Redefining America’s Role

* Last summer, Secretary of Defense James Mattis looked refreshingly un-Trump like when he stated that the “The greatest gift the greatest generation left us was the rules-based postwar international order.” This spring Mattis looks more like the last man standing as John Bolton sets up shop as national security adviser.

*Former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, just hours removed from his ouster last month, weighed in with a cautionary corollary: “Nothing is possible without allies and partners.” T Rex never sounded so stately; Too bad he never had Trump’s ear the way his hawkish successor, Mike Pompeo, now does.

* With all of the talk about Scott Pruitt’s ethical lapses–from pricey travels to cut-rate rental deals and that notably costly 24-7 security detail–it’s easy to forget there are far better reasons to want him fired as the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency.

How about hostility to scientific inquiry?  As in utter disdain for the link between climate change and the burning of fossil fuels. How about being a yes man for Trump’s blustery, campaign promise-keeping withdrawal from the Paris Agreement on climate change? How about presiding over a critically-important department in “slow-motion train wreck” mode, to quote demoralized EPA insiders? How about avoiding inconvenient truths when they could undermine a presidential agenda that prioritizes fossil-fuel jobs over the costs to public health and, well, the planet?

There are plenty of reasons why Scott Pruitt should be sent packing from his lobbyist-arranged, Capitol Hill rental back to Oklahoma. Not unlike the occupant of the Oval Office, he’s bad for America–and the rest of the world.

* President Trump now says he doesn’t know why his personal attorney, Michael Cohen, had made that $130,000 payment to Stormy Daniels. “You’ll have to ask Michael Cohen,” he said, in lieu of keeping a silence that sounded better than that comment. Trump also said he had no idea where Cohen, long known as Trump’s “fixer,” had gotten the money.

Obviously the White House is still in mid-Stormy spin. It comes with the territory–an unconscionably sleazy POTUS and a non-best-and-brightest, amateur-hour coterie of sycophantic advisers. Perhaps Cohen was making a refund for Trump University.

* We’re now hearing that “older, educated, white voters” are now shifting away from Trump and trending toward Democrats. I get “older” and “white” as political demographics that, alas, helped elect Trump. But didn’t “educated” used to imply something a bit more discerning?

Voting Rights And Wrongs

When it comes to the issue of felon voting rights, which most states automatically restore after non-violent felons have completed their sentences, “Flori-duh” doubles down on its alt-Reich, Jim Crow-era, “Deliverance”-culture reputation. The state has even appealed the federal judge’s ruling–no, embarrassing rebuke–when he said the state must overhaul its sham system for restoring felons’ voting rights and come up with something that doesn’t reek of discrimination, voter suppression and unconscionable arbitrariness and unfairness. The 26-page appeal motion, in effect, a defense of the indefensible, is not exactly Pam Bondi’s finest hour, and that’s saying a lot for this Trump-supporting attorney general marking time before a return to Fox commentating.

This fundamentally is about fairness and compassion for those who need to be reintegrated into society, but it’s also about enlightened self-interest. Recidivism rates are notably lower when such felons can formally re-enter society and feel as if they belong–and actually matter. If they remain societal outliers and pariahs, nobody benefits. And this state’s population of former felons permanently disenfranchised is 1.5 million. No state has more–nor more to lose if this doesn’t change.

Speaking of change, the state’s best hope for formally and expeditiously restoring rights will be this fall when Amendment 4, which would permit the automatic restoration of rights to most felons, will be on the November ballot. If 60 percent of voters approve, it passes–and we’ll be more Florida than “Flori-duh.”

Poll Context

As we know, support for tougher gun-control laws has been in the news and in the public-opinion ascent. A recent poll conducted by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found that approximately seven in 10 adults now favor stricter gun-control measures.  And that, we have been reminded by the AP, is the strongest level of such support since the AP first polled this question five years ago. It made for encouraging headlines. Progress.

Context, however, cannot be ignored.

This also means that in the aftermath of Parkland, Pulse, Las Vegas, Sandy Hook, et al, nearly a third of adults still, somehow, don’t favor stricter gun control measures. Overall, the poll also showed that 90 percent of Democrats and 50 percent of Republicans now favor stricter gun controls. Put another way, half the GOPsters still–STILL–don’t side with common sense and public safety. But still “progress,” to be sure.

Gates Still Grates

We’ve known for some time about the perilous budget status of the Hillsborough County School District. It was only made worse when lawmakers required it to add armed safety officers or “guardians” to every school campus. Then they underfunded it.

Too bad the Gates Foundation isn’t interested in helping with something that matters more than morale-depleting, peer evaluators.

Sports Shorts

* The Lightning held on and held off the Boston Bruins to win the Atlantic Division with the best record in the Eastern Conference of the NHL. The Bolts now have home-ice advantage throughout the conference playoffs. Just one cautionary note: Be careful what you wish for–and celebrate over. As a result of edging out Boston, the Lightning has drawn the lower-seeded New Jersey Devils–instead of the higher-seeded Toronto Maple Leafs. Only caveat: While Tampa Bay won three out of four against Toronto in the regular season, the Bolts were winless in three games against New Jersey.

Regardless, this is a special Lightning team, which set franchise records for wins (54) and points (113)–yes, better than the Stanley Cup champions of 2003-04. Go, Bolts.

* Amid all the hype and hope about a new Rays stadium in Ybor City, it would help if the Rays, per se, would do their part–and not start the season playing so badly. Hardly a complement to efforts at ginning up market enthusiasm. And, BTW, amid all the high-profile support being rallied by corporate Tampa Bay, among others, where is Jeff Vinik, Tampa’s visionary and developmental godfather? Water Street Tampa needs to be more than a de facto player.

* Nice to see Villanova win another national championship in basketball. That’s two titles in three years. The Wildcats are a throwback. No sham-student-athletes, no one-and-dones. Its best player, Jalen Brunson, won the Wooden Award as the national player of the year–and he will graduate after this semester.

Quoteworthy

* “What we are returning to is great-power politics.”–Derek Shearer, former American ambassador to Finland, on an apparent shift in the post-World War II global political structure.

* “(Putin’s) biggest vulnerability is his diplomatic loneliness. He has nothing close to the web of alliances and partnerships that have anchored the United States and its partners. … Putin knows that the longer he is denied foreign direct investment, the further behind his economy will fall.”–William J. Burns, president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and former American ambassador to Russia from 2005 to 2008.

* “The risks of escalation are clear. Threats to the U.S.-China relationship are the most dangerous for global growth.”–Adam Slater, global economist at Oxford Economics.

* “China is the problem. Blame China, not Trump.”–White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow.

* “Brazil is very interesting as a case study, in the sense that the corruption is not in the politics. The corruption IS the politics.”–Brazilian director and screenwriter Jose Padilha.

* “Must pass tough laws and build the WALL. Democrats allow open borders, drugs and crime!”–President Donald Trump.

* “If one were to draft a script chronicling fascism’s resurrection, the abdication of America’s moral leadership would make a credible first scene.”–Madeleine Albright, former secretary of state (1997-2001) and author of “Fascism: A Warning.”

* “We’re already going there to deliver mail and bills and advertising, so the marginal cost of delivering an extra package is not high.”–Jim Sauber, chief of staff for the National Association of Letter Carriers, in refuting Trump’s claim about the Post  Office “losing a fortune” in working with Amazon. In 2017, package delivery accounted for the Post Office’s largest revenue increase.

* “Mr. Pruitt’s goal is simple: No studies, no data, no rules.”–Former E.P.A. Administrator Gina McCarthy, in reference to the current E.P.A. administrator, Scott Pruitt.

* “Congress must hold ourselves to a higher standard and regain the trust of the American people.”–Ohio Rep. Steve Stivers, the GOP campaign chief.

* “Intractable.” How Florida Congresswoman Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, characterized Congress on the issue of effectively dealing with gun violence.

* “Eighty percent of white evangelicals would vote against Jesus Christ himself if he ran as a Democrat.”–Amy Sullivan, co-host of the podcast Impolite Company.

* “Less than a handful of political leaders in this country have more knowledge and experience than Hillary Clinton. This should be obvious. The need for continuing contributions should be obvious. It’s both astonishing and appalling that it should even be questioned.”–Laurence Lewis, Daily Kos.

* “Since World War II, there is in fact little evidence that military spending provides the Keynesian function of stimulating the economy. Key economic thinkers, including Adam Smith, have long viewed military expenditures as an impediment to economic progress because they are merely outlays for goods and services and not investments.”–William Felice, professor of political science at Eckerd College.

* “In a time of crisis, the peoples of the world must rush to get to know each other.”–Cuban revolutionary icon José Martí.

* “The signal fact of Mr. Zuckerberg is that he is supremely gifted in one area–monetizing technical expertise by marrying it to a canny sense of human weakness. Beyond that, what a shallow and banal figure.”–Peggy Noonan, Wall Street Journal.

* “Hyperloop produces its own energy by using solar, wind, kinetic energy or, depending on the climate, even geothermal energy. So the operational costs are very, very low. … There’s no rail line, no metro line, in the whole world that’s profitable.”–Dick Ahlborn, co-founder and CEO of Hyperloop Transportation Technologies, which is pursuing the concept of traveling in tubes at the speed of sound.

* “It is too early to tell if the Democratic wave in 2018 will be a surge or a tsunami, but one thing is clear: It will be too strong for Rick Scott to overcome.”–Statement from the Democratic group American Bridge 21st Century.

* “Here in the 21st century, we know how to produce things in our economy without dumping chemicals into our rivers. And for those facilities that won’t change on their own, we need robust enforcement of our clean water laws, including tough penalties so that it doesn’t pay to pollute.”–Jennifer Rubiello, director of Environmental Florida.

* “If you let businesses and families make the right decisions and not have government confiscate it, state revenues will be just fine.”–Republican gubernatorial candidate Adam Putnam, who emphasizes that he has signed a “Taxpayer Protection Pledge” to oppose and veto any effort to raise taxes in Florida.

* “From draining Florida’s public school funding–driving our state to the bottom of the country in per-pupil funding–to refusing the high-speed rail funding that would have improved transportation along the I-4 corridor, Rick Scott has done nothing but put himself ahead of what’s best for Floridians.”–St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman.

* “I’m fed up. Something has to change, and it begins by electing individuals who are not scared of or beholden to the NRA but who will do what is right for our children, students, teachers and communities.”–Florida House Minority Leader Janet Cruz, D-Tampa.

* “The activist options for teachers and education staff professionals are somewhat limited. Walking off the job or reporting to work late is not an appropriate action, and it comes with harsh consequences.”–From a statement by the Florida Education Association.

* “If it feels like we’re getting busy around here, that’s because we really are.”–Chris Minner, TIA’s executive vice president of marketing and communications, in noting that in February the airport saw a 12.5 percent increase in passengers compared to the same month last year, the largest monthly increase in more than a decade. Spirit and Frontier airlines were the biggest drivers of the growth.

* “So much is first building awareness and building excitement about it. Ultimately, we’ve got to get to every Little League. We’ve got to get to every neighborhood association. It’s not just a downtown thing or a business community thing.”–Mike Griffin, vice chairman of Tampa Bay Rays 2020, chairman of the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce and senior managing director of the Tampa office of Savills Studley Occupier Services, an international real estate solutions firm.

Bolton Goes Trumpster Diving

* Who can forget that vicious rhetorical fusillade during the campaign that Donald Trump leveled against the George W. Bush Administration for its Mideast warmongering? Also, remember that no one was more hawkish than John Bolton, a key Bush adviser, who still, unconscionably, thinks the 2003 Iraqi invasion was the right call. And now he’s Trump’s national security adviser. And likely the last one to have his pre-tweet ear.

* Speaking of BoltonJohn not Michael–sobering to recall that North Korea once called him “human scum” for his outspoken cynicism about NK motives. As a result, it vowed not to deal with him. But that was then and this is–not?

* Here’s a quote that really resonates at a time that Robert Mueller is going after the Trump Organization–and Trump has begun going after Mueller specifically. “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross section of a lot of our assets.” That was Donald Trump Jr. in 2008.

* As we know, President Trump withdrew the U.S. from the Trans Pacific Partnership. It was part of candidate Trump’s anti-globalization, pep-rally rhetoric. Count on it being back in the news.

Recall that Trump has underscored–appropriately–that China has been an intellectual-property outlier. Ironically, a key focus of the TPP is intellectual property rights, data security and privacy. An international forum to hold China accountable would seem relevant. So much for relevance.

* Trump, as we’ve seen for too long a time, is less about building than branding. Whether a business or a country. Beyond embarrassing.

Russian Retaliation

So in response to the West kicking out a bunch of Russian “diplomats,” Vlad Putin replies in tit-for-tat kind. As a result of East-West tensions, both sides have now expelled more than 150 of each other’s diplomats from two dozen countries.

So, what’s next? Well, how about a Kremlin response to the well-received comedy, “The Death of Stalin”? It brutally satirizes the in-fighting and paranoia-made-for-parody of  the 1954 Soviet regime change in the aftermath of Josef Stalin’s death. You just know Putin, who likely waxes nostalgic for a kick-ass, West-tantalizing leader, is not laughing at this disrespectful, authoritarian send-up.

Don’t discount a cinematic response. Can you imagine how America would look in a Russian-made, “Watergate” spoof? Or … No, let’s not go there. Besides, Putin likely has better cards to play on Trump.

Regardless of such scenarios, “The Death of Stalin” is worth catching. It’s funny shy of flat out farce. Most reigns of terror aren’t given to humor. It’s historic, geopolitical satire, and it’s (sight-gag executions) black comedy. It’s also very well scripted. Listen carefully to the dialogue asides.

Gunshine State Update

* Kudos to the Florida Democratic Party for the digital billboards it put up in Orlando and Tallahassee. “612 Days Between Pulse and Parkland. Rick Scott Did Nothing.”–The Sun Sentinel.

* We will have arrived at a true turning point, when serious (assault weapon and high-capacity magazine bans, for example) gun-control measures are not so much a political “wedge” issue but an actual common-sense, public-safety, moral imperative. Imagine, doing the right thing for the right–not alt Reich–reasons. We’re not there yet, although the bottom-up, shame-the-usual-suspects movement fueled by an articulate, motivated, teenaged demographic is impressively encouraging.

* And this just in: Former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens just ratcheted up the rhetorical ante by encouraging gun-reform demonstrators to demand a repeal of the Second Amendment. Thank you, Justice Stevens, for cutting to the chase.

Enough of counterproductive, agenda-driven cherry picking of an out-of-context, 18th century relic–no matter how seemingly sacrosanct. Without the Second Amendment–and the absolutist take it induces from the gun lobby and its political minions–America would, as Stevens points out, be in a position to “weaken the NRA’s ability to stymie legislative debate and block constructive gun control legislation than any other available option.”