The Ban Still Banned

Florida was forced to do something. Horrific mass murders–and all the accompanying optics– mandate no less. So it did something. Being Florida, it did something less than it should have done. Yes, waiting periods, age limits and mental-health improvements help. But not nearly enough. The partisan political elephant in the room is still militarily armed for battle.

Ban assault weapons? No way. The sacrosanct Second Amendment, regardless of the late, conservatives’-revered Justice Scalia’s sensible take on real-world responsibilities, won’t permit it. Weapons of war–for non-warriors and faux warriors–are still legal and lionized by the Gunshine State’s usual suspects. Beyond frustrating, negligent and maddening.

Or ban assault weapon-enabling oversized magazines? As if.

Or how about mandated, all-inclusive background checks? Alas, that’s a rhetorical question.

Another affront to common sense, another assault on public safety, another outrage with cherry-picked, constitutional bullet points.

You’d think teachers and students would be a cause–and constituency–second to none. No surprise, however, they still ultimately rank behind the National Rifle Association and all the compromised pols who fear being primaried if they go too far. They fear that more than the next mass shooting expedited by an AR-15-type weapon more appropriate for Baghdad than Broward County.

Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson reined in the rage and summed up the Florida Legislature’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act. “This is a first step,” he noted tersely. “We must require universal background checks on the purchase of a gun and get these assault rifles off our streets. Until we’ve done that, we still have a lot of work to do.”

Until we’ve done that, Walmart and Dick’s Sporting Goods will continue to stake out the moral high ground of social conscience and societal responsibility that lawmakers disingenuously keep abdicating.

“Thoughts and prayers?” Let’s pray for better thoughts.

Rays Reality

Brian Auld, the Tampa Bay Rays president and CEO, took one for the team the other day with that appearance at the Suncoast Tiger Bay Club in St. Petersburg. The “B” word was used: “betrayal.” And there was less-than-friendly fire about taxpayers helping underwrite a private business.

Auld underscored two points. First, there’s the best-case scenario that a major sports franchise can have a catalytic and synergistic impact on a community that can lead to a higher tax base–one that could fund a lot of services in the area. Second, the demographics and logistics of Tampa and St. Pete are markedly different. “Tampa is closer to the geographic center of this region,” pointed out Auld, which means, among other things, that twice as many people live and work within a 30-minute drive.

The reality that too many in St. Petersburg have too long disdained has been obvious. Tampa is both the geographical center as well as the business hub of the Tampa Bay market. And that was apparent when Major League Baseball chose Vince Naimoli and St. Petersburg over Frank Morsani and Tampa in the 1990s. It still ranks with Rick Scott turning down I-4 high-speed rail as an unconscionably short-sighted, counterproductive move for Tampa and Tampa Bay.

Ego was also involved. St. Pete’s inferiority complex kept ratcheting every time Tampa was awarded something regional, whether it was Busch Gardens, TIA, the original Rowdies or the Buccaneers.

And then there is this: Tampa Bay is an asymmetrical market without meaningful mass transit and lacking lots of corporate (season ticket-buying) headquarters. Its population is a mix of people from other places with other allegiances. There are better things to do in the summer–think: boating, golfing, playing tennis and cooling off in the Carolinas.

In other words, the one variable you can control–a stadium site–had better be pitch perfect. St. Pete–on the western fringe of the market never made sense.

Now, it’s reality check time. The last key variable, now that the Ybor City site has been agreed upon, is financing. And whether the Rays can write a big enough reality check for that “new urbanism,” roofed, “Raybor” stadium.

Trumpster Diving

* What to make of the summit sit-down with North Korea?

This, after all, is a country that has prioritized nukes over food. It’s also the world’s weirdest despotic monarchy. A fat kid with a bad hair cut runs it. His to-do list periodically includes handing out execution orders, some of them familial.

But there is also this: North Korea has been deceitfully playing for time for more than a generation. It has wanted in on the nuclear club; it wants to retain the Kim Jong Un regime; and it wants the U.S. out of the Korean Peninsula.

It wasn’t willing to negotiate in good faith during the Clinton, G.W. Bush and Obama Administrations. But now it, arguably, has what it wants: Enough nuclear and ballistic-missile cred. It also gets instant regime legitimization with a seat at the same table as the U.S. And it advances chances of reduced or eliminated sanctions, which undermine its economy, which still matters.

The devil, as always, will be in the details. What exactly does “denuclearization” mean? Does the U.S. need to keep thousands of troops near the DMZ trip-wire in perpetuity? What of regional security? Who does what to save face? How will China help out–and will it be a function of tariff fallout? How well prepared will Trump be? Did he give away leverage with knee-jerk summit acceptance? This isn’t some casino-bankruptcy ploy.

Here’s hoping Trump gets more informed input before the summit than he got before announcing that the summit was on. But, alas, this is not “The Apprentice.” Ask “Rexit” Tillerson.

* So Donald Trump’s commitment to school security is manifested in his latest iteration of a school security strategy that is highlighted by a plan to arm staff. This was underscored by Andrew Bremberg, director of the Domestic Policy Council. “The president is determined to get to the root of the various societal issues that lead to violence in our country,” he said. “No stone will be left unturned.”

Not quite. The assault-weapons-ban boulder will remain in place, and universal background checks will remain an ignored pebble.

* Newsweek’s Ryan Sit offers a bottom-line take on Trump’s proposed Veterans Day parade. “This could feed every homeless vet for the cost of his military parade–even conservatively estimated, which is $10-$30 million.”

* I kind of miss Sean Spicer. Kind of. Chalk it up to White House briefings by Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who gives duplicitous, career-first harlot a bad name.

* One analogy we don’t need is the Oval Office and a Day at the Improv. Whether it’s a tariff accompanied by “trade war” rhetoric or the knee-jerk acceptance of a summit with North Korea without requisite expert input, an erratic, impulsive approach to critically key decision-making by a U.S. president is beyond unacceptable. It’s downright scary.

* The Stormy Daniels’ “Make America Horny Again” tour: Call it a meme for our political epoch. Thank you, Donald Trump; thank you, ubiquitous media; and thank you, again, unconscionably enabling “basket of deplorables.”

Seeing And Saying

“See something, say something.” Of course. These are the insecure, paranoid times we live in.

But lenses differ. That’s a thin, slippery-slope line between profiling the usual suspects and helping prevent potential domestic attacks. But collective vigilance and community cooperation have to carry the homeland security day.

SNL Skitheads

Last week’s opening skit of “Saturday Night Live” was awful. It was an awkward, unfunny reach: Call it “Robert Mueller Meets The Bachelor.” Granted, it can’t be Alec Baldwin every week, but this, frankly, was worse than humorless and cringe-worthy.

More problematic, it was also grist for the Trump millers who complain about the biased mainstream media. Defending satire, especially the quality, spot-on variety, is not an issue. It’s part of a society-prodding, literary tradition across the ages. But when it comes across as badly scripted, pro forma cheap shots, it does a disservice to the media, which has more than enough to contend with these days.


* “What changed was his posture in a fairly dramatic way. It was a surprise to us that he was so forward-leaning.”–Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, on the Administration’s response to Kim Jong Un’s proposed summit-meeting with Donald Trump.

* “The Secretary did not speak to the President and is unaware of the reason, but he is grateful for the opportunity to serve and still believes strongly that public service is a noble calling.”–Steve Goldstein, under-secretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs, on the firing of Rex Tillerson. Goldstein was subsequently fired as well.

* “We are not going to have this meeting take place until we see concrete actions that match the words and the rhetoric of North Korea.”–White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

* “Our policy is pressure. … It’s impacted Kim Jong Un’s behavior. It’s impacted his conduct.”–Deputy White House spokesman Raj Shah.

* “I hate to see Gary go. I think he did a great job.”–Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, on the departure of White House economic adviser Gary Cohn.

* “Everybody wants to work in the White House. They all want a piece of the Oval Office.”–President Donald Trump.

* “Corporate America might complain, but the president is taking up the banner of Mr. and Mrs. America.”–Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, in defending President Trump’s tariffs plan.

* “Tariffs are taxes, and the American taxpayer will pay the cost of a trade war.”–Cody Lusk, president and CEO of the American International Automobile Dealers Association.

* “This is a fight for the soul of America. Really.”–Outtake from a millennials-targeting political ad paid for by billionaire, former hedge fund manager Tom Steyer, who has called for Trump’s impeachment.

* “Trump combines the hedonism of the 1970s with the bigotry and racism of the 1950s: the worst of both worlds.”–Max Boot, senior fellow for national security studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.

* “The press is fixated on all these White House departures. But spare a thought for all those still in the executive branch who would serve the country by leaving.”–Margaret Carlson, Daily Beast.

* “Let them call you racist. Let them call you xenophobes. Let them call you nativists. Wear it as a badge of honor. History is on our side.”–Former White House strategist Steve Bannon, speaking to France’s far-right National Front party.

* “The February employment report was unambiguously strong, confirming that the U.S. labor market is on fire.”–Michelle Girard, chief U.S. economist at NatWest Markets, on Labor Department reports that the U.S. added more than 300,000 jobs last month.

* “He’s playing chess and the Senate is playing checkers.”–State Sen. Tom Lee, R-Thonotosassa, on House Speaker Richard Corcoran’s negotiating methodology.

* “We told (Florida school districts) to put a school resource officer in every school, and then we don’t give them money to pay for it.”–State Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee.

* “My firm works all over the country. It’s nice to see it coming together in our own community. It’s about time.”–Lou Plasencia, CEO of the Tampa-based Plasencia Group, a hotel sales and consulting firm. He was commenting on news that Hillsborough County–with more than $600 million in hotel revenue last year–had now become one of nine Florida counties designated as a “high-impact” tourism destination.

* “There’s definitely a lot of enthusiasm.”–John Dingfelder, realtor and former Tampa City Council member, on the level of interest in real estate near the proposed Rays stadium site in Ybor City.

* “For a company of our size with our demographic, we think we would be an attractive headquarters to many cities and many states, but, honestly, we’re so happy here that we did not go through an Amazon-like process of having people bid for us. When you have a good thing, you stay with it.”–Kenneth Burdick, CEO of WellCare Health Plans, which announced that it was committing to keep its headquarters–and thousands of employees–in Tampa through 2030.

* “You are a part of America, and we don’t forget that. There may be some in Washington who  do.”–Mayor Bob Buckhorn, in his comments to Carlos Delgado Altieri, the mayor of Isabela, Puerto Rico. Mayor Altieri was in town to thank Tampa volunteers who helped his town recover from Hurricane Irma.

* “History has shown us that the more USF St. Pete is connected to Tampa, the less it thrives. I hope it’s different this time. I will certainly do all I can as mayor to ensure that.”–St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman, on the new state education bill that eliminates USF St. Petersburg’s autonomy by merging all of USF’s campuses.

The Week That Was, Alas

Another week at the Oval Orifice.

We still have White House aides and advisers in the news cycle–for security-clearance matters, for unsettling, out-of-school quotes, for nepotism issues, for conflicts-of-interest scenarios. The usual. Plus, we have the ever-ratcheting Russian investigation that stalks the White House–with collusion and/or obstruction of justice charges looming. Plus, that White House revolving departure door that includes Hope Hicks, Donald Trump’s therapist babe and image masseuse. Plus, that counterproductive tariff proposal, prompted in part by a temper tantrum that caught everybody off guard, from allies to Paul Ryan. Plus, blatantly confusing signals about guns. Plus, a “Mr. Magoo” insult hurled at the appropriately beleaguered Jeff Sessions and some lingering Stormy Daniels references.

Does anything really matter from one impulsive, ego-driven tweet to another? From one “Apprentice”-like performance to another? Ask Canada. Ask the European Union. Ask North Korea. Ask Vlad Putin. Ask Wayne LaPierre.

How to characterize the Oval Orifice resident? How about “unstable, inept, inexperienced and also unethical.” Resulting in a state of “deep worry and concern.” Whose words? Former CIA Director John Brennan.

Or this: “I think the president is starting to wobble in his emotional stability, and this is not going to end well.” Whose words? Retired four-star Gen. Barry McCaffrey. “Trump’s judgment is fundamentally flawed, and the more pressure put on him and the more isolated he becomes, I think, his ability to do harm is going to increase.”

From nuclear-code access to “easy-to-win” trade wars. An unhinged, circus act has never been so existentially alarming.

No, impeachment scenarios are not going away. Neither are subplots involving the 25th Amendment, although it requires cabinet and vice presidential collusion, so to speak. And, yes, “Seven Days in May” is still selling well. As is “The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump,” a sobering assessment of Trump by more than two dozen psychiatrists and mental health experts.

Gunshine Update

* Low-caliber Florida Legislature: Banning assault weapons won’t happen. Too many craven GOPsters more accountable to intimidating NRA cross hairs than their own conscience and vulnerable constituents. But arming school personnel makes sense? Talk about a “basket of deplorables.”

* If ever there were a Senate roll call vote not to be missed, it would have been the recent one in Tallahassee on an assault weapons ban. The one that symbolically said so much about values, priorities and political guts. The one that fell short by a 20-17 margin. The one missed by Dana Young.

* As we well know, Florida cities are precluded from passing local gun-control legislation. Local officials can be fined and removed from office if they enact gun rules. We are, to be sure, the Gunshine State. Recall that Mayor Bob Buckhorn couldn’t even convince Gov. Rick Scott to help get a public-safety exemption for a gun-free zone during the 2012 Republican Convention when the threats ranged from anarchists to terrorists.

It’s somewhat encouraging–but also embarrassing–that it can take a constitutional amendment–not a common-sense measure by the state legislature–to ban assault weapons for non-law enforcement or non-military use. It speaks volumes that Coral Spring Mayor Skip Campbell is planning to lead a drive to do just that. The stark reality is that this Legislature is something to be worked around–not worked with when it comes to public safety and guns. Disgraceful.

Missed Signals

In the aftermath of another mass shooting, the usual suspects are inevitably singled out for a collateral role. Bureaucrats who missed red flags–from mental health warnings to public safety concerns–to neighbors who didn’t get involved.

But there is typically a more obvious, insidious suspect. The see-something-say-something culture has to include–indeed, start with–those literally closest to a would-be mass murderer. The Columbine killers’ clueless parents. Adam Lanza’s unconscionably enabling mother. Or Omar Mateen’s wife, who is accused of helping, witlessly or not, her husband in casing potential terrorist attacks, including the Pulse nightclub.

We also know that a couple, James and Kimberly Snead, took Nikolas Cruz into their home last Thanksgiving at the request of their son. “We didn’t see this side of him” they told the South Florida Sun Sentinel.  What they did see, however, was that Cruz came with a small arsenal–the notorious AR-15, two other assault-type rifles, plus knives, BB guns and pellet guns. He was welcome as long as he agreed to keep it all locked up.

Say what? You invite, indeed, welcome a 19-year-old friend of your teen-age son into your home, your neighborhood, and he comes with a weapons cache? See-something-say-nothing.