Building Back Better

Too bad we can’t all agree on what “Infrastructure” means. But it’s a complement of another “I” word: Investment. In the economy, the people—and all the restored bridges, upgraded seaports, enhanced highways, technology expansions and carbon reductions possible. In short, a master plan–one that pays for itself over time–for the critical needs of the 21st century, including the re-building of economic opportunity and a redefinition of “American exceptionalism.”

That said, here’s two telling takes on President Joe Biden’s $2 trillion, 8-year, infrastructure plan. “I look forward to working with President Biden to pass a big, bold plan that will drive America forward for decades to come.” That was Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. “A Trojan Horse.” That, unsurprisingly, was former Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Such partisan discord is a reminder of political pragmatics. The Biden Administration has plenty of incentive to go all-out and all-in in its first two years—before any mid-term, Republican rebooting.

Dem Notes

* “They’re going to listen to your words more than they are to me as president of the United States.” President Joe Biden, in encouraging faith leaders to continue their efforts to promote vaccinations in their communities.

* Expect President Biden’s infrastructure package to include a presidential pledge to set a national standard requiring utilities to produce 100 percent carbon-free electricity by 2035. Expect Joe Manchin to be less than thrilled.

* President Biden’s first face-to-face meeting with a foreign leader will be with Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide in Washington later this month. Japan matters; it’s a military ally of the U.S., and its biggest trading partner is China. The president had previous virtual summits with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.

* New Defense Department regulations allow transgender people who meet military standards to enlist and serve.

* Early Biden overall approval rating: 61percent.

* Wouldn’t Socialistic Democrat work better as an identifying moniker than “Democratic Socialist”?

* Remember when “trillion”–as in dollars–was a word we rarely saw or needed to reference?

COVID-Bits

#AloneTogether

* Beginning May 1, Delta Airlines will unblock its middle seats—marking the end of social distancing on all U.S. carriers.

* Among all groups, Republicans and white evangelical Christians were the most likely to say they will not get vaccinated—approximately 30 percent of each group saying they will “definitely not” get a shot.

* In March, the country added 916,000 jobs. In February, it had added 468,000. Overall, the economy—now with a 6 percent unemployment rate—remains more than 8 million jobs short of the number it had before the pandemic erupted last year.

* Public safety/politicized ideology update: Gov. Ron DeSantis issued an executive order that prohibits businesses from requiring customers to provide proof of vaccination to gain access or service. “People have certain freedoms and individual liberties to make decisions for themselves,” explained DeSantis—likely reading from his right-wing, bumper-sticker notes.

* Fort Lauderdale-based Nova Southeastern University has announced that it would require students, faculty and staff to get vaccinated before returning to campus.

* By the end of March, only 36 percent of Florida’s nursing home staff members—and 40 percent of assisted-living staff members had received at least one vaccine dose.

* In public schools throughout Tampa Bay, there have been more than 13,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases among students and staff since classes began in August.

* The dispensation from attending Catholic Mass will be lifted by May 22, according to Bishop Gregory Parkes, who heads the diocese of St. Petersburg.

* Pinellas County officials have received complaints from some vaccine recipients who had their vaccination cards laminated—and discovered some of the information became illegible (due to heat lamination).

* Who was that unmasked man? It’s a form of escape and therapeutic COVID humor. There are pandemic moments that can still prompt a smile and even a chuckle—especially after you’ve had both vaccination shots. One such: the optics and dynamics of mask-wearing—and then mask doffing. The other day at a dog park I ran into a familiar dog-owner who recognized my pet rescue Zimmie—but wasn’t so sure about me. She said she didn’t know I had a mustache. All part of the new normal. I later enjoyed a “quarantini” and a few laughs, pondering what it must be like for flirting millennials not wanting to give away their looks before establishing a winning personality. Indeed, pandemic humor can be an invaluable tool for processing trying times—as well as material for an open-mic night routine.

Tampa Bay

* St. Petersburg’s black community has been wracked by a series of recent murders. Heart-rending press conferences and pleas for information haven’t helped yet. Isn’t there a role here for Black Lives Matter? Or must the context involve a rogue white cop or institutional racism?

* It could turn out that an expanded Brooker Creek--think San Antonio–will be more catalytic in the redevelopment of the 87-acre Tropicana Field site than a baseball stadium, one that would still be in the wrong part of this hybrid, asymmetrical market.

Florida

* “There are two things I don’t do. I don’t waste money, and I don’t lose elections.”–Sen. Rick Scott. Thanks again, Flori-duh, for not seeing through the mantra of “(con) jobs, (con) jobs, (con) jobs.”

* Unpardonable: And now there’s no President Trump to provide a possible get-out-of-jail-free card for Rep. Matt Gaetz, who is now even more unpopular among his congressional colleagues. Some charges–such as a sex-trafficking probe–transcend the usual partisan political support. When one of your few public defenders is Marjorie Taylor Greene, you’re being tossed under the GOPster bus.

Media Matters

* In 1994, approximately 2,700 websites existed. By the next year, it was up to 23,500. By 2000, it was 17 million. Last year: more than a billion. It’s part of the Faustian deal.

* You know you are of a certain “Doo-wop” generation when you inadvertently refer to an all-time favorite group as “The Five Statins.”

* Aforementioned Florida Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz just hit another high-profile-forum marker. He was satirized—if you can satirize a farce—by “Saturday Night Live” as part of its cold opening.

* And look who “60 Minutes” just put its searing spotlight on: Gov. Ron DeSantis. In its segment, acerbically entitled “A Fair Shot,” it focused on Florida’s “Hunger Games” vaccine roll out and access—and how it seemed to favor the wealthy and politically-connected, especially in Palm Beach and Lakewood Ranch. DeSantis appeared to be channeling Trump during a contentious press conference. “That’s a fake narrative. … You’re wrong, you’re wrong, you’re wrong. Next question.”

Trumpster Diving

* From his 2020 autobiography, “Firebrand,” Gaetz praised the former president as someone “who doesn’t care for puritanical grandstanding or moralistic preening.” Only Roger Stone could have been more self-servingly specious. But the Panhandle panderer–now in the cross hairs of a federal sex-trafficking investigation–also doubled down, presciently it seems, on his own sleazy MO. “I’m a representative, not a monk,” he wrote, possibly with a straight face.

* It’s not uncommon to hear less-than-complimentary references to the new “roaring 20s.” In part, it’s a function of the partisan breech where Republican legislators still favor a Trump-friendly, anti-”socialist” pandering over country-first priorities. Call ‘em the “whoring 20s.”

* Senate Republicans have splintered into Pro-Trump and Pro-McConnell camps. Some Hobson choices are worse than others.

Sports Shorts

* Play ball: MLB stadiums are open—with capacities varying. Boston and Washington, for example, will limit capacity to 12 percent. Houston is at 50 percent, and Texas is 100 percent. The Rays are a little less than30 percent.

* This summer’s MLB All Star Game, originally scheduled July 13 for suburban Atlanta (Truist Stadium) home of the Braves, has been moved. Corporate sponsors, (such as Coca-Cola and Delta Air Lines), the MLB Players Association, the black Players Alliance, individual players and other Atlanta sports teams all weighed in because of opposition to Georgia’s new, more restrictive, voting law. The relo move is not unprecedented. The NFL once move a Super Bowl out of Arizona when the state failed to make MLK Day an official holiday, and the NBA moved an All-Star Game out of Charlotte over a North Carolina law that cut anti-discrimination protections for LGBT people.

Bottom-line takeaway: Doing the right thing for the right reason is often, as we know, not nearly enough. Especially in a uber-polarized political climate. Forums and leverage matter mightily. Such as that wielded by high-profile activists and corporate heavyweights.

Georgia Republican Gov. Brian Kemp minced no partisan words in his response. “Major League Baseball caved to fear, political opportunism and liberal lies,” he declared. “Major League Baseball’s knee-jerk decision means cancel culture and woke political activists are coming for every aspect of your life, sports included.”

* More than 1 in four MLB players were born outside the U.S. The top three: Dominican Republic, Venezuela and Cuba.

* Leaving aside all the problematic details in determining if college athletes (OK, elite football and basketball players) should be paid by their universities, this still makes the most sense: NCAA athletes should be allowed to earn money for the marketing of their names, images and likenesses.

Quoteworthy

* “It is always possible to begin anew.”–Pope Francis, during an Easter Vigil service.

* “Too many Americans are acting as if this (pandemic) fight is over. It is not.”–President Joe Biden.

* “It is important to remember that from 1965 to 2008, conservative Republicans in Congress supported the Voting Rights Act and its extensions. Today with their increasing dependency on a core base of white voters, they are relying on the filibuster to derail the democratic political process and threaten the rights of marginalized minorities.”--Steven F. Lawson, professor emeritus of history, Rutgers University.

* “Ghost guns (which avoid regulation and serial numbers because they are sold unfinished or as kits) have taken off, and they’re untraceable.”–Dr. Garen Wintemute, gun violence expert at the University of California at Davis, on the threat of white nationalists building secret arsenals through ghost guns.

* “A small minority of sociopaths with outsized power in our politics” stand in the way whenever the rest of us try to do something about “the plague of gun violence.”–“Late Night” host Seth Meyers.

* “There are systemic issues. … We keep using ‘just a few bad apples.’ But, I mean, at some point in time, you have to take a look at the tree.”–Charles Ramsey, former police chief of Philadelphia and Washington, D.C.

* “Matt Gaetz is everything the Republicans were looking for in Hunter Biden.”–Twitter wise guy.

* “…Beavis to Donald Trump’s Butt-Head.”–How Matt Gaetz was characterized by Maureen Dowd, New York Times.

* “It’s not comforting to know that for the last 30-something years, there’s still disparity, even at the University of Connecticut, and we’re about as close as you can get to equity as any place in the world.”–University of Connecticut women’s basketball coach Geno Auriemma on the notably unequal NCAA status still accorded men’s and women’s basketball.

* “The sad fact is that, here in Tampa, we have a public safety funding deficit with a corresponding looming crisis. … We have areas exploding in growth without corresponding public safety investments.”–Tampa City Council member Luis Viera.

* “They have been slow as molasses in coming up with the criteria and process. A lot of these organizations, and especially a lot of these theaters, they’re hanging on by their fingernails.”–Judy Lisi, president and CEO of the Straz Center, on the long wait for the roll-out of the pandemic relief aid—Shuttered Venue Operations Grants—passed in December.

* “Please be advised that the Rays have informed me that they are declining the opportunity to provide their thoughts and insights at this time.”–St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman, on the Rays’ current non-involvement in the redevelopment of the 86-acre Tropicana Field site.

Low Caliber Rationales

After a brief pandemic lull, mass-murder shootings are back. Within a fortnight, 18 people were gunned down in Atlanta and Boulder. We gasp. We cringe. We lament. We rant. We implore. We mourn. And we move on, because gun trauma–from Colombine and Sandy Hook to Parkland and El Paso–is part of the fabric of American society. It’s an unconscionably perverted byproduct of our “freedom”-celebrating, cultural DNA.

It should be shocking that the NRA has more clout than Congress and most state legislatures. But it’s not; it’s just a dark part of American exceptionalism. We have more guns than Americans, and we don’t lack for rationales–starting with the Second Amendment–for packing heat, whether it’s to the movies, to a night club, to a school or to a massage parlor.

Speaking of the Second Amendment, “the right to bear arms” is sacrosanct. It’s not up for debate. It made sense back in the revolutionary day. “A well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.” Overlook the stilted phrasing that begged an 18th century edit. A militia context was totally appropriate in 1791. But it can’t be a rationale for 21st century gun rights, let alone the private-citizen ownership of firearms that even the prescient founding fathers could not have imagined–such as assault weapons complemented by high-capacity magazines.

Maybe, we should be satisfied that bazookas and flame-throwers are still off limits for non-military use. Maybe that’s as far as public safety and common sense will take us—given that all-inclusive background checks, let alone AK-15 possession, remain politically partisan issues.

As for that Colorado shooter, too bad the “see something, say something” ethic wasn’t applied. Two days before the slaughter, a sister-in-law saw Ahmad Al Aliwi Alissa, who already had displayed violent tendencies, playing with what appeared to be a “machine gun.” She said nothing. Some things you can’t totally blame on pandering politicians.