Where Trump Meets Scott

Both President Donald Trump and Sen.Rick Scottwould like to see the Affordable Care Act overturned. We all know that.

Now Trump has appointed Scott and two other Republican senators (Wyoming’s John Barrasso and Louisiana’s Bill Cassidy) to a panel that will look closely at implementing an ACA replacement plan. But this is also Trump World, where deliberate, vetted appointments to priority positions–as opposed to impulsive, seat-of-the-pants decisions–are hardly the norm. We’ve seen it countless times in his Cabinet appointments.

In naming Barrasso and Cassidy, Trump at least gets loyal GOPsters who are physicians. The former is an orthopedic specialist, the latter a gastroenterologist. Scott was picked because he used to run one of the country’s largest hospital networks, Columbia/HCA.

Only one problem. Scott’s medical background includes having to resign from Columbia/HCA in the aftermath of the hospital network being fined $1.7 billion by the Department of Justice for Medicare fraud. At the time, it was the largest health-care fraud settlement in U.S. history. Scott’s either a clueless CEO or a crook.

If Scott stays on the case, that means Florida’s avatar of health-care fraud will be Trump’s point man for replacing the ACA. That means the national spotlight will be on a fraud scandal–including some cringe-worthy deposition optics–and the scandalous selection of Scott to speak credibly about health care reform.  

But maybe there’s a short-term upside for the self-serving, first-term senator. The health care fiasco is diverting attention from Scott not signing a bipartisan letter to the Trump Administration requesting the granting of Temporary Protection Status (TPS) to Venezuelans in the U.S.–in effect, siding with the Trump Administration’s anti-immigrant policy.

The bottom line: Scammers and schemers such as Trump and Scott deserve each other. The rest of us deserve so much better.

Trumpster Diving

* The Mueller Report comes with its own Bob Mueller summary of his 400-page report. Too bad that wasn’t sufficient summary for the public.  

* How blatantly ironic–and grossly unfair–that Joe Biden’s run at Donald Trump could be undermined by behavior toward women.

* “You’ve got to deny, deny, deny and push back on these women.”–According to Bob Woodward’s book, “Fear: Trump in the White House,” this was advice proffered by Trump to male friends who had found themselves accused of sexual misconduct, including assault.

* “There is not a Black America and a White America and a Latino America and Asian American–there’s the United States of America.” That was Barack Obama in 2004. That was then–and this is not. Not even close.

* Say this for Trump counselor Kellyanne Conway: At least she stands by her man. Too bad he isn’t her husband.

* For what it’s worth, Trump continues to affirm that he won’t be sharing his tax returns with anybody other than Mick Mulvaney. “I’m under audit,” explains the precedent of the United States. “When you’re under audit, you don’t do it.” For the record, the IRS has been saying all along that taxpayers under audit are free to release their returns.

* With the Stephen Miller-induced resignation–and Trump scapegoating–of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, a Berkeley Prep grad, there is, mercifully, no longer a Trump Administration insider with Tampa roots. At least until Pam Bondi resurfaces.

* If Joe Biden is still planning to enter the Democratic presidential field, he has to make that call really soon. Ideally yesterday. Time is not his ally right now, and he will have to make up ground organizationally and financially. But the way he handles his touchy-feely MO will be telling.  He’s not Harvey Weinstein or Matt Lauer or Bill Cosby or DONALD TRUMP, but this kind of baggage in the 2019 Democratic Party could be game-changing in the progressive primaries.

Who can vouch for and de facto vet him on this one? Look for Jill Biden, who has an autobiography out now, to play a role. And then there’s Barack Obama, who came up shy of an endorsement when it was Hillary’s turn last time.

The ultimate bottom line if there’s no Biden nomination: Too bad being an anti-Trump good guy and a thoroughly qualified commander-in-chief was not enough.

* Back in the day, political surveys could seem almost sacrosanct. It was before social media, robo harassment and routine push polls. When professional pollsters were the acknowledged experts, and land-line participants were willing–and probably flattered–that they were being asked to weigh in on something really important. I miss George Gallup.

* Back in the day, the Republican Party was a democratic alternative on the non-left side of the spectrum. There were Cold War, Vietnam War, poverty-program and integration  differences, but nobody equated the GOP with frightening incompetence, debauched values, Faustian motivation and scary authoritarianism. I miss Harold Stassen.

Name Games

We live in an age when bumper sticker memes are familiar rallying points. From “Make America Great Again” to the partisan connotations of “socialist” and “Obamacare.” But we’ve been here before with politically preferred labeling–and relabeling.

In fact, President Franklin D. Roosevelt preferred referencing “The Survival War” instead of “World War II.” He thought the latter might connect too many to Woodrow Wilson’s “World War I” venture that a lot of Americans were never on board with. While addressing the Pan American Union in 1942, he explained: “That is what it comes pretty close to being–the survival of our civilization.” Gallup later determined that very few Americans favored this wording. “The War of Freedom” or the “War of World Freedom” had much more appeal.

Final Four Winner(s)

This was more than a sports story.

When Baylor dramatically held on to defeat Notre Dame, 82-81, in the culmination of the Women’s Final Four at Amalie Arena, it also wrapped up a win-win for the hosts. There’s a reason why we’ve held three of these Fours–and more will surely be coming. We’re good at it. From logistics and facility to amenities, inclusiveness and entertainment.

This is inviting, increasingly hip, pre-summer Tampa, a town with a downtown presence such that even Gertrude Stein would concede that there is now some THERE there–most notably the Riverwalk and Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park. This was about welcoming visitors, including national media, and entertaining tons of kids with a dribbling parade. This was about putting a fitting focus on one of America’s most high-profile, female events. Amalie was sold out–at 20,000-plus–on both Saturday and Monday night. In fact, total attendance at Tampa’s three Final Fours–123,039–surpasses any other three-time host.

And this was about a media marketing coup and economic infusion of at least eight figures.

Well done, Baylor Bears, national champions. And well done, Tampa Bay, magnet for championship events.

Withstand Your Ground

The notorious Stand Your Ground case of Trevor Dooley, who was convicted of manslaughter and open display of a weapon in 2012, is back in the news. It’s back because a state appeals court has ordered a new trial in the shooting death of a Dooley neighbor over a skateboard incident at a Valrico playground basketball court. It has to do with the instructions that the jury received on the justifiable use of deadly force.

This is now about legal nuance. What’s blatantly obvious, however, is that this is more about a gun culture–whether the fatal shooting was in a playground or a Muvico theater. In short, even if you have a permit to carry, what the hell are you doing packing a weapon as you head to a playground or movie theater?

Sports Shorts

* “I’d like to see more women supporting women. I think we don’t do a good job of helping each other. … Guys have that down. They help each other. They know how the system works. We don’t.” That was Notre Dame women’s basketball coach, Muffet McGraw, contributing to a conversation that has to do with so much more than basketball.

* The New York Mets are off to a good start so far, and one reason is the play of power-hitting rookie Pete Alonso, a graduate of Plant High School.

Quoteworthy

* “We will decide whether to defend our Christian European culture or yield the terrain to multiculturalism.”–Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, in calling for migration to be controlled by national governments, not the European Union.

* “Today, mainstream European and North American politicians, even presidents, premiers and prime ministers, don’t hesitate to flirt with or embrace overtly anti-Semitic messages and memes.”–David Nirenberg, dean of the Divinity School at the University of Chicago.

* “We have to be frank. Questions are being asked on both sides of the Atlantic about the strength of our partnership. And, yes, there, are differences.”–NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, in the first address to Congress by a NATO head.

* “We will never find a better pool of allies in the world than the Europeans, and this address underscores the importance of the trans-Atlantic bridge.”–Retired Navy Admiral James Stavridis, who was NATO commander from 2009 to 2013.

* “It’s not just competition against our adversaries. We’re also racing against our worst enemy: complacency.”–Vice President Mike Pence, in announcing that the Administrations was directing NASA to land humans on the moon again within five years.

* “In my office, I keep a Bible open on my desk to remind me of God and his rod, and the truth.”–Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

* “Can’t take you anymore. … Our country is full. … I’m sorry. … So turn around. That’s the way it is.”–President Donald Trump’s message to migrants arriving at the southern border.

* “This committee requires the full (Mueller) report and the underlying materials because it is our job, not the attorney general’s, to determine whether or not President Trump has abused his office.”–House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler.

* “A truly outstanding individual. I’ve told my folks that’s the man.”–Donald Trump, in announcing that he planned to nominate Herman Cain for a seat on the Federal Reserve Board.

* “The labor market remains healthy, and last month is just an outlier.”–Brad McMillan, chief investment officer at Commonwealth Financial Network, on Labor Department statistics showing that the U.S. economy added 196,000 jobs last month–a rebound from the 33,000 jobs added in February.

* “The Republicans are developing a really great HealthCare Plan with far lower premiums and deductibles than ObamaCare. Vote will be taken right after the election when Republicans hold the Senate and win back the House.”–Donald Trump.

* “Until such time as I’m not under audit, I would not be inclined to do it.”–Donald Trump’s response to efforts by the House Ways and Means Committee to secure his tax returns.

* “Trump’s capacity for beating the Democrats is limited, but the same cannot be said of the Democrats’ capacity for beating themselves.”–Charles Lane, Washington Post.

* “Timing is everything, not least in leaving the stage. Joe Biden, honorable patriot, should side with restraint.”–Roger Cohen, New York Times.

* “I’m sorry I didn’t understand more. I’m not sorry for any of my intentions.”–Joe Biden.

* “Don’t pretend to be having an elevated discussion of public policy when you’re conducting character assassination. You have come to bury Uncle Joe, not review his record. Own up to it.”–Judith Shulevitz, Politico.

* “Whoever is president next just can’t make incremental change. We just have to be bold, and we have to take chances–people are hurting. We need to move forward in a big way.”–Karine Jean-Pierre, MoveOn.org senior adviser.

* “The ‘incremental reform’ that I support is phasing in ‘Medicare for all.'”–Sen. Bernie Sanders.

* “As is the case with all hurricane seasons, coastal residents are reminded that it only takes one hurricane making landfall to make it an active season for them.”–Colorado State University Department of Atmospheric Science report that predicts a below-average Atlantic hurricane season this year.

* “Safety is our responsibility, and we own it.”–Boeing Chief Executive Dennis A. Mullenburg, in announcing that Boeing was slowing production (from 52 to 42 per month) of its 737 Max jet and establishing a new internal safety committee.

* “I don’t see that as viable.”–Mayor Bob Buckhorn, on a development partnership’s plan for a new baseball park on 18 acres that City Hall owns near the Hillsborough River just south of Columbus Drive in the West River area.

* “I don’t know what else we can do to tell people there’s an election going on.”–Hillsborough Elections Supervisor Craig Latimer.

* “The city gains and benefits with the economic impact a viable park will have, a viable entertainment venue will have over the years, and this is our opportunity.”–Clearwater Mayor George Cretekos, after city council gave unanimous support for consultants to design a waterfront-park concert pavilion with a fixed canopy over 4,000 seats.

Trumpster Diving Update

* Amid all the zero-sum spin spawned by the Mueller Report, we can all still reassure ourselves about a bottom-line reality. You don’t have to be a dossier conspiracist to ponder why Russia would have preferred that Donald Trump be elected president of the United States. Indeed, preferred that outcome so much that it would flat-out interfere in our election process and interact with the Trump campaign–even if smoking-gun shy of “collusion.”

* “Mueller’s words are very different than Barr’s.” That less-than-nuanced understatement is courtesy of one who would know the difference. It’s the take of John Dean, former White House counselor to disgraced, forced-to-resign-before-being-impeached President Richard Nixon.

* “A sideshow.” Let’s not forget that this was how William Barr, now the attorney general, had characterized Robert Mueller’s investigation of Trumpian obstruction of justice. It was part of his  unsolicited, 19-page (de facto job application) memo that Barr had sent to the Justice Department last summer.

* Trump has upped the ante on his get-tough approach to Latin America. He has now moved to cut direct aid to (immigrant-generating) El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. Take that. Moreover, he has re-issued his threat to close the U.S.-Mexico border. Better believe it. And, of course, let’s not forget the ultimatum to Mexico that it would surely pay bigly for that border wall. Count on it.

* For what it’s worth, shutting down the U.S.-Mexico border would have seriously HUGE consequences. According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, U.S.-Mexico trade amounts to about $1.7 billion in goods daily.

* Here’s what Trump doesn’t get when it comes to aid to other countries, especially in this hemisphere. The U.S. doesn’t just give away aid; it’s a form of enlightened self interest. It’s not to be confused with self-serving, self-interest rhetoric. New Jersey Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez, the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, cut to the pragmatic chase. “Foreign assistance is not charity,” he recently noted. “It advances our strategic interests and funds initiatives that protect American citizens.” Any other American president would know that.

* Used to be that the Special Olympics was something we could all agree on. We all know somebody with a challenged child. This gave those kids and those families a rallying, feel-good forum. Then the government–with Education Secretary Betsy DeVos front and center–proposed cutting its funding as part of the $7 billion 2020 budget reductions. DeVos wanted philanthropists to make up the $17.6 million difference. Put in context: That would pay for about five Trump Mar-a-Lago visits. 

That kind of embarrassing context–juxtaposing Special Olympians and the entitled Trump entourage–likely proved a difference-maker. Within hours of DeVos’ announcement, Trump had reversed it. “I have overridden my people,” he stated. “We’re funding the Special Olympics.” In effect, he was responding personally to bad imagery–not bad judgment and skewed priorities–by restoring the funding.

* Unforced errors are the worst kind. They are unearned gratuities to the other side–from Andrew Gillum’s Hamilton tickets to U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib’s “impeach the MF” rant to liberal Correspondents’ Dinner hosts whose vulgarity transcends right-wing put-downs. And then we have Michael Avenatti, who has always looked and sounded like he was a media-hustling, central-casting-punk mouthpiece for a porn actress. It only got worse, and Donald Trump Jr. even used him as a punch line in a recent rally speech. “MAGA,” crowed Trump Jr., stood for “Michael Avenatti Got Arrested.”

* Rounding up: Whatever Trump’s net worth actually is, a big chunk of it–$4 billion–is the Trump “brand” value estimate. In other words, he wants his brand to be counted among his assets as if it were a hotel or golf course resort.

* Given the new normal that is all things Trump, being accused of situational ethics on the golf course can seem less than newsworthy. “If you’re playing golf with him, he’s going to cheat,” says former Sports Illustrated columnist Rick Reilly in his book “Commander in Cheat: How golf explains Trump.” “He cheats because that’s how he plays golf.” Oh.

It’s relevant, however, because golf reinforces Trump’s life-long, solipsistic pattern, one that became down-right dangerous when he became the narcissistic occupant of the Oval Office. Whether it’s a border wall, a crowd size, a fraudulent “university,” a net-worth claim or North Korean “denuclearization,” it’s ultimately about Trump. It’s also a reminder that this man and this administration must not be given a mulligan.

* Imagine if we were talking about Donald Trump and not Joe Biden. The flap over Biden’s public behavior wouldn’t be treated like “Inappropriate Kiss Gate.” It would be greeted by relief.

Founding Fodder

The Founding Fathers are properly revered for being farsighted during extraordinarily complex, perilous times. They were idealistic, pragmatic, political and fallibly wise–but not 21st century prescient. They couldn’t foresee, for example, where the (anti-mob-rule) Electoral College would lead nor could they divine how a cherry-picking gun-culture–enamored of assault weapons in a non-militia context–would interpret the Second Amendment. The Founders did their best in 18th century America. We should honor that sui generis, contextual effort–and do our “American exceptionalism” best–in 2019.

By The Numbers

Not since the Weimar Republic days of post-war Germany have we seen inflation numbers like we’re now witnessing in Venezuela, where economic collapse–abetted by sanctions and power outages–seems more inevitable than possible. For the record, inflation is on track to reach 51 million percent by the end of 2019. For the record, that means the national currency is virtually worthless.