Trumpster Diving: Putin To Pruitt

* “A republic, if you can keep it.”–That’s Ben Franklin’s famous take on what had resulted from the Constitutional Convention. It’s telling how that cautionary comment continues to resonate.

* Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin: It still seems like Trump is meeting up with his handler.  No one else in the room but translators. This will be prominent in somebody’s memoir.

* When Trump sat down with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, he was doing what he should have been doing–talking to the other side. But no one of sound reasoning could have disagreed that the blatant lack of preparation downgraded the summit to an exercise in world-stage narcissism and geopolitical negligence.

After the summit, Trump rhetorically high-fived himself over having been the catalyst for North Korea “no longer (being) a nuclear threat.” Now the North Korean Foreign Ministry is telling that world that “The attitude and demands from the U.S. side during the high-level talks were nothing short of deeply regrettable.” And this just in: Satellite surveillance appears to show NK expanding its nuclear capabilities.

Bottom line: There isn’t even a common definition of “denuclearization,” let alone its “phases.”

It’s what happens when there are no extensive, low-level talks to build the framework for an agreement with substance that two leaders can ceremonially sign off on. It hardly helps that Trump is also under-briefed and largely unread. No, high-stakes international summitry isn’t the same as a handshake deal with a leverage-challenged, Queens sub-contractor.

* Trump, as we’ve been noting too often, has the sinister wherewithal to normalize–whether it’s authoritarians, such as Putin and Kim, or racists, such as American Nazis in Charlottesville.

* When it comes to states’ rights, some things are more appropriate than others. A state income tax or building codes, for example, are well within state purview. Alas, abortion and states’ rights are also contextually joined. But existential issues, such as women’s rights and abortion, shouldn’t be as discretionary as crossing state borders to play the lottery.

* So much of the focus on former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt was over his chicanery. Understandable, but in the scheme of things  these were ethical blips in an Administration stocked with ethical blipsters. Pruitt’s legacy, alas, is that he was a true “enemy of the people” in his anti-environment, anti-science, anti Paris climate agreement agenda. That matters more than self-aggrandizement. So does leaving his right-hand man, former coal lobbyist Andrew Wheeler, as next up to continue the dismantling of the EPA.

* Trump’s nomination of federal appeals court Judge Brett  Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court has predictably prompted ideological speculation about abortion and gay rights.

But if he’s confirmed, Kavanaugh will likely be dealing with another high-profile, galvanizing issue first. It’s one that would highlight Kavanaugh’s (expansive) take on executive power and limits on presidential investigations. In short, how would Kavanaugh rule in Trump v. Mueller? Chances are, that matters a helluva lot more to Trump than Roe v. Wade.

* When the Senate confirmed Bill Clinton’s nomination of Ruth Bader Ginsburg to the Supreme Court in 1993, the vote was 96-3. That’s not a misprint. Nor is it a political era we’ll likely see again.

* Of all the ally push-back at Trump, none, ironically, has been as blunt as that of Emmanuel Macron, the French president. “We won’t talk at all with a country if it is with a gun to our heads,” said Macron. So much for that budding bromance.

* “I will do anything to protect Mr. Trump. I’m the guy who would take a bullet for the president.” That was Michael Cohen, Trump’s longtime personal lawyer, last year.

“I put family and country first. … I don’t agree with those who demonize or vilify the FBI.” That was Michael Cohen last month.

* American presidents have occasionally been received overseas with demonstrations of dissent by our trade-and-treaty partners. Happens in any relationship. They’re usually measured, and they come and go with the geopolitical dynamics of the times.

But this is different. Visiting Americans are advised to keep a low profile. And a high-profile part of London’s “reception” for Donald Trump will be a prominently-positioned, giant orange balloon of Trump depicted as a baby in a diaper. It’s part of massive “Stop Trump” protests organized by activist groups and trade unions. “This is a man who lacks the capacity for moral shame,” explained the Trump-balloon creator Leo Murray. “Liberal outrage just makes him smirk harder.”

*According to the always blunt Republican pundit Pat Buchanan, “some painful truths” about the current state of the Republican Party need re-stating. To wit, the GOP of the Bushes and Bob Dole and John McCain is history. “Unlike the Bourbons after the Revolution and the Terror, after Napoleon and the Empire, no restoration is in the cards. It is over.” Sobering, if not nostalgic.

* Relationships in the age of Trump: They are impacted.  As in families, friends, neighbors and co-workers. When it comes to families, neighbors and co-workers, you take one for the familial team and one for sheer self-interest because of proximity and inherent awkwardness.

When it comes to “friends,” however, this is different. This is about values and respect. Without respect, there is no friendship. That’s where you draw the line: Good bye. Line-drawing can be as brutal as it is shocking. But these are the times that bring out the worst in too many of us, including those we thought we knew.

Artless Choice

As St. Petersburg has evolved from parochial to hip, there has been a world-class constant: The downtown waterfront. Refreshingly, aesthetically, open and green. Natural beauty protected and preserved. It rivals the best waterfront vistas in the, yes, world.

Now the city is well on its way to putting up a massive (more than 300-feet long), $3 million art piece–a Janet Echelman net sculpture–on the St. Petersburg waterfront. Thin line between colorful, signature art and sacrilegious, tacky clutter. Very thin.

Unsolicited advice: Don’t do it. That waterfront is uniquely special. For more than a century, St. Pete has made it a sacrosanct priority–no matter how many developers salivated over it. Now snob appeal–or public art cachet–has it primed for an out of scale sculpture to highlight and help market the new Pier District.

St. Pete and Mayor Rick Kriseman: You have a priceless asset in your uncompromised, peerless waterfront. Keep it that way.

Mayoral Pragmatism

If you’re a true-blue, liberal Democrat, Mayor Bob Buckhorn is not a soul mate. If you’re a Republican, he’s on the other team,  even if he has attended some GOP-candidate fundraisers involving friends. If you’re a Tampa-first sort, Buckhorn is (with the exception of relations with Cuba) your pragmatic guy. So talk of Democrats being wary of Buckhorn’s cordial–hardly “bromantic”–relationship with Tea Party Gov. Rick Scott seems exaggerated.

Recall that Buckhorn didn’t like what Scott did with Obama Administration high-speed rail money, and he wasn’t pleased with Scott not being helpful when it came to trying to create a gun-free zone around the GOP Convention in 2012. He hasn’t forgotten, but he hasn’t lost his focus. He and his city still needed Scott’s help going forward.

Scott helped with TIA expansion. He wants to be a credit-taking catalyst in a better-late-than-never private-sector, Orlando-to-Tampa, high-speed rail scenario. He’s been involved in state money allocated for the street car system and placing that (Rays stadium-designated) Ybor site on the state’s list for a federal tax break. Sure, it’s self-serving, I-4 Corridor-anchor strategy in an senatorial election year–but it’s no less helpful to Tampa.

As usual, the sound-bite-smitten mayor had a vintage response to the “bromance” skeptics. “Ultimately, my job as the mayor is to work with everybody who is willing to work with me,” said Buckhorn. “Democratic, Republican or vegan.”

Self-Evident Cause

Much has been made–and rightly so–about the Texas-based Arnold Foundation pledging $20 million for research into gun violence. The aim is to draw the federal government into the effort as well. It is also collaborating with the Rand Corp. to collect and analyze empirical data needed to make a case that would prompt consensus on acceptable gun control legislation.

Well (intentioned) and good (luck). It’s just too bad that common cause, common sense and what’s self-evident about what needs to be done about our malignant gun culture aren’t enough to make the case.

Menace Among Us

Some things–for example, car-racing on public streets or “celebratory” shooting–are so unconscionably stupid and dangerous–and so hard to prevent–that when someone is actually arrested, the bookcase should be thrown at them. No second chances–because we all know this was only the first time being caught–just a high-profile maximum sentence. To make a well-publicized example of. No, it won’t stop all others, maybe just a few. That’s worth it.

Sports Shorts

* Nice touch to light up Old City Hall, the bridges and Curtis Hixon fountains and palms with Rays-saluting colors of blue and yellow in support of the Rays official announcement about the proposed Ybor City stadium. City Hall is limited in its clout, but the optics help send a positive community message.

* It still surprises that there is a viable TV market for: poker, Cornhole and the NBA Summer League.

* Nathan’s Famous July Fourth hot dog eating contest. Why? It’s gross.

Quoteworthy

* “Some leaders in Asia, Africa and even Europe are beginning to wonder whether China’s authoritarian technocracy is a better governance model for the 21st century than America’s chaotic democratic system.”–Walter Russell Mead, Wall Street Journal.

* “Negotiating with North Korea is always difficult, but President Trump made it immeasurably harder with his euphoric tweets about how the North is no longer a nuclear threat.”–Wendy Sherman, undersecretary of state for political affairs during the Obama Administration.

* “Students on scholarships, not cartel hitmen.”–Mexican President-elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, in promising $7.5 billion for youth job training and aid to the elderly.

* “The largest trade war in economic history to date.”–How the Chinese Commerce Ministry has characterized the Trump Administration’s approach to tariffs and duties on Chinese goods.

* “The key is translating these public demonstrations and marches into electoral activism and then government activism.”–Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio.

* “Democrats typically bombard voters with laundry lists of issues, facts, figures and policy positions, while Republicans offer them emotionally compelling appeals, whether to their values, principles or prejudices.”–Drew Westen, professor of psychology at Emory University and author of “The Political Brain.”

* “The media, normally the last check on a president with total control of government, has lost the trust of most Republicans and many Democrats, after two years of Trump pummeling.”–Mike Allen, Axios.

* “Free expression doesn’t really mean much if people don’t feel safe.”–Twitter’s Vice President for Trust and Safety Del Harvey.

* “Legally, what was, toward the beginning of the 20th century, a shield for radicals, artists and activists, socialists and pacifists, the excluded and the dispossessed, has become a sword for authoritarians, racists and misogynists, Nazis and Klansmen, pornographers and corporations buying elections.”–Catherine A. MacKinnon, University of Michigan law professor, on the legal evolution of the First Amendment.

* “The difference (from an overturned Roe v. Wade) isn’t between abortion and no abortion. It’s between a safe procedure and a dangerous one.”–Jennifer Wright, New York Post.

* “One of the biggest mistakes we made was trying to automate things that are super easy for a person to do, but super hard for a robot to do.”–Elon Musk, chief executive of Tesla.

* “I have heard directly from Florida companies who are worried that the Administration’s proposal regarding tariffs is not fair and consistent between countries and this is an issue I will continue discussing with the Administration to ensure Florida companies are treated fairly.”–Gov. Rick Scott.

* “When he votes against the party, it was never to support a final compromise measure for the greater good. Ron DeSantis breaks to go more hard-line.”–Former Florida Republican Congressman David Jolly.

* “Anyone who says Andrew’s (Gillum) campaign is only focusing on getting the black vote out is sadly mistaken. If you look at his supporters, the people who are behind them, a lot of them don’t look like me.”–Rep. Shevrin Jones, D-West Park, who is African-American.

* “It has been far too long that we have had men weighing in on women’s unique health care issues. It’s time we have a woman in the room, a voice for women, and as the only woman in the race, I’m the only one who can speak to this.”–Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gwen Graham.

* “The blue wave is not coming. The blue wave came.”–Republican political consultant Jesse Manzano-Plaza, after Little Havana voters elected Eileen Higgins, a non-Hispanic female Democrat (“La Gringa”), to the Miami-Dade County Commission.

Bullish on USF

It was a Bullish week for USF.

Most notably, it won recognition as one of Florida’s “preeminent” universities. Move over, Florida and Florida State.

It means prestige and more annual funding, which can lead to even more prestige. It came as a result of USF meeting targeted goals–from incoming-student GPAs and six-year graduation rates to achieving national renown for ratcheting numbers of patents and research dollars. The challenge will be to keep going across three campuses without compromising diversity. That’s how memberships in Phi Beta Kappa and the Association of American Universities happen. That’s next up.

It also made headlines with its hiring of a new athletic director. By all accounts, Michael Kelly, 47, the chief operating officer of the College Football Playoff and former USF associate AD under Lee Roy Selmon, checks all the boxes, including the one that says “no baggage.”

Kelly comes with a reputation as a well-organized, disciplined visionary for whom networking and thinking big are givens. A formidable agenda–from Power Five conference membership and upgraded facilities to a revitalized men’s basketball team–awaits.

Kelly’s high-profile hiring is a reminder that athletics at the university level is more than mere sports. It is, as Skip Holtz once observed, a school’s “front porch.” It can attract outside interest that can lead to involvement in other areas of university endeavor. It can aid and abet fund-raising. It can be a bottom-line contributor in today’s TV network-driven marketplace. It can also rally a student body, boosters and alumni like nothing else can. It matters on multiple levels.

The welcome tandem of good news was also a reminder of what a regional asset USF is–and has been. Even through its formative years when it was often referenced as (merely) a “commuter school” just because it was a non-land-grant, major city university addressing the higher education needs of non-traditional students. It hasn’t been “Sandspur U” for two generations.

USF is an avatar of higher education’s future: Not in college towns–but in synergistic, urban hubs where research can also be applied.

Go, Bulls.

Trumpster Diving

* For those hoping that Roe v. Wade won’t be the key criteria when it comes to Donald Trump’s (July 9) Supreme Court nominee, keep hoping–but stay grounded. There are subplots to play out.

This is–as is everything–about Trump’s legacy. It’s a lot more than following the recommendations of The Federalist Society. Midterms are coming and this pseudo-Republican president’s popularity with GOP politicians and voters keeps going up. Expect him to double down on Steve Bannon’s scapegoat-and-demonization playbook.

That notably means pandering to the base in opposing the Democrats on their “open borders” immigration policy that is “invader” friendly and keeping the campaign promise that prioritized the repeal of Roe v. Wade. That pledge was underscored with the selection of Indiana’s Mike Pence as Trump’s running mate. Pence did his deplorable part and delivered the outrageously hypocritical, evangelical vote. It was arguably determinative in a couple of key states. Now it’s payback time.

One consolation, of sorts, in this worst-case, Roe v. Wade scenario: If the Supreme Court ultimately overturns such seemingly settled law, the Administration could play up the “state’s rights” angle. But, no, that’s not consoling enough.

* Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts is now the, uh, “swing” vote on the Supreme Court.

* Looks like Trump’s chief-of-staff, Gen. John Kelly, is on his way out. Apparently he’s become redundant with a president who is, in effect, his own chief of staff. It also means that Trump never got over Kelly’s “idiot” reference that seemed to confirm Rex Tillerson’s “moron” characterization. And it also means that not even a four-star general could rein Trump in.

*When it comes to civil discourse in this country, there’s a lot to shout about. Unfortunately. So much for civility requiring mutual respect.

Anyone else miss old-fashioned, self-serving, disingenuous, political-agenda spin? That’s politics in an untidy, sometimes tumultuous democracy. But not narcissistic, cruel, pathological lying from the top and the invective of fear and divisiveness from the dupes, brigands and party careerists below. That can’t be politics as usual. That can’t be us. But it is right now.

* You know you’re in brutally controversial times when a relevant frame of reference for an immigration ruling is Korematsu v. United States. Never good to see Japanese-American internment camps back in the news cycle.

* All families should be kept together with rare exceptions–maybe the Mansons and the Trumps.

* Legally, that Virginia restaurant was within its rights not to want to serve Sarah Huckabee Sanders. It wasn’t an ugly confrontation, and the owner did it out of deference to gay employees who were uncomfortable. Sanders then ranted on her government Twitter account, and then Trump weighed in as only he can. He said The Red Hen “should focus more on cleaning its filthy canopies, doors and windows… .”  Imagine, Huckabee Sanders even opting for a meal in a filthy restaurant.

* In some nefarious, parallel-universe way, doesn’t the upcoming Trump-Vladimir Putin summit feel like a collusion update?

Losing With Winston

If you’re the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ management, these are anxious, unsettling times. Trying to right the franchise ship, save jobs and put last year’s lost season behind them isn’t made easier by the season-opening, three-game suspension of starting quarterback–and, alas, face of the franchise–Jameis Winston.

Winston, we know, came to the Bucs with all that sexual assault notoriety–plus other conduct baggage from Florida State–as the league’s number one draft pick. He was damaged–but talented, Heisman-winning–goods. But he has been incident-free in the Tampa Bay community. In fact, the Bucs have been pleased at how he has officially represented them around town.

But other towns count no less. Now there’s the groping case involving a female Uber driver in Las Vegas that has put Winston and Bucs’ management into the national #MeToo crosshairs–not where any organization with a social conscience and PR cognizance wants to be. Now there’s the league suspension, which Winston didn’t appeal, after an eight-month investigation that refuted his denials. He ultimately offered up a lame, pro-forma apology.

And rest assured, “win one for the groper” has been making the rounds.

There’s also this. Three years in, Winston still doesn’t look as good as expected–or as needed. More Josh Freeman than Tom Brady. Much more.

The Bucs bottom-line dilemma: Can they really win with this guy? And if so, would they be winning with Dr. Jameis or Mr. Hyde?