Talking: The Right Option

*Donald Trump has been criticized for, among other summit things, legitimizing Kim Jong-un as a world-stage co-equal with the president of the United States. The orchestrated, optics-seen-around-the-world handshake did it. It topped Kim’s ultimate bucket list. It’s a huge, regime-enhancing deal over there; it’s more high-profile grist for the partisan political mill over here.

But while it was hardly a Ronald Reagan-Mikhail Gorbachev moment, it mattered mightily.

Ostensible, strategic quid pro quos are, as has been well noted, yet to manifest themselves. What the U.S. tangibly and verifiably got out of it remains to be seen. We know that.

But there is still this: What happened between Trump and Kim was well within the cardinal rule of statecraft that applies even to rogue dictators with warped priorities. You talk to the leader of the other side, no matter how dark.

Barack Obama voiced that reality during his presidential debates with John McCain. “You talk to your adversaries,” underscored the former president who even Republicans should miss more and more each perilous day. “The notion that somehow not talking to countries is punishment to them … is ridiculous. We were willing to talk to the Soviet Union at the time when they were saying we’re going to wipe you off the planet.”

You talk to your adversaries–OK, enemies–because it’s part of any country’s enlightened self interest to do so. Lives are at stake. And if you’re America, it means you’re not too big to share a conference table–and global stage–with a nefarious lesser if the existential interest of imperiled lives is on the line. It is and they are.

This is not, to say the least, an endorsement of Donald Trump’s modus operandi, especially since his “Little Rocket Man” playground taunts and incineration threats helped, ironically, create the need for a summit in the first place. Especially since his understanding of Korea is likely derived from binge-watching “M*A*S*H.” But it is an acknowledgement that whatever the context, you need to talk. Whether it’s to Vladimir Putin, Kim Jong-un, Bashar al-Assad, Ali Khamenei or Nicolas Maduro.

The Korean status quo–from war games and Cold War-remnant U.S. troops to an apocalyptic,  nuclear trip wire has to change someday. So let’s do something before “someday” is too late. Even if the two leaders are incongruous caricatures of real statesmen.

* It’s bad enough to flat out lie and scurrilously scapegoat Democrats for the administration’s aggressive “zero-tolerance” approach to illegal border crossings that has resulted in the inhumane separation of children from their parents, but it’s made worse with an unconscionable religious justification. Attorney General Jeff Sessions cherry picked a verse in the Book of Romans on obeying government law. “God has ordained them for the purpose of order,” he sanctimoniously declared. “I can say that it is very biblical to enforce the law,” underscored deplorably disingenuous White House press secretary Sarah Sanders.

Apparently “What you do to the least of my brethren, that you do unto me” isn’t applicable in the context of presidential fiat, kids-as-pawns politics and what appeals to the Trump base. Here’s hoping the American electorate will show its outrage–and conscience–with a backlash vote that shows “zero tolerance” for hypocritically cruel, political pandering.

* “He speaks and his people sit up at attention. I want my people to do the same.”–That was Trump’s deadpan riff on the relationship that Kim Jong-un has with his people. He was kidding. Of course he was kidding.

Wasn’t he?

* How do you go from being “America’s mayor” to Trump’s pimp, Rudy? From the point man for rallying a 9/11 city to being reviled by good people? From nonpareil to Nosferatu? Ghoul-iani, you sleep too well.

Sic(k)Transit Tampa

Ever notice how often transportation is in the news around here? Within the last fortnight we’ve been reading and hearing about a possible HART takeover of the Downtowner shuttle, the need to get regional partners on board for the cross-bay ferry, grant-subsidizing, free-rides on the TECO Streetcar Line and a citizens group gathering signatures for a transit initiative.

Ever notice how little has changed while the rest of Tampa Bay reinvents and re-imagines how to keep pushing this otherwise fast-forwarding, major-metro market envelope of the 21st century?

Two takeaways:

* The streetcar has been an amenity for visitors, not a form of meaningful transit. It looks nostalgically cool, even with all the ads, and is prominent in convention pitches and network TV coverage of Tampa sports events.

But it was supposed to be much more by now. The streetcar movers and shakers always envisioned their project as a starter set for light rail mass transit. Not even close–but an extension to Tampa Heights could still happen as more people move downtown and more people start taking advantage of upcoming free fares, which could prove catalytic and habit-forming.

*Good luck to the citizens group, All for Transportation, that is now collecting signatures to get a sales tax initiative on the November 6 ballot that would raise billions for roads, bus expansion and, yes, light rail. Time is short–July 27–to get nearly 50,000 signatures. But Jeff Vinik is a key supporter, and he is the avatar of “can-do” around here. Plus, Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce and a number of political leaders are supportive.

But the “Can’t Do” crowd remains the problem. It always has. The county’s GOP-leaning, no-tax-for-anything-especially-tracks crowd outnumbers more Democratic city residents. Absent a city-only referendum, the odds remain challenging–especially in an off-year election–to get a county-wide tax passed. The irony is that 600,000 new residents are projected to move here in the next 30 years–and they all won’t be moving to Water Street Tampa or The Heights.

We need a blue wave in November for all kinds of reasons.

Sports Shorts

* At The Hops: USF has signed a 10-year, high six-figure agreement to rename the Sun Dome. It will become the Yuengling Center. A naming-rights agreement with an alcoholic-beverage producer, however, inevitably elicits scrutiny about image and impact on student drinking habits.

For the record, a Yuengling corporate statement said that the brewery, as part of its campus partnership, will “pledge to educate the students of USF, local residents, visitors and Tampa at large about ways to drink responsibly.”

At least it’s not the 1-800-ASK-GARY Dome.

* The Rays were in New York last Sunday for the Yankees’ 72nd Old Timers Game. It’s always a big, celebratory deal with a lot of big names. It reminded me, in contrast, to some Old Timers Games in Philadelphia. The former Phillies great who would never participate was the late All of Fame centerfielder–and long-time broadcaster–Richie Ashburn. His rationale: He didn’t, he would explain, want to be reminded of all that he “could no longer do.” Understandable but sad.

* I’m not a soccer fan, but I do look in on World Cup competition. I love the eclectic matchups–geographic and demographic. Countries that would never show up in the same sentence were it not for the World Cup. As in: Argentina vs. Iceland, Denmark vs. Peru, Uruguay vs. Egypt, Serbia vs. Switzerland, Panama vs. Tunisia or Poland vs. Colombia.

I’m also reminded of being part of the media scene in the late 1980s when a delegation from FIFA visited Tampa to check out Tampa Stadium as a possible venue for the 1994 World Cup that was awarded to the U.S. I still recall a Brazilian reporter who said, “Having the World Cup in the U.S. is like having the World Series in Brazil.” BTW, Tampa wasn’t chosen–but Orlando was.

Well, it’s back in America again–in 2026. Most of the World Cup matches will be in the U.S, with others in Canada and Mexico. Presumably tariffs will no longer be an issue.

Quoteworthy

* “They were willing to de-nuke.”–Donald Trump at his post-summit news conference.

* “I do trust him.”–Donald Trump in reference to Kim Jong-un.

* “It makes sense if you think about it: A wannabe dictator who took over the family business from a dictatorial father talking to a real dictator who took over the family business from a dictatorial father.”–Maureen Dowd, New York Times.

* “There is, indeed, a case for disruption and breaking the rules of international engagement. But to put it bluntly: When do we start winning?”–Daniel Henninger, Wall Street Journal.

* “The G-7 should be our preferred venue to unify the free world to compete with and counter authoritarian kleptocracies. Rather than prepare for that real battle, we’re distracted in a family dispute.”–Damon Wilson, vice president of the Atlantic Council and former national security adviser to President George W. Bush.

* “I think people who lock horns with the president need to understand what the limits are in terms of their ability to win elections.”–Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas.

* “It’s becoming a cultish thing, isn’t it?”–Tennessee Republican Sen. Bob Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, in characterizing the Republican Party’s identification with Donald Trump.

* “Trump is king, and the party has a suicide pact. … But it’s clear primary voters disagree.”–Republican consultant Mike Murphy.

* “When you answer name-calling with name-calling and tantrums with tantrums, you’re not resisting (Trump). You’re mirroring him. You’re not diminishing him. You’re demeaning yourselves. Many voters don’t hear your arguments or the facts, which are on your side. They just wince at the din.”–Frank Bruni, New York Times.

* “I say, very strongly, it’s the Democrats’ fault. The United States will not be a migrant camp, and it will not be a refugee holding facility. We want safety and we want security.”–Donald Trump.

* “Having children does not give you immunity from arrest and prosecution.”–Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

* “This is not a zero tolerance policy. This is a zero humanity policy, and we can’t let it go on.”–Oregon Democratic Sen. Jeff Merkley.

* “The GOP is in a tough spot. The hardcore Trump voter has a different point of view than the ever-important independent voter, and there doesn’t seem to be a middle ground.”–Republican pollster Frank Luntz on the possibility of voter backlash over immigration.

* “When it comes to politics, most people don’t want to be addressed as members of a demographic group looking for a payout. They want to be addressed as Americans.”–Christopher Buskirk, editor and publisher of the journal American Greatness.

* “The economy is in great shape.”–Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell.

* “We received the earth as a garden-home from the Creator. Let us not pass it on to future generations as a wilderness.”–Pope Francis.

* “To those who contemplate suicide, realize the world won’t be better for your absence. There will be a child, spouse or parent, a colleague or co-worker, neighbor or friend who will miss you more than you know.”–Political analyst and former President George W. Bush adviser Karl Rove.

* “We want people engaged with their mobile devices all day watching movies and video.”–Randall Stephenson, CEO of AT&T, which recently received District Court approval of its acquisition of Time Warner.

* “The circuit court judge recognized the Legislature was wrong when they spent Amendment 1 funds on existing operating expenses instead of new parks, restoration and protecting conservation lands.”–Aliki Moncrief, executive director of the Florida Conservation Voters, after a Leon County Circuit Court Judge Charles Dodson ruled that state lawmakers failed to comply with a voter-approved constitutional amendment to buy and preserve environmentally sensitive lands.

* “Florida typically outperforms the nation in terms of job growth year-in and year-out unless real estate gets overbuilt and comes crashing down.”–Wells Fargo economist Mark Vitner, in commenting on Florida’s unemployment rate dipping to 3.8 percent, the lowest in nearly 18 years.

* “We see nothing to suggest the (Trump) administration’s policy direction on Cuba travel has impacted our bookings.”–Brad Hawkins, spokesman for Southwest Airlines, which offers daily flights from Tampa to Havana.

* “Bring me a petition. I’m ready to sign.”–Mayor Bob Buckhorn, responding to the announcement that a citizens’ group will be gathering signatures for a county transit-tax initiative.

* “No reason why we shouldn’t have a good sense of where things are headed by year’s end.”–Rays principal owner Stu Sternberg on Ybor City-site, stadium discussions.

The Clinton Factor

I watched Bill Clinton’s interview with NBC’s Craig Melvin the other day and was transported.

I recalled that former Clinton adviser Paul Begala once talked of what it was like to be at a summit-like setting and knowing that “the smartest guy in the room was your guy.” Imagine.

I remembered Dick Greco telling me that he spent a few minutes in the back of the presidential limo with Clinton after he had flown to Tampa to make an address at Jefferson High School. Clinton asked Greco what was happening in Tampa, and the former mayor told him about the passing of the Community Investment Tax. Greco was later blown away by how Clinton lauded him in impressive, free-flowing, Clintonian detail for his pragmatic approach that included a football stadium as an inducement to get tax support for schools, police and fire departments. Vintage performance.

I wondered why he was submitting to a network interview until it became apparent that he was hustling a book. He even brought along his co-writer, James Patterson. Then he got combative and self-righteous in an exchange with Melvin when he was asked–inevitably–about his impeachment and the #MeToo movement. He wasn’t apologetic, he was arrogant. He turned a dialogue into a diatribe and ranted about sloppy journalism. He rhetorically asked Melvin if he thought JFK should have resigned. Etc.

Then I was reminded why Hillary Clinton isn’t president.

Yes, she had those email issues, Benghazi, Wall Street speaking fees and a flawed campaign strategy. But she still won the popular vote. But she was unable to rally enough women, including Bernie Sanders’ women, to make history that was there for the making against the most vulgar, vile, misogynistic presidential candidate in American history. That could only have happened if her background included being a disingenuous enabler for a predator of women, a predator who arguably still doesn’t get it.

Trumpster Diving

* Trump and Kim arguably deserve each other. The rest of the world deserves better.

* Not that we didn’t know optics was a major part of Trump’s summit “preparation,” but Larry Kudlow underscored that fraught reality when he acknowledged that the president was using the Group of 7 summit for North Korean signal-sending. Apparently counterproductive signals sent to fellow “allies” was not an issue.

Kudlow, the director of the White House National Economic Council, said Trump was “not going to let a Canadian prime minister push him around on the eve of this ( NOKO summit).” That’s why Trump didn’t sign off on the joint communiqué that formally wraps up a summit. It would have made him look weak was the rationale.

* “Fellow Republicans, this is not who we are. This cannot be our party.” That statement was from Republican Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona. Too bad the few GOPsters, such as Flake, who speak out against Trump and his egomaniacal priorities are leaving public office. Real guts–and real “America First” values–are obviously not enough for the sycophantic, enabling cowards who maintain their compromised careers and don’t want to get “primaried” by Trump’s deplorable base.

* When it comes to illegal border crossings and the separation of children, it’s more than the usual political partisans who are weighing in against the Trump Administration. Exhibit A: the United Nations. “The use of immigration detention and family separation as a deterrent runs counter to human rights standards and principles,” pointedly noted–OK, scolded–Ravina Shamdasani, spokeswoman for the U.N. high commissioner for human rights. For the record, Nikki Haley was not pleased.

* “F*** Trump.” That was Robert DeNiro at the recent Tony Awards. Yes, it’s come to that. We get it. It’s almost too tempting to resist. It’s a high-profile, friendly forum. But it’s not helpful. No more than Michelle Wolf and Samantha Bee. It’s another unsettling, embarrassing reminder that we used to be better than this. This is what a devolving society looks like.

Media Matters

* As we’ve been noticing, a number of politicians have been decreasingly relying on traditional mass media to get their message out. Why submit to unpredictable and sometimes unfriendly media fire when there are ways to control those messages? Indeed, when there are increasingly popular ways to bypass mainstream media.

Here’s the sobering take of Republican Gov. Matt Bevin of Kentucky, a major Facebook video fan. “For those of you who want to truly see what is happening, follow along through social media. With all due respect to what now passes for traditional media, it’s dying for a reason.”

Ouch.

BTW, when was the last time “with all due respect” presaged anything remotely respectful?

* When it comes to political debates, I miss the old-school, one well-versed moderator, every-candidate-gets-a-shot-at-the-same-question format. Case in point, the recent Democratic gubernatorial debate at Pinellas Park High School. The toughest questions were asked by the Tampa Bay Times’ Adam Smith. Politics is what he does. He knows this stuff and these candidates. He’s not a TV talking-head anchor, maybe not the second coming of Tim Russert, but he’s TV savvy. Let him moderate by himself and hold candidates accountable.

No surprise Smith was the one questioning Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum about the ongoing FBI corruption investigation into his city’s government, and he was the one bringing up Phillip Levine’s donation to Marco Rubio’s 2010 Senate campaign.

* Out-of-the-mouths-of-(Fox News) babes: “Regardless of what happens in that meeting between the two dictators, what we are seeing right now–this is history.” And this was from “Fox & Friends” co-host Abby Huntsman. Some faux pax are more politically discomfiting–and more, ironically, accurate–than others.

* I’m not on the same ideological page as long-time Fox News commentator and Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer. But his recent (final) note, published on WAPO’s website was as moving as it was classy. Krauthammer, a trained psychiatrist who made his mark in geopolitical analysis, revealed that his cancer had returned, and he was out of hope–and time. He has but a few weeks to live. But he wasn’t bitter or self-pitying. He leaves, he emphasized, “with no regrets. It was a wonderful life.”

Krauthammer, 68, thanked his doctors and caregivers and friends and colleagues and readers and viewers. All those, he said, “who have made my career possible and given consequence to my life’s work.” He underscored the continued need for “honest debate and rigorous argument” to guide “this extraordinary nation’s destiny.”

His final note was a reminder of what we have in common–our mortality and fellow-man responsibility–rather than in conflict–our zero-sum politics.

It would only be fitting if, in his memory, others of prominence on the Fox side of the spectrum dial down the vitriol, the show-business antics and the Trump sycophancy and aspire to a higher ground. And it would be fitting if we all, regardless of political affiliation, could leave this world knowing we honestly did our best in “the pursuit of truth”–not in the pursuit of power and ego gratification.

God speed, Dr. Krauthammer.

* On a personal note, I met Krauthammer once. It was at the GOP National Convention in Philadelphia in 2000. I was in the press tent with my lunch tray and looking frustratingly around for a place to plop down. A guy waved me over to some makeshift table for barely two. I recognized him from political commentary, but I had forgotten his name. He introduced himself, he was gracious, and we made small talk about tent humidity and humility as well as what George W. Bush’s chances were against Al Gore. Then he excused himself and wheeled away.

I hadn’t realized he was wheelchair bound. I had only seen him from the waist up. From the neck down he was paralyzed from a diving accident in his 20s while at Harvard Medical School. He never let it affect his life’s work, itself a major accomplishment he never made a big deal out of. It spoke volumes.

Sports Short

* It’s still surprising that the MLB draft is before the college baseball regionals and the College World Series. Inevitably, the competition is rife with draftable talent. For teams investing millions, it could make a difference to see how a targeted player handles it all–including the pressure.  Case in point, Auburn pitcher Casey Mize was the number one overall draft pick by the Detroit Tigers. He’ll be a millionaire shortly. But after he was drafted he pitched against Florida in the Super Regionals. It didn’t go well. He gave up six runs and lasted five innings. If I’m Tigers management, I would have wanted to see how Mize performed in his biggest college game before I made a seven-figure investment and drafted him before everybody else.

Quoteworthy

* “To the president, ‘duck and cover’ and the Cuban missile crisis were formative experiences. He knows the Korean War hasn’t ended, and he can accomplish what destroyed his idol, Gen. Douglas MacArthur.”–Former Trump strategist Stephen Bannon.

* “As soon as the American side is ready.”–Russian President Vladimir Putin’s take on when he would be meeting with Donald Trump.

* “Canadians, we’re polite, we’re reasonable, but we also will not be pushed around.”–Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, in announcing that Canada will be taking retaliatory measures in response to U.S. tariffs on steel and aluminum imports.

* “We’re like the piggy bank that everybody is robbing. And that ends.”–Donald Trump.

* “International multilateral organizations are not going to determine American policy. I think the president’s made that very clear.”–Trump economic adviser Larry Kudlow, when asked if the administration will respect decisions of the World Trade Organization on tariffs.

* “There’s a special place in hell for any foreign leader that engages in bad-faith diplomacy with President Donald J. Trump and then tries to stab him in the back on the way out the door.”–White House trade adviser Peter Navarro.

* “Europe United is the answer to America First.”–German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas.

* “If President Trump really wants businesses to stay in America, he’s going to have to reconsider his hostility to immigration.”–Wall Street Journal.

* “While international security is complicated, here’s a rule of thumb: When you find yourself on the same side as (National Security Adviser) John Bolton, go back and re-examine your position.”–Nicholas Kristof, New York Times.

* “(Immigration raids are) not really about stolen American jobs or evil immigrants. … It’s about a reality show president’s desperate attempt to keep his base worked into the frenzy of fear and rage he needs to feel special.”–Connie Schultz, Creators.com.

* “… It’s a question of getting in-tuned with a new environment. Eventually, I suspect the Puerto Rican population residing here in Florida and the rest of the nation will attain those high levels of participation that we see election after election in Puerto Rico.”–Former Puerto Rico Gov. Pedro Rossello, who is endorsing Sen. Bill Nelson for re-election.

* “Starting a trade war with our closest allies is the last thing we should be doing. No one wins in a trade war, especially hard-working families who may have to pay more for the goods they buy every day.”–Sen. Bill Nelson.

* “I think we’re watching the “Art of the Deal” unfold in real time.”–Florida Congressman Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach.

* “One of Trump’s most corrosive  effects is to have destroyed the appeal of moderation.”–Financial author Roger Lowenstein.

* “The increasing prospect of a trade war could put Florida’s economy at risk and negatively impact consumers, families and jobs.”–The Florida Chamber of Commerce.

* “It sure is fun to be the front-runner!”–Phillip Levine at the recent Democratic gubernatorial debate.

* “I want to make Tampa a global city.”–Tucker Hall president Bill Carlson, a candidate to succeed term-limited Harry Cohen representing District 4 on Tampa City Council.

* “It’s exactly the environment I want my students in.”–Dr. Charles Lockwood, dean of USF’s Morsani College of Medicine, on the impact of the med school relocating to downtown Tampa as part of the $3 billion Water Street Tampa makeover.

* “While we are working diligently with the team and the private sector regarding the Rays new ballpark, it is unlikely that an agreement will be reached and approved by necessary legislative bodies by the end of the year.”–Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan.

* “If the partnership doesn’t happen, the ferry doesn’t happen.”–St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman, pointing out that for the St. Petersburg-Tampa ferry to return, all partners–St. Pete, Tampa and Pinellas and Hillsborough counties–will have to be on board and chip in.

* “How do we get the best, most equitable use out of those 85 acres that will pay back dividends for decades to come.”–Pinellas County Commissioner Ken Welch on the possibility of future scenarios for St. Petersburg’s Tropicana Field site.

* “The role of the CEO is think strategically and deliver tactically.”–Bob Dutkowsky, who recently stepped down as CEO of Clearwater-based Tech Data, Florida’s largest public company by revenue.

Trumpster Diving For Tariffs

Call it the perfect geopolitical storm: where protectionism meets isolationism.

The most frustrating and counterproductive aspect of the Trump Administration’s controversial tariff policies is that those countries most impacted are allies. Those we need for all kinds of reasons–from U.S. export markets to foreign-policy leverage. How weird that we seem to be getting along better with the renegade Kim Jong-un than with the respected Justin Trudeau.

Not nearly as affected, ironically, is China, which is no ally and no ethical trade partner. But it’s a de facto player in the upcoming U.S.-North Korea summit. North Korean exports to China account for more than 90 percent of NK’s international trade, and China is known to have employed a wink-and-nod approach on refined petroleum products finding their way into NK. China matters as much as China wants to. And Trump knows it.

* Some traditional, American-export related jobs will inevitably be impacted by tariff retaliation. It’s unfortunate, but practically karmic, that Kentucky bourbon will be among them. Spin that one to the base, Mitch McConnell.

* You can tell a lot about a government policy by its opponents. It’s typically the usual, partisan crowd. This, to be sure, is not typical. From the Business Roundtable and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to GOP Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker to the Wall Street Journal, they stand in opposition to the Trump tariffs. They recognize the artifice of the deal.

* It hardly helps the FBI’s efforts to rally sentiment against Trump ridicule when one of their own makes headlines by accidentally shooting someone at a nightclub. The agent was dancing and doing a back flip when his service revolver fell from its holster, went off and wounded a patron at a Denver night spot. But, yes, he was off duty.

James Comey misses his old job less and less each day.