Pompeo Goes Beyond “Water’s Edge”

* It spoke volumes when Secretary of State Mike Pompeo chose to speak recently at the American University in Cairo. That’s where former President Barack Obama spoke early in his presidency in an attempt to reset U.S.-Muslim relations. In his globally-chronicled speech, Obama spoke emphatically, if idealistically, of a “new beginning.”

In his speech, Pompeo underscored that he wasn’t restrained by the adage that partisan politics stops “at the water’s edge.” Would that he were.

“The age of self-inflicted American shame is over,” he trumpeted, “and so are the policies that produced so much needless suffering. Now comes the real new beginning.” Zing.

It’s one thing to try and be President Trump’s Middle East “fixer” and walk back his blindsiding declarations on Syrian policy. But it’s a new low to denigrate a former president while on a foreign mission to cozy up with the usual authoritarians.

* The biggest undocumented-immigrant problem we have are visa overstays. How does a wall fix that? We also know that smuggled drugs mainly come through legal ports of entry. A wall doesn’t address that either. Then there’s anxiety-and-anger-inducing anecdotal evidence of illegal perps committing heinous crimes against innocent Americans on our sovereign soil. The crimes remain blatantly disproportionate, but no less emotionally impacting. Too bad we can’t wall out home-grown criminals, including domestic gangbangers.

* Migration from Mexico is now negative. There are more Mexicans returning there than coming here. The issue is Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. Maybe we could help Mexico build a wall on its southern border.

* “The Wall” is part of Trump branding. It works well at a rally or on a bumper sticker. Forget the real issues dealing with border security and illegal immigrants. His base wouldn’t rally around “Improve E-verify!” Just like “Lock her up!” goes over much better than “What questionable ethics!”

* How could it be that this president–who built his marketing reputation by building a brand–has missed an obvious wall-funding opportunity? How about naming rights? It doesn’t even have to be “1-800-ASK-MEXI.” Hell, maybe WALL Street would be interested.

* “I think he’d like it being called ‘The Great Wall of Trump.'”–Trump biographer Michael D’Antonio.

* There’s obviously no love lost between Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Donald Trump. And it was visceral even before the shutdown-sit-down fiasco. This is, among other things, a battle of wills. One key variable: Pelosi actually knows how the legislative process works.

* Seeing Trump in that “Make America Great Again” cap is, uh, grating enough. But wearing it while there’s a government shutdown that he “owns” and is “proud of” only ups the ante on insult, hypocrisy and anger.

* Ultimately, after anxiety fits over family budgets, furloughed federal employees will be paid for work they didn’t do. So much for conservative, Republican fiscal ideology.

* Last week Mexico was one of the few countries to have representation at the swearing in of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro. A few weeks earlier leftist Mexican President Andrés 

 Manuel López Obrador had invited Maduro to his own inauguration. It doesn’t bode well for any future Obrador-Trump negotiations–from trade to border security.

* The Democrats are hardly resting on the laurels of a retaken House of Representatives. Campaign solicitations for 2020–in the form of “Senate Majority PAC” donor mailings–are out over the signature of Sen. Chuck Schumer. It’s a reminder that 2020 doesn’t look like 2018 for Democratic Senate inroads. “Republicans have to defend 22 seats–while Democrats have to defend just 12, giving Democrats a huge strategic opportunity,” says Schumer. “We have a real chance to take back the Senate.

“Under Senator McConnell and his caucus of yes-men, the Senate has become Donald Trump’s most reliable blank check. Only Democrats will stop his reckless ideas from becoming law.”

And, BTW, if you didn’t receive a mailing, the online contribution counterpart is www.SenateMajority.com/TurnTheTide. And all contributions will be matched one to one.

DeSantis Debut

Granted it’s a low bar, but the case can be optimistically made that we’re better off with Ron DeSantis, the Trump acolyte who was more familiar with the Fox green room than his home state, as our governor.

His inaugural address was notably inclusive–not numbingly inciting and polarizing. For openers, there was no mention of Donald Trump. None. Battling green algae and Red Tide, protecting drinking water supplies and getting a better grasp on controlling state-managed lands were high-profile priorities. Green infrastructure is not an oxymoron, nor should it be a partisan bullet point. It’s integral to Florida’s economy as well as its quality of life. That gets buy-in.

The following day he formally pardoned the Groveland Four, something his predecessor chose not to do. He also made it clear that he’s committed to rescinding some of the classless, last-minute appointments made by lame duck Rick Scott. He’s also picked a couple of Democrats to serve as department heads and named the first Cuban American woman to the Florida Supreme Court.

But now let’s see how he handles Amendment 4, school-choice priorities and the lack of a justice of color on the State Supreme Court. And how about rescinding the appointment of Richard Corcoran as Commissioner of Education, Dana Young as president and CEO of Visit Florida and Carlos Beruff as a member of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission?

But on balance, it was a good–better than expected–start. “It’s good to be able to do some things that are not just red vs. blue all the time,” underscored DeSantis at his inauguration. Indeed.

Media Matters

* I’ll admit to binge-watching video of the Fox News Sunday Chris Wallace interview with White House mouthpiece Sarah Huckabee Sanders. The one where Wallace wouldn’t let her get away with talking points that were not remotely fact-based as she stated that “nearly 4,000 known or suspected terrorists have come into our country illegally, and we know that our most vulnerable point of entry is at our southern border.” Turns out that those illegals were captured at airports.  His dad would have been proud.

* Because the media have been demonized by the prevaricator-in-chief as the “enemy of the people,” it typically fails to acknowledge where it has truly fallen down on the media-coverage job. As in the over-the-top, disproportionate attention paid to candidate Donald Trump because he brought high ratings. As in ceding too much narrative control to the commander-in-Cheeto.

Dan Rather had an interesting take. “The shadow of what we did last time looms over this next time,” he recently noted. “When you cover this as spectacle, what’s lost is context, perspective and depth. And when you cover this as spectacle, he is the star.”

* Remember the subjunctive mood? If I WERE a copy editor, I’d familiarize myself with it.

* Another “You can’t make this update.” Thanks to what’s being called the “Bird Box challenge,” derived from the hit movie “Bird Box,” society now has another viral video stunt to confront. This one records people doing various tasks–including driving–while blindfolded. Imagine making “driving while texting” look almost sane and safe. Almost.

Tampa Bay

* This Saturday is the Gasparilla Children’s Parade. There are none better, including the one next week. The Children’s Parade is impressively big, colorful and family-oriented. It actually looks like Tampa: Hispanic, African-American and Caucasian. A true celebration of Tampa. Moreover, it’s never been a booze fest and there’s no rite of pissage in the neighborhood alleys.  

* Why is there a debate? Wherever you’re from, whatever your race and ethnicity, if you are a resident of Tampa, you are a Tampeño. Revel with a cause.

Sports Short

* It’s coming up on four years now that Joe Maddon has been the former Rays manager. But he still lives here in the off-season and still stays involved with community charities–and even helped recruit new Bucs coach Bruce Arians, a fellow native Pennsylvanian . “I told him how much I love living here,” said Maddon after pitching the area to Arians over a private meeting at his (co-owned) Ava restaurant in South Tampa. “I always sell Tampa Bay.”


* “Israel is one of the few developed countries where opinion about the United States has improved since Mr. Trump took office. … American Jews, in contrast, see President Trump as their existential threat, a leader who they believe has stoked nationalist bigotry, stirred anti-Semitism and failed to renounce the violent hatred swirling around his political movement.”–Jonathan Weisman, author of “Semitism: Being Jewish in America in the Age of Trump.”

* “If they agree to hold a second North Korea-U.S. summit in a not-too-distant future, we can see this as a rather optimistic sign that both sides have narrowed their differences on this (denuclearization) issue.”–South Korean President Moon Jae-in.

* “Because we’re a great nation, our challenges seem complex. It will always be this way. But as long as we remember our first principles and believe in ourselves, the future will be ours.”–President Ronald Reagan.

* “We have got to find a middle ground between trying to transform the Middle East and increasingly walking away from the Middle East. We want to wash our hands of it, but history suggests that the Middle East won’t let us.”–Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations.

* “America is a force for good in the Middle East. Period.”–Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

* “A wall, in my view, is an immorality. It’s the least effective way to protect the border and the most costly.”–House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

* “Governing by shutdown is ignorant, cowardly and destructive.”–Peggy Noonan, Wall Street Journal.

* “I find China, frankly, in many ways to be far more honorable than Cryin’ Chuck and Nancy. I really do.”–President Donald Trump.

* “It is not only unusual by historical standards, it is outrageous. … it certainly gives Putin much more scope to manipulate Trump.”–Former deputy secretary of state Strobe Talbot, on Trump’s success in concealing details of his one-on-one meetings with Vladimir Putin.

* “I never worked for Russia.”–Donald Trump.

* “Donald Trump is going to be impeached whether it is by the ballot box or Congress. It will just be a matter of which one comes first.”–U.S. Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., a member of the Intelligence Committee.

* “You can’t impeach somebody who is doing a great job.”–President Donald Trump.

* “In an era of tribal emotionalism, you’re always going to be able to make a splash reducing a complex problem to a simple narrative that separates the world into the virtuous us, and the evil them.”–David Brooks, New York Times.

* “Whatever happens in 2019, (Trump’s) false version of reality will not survive history, just as Nixon’s did not. Which side of that history do today’s Republicans want to be on?”–David Leonardt, New York Times.

* “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.”–Frederick Douglass.

* “My firing of James B. Comey was a great day for America. He was a Crooked Cop.”–Donald Trump.

* “I ask you to judge me by the enemies I have made.”–Former FBI Director James Comey.

* “I don’t understand this guy. I really don’t. (Trump will) get his comeuppance; it’s just a matter of time.”–Florida Democratic Congressman Alcee Hastings.

* “If you look at the last century, the people who did the most, in many ways, to advance progressive politics in the country–F.D.R. and the Kennedys–all came from great wealth.”–Longtime Democratic adviser Bob Shrum, giving Democratic context to an era of populist backlash against the wealthy. Ironically, former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and former Starbucks’ CEO Howard Schultz, both billionaires, have shown interest in a Democratic presidential run.

* “We have a singular focus over the next two years. And that’s getting our president re-elected.”–State Sen. Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota, the recently elected chairman of the Republican Party of Florida.

* “This is different than when Scott first got in. DeSantis is more prepared to hit the ground running.”–David Custin, Miami-based, cross-partisan political strategist and lobbyist.

* “I fully expect the (Rays) to hold the (Tropicana Field) site hostage as long as possible. Why wouldn’t they? It’s their biggest negotiating chip.”–St. Petersburg State Sen. Jeff Brandes.

* “These two downtowns were meant to connect together.”–HMS Ferry president Matt Miller, in announcing that ridership for the first two months of the Cross-Bay Ferry was up nearly 35 percent compared to the ferry’s inaugural season.

* “If it takes six months to determine whether or not this charter amendment meets the letter of the law, to me, that’s well worth it and time well spent.”–Hillsborough Commissioner Stacy White, on the rationale behind his suit over a transportation tax approved by voters in 2016.

Trumping Out 2018

* The Pentagon-and-ally-ignoring Syrian pull-out. The lack of a working definition of “denuclearization” with North Korea. The border wall stand-off resulting in a governmental shutdown. The unpaid price for Russian interference in the 2016 election. The Trans Pacific Partnership. The Paris climate-change accord. Too bad we couldn’t have elected a president whose forte was, uh, negotiation.

* Isn’t it telling that England, France, Germany and Israel, among many others, disapprove of the unilateral withdrawal of the U.S. from Syria, but Russia, Iran and Turkey couldn’t be more pleased?

* We should give Trump credit for going to Iraq and visiting with war-zone troops. But, of course, he had to turn it into a campaign-rally dynamic. Indeed, he did work “The Wall” in, lied about military raises and also gloated that “We’re no longer the suckers, folks.” In short, he was equating life-risking, American members of the military with “suckers” who cluelessly fight others’ battles. Enjoy those selfies.

There are only two protocol boxes to check when a president visits troops: giving gratitude and boosting morale. Presidents don’t engage in political rhetoric, because politics and the military must be kept separate. Presidents should never morph those who serve into political pawns. And speaking of protocol, it didn’t go over well with locals that he didn’t deign to meet–even nominally–with Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdu-Mahdi.

* How outrageous, frustrating and unfair that we have to endure a government shutdown over a border wall. If only Mexico had kept Trump’s word that it would pay for it. Such bad, unreliable hombres.

* “A made-up fight so the president can look like he’s fighting. The whole thing is juvenile.”–Retiring Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., on the battle over border wall funding.

* “Turn me into Hoover.” That’s what Trump narcissistically fears could happen as a result of decisions being made at the Federal Reserve under Fed chairman Jerome Powell.

* The GOP, as we know, lost 40 House seats and ceded majority to the Democrats, which means, among other things, a halt to key parts of Trump’s legislative agenda. It also means that the Dems will have House oversight authority–as in calling the shots on holding hearings, requesting documents and issuing subpoenas. As in having the wherewithal to investigate the president’s family, business, campaign and administration.

So how do Trumpsters spin it? Try this: “It’s absolutely fair to say that it’s better to have Nancy Pelosi as a foil than Paul Ryan as a foil,” pointed out Marc Short, who used to be Trump’s legislative affairs director. “It’s better for the party, and it’s better for unity. The reality is the Democrats could overplay their hand.” So there.

* Speaking of Dems, all the speculation about presidential opponents for Trump will start to solidify before too long. The first candidate debate will be this June.

Florida Fodder

* Any Floridian who cares about a common sense, enlightened self-interest approach to Cuba can’t feel encouraged about the Trump-Scott-Cuban hardliner-influenced Ron DeSantis as governor. And it hardly helps that Lieutenant Gov. Jeanette Nunez, a Cuban-American from Miami, is piling on.

“I think Ron has shown his commitment to ensure that we, as a state, are not going to do business with Cuba,” recently underscored Nunez, a former Marco Rubio supporter. “We’re not going to do business with businesses that do business with Cuba.”

* It speaks volumes that among those opposed to arming any school personnel is the Florida Association of School Resource Officers.


It doesn’t seem that long, but Tampa’s Kathy Castor has now been in Congress for a dozen years. It’s never easy when you are the daughter of an icon, but U.S. Rep. Castor has learned on the job, has acquitted herself well and is carving out her own reputation on issues such as health care, environment and Cuba. And now Democratic House leaders have chosen the six-term lawmaker to lead a new select committee on climate change in the new Congress. Speaker Nancy Pelosi asked her directly.

The new committee is not without internal issues–such as whether it will have subpoena power or whether it might be redundant in light of what the House Energy and Commerce Committee does. The latter has prompted intimations of a “turf fight.”

“I’ve already talked with incoming (E&C) Chairman (Frank) Pallone (D-N.J.), about coordinating our efforts,” said Castor. “We have a moral obligation to our kids and our grandkids to address this and do it aggressively.”

Media Matters

* ABC’s George Stephanopolos: “Is Donald Trump unfit to be president?”

   Former FBI Director James Comey: “Yes.”

* ABC’s Martha Raddatz: Would you “accept” a Trump Administration position?

   Retired Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal, former commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan: “I’d say no. It’s important for me to work for people who I think are basically honest, who tell the truth.”

* “The Times regrets the error.” That’s an all-too-frequent, front-page, Tampa Bay Times note, indicating regret for another one of the editing errors it did manage to catch.

* Mark Zuckerberg reportedly lost nearly $20 billion last year. That’s what a 13 percent stake in Facebook–in the year its self-serving business model is outed over privacy and oversight scandals–will get you. But Zuckerberg is still worth more than $50 billion. And he can still binge watch “The Social Network” for back-in-the-day context.

* For once, I’d like to hear politicians begin their response to a “yes” or “no” question with something other than “look.” That’s a classic heads up that spin and agenda-pivoting are on their way. Don’t you agree?

* I cannot help but hold my breath when I hear a Federal Reserve Chairman, in this case Jerome Powell–giving a post-Fed statement press conference. The chairman is no longer literally on a parsed-wording script–but in a combustible media environment where markets pounce on any uncertainty, any nuance, any misinterpretation.

* If you only get to see one movie this holiday season, make sure you don’t waste your time and money with “The Favourite.” It may be the favorite of numerous critics, but that just proves what can happen with a vintage, British period piece and well-credentialed, famous actresses. But the bottom line: It’s really annoying.

A whole different genre and experience is “Vice.” It’s worth seeing because it has something to do with how we got to where we are right now. And it’s worth seeing just for Christian Bale’s spot-on send-up of Dick Cheney. It has its gimmicks and caricatures. Call it: Where “The Big Short” meets Michael Moore.