Our Picks For The Top Five Breweries in the Bay Area

When you think about craft beer destinations in North America, the sprawling network of cities, towns and highways that make up the greater Tampa Bay area likely doesn’t top the list. But over the past decade, Tampa Bay has transformed itself from a brewing backwater into one of the United States’ most innovative, under-the-radar beer scenes.

How did that happen? There’s no one answer, but it’s a fact that brewing’s long been in the region’s blood. The Ybor City Brewing Company, Florida’s first brewery, opened in 1896 after early settlers discovered a spring flowing underneath what’s now one of Tampa’s most vibrant neighborhoods. In recent years, the state’s bounty of local ingredients—citrus fruits, hot peppers, honey, even seafood—has allowed brewers with rebellious, unorthodox streaks to truly shine. And nearly year-round patio weather doesn’t hurt the cause, either.

At most recent count, the Tampa Bay area boasts at least 50 breweries, here are five of the best.

1. Dunedin Brewery, Dunedin

Dunedin Brewery’s (pictured above) been churning out high-quality ales and lagers since 1996, making them the oldest microbrewery in Florida. They moved to their current location in 2001, a friendly Scottish-themed tavern just off the Pinellas Trail and only blocks from Florida Auto Exchange Stadium, spring training home of the Toronto Blue Jays. With high-quality pub food and regular live music, the brewery’s where baseball fans, Canadian snowbirds, and regular Dunedin folks get together and hang out.

As for their beer: from top to bottom, it’s an absolutely solid lineup. Dunedin says their apricot peach ale is their most popular brew, and given how well the full-bodied fruitiness goes with the Bay area sunshine, that claim makes a ton of sense. More adventurous drinkers will want to give their constantly-rotating capsaicin series a try: the brewery tries to release a new pepper-infused beer every Monday, so even if you don’t like this week’s selection, just wait seven days and another curious concoction will show up. Other locally sourced ingredients that have made their way into Dunedin’s beers include passion fruit, hemp, and Florida honey.

2. Cigar City Brewing, Tampa

It’s safe to say the Tampa Bay beer scene owes a major debt to Cigar City Brewing. Founded in 2009, Cigar City might not be the oldest craft brewery in the region (see above) but their willingness to both innovate and pay homage to the place they’ve called home means they’ve done more than anyone else to put southwest Florida on the map.

Cigar City’s Jai Alai IPA is arguably their best-known brew; crisp and bold with delightful citrus and pine notes, it’s an excellent example of what an India pale ale should be. But Jai Alai—a nod to the sport that was hugely popular among Tampa’s Hispanic population from the 1950s to the 1970s—is only the beginning. Their Humidor series features brews aged on Spanish cedar or cedrela, the same wood traditionally used to make cigar boxes. Their Hunahpu’s Imperial Stout is one of the few beers with a near-perfect rating on BeerAdvocate. And they’ve recently expanded into ciders and meads. The brewery lives in a cozy former police building in Ybor where in the early days of the Spanish American War Teddy Roosevelt would have stabled his horses.

Rumors that Cigar City was going to be sold to mega-conglomerate Anheuser Busch-InBev earlier this year ultimately proved untrue, but the brewery did change hands in 2016, selling controlling interest to a Colorado craft brewer and becoming part of a collective called United Craft Brews LLC. Cigar City’s owners have said they made the deal because they were out of production space and they’ve promised Tampa beer lovers will see few changes.

3. Coppertail Brewing, Tampa

When the boozy Cuban-American enclave of Ybor’s debauchery and late-night antics get a bit too much, Coppertail Brewing Company is where you’ll want to escape to.

Located in a former olive cannery and mayonnaise factory on the neighborhood’s outskirts, across the highway from a massive IKEA, Coppertail has quickly become one of the region’s most popular new breweries. Lawyer-turned-brewery-owner Kent Bailey poured Coppertail’s first pint in 2014, and since then their constantly shifting lineup of beers has included some real dazzlers. A Belgian trippel brewed with coffee beans? Check. A sour berliner weisse doused with pineapple and cilantro? Sure, why not. They even make a savory stout by boiling up about 200 pounds of Florida stone crabs.

4. Darwin Brewing Company, Bradenton

The drive across the bay to Bradenton, over the stunning Sunshine Skyway bridge, is worth it for the view alone. But it doesn’t hurt that the city of 50,000 is also home to Darwin Brewing Company, one of the state’s more unique craft breweries.

In the business since 2012, Darwin bills itself as a purveyor of “Andean-style” ales and lagers. That means you’ll likely find specialty brews on tap like the Chapo, a weizenbock made with plantains, or the Charapa, seen above: a spicy-yet-sweet porter infused with cacao beans and charapita peppers, ingredients native to Amazonian South America. The brewery got its start at a now-closed Peruvian gastropub in nearby Sarasota, which partly explains its Hispanic influences; there’s also the fact that Darwin co-founder Jorge Rosabal was born in Cuba and, for a time, oversaw production for one of the largest breweries in Honduras, as well.

The brewery’s across the street from charming Bill McKechnie Field, the third-oldest stadium in use by a major league baseball club (it’s home to the Pittsburgh Pirates’ High-A affiliate), making a postgame beer practically mandatory. There’s a welcoming patio, and the nearby food truck will keep you sated between rounds.

5. Saint Somewhere Brewing Company, Tarpon Springs

Saint Somewhere Brewing Company does one thing and does it right: Belgian-style ales. Founder Bob Sylvester has been whipping up his small-batch brews from a tiny warehouse with limited hours in Tarpon Springs since 2006, giving his beers an air of authenticity and exclusivity.

If you’re into the funky, leathery notes imparted by brettanomyces yeast (most beers use saccharomyces, brett’s less audaciously-aromatic cousin) you’ll want to spring for a bottle of Saint Somewhere’s Pays du Soleil or Cynthiana, two of the brewery’s most-loved offerings. There’s also the Saison Athene—a highly rated farmhouse ale brewed with chamomile, rosemary and black pepper—as well as one-off collaborations with other locals like Cigar City and St. Petersburg’s Green Bench Brewing. And it’s easy to get lost in Saint Somewhere’s immaculately detailed, classically inspired labels, too.

For beer pilgrims on a tight schedule, Saint Somewhere’s not the most convenient brewery to check out: as of May 2016, they’re only open four (!) hours a week, early Thursday and Friday evenings. But thanks to a successful crowdfunding campaign, plans are afoot for a new taproom in downtown Tarpon Springs. Until then, take heart that select Saint Somewhere brews are also available in bottle form in more than 40 states and five countries.

Why Can Florida Adults With Mental Illness Still Buy Guns?

After every tragic, gun-related suicide the question inevitably arises: Why, in a country that purportedly mandates background checks and champions mental health, was a suicidal person permitted to purchase a firearm? Now, a new study in Health Affairs sheds light on the loopholes in our background check system, which allow people with serious mental illness in Florida to legally purchase guns—even after involuntary mental health examinations and hospitalizations.

“Our federal gun regulations pertaining to mental illness prohibit lots of people from accessing firearms who are not violent, and never will be,” coauthor Jeffrey W. Swanson of Duke University said in a press statement. “At the same time, they fail to identify some people who will be violent or suicidal. With these data, we can improve criteria for restrictions that might actually reduce gun violence, but also carefully balance risk and rights.”

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Gun violence and suicide are growing problems in the United States. Studies have shown that states with higher rates of gun ownership also have higher rates of gun-related suicides, and one report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that there were at least 21,175 firearm suicides in 2013, alone—accounting for nearly half of all suicides that year.

Unfortunately, politics make it tricky to study this phenomenon without raising the ire of the gun lobby and Congress is still actively preventing the CDC from conducting meaningful gun violence research. And that’s a shame, because independent studies have consistently proven that a scientific approach—rather than a hotheaded political one—could reduce these tragedies without sacrificing individual freedoms.

Regardless, as long as Congress continues to prevent the CDC from performing robust research, privately funded studies will continue to be our best resource for preventing gun violence. For this particular study, researchers examined gun use, violent crime, and suicide among 81,704 people diagnosed with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or major depression in Florida between 2002 and 2012. During the study period, they found that 254 study subjects had committed suicide and that 50 of them had used a gun to kill themselves.

Shockingly, a full 72 percent were legally eligible to buy guns—despite their clear diagnoses of schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or major depression.

This loophole was based in a (now, thankfully defunct) Florida law that stated only mental health patients who had been involuntarily committed were prohibited from purchasing firearms. In other words, a schizophrenia, bipolar, or depression patient who had been involuntarily examined and even hospitalized for his or her own safety could still buy a gun in Florida as of 2012, as long as he or she had never been involuntarily committed to a psychiatric hospital by court order. And even though Florida has since tightened up these lax laws, officials are still not permitted to seize a patient’s guns after he or she has been diagnosed with a serious psychiatric disorder. So as long as someone buys a small arsenal before receiving a diagnosis, he or she can keep the weapons!

The authors suggest that many gun-related suicides could be prevented if states would prohibit people who have been involuntarily held during any mental health crisis—regardless of whether they were formally committed to a psychiatric hospital—from buying firearms from federally licensed dealers. “These individuals have already been identified during a previous mental health crisis,” Swanson says. “They haven’t been committed, but we know they’re at increased risk of harming themselves or others. This is a lost public health opportunity in many states.”

Meanwhile, Swanson and his team recognize that their results are limited to a specific population, and not necessarily applicable to other states and situations. But they hope that their study will nonetheless help guide federal and state efforts to reduce gun violence in meaningful ways. “The study in Florida is one piece of the puzzle, and we want to continue to build evidence from different states to draw a better picture of how these laws work under different conditions,” Swanson says.

“We live in a country where private gun ownership is cherished, constitutionally protected, and very prevalent. Gun violence is a challenging problem in the U.S., and one that requires a lot of careful thinking and research to bring evidence to bear for these policies.”

Rising Seas Are Pushing Too Much Salt Into The Florida Everglades

The Florida Everglades is a swampy wilderness the size of Delaware. In some places along the road in southern Florida, it looks like tall saw grass to the horizon, a prairie punctuated with a few twisted cypress trees. The sky is the palest blue.

But beneath the surface a different story is unfolding. Because of climate change and sea level rise, the ocean is starting to seep into the swampland. If the invasion grows worse, it could drastically change the Everglades, and a way of life for millions of residents in South Florida.

An experiment is going on here to help scientists understand more about what’s likely to happen as the ocean invades. “We’re making, basically, artificial seawater here,” a guy wearing a mosquito net over his face tells me, as he stirs water in a vat the size of a hot tub.

The guy in the mosquito net is Joe Stachelek — a student of ecologist Tiffany Troxler, from Florida International University. They’re making salt water and pumping it out into the wetland — dosing the plants and soil with their briny mix as a preview of what the ocean could do.

“As sea level rises,” Troxler explains, “the salt-water wedge moves inland.” And it infiltrates the bedrock.

“Our underlying rock is limestone,” Troxler says. “That limestone is very porous; it’s almost like Swiss cheese in some areas.”

We walk out into the test site — through the saw grass and the underlying peat, which is a fancy name for muck. It’s rich stuff, full of nutrients and microorganisms that feed this river of grass. And, like the plants, the peat also affected by salt water.

The team has laid out a metal boardwalk, so you can walk around the muck without sinking up to your waist. Out here the grass is patchier, and in some places the peat is slumping — collapsing.

Troxler says there’s lots of this slumping going on. “When we start to lose the structure of the plants,” she explains, “essentially this peat, which is otherwise held together by roots, becomes a soupy pond.”

In response to the salt, the plants actually pull up some of their roots — out of the peat. The roots look like teeth protruding from receding gums.

This could be the future of the Everglades, Troxler says. And here’s the thing: The Everglades acts like sponge, feeding off the Biscayne aquifer — a giant cell of fresh water that lies underneath the land.

“We get over 90 percent of our fresh water from the Biscayne aquifer,” Troxler says, ‘we’ meaning millions of people in South Florida.

As seawater seeps up from underneath, through the limestone bedrock, it is contaminating the aquifer and the everglades above it.

That’s starting to worry some people. Like Julie Hill-Gabriel, who directs Everglades policy for the National Audubon Society in Florida. She says she tells people in South Florida, “What we do in the Everglades is 100 percent going to affect you in your neighborhood — [and whether] when you turn on the tap water, you have enough fresh clean water.”

For millennia, fresh water flowed south to the Everglades, making it the largest flooded grassland in America. But over the past several decades, that water was diverted to irrigate agricultural fields, and to keep homes from flooding. Environmental groups like Audubon have been trying to restore the natural flow to the Everglades, mostly to preserve wildlife.

Now, Hill-Gabriel says, there’s a new reason for that restoration — to repel the invading sea. Putting more freshwater back into the sponge that is the Everglades could create a kind of “back-pressure” to keep seawater out.

“It just really compounds the urgency to move that freshwater south,” says Hill-Gabriel.

At least that’s the theory.

When it comes to climate change in South Florida, much of the focus until now has been about protecting property with pumps and barriers. But James Cason, the Republican mayor of the city of Coral Gables, says he hopes his constituents can understand the importance of protecting the Everglades as well.

“It’s not just so they can see the alligators,” Cason says. “It’s because they’ll want to make sure the drinking water on which we all depend is not contaminated.”

Sinkhole Discovery Suggests Humans Were in Florida 14,500 Years Ago

A stone knife, mastodon bones and fossilized dung found in an underwater sinkhole show that humans lived in north Florida about 14,500 years ago, according to new research that suggests the colonization of the Americas was far more complex than originally believed.

Archaeologists have known of the sinkhole in the Aucilla river, south of Tallahassee, for years. But they recently dived back into the hole to excavate what they call clear evidence that ancient mankind spread throughout the Americas about 1,500 years earlier than previously thought.

Almost 200ft wide and 35ft deep, the sinkhole was “as dark as the inside of a cow, literally no light at all”, according to Jessi Halligan, lead diving scientist and a professor at Florida State University at Tallahassee. Halligan dived into the hole 126 times over the course of her research, wearing a head lamp as well as diving gear.

In the hole, the divers found stone tools including an inch-wide, several inch-long stone knife and a “biface” – a stone flaked sharp on both sides. The artifacts were found near mastodon bones; re-examination of a tusk pulled from the hole confirmed that long grooves in the bone were made by people, probably when they removed it from the skull and pulled meat from its base.

“Each tusk this size would have had more than 15lbs of tender, nutritious tissue in its pulp cavity,” said Daniel Fisher, a paleontologist at the University of Michigan who was a member of a team that once removed a tusk from a mammoth preserved in Siberian permafrost.

Of the “biface” tool, Halligan told Smithsonian magazine: “There is absolutely no way it is not made by people. There is no way that’s a natural artifact in any shape or form.”

When ancient people butchered or scavenged the mastodon, the sinkhole was a shallow pond: a watering hole for men, mastodons, bison, bears and apparently dogs. The researchers found bones that appear to be canine, suggesting dogs trailed the humans, either as companions or competitors for scraps.

The discovery makes the sinkhole the earliest documented site for humans in the south-eastern United States. The researchers published their findings in the journal Science Advances on Friday, writing that the artifacts show “far better” evidence of early humans than previous work at the site.

“The evidence from the Page-Ladson site is a major leap forward in shaping a new view of the peopling of the Americas at the end of the last Ice Age,” said Mike Waters, an archaeologist at Texas A&M University.

“In the archeological community, there’s still a terrific amount of resistance to the idea that people were here before Clovis,” he added, referring to the so-called “Clovis people”, a group long thought the first band of humans in the Americas.

Waters said that the watering hole would have made for “easy pickings” for humans looking to corner prey. Halligan suggested the ancient hunter gatherers may have been the first seasonal nomads of the east coast, traveling south in the winter.

“They were very smart about local plants and local animals and migration patterns,” she said. “This is a big deal. So how did they live? This has opened up a whole new line of inquiry for us as scientists as we try to understand the settlement of the Americas.”

Humans are thought to have crossed into the Americas during the Ice Age, when land linked Siberia to Alaska, but the timing of the crossing is a question of long dispute. In the 1930s, archaeologists found distinctive spearheads among mammoth bones near Clovis, New Mexico. For decades the Clovis people were considered the first to colonize the Americas, around 13,000 years ago. Thousands of Clovis spearheads have been found around North America and as far south as Venezuela.

But in the last two decades, archaeologists have found an 11,000-year-old skull in Brazil, human DNA by way of feces in a cave in Oregon, evidence of humans in coastal Chile as long as 14,800 years ago, and spearheads in Texas that could date human arrival in the Americas to 15,500 years ago. Most of the manmade artifacts found in these disparate sites lack the signatures of the Clovis people.

At the Florida site, the researchers analyzed twigs in fossilized mastodon dung to date the bones and artifacts, finding them to be about 14,550 years old. The timing casts the Bering Strait theory into doubt, Halligan said: the ice-free land bridge was only open for a few thousand years.

“So the ice-free corridor is not our answer for how the Americas were initially colonized,” she told the Smithsonian.

“The logical way people could have come to Florida by 14,600 years ago is if their ancestors entered the Americas by boat along the Pacific Coast,” Waters told Discovery News.

“They could have travelled by boat to central Mexico, crossed and come along the Gulf Coast. They could have entered the Americas via the Columbia river and then travelled inland to the Mississippi river and followed it down and entered the Gulf Coast, eventually making their way to Florida.”

Mastodon remains have been found as far north as Kentucky, she said. Fisher added that the discovery that “humans and megafauna coexisted for at least 2,000 years” casts doubt on another theory: that the Clovis hunters quickly made mammoths and mastodons extinct as they launched a “blitzkrieg” across the continent.

“That means that however humans and mastodons interacted, it took at least two millennia for the process of extinction to run to completion,” he said at a press conference. The main reason the giant mammals went extinct, he said, was probably the warming climate.

Several anthropologists not affiliated with the research said it added to the mounting evidence of a complex, many-staged migration into the Americas.

“I think this paper is a triumph for underwater archaeology and yet another nail in the coffin of the Clovis-first theory,” Jon Erlandson, an anthropologist at the University of Oregon in Eugene, told Nature magazine.

“I don’t know what else to tell you,” archaeologist Michael Faught, one of the reviewers of the research, told National Geographic. “It’s unassailable.”

For 1st Time Since 1978, U.S. Cruise Docks in Cuba

The first U.S. cruise ship in nearly 40 years crossed the Florida Straits from Miami and docked in Havana Harbor on Monday, restarting commercial travel on waters that served as a stage for a half-century of Cold War hostility.

The gleaming white 704-passenger Adonia appeared on the horizon around 8 p.m. EST. Cubans fishing off the city’s seaside boulevard, the Malecon, watched it slowly sail toward the colonial fort at the mouth of Havana Harbor. The ship stopped off the city’s cruise terminal and began slowly turning into a docking position, the first U.S. cruise ship in Havana since President Jimmy Carter eliminated virtually all restrictions of U.S. travel to Cuba in the late 1970s.

Inside the cruise terminal, CBS News’ Portia Siegelbaum says there was a conga band and a colorful welcome display to greet the American tourists as they disembarked from the ship.

Travel limits were restored after Carter left office and U.S. cruises to Cuba only become possible again after Presidents Obama and Raul Castro declared detente on Dec. 17, 2014.

The Adonia’s arrival is the first step toward a future in which thousands of ships a year could cross the Florida Straits, long closed to most U.S.-Cuba traffic due to tensions that once brought the world to the brink of nuclear war. The straits were blocked by the U.S. during the Cuban Missile Crisis and tens of thousands of Cubans have fled across them to Florida on homemade rafts — with untold thousands dying in the process.

The number of Cubans trying to cross the straits is at its highest point in eight years and cruises and merchant ships regularly rescue rafters from the straits.

The Adonia is one of Carnival’s smaller ships — roughly half the size of some larger European vessels that already dock in Havana — but U.S. cruises are expected to bring Cuba tens of millions of dollars in badly needed foreign hard currency if traffic increases as expected. More than a dozen lines have announced plans to run U.S.-Cuba cruises and if all actually begin operations Cuba could earn more than $80 million a year, according to the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council said in a report Monday.

Most of the money goes directly to the Cuban government, council head John Kavulich said. He estimated that the cruise companies pay the government $500,000 per cruise, while passengers spend about $100 person in each city they visit.

Carnival says the Adonia will cruise twice a month from Miami to Havana, where it will start a $1,800 per person seven-day circuit of Cuba with stops in the cities of Cienfuegos and Santiago de Cuba. The trips include on-board workshops on Cuban history and culture and tours of the cities that make them qualify as “people-to-people” educational travel, avoiding a ban on pure tourism that remains part of U.S. law.

Optional activities for the Adonia’s passengers include a walking tour of Old Havana’s colonial plazas and a $219 per person trip to the Tropicana cabaret in a classic car.

Before the 1959 Cuban revolution, cruise ships regularly traveled from the U.S. to Cuba, with elegant Caribbean cruises departing from New York and $42 overnight weekend jaunts leaving twice a week from Miami, said Michael L. Grace, an amateur cruise ship historian.

New York cruises featured dressy dinners, movies, dancing and betting on “horse races” in which steward dragged wooden horses around a ballroom track according to rolls of dice that determined how many feet each could move per turn.

The United Fruit company operated once-a-week cruise service out of New Orleans, too, he said.

“Cuba was a very big destination for Americans, just enormous,” he said.

Cruises dwindled in the years leading up to the Cuban Revolution and ended entirely after Castro overthrew the U.S.-backed government.

After Carter dropped limits on Cuba travel, 400 passengers, including musical legend Dizzy Gillespie sailed from New Orleans to Cuba on a 1977 “Jazz Cruise” aboard the MS Daphne. Like the Adonia, it sailed despite dockside protests by Cuban exiles, and continued protests and bomb threats forced Carras Cruises to cancel additional sailings, Grace said.

The following year, however, Daphne made a several cruises from New Orleans to Cuba and other destinations in the Caribbean.

Cuba cut back on all cruise tourism in 2005, ending a joint venture with Italian terminal management company Silares Terminales del Caribe and Fidel Castro blasted cruise ships during a 4 ½ hour speech on state television.

“Floating hotels come, floating restaurants, floating theaters, floating diversions visit countries to leave their trash, their empty cans and papers for a few miserable cents,” Castro said.

Today, the Cuban government sees cruises as an easy source of revenue that can bring thousands more American travelers without placing additional demand on the country’s maxed-out food supplies and overbooked hotels.

Before detente, Americans made surreptitious yacht trips to Cuba during Caribbean vacations and the number of Americans coming by boat has climbed since 2014, including passengers on cruise ships registered in third countries and sailing from other ports in the Caribbean. Traffic remains low, however, for a major tourist attraction only 90 miles from Florida.

Aiming to change that as part of a policy of diplomatic and economic normalization, Obama approved U.S. cruises to Cuba in 2015. The Doral, Florida-based Carnival Cruise Line announced during Obama’s historic trip to Cuba in March that it would begin cruises to Cuba starting May 1.

Unexpected trouble arose after Cuban-Americans in Miami began complaining that Cuban rules barred them from traveling to the country of their birth by ship. As Carnival considered delaying the first sailing, Cuba announced April 22 it was changing the rule to allow Cubans and Cuban-Americans to travel on cruise ships, merchant vessels and, sometime in the future, yachts and other private boats.

Norwegian Cruise Line says it is in negotiations with Cuban authorities and hopes to begin cruises from the U.S. to Cuba this year.

Cruise traffic is key to the Cuban government’s reengineering of the industrial Port of Havana as a tourist attraction. After decades of treating the more than 500-year-old bay as a receptacle for industrial waste, the government is moving container traffic to the Port of Mariel west of the city, tearing out abandoned buildings and slowly renovating decrepit warehouses as breweries and museums connected by waterfront promenades.

Cruise dockings will be limited by the port’s single cruise terminal, which can handle two ships at a time.

President Barack Obama Reveals Executive Actions on Gun Control During Emotional Press Conference

After weeks of speculation surrounding the possibility of President Barack Obama issuing executive actions on the nation’s dire need for a stronger focus on gun control, Obama revealed his plans to help reduce the prevalence of gun-related violence across the country. Ahead of the announcement, so-called gun rights activists immediately started to stir up controversy surrounding the possibility of stricter background checks for those wishing to purchase firearms. Obama, however, pushed forward with his initiative before ultimately revealing his plan during a White House press conference on Tuesday.

Mark Barden, the father of Sandy Hook victim Daniel Barden, introduced Obama and Vice President Joe Biden by reminding the nation that Obama previously “made a promise” that he would do “everything in his power” to keep the nation safe from preventable gun violence. “I still remember the first time we met,” Obama said to Barden when taking the podium. “That changed me that day and my hope earnestly has been that it would change the country.”

“Too many,” Obama said after recounting the recent outburst of mass shooting in the United States. “Every single year, more than 30,000 Americans have their lives cut short by guns. Suicides, domestic violence, gang shoot-outs, accidents. Hundreds of thousands of Americans have lost brothers and sisters or buried their own children. Many have had to learn to live with a disability [or] without the love of their life. A number of those people are here today. They can tell you some stories. In this room right here, there are a lot of stories.”

“We are the only advanced country on Earth that sees that kind of mass violence erupt with this kind of frequency,” Obama added, pointing to the notion that violence is not a uniquely American problem. “We start thinking this is normal.” Speaking directly to conspiracy theorists that continue to perpetuate the notion that Obama is somehow planning to do away with the Second Amendment outright, Obama hesitated very little in rebuking such falsities. “I taught constitutional law,” Obama quipped. “I know a little about this.”

Though background checks are required at designated “gun stores,” some gun sellers are not required to operate under the same set of quite reasonable rules. “Everyone should have to abide by the same rules,” Obama said. The POTUS even referenced some Republican rivals’ previous statements in apparent accord with the expansion of background check requirements, including two particularly unlikely sources: George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan.

“I reject that thinking,” Obama said in response to the “Why bother?” argument proposed by pacifists. “At the same time that Sandy Hook happened, a disturbed person in China took a knife and tried to kill a bunch of children,” Obama reminded the nation, “but most of them survived because he didn’t have access to a powerful weapon.”

Until Congress acts appropriately on the issue of gun law reform, Obama is confident his decision to use his legal authority of executive action to expand background checks to all forms of gun purchases (digital and physical) will help move gun control in the right direction in the years ahead. “We’re also taking steps to making the background check system more efficient,” Obama added. “We’re going to bring an outdated background check system into the 21st century.”

“If we can do it for your iPad,” Obama said of the ability to track a stolen iPad with ease from the comfort of one’s home, “[then] we can do it with a stolen gun.” Adding that some retailers have already “stepped up” to support these proposals, Obama asks all retailers to take the task of gun safety seriously. “Every time I think about those kids, it gets me mad,” Obama said of the horrific Sandy Hook massacre. “And, by the way, it happens on the streets of Chicago every day.”

BP Comes To Record $20.8 Billion Settlement Agreement Over Gulf Oil Spill

The biggest environmental settlement in history is, it turns out, a little bigger than first thought.
U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch and five Gulf Coast states announced a $20.8 billion settlement with BP Monday, an amount that at first glance looks like an increase over the $18.7 billion that was announced in July. However, the new amount, according to BP, includes money the company has already spent or disclosed on the spill, so it doesn’t mean the company will be spending $2 billion more than it agreed to in July.

“Taken as a whole, this resolution is both strong and fitting. BP is receiving the punishment it deserves,” Lynch said. “The steep penalty should inspire BP and its peers to take every measure necessary to ensure that nothing like this can ever happen again.”

Of that $20.8 billion, more than $8 billion will go towards environmental restoration efforts in the Gulf region. About $5 billion of that will fund the restoration of Louisiana’s coastal marshes, according to the Draft Damage Assessment and Restoration Plan, which was also released Monday by the Natural Resource Damage Assessment Trustees Council. Louisiana’s marshes were hit hard by the Gulf oil spill — a 2012 study found that the disaster, which smothered and killed wetland grasses, sped up the loss of Louisiana’s marshes.

The restoration plan outlines five broad goals: to “restore and conserve habitat; restore water quality; replenish and protect living coastal and marine resources; provide and enhance recreational opportunities; and provide for monitoring, adaptive management, and administrative oversight to support restoration implementation.” It also outlines 13 priorities for restoration, including wetlands, water quality, oysters, sturgeon, sea turtles, marine mammals, birds, and creatures that live on the sea floor.

Over the years, scientists have worked to determine just how much the Deepwater Horizon disaster, which killed 11 men and spilled millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, has impacted the Gulf’s ecosystems. One scientist, who’s been studying the spill’s impact on coral reefs, said in 2014 that the “footprint of the impact of the spill on coral communities is both deeper and wider than previous data indicated.” A report earlier this year found that at least 20 animals in the Gulf are still being harmed by oil. And one researcher told ThinkProgress last year that the oil from the spill is becoming “part of the the geological record” of the sea floor.

Environmental groups praised the release of the draft restoration plan, and the analysis of how the spill affected the Gulf environment that came along with it.

“The oil disaster damaged hundreds of miles of shoreline (and) killed more than 1 million birds, mammals and other wildlife — and we will not know the full environmental effects of the spill for decades to come,” the Audubon Audubon Society, Environmental Defense Fund, and other groups said in a joint statement. “The (assessment) process will help bring the Gulf back to the state it was before the spill, and the release of this plan is a positive step toward that end.”

The groups also said they were pleased that the settlement, which still needs to be approved by a judge, is close to being finalized.

The rest of the settlement is divided among Clean Water Act penalties, which account for about $5.5 billion, and the $5 billion that will be given to Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas. In addition, about $600 million will go towards other costs that arose from the spill, and up to $1 billion will go towards localities seeking economic damage from the spill.

“Today is a day of justice for every family and every Gulf community whose health, land, water and livelihoods were threatened by the Deepwater Horizon disaster,” Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy said in a statement. “This settlement puts billions of dollars to work to help restore the gulf, and holds BP publicly accountable accountable for changes to its practices, to prevent this kind of disaster from happening again.”

The Pinellas County School District Is Failing Black Students at a Shocking Rate. That’s Exactly What It Chose to Do

Last week, the Tampa Bay Times published a report of its sobering year long investigation of the Pinellas County School District, which is home to five of the worst elementary schools in the state, despite the county’s relative affluence. The school crisis in Pinellas County—on Florida’s west coast on Tampa Bay—is a familiar story of court-ordered integration followed in short order by devastatingly thorough resegregation.

But what happened in Pinellas offers an even more dramatic cautionary tale, and not just because the changes have taken place so precipitously: Just eight years ago, the school district voted to ditch integration by ending busing and reinstituting a “neighborhood schools” policy that amounted to de facto segregation. In the years since, the five elementary schools spotlighted went from good to middle-of-the-road to homogenously awful. One school that had had an “A” rating is now the second worst elementary school in the entire state of Florida. Students are failing at eye-popping rates, with 8 out of 10 kids failed at reading, and 9 out of 10 in math. Altogether 95 percent of black students are failing reading or math at these schools, which the story memorably labels “failure factories.” See also this powerful graphic account of “Why Pinellas County is the worst place in Florida to be black and go to public school.”

So what went wrong? Is it simply that Pinellas County—in particular the southern part of its largest city, St. Petersburg, which has been predominantly black since the 1930s, when discriminatory housing policies ghettoized minorities there—is afflicted with an irreparably poor, damaged student population? Not at all, and that’s precisely why this story is so disgusting, and so important. As the piece points out, while “there are places in Florida where deep generational poverty, runaway crime and rampant drug use make educating children an extremely difficult task,” Pinellas County isn’t one of them.

Statewide, Pinellas County is right in the middle when it comes to poverty rates, median household income, college graduation rates, and single-parent homes. More from the Times:

Poverty doesn’t explain Pinellas’ problems. One hundred eighty-four elementary schools are as poor or poorer than Pinellas’ worst schools. All but seven outperformed the Pinellas schools in reading and math.

The rate of failure in the five elementary schools is unlike anything that occurs elsewhere in Florida.

The reporters make a very convincing case that the kids in Pinellas are failing not because, as the school board members would have it, they’re trapped in a “cycle of poverty” but because the school district is setting them up for failure with at best do-nothing and at worst malevolent policies.

When the board voted to resegregate in December 2007, it vowed to pour more resources into what would become overnight-majority-poor and -black schools: more counselors and social workers, beefed-up after-school and summer programs. It did none of these things. Funding was erratic, and unlike other districts with high-poverty schools that have made efforts to invest in minority students (a computer tracking program in Broward County, a teacher-incentive bonus of up to $20,000 in Duval County), the Pinellas County board just shrugged off the plummeting scores and skyrocketing reports of behavior problems, and actively ended any attempts at intervention. More than half of teachers in the five schools requested transfers out in 2014, and some classes had up to 12 different teachers in a single year. The teachers who stayed were often the most inept and inexperienced.

Even after community calls for change, the school board members continued to attribute the abysmal state of their county’s black schools to the “cycle of poverty,” absent any influence from them.  “This is a nationwide thing, not just us,” the piece quotes school board member Peggy O’Shea, who voted for resegregation in 2007 and continues to defend her stance today, as saying. You get a good sense of her sympathies when she goes on to say, “We only talk about it in black schools, but we resegregated white schools as well.”

Saddest of all is that the fate of Pinellas County’s black students truly is a “nationwide thing” these days. After huge gains in the fight to make good on the promise of equal education enshrined in the Brown v. Board of Education decision, more and more school districts are consigning already-disadvantaged students to separate, and extremely unequal, schools. Or, in the case of Pinellas County, actually creating those schools.

The 9 Lives Of Hulk Hogan: A History Of The Times Hulkamania Narrowly Avoided Destruction

This week Hulk Hogan celebrated his birthday, which must have been bittersweet. While Hogan the man is still going strong, his career may very well be finished after a series of racist and homophobic comments were made public. Then again, Hogan’s career is nothing if not resilient.

Hulk Hogan has tasted more than his share of success, but his career has not been a charmed one. During his 35-plus years in the wrestling business, Hogan has faced stumbling blocks and setbacks that would have destroyed the careers of most men, and yet he’s always found a way to survive. To land on his feet. Before we declare Hulkamania dead and buried, let’s look back at a few of the other times that slippery cat Hulk Hogan somehow avoided career destruction…

#1. WWF Fires Hulk Hogan for Appearing in Rocky III

Vince McMahon would like you to believe Hulk Hogan burst into existence as a fully-formed, red-and-yellow dynamo the second he beat The Iron Sheik for the title in 1983, but in actuality, he first started working for the WWF (or WWWF as it was then known) in 1979. As the ’70s segued into the ’80s, Hogan was learning his craft and making a name for himself in Japan, while also establishing himself as a top heel in WWF, and then, suddenly, it seemed to be all over. Hogan agreed to a cameo role as Thunderlips in Rocky III without consulting with WWF, and Vince McMahon Sr. fired his ass cold. Just as Hogan’s career was really taking off, he was grounded by Papa Vince and sent to work in the AWA, a second-tier operation compared to the WWF.

How Hulkamania Survived

In some ways, Hogan’s time in the corner actually helped him. It allowed Vince McMahon Jr. to make a clean break and repackage Hogan as an American-loving, vitamin-swilling good guy when he took over WWF. Also, wrestlers making cameos in movies was still relatively rare at the time, so appearing in Rocky III helped boost Hogan’s star aura, and in the end, was probably worth getting sh*tcanned over.

#2. Hogan Almost Kills Richard Belzer on Live TV

Prior to the first WrestleMania, Vince McMahon sent Hulk Hogan out on the talk show circuit in hopes of proving his wrestlers weren’t your stereotypical violent cavemen. Hulk managed to prove the exact opposite. Richard Belzer, of Law & Order: SVU fame, had a short-lived talk show during the ’80s, and when Hogan came on, he brashly challenged the WWF Champ to put him in one of his dumb fake pro-wrestling holds. Hogan, not wanting to expose the business, put Belzer in a legit front facelock, then dumped his unconscious ass on the floor, causing his skull to crack open on live TV. Belzer sued the WWF for $5 million.

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How Hulkamania Survived

Well, Belzer did ask to be put in the hold, so he kind of had it coming. That said, Hulk was lucky Belzer wasn’t hurt more. If he had received brain damage, or God forbid, had died when his skull cracked the floor, Hulkamania would have been over before it truly began.

#3. The George Zahorian Steroid Trial

I don’t mean to shock you, but a lot of guys who worked for the WWF in the ’80s used steroids. That included 6-foot-7, 310-pound sentient slab of muscle, Hulk Hogan. Unfortunately for WWF’s bulgy warriors, their hormone-fueled party began to attract the attention of the U.S. government, and in 1991, George Zahorian, WWF’s favorite mark doctor, was indicted for alleged steroid and drug trafficking. While nobody in WWF was directly charged, it would come out during trial that Zahorian sold steroids to numerous WWF employees, including Vince McMahon and noted vitamin-pusher Hulk Hogan. Given Hogan had built his entire persona around clean living and prayers-saying, it was a critical blow.

In order to rehabilitate Hogan’s image, Vince McMahon got him booked on The Arsenio Hall Show, and things did not go well. Okay, so he didn’t choke Arsenio out or use any, uh, choice words, so it could have been worse, but it was pretty uncomfortable. Hogan claimed he didn’t even know Zahorian, and only used steroids three times in 1983 to heal injuries. Most people rightfully identified this as complete bullsh*t (rumor is Hogan was going to confess to using steroids regularly before they were made illegal in 1988, but backed out at the last moment).

How Hulkamania Survived

WWF’s lawyers convinced the Zahorian prosecutors that Hogan didn’t have to testify in the case (they originally wanted him to). Since Hogan didn’t actually testify that he used steroids he still, technically, had plausible deniability on his side, even though other people did testify under oath that Hogan and others in the WWF bought and used steroids. Also, national treasure Arsenio Hall believed Hulk, so who are you to argue?

#4. Hogan is Forced Into Exile, Makes a Terrible Comeback

Even though Hulk Hogan totally never used steroids for non-medical purposes, he mysteriously disappeared from WWF TV for almost a year from April 1992 through March 1993. Hogan had taken short hiatuses before, but nothing like this. The reality was, the whole steroid thing was too radioactive, and Hogan’s performance on Arsenio was so bad, Vince McMahon sent him home, possibly for good.

Eventually, Vince would bring Hogan back, but his 1993 comeback was one of the limpest major returns in wrestling history. The 1993 Hogan suspiciously appeared to be around 50-pounds lighter and 10 years older than 1992 Hogan, but that didn’t stop him from crapping on upcoming star, Bret Hart. Hogan decided at the last moment he needed to win the title at WrestleMania IX to “send the crowd home happy” and so we ended up with a scenario where Yokozuna beat Bret for the title, then was immediately squashed by Hogan. This, of course, made both Yoko and Bret look terrible. When Hogan then refused to drop the title back to Bret, Vince McMahon saw the writing on the wall. Vince declared Hulkamania dead, took the title off him, and let him ride out the rest of his contract at home. It seemed like the fall of the Hogan empire was at hand.

How Hulkamania Survived

Thankfully there was a whole company of Hogan marks operating out of Atlanta, Georgia, but even a jump to WCW didn’t revitalize Hogan’s career right away. His first couple years in WCW, as we’ve painstakingly documented, were just as bad, or worse, than his last year in the WWF. It wasn’t until he joined the NWO in 1996 that the good ship Hogan finally righted itself. So yeah, Hogan basically spent a solid four years on the skids before getting his sh*t together, but hey, as we’re establishing in this article, when you’re Hulk Hogan people are willing to give you a lot of time and chances to figure things out.

#5. The Vince McMahon Steroid Trial

Hogan may have dodged a bullet during the 1991 Zahorian steroid trials, but things got a whole lot nastier when the U.S. attorney came at Vince McMahon himself with steroid charges in 1993. Building off the Zahorian case, the prosecutors tried to nail Vince for distribution, saying he would buy the drugs from Zahorian, then pass them out to his testosterone-craving employees. This time around Hogan would not escape testifying, but even though Vince had basically just sent him packing, Hogan shockingly fell on his sword for his old boss.

Hogan testified that Zahorian would send steroids for Vince and himself to the office, and Vince had no role in distributing the drugs. This testimony, combined with a lot of sloppy work by the prosecutors, resulted in a victory for McMahon. Good news for Vince, but Hogan had totally opened himself up on the stand, going so far as to admit he’d regularly used steroids since 1976 and had lied on the Arsenio Hall show. There’s no way he was wriggling out of this one, right?

How Hulkamania Survived

Wrong. History is written by the winners, and almost immediately the story of McMahon’s steroid trial became, “How Mr. McMahon valiantly stood up to and defeated the federal government!” The also pretty major, “Hulk Hogan admits he’s a steroid-abusing liar” story quickly got swept under the rug. Still, it was pretty shocking that Hulk didn’t get raked over the coals more than he did. Perhaps, as often happens, the media just got tired of the story. Maybe Hulk managed to fly under the radar in WCW. Whatever the reasons, Hulk Hogan, as jacked-up as ever, continued on his merry way.

#6. Nick Hogan Is Sent Away For Reckless Driving

In 2007 Hogan’s son Nick was involved in a single-car accident while driving his souped-up Toyota Supra nearly 60 mph in a 30-mph zone. Nick walked away relatively unscathed, but his passenger, U.S. Marine John Graziano, sustained injuries that would leave him seriously disabled for life. Nick was charged with felony reckless driving, and sentenced to eight months in prison.

That would have been bad enough, but things got even worse when it came out that  jailhouse tapes of Hulk and Nick running Graziano down as a “negative person showed them making plans to spin the whole situation into a new reality show. Needless to say, this went over with the public about as well as a fart in church (or, to keep it Hogan-themed, leg-dropping the priest).

How Hulkamania Survived

For the most part, this was a Nick Hogan scandal, so Hogan could kind of step back and be, “Hey, I tried! Kids, am I right?” Also, while the jailhouse tapes revealed the Hogan family to be out of touch dickfaces, nothing reported was illegal or overly politically incorrect, so after an initial furor, public memory faded. On the plus side, Nick’s incarceration did signal the end of the Hogan family’s regrettable run as reality -TV stars.

#7. Hogan Reveals His O.J. Simpson Fantasies

The hits kept coming for Hogan around this time period, as his wife Linda filed for divorce in late 2007. Shortly after the breakup, Linda began dating a 19-year-old who had been a high-school classmate of Hogan’s daughter Brooke. A situation like that could understandably drive a man to say some inappropriate things, but Hogan took it more than a skosh too far in a Rolling Stone interview, where he expressed sympathy for O.J. Simpson and indulged in some weird murder fantasies…

“I could have turned everything into a crime scene like O.J., cutting everybody’s throat. You live half a mile from the 20,000-square-foot home you can’t go to anymore, you’re driving through downtown and see a 19-year-old boy driving your Escalade, and you know that a 19-year-old boy is sleeping in your bed, with your wife. I totally understand O.J. I get it.”

No, Hulk, I’m beginning to think you don’t get it.

How Hulkamania Survived

Hogan would not have recovered from “I wish I could butcher my wife” comments so quickly in today’s climate, but people were more blase about weird misogyny in 2008, and besides, everybody was too busy being mad at Hulk over the Nick Hogan jailhouse tapes. People only have so much room in their hearts for Hogan rage.

#8. The Sex Tape

And then there was the time we all saw Hulk Hogan’s schlong. Hogan has tried to frame his sex tapes as a mistake he made when he was at the lowest point in his life, but they were actually made in 2006, before his son’s accident and the divorce. Basically, scummy shock jock Bubba the Love Sponge arranged for his bestest buddy Hogan to sleep with his then-wife Heather. Unbeknownst to Hogan, Bubba was secretly filming the horrifying hump sessions.

The tapes would lay dormant for years, but then somebody with a beef with Bubba stole the tapes, leaked them to Gawker and then Gawker published an X-rated snippet of the Hulkster Hoganing his friend’s wife on their front page. Hulk went on the attack, but Gawker refused to remove the footage until Hogan filed a $100 million lawsuit against them.

How Hulkamania Survived

Having a sex tape go public isn’t necessarily a death sentence for a celebrity in this glorious age we live in, particularly if you can frame yourself as a victim who had no hand in its release, which legitimately seems to be the case with Hogan. Hell, Hulk was doubly not culpable, since unlike most celeb amateur pornos, he claims he didn’t know his was being filmed. You should never have to look at the genitals of your childhood heroes, but eventually everybody got over it, and WWE brought Hogan back in to shill the Network and hug cancer survivors in 2014. Little did we all know what elsewas on those tapes.

#9. Hulk Hogan Is Caught Saying Everything You’re Not Supposed To Say

We’ve covered this story pretty extensively over the past few weeks, so I won’t go too far in depth. Quickly, it turned out Hulk Hogan’s boner was actually the least distressing thing about his sex tapes. Shortly before Hogan’s lawsuit with Gawker was set to go to trial, a conversation from one of the tapes, in which Hogan drops the n-word several times and outright identifies himself a racist, was leaked. In the ensuing frenzy, a homophobic exchange was also dug out of Nick and Hulk Hogan’s old jailhouse tapes. Hogan was immediately fired from WWE, scrubbed from their website and dropped by all sponsors.

How Hulkamania Survived?

Could this be the final blow for Hulkamania? If we’re sticking to the metaphor, then Hogan’s career is on its final life. Of course, this would be tremendously hard to come back from no matter when it happened in Hogan’s career. Uttering the n-word and declaring yourself a racist is pretty much the ultimate sin a celebrity can commit. Hogan’s past scandals have outed him as a hypocrite, a man of sometimes poor judgment, but this latest incident may be proof of something darker. That Hogan just isn’t a very good person. That’s not something you can erase with a simple apology.

That said, given Hogan’s history, it would be foolish to count him out, even after this nuclear bombshell. Hulk Hogan is the most important performer in WWE history, and by extension, the history of pro wrestling. The amount of stored up nostalgia for the Hulkster is huge, and the temptation to let bygones be bygones yet again will eventually be equally huge. Hogan also has the tiniest hairline crack to squeeze through, in that these were private conversations never meant to be made public. Hogan can claim, as he has, that these were off-the-cuff, ill-considered comments that don’t reflect his true feelings.

Florida Family Discovers $1M in Shipwreck Treasure

While tens of thousands of families travel to Florida each year to enjoy the beaches and sunshine, the Schmitt family take their annual holiday just a little off-shore in search of something else: treasure.

For several years now, the family of professional treasure hunters has been returning to search for gold in about 15 feet of water off Florida’s aptly-named Treasure Coast. The region is home to several notable shipwrecks, including a dramatic 1715 event that claimed 11 Spain-bound galleons and the lives of over 1,000 sailors.

The Schmitts acts as sub-contractors to 1715 Fleet-Queens Jewels LLC, which owns rights to the site where the ships foundered 300 years ago. It’s estimated that only a little over a third of the $400 million in gold and silver held on the vessels has been recovered –– leaving plenty of opportunities for professionals to reap the rewards.

Last month proved to be one of those moments. Diver Eric Schmitt was using a metal detector to analyze the seabed, when something caught his eye. Sweeping away the sand, he found one, then, two, then more than 50 gold coins. The haul, estimated to be worth more than $1 million, also included over 40 feet of gold chain and an extremely rare Tricentennial Royal coin minted in 1715. That one piece alone is estimated to be worth more than $500,000, with only six known to be in existence.

“Those are things you dream of finding a royal coin, finding a presentation piece. And there are people who have been doing this for 40 or 50 years who have never found one,” Schmitt told CBS News.

According to Florida law, up to 20 percent of the rarest treasures will be displayed in museums, the rest will be split between the Schmitts and 1715 Fleet-Queens Jewels. The family, who in previous years has discovered 60 feet of gold chain and other artifacts, said that what they do is hard work — and definitely a passion.

“There are good times and there are bad times and this is definitely one of our good times,” Schmitt added.

Check out video of Schmitt discovering the gold coins on the seafloor below.

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