Provide A Real-World Prep

Among bills being considered–by both houses–in Tallahassee this session is one that would require all high school graduates to take a financial literacy class.

How relevant. How necessary. How have we waited so long?

Exhibit A: We now have data showing that about a third of Americans approaching retirement have saved nothing for it. No pension plan, no savings account. No accounting for this disquieting version of “American exceptionalism.”

And while we’re at it, why not make sure that the fundamentals of real-world, American capitalism are combined with a Civics requirement?

When barely half of the voters turn out for a presidential election, we have reason to worry. When electorate pandering results in a President Trump or a Governor Scott, we have a crisis. When voter indifference and bias can prevent, say, regional mass transit, we have a fundamental problem in citizen involvement–the lifeblood of democracy.

And while we’re still at it, let’s include a primer on modern media–and its manifest minefields.

If our schools are truly to prepare students for viable lives in this free-enterprise, morphing-media democracy, the curricular status quo can no longer be maintained.

Spice Quakes

Among the, uh, incongruities of the Trump presidency, is White House spokesman Sean Spicer. His high-profile role doesn’t make sense on multiple levels.

No PR-aware business would want to be courting Gaffegate on a daily basis, including a private-family-brand “businessman.” No government would want to be risking unintended, counterproductive signals being sent across the geopolitical spectrum. And no pathologically narcissistic commander in chief would want a fool for a daily de facto surrogate.

But here we are. Spicer, who serves by the appointment of and at the pleasure of the president, has become a liability–as well as a late-night-comedic piñata. It’s what happens when you debut with “alternative facts” and double down with a reference to Adolph Hitler, “who didn’t even sink to using chemical weapons.” And more. Does he have a “dossier” on Trump?

Here’s some unsolicited media advice for this–or any other–administration:

Look for someone who’s a quick study, projects candor and gravitas and has a sense of humor. The White House press corps can be a preening, gotcha crowd. They know when they’re being stonewalled, and they resent encountering spokespeople who consider the media as the opposition. They can also tell when a spokesman is a true “insider” or just a talking-points mouthpiece. But they prefer to respect and actually like that person.

President Barack Obama had a good one in Robert Gibbs and Josh Earnest was acquitting himself well at the end. Jay Carney always looked in over his head. President George W. Bush was well represented by Ari Fleischer and the late Tony Snow. President Bill Clinton had the well-regarded Mike McCurry.

But all things being (seemingly) equal, a relevant rule of thumb would be to hire a former journalist. They know what’s news and what it’s like to track it down. They also know the level of professionalism and honesty they want from a spokesperson. And the ability to engage in repartee doesn’t hurt. The podium is also a stage.

Most White House spokespersons last, on average, about two years. It can be a demanding slog.

It’s interesting to note who holds the longevity record: James Hagerty. He served eight years as the White House spokesman for President Dwight Eisenhower. He had insider cred; he had a candid demeanor; and he projected a certain empathy for the media and its job. Before that, he had been press secretary for New York Gov. Thomas Dewey. Prior to that, he had been a reporter for the New York Times.

Sean Spicer had been communications director for the Republican National Committee.

Sobering SoHo Sign

“Eat, Drink and Be Wary.” That was the clever, front-page headline in Sunday’s Tampa Bay Times that chronicled law-breaking in the boozy afterhours along South Tampa’s SoHo strip. It’s hardly a crime-laden area, but there was that recent drive-by killing outside a hookah bar at 4:30 a.m. It doubtless helped prompt such a prominent piece.

One photo in the Times’ layout was particularly telling. A sign outside a SoHo establishment read: “Open Crazy Late.” It spoke volumes about what can turn a party scene into a crime scene. When your market niche is the already drunk, nothing good is ultimately in the offing.

Foreign Affairs

* “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.” It’s a geopolitical axiom for the ages. And for a while, it didn’t look like Russia and the U.S. vs. ISIS would be an exception. Chalk it up to timing, Syrian subplots and egos to die for.

* Imagine, the global-power country that shares a border with North Korea doesn’t use all of its considerable influence to keep Kim Jong-Unhinged in line. China’s leverage amounts to economic survival for a country that prioritizes nukes over people. And how ironic that without China, a sovereign North Korea wouldn’t even exist today.

We also know China’s rationale for not moving against this criminal family regime.

It doesn’t want a destabilized North Korea pouring refugees across the border. Nor does it want a resultant united Korean peninsula aligned with the U.S. and its allies. But at a certain point, aren’t all such scenarios subordinate to the ultimate existential threat that is Pyongyang?

President Trump has reversed himself on currency-manipulation charges and wants reciprocity in the form of China reining in North Korea. But has Xi Jinping read “The Art of the Deal”?

* Amid all the un-nuanced, predictable posturing, Tweets included, about how to handle North Korea, the words of H.R. McMaster, the national security adviser, were the most reassuring. “It’s time for us to undertake all actions we can, short of a military option, to try to resolve this peacefully.” Don’t know if Michael Flynn wouldn’t have worded it like that.

* What sends a more troubling signal: an ongoing cycle of missile launches and nuclear tests, a parade of ICBMs or the sight of those goose-stepping female soldiers?

Sports Shorts

* Lightning owner Jeff Vinik’s full-page, color ad in the Tampa Bay Times was a thank you for fan support. It’s worth reflecting on. The Bolts sold out (19,092) every one of their 41 home games this season. Moreover, it was a reminder that the sellout streak goes back to the 2014-15 season. It’s now 107 consecutive sellouts at Amalie Arena–and (still) counting.

* First the good news. Attendance at USF home football games last season was up 41 percent. That was fourth best in the country. It comes with a winning season and top-20 national ranking.

Now for perspective. You only have huge percentage increases if you’re working from a modest base. For the Bulls, it was 26,500. It increased to 37,500.

Frankly, if USF replicates last season’s 11-2 record under new coach Charlie Strong, attendance should ratchet another 41 percent. At least.

I still go back to September 2007, when 67,000 packed RayJay to see USF defeat West Virginia. I was there. It was special. Average attendance that year was 53,000. It can be done.

* The Miami Marlins are having a 10-foot statue of the late Jose Fernandez made that they plan on placing outside Marlins Park. It will be finished in about six months.

That’s the call of owner Jeffrey Loria. Fernandez was a special talent, and in a relatively short time had become the face of the Marlins franchise.

But this also needs to be said. Loria should reconsider a larger-than-life statue of a person who negligently caused the deaths of three people.


* “If you violate international agreements, if you fail to live up to commitments, if you become a threat to others, at some point a response is likely to be undertaken.”–Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

* “One could say that the level of trust on a working level, especially on the military level, has not improved but has rather deteriorated.”–Russian President Vladimir Putin.

* “Russia will continue to support Assad because he is the only guarantor of Russia’s military presence in Syria and hence of Russia’s military presence in the Middle East over all.”–Aleksei V. Makarkin, deputy head of the Center for Political Technologies, a Moscow-based think tank.

* “(Trump’s) foreign policy has gone from mere homeland protection to defending certain interest, values and strategic assets abroad. … With a president who counts unpredictability as a virtue, he could well reverse course again.”–Charles Krauthammer, Washington Post.

* “I explained to the president of China that a trade deal with the U.S. will be far better for them if they solve the North Korean problem … North Korea is looking for trouble. If China decides to help, that would be great. If not, we will solve the problem without them!”–President Donald Trump.

* “It’s unlikely that we will build a wall or physical barrier from sea to shining sea.”–Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly.

* “… A very left-wing, anti-American president.”–Sen. John McCain’s assertion of what will result in Mexico as a result of the Trump Administration’s bellicosity toward it.

* “The definition of criminal has not changed, but where on the spectrum of criminality we operate has changed.”–Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly.

* “There is such a profound lack of trust between the two parties. It clearly affects the country.”–Sen. Susan Collins, Republican of Maine.

* “Trump is working to be the blue-collar president–you’re already seeing that in is outreach to unions.”–F. Vincent Vernucci, director of labor policy at the Mackinac Center, a Michigan-based, free-market think tank.

* “Economic nationalism is predicated on a state-of-the-art infrastructure.”–Trump adviser Steve Bannon.

* “(Trump’s) mastered instantaneous Twitter. It’s like owning newspapers.”–House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy.

* “I like Donald. I guess I shouldn’t call him that. I like President Trump. He’s affable. He’s funny. He’s good company.”–Jeff Zucker, president of CNN Worldwide.

* “I am passionate about the unfinished business of the 21st century. The rights and opportunities for women and girls.”–Hillary Clinton.

* “Never say never. You don’t know what’s going to happen. I mean, hell, Donald Trump’s going to be 74 (in 2020). I’ll be 77 and in better shape. I mean, what the hell?”–Former Vice President Joe Biden.

* “Investors want something that is going to go up in orders of magnitude in six months to six years, and Tesla is that story.”–Karl Brauer, senior editor at Kelley Blue Book, on why Tesla surpassed Ford Motor in market value for the first time.

* “People suspect that special interests dominate policy decisions, and it’s on clear display when (amendments) pass overwhelmingly but are hijacked for other purposes.”–Susan Glickman, Florida director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.

* “What I will tell you is that (St. Petersburg) police officers will arrest anyone who violates the law. What they won’t do, they won’t ask, ‘Are you an illegal immigrant?’ and ‘Can I see your papers?’ They don’t do that, and they’re not going to start doing that.”–St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman.

* “We think that there is a certain group of people that don’t want a roommate, and this is a great opportunity for somebody to live by themselves, save on the expense of a car and live downtown.”–Omar Garcia, manager of Urban Core Holdings, which is under contract to buy a downtown Tampa office building and convert the top eight floors into micro-apartments.

* “In 1890, Tampa started what became Florida’s largest port. In 1971, we opened one of America’s greatest airports. Both the port and airport are undergoing major investments in new capacity. We must have the same commitment to moving people and goods around the region once they get here.”–Tampa attorney Ron Weaver.

* “We tested the water. It is safe to drink, and we are treating the reservoir.”–Tampa city spokeswoman Ashley Bauman, in addressing the algae bloom in the Hillsborough River that had put a bad smell and taste in tap water.

* “We’ve got to get to a place where the Riverwalk is just its own place to go. We’ve got great attractions in Tampa, and this is one of them. It’s not just a park, it’s an attraction. But it’s free, and the public owns it.”–Jason Carroll, executive director for Friends of the Riverwalk.

* “Criminals are coming to SoHo because people leave their cars unlocked.”–TPD Lt. David Fernandez.

Buckhorn’s Forum For Unity

The main takeaway from Mayor Bob Buckhorn’s State of the City address–other than that he loves this forum–was a theme of unity. A culture of tolerance and diversity took precedence over ongoing downtown upgrades. We get it–plus, the high-profile, developmental bragging points did not exactly go unacknowledged.

But unity is part of an emerging sub-plot. As in standing united to confront new challenges from Washington and Tallahassee.

We all know the Trump Administration’s priorities–and the need for budget reallocations to accommodate the funding of, for example, a border wall. Urban aid–in myriad ways–will take a hit.

And we know the more ideological threats now gaining momentum in the state legislature that aim to limit the powers of local government–from wireless-device placement to property tax-hike restrictions to vacation rental-law limitations.

While Mayor Bob’s legacy will be the downtown makeover he helped propel as a game-changing priority, his bully pulpit will likely play an increasing role in civic defense as well as advocacy in his remaining time in office. No one knows better than a mayor that the best government is the one closest to the people.

And Buckhorn is certainly no exception. In fact, as an I-4 Corridor player with business instincts, some friends on the other side of the aisle and no gubernatorial plans, he’s positioned to make the unfettered municipal case. One where the federal government continues its commitment to invest in America’s cities and one where the states don’t retreat on cities’ self determination.

Ferry Tales Come True

Amid the unconscionable frustration that accompanies the usual impediments to common sense and modern transit around here, there has been a notable ray of regional hope. Ferry tales can come true.

By all accounts, the experimental Cross-Bay Ferry, the product of regional cooperation with some BP-spill money, has been a success. It’s no longer some Ed Turanchik fantasy. A major market with an identity dominated by a gulf, bays and channels actually has a viable water link–connecting the downtowns of Tampa and St. Petersburg. By late January ticket sales were generating enough revenue to cover costs. Hillsborough County is now setting aside serious money in reserve–with the hope it could one day be applied to expanded service.

From a personal standpoint, I’d recommend it–with a few tips. This isn’t mass transit–but a cool way to experience two waterfront downtowns complemented by Bloody Marys and skyline aesthetics. But plan accordingly.

Make museum and/or dining plans. Bring comfortable shoes, a bike or cab/Uber fare. Remember it’s an outing, not a logistical commute. That will have to come later with further transit maturity.

This doesn’t address gridlock and all the highway-sprawl scenarios we’re constantly reminded of. For now, this is feel-good fun and qualifies as a win over provincialism and business as usual.

Media Matters

* Veteran sportswriter Joey Johnston, who wrote for both the Tampa Tribune and the Tampa Bay Times, has formed Johnson Communications. He scored a coup on Sunday with a prominent piece in the “Your Money” section of the New York Times that chronicled the family-first efforts of mixed martial arts fighter Martin Vergara, a Mexican-American living in Tampa. Vergara now works as a trainer at Jaye Maddon’s Epic Boxing and Fitness on W. Kennedy Boulevard.

* According to the America’s Most Literate Cities survey, St. Petersburg ranks second nationally in newspaper readers per capita–behind only Washington, D.C. “This is a wonderful hometown for the (Tampa Bay) Times, and we try to return the favor by giving our town a good newspaper,” said Paul Tash, chairman and CEO of the Times Publishing Co.

Moreover, imagine where St. Pete would rank if the Times hadn’t had to resort to such a barebones product–even after it absorbed some talent and readership from the late Tampa Tribune. Were it not for obituaries and Rooms to Go ads, it would be beyond embarrassing.

* Iranian-born author and television host Reza Aslan has acknowledged that he has sometimes told people that he was Mexican to stay clear of any issues over his Muslim faith. “That tells you how little I knew about America,” he says. “I didn’t realize you guys don’t like Mexicans either.”

His diversion from his Tehran roots is reminiscent of a similar ploy by another Iranian, Farrukh Quraishi, who was one of the original Tampa Bay Rowdies back in the day. I once asked him how he was handling his heritage in the context of the then-Iranian hostage crisis and how he answered questions about his roots. “I tell them I’m Persian,” said Quraishi, “and they just nod.”

* A recent study by the Federal Reserve compared predictions of key economic indicators–unemployment, inflation, interest rates, GDP, etc.–with the actual outcomes. And noted wide-spread errors. The well-publicized study’s conclusion: “Considerable uncertainty surrounds all macroeconomic projections.” It didn’t reference the “Trump market.”

No wonder the economic musings of a frustrated President Harry S. Truman, who once drolly noted his preference for “one-handed economists,” still resonate today. HST’s rationale: They wouldn’t be inclined to say “but on the other hand.”

Sports Shorts

* Yes, the Tampa Bay Lightning are now early into their off-season of reflection and re-commitment after a disappointing, non-playoff season. But it was the season of blind-siding injuries that wreaked havoc with on-ice skill level and team continuity. It also saw an awkward goalie dynamic play out with the eventual, necessary trade of Ben Bishop.

Yet, somehow, this team finished with 94 points–only three fewer than last year, when it made it to game seven of the Eastern Conference final. Credit franchise depth for the contributions of all those unexpected replacements who were abruptly called up from Syracuse. (The Bolts were forced to use 37 different players in the lineup.) And there’s the continued development of Nikita Kucherov into a marquee player as well as the fast-forwarding young careers of future stars Jonathan Drouin, Brayden Point and goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy

And credit head coach Jon Cooper for keeping it going through a strong finish. Plus kudos to the loud, interactive fan base: 19,092 every night. Our sports history is steeped in baseball and football. But this is a hockey town. Great facility, great location, great ownership–and great reminder of what it takes, regardless of sport.

* That well-noted, bottom-line comment by Brian Cashman, the New York Yankees’ general manager, was also a bit disingenuous. “Performance science is probably the next frontier,” he observed. “Managing the DL (Disabled List) costs and getting the most return on your investment is first and foremost.” He’s right, of course, but with an obscenely outsized payroll that is roughly three times that of the Tampa Bay Rays, he can still afford to overpay and write it off as the cost of doing business. And speaking of irony, how about “Cashman” as a Yankee GM?

* Remember when the Davis Cup was a big deal? Remember when American men’s tennis was a big deal?

* Florida Atlantic University made a commitment to go big time when it hired Lane Kiffin earlier this year as head football coach. Kiffin formerly coached the Oakland Raiders, the University of Tennessee and the University of Southern California. More recently he was offensive coordinator at Alabama. But Kiffin is also a big double-edged sword; he inevitably brings the baggage of controversy and fallout.

This  just  in: FAU, Kiffin and the state of Florida are now defendants in a fraud lawsuit. A former Alabama player alleges that Kiffin misled him to believe he had a job on the FAU staff in order to leverage his relationship with a recruit.

That didn’t take long.