most fervent opponents of Oxitec. She and many others contend that the impacts of such a release are not well enough studied to justify the risk of releasing the animals.

Oxitec has long portrayed itself as a community-oriented company. Their spokesperson, Derric Nimmo, previously told the Guardian he personally went door-to-door to try to convince Key Haven residents of the value of the experiment.

But during the election, the company took more drastic measures, funding a political committee called Florida Keys Safety Alliance to promote its product, Florida Keys News reported.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/nov/26/zika-virus-genetically-modified-mosquitoes-florida

Battle for Florida: Trump and Clinton home in on crucial state as voting begins

The two candidates have differing strategies in a state where turnout among Hispanic voters could sway the entire election and its a must-win for Trump

In Little Havana, a vibrant Latino neighborhood just west of downtown Miami, a queue of a couple of dozen prospective voters had formed outside one of Hillary Clintons field offices.

Sandwiched between an insurance company and immigration counsel office, the group had arrived for tickets to a free Jennifer Lopez concert. But there was one caveat: to attend the Saturday evening show, at Bayfront Park on Miamis Biscayne Bay, fans were first required to visit a Clinton campaign field office.

theIt was one of the many creative ways in which the Democratic nominees campaign was seeking to engage likely voters in the critical battleground of Florida, a state with a key role in determining whether Clinton or her Republican opponent Donald Trump is elected on 8 November as the next president of the United States.


Inside this modest campaign space, one of 82 Clinton field offices in the Sunshine State, yellow-painted walls bore signs that read phrases such as Juntos Se Puede (Together We Can) and Why build a wall against Hispanics when they built this country?

English or Spanish? a volunteer asked as two sisters stepped into the office hoping to secure a pair of concert tickets. Spanish, they responded.

Azalia and Lucia Rodriguez, both US citizens originally from Nicaragua, had already made up their mind. Trump had hit a nerve, they said, within Floridas sprawling Hispanic community.

If you dont vote, thats an extra vote for Trump, said Lucia, a 19-year-old college student. I have family members that might be deported, and just to be safe I wouldnt vote for him.

Azalia, a 27-year-old in real estate, put it even more bluntly when asked why she was voting for Clinton: Well, Im Hispanic and I dont like what Trump says.

Turnout among Hispanic voters might sway the outcome of the election in a state where one of the fastest-growing demographics in the country holds substantial influence. A half-dozen volunteers worked the phones in both English and Spanish, targeting a list of likely Clinton supporters while making a strong push for the early voting process that began on 24 October.

The Obama campaign worked out of the same office in 2012, recognizing a shift in demographics. While the Cubans who dominated the area typically voted Republican, a younger generation has in recent years leaned Democratic; and non-Cuban Hispanics, a reliably Democratic voting bloc, also increasingly live in the area.

In 2000, a controversial recount in Florida determined whether Al Gore or George W Bush would become president. Sixteen years later, the state is still vital terrain in the presidential race Trump, trailing Clinton in other must-win swing states, needs to secure the states 29 electoral votes to have a path to victory.

How will the US election be decided?

But roughly 15 miles away, a Trump field office in West Miami one of 29 paid for by Republican Party of Florida, was bustling not with likely voters but with volunteers making do with limited resources.

A handful unloaded boxes containing just under 110,000 door hangers, while others were constructing Trump-Pence yard signs. But of over a dozen phones, only two were occupied.

Many of the volunteers, comprising mainly older Cubans, complained of an election that was rigged.

The media was in Clintons pocket, the volunteers argued, and even the Republican establishment was colluding to defeat the real estate mogul who earlier this year defied all odds to become the GOPs nominee for president.

Im here for Donald Trump, not for the Republican party, said Abraham Alvarez, a 47-year-old ramp supervisor at Miami international airport who for the last month has been volunteering for the campaign unpaid.

Have you heard of the New World Order? he added, invoking the conspiracy about a globalist elite that plans to take control of the world through authoritarian rule. The whole establishment, theyve been working on this for a long time.

To Floridians like Alvarez, the election had already been rigged in Clintons favor.

It is highly unlikely that the outcome on 8 November will be anything like that of 2000, when the result of the month-long recount over Floridas electoral votes was ultimately decided by the US supreme court after vicious partisan squabbling over hanging chads and butterfly ballots. Trumps campaign trails Clinton in the majority of public polling.

But the campaign is nonetheless likely to be just as hard-fought in a state such as Florida, which in many ways resembles a confederation of fiefdoms.

Photograph: Mapbox, OpenStreetMap

Floridas northern panhandle is the heart of the old south. Live oak trees are draped with Spanish moss and residents speak in slow southern drawls. South Florida is as much a part of the Caribbean as the United States, and Spanish is as widely spoken as English.

In between is an ethnic hodgepodge: north of Miami, in Palm Beach and Broward Counties, there are heavily Jewish enclaves descended from transplanted New Yorkers; in Orlando, there is a rapidly growing Puerto Rican community fleeing the islands economic crisis, while in the Villages, there is an entire city of over 150,000 residents who are all transplanted retirees.

Recognizing the state is beholden to neither the Democrats nor the Republicans, both Clinton and Trump graced Florida this week as the clock ticked closer to election day.

Trump held a rally on Tuesday in Tallahassee, an island of Democratic blue in deep-red north Florida where the presence of the state capitol and Florida State University makes the sleepy city comparatively liberal.

Supporters cheer Donald Trump during a rally at the Antique Car Museum property on Tuesday in Tallahassee. Photograph: Mark Wallheiser/Getty Images

There, speaking in front of a farm wagon laden with pumpkins to mark the fall season, Trump made a non-specific pitch for early voting: Early voting in Florida is under way so make sure you get out and vote. We have a thing going on that theyve never seen before.

A more effective pitch was made by volunteers standing at the entrance to the rally who stood holding clipboards with forms for attendees to sign up for absentee ballots.

Clinton made a two-day swing through the state, with stops that included Broward County, a formerly Republican stronghold now solidly Democratic, and Palm Beach, home to Trumps opulent Mar-a-Lago resort.

Her venues were also strategically chosen: across the street from Clintons event in Broward on Tuesday was a polling center which hundreds who attended her rally immediately visited to vote early.

Nate Williams, 37, was accompanied by his six-year-old daughter.

She dont like Donald Trump, what he said about women, he said of his daughter, who clutched a Barbie doll while standing by his side. He was referring to the controversial tape of the Republican nominee bragging about groping women without their consent.

She dont really know the comments, Williams said. She just knows he said some real negative things about women.

Betty Joseph, a native of Haiti residing in nearby Tamarac, said she was concerned about the implications of a Trump presidency.

I believe that would be civil war, she said, emerging from the polling site after voting for Clinton. With his mouth, it could cause a lot of trouble for the country.

Early voting has long been a key indicator in Florida. In 2012, 4.8 million Floridians cast their ballots before election day, a total higher than the turnout in 44 other states.

But while Republicans have typically held the advantage in early voting, data available thus far finds Democrats encroaching on their lead. Republicans were ahead in early voting by just over 18,000 votes on Tuesday, whereas in 2008 their edge exceeded 113,000 at the same time. Hispanic participation in early voting was also up from previous cycles, likely favoring Clinton based on most public polling of the group.

Democrats also held a seven-point lead over Republicans in new registered voters, according to a memo distributed this week by Clintons Florida operation. The campaign also touted closing the longtime Republican advantage in vote-by-mail ballot requests and returns, with roughly 406,000 Democrats having returned their ballots versus 421,000 Republicans.

Supporters of Hillary Clinton try to shake hands with the candidate at a rally at Palm Beach State College in Lake Worth, Florida, on Wednesday. Photograph: Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images

Even so, polling points to a competitive race with Clinton ahead of Trump by 3.5 points according to an average of public surveys compiled by various trackers.

Speaking in Coconut Creek on Tuesday, Clinton warned her supporters not to take matters for granted.

Its going to be a close election, she said at Broward Colleges North Campus, across from the early voting site. Pay no attention to the polls. Dont get complacent.

Underscoring her commitment to Florida, Clintons campaign confirmed she would return to the state as early as Saturday.

Trump, for his part, followed his Florida tour with a jaunt to Washington DC in order to cut the ribbon at his new hotel.

But the Republican nominee has not entirely ignored the need to organize voters at his rallies in the Sunshine State.

Before an event in September, inside an aircraft hangar in Melbourne, Florida, over two dozen Trump volunteers were making phone calls in an adjacent office while a crowd of thousands gathered outside listened to the Rolling Stones on loop as they awaited the former Apprentice host.

Trump supporters have long viewed crowd sizes as an indicator of their candidates prospects, despite little correlation between the number of attendees who show up at a rally and those who turn out to vote.

But as Stella Bueller of Sopchoppy, Florida, told the Guardian at Trumps rally this week: If you go back to high school, youre at a pep rally and whos the most popular guy? Everyone knows and he ends up being homecoming king. Its the same.

Brian Ballard, Trumps Florida finance chairman, said he felt confident about Trumps chances.

Theres certainly momentum, he said, citing not just internal polling but also enthusiasm for the Republican nominee as evidenced by the fact that roads were shut down around Trumps Tallahassee rally on Tuesday.

The veteran Republican lobbyist seemed less concerned about the campaigns rudimentary footprint on the ground, noting that the Republican National Committee, state party and local parties have always been the backbone of our get-out-the-vote effort.

Ballard cited conversations with Cuban American legislators to express confidence about Trumps ability to court at least a faction of Hispanic voters, noting the bloc is not monolithic. In fact, he thought, Trump would do as well as [Mitt] Romney, if not a little bit better.

But the volunteers who packed Trumps West Miami field office were somewhat less bullish.

Donald Trump rallies with supporters at the Million Air Orlando airplane hangar in Sanford, Florida, on Tuesday. Photograph: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

Jorge Garces, who emigrated from Cuba in 1962, acknowledged that the Republican nominees ground game lacks a little bit.

I dont know why, said the 64-year-old retiree. Sometimes we get as many as 12 volunteers a day, sometimes as little as three.

Garces was, however, energized by what he claimed was a bias within the media about Trumps roadmap to the White House as well as a desire among grassroots conservative voters to send a signal to the establishment in their own party.

I think the Republican party has lost its message, he said, and I think Donald Trump is throwing a molotov cocktail at Washington.

As for whether Trump would emerge victorious in Florida, Garces confessed he was concerned.

Kellyanne Conway, Trumps campaign manager, acknowledged in an interview with CBS this week that the path will be much harder without Florida. But that is an understatement, given if Clinton wins the state then Trump would have to virtually sweep the remaining battleground states, including seemingly safe Democratic areas like Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Colorado.

Complicating matters is polling showing Clinton giving Trump a run for his money in deeply red states such as Arizona, Utah and even Texas, diverting the Republican nominees attention with precious little time remaining before election day.

A Republican activist at the Broward College polling site, who declined to be named due to his involvement in local races, said he reluctantly cast his ballot for Trump this week. But after watching hundreds of Democrats queue up to vote early after Clintons rally across the street from where he stood, the activist feared the writing was already on the wall.

Florida will be his death knell, he said of Trump. When youre competing in Texas and Utah two weeks before the election, its over.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/oct/27/florida-voting-clinton-trump-election

Tim Kaine greets crowd in Spanish as Clinton introduces VP pick in Miami

Virginia senator welcomes everyone in our country with bilingual address as Clinton and running mate take aim at Donald Trump and Mike Pence

Tim Kaine, Hillary Clintons newly minted running mate, had barely taken his place at the podium in Miami when he started speaking Spanish.

Bienvenidos a todos en nuestro pais, porque somos Americanos todos, the senator from Virginia said. It translated to: Welcome to everyone in our country, because we are all Americans.

Of Clinton, he said: Were going to be compaeros de alma [soulmates] in this great lucha [fight] ahead.

A crowd of thousands had queued for hours under the sweltering sun, lines snaking around the campus of Florida International University. They erupted into cheers.

Not long after, Kaine asked those who were naturalized US citizens to raise their hands. A sizable chunk of the audience obliged in a county that is home to a majority Hispanic population.

Thank you for choosing us, Kaine said, to another rousing reception.

Such moments captured dramatically a tale of two elections: Clinton and Kaine embracing the changing demographics of America, Donald Trump surging to the Republican nomination on a staunch anti-immigration platform and a pledge to build a wall on the US-Mexico border.

In Miami, one voter, Michael Paul Massaria, turned to his wife and remarked: Were not hearing all that doom and gloom like we did at the Republican convention in Cleveland.

On multiple occasions, Kaine was interrupted with chants of USA! USA! the sort of patriotism often on display at Republican events where time is dedicated to the projection of American strength.

But the supporters who packed into this basketball stadium were celebrating a different vision, one in which America is defined by its diversity and multiculturalism.

Weve got this beautiful country that should be a country of welcome, a country of inclusion, Kaine said.

He later vowed to advance comprehensive immigration reform with a pathway to citizenship for the roughly 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the US, in the first 100 days of a Clinton presidency. Such promises could be seen as wishful thinking, as Barack Obama has learned during his time in the White House. But Massaria, from nearby Davie, was quick to observe the benefit.

Kaines fluency in Spanish, he said, will help down the line with bringing in the Latino vote, especially here in south Florida.

Attendees like Anna Alvarez, a 67-year-old naturalized citizen who moved to Miami 43 years ago, were a testament to the potential appeal of a vice-presidential candidate campaigning for the first time in English and Spanish.

He will get in his pocket the millions and millions of Hispanics that Trump lost, she said.

Alvarez had never seen Kaine before, a fact the senator invoked with the self-deprecating declaration: Let me be honest: for many of you this is the first time youve heard my name.

A woman wearing a US flag hijab applauds in the crowd in Miami. Photograph: Scott Audette/Reuters

Alvarez said: Im one of the ones that didnt know his name, but he was incredible. Hes down to earth, I liked his background and his experience. I really like the way he was very proud of his wife.

Trump, she said, reminded her of the Cuban regime she fled from more than four decades ago.

I had the experience of [Fidel] Castro, she said, and Trump is a reminder of the dictators in the world. I am totally against anything that has to do with Trump.

Clinton, who sat beaming behind Kaine throughout his remarks, said in her introduction that America was united behind the the confidence, the optimism that we are stronger together.

Im so thrilled to announce that my running mate doesnt just share those values, he lives them, she said. Tim Kaine is everything Donald Trump and [his vice-presidentil pick] Mike Pence are not. Hes qualified to step into this job and lead on day one. And he is a progressive who likes to get things done.

Clinton announced late on Friday that she had picked Kaine, a senator from Virginia, following an extensive vetting process that lasted more than two months. Her choice followed a calculation that the working-class, swing-state senator could bolster her appeal not just among Latinos but also moderates and independents.

A faction of progressives are less enthusiastic about Kaines centrist record, particularly his approach to the regulation of Wall Street and his support for the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal. Clintons former rival, the Vermont senator Bernie Sanders, did not immediately respond to the news. Clinton will formally accept the Democratic nomination for president this week, at the partys national convention in Philadelphia.

In Miami, Clinton touted Kaine as a pragmatic progressive.

When I say hes a progressive who likes to get things done, I mean it. Hes not afraid to take on special interests, Clinton said, adding that Kaine cares more about making a difference than making headlines.

And make no mistake. Behind that smile Tim also has a backbone of steel. Just ask the NRA.

Kaine was governor during the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting, in which 32 students and faculty members were killed. The senator made reference to the tragedy on Saturday, pausing for a moment as he grew emotional.

It was the worst day of my life, he said.

Kaine recounted how he battled the National Rifle Association in his push for stricter gun laws, which eventually led to an executive order to bar firearm sales to individuals legally declared mentally ill or dangerous. Gun control has emerged as a prominent issue in the 2016 election. Kaine pledged: We will not rest until we get universal background checks.

It was one of his biggest applause lines.

Kaine also wasted little time going after Trump, invoking the real estate moguls recent comments that the US should not immediately come to the assistance of Nato allies unless they had fulfilled their obligations in return.

This drives home the stakes of this election, Kaine said, noting that his son was a US Marine who would deploy next week to Europe to uphold Americas commitment to our Nato allies. He added: Hillary Clinton is the direct opposite of Donald Trump. She doesnt trash our allies she respects them.

Trump last week chose Pence, the Indiana governor, as his vice-presidential candidate. A popular figure among evangelical conservatives and known, like Kaine, for his polite demeanor, Pence has nonetheless shed the nice-guy image in his new role as attack dog for Trump, echoing the real estate moguls message that Clinton is corrupt and disqualified from the presidency.

Trump sought to brand Kaine as beholden to special interests, tweeting early on Saturday that Clinton had in effect rejected the will of progressives and Sanders backers.

Tim Kaine is, and always has been, owned by the banks, he said. Bernie supporters are outraged, was their last choice. Bernie fought for nothing!

Later, Trump added: Just saw Crooked Hillary and Tim Kaine together. Isis and our other enemies are drooling. They dont look presidential to me!

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/jul/23/hillary-clinton-tim-kaine-vp-vice-president

Puerto Ricans in Florida: the ‘outsiders’ with a powerful swing vote

Puerto Ricans have left behind the island amid financial crisis, but language barriers and xenophobic rhetoric leave them feeling cast aside in the mainland

For the citys 66 million annual tourists there are parts of Orlando that you cant help but see: the Mickey Mouse-shaped street lamps; the citys enormous ferris wheel and billboard after billboard hawking the new Harry Potter attraction at Universal Orlando.

Voices of America box

But theres another Orlando that, like Disney Worlds utilidors, you wont see in the trip from the airport to the theme park, unless you go looking for it an Orlando with more Spanish moss than palm trees, one with dozens of little lakes, and train stations to ferry people to work rather than the Magic Kingdom.

Almost 48% of companies here are minority-owned and nearly 30% of the population is Latino. In Osceola County just south of Orlando, where housing is somewhat less expensive 48% of firms are minority-owned and 49.7% of the population is Latino.

That number is growing, in part spurred by a recent influx to Florida of Puerto Ricans fleeing the effects of the financial crisis on the island. The Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration regional office estimates that 1,000 Puerto Rican families relocate to Florida every month; as a result, the state is poised, for the first time, to edge New York out as the state with the most Puerto Ricans.

And though many Puerto Rican voters in Florida are focused on the financial crisis on the island, that doesnt mean that theyre unconcerned with the rhetoric around immigration and Mexicans, as epitomized by statements made by people like Donald Trump.Like many Latinos in the US, they know full well that most white Americans who run around insulting Mexicans are using it as a substitute for Latino.

Orlando Rodriguez, 41, inside Lechonera El Jibarito #2, a Puerto Rican restaurant. Photograph: Bastien Inzaurralde for the Guardian

Real estate broker Orlando Rodrguez, 41, spoke in Spanish, concerned that his English wasnt good enough and his accent too thick. When Im speaking to an American, if I dont speak properly sometimes they get annoyed, he explained. Thats what Ive mostly come across, he said, in terms of overt, individualized racism.

Americans dont see us as US citizens; Americans see all Latinos as Mexicans. Just like we think all Asians are Chinese they could be Korean, Japanese, Indonesian but we see them and think theyre all Chinese. Lots of Americans see [Latinos] as all the same.

And though this issues that individual groups of Latinos might be different from Cuba policy to the financial crisis on Puerto Rico, and from immigration enforcement to raising the minimum wage they all eventually find themselves bound together by their daily experiences. They arent all the same; yet they too often all get treated with the same basic disrespect.

Jose Martinez, 35,like many Puerto Ricans, has very fair skin. I look American, from the States, he explained. [But] when I start talking in English, I have an accent. He was at a cousins wedding on Cape Cod a few years ago, waiting to play pool and, when I came to the table, I changed the rules to the Puerto Rican way and the guys were cool with it, but the bouncer, [he heard] me, threw me out.

That was only his first time: When I worked with Fema [after Hurricane Sandy, inspecting housing damaged by the storm], when I went down to Queens, stayed the night and [the residents] looked at me normal until I started speaking and then they knew I was Puerto Rican.

But I was working for the federal government, so they were respecting me because I was doing the inspections. If not, you know what happens.

Julie Torres, 32, thinks that race plays a role in the way many white Americans view not just Puerto Ricans or just Latinos, but the whole relationship between the US government and Puerto Rico. There is a history of racialization that I think that does impact how we view Puerto Rico as kind of this other, this other entity, this other culture, this other people, that could come into play, the doctoral student said. I mean, people think American, [they think] white America.

Tania Irizarry: Everything has to do with the political system and with colonialism. Photograph: Bastien Inzaurralde for the Guardian

But unlike the 11 million undocumented immigrants Donald Trump has promised to deport in his first two years in office, Puerto Ricans are US citizens, and eligible to vote, whether they live in Puerto Rico or on the mainland.

In a swing state like Florida (where George W Bushs official margin of victory in 2000 was just 537 votes) an influx of thousands of Puerto Rican voters who lean Democratic could definitely swing Floridas 29 electoral college votes in November.

About 400,000 of people of Puerto Rican extraction now live in Orlando; many of the most recent arrivals speak limited English, which prevents them from obtaining comparative jobs in the fields they left behind on the island but, with taxes and the cost of living going up and jobs disappearing there as a result of the ongoing financial crisis, they see few alternatives to building a new life on the mainland.

Martinez is one of those recent arrivals: apologetic about his accented but near-perfect English, he explained that he moved to Orlando in mid-April. Though he was a real estate broker on the island, his license didnt transfer, so hes working in construction temporarily. I had a good job down there, he said over traditional Puerto Rican food at Lechonera el Jibarito #2, but when I was seeing what was going on, I decided, Im going to jump the hoop and see what happens.

Julie Torres, 32 (from left), Tania Irizarry, 39, Jose Martinez, 35, and Orlando Rodrguez, 41. Photograph: Bastien Inzaurralde for the Guardian

Rodrguez and elementary school teacher Tania Irizarry, 39, moved to Orlando 10 months ago with their five-year-old son for similar reasons though the financial crisis was, for them, just the final frustration with a political system rigged against most of the residents.

The ordinary people have to bear the brunt of the situation, Rodrguez said. They have to put up with bad health and education services and with crime. Job prospects arent good. Crime levels are through the roof.

But, it doesnt matter [to the politicians] what state our education or health services are in, he added. Theyll fall over themselves trying to win the election and run the colony because theres money in it that theyre going to earn; theyll share it out amongst themselves and theyll be fine. Everyone else can go to hell.

Irizarry, who was able to transfer her teachers license from the island and now works as an assistant teacher, says that the educational system and the lack of access to information holds back many of the people on the island. Everything has to do with the political system and with colonialism, because youre only taught one part: the part thats in the interest of whoever wants to keep control of the country, she said in Spanish, though she is fully fluent in English.

Torres, who wasborn in the Bronx of Puerto Rican extraction, moved to the city from Illinois as part of her doctoral research into Puerto Rican migration patterns.

Like Irizarry, she sees the echoes of American colonialism in both the economic crisis and the lack of access to services like education that most Americans all but consider their birthright. I think that we do need to recognize just how the deeply rooted history of colonialism on the island has impacted Puerto Rico and the economy and all these different facets, she said.

Esteban Garcs, 35, doesnt want ignorance to be a problem for the Puerto Ricans moving to central Florida. Born in Washington, DC to a Bolivian immigrant, he is also a recent transplant to Orlando, where he works as an organizer with Mi Familia Vota, helping educate Latinos about their rights and getting them to the polls. But after stints in DC and Boston, Massachusetts, where immigration issues are paramount, he says that large Puerto Rican population in and around Orlando isnt as focused on immigration: like Rodrguez, Irizarry and Martinez, theyre very focused on what Congress is or is not doing to end the financial crisis on the island.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/jul/09/puerto-ricans-florida-election-immigration

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