Trump, Sanders, Conway & Co.

* “He’s a businessman.” “He tells it like it is.” “He listens to us.” “He doesn’t want THEM coming in here either.” “He’ll drain the swamp.” “He’ll kick some ass.” “We need a cult leader.” Whatever. Iran is the latest reminder that the president of the United States, even if it’s Donald Trump, plays a pivotal role in what happens in our world. From climate change to nuclear threats to global alliances. Those aren’t priorities of a faux populist charlatan.

* The Trump Administration to Iran: “Live up to the nuclear deal that we pulled out of.”

* Is Mike Pompeo secretary of state or secretary of defense?  

* Talk about a bottom line. “Let me make something 100% clear to the American public and anyone running for public office. It is illegal for any person to solicit, accept, or receive anything of value from a foreign national in connection with a U.S. election. This is not a novel concept. I would not have thought I needed to say this.” No, that wasn’t Nancy Pelosi. It was Ellen Weintraub, chairwoman of the Federal Election Commission, not exactly known for political partisanship.

* “If you want to know how much these polls matter, just ask President Hillary Clinton.” That’s a recent Jimmy Fallon line, more haunting than humorous.

* Sarah Huckleberry Sandbag, the Trump spokesperson who makes us miss Sean Spicer, is leaving this month. Her replacement?  Likely an insider moving up, but hard to dismiss Sean Hannity, Kanye West, Kid Rock, Matt Gaetz, Steve Doocy, Laura Ingraham or Pam Bondi.  

What will be SHS’s legacy? Let’s count the ways. She whored out for the worst, most despicably dangerous president in U.S. history. She killed off the daily press briefing. She suspended the WH pass of CNN’s Jim Acosta. She didn’t just spin like all press secretaries do, she also lied–including claims that the WH had heard from “countless” FBI agents who complained about James Comey. And she was a gratuitous gift to “SNL.”  

BTW, whoever replaces SHS will have already proven unsuitable because they’ve already given de facto proof of their values and motivation: fealty to Trump and a high-profile bridge to Fox.

* Kellyanne Conway: the Hatch Actress.

* We know why Trump won’t dump Kellyanne Conway: She’s an outspoken, arrogant, loyal apologist. But why won’t George Conway dump her? Is it some sort of perverse celebrity coupling that only Mary Matelin and James Carville would understand?

* “Donald Trump should launch his anti-worker, anti-woman, anti-farmer, and anti-minority campaign elsewhere.” You go, Nikki Fried.

* However this Democratic casting call shakes out, one reality seems certain: The 2020 Democratic ticket will not consist of two straight white guys.

Threat: Only Existential

We’ll know that we’ve turned the ultimate self-interest corner, and hopefully not too late, when climate change is referenced foremost as an existential threat–not merely a political and economic issue. To wit, much was made of a recent Monmouth University poll that showed that 64 percent of Republicans now believe in climate change, an eight percent jump since 2015. While this likely doesn’t include President Donald Trump, Sen. Rick Scott or EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler, it still says that with science-based climate change increasingly manifest every day–temps hit 123 degrees recently in India–more than one in three GOPsters still doesn’t believe in climate change. That’s still unconscionable.

And too bad the Democratic Party didn’t heed the request of candidate Jay Inslee, the governor of Washington, to make climate change the lone subject of one of the 12 presidential debates. It would have forced candidates to get detailed–and not just get by with clichés. But the DNC turned it down. Chairman Tom Perez should know better. This is the ultimate existential threat to the planet–aided and abetted by the warped, science-challenged priorities of Trump, his “Deliverance”-crowd base and the fossil fuel industry. There should be no debate about that.

Tampa Bay Tidbits

* “I told you so.” I’m afraid we’re going to hear that before too long. It will be because someone on a scooter will have been seriously injured or killed. And some official in St. Pete will explain again why that hipster city had decided on watchful waiting instead of giving the go-ahead for scooters.

* When it comes to school mascots, Florida State University makes a good model. Seminoles are not depicted as some demeaning Sunshine State Chief Wahoo. The Seminole Tribe gets a percentage of paraphernalia sales, and the Seminoles have an embedded curricular place in the teaching of Florida history. The school board should keep context in mind when looking at Hillsborough Native American school mascots and ethnic stereotypes. In Tallahassee, Chief Osceola and Renegade are points of pride–not parody.

Panhandling

It speaks volumes, doesn’t it, when Gov. Ron DeSantis goes to Okaloosa County in the Panhandle to sign a bill. But it wasn’t, of course, just any bill. It was the controversial one that will ban “sanctuary cities” in Florida.  It’s also a reminder that there are no sanctuaries from blatant, political pandering to a base, and that there’s a thin line between a bill signing and a campaign rally. No, Gov. DeSantis hasn’t lost his Fox Green Room pass.

Media Matters

* Maybe it’s generational. Or maybe it’s just the generic nature of pop culture at any given point in time. Whatever, I’ll never get Marvel Comics movies and zombie cinema. We’re better than this, aren’t we?

* The Elton John movie “Rocketman” is well worth seeing, especially as we get mired in summer cinema drivel. Yes, it has its wince-able moments, but a well-scored, well-staged fantasy-musical-biopic that also deals with addictions will do that. His hyper kinetic, catalytic American debut at the Troubadour in West Hollywood is reason alone to see it. And Taron Egerton is spot on in the lead role. Alas, however, “Philadelphia Freedom,” my all-time, favorite Elton John song, was not included. Yo.  

Foreign Affairs

* While President Trump might not be impressed, the European Commission officially confirmed that Russian disinformation was detected in last month’s European Union elections. No, this issue–Russian meddling to suppress turnout and influence voter preferences–or Trump, is not going away soon enough.

* Hong Kong, the former British colony, is in the news. Again. It’s what happens when pro-democracy protesters hit the streets and have to wear masks to stay ahead of China’s authoritarian, police-state surveillance. They take measures to mask their digital footprints. They miss freedom, autonomy and their jailed leaders. They want full universal suffrage, not Beijing’s version of “1984.” They’ve never missed Mao.

While no one would advocate for–or wax nostalgic for–colonialism, the erstwhile British crown colony days never looked so good. Come to think of it, British Honduras is looking better by the Tegucigalpa day. Honduras, the most murderous country in the world, is nearing failed-state status.

* I’ve seen the HBO miniseries on Chernobyl, the infamous Ukrainian site of a 1986 nuclear disaster.It’s compelling. But not nearly compelling enough to want to go there. Yet we’re seeing a surge in bookings for trips to the site and the nearby town (Pripyat) that were abandoned after the nuclear accident. Tourists turning Chernobyl into a radiation theme park?  Flint never seemed so appealing.

Sports Shorts

* For what it’s worth, there are already published odds–by sportsbook.ag–on next season’s Stanley Cup winner, and the winner is: the Tampa Bay Lightning at 6-1. Next is Las Vegas at 7-1. Current Stanley Cup champion St. Louis is listed sixth at 14-1. Last is Ottawa at 300-1. The only down side: It doesn’t matter, as we well know.

* Imagine if the Rays had a home record to match their away record. The latter, outside of Yankee Stadium, is outstanding, the best in baseball; the former is barely above .500. It’s typically the reverse for winning teams. Could it be that home Trop attendance–and the accompanying optics, ambience and media franchise-speculation–also impact results on the field? Players are well paid and focused, but they notice empty seats.

* It was big news the other day when a Babe Ruth jersey sold at auction for $5.64 million. Even more gobsmacking, frankly, was the reminder that Ruth not only hit more than 700 home runs in a non-steroid age, but he also had a lifetime batting average of .342. And, oh yeah, he was also 94-46 as a pitcher–with an ERA of 2.28.

Quoteworthy

* “A prerequisite for a stable international environment is an America that is engaged in world affairs and multinational institutions.”–French UN Ambassador Francois Delattre.

* “Washington is gearing up for full-spectrum competition with the world’s No. 2 power. We may be witnessing the start of a Sino-American cold war.”–Stephen Wertheim, assistant professor of history at Columbia University.

* “The things Americans care least about are the core activities of building a civilized global community.”–David Brooks, New York Times.

* “With secularism’s triumph, we Americans have no common religion, no common faith, no common font of moral truth. We disagree on what is right and wrong, moral and immoral.”–Patrick Buchanan, American Conservative.

* “I think Trump is hugely vulnerable on trade, but Democrats haven’t quite figured out how to attack that vulnerability yet.”–Jared Bernstein, senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

* “Trump’s only standards are double ones.”–Frank Bruni, New York Times.

* “I love the president. I’ve loved every minute.”–Sarah Huckabee Sanders, in announcing that she will step down as White House press secretary at the end of this month.

* “If a foreign agent or a cutout for a foreign agent approaches any American politician, they should report that to the FBI.”–Sen. Marco Rubio.

* “I think I’d want to hear it. (But) I don’t need (‘dirt’). All I need is the opponents I’m looking at.”–President Donald Trump.

* “Aside from declaring his intent to repeat the very same conduct that gave Russia a green light to interfere in 2016, Trump reveals he is totally at a loss to comprehend his role is to defend American democracy from foreign meddling. Someone so lacking in loyalty to the Constitution and respect for our national security cannot perform his duties as commander in chief.”–Jennifer Rubin, Washington Post.

* “Every day, they’re going to be going more and more, after, after. It’s the only way they think they can win the election.”–Donald Trump, in voicing his frustration with the House oversight.

* “Clearly, (Joe Biden’s) trying to be the nominee-in-waiting–trying to go head-to-head with President Trump.”–Bret Baier, anchor of Fox News’ “The Daily Briefing.”

* “It’s next to impossible for Trump to win the general election without Florida.”–DNC Chairman Tom Perez.

* “Many Republican lawmakers still cede the climate change ground to the Democrats. Continuing to do so would be a mistake, as more Americans–and Republicans–prioritize climate change.”–Carlos Curbelo, former Republican congressman from Florida.

* “It is shameful that the president would come to Florida–knowing that 7.8 million Floridians with pre-existing conditions could lose access to health insurance if the Affordable Care Act is repealed–which the president wants.”–Florida Congresswoman Donna Shalala, on Trump coming to Florida this week to officially launch his re-election campaign.

* “This will have the potential to save the state a lot of money.”–Gov. Ron  DeSantis, after signing a bill that would allow Florida to pursue importing prescription drugs from abroad, most notably Canada.

* “How are we going to embrace the idea that when a debt is paid, it’s paid–if the on-ramp to a productive life doesn’t exist?”–Neil Volz, political director for the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition.

* “It’s in the Constitution in black and white–count the people–not count the citizens.”–Congressman Charlie Crist, D-St. Petersburg.

* “We believe most Hillsborough County residents want a balanced approach to solving our transportation challenges that includes investments in both transit and highways.”–Rick Homans, president and CEO of the Tampa Bay Partnership, which contributed $250,000 to support the 2018 Hillsborough transit referendum.

* “Our city is defined by our diversity, and the last thing we can do is have our citizens pushed out of the city of Tampa because of rising rent or mortgages and stagnant wages.”–Mayor Jane Castor.

* “The ongoing development of our terminal facilities and the addition of our new larger cranes (in 2016), in line with the Panama Canal expansion, was key to accommodating this new service.”–Paul Anderson, Port Tampa Bay president and CEO, on the recent arrival of the largest container ship to ever to call here. The nearly 1,100-foot Dalila, part of the global CMA CMG Group based in Marseilles, France, will make weekly stops along a route from China to the Gulf of Mexico.

D-Day to Dem Debates

Trumpster Diving

* D-Day commemorations are about honored heroics and shared values. President Trump, ironically and outrageously, represents the antithesis of valuing allies with his arrogant “America First” mantra.

* No poorly-read Teleprompter speech (Even one with the line: “Our bond is unbreakable.”) can alter what’s at the core of Trump priorities. That was underscored when he gave his Fox interview–with a Normandy backdrop of American gravestones–that spewed partisan political animus. What would Sam Gibbons have said?

* We know the Cold War and 21st-century, geopolitical realities, but it still seems odd that a D-Day ceremony (in Portsmouth) would include the leader, Angela Merkel, of what was then the enemy (Germany), but not the leader, Vladimir Putin, of what was then an ally (Soviet Union).

* On his way to check out his golf course in the Irish village of Doonbeg, the president found time to meet up with Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar. They met at the VIP Lounge at Shannon Airport in southwest Ireland’s County Clare. Such a venue may have been a first for two heads of state, but somehow it seemed appropriate as well as logistically convenient. Trump, by many measures, is, well, a lounge act.     

* If nothing else, Trump may be helping the British transition to their next prime minister, if it turns out to be the brash Brexiteer Boris Johnson, now looming as the leading, however polarizing, candidate to succeed Theresa May. BTW, Johnson was born to English parents in New York City. “The Boris and Donald Show”? Only HBO, “SNL” and late-night comedians should be pleased.

* Military Industrial Complex update: Anyone surprised that Army Secretary Mark T. Esper is the Raytheon Company’s former vice  president for government relations? Raytheon is an important player as the U.S. fast-tracks the sale of increased American arms to Saudi Arabia.

* Hardly encouraging to hear those DOJ critiques that ominously compare William Barr to Dick Cheney.

* Unofficially, the consensus takeaway from the Mexican-tariff threat is that it is not gone–but “suspended.” That’s the ephemeral reality in the era of policy by presidential tweet.

* Isn’t it sobering how often we have to lament that “we’re better than this”? But, well, are we?

* You knew it was coming. Those “Dr. Biden and Mr. Hyde” references that zing Joe Biden for his past Hyde Amendment position regarding Medicaid and abortion.

* Elizabeth Warren has positioned herself as the outspoken avatar of all things progressive–but she has also checked off some boxes besides the economy, healthcare, housing and education. She’s also called for the elimination of the Electoral College, the end to the Senate filibuster–and, what the hell, the impeachment of Trump.

* Later this month (June 26-27) in Miami we’ll see the first Democratic Presidential Debate with up to 20 (DNC limit) candidates vying for attention, sponsors and momentum. It will be broadcast on NBC, MSNBC and Telemundo. Next month the Dems will host another 2-day debate in Detroit (CNN). By the (ABC/Univision) third debate in September, we should see updated signs of campaign attrition and viability–and controversy. That’s because the DNC will rein in the sheer number of participants with a stipulation that all candidates must have at least 130,000 donors to qualify. More than half of the field of 23 are at serious risk of falling short of that threshold, which is double the donor minimum for the first two debates.

Cuban Disconnect

As we well know, what happens in Washington doesn’t stay in Washington. The ripple effects are impactful and not always helpful. The most recent, and all-too-familiar, Exhibit A: the Trump Administration’s crackdown on travel to Cuba. It has banned “people to people” group travel. It also has banned cruise ships, yachts, fishing boats and private aircraft from stopping in Cuba. It’s all about squeezing the Cuban government for its “destabilizing” support of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. As if anything were more Hemispherically destabilizing than the Trump presidency. Too bad we can’t ban bullying, pandering and hypocrisy.

More to the point, it’s all about squeezing as much political capital out of a renewed, neo-con approach to Cuba after the Obama Administration’s rapprochement. Florida is the ultimate swing state and there is still enough hard-line South Florida sentiment favoring a crackdown on the Cuban government to make it politically expedient for Donald Trump, Ron De Santis, Rick Scott and Marco Rubio in a close-call state. Too bad most Americans remain indifferent to the issue. There’s never enough pushback–even if it’s just to say how dare Trump and John Bolton dictate where we can travel. We’re not talking Yemen.

And how ironic that this heavy-handed, Cold War approach is so blatantly counterproductive. It further diminishes the U.S.–from the OAS to the UN–as a credible, non-hypocritical force for what is right. It adversely affects the Cuban people, and no state is more impacted than Florida. Travel-related economic synergy is a reality, and collateral damage to port and transfer-point cities, such as Tampa, is a given.

“(This) does nothing to hurt the Cuban government,” underscores Tampa Democratic Congresswoman Kathy Castor, “rather Cuban entrepreneurs, American businesses and the American public will be the ones to suffer.

“The Cold War policies of the past were ineffective in improving human rights, and yet the Trump Administration takes America backwards to a dark time of isolation and suspicion.”