House Of Blue

Like a lot of you, I’m sure, the countdown to Tuesday’s vote triggered the 2016 flashback from hell. The night where we would dodge the reality-TV bullet and celebrate the historic election of the first woman president. Instead an outrageously unprepared, unethical, immoral, misogynist pseudo-populist cult figure changed our country for the worse.

As a result, this time it felt like America was in the doctor’s office awaiting STD results. Looking through finger slits at a TV screen as the results came in.

The good news, of course, is that President Donald Trump’s scaremongering antics couldn’t keep the House of Representatives in GOPster hands. Instead they energized enough Americans–not all of them Democrats–to stand up for something besides partisanship, nativism and media demonization. As former President Barack Obama said, “The character of our country is on the ballot.” It was.

Let’s savor the reality that a new House majority will be using its oversight powers to investigate the Trump Administration and issue subpoenas to officials. Hopefully, those results will remind Americans that our constitutional democracy only works if enough of us actually practice it.

Then there’s “Flori-duh.” Still. Governor-elect Ron DeSantis and (presumably) Senator-elect Rick Scott–a fawning, Trump acolyte who was more Fox-than-Florida friendly and a self-serving Trump supporter who once again wrote enough checks to buy a win against an uninspiring opponent. We know their back stories. We know their values. We know the implications for this state. It’s unconscionable that this is who now represents us in Tallahassee and Washington.

Those who voted for DeSantis and Scott–or didn’t vote–deserve what they get. The rest of us don’t.

But, yes, both the transportation and schools initiatives passed locally, as did (former-felons’ voting rights) Amendment 4 statewide. So maybe the Kavanaugh keg is half full. Maybe.

Trumpster Diving

* Lost in the fear-mongering fomented by the White House over the Central American “caravan” is this: The U.S. has no meaningful policy when it comes to Central America. In fact, it doesn’t even have an ambassador to Honduras, which has devolved into a nightmare scenario for its most vulnerable inhabitants. There’s more we can do–from constitutional, humanitarian and enlightened self-interest perspectives–than send in the troops and separate families.

* “It’s my only form of fighting back. I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t do that.”–That was Trump in a recent Axios interview, explaining his polarizing media-attacks rationale. Never know when the truth will be outed.

* For what it’s worth, Corey Lewandowski, Trump’s pre-Manafort campaign manager, says the 2020 Trump threat that worries him is billionaire, former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg, for whom fund-raising would not be an issue.

* “If you back the evangelicals out of the white vote, Donald Trump loses whites.” That was Ralph Reed of the Faith & Freedom Coalition in candidly assessing this president’s base. Which only reminds us that hypocrisy is apparently not a sin.

* Politicians selling out is nothing new. But pols doing a self-serving, 180 pivot in the era of Trump have reached a new low. Exhibit A: South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham. Not that long ago he referred to Trump as “the world’s biggest jackass” and then doubled down with “race-baiting, xenophobic religious bigot.” That was then; this is not. Now Graham is a regular golfing partner of the president. His likely end game(s): Become Jeff Sessions’ successor as attorney general or at least make sure he doesn’t get primaried in a state where Trump re-election support definitely matters.

* Remember the “Axis of Evil” during the George W. Bush Administration? That was Iran, Iraq and North Korea back in 2002. Not to be outdone, the Trump Administration has now rolled out the “Troika of Tyranny” and the “Triangle of Terror.” That would be its 2018 shorthand for Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua. We can thank National security adviser John Bolton–and likely alt-Reich, anti-immigrant adviser/speech writer Stephen Miller–for that outlandishly alliterative, geopolitical update. Bolton also sophomorically mocked their leaders as “stooges of socialism.”  As in, “They are clownish, pitiful figures more akin to Larry, Curly and Moe.” He was, of course, talking about (Miguel) Diaz-Canel, (Nicolas) Maduro and (Daniel) Ortega, respectively. How ironic; that could easily apply to Trump, Bolton and Miller.

* No, we’ve not seen anything like this administration before, but we have heard rhetoric before that now sounds eerily on point. This is what a Democratic presidential candidate once said: “A strong nation, like a strong person, can afford to be gentle, firm, thoughtful and restrained. It can afford to extend a helping hand to others. It is a weak nation, like a weak person, that must behave with bluster and boasting and rashness and other signs of insecurity.”  That candidate was Jimmy Carter in 1976. In retrospect, Gerald Ford never looked so good.

Signs Of The Times

* Last Friday a car plowed into five children and two adults waiting at a school bus stop. Fortunately, they all survived. Police officials said the crash did not appear to be intentional. Imagine having to say that?

* A substitute elementary teacher in Largo was recently arrested in the aftermath of carrying a loaded, 9 mm handgun to work. It fell from his front waistband on the school’s playground. The school was placed on a brief lockdown. A Tallahassee yoga studio became a multiple-murder scene. A place synonymous with tranquility became a venue of unspeakable violence. The murderer was a former substitute teacher in two counties. This can’t be the new normal.

* Tampa’s plan to turn highly treated wastewater into drinking water is on hold. That’s the upshot after Pinellas and Pasco officials indicated their misgivings about how the Tampa Augmentation Project  might impact their communities. One obvious issue is image. It hardly helps that the media routinely references the project as “toilet-to-tap.” Yuck.

* That was good news that Jeff Vinik’s development company (Strategic Property Partners) and Cascade Investment finally closed the deal to buy the 3-acre, 80-year-old ConAgra flour mill. It’s an anachronistic eyesore in an area under urban lifestyle reboot and Water Street Tampa revitalization. It is, as Mayor Bob Buckhorn underscored, “the last missing piece of the puzzle.”

But it will still be a few years before a new, relocated, state-of-the-art mill is built. And I still think some mural artists would help in the transition from butt ugly to urban aesthetic.

* I’m skeptical about autonomous, driverless cars. Hardly a fan of computerized chauffeurs and the like. But then I’m reminded–all too graphically–that driverless cars are immune from texting and huffing and boozing. They don’t do wrong-way u-turns, and they don’t traffic in road rage. How’s that for a market niche?

Sports Shorts

* If I were a hard core UCF fan, I’d still be steamed over how the Knights were shafted last season and didn’t make the College Football Championship playoffs. Now with the nation’s longest winning streak (21), they are perched for a similar experience this year if they run the table again. It’s all about their schedule. Yada, yada. But UCF Athletic Director Danny White had a tactful response to the no-respect reality. “If you can go undefeated and not play in the so-called (CFC) playoff for a national championship, it’s not a playoff. It’s an invitational.” Well put.

* Speaking of UCF, it had to be disappointing to not have a packed “Bounce House” at Spectrum Stadium last Thursday for the nationally-televised, come-from-behind win over Temple.

* Former NFL fullback Jim Taylor, the first Green Bay Packer star in Vince Lombardi’s dynasty to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, recently died at age 83. It spoke volumes that for a long time he was no longer a fan of the game he was once so good at. “Today’s athletes, they’re just full of so much conversation instead of keep your mouth shut and just do your job,” explained Taylor. “I don’t even watch a game.” I get it. I’m not an NFL fan, because I’m no fan of camera-courting, boorish lounge acts.

* The latest AP Pro 32 poll has the New Orleans Saints No. 1. Indeed, the same Saints the Bucs beat in week one. It only adds to the frustration.

Quoteworthy

* “I’m confident that we will keep the economic pressure in place until such time as Chairman Kim fulfills the (denuclearization) commitment he made to President Trump back in June in Singapore.”–Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

* “(The U.S.) will no longer appease dictators and despots near our shores in this hemisphere.”–National Security Adviser John Bolton, in announcing new sanctions being imposed on Venezuela and Cuba and additional penalties against Nicaragua.

* “Scholars are still struggling to understand what will happen to democracy, whose growth stalled over a decade ago and may now be receding. … We had long thought that democracies in regions like Latin America or Southeast Asia would catch up to those in the West. And maybe they will. Or maybe we had it backward all along.”–Max Fisher, New York Times.

* “The world of inequality, corruption and violence (Central Americans) are fleeing is a world that American elites have helped build. To shrug off the struggles the region confronts today is to deny responsibility for decade after decade of neocolonial meddling.”–Miles Culpepper, Jacobin Magazine.

* “Paul Ryan should be focusing on holding the majority rather than giving his opinions on birthright citizenship, something he knows nothing about!”–President Donald Trump.

* “We’ll go up to anywhere between 10,000 and 15,000 military personnel on top of Border Patrol, ICE and everybody else at the border.”–Donald Trump.

* “In this campaign, fear is what’s on the Republican menu. Peace and prosperity? Mere side dishes.”–Bret Stephens, New York Times.

* “The fake news media, the true enemy of the people, must stop the open and obvious hostility and report the news accurately and fairly.”–Donald Trump.

* “Denigrating the media diminishes an institution that is critical to democracy, both here and abroad. As a political tactic, it may be brilliant, but it comes with a larger cost to the cause of freedom.”–Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican presidential nominee and current Senate candidate from Utah.

* “(Presidents) heal. They unite. They inspire. … It’s not in Donald Trump’s software to do this.”–Historian Michael Beschloss.

* “The president is trying to heal the country.”–White House counselor Kellyanne Conway.

* “Being in (Trump’s) orbit, I think, has been good for me and good for him. … I enjoy his company. I’ve spend more time talking to him than any president–all of them combined.”–South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham.

* “It is now impossible to have intellectual integrity and a conscience while remaining a Republican  in good standing. … Those who remain are either fanatics willing to do anything in pursuit of power, or cynics willing to go along with anything for a share of the spoils.”–Paul Krugman, New York Times.

* “One election won’t eliminate racism or sexism or homophobia … but it will be a start. And when you start down that path, momentum starts to build.”–Former President Barack Obama.

* “One unintended effect of Donald Trump is that has alleviated fears of people who thought they were unqualified for office.”–Sayu Bhojwani, founder of New American Leaders.

* “Our debts are growing faster than our means to discharge them. It strains credulity to think that our creditors are unaware of the fact. Some of us fret about foreign hackers tilting American elections with lies. We should all spare a worry about hackers causing a bond-market crisis by spreading the truth.”–James Grant, Weekly Standard.

* “The economy is roaring, but the mood is so sour. It’s a very sad time in this country.”–South Florida Republican Congressman Carlos Curbelo.

* “The key distinction is the number of people per vehicle. Without pretty radically increasing the number of people per vehicle, autonomous systems will increase total miles traveled.”–Transportation planner Jerry Walters.

* “Cyber. Could be banks. Could be transportation systems. Could be communications systems. It’s going to happen.”–Former senator and presidential candidate Gary Hart on what he thinks will be the next major threat.

* “I voted for Andrew Gillum. The reason is simple: It’s because I’ve served with Ron DeSantis.”–Former Florida Republican Congressman David Jolly.

* “Drinking and driving in the Tampa Bay area is a public health epidemic.”–Larry Coggins, executive director of the West Central Florida chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

* “Without a dedicated funding source, we’ll never break gridlock.”–Hillsborough County Administrator Mike Merrill.

* “This next phase, we hope, is going to be a bridge (between) a seasonal service and a permanent ferry service that connects our communities.”–St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman.

Trump Base Cannot Carry An Election

Repudiate Or Validate

We’re now well within a hopeful-but-still-fearful fortnight of the mid-term elections–and the illumination of a stark reality. Either the Trump-cult phenomenon was an embarrassingly ugly, worrisome, American anomaly or that we’ve inexplicably doubled down on the United States of Autocracy.

We’ve never really played zero-sum politics to this existential degree.

But there is always this. The Trump base is still a minority, however stuffed that deplorables-basket looks.

Because of its arrogant, unhinged leader with his literal bully-pulpit and Fox News bullhorn,  Trumpism has a high-decibel image and outsized impact. But the reality is that demographically diverse Democrats–from moderates to Bernie Sanders acolytes–to independents to old-school Republicans control our destiny.

The words of 18th century Irish statesman and philosopher Edmund Burke still resonate. “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

That hasn’t changed, even as the definition and context of evil evolves.

We’ve also experienced first-hand two years of chaos and anxiety that are grim reminders of where we are as an alarmingly polarized society. It’s what can happen with the Oval Office equivalent of the Rev. Jim Jones devolving the presidency with nativist dog whistles, media demonization and international free-lancing that alienates allies and appeases authoritarians.

As a result, the words of 20th century Spanish-American philosopher George Santayana should also resonate. “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

But Burke and Santayana notwithstanding, there is this self-evident reality that doesn’t require a quote for the ages. If everybody just votes as if THEIR lives in THIS country depended on it, then this national nightmare will begin its ultimate decline.

Even though he’s not formally on any ticket, Donald Trump is a full, frontal 2018 election presence. That includes the scary reality that Trump’s fidelity to meaningful democracy is nil. These midterms come down to a reality that would fit on a bumper sticker: “Repudiate or Validate.” That’s how every ballot should be interpreted. Don’t give any of his sell-out surrogates–from governors, senators and representatives to state legislators–the rationale and wherewithal to prolong this nightmare.

Trumpster Diving

* There is still a discernible difference among Democratic strategists as to how to respond to in-your-face Trumpian dynamics. From “go high” to “(metaphorically) kick ’em.” I prefer the former; don’t look to replicate the same sort of MO you deplore. It should be beneath the cause–and, in the era of ubiquitous media, can give the other side gratuitous, “liberal mob” ammo. Stay with principles without playing the punk card at restaurants or at the annual Washington Correspondents Dinner. Put it this way: Don’t fight fire with fire; fight it with a fire extinguisher of better proposals worthy of the America we still want to be.

* Approximately 30 million women voted for Trump in 2016. Alas, that’s not “fake news.” It also remains embarrassingly inexplicable.

* Looks like the tax cut that would “pay for itself” has reached the credibility level of “Mexico paying for the Wall.” That wouldn’t be the way Mitch McConnell would actually frame it, but that’s the uncomfortable upshot when you advocate cutting entitlement expenses to try and undercut a burgeoning budget deficit. But who expected the senate majority leader to make the case for cuts in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid right before the mid-terms? Timing is everything, as we assumed McConnell knew.

* Imagine, the Saudis are still working on a cover story for the killing of journalist-critic Jamal Khashoggi. Whatever its ultimate iteration beyond “fistfight”-gone-wrong, this much is obvious. “Rogues” don’t operate independently of authoritarian leaders on anything of import. Underlings misunderstanding instructions or overstepping authorizations just doesn’t happen. That’s not how Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, whose personal agenda notably includes the silencing of critics, operates. And let’s not forget that if MBS had wanted a de facto green light to go after a Washington Post columnist residing in the U.S., he could hardly have missed the ongoing signals emanating from the White House in the form of Trump’s routine assaults on American media. We’re seeing the tragic consequences.

* “Vote against the GOP this November.”–This blunt directive was issued by George Will. Yes, THAT George Will. It’s THAT scary.

* “Despite us having the worst laws in the world and no help from Democrats, our administration is doing a great job on the border.” That was White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, not President Donald Trump. But, yeah, she not only shills for her boss, she now sounds like him too.

* Yeah, that was quite the shocker that the Philippines just won another term on the UN’s Human Rights Council–given that Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has become synonymous with human rights violations–aka “extrajudicial killings”–in his beyond-brutal drug war. Philippine Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano used some familiar phrasing in lauding the UN’s decision. “We are really greatly honored as this is a vindication that fake news and baseless accusations have no place in modern-day human rights discussions.” Yeah, that’s who else traffics in such familiar, media-bashing rhetoric.

* “Here’s a quote, from the late writer and political cynic Gore Vidal, that still has currency. “The great American formula: socialism for the rich, free enterprise for the poor.”

“Women For Gillum”

My wife and I checked out the “Women For Gillum” rally at Waterworks Park last Friday. A crowd of about 500 braved the humidity. And I was not the only guy. Nor the only guy to go next door to get a plastic cup of Ulele stout to offset the heat. Good synergy.

The stage was filled with A-list women Dems–from Kathy Castor and Janet Cruz to Ione Townsend and Alex Sink. The crowd was diverse, not unlike a Gasparilla Children’s Parade turnout–Black, White, Hispanic. Older, younger. Kids and parents. Not even an infiltrator with a bull horn yelling something about “George Soros” could dampen the enthusiasm.

We all know that a blue wave is not guaranteed, but it can’t happen without a show of activism and enthusiasm. Boxes checked.

Gillum, who was introduced by Congresswoman Castor, hit his main speaking points: from Medicaid expansion and criminal justice reform to restoring power to environmental agencies,  raising teacher salaries and standing up to the NRA. He’s obviously a natural campaigner and patiently accommodated parents with little kids who had queued up for smiling selfies after the formal rally.

But he also underscored the bottom line. “If we vote, we win,” he declared, without cracking a smile.

Sports Shorts

* No, this is not the sort of football season that FSU fans were hoping for. And it could get worse. But here’s a consolation: a former FSU golfer, Brooks Koepka, is now ranked No. 1 in the world. But, yeah, if you’re a ‘Noles fan, that’s not consolation enough.

* “A relentless team that looked every bit the Stanley Cup favorite.”–That was a Chicago Tribune reference to the Lightning after the Bolts had soundly beaten the Blackhawks in Chicago. Sometimes it’s good to hear from the other side for additional perspective about a home team on a mission.

* The USF Bulls only lost two games last year–to Houston and UCF. Now, after going 7-0, comes the Houston-UCF part of the schedule again, starting with Houston on Saturday. A win at Houston would be huge. A loss would give pollsters all the reason they need to drop USF, a team known to play down unimpressively to the competition while winning, out of the Top 25 national rankings.

* Undefeated Ohio State lost–by a lot–to Purdue. Previously, Purdue had lost to Eastern Michigan. The bottom line: another reminder that, except for Alabama, there is still an any-given-day parity in college football.

Quoteworthy

* “What’s clear is that the only options on the table now from the prime minister are a bad Brexit deal, or no deal whatsoever.”–London Mayor Sadiq Khan, who joined some 700,000 people taking part in London’s “People’s Vote March.” Britain is scheduled to leave the EU this March.

* “Empires often think they can make some little mistakes … because they’re so powerful. But when the number of these mistakes keeps growing, it reaches a level they cannot sustain.”–Russian President Vladimir Putin, in reference to the U.S.

* “Sadly, it looks like Mexico’s police and military are unable to stop the Caravan heading to the southern border of the United States. I have alerted the Border Patrol and military that this is a national emergency.”–President Donald Trump.

* “The Saudis satisfy American greed, deftly playing their role as dollar signs in robes.”–Maureen Dowd, New York Times.

* “You have never participated in an election that is as consequential as this election nationally and locally.”–Former Vice President Joe Biden, at a Democratic rally in Las Vegas.

* “If you want to protect America’s laws, borders, sovereignty and even your dignity, you need to go out today and vote.”–Donald Trump, at a Republican rally in Elko, Nevada.

* “It’s very simple–November 6, up or down vote. Up or down vote on the impeachment of Donald Trump.”–Former Trump chief strategist Steve  Bannon.

* “Fear is not a proper motivator. Hope wins out.”–Former First Lady Michelle Obama.

* “It depends on where Republicans are going low. If they’re going low in North Dakota, you offer to build a bridge to bring them back. If they’re going low in Brooklyn, New York, you hit them on the head with a two-by-four.”–Steve Israel, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

* “The only problem with a president who talks too much is that he might make his ignorance obvious. That’s why presidents get briefed, rehearse talking points, do practice sessions before facing the media and generally never do what Trump does, which is to wing it.”–Mike McCurry, former Clinton Administration press secretary.

* “(Trump) lives in the eternal now–no history, no consequences.”–Michael Gerson, former speech writer for President George W. Bush.

* “Intelligence is all about context … (Trump) gives weight to data based on who told him, not the evidentiary stack underneath it.”–Michael V. Hayden, former CIA director under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama.

* “Trump’s edge over everybody: He can do no wrong because he’s all wrong. He never really shocks because he’s a perpetual shock.”–Frank Bruni, New York Times.

* “I took the (DNA) test and released the results for anyone who cares to see because I’ve got nothing to hide. What are YOU hiding @realDonaldTrump? Release your tax returns–or the Democratic-led House will do it for you soon enough. Tick-tock, Mr. President.”–Sen. Elizabeth Warren.

* “The one disappointment of this Congress from a Republican point of view. … We’re not satisfied with the way ‘Obamacare’ is working.”–Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

* “(Mitch) McConnell and (Paul) Ryan represent Wall Street interests that for years have been salivating at the prospect of using privatization schemes to get their hands on so-called ‘entitlement programs.'”–John Nichols, the Nation.

* “For most Americans, climate change has always been something that might happen in the future, but it hasn’t happened yet. That reality is changing. … Voters deserve lawmakers who would rather protect them from disasters than protect them from the truth.”–Emily Atkin, New Republic.

* “It’s highly targetable. It’s inexpensive. Until we screw it up, it’s the Holy Grail.”–Republican political consultant Alex Patton, on the increasing use of campaigns sending huge numbers of unsolicited texts to voters with the assistance of new apps and programs.

* “What ‘stand your ground’ has done is taken an unnecessary killing and made it into a justifiable killing.”–Bob Dekle, retired assistant state attorney and former University of Florida law professor.

* “(Funding education) should not be a partisan issue. Our environment should not be a partisan issue.”–Debra Bellanti, Democratic challenger to Republican Rep. Jackie Toledo for Florida’s District 60 House seat.

* “Looking at the month-to-month numbers, we are seeing continuous improvement in the Florida and Gulf Coast economies with solid job gains.”–PNC chief economist Gus Faucher. The state’s unemployment rate dropped to 3.5 percent in September. Tampa Bay’s rate plunged to 2.9 percent–with  Hillsborough County at 2.8 percent.

* “A huge win. Baker McKenzie will bring great prestige to Tampa and help fuel our increasing momentum.”–Mayor Bob Buckhorn, on the announcement that Baker McKenzie, a global law firm, would be opening a new business services center in Tampa with more than 300 new jobs.

* “This is more than just a transportation issue. It’s an economic prosperity issue and a competitive issue.”–Craig Richard, CEO of Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp., on the significance of passing the sales tax for transportation upgrades.

* “Compared to Miami and Sarasota, Tampa Bay offers tremendous value.”–Bob Glaser, president and CEO of Smith & Associates Real Estate.