Gun Store Insecurity Puts Public At Risk

What if we close the gun-show loophole? What if background checks become serious, consistent and coordinated? What if Marion Hammer stops channeling the Founding Fathers on the Second Amendment?

How much does that help if a bunch of gangbangers or would-be terrorists can just ram a pick-up into a serious gun store and make off with a small arsenal of weapons–including semiautomatic rifles–in less than two minutes?

That’s what happened last week as hooded thieves made off with a cache of arms at the Tampa Arms Co. It’s the latest of at least four such brazen burglaries around here in a little more than a year. It’s worrisome, scary–and unnecessary. And, yeah, there ought to be a law.

Put it this way. If your business must be guns and ammo, your defense against would-be robbers has to be better than burglar bars, alarms and state-of-the-art surveillance. Off-hours, armed guards would add to overhead, but would lessen the risk to the community. How’s that for a trade off? And vaults that would hold a lethal inventory should be mandatory. In the case of Tampa Arms Co., its vault was impractically small and useless.

In short, if the cost of security is an issue, then get out of the gun business.

Here’s the societal bottom line: The Tampa Arms owner will have his inventory losses covered by insurance. But there’s no ensuring the public at large–that’s everybody else–that they won’t pay the ultimate price for more weapons on the street.

Trumpster Diving

* Given Trump’s global business interests–from Brazil to India–he’s at least a de facto co-brand with the U.S. Beyond awkward. Geopolitically complicating. Nationally embarrassing.

* Donald Trump: Get the hell off Twitter and make sure incoming calls are not from Taipei. At least give the impression of trying to look presidential–rather than being a weekly mother lode of Alec Baldwin fodder. Speaking of, Baldwin’s SNL Trump portrayal–despite the steady stream of material–is not as easy as first appears. He has to satirize a parody.

* President-elect ______ _ _____. Sorry, I just couldn’t finish that. Still in recovery.

* Progressive can be a relative term. Now more than ever. Think: Ivanka Trump.

* For those advocating compulsory voting–as in, say, Australia–they should be aware of what would still be beyond any legal decree. As we know all too well, you cannot mandate being informed and impervious to blatant pandering. American exceptionalism wasn’t supposed to yield this.

* Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Secretary of Transportation nominee Elaine Chao: Are they not candidates for oddest couple since Tiny Tim and Miss Vicki?

Cuban Perspective

* Here’s an incongruous postscript to the week of national mourning in Cuba over the death of Fidel Castro. President Raúl Castro has announced that the Cuban government would prohibit the naming of streets and monuments after his brother. The government would also bar the building of statues in Castro’s image. This would, underscored Raúl Castro, be in keeping with his brother’s desire to avoid a cult of personality.

Say what? What the hell do they think “Fidelismo” was?

* U.S.: Stop hypocritically lecturing Cuba. Cuba: Stop getting in your own counterproductive way.

Legislative Priorities

Two years ago, this state’s Senate countered its Flori-duh stereotype by granting in-state college tuition rates to undocumented students who attended high schools in the state. The context was emotional as it passed by a wide margin (26-13). State Sen. Jack Latvala of Clearwater underscored the rationale when he said it was about “doing the right thing.” And Gov. Rick Scott signed it. With a bit of flourish too. “Just think,” he declared, “children that grew up in our state will now get the same tuition as their peers.”

And just think, two years later there is an effort to undo it.

State Sen. Greg Steube, R-Sarasota, filed a repeal bill last week with the rationale that he just doesn’t think helping out those immigrant dreamers is particularly “good public policy for the state.” Steube, who was elected to the Senate last month after six years in the House, says he’s honoring the wishes of his constituents. Without fail, he says, voters he encountered during his primary campaign asked about two things: the Second Amendment and illegal immigration.

Too bad his cherry-picked door knocking didn’t bring him into contact with those who might have asked: “Are you running to do what’s best and what’s right for Florida and all those who call this home–regardless of where they’re from or who brought them here? Or are you running to be another pandering pimp to the alt-right?”

Sports Shorts

* Notable World Series change starting next season: Home field advantage will be decided by best regular-season record instead of the winner of the All-Star game. The latter was a dumb gimmick–thought up by former Commissioner Bud Selig–to gin up interest in a mid-season exhibition game. Had it been in force this year, the Chicago Cubs would have been in Wrigley for the climatic final two games.

*Speaking of the Cubs, Donald Trump’s choice for deputy commerce secretary is Todd Ricketts. He’s a Cubs co-owner. He became a significant fund-raiser for Donald Trump after supporting Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker during the early Republican primaries. BTW, before the Ricketts family–most notably Ameritrade founder and family patriarch Joe Ricketts–bought the Cubs in 2009, the franchise was valued at approximately a third of what it’s worth today: $2.2 billion.

* Here are a couple of rules of thumb that should apply to college football. If a team doesn’t have a winning record, it doesn’t go to a bowl game, which used to mean a “reward” for a good season as much as it meant some economic impact for chambers of commerce to brag about. Second, a team–unless it’s an independent–should have to win its conference in order to qualify for the Final Four to determine the national champion.

This year’s 38 bowl games–too many by more than half–feature, as it were, 20 teams with non-winning records. The St. Petersburg Bowl is a prime example of post-season inflation. Miami of Ohio (6-6) takes on Mississippi State (5-7), if anyone, including those in Oxford, Ohio and Starkville, Mississippi cares.

As for that Final Four, it will be SEC winner Alabama, ACC winner Clemson, Pac-12 winner Washington and Big 10 non-winner Ohio State. One of those is not like the others. Leave it at that.

No, I can’t. Leave it that it should have been Big 10 winner Penn State, who actually beat Ohio State, making the Final Four–instead of the Final Five.

* “I make far more than I’m worth, I can assure you of that.” That was the candid acknowledgement of Kansas State head football coach Bill Snyder–in the context of decrying that college football has “sold out” to big-money TV deals and bemoaning the hypocrisy of caring about student-athlete “welfare.” Snyder, 77, makes $3.1 million annually, and reportedly has shown no signs of giving lots of it back to help underwrite more relevant higher-ed priorities.


* “Good luck to us all.”–Italian Premier Matteo Renzi, whose reforms were opposed by ever-increasing populists, in announcing his plans to resign.

* “Because (Donald Trump) achieved success in business, it suggests that he is a clever man.”–Russian President Vladimir Putin.

* “If the Electoral College is to control who becomes our president, we should take it seriously by understanding its purpose precisely. It is not meant to deny a reasonable judgment by the people. It is meant to be a circuit breaker–just in case the people go crazy.”–Author and Harvard Law Professor Lawrence Lessig.

* “Jill Stein is the friend who ruins your wedding but really shows up for you during the divorce.”–Comedian Morgan Murphy.

* “He’s a demagogue, who seems to appeal to the lowest common denominator.”–Astrophysicist Stephen Hawking, on Donald Trump.

* “In terms of strengthening America’s global standing among European and Mideastern nations alike, the sense is that America has become somewhat irrelevant in the Middle East, and we certainly have the least influence in 40 years.”– Retired Marine Gen. James N. Mattis, Donald Trump’s nominee for secretary of defense.

* “The working assumption on behalf of all these foreign government officials will be that there is an advantage to doing business with the Trump organization. They will think it will ingratiate themselves with the Trump Administration. And this will significantly complicate United States foreign policy and our relationships around the world.”–Michael H. Fuchs, former deputy assistant secretary at the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs.

* “We’ve had good intentions behind our isolation policy toward Cuba, but the results have not changed. It’s time to try a new approach.”–Sen. John Boozeman, R-Ark.

* “I hope that we will have a great long-term relationship. I really liked him a lot and I’m a little bit surprised I’m telling you that I really liked him a lot.”–Donald Trump on President Barack Obama.

* “I found it an extremely interesting conversation, and to be continued, and I’m just going to leave it at that.”–Former Vice President Al Gore, after meeting with Donald Trump.

* “I’m on the transition team, and we’re doing everything we can to help (Trump) put the best people in place. … I think the whole country should be so proud of how hard he is up there working.”–Pam Bondi.

* “Release your tax returns, and I’ll stop.”–Alec Baldwin, responding to Donald Trump’s criticism of his SNL impersonation of the president-elect.

* “Trump promised to clean up the swamp, and a whole lot of his nominees have had their career in the swamp.”–Incoming Democratic Senate Leader Chuck Schumer.

* “Paul Ryan right now loves me, Mitch McConnell loves me. It’s amazing how winning can change things.”–Donald Trump.

* “What’s about the happen in Washington may be a little like the end of the Cold War–bipolarity gives way to multipolarity. A system dominated by two party-line powers gives way to a system with a lot of different power centers.”–David Brooks, New York Times.

* “(Trump’s) Carrier shakedown is a short-term political victory that will hurt workers and the economy if it becomes the norm for the next four years.”–Wall Street Journal editorial.

* “Unions are a small minority (11.1 percent of the American workforce), but they still have a strong war chest that can be used for political purposes.”–Randel K. Johnson, senior vice president at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

* “What we’ve been doing over the last 15 to 20 years simply isn’t working.”–Steven Chabinsky, a member of the Presidential Commission on Enhancing National Cybersecurity.

* “With the unemployment rate this low and wages rising, now is the real test of whether a stronger economy can bring people back into the job market.”–Jed Kolko, chief economist at Indeed, a job search website, commenting on a November unemployment rate of 4.6 percent–a nine-year low.

* “It’s always a good experience to get beat bad. It is humbling, and that’s not bad.”–Jeb Bush.

* “America needs talent–and these students, who have been raised and educated in the United States, are already part of our national community. They represent what is best about America, and as scholars and leaders they are essential to the future.”–Excerpt from an open letter from more than 350 college presidents, including USF’s Judy Genshaft, urging support for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

* “If they have nine days of mourning, we’ll have nine days of celebration.”–Patsy Sanchez, USF’s director of diversity and inclusion, on reactions to the death of Fidel Castro.

* “All I’d say on that is that we’re going to honor the will of the voters, we’re going to protect the Constitution, and we’re going to protect the people’s state of Florida.”–Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran on the status of medical marijuana legislation, which hasn’t been filed yet.

* “The Senate has been a leader in making sure we’re not wasting … our children’s time taking tests we do not need.”–Florida Senate Appropriations Chairman David Simmons.

* “I want people, in the state of Florida at least, to know they have an ally in us. I don’t care if they voted for Clinton or Trump or the Green Party or anyone else. … If their civil rights have been violated, we will have their back.”–Hassan Shibly, chief executive director for the Council on American Islamic Relations Florida.

* “I think West Tampa is really very ripe for redevelopment. The fact that West Tampa has fairly affordable homes between the two largest employment centers–West Shore and downtown Tampa–is a huge advantage.”–Former Hillsborough County Commissioner Ed Turanchik.

Cuban Transition Meets American Transition

The first thing we need to remind ourselves when discussing Cuba is that, as opposed to scenarios with other non-democracies, this one is personal. There are those among us who have lost everything.
Having said that, it is still unacceptable for a vendetta agenda to be the basis of foreign policy. That wasn’t the case for Germany or Japan or Vietnam. It isn’t for those who are more strategically relevant–and less democratic–than Cuba. Think Saudi Arabia, China and Russia. It’s hypocritical, counter-productive–and, yes, personal.
The second thing is that it is imperative to move forward with the diplomatic and economic thaw introduced by President Barack Obama. His initiatives are not a series of concessions to a dictatorship–but long-overdue, common-sense acts of enlightened self interest. The American perspective should be this: The one that stands to benefit big time from Cuban-American rapprochement is the U.S. Most notably, Florida and the Tampa Bay area. From TIA to Port Tampa Bay to transshipments facilitated by the expanded Panama Canal.
While the transition to a Trump Administration is obviously nothing to celebrate, including on the Cuban front, the combination of Trump narcissism and inherent prioritie$ could have an ironic upside. The incoming president, after all, is defined by his artistry in deal-making.
And timing, of course, is everything.
The most reviled Castro, Fidel, is now dead. His brother Raul, 85, will be stepping down about a year into the Trump Administration. The successor-in-waiting, Vice President Miguel Mario Díaz-Canel Bermúdez, 56, is from a different generation, a different family and a different–non-military–orientation. He’s the former minister of higher education.
Vice President Díaz-Canel is not exactly Joe Biden, of course, and nothing is guaranteed, including Díaz-Canel’s relationship with the military. But a non-Castro in charge of a Rube Goldberg economy with no Venezuelan subsidies, a dire need to attract investment and tourists and an antsy young demographic increasingly aware of what they still don’t have has possibilities.
It will take negotiating skill and domestic spin on both sides. If successful, credit will be parceled out to the leaders. It’s what fuels Trump. The ultimate accolade–the winner who cut a better deal than Obama, the winner who officially ended the last remnants of the Cold War era–would beckon. As would this rhetorical question: What matters more to a consummate 2017 deal maker–last-gasp exile- and co-opted-political pressure or corporate prioritie$?
Put it this way: If anti-communist Richard Nixon can open China after calling out Mao, why can’t uber capitalist Donald Trump further expand Cuban relations after blustering on Twitter about a better deal?
The Castro brothers, especially Fidel, have been their own worst enemies with cavalier anti-yanqui attitudes surfacing at all the wrong times. Hell, if you can’t get along with Jimmy Carter, you aren’t trying. And a string of U.S. presidential administrations were intimidated by the political hard ball played by the South Florida exile-community and their congressional lackeys.
Trump would not want to be part of an intimidation continuum. There’s nothing “great” about it.
Speaking of greatness, President Trump won’t be able to substantiate it without corroborating numbers. That includes jobs created by infrastructure projects, for example, but it can also mean Cuba-related, increased jobs and improved trade- and smuggler-count statistics that will notably benefit Florida, still the quintessential swing state.
As the Castro brothers literally leave the scene, face-saving scenarios become more viable. Cuban friends have called it the “biological solution.” It gives both sides maneuver room. We’ve already proven we can work with communist governments and autocracies of various stripes.
America and Cuba are in transition. Maybe the art of the deal–with both sides getting trophies for domestic consumption–trumps all scenarios. Let’s hope so. In fact, let’s keep hope alive.

Trump’s Call

It seems that retired Marine Gen. James Mattis, 66, the former commander of U.S. Central Command, is being well-received as a prime candidate for secretary of defense. Known as smart, plain-spoken and up front, Mattis was popular during his CentCom years (2010-13) at MacDill AFB. Only cautionary note–his nicknames: “Mad Dog” and “Chaos,” most notably.
But, no, nobody is calling him the second coming of Gen. Curtis “Bombs Away” LeMay.

Complex Matters

* If President Trump makes good on his various promises to boost military spending–and end sequestration–that could be good news for the Tampa Bay area, where the defense industry’s impact is estimated at $16 billion annually. It’s a regional economic anchor and all upside–unless, of course, you’re haunted by President Dwight Eisenhower’s 1961 warning about some “military industrial complex.”
* The political consulting industry is now a $6 billion enterprise. It’s embedded into our political culture and grows continuously through each cycle. It’s how candidates get their message out, albeit too often through disingenuous, negative ads. Shouldn’t that be the “political consulting industrial complex”?

Havana All-Stars Perform in Tampa

Earlier this year Cuba’s Habana Compás Dance played the Straz Center. Earlier this month, the Straz Center’s Board visited Cuba. Early next year the Grammy-nominated Tiempo Libre music group will perform at the Straz, and hopes are high for a Cuban National Ballet appearance. The commitment is obvious.
And last Sunday the Cuban nexus was further underscored when the highly interactive, 11-piece Havana Cuba All-Stars ensemble put its Cuban roots son music on display at the Straz. It was part of the celebrated group’s debut tour of the U.S. The crowd of 778 (capacity 960) was more than receptive. Couples danced in the Ferguson Hall aisles.
“Cuban culture is part and parcel of our own Tampa culture,” points out Straz President and CEO Judy Lisi. “We want to introduce this community to the world. The arts in Cuba–from performing to visual–are fantastic.
“When our board was in Cuba,” recalled Lisi, “we were reminded that Cubans regard Tampa as a sister city. As things open up, Tampa could be the place.”

BTW, the All-Stars’ band leader (and Trumpet 1) Michel Padrón gave a shout-out to Jose Martí and his historical Tampa connection. No reference, notably enough, to the death of Fidel Castro.