Who We Once Were

They couldn’t, alas, be more different. The beloved, late George H.W. Bush and the loathsome, still-among-the-living Donald Trump. Both presidents for their times.

One presided over the end of the Cold War, the military removal–with an international coalition–of Iraq from Kuwait, and also yearned for a “kinder, gentler nation.” His resume included Phi Beta Kappa from Yale, war hero, congressman, envoy to China, ambassador to the UN, RNC chair, CIA director and two-term vice president before being elected president. He had a working, honest relationship with Mikhail Gorbachev. He was married to the same woman for 73 years. He was respectful and respected. He loved writing personal letters and notes. He had a sense of self and a sense of humor that even allowed for friendly banter with Dana Carvey, his “SNL” satirist. The most regrettable thing he ever said was: “Read my lips; no new taxes.” That and Ross Perot cost him re-election.

There was no Oval Office sense of presidential ego, recalled Bob Martinez, the former Tampa mayor and Florida governor who served as Bush’s drug czar. “It was always about ‘we’–not ‘I.'”

He was a statesman and a gracious gentleman who also understood the world–and that having class mattered. He elevated the country as well as the presidency.

The other has disparaged America around the world, befriended sinister authoritarians and polarized the U.S. by demonizing those–from judges to reporters–who haven’t fallen in line with white nationalism, protectionism and climate-change cynicism. His resume includes a bone-spurs deferment, inherited money, bankruptcy filings, a fraudulent “university,” “branding” fees and reality-TV fame. His mentor was Roy Cohn. He has a suspicious, weirdly deferential relationship with Vladimir Putin. He is a manifest misogynist and serial philanderer. The most unregrettable thing he ever said was: “Grab ’em by the p***y.” It cost him nothing with his basket of deplorables.

He’s also a pathological liar as well as a practicing narcissist. He tweets to attack others, defend and exalt himself, and remind his cult followers that he determines the news cycle.

He’s a bombastic, largely unread charlatan with no sense of history and no pertinent preparation for the presidency. He’s motivated by anger and grievance and ego. Gentility and dignity are beneath him. He has mocked Bush’s “thousand points of light” reference.

The juxtaposition couldn’t be more stark living through this “Make America Great Again” charade. It’s sad and tragic that we’re not trying to make it more like the Bush 41 America.

Trumpster Diving

* According to Donald Trump, attorney Michael Cohen is “weak, very weak.” In addition, Cohen’s also “not very smart.” Moreover, Cohen “makes up stories.” It’s beyond incredulous how this media-savvy businessman tolerated a weak, less-than-intelligent, lying personal lawyer/fixer for 12 years.

* “I have a no-conflict-of-interest provision as president. I have no deals that could happen in Russia, because we’ve stayed away.”–That was Donald Trump in January 2017. Stay tuned.

* Trump canceled plans to formally meet face to face with Vladimir Putin at the Group of 20 summit in Buenos Aires. It was pushback over that clash between Russian and Ukrainian ships. Anyone other than Sarah Huckabee Sanders believe that was the real reason? And not the fact that Michael Cohen and the Russian back story were breaking news at home?

* The Artifice-of-the-Deal update. Looks like there is a pause–or “truce”–in the market-roiling tariff war with China, although key specifics are notably still missing. Sounds not unlike the “denuclearization” deal “negotiated” with North Korea that only lacks a mutually acceptable, written definition of “denuclearization.”

Tampa Bay TidBits

* Good luck to the University of South Florida in its presidential search to replace Judy Genshaft, who has been a fixture at USF for 18 years. The challenge is obvious for a major, urban, research-oriented university in 21st century America.

USF needs somebody well suited to be a major regional leader. Someone who’s comfortable being a high-profile part of regional economic synergy–from surrounding counties to Water Street Tampa. Somebody who knows that a university president’s responsibilities transcend campus and departmental priorities. But they also need somebody with serious academic cred, not a glib, political operative.  As noted, good luck.

* There’s been some speculation about how a change in congressional representation could impact defense spending for Florida–and the Tampa Bay area. It’s a reminder of the sheer level of spending involved. It’s about $80 billion annually, including more than $17 billion a year in the Tampa Bay region. Defense spending is critically important to our economy, and a number of elected officials deserve credit for bringing in important, impactful pet projects. Just don’t mention the military industrial complex.

China’s Priorities

* Amid all the talk of China overtaking the U.S. as the world’s biggest economy and becoming a key player in international development, there is one area that continues to hinder China’s progress. For all its hybrid, ethically-challenged economics–including cyber espionage and theft of technology and intellectual property–its military impact is not in sync with its growing economy. The military controls roughly 70 percent of airspace in China. Among other things, it restricts options for departure and arrival routing. It thus limits the number of takeoffs and landings that airports can handle. By comparison, the U.S. military controls 20 percent of America’s airspace.

* Speaking of China, I recall an insightful exchange I had with Chinese officials back in the early 1990s. I was the media relations manager at USF at the time, and the officials were visiting the College of Business as part of their nation’s outreach to capitalist countries. The subject of the recently devolved Soviet Union came up. (OK, I brought it up.) One of the Chinese visitors succinctly summed it up. China, he said, was only about a globally-pragmatic “economic revolution,” not a political one. The Soviets’ fatal mistake: They were experiencing “two revolutions” at the same time: economic and political. In short, the Chinese were no fans of Mikhail Gorbachev’s perestroika, the restructuring of economic AND political systems, or glasnost, societal and governmental openness.

Media Matters

* This is the time of year when the best–countdown to Oscars–movies are out. Not just sequels of sequels or big-screen adaptations of comic books and video games. Exhibit A: “Green Book.” It’s a “dramedy.” It’s poignant, historical, humorous, outraging and entertaining. It’s set in America’s “Colored Only,” racial-crucible era.

Spoiler (sort of) alert: It ended the way it should.

* “Trumpaganda: The War on Facts, Press and Democracy.” That’s the name of a journalism course at the University of Illinois. Go, Fighting Illini.

* The Tampa Bay Times certainly made a big deal–via prominent “Editor’s Note”–about the changes coming in comics. (Yes, Blondie and Pickles are staying!) The wait continues, however, for those of us looking for an Editor’s Note announcing that the Times is bringing back some of the editing and proofreading staff that had obviously been jettisoned–and is obviously still missed.

Sports Shorts

* We all know the reality of bowl games these day. There are too many of them, ESPN has too much input and too many have to invite teams that, because of unimpressive or flat-out, non-winning seasons, don’t deserve to go to a bowl in the first place. Then there are the sponsor names. Some sound better than others. Tampa’s own Outback Bowl, for example, actually sounds like a bowl game. The Cheez-it Bowl in Phoenix, uh, doesn’t.

* USF will be at RayJay for the Gasparilla Bowl against (favored) Marshall later this month. It’s the Bulls’ consolation prize while on a five-game losing streak. Meanwhile, nationally ranked UCF, which has won 25 straight and routed USF two weeks ago, will play LSU in the Fiesta Bowl. It wasn’t that long ago that USF, then in the Big East, was less than willing to keep UCF, then of the Mid-American and Conference USA, on the schedule, because it was a step down to play them–and you get no credit for beating an inferior opponent. That was then; this is not.

* Let’s hear it for the winning women of Florida State and the University of Tampa. In Cary, N.C., FSU won the women’s soccer national championship, and UT won the NCAA Division II national volleyball championship in Pittsburgh. But, no, this is not nearly consolation enough for FSU football fans.

* The Lightning is still without its injured ace goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy. It hasn’t slowed them down. When forced to go with back-up goalies for an extended period, it helps–a lot–to have the highest-scoring team in the NHL.

* The Washington Redskins found a way to divert media attention from their ongoing, unconscionable defense of “Redskins.” They were the only team to waiver claim Reuben Foster, the former San Francisco 49ers linebacker who had been arrested for domestic violence. SF summarily released him after a viral video showed Foster shoving and kicking a woman–and nobody but Washington wanted any part of Foster and his domestic-violence baggage.

* Vanity license plate: I get it. I used to have one: “Nittany.” It’s what you do when you’re a proud alum of Penn State–and before anyone had ever heard of Jerry Sandusky. Our current plate features a sea turtle. It’s about a cause. But I don’t get a Buccaneers plate. This is de facto marketing by private enterprise. Shouldn’t they pay you?


* “Our Human Rights Report is very clear about the concerns that we have not just about North Korea but many countries, frankly, around the world and countries that can do a lot better. Our priority in North Korea, though, right now is denuclearization.”–State Department spokeswomen Heather Nauert.

* “Optimization.”–The preferred Russian euphemism for budget cuts.

* “If Republicans truly want to walk the walk on reducing ‘excessive government regulation,’ there’s plenty for them to do. There are tons of regulations and subsidies that ENCOURAGE use of fossil fuels–and slow down innovation in greener technologies. There are, for instance, the enormous tax breaks and other subsidies for oil and coal. Or Trump’s proposed bailouts for failing coal plants. Or his tariffs on solar panels.”–Catherine Campbell, Washington Post.

* “As to whether or not (climate change) is man-made and whether or not the effects that you’re (media) talking about are there, I don’t see it.”–Donald Trump.

* “Why would I take it off the table?”–Donald Trump on the possibility of a presidential pardon to Paul Manafort.

* “Never have corporate profits outgrown employee compensation so clearly and for so long.”–St. Louis Federal Reserve.

* “The world changed in 2016, and it changed in 2018, and I think the world is going to change again in 2020.”–Sen. Elizabeth Warren.

* “People respond to candidates who speak to the moment.”–Former President Barack Obama.

* “I am not a (2020 presidential) candidate at THIS POINT.”–Former Vice President Joe Biden.

* “It will ultimately be a family decision. And over the holiday, I will make that decision with my family.”–Sen. Kamala Harris.

* “I am very likely to run for president.”–Julian Castro, former HUD secretary and San Antonio mayor.

* “If it turns out that I am the best candidate to beat Donald Trump, then I will probably run.”–Sen. Bernie Sanders.

* “Bill Clinton was radioactive in the midterms and Hillary was the Ghost of Christmas Past.”–Maureen Dowd, New York Times.

* “We’re in undeniably divisive times right now. We’re all searching for something that everyone can agree on, and dogs are probably about as close to that as we get.”–Filmmaker Glen Zipper, the producer of the six-part Netflix docu-series “Dogs.”

* “Tariffs are not a state-of-the-art smart bomb but an antiquated scatter shot whose collateral damage consists almost exclusively of consumers. Tariffs are a tax on Americans who buy goods, not on the countries that send them here.”–Dave Pearce, president and CEO of Tampa Maid Foods.

* “The 24-hour cable freak-show coverage of campaigns is a totally post-Gary Hart phenomenon.”–John Dickerson, co-host of “CBS This Morning.”

* “In Silicon Valley, ethics, if present at all, tend to be like a vestigial tail, dropped when a company grows past the embryonic stage.”–Christine Rosen, The Weekly Standard.

* “When you’re the chief of police, everybody looks to you for the answers. It’s probably the most emotionally challenging job, the loneliest job and the best job you’ve ever had, all wrapped into one.”–Tampa Police Chief Brian Dugan.

* “We’re a building products company. We’re a design company. Being at the heart of a community that was built on historic architecture and design just felt like it was the right place to be.”–Fred Lynch, CEO of Masonite International, which is building its headquarters in Ybor City.

* “I don’t support teachers carrying guns, just as I don’t support security officers teaching students.”–Tamara Shamburger, chairwoman of the Hillsborough County School Board.

* “There is potential for archeological discovery anywhere in downtown.”–Tampa Bay History Center curator Rodney Kite-Powell.

* “Psychologically, we’d take a hit, but economically the city will be fine. That’s a transformative property (Tropicana Field’s 86 acres) with or without a stadium.”–St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman.

Ultimate Partisan Political Hell

Some things just shouldn’t be part of the partisan-politics-as-usual mix. It’s bad enough that constitutional issues, the media, the economy, the military and foreign policy are subject to it, but what’s even worse–as in existentially worse–is the inclusion of climate change and its ongoing and impending impact.

We’re talking the ultimate bottom line: life and quality of life–not anti-bureaucracy, deregulation politics.

It’s frighteningly unacceptable–and hellish timing–that we would now have a president who’s a climate-change skeptic. Indeed, one who has appointed a former coal lobbyist to run the blindsided and bludgeoned EPA.

Because Donald Trump doesn’t read anything not fit for a bumper sticker or a political-rally teleprompter, he hasn’t read his own government’s Fourth National Climate Assessment that looks at how climate change is already disrupting life in this country. The report–with input from 300 U.S. scientists representing more than a dozen federal agencies and departments–is overseen by the U.S. Global Change Research Program and warns that action must be taken now. As in NOW.

The report minces no words on the ever-increasing threat. “The evidence of human-caused climate change is overwhelming and continues to strengthen, that the impacts of climate change are intensifying across the country, and that climate-related threats to Americans’ physical, social and economic well-being are rising,” underscores the report. “The global average temperature is much higher and is rising more rapidly than anything modern civilization has experienced, and this warming trend can only be explained by human activities.”

And Florida, as most of us know, is ground zero for what’s happening with storm surges and “sunny day flooding” from obviously rising sea levels. Even if this president, this outgoing governor and this incoming, Trump-lackey governor see little reason for public concern. Hell, Rick Scott even tried to ban the formal use of the term “climate change.”

And, BTW, the National Climate Assessment report was released on Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, a ploy by the Trump Administration to try and bury news of an inconvenient truth.

They know they won’t be in office or in residence on this planet when the worst-case scenarios they helped enable wreak horrific havoc. What an ignorant, nefarious legacy. A carbon tax never looked so benign.

Trumpster Diving

* There are a lot of legitimate reasons why the U.S. should not be satisfied with the status quo trade relationship with China. Not with a country that engages in cyber espionage, insists on one-sided joint venture requirements and routinely traffics in stolen technology and intellectual property. President Trump is right to want a reset. But he’s wrong to go about it by unilaterally playing the blunt-instrument tariff card. By ignoring or alienating allies, he has lost leverage with other players in China’s mercantile orbit. “Nationalism” shouldn’t preclude the savvy self interest of globalism. We need our allies, our free-trade partners. Now more than ever.

* It’s still beyond ironic that this president’s fawning base likes, among other Trumpian traits, his “tough-guy,” tell-it-like-it-is, politically incorrect manner. He doesn’t sound like some politically elite, establishment careerist. More like the loudest drunk at last call who’s buying the house a round.

He has no compunction about callously calling out a judge, a Supreme Court Justice, a former CIA chief or his own attorney general. He is the “Lock her up,” “Enemy of the people,” cult-figure populist who insults allies and demonizes the media and immigrants. And yet, he has no guts when it comes to firing people in person (Rex Tillerson, most notably), speaking directly to Robert Mueller, talking candidly to Vladimir Putin, getting North Korea to agree on a working definition of “denuclearization” or even showing up at the annual Correspondents Dinner to give as good as he gets.

* The rationale for Trump choosing Matthew Whitaker as acting attorney general seems obvious. He’s a known Robert Mueller antagonist. He was a loyalist Trump mole inside the Jeff Sessions Justice Department. He’s no fan of Marbury v. Madison that established the precedent of judicial review. And, oh yeah, he looks like he’s prepping for a Benito Mussolini casting call. Trump loves optics.

* The relationship between the U.S. and Mexico is becoming a rather fraught one. From NAFTA differences to “the wall” that Mexico will never underwrite to the “caravan” amassing in Tijuana in hopes of U.S. asylum in San Diego. Now add this: On Saturday (Dec. 1), Mexico’s new president, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, will be inaugurated. He’ll be Mexico’s first leftist president in decades, hardly what an authoritarian American president would prefer. And among those invited to Obrador’s inaugural: Venezuela President Nicolas Maduro.

* “He is a clown, a dangerous clown.”–That sobering Trump assessment didn’t come from Michael Moore or Rosie O’Donnell or the 2016 versions of Lindsey Graham and Ted Cruz. It came from Penn State climate scientist Michael Mann. I wish I disagreed.

* “It’s going to be devastating.” That was Alan Dershowitz, the high-profile Harvard law professor emeritus, assessing the likely impact on Trump of the Mueller investigation into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election. It’s especially notable since Dershowitz has been a frequent defender of Trump.