Gun Culture To Die For

This is no time for a “conversation,” however mature and civil that always sounds. Not when the subject is America’s ever-ratcheting culture of violence. Not when the topic is mass murder by assault weapon of choice. Not when nothing has changed for the better since Adam Lanza’s evil rampage in Newtown, Ct. a little more than five years ago.

We then saw the vile onslaughts of, among others, Syed Farook and Tashfeen Malik in San Bernardino, Calif., Omar Mateen in Orlando, Stephen Paddock in Las Vegas, Devin Patrick Kelley in Sutherland Springs, Texas and now Nikolas Cruz in Parkland. Heinous acts all, all heinously enabled by AR-15 style rifles, high-capacity magazines and gutless, political bottom feeders appealing to the lowest-common denominators among gun owners and the highest fund-raising potential among NRA officials.

“Conversations” are politically self-serving for professional sophists and their disingenuous talking points. These are the political prostitutes misrepresenting the context of the 18th Century, “well-regulated militia”-driven Second Amendment and whoring out for the NRA. Yeah, we’re talking about you, low-caliber, Little Scruples Marco Rubio, and you, A-Plus NRA-rated Rick Scott, and you, Donald Trump, who did a gun-reform 180 once you hypocritically pivoted to run in the Republican presidential primaries.

No, it’s past the time for a societal “conversation.” It’s time to channel our inner Howard Beale. Because if we’re not “mad as hell” right now, this county is going to hell.

This means an all-out effort–from Tallahassee to Washington–to ban, yes, BAN–weapons that do not belong in the hands of anyone outside local law enforcement, the National Guard and the U.S. Military. In fact, if, indeed, you can make a case for why you should have one of these weapons, then you sure in hell shouldn’t have one. You’re beyond rhetorically dangerous.

It also acknowledges that a ban–yes, BAN–on the sale of military-style firearms weapons and bump stocks et al is not a panacea. Of course it isn’t. Not when guns and violence are embedded in our culture. Not when deinstitutionalization has kept more of the mentally impaired in our midst. Not when bureaucracies screw up behavioral red flags and background checks. Not when violence–from computer games to rap lyrics–can seem ubiquitous. But this is where you start.

Al Hoffman, the Palm Beach developer and a major GOP donor, finally said what many more influentials need to say right now. “I will not write another check unless they all support a ban on assault weapons,” he has announced. “Enough is enough.”

That’s not exactly the summit of the moral high ground, but it’s what it takes in today’s America where leadership is too often for sale. And it’s a lot more practicable than “thoughts and prayers.”

Trumpster Diving

* Three takeaways from the notorious Rob Porter case.

>It is–or at least should be–unconscionable that a security-challenged, blackmail-vulnerable, ultimate insider would have gotten that far for that long. This chaotic, Amateur Hour administration gives dysfunctional a bad name.

>In a White House of influential rogues who also looked the part, Porter looked relatively safe. Not Conway or Bannonesque. Clean cut and Ivy League educated. Rhodes Scholar Mormon. And that, ironically, should have been a NASCAR red flag. Why the hell would someone that clean cut with that kind of education credential want in on anything Trump? That even transcends self-serving, amoral ambition. There had to be something else going on.

<“I am totally opposed to domestic violence and everybody here knows that.”–Donald Trump. Imagine having to actually say that?

* Three things we can say after the Justice Department’s special counsel announced the indictment of 13 Russians and three Russian companies for criminally interfering with the 2016 elections. First, it’s more than a “witch hunt” and a “hoax,” regardless of whether Trump-campaign “collusion” is proven or not. Second, the Russians obviously sought to undermine the Clinton campaign, which begs the obvious question of their motivation for de facto helping the Trump campaign. Why? That’s truly scary. Third, Russia had confidence that outside trolls and bots could manipulate enough manifestly vulnerable voters in purple states to make a difference. Exact results can never be known, but the motivation and efforts for electoral sabotage are both alarming and insulting.

* As long as there is a Trump Administration, there will be a place in the news cycle for the likes of Stormy Daniels. But that doesn’t mean that legitimate media, such as the Tampa Bay Times, should play titillating (yes, pun intended) enabler with front page–below the fold–coverage, so to speak, of Daniels’ appearance and, uh, performance at Thee Dollhouse. Gross, pathetic, sad.

* Speaks volumes, doesn’t it, when the president criticizes Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, Rep. Adam Schiff and others over their connections to the Russian probe but no criticism of Vlad Putin. Maybe those dossier “golden showers” rumors–not just an authoritarian bromance–are having an impact.

* So how vulnerable is the U.S. to Russian meddling in this year’s mid-terms? There are approximately 10,000 U.S. voting jurisdictions that mostly run on obsolete and imperfectly secured technology. Ouch. Talk about infrastructure issues.

* Life imitates art (of the deal)? Here’s the second paragraph from Trump’s 1987 “The Art of the Deal.”

“Most people are surprised by the way I work. I play it very loose. I don’t carry a briefcase. I try not to schedule too many meetings. I leave my door open. You can’t be imaginative or entrepreneurial if you’ve got too much structure. I prefer to come to work each day and just see what develops.”

Thirty-one years later, most people would have never thought this work ethic would have wormed its way into the Oval Office. Most people, indeed, have been seeing what has been developing. Who knew what the artifice of the deal would have presaged?

Eyes Of Beholders

I still say the Obamas deserved better than those Smithsonian portraits that made history.

Much was made, and rightly so, that the artists were African-American. What an appropriately historic complement for the first African-American First Couple. The artists were bold, colorful and contemporary. More barriers broken.

Only one problem. Michelle Obama’s portrait didn’t really look like her, and Barack Obama’s portrait, ironically, lacked dignity. He was seated in what looked like an aesthetic wind storm. As if someone with a leaf-blower was right outside the frame. The wrong result, alas, for all the right reasons.

Amgen’s Choice

When biotech giant Amgen recently opened its $25 million Capability Center in the Westshore business district, it meant a lot locally. As in up to 450 jobs by year’s end. As in another major biopharma presence in this market–in addition to Johnson & Johnson and Bristol-Myers Squibb. But it also meant that the market had reached the point where Amgen could choose Tampa–from virtually every MSA in the country–without state or local tax incentives being involved.

Sports Short

* Talk about timing. Imagine, after having formally announced its preferred Ybor City site for a ball park–and needing to rally, among others, the business community for $upport–the Rays plummet into full, salary-cutting, tank mode. Even Evan Longoria, who no longer plays here, is audibly voicing his disappointment.

The Rays are arguably not as good as they were last year–which was their fourth consecutive losing season.

Quoteworthy

* “We’re not going to act alone any longer. … We’re going to act together from this point forward. We’re going to lock arms.”–Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, after his talk with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, indicating that the two NATO allies would patch up relations and resolve their differences over Syria.

* “The Saudis want to fight the Iranians to the last American.”–Robert Gates, former defense secretary under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama.

* “The truth is, my friends, I won’t fill Gerry’s shoes. But the news is that I brought my own.”–Mary Lou McDonald, successor to Gerry Adams as president of Sinn Fein, the only major party organized in Ireland and Northern Ireland. She also becomes the party’s first female leader.

* “Could we survive another 70 or 100 years without nuclear winter? It’s unlikely, but it’s not impossible.–Daniel Ellsberg.

* “As income inequality divides rich and poor more than ever before, democracies are becoming susceptible to xenophobic and autocratic tendencies by leaders who are tempted to play the nationalist card.”–William Drozdiak, author of “Fractured Continent: Europe’s Crises and the Fate of the West.”

* “Expanding trade hurts some people in the short run, especially those in import-competing sectors who have to find new jobs. That fact may call for a robust safety net and effective retraining. But it does not undermine the conclusion that free trade raises average living standards.”–N. Gregory Mankiw, Harvard economist and former adviser to President George W. Bush.

* “(Trump) is governing as if he is the president of a Third World country: Power is held by family and incompetent loyalists whose main calling card is the fact that Donald Trump can trust them, not whether they have any expertise.”–Jerry Taylor, president of the Niskanen Center, a libertarian think tank.

* “There should be no doubt that Russia perceives its past efforts as successful and views the 2018 U.S. midterm elections as a potential target for Russian influence operations. We expect Russia to continue using propaganda, social media, false-flag personas, sympathetic spokespeople and other means of influence to try to exacerbate social and political fissures in the United States.”–Dan Coats, director of national intelligence.

* “As you can see with the FBI indictment, the evidence is now really incontrovertible and available in the public domain.”–National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster.

* “Facebook built incredibly effective tools which let Russia profile citizens here in the U.S. and figure out how to manipulate us.”–Jonathan Albright, research director at Columbia University’s Tow Center for Digital Journalism.

* “It’s the NRA’s campaign spending that almost certainly poses the biggest roadblock to legislation that would stem the tide of gun violence in America. From 2010 through 2018 thus far, the organization donated $111 million to political campaigns of federal candidates.”–Michael Hiltzik, Los Angeles Times.

* “This is not, and can never be, the cost of living in America. The stranglehold of the gun lobby has gone on long enough. They have divided our country and washed their hands of responsibility, even as schools and neighborhoods bear the brunt of gun violence every single day.”–Rep. Al Lawson, D-Tallahassee.

* “(Utah) welcomes legal immigrants from around the world. Washington sends immigrants a message of exclusion.”–Mitt Romney, in his announcement that he is running for a Utah Senate seat.

* “This is cruel. Families in Florida and Cuba deserve better.”–U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor on the Trump Administration’s halting of visa processing in Havana.

* “This should put all Republicans on notice that it could be a very difficult year, if you’re an incumbent, to survive. Even relatively safe seats could be in play in 2018.”–Rep. Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota and chairman of the Republican Party of Sarasota, in the wake of Democrat Margaret Good’s special House election win over Republican James Buchanan, the son of U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan.

* “Trump is the gift that keeps on giving and inspiring. He gave us The Women’s March, #Metoo and activist groups such as Surly Feminists and Action Together. This past election taught people voting counts and matters.”–Hillsborough Democratic Executive Committee chair Ione Townsend.

* “Bottom line is that President Trump is energizing the Democratic Party.”–Nathan Gonzales, editor and publisher of the nonpartisan Inside Elections.

* “The business community here needs to be engaged in this effort. I understand it’s not New York. But there are significant businesses in this community that need to be involved in the effort because it’s good for the community over the long haul.”–MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred, underscoring that the business community will have to step up for a new Rays ballpark.

* “Encore has established a diverse socioeconomic population that is now encouraging to retail and commercial interests.”–Tampa Housing Authority chief operating officer Leroy Moore, on deals in the works to bring in a grocery store and boutique hotel to the Encore project near downtown.

* “We studied just about every MSA in the country. The geography works for us. The talent is here. It’s an easy place to get to. The quality of life is good, and there are other biopharmas here.”–Michael Frankel, executive director, global business solutions for Amgen, explaining why the international biotechnology company chose Tampa for its Capability Center.

Thank You, SpaceX

All things Trump–domestic and international. AMTRAK collisions and derailments. Weather extremes and all its subplots, some of which are tragic. Stock market chaos and corrections. Sexual predators and their victims and their enablers. More FEMA failures. NRA rationales for the irrational. The Alt-Reich. Sean Hannity. Alex Jones. Sarah Huckabee Sanders. And more.

But put your frustration, humiliation, confusion, grieving and outrage on hold, however briefly. There is SpaceX.

Have we ever needed a big, grandiose, collective, non-parade, pride-inducing, fist-pumping event more than that successful launch of Falcon Heavy into its well-hyped Mars orbit? The interest was international. The crowd around the Kennedy Space Center was back-in-the-day massive.

Didn’t it feel that we had recovered some of Brand America? That used to be us!

So Elon Musk is from South Africa–not South Florida. So what. He’s quintessentially one of us. An immigrant story to fly for. When the world’s most powerful rocket took off from the Kennedy Space Center, it took with it more than Musk’s red Tesla Roadster. It also took the charge–and promise–to change the face of space exploration. Interplanetary scenarios beckon. The sky’s not the limit.

SpaceX–from cost-cutting, reusable boosters to deep-space aspirations–is now the player in the global launch business. The private space industry is more than an entrepreneurial vision. And America, by pragmatic association and innovation, was back, and no one needed a baseball cap for bragging rights.

And the ripple effects matter mightily. From feel-good, group psychology to economic implications. Florida’s post-space shuttle corridor is back. Private rocketeers are bringing jobs into what is morphing into more of a high-tech hub.

Two years ago SpaceX became the International Space Station’s first commercial supplier. Now it’s shooting for the first commercial crew launch.

Keep David Bowie’s Space Oddity cued.

Stadium Synergy

To nobody’s surprise by now, the Rays have formally announced that the team wants to build its new Tampa Bay ball park in Ybor City near downtown Tampa. “Raybor City” checks plenty of boxes. Assembled land. Actual, historic baseball (“DNA”) roots. The geographic center of a major market. The business hub of a major market. Incumbent, non-bus transit. The “new urbanism” vibe of a city’s core. Connecting Ybor to the Channel District to the Riverwalk. A Water Street Tampa complement.

Think live-work-play-stay synergy.

And yet.

Where is Jeff Vinik? His $3 billion Water Street makeover is a critical element in this location’s raison d’être for a baseball park. Is a Fortune 500 corporate-relo recruit more than enough of a priority? Are baseball’s logistics less than an ideal complement?

But there’s this unchecked box: Financing. The Rays will contribute a 9-figure amount. Will it be enough to matter for a roofed facility likely to cost north of $700 million? With no taxpayer-burden in the mix, it will need property-tax collection growth effected by the new stadium. It will need corporate support (a major chunk of all MLB season tickets are via corporations), even though this is an area hardly steeped in corporate headquarters. It will take city-county cooperation, hardly a governmental given.

It won’t be Rayboring.

Trumpster Diving

* “Can we call that treason?”

You know the (unapplauding-Democrats) context. That would have been inappropriate for Barack Obama to have said–and he had an opposition party member yell at him during one of his SOTU speeches. But this is the new pathological normal.

* We can see why Vice President Mike Pence was not favored to win any diplomatic medals in Pyeongchang.

* So Donald Trump doubles down on his reputation for loving the military more than any other American in the history of bone-spurred, draft deferments. He wants a big, show-off-the-military and-its-commander-in-chief parade, one that will cost in excess of $20 million. A lot of folks, including many in the military, are not in step, so to speak, with Trump’s parade idea. They know the Pentagon is plagued with budget–as well as readiness–issues. For this president, a military parade is more a forum for macho exhibitionism–than a show of American pride and commitment.

But there are prominent people outside the Trump Administration who do get it. Alas, they’re in Russia and North Korea.

* The resignation of key White House aide Rob Porter has added more chaotic diversion to a White House that can’t stay on its chest-pounding, football-spiking tax-cut message. But maybe it has a point on the Porter case. Maybe this really is just another classic “he said/she said/she said/ black eye said” case. Or to paraphrase the late Richard Pryor, “Who do you believe? The FBI or your pathologically lying president?”

* “Is there no such thing as due process? There is no recovery for someone falsely accused–life and career are gone.” This, of course, was Trump’s knee-jerk take on the Porter accusations of abuse by two ex wives. It was also disingenuous–for someone who once advocated “Lock her up” as a due-process alternative. Trump, to be sure, knows better than most that there can be quite the life after sexual assaults and expensive settlements.

* No you can’t make this up. So who does Porter date in the wake of revelations about two ex-wives having accused him of spousal abuse? Trump advisor Hope Hicks.

* Stuff is always said in the heat of primary pandering. But the 2016 Republican presidential primary had some brutal gems. And it wasn’t, as we well know, all gotcha rhetoric. Stuff continues to resonate, as we’ve been witnessing. Recall how Ted Cruz characterized Trump during the Indiana primary. He called him a “pathological liar, utterly amoral, a narcissist at a level I don’t think this country’s ever seen and a serial philanderer.” Imagine if Cruz had stooped to cheap-shot hyperbole.