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Author’s Guild To Launch Banned Books Club To Spotlight Censored Works

The Author’s Guild, in partnership with the book club app Fable, has announced the launching of its year-long, virtual monthly “Banned Books Club” that will shine light on works — both fiction and nonfiction — that have been recently banned from school classrooms or libraries in the U.S.

“We created the Authors Guild Banned Books Club in response to the alarming number of states and school boards which have recently banned a wide number of books and other resources from school curriculums or libraries,” Author’s Guild CEO Mary Rasenberger said.

“Our goal is to give both students and adults the opportunity to read and learn more about the books being banned in their districts and elsewhere and provide the rare opportunity to engage on the platform with the authors of those works.”

The first selection for the club is the young adult novel “Two Boys Kissing” by David Levithan. Levithan, an award-winning author whose works often focus on sexual orientation, shared similar sentiments to the Guild, saying that “the growing epidemic of book banning and legislation that undermines the freedom to read across the United States is something we all must stand up against, both on behalf of the freedom to read itself and for all the young readers who need to see their stories being told.”

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Levithan will lead the club’s discussion on the book, which centers around two teenagers who decide to participate in a 32-hour kissing marathon to set a world record. Levithan also serves as an editor of a Scholastic imprint that encourages new voices and authors.

As the Guild’s statement notes, since January 2021, 15 states have enacted laws restricting books that possess concepts relating to theories, race, racism, sexual orientation, identity, and social injustice. 27 states have proposed similar bills to these in an ongoing culture war that has broken out.

Additionally, an analysis of the 1,148 books that are currently banned in one or more schools found that 74% feature people of color, or those who identify as an LGBTQ+ member. 22% dealt with race topics or racism.

Much of the attention around these actions have been centered on Florida, where state governor Ron DeSantis has recently banned 54 math textbooks due to their references to Critical Race Theory and other topics that don’t comply with their standards. DeSantis has also led the way for the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, which will prohibit sexual identity and orientation discussions in certain grades.

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Among the most challenged books last year — which were tracked by the Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF) — that could appear on the Banned Book Club down the line include “All Boys Aren’t Blue” by George M. Johnson, “The Bluest Eyes” by Toni Morrison, “Out of Darkness” by Ashley Hope Perez, and “Lawn Boy” by Jonathan Evison.

The Guild was founded in 1912, and currently holds the distinguish of being the oldest and largest community of writers in the world, with a total of around 10,000 members. The Guild also recently developed a “Stop Book Bans” toolkit.

Universal Parks and Resort To Build 1,000 Affordable Units Amidst Florida Housing Crisis

With Florida in the midst of a housing crisis that has seen rent in some locations increase by 37%, Universal Parks and Resort is stepping up by announcing the pledging of 20 acres that’ll be used to create a community of 1,000 affordable/mixed-income units, providing stability and work opportunities for those in need.

Controversial ‘Don’t Say Gay’ Bill Passes In Florida Senate

On Tuesday, the Florida Senate passed a bill that would disallow any kind of instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity in the state’s kindergarten through third grade, while being criticized for its potential to marginalize the LGBTQ+ community.

The legislation is titled the Parental Rights in Education bill, but has become known by opponents as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill. With the 22-17 vote in hand, it now heads to Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is in favor and expected to sign.

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“Don’t Say Gay” passed through the Florida House last month. The bill also “prohibits school district personnel from discouraging or prohibiting parental notification & involvement in critical decisions affecting student’s mental, emotional, or physical well-being.” Parents would be able to sue school districts in the event of violations of “Don’t Say Gay.”

The bill would not prohibit classroom discussions about students’ families that are LGBTQ or LGTBQ history. However, it doesn’t actively promote what can be discussed, while further confusion  — and lawsuits — could occur should parents decide what kind of gender identity and LGBTQ talk violates the bill thanks to vague legislative language.

Backlash has been swift, with some students in the state organizing walkouts as a form of protest. “This bill, from its introduction, has been used as vehicle to marginalize and attack LGBTQ people,” Democratic Rep. Carlos G. Smith said — noting it sends a terrible message to children — while President Joe Biden had previously called the legislation “hateful.”

On the other side of the political spectrum, supporters of the bill like Republican Sen. Danny Burgess feel it will help to give parents more control over what their children do (and don’t) learn from the education system. “This bill says parents, your right to raise your children does not end when they walk into a classroom,” Burgess said ahead of Tuesday’s vote.

“This bill recognizes that parents are not the enemy. The bill simply says that there should be an age limit on certain discussions, it’s not a new concept, nor is it radical.”

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The bill has also attracted the attention of an entertainment giant. Disney CEO Bob Chapek announced he will be meeting with DeSantis — along with LGBTQ+ members of their senior team in Florida — to discuss the bill.

According to Chapek, Disney — which has made numerous efforts in various media and attractions to become more diverse and inclusive — was opposed to the “Don’t Say Gay” legislation from the beginning, but opted not to take a public stance and instead work behind the scenes, “engaging directly with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.” “Ultimately, we were unsuccessful,” Chapek said.

In addition to the meeting, Disney will be donating $5 million to LGBTQ activist groups while signing the Human Rights Campaign’s statement that opposes similar legislations. “I understand our original approach, no matter how well-intended, didn’t quite get the job done. We are committed to support the community going forward,” Chapek stated. Disney currently employs over 62,000 workers in Florida.

Legislations that target LGBTQ+ communities have been enacted at a record-setting pace, with 2021 seeing 17 laws passed, the most since 2015’s 15. Florida possesses 12 bills currently being considered that Freedom For All Americans terms “anti-LGBT.” Should DeSantis sign the bill, it would go into effect on July 1.

US Homebuyers Investing In Florida Real Estate 

The amount of homebuyers in Miami have tripled over the past couple of years. According to a new analysis by Redfin, in July the net inflow of Redfin users moving to Miami rose to 7,610 from 2,216 last year. 

Milagros Alvarez, a Miami real estate agent at Redfin, said that “the pandemic has brought even more out-of-towners to the area because so many people can now work wherever they want.”

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“Homebuyers are moving here from all over the map—Atlanta, Cincinnati, New York, Columbia, Mexico City, Pittsburgh and Philly, to name a few. The beaches, warm weather and low taxes are the major draws. Florida has also been much less shut down than other states during the pandemic, which some house hunters see as a positive,” said Alvarez. 

Alvarez also warned that the warm weather in Florida may seem like a main selling factor, but it also comes with its downsides. Miami is one of the most vulnerable cities when it comes to natural disasters or damages caused by weather-related events. 59% of Miami properties face some level of flood risk. 

Sea levels in Miami-Dade County are projected to rise by two feet by 2060, which would displace thousands of residents. The region also faces extreme heat risk, however, Alvarez explained that climate change hasn’t deterred Americans from flocking to the Sunshine state. 

“The homebuyers I talk to rarely mention climate change. Most of them aren’t concerned. A lot of people seem to have this idea that it won’t impact them in their lifetime, so it doesn’t need to be a consideration when buying a home.”

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Daryl Fairweather, chief economist at Redfin, warned that “the recent UN climate report shows that places like Miami will see the impacts of climate change within the next thirty years. Miami homebuyers should think about how they can make their homes more resilient to climate change and how their finances would be impacted if their homes lost value,” he said.

Sacramento, Phoenix, Las Vegas, Austin, and Atlanta have also been experiencing exponential rises in real estate investments, according to Redfin. The report also claimed that US citizens were mainly moving away from New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Washington DC.

“Big, expensive cities normally lose the most residents, and that trend accelerated during the pandemic as remote work gave people the flexibility to leave expensive job centers for relatively affordable places.”

“Yet, a handful of the metros that experienced the largest outflows in July saw fewer people leaving than a year earlier—likely because many of the pandemic restrictions that made those places unattractive places to live have now been lifted,” the report said.

50 Million Americans Under Flash Flood Warnings As Tropical Storm Elsa Moves Up East Coast

Tropical Storm Elsa is currently heading north along the East Coast of the US, and is expected to impact all major cities along the way. More than 50 million Americans woke up to flash flood warnings as severe weather conditions have already begun to impact a majority of the coast. 

The center of the storm is projected to go over Dover, Delaware early Friday morning and will make its way towards Boston by the afternoon, according to meteorologist Robert Shackelford. The storm has already caused tornados, multiple injuries, and at least one death in Florida and Georgia this week. 

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In New York, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) was pre-positioning crews and equipment yesterday all throughout Long Island, where the storm is forecast to be the most intense. 

The MTA will also be banning all empty tractor-trailers and tandem trucks from its seven bridges and two tunnels until at least noon on Friday. This ban is due to heavy wind gusts and rain which could cause larger vehicles to be more susceptible to tipping over. 

The National Hurricane Center announced that the storm is currently moving at a rate of 25 mph and has hit a maximum sustained wind speed of 50 mph. Much of the Northeast is expected to see 2 to 4 inches of rainfall by the weekend. 

Once Elsa’s center passes by a given area, residents can still expect to see heavy rainfall and high wind speeds on the outskirts. 

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Some tornadoes were also reported across northern Florida and southeastern Georgia on Wednesday. An EF-2 tornado caused multiple injuries and damage at Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay in Kings Bay, Georgia. 

“Thankfully, there was no loss of life here last night. This tornado that came through could have been a lot worse,” base commanding officer Capt. Chester Parks told local media outlets. 

Parks said that a tornado impacted by the southside of the navy base ended up moving north, hitting the base of an RV park on the way. Twelve recreational vehicles were damaged and nine people were transported to the navy base for medical treatment. 

Elsa initially hit Florida earlier this week, and caused the most damage in both the sunshine state and Georgia. The entire storm system touched down this Wednesday along the Gulf Coast in Taylor County, Florida. 

“Winds starting howling in the middle of the night, and rain starting pounding the windows. Never seen anything like this before in my life,” said Johnathan Riches who was staying at a motel in Cedar Key, Florida when the storm hit.

Florida Residents Complained About Champlain Towers Development Two Years Before Collapse

Two and a half years before the Champlain Towers South building collapsed in Florida, residents were complaining that the buildings were being developed too closely together and didn’t seem safe. 

“We are concerned that the construction next to Surfside is too close. Workers were digging too close to our property and we have concerns regarding the structure of our building. There’s construction equipment directly across from our building’s property wall,” resident Mara Chouela, who is also a board member of the condo association, wrote in a January 2019 email to a building official.

Rosendo Prieto was the official responsible for sorting through complaints made by the condo association at the time. 30 minutes after Chouela sent the initial email, Prieto responded that there was nothing that needed to be checked. He reasoned that “the offending development, an ultra-luxury tower known as Eighty Seven Park, was directly across the border separating the town of Surfside from the city of Miami Beach, which runs between the two buildings. 

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Now, after the Champlain Towers South collapse, Eighty Seven Park is facing even more scrutiny over the construction of these buildings. In fact, Champlain residents often complained that all the construction from the neighboring buildings continuously caused their units to shake.

“The construction of 87 Park did not cause or contribute to the collapse that took place in Surfside. But the 18-story tower would not have been allowed to be built across the border in Surfside, where buildings are subject to a 12-story height limit (although Champlain Towers itself received an exemption in the 1980s to add nine extra feet),” The Wall Street Journal reported Monday.

Maggie Ramsey is a Florida resident whose mother is among the unaccounted for Champlain residents, and she claims her mother had been concerned about the work being done next door for weeks now. 

“She did complain of a lot of tremors and things that were being done to the other building that she sometimes was concerned about what may be happening to her building, and if she was at risk.” 

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Peter Dyga, the president and CEO of Associated Builders and Contractors, said that “the likelihood of the Eighty Seven Park construction being a significant cause in the Surfside collapse is slim, but no lead or idea should be excluded.”

“There’s probably going to be multiple things in the end that have contributed in some way or another. Still, buildings are built next to buildings all the time, and it doesn’t mean that they come down.”

Records also show that Champlain South residents have sent a series of angry emails to Terra Group, the developers behind Eighty Seven Park, complaining about construction debris, noise, and lack of action. 

“I am shocked and disappointed to see the lack of consideration and respect that Terra has shown our residents. You have said you want to be a good neighbor… This is truly outrageous and quite unprecedented from what we hear from other associations in the area that have dealt with construction beside them,” Anette Goldstein, a condo board member, wrote to executives with the developer. 

Americans Are Flocking To Florida To Embrace Post-Pandemic Life

Florida has become one of the hottest travel destinations in the past few months as more Americans are receiving their Covid-19 vaccinations and ready to get back to a greater sense of normalcy. 

Beyond just vacationing, many Americans are looking to invest in real estate in Florida, specifically in Miami where social outings have been occurring constantly since the beginning of the year. 

Antonio Khoury is the Managing Director at Compass & principal of the Antonio Khoury Group. He recently was interviewed by Forbes Magazine to discuss this recent influx in Miami investments and travel to Florida in general. 

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The Antonio Khoury Group has been working for over a decade and has seen over $500 million in sales. Khoury said many individuals from Boston and New York have been adding Florida homes as a part of their dream real estate portfolios in this post-pandemic era that we’re all entering. 

 “We made an immediate expansion to the Miami market knowing that we could leverage our strategic alliances within Compass to best serve the needs of Northeast clients looking to purchase a home in the region. My real estate group has facilitated over $20M+ in successful closings in Florida in the past few months,” said Khoury. 

“The mass exodus during COVID-19 to South Florida, was certainly evident. I would argue that COVID-19 expedited plans of owning real estate in a warmer climate.”

Most of the new clientele in Florida, however, is made up of individuals who found themselves on the luckier end of the spectrum in terms of economic and social impact of the pandemic. 

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“The second largest contingency of buyers in the South Florida market are those who have benefited from their companies remaining virtual or have adapted to long term flexible work structures, i.e. young professionals from Boston and New York. These buyers have found the Miami market a much more attractive home base due to its perks. Things like more accessible luxury rental prices, more accessible luxury condo prices, private outdoor space, the warm climate, all the while in the same time zone as both Boston and New York are attracting these young professionals,” Khoury explained. 

Khoury is adamant that any prospective buyers for Florida real estate need to do their research before making any final decisions, especially if they’re looking into Miami. 

“Miami has many distinct neighborhoods, which are set for different lifestyles and personalities. Brickell, for example, is the area with the most high-rise full service residential buildings, offices, restaurants, and nightlife. Given the overall full-service aspect of the neighborhood, it has become the go to area for those seeking pied-a-terres.” 

Khoury recommends that any buyer who’s looking to invest in Miami for a second property should simply vacation there first to make sure that its really worth putting their money into. America is still very much in the middle of combatting this pandemic, so it’s important to remember that the market and social settings in all of these locations will change drastically in the coming months.

Miami Florida

Florida Governor DeSantis Targets Social Media Platforms In Newly Signed Bill

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is targeting social media platforms ina newly signed bill that’s meant to monitor how social media platforms moderate online content. 

The legislation is one of the largest steps made by a Republican governor ever since allegations of online censorship were thrown at tech giants Facebook, Google, and Twitter. Tech industry leaders, however, claim that the legislation is unconstitutional and is setting everyone up for a massive court battle. 

On Monday, DeSantis claimed that a “council of censors in Silicon Valley are to blame for shutting down the debate over Covid-19 lockdowns and the origins of the coronavirus.”

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“I would say those lockdowns have ruined millions of people’s lives all around this country. Wouldn’t it have been good to have a full debate on that in our public square? But that was not what Silicon Valley wanted to do.”

The bill that he signed specifically “prohibits tech platforms from suspending or banning political candidates in the state, with possible fines of $250,000 per day if the de-platformed candidate is seeking statewide office and $25,000 per day if the candidate is running for a non-statewide office,” according to CNN.

The legislation would also give Florida residents the power to sue tech companies for de-platforming. Similar bills have been in the works in states such as Arkansas, Kentucky, Oklahoma, and Utah. 

US lawmakers have been proposing significant changed to the federal law in its relation to the legal leeway that tech platforms have when it comes to online censorship. The federal law, Section 230 of the Communications Act of 1934, has been under fire by Democrats who argue that the platform’s benefit from a law that was created before the technology even existed. 

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Tech industry leaders have repeatedly denied blocking or removing content solely based on political ideology. Many tech platforms began flagging posts that discussed the Covid-19 pandemic, but were spreading harmful misinformation. 

After multiple Republicans and former president Donald Trump continued to spread falsehoods and misinformation about the 2020 election and the sanctity of our Democracy, many political leaders began getting deplatformed for the harmful information they were spewing. 

Florida’s legislation will “force tech platforms to step back from moderating their sites due to the threat of litigation by any internet user, from foreign extremists to disgruntled internet trolls,” said the Computer and Communications Industry Association, a tech trade group.

“Florida taxpayers will also end up paying their share in the cost of enforcing new regulations, and for the inevitable legal challenges that will come along with the legislature’s effort to adopt a law with glaring constitutional challenges,” CCIA president Matt Schruers, wrote in an op-ed for the Orlando Sentinel.

“The First Amendment to the United States Constitution — backstopped by Section 230 — makes it abundantly clear that states have no power to compel private companies to host speech, especially from politicians,” said Oregon Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden, a co-author of Section 230, in a statement regarding the signing on the Florida bill.

Olympic Rings

Florida Official Wants 2021 Olympics To Take Place In His State Amid Cancellation Rumors 

Jimmy Patronis is Florida’s chief financial officer who recently wrote the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in an effort to get them to move the upcoming summer Games to his state should they be canceled in Tokyo. 

Patronis wrote the IOC this Monday, requesting that they relocate the 2021 Games to Florida should they be canceled or postponed again; the Summer Games were initially meant to happen in Summer 2020 but obviously the Covid-19 pandemic postponed that. 

In his letter he cited a recent report from Japanese officials that apparently already decided they would be canceling the Games this year completely due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. The IOC adamantly denied the legitimacy of that report, however, and claimed that the government in Japan has made no such announcement yet. 

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“There is still time to deploy a site selection team to Florida to meet with statewide and local officials holding the Olympics in the Sunshine State.”

Patronis continued on to claim that he would greatly “welcome the opportunity to pitch Florida and help the IOC make the right contacts to get this done.” He argues that Florida’s “ample hotel capacity and well-maintained transportation network” would allow it to successfully hold the Games and that the “12 major universities that have existing sports facilities” could be used as well. 

“I think most importantly, we have a state with leaders who are willing to get this done,” Patronis claimed. Unfortunately for him, it’s going to be pretty much impossible for the 2021 Games to be held in the Sunshine State. The IOC has not only already committed to holding the Games in Tokyo, but with only six months until the projected start of the Games, there’s literally no way for the committee to start from scratch and plan a worldwide event during a global pandemic. 

IOC has also made it very clear that there is no “Plan B” in place in regards to a new location to hold the Games, and even if they were interested in moving them to Florida, it would take the entire support of the federal governments from both Japan and the US to get behind it. This would also never happen as both government bodies are currently busy dealing with a global health crisis. 

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Victor Matheson is an economist who is considered an expert in Olympic economic impacts for local communities. Matheson recently spoke with the press about Patronis’ suggestion, calling the plan “batsh*t insane.”

“The idea that just because Florida has a lot of hotels that they could organize an entire Olympics event within six months is absolutely crazy.”

The coronavirus also is obviously a major reason why the Games would never come to Florida of all places. Within the US Florida is number 3 in terms of states with the most Covid-19 cases. The state has been a hotspot for the virus on multiple occasions, and the state government has pretty much ignored every social distance rule, mask mandate, and any other health and safety policy meant to curb the spread of Covid-19; you can currently go out to clubs and bars in Florida without a mask. 

Regardless of any further efforts from Florida officials to try to get the Games to move locations, the IOC will continue to move forward with having the Olympics in Tokyo. The Games could potentially be postponed or cancelled all together this summer again pending how much worse or better the pandemic gets. 77% of Japanese citizens are in favor of canceling or postponing the Games again, so only time will tell if the world will see and Olympics this year or not.

Stressed Out Nurse

CDC Warns That US Is Expected To Have 500,000 Covid-19 Deaths By February

The US is about to hit 400,000 Covid-19 related deaths as it endures the worst phase of the pandemic yet. With the rollout of multiple vaccines and a new administration entering the White House, who’s promising that future coronavirus protocols will be based on science and have nothing to do with politics, many Americans are hopeful, however the CDC is warning that the damage has been done, and the nation should expect to hit half a million deaths within the next month. 

“By the middle of February, we expect half a million coronavirus deaths in America.” 

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UCLA epidemiologist Dr. Anne Rimoin recently spoke with the media about the news of a new Covid-19 variant discovered in Los Angeles that is thought to be much more transmissible than the already extremely contagious Covid-19 virus that we’ve been battling for the past ten months. California currently leads the entire world in coronavirus cases with over 3 million residents currently infected. 

Rimoin discussed how she suspects there are more variants active throughout the population, and compared searching for these variants to “shining a flashlight in the dark, because you’re going to see something if you start to look, we just haven’t been looking.” It’s expected that with the Biden administration promising to lead future Covid procedures based on the panel of healthcare experts and scientists – who are being sworn to lead without any political bias – that these variants will be easier to find, which will help lead to containment efforts. 

Nationwide rollouts of the vaccine’s have led to some major confusion as well. Initially the US wanted to have 20 million people vaccinated with their first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine by the end of 2020, and as of five days ago the CDC reported only 6 million Americans have received their first dose so far.

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Florida, which is another US hot spot for Covid-19 due to a complete lack of enforcement of policy in regard to keeping bars and restaurants open, has been struggling greatly in terms of vaccine rollouts. According to immunocompromised Palm Beach resident Elizabeth Johnson, “you can’t get an appointment, you can’t buy an appointment, it’s all very unclear so what are we supposed to do?”

That level of confusion has been relatively common throughout the US in terms of vaccinations. Florida’s department of health has claims that more than 40,000 individuals are already overdue to receive their second dose of the vaccine. The timing of this new science-led administrative response to the pandemic couldn’t have come at a better time for this country. In LA County current data shows that one person is dying every six minutes; meanwhile all malls and gyms in LA remain open. 

Coroner office’s are so overwhelmed by the influx of bodies that LA County has eased up on their air pollution and quality rules to allow for more cremations to occur, and they’re not alone. Metropolitan hospitals all throughout the US are overwhelmed to a degree that is so much exponentially worse than where we were at even a few months ago. Only time will tell how much this new administration is able to get this pandemic finally under control.