Trumpster Diving Update

* It was disappointing to see a Kennedy as a Trump stooge. Exiting from an audience with Donald Trump the other day was Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who is an anti-vaccine crusader. Trump had asked him to lead a new government commission on vaccine safety and scientific integrity.

So, heads up. Here come debunked conspiracy theories back into the news cycle–along with further political polarization.

* When Ronald Reagan was president–at 69, the oldest ever elected–there were jokes about his age. As in who his “senior” advisers would actually be. Thomas Jefferson? James Madison? Fast forward to now and the new oldest-ever-elected president, Donald Trump, 70. One of his “senior” advisers is son-in-law Jared Kushner, 36, roughly half Trump’s age. It’s still a joke–only now the humor is dark and mired in nepotism charges.

* Those Russian hacking allegations, which even Donald Trump now concedes, should have surprised no one with a frame of reference for the cloak-and-dagger Cold War with the Soviet Union–as well as the renewed Cold War atmosphere in Russia under former KGB operative Vladimir Putin. Paranoid, authoritarian and humiliated over the Soviet implosion, Putin and many other Russians were convinced that the U.S. had orchestrated, among other things, protests in Ukraine in 2014 that toppled a pro-Moscow government. They also believe former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was more than encouraging to anti-Putin protestors in the most recent Russian presidential election.

So pay-back hacking is merely the modern, technological version of what the Soviets used to do. And that includes trying to directly influence a presidential election.

In his 1995 memoir, “In Confidence,” Anatoly Dobrynin, the former Russian ambassador to the U.S., recounts a role he was asked to play in the 1968 election. The Russians wanted Hubert H. Humphrey to win, not the avowed anti-Communist, presumably anti-Soviet Richard Nixon. So Dobrynin was instructed, he wrote, to provide Humphrey “any conceivable help in his election campaign–including financial aid.” In the case of Russia, the past is definitely prologue.

* Fake news can only go so far, it would seem. But intelligence-related outtakes that have yielded “golden showers” references–in president-elect context–was a new low. The fact that it even seems credible–even to the, uh, mainstream media–is beyond a national embarrassment.

*Imagine what an Obama retrospective could look like after four years of in-your-face arrogance, scandal-mongering, impeachment scenarios and geopolitical babel. How ironic–and karmic–even if Mitch McConnell will never admit it.

* It would be shocking if President Trump turns out to be anything different from President-elect Trump. He is–as we’ve seen from “The Apprentice” and tabloid lore through campaign debates and bombastic pre-presidency–a scorpion. He doesn’t change. He can’t change. Not when you’re a brand. It’s a major reason why a portion of the electorate channeled him.

* What’s particularly unsettling and “unpresidented,” however, is Trump’s Twitter fixation. It’s scary what 140 characters in the small fingers of the narcissist-in-chief with the nuclear codes could mean.

It was hardly consoling to hear Trump’s press secretary, Sean Spicer, address that reality. “I do not get a memo,” acknowledged Spicer. “He drives the train on this.” Apparently the only question is whether President Tweet will get sidetracked into using the official @POTUS handle or rely more on his fan favorite, @realDonald Trump.

A more sobering assessment of presidential tweeting in the new Administration is that of outgoing CIA Director John Brennan. “Spontaneity is not something that protects national security interests,” underscored Brennan.

* However it’s couched, the Trump Administration will have a bottom-line, credibility criterion when it comes to successfully replacing the Affordable Care Act. Those previously uninsured until the ACA–all 20 million of them–now have to retain affordable insurance. And the remaining uncovered 28 million must be afforded coverage. And if that happens, one thing is certain: It won’t be marketplace dynamics, tax credits et al, as usual. Have to wonder if Mitt Romney(care) is awaiting a call.

Rubio’s Grandstand Agenda

Marco Rubio outted himself again the other day during the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing that was questioning Secretary of State nominee Rex Tillerson.

Aggressive inquiries, especially of someone with Tillerson’s problematic background, are called for. But pointedly asking Tillerson “Is Vladimir Putin a war criminal?” is not helpful. Whatever we think of the Trump-Putin bromance, we shouldn’t want needlessly worse relations than we now have.

Not agreeing with Rubio that Putin was a war criminal made Tillerson look diplomatic to a fault. Conversely, it positioned Rubio as a no-nonsense, street-smart sort–unless Tillerson agreed with him–and took the bait. That can be a fraught situation, when, in a global world, every word–whether it’s a confirmation-hearing response or a State of the Union address–sends international signals that transcend domestic politics.

But Rubio has a key committee vote and, thus, leverage. His performance was a less-than-subtle  reminder that he’s still around and still a possible Republican-establishment alternative to President Tweet. Another grandstanding reminder was his extraction of a promise from Tillerson that, if confirmed, he would recommend that Trump veto any bill lifting the Cuban embargo. This is obviously not in the best interest of America or Cuba–but it still plays well among the usual suspects.

This Q&A was supposed to be an exercise in probing the readiness of Rex Tillerson to be secretary of state. Instead, it was a self-evident, self-serving forum for Rubio.

Capital Punishment Option

I’m no advocate of capital punishment. But the case of white supremacist coward Dylann Roof, the unrepentant, hate-crime murderer, taxes all certitude. Only one compromise: He should have been sentenced to life without parole–but no isolation. Just put him into the general prisoner population. That would have been as close to an appropriate punishment as could be meted out.

Sports Shorts

* To some it was glitzless and boring. Imagine, the biggest college football game–on the national championship RayJay stage–and halftime did not include A-List entertainment. No Beyonce. No Bruce. Mercifully, no Pitbull. Nothing but the Alabama and Clemson marching bands at halftime. How old school. How collegiate. How appropriate.

* If Steve Yzerman, who was unfairly and unconscionably scapegoated, can move on and congratulate Marty St. Louis on his Tampa Bay Lightning jersey-retirement night, so can the rest of us. But, yeah, that semi-hug looked understandably awkward.

There will be no elephant in the room next year when the Lightning likely will retire the jersey of  Vinny Lecavalier.

* How good is the University of Connecticut women’s basketball team? Well, a very good, nationally-ranked USF team lost to Uconn recently, 102-37. No, that’s not a misprint. No team in any sport has arguably ever been this dominant.

* Former Buccaneer–and now outspoken Seattle Seahawk defensive end–Michael Bennett raised some brows recently when he referenced Detroit Lions running back Zach Zenner as “the best (white running back) right now.” It’s a topic–in a league that is predominantly black–that isn’t commented on in public. Even as a compliment. It’s locker room talk–like wondering where all the black long snappers, holders and place kickers are.


* “Effective immediately, Cuban nationals who attempt to enter the United States illegally and do not qualify for humanitarian relief will be subject to removal, consistent with U.S. law and enforcement priorities. By taking this step, we are treating Cuban migrants the same way we treat migrants from other countries.”–President Barack Obama, in announcing the repeal of America’s “wet foot, dry foot” policy.

* “Russia challenged the integrity of our democratic system, and Europe’s 2017 electoral landscape is the next battlefield.”–William J. Burns, president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and former ambassador to Russia (2005-08).

* “Everything is under negotiation including One China.”–Donald Trump.

* “Laws alone won’t be enough. Hearts must change.”–President Barack Obama, reflecting on racial tensions during his farewell address in Chicago.

* “Should a president hold himself to a lower standard than his own appointees? I don’t think divestiture too high a price to pay to be the president of the United States of America.”–Office of Government Ethics chief Walter Shaub.

* “As far as hacking, I think it was Russia. Hacking’s bad and it shouldn’t be done. But look at the things that were hacked, look at what was learned from that hacking.”–Donald Trump.

* “I don’t see this president-elect as a legitimate president.”–Congressman John Lewis, D-Ga.

* “All talk, talk, talk–no action or results. Sad!”–Donald Trump’s response to John Lewis.

* “It’s telling, I’m afraid, that Donald Trump treats Vladimir Putin with more respect than he does John Lewis.”–Bill Kristol, founder of the Weekly Standard.

* “(Trump) said he is going to represent Americans–he’s said that over and over again. We will continue to evaluate that.”–Martin Luther King III.

* “If you try to go tweet-to-tweet with (Trump), more often than not you’re not going to succeed.” It’s like going to “a knife fight with a spoon.”–Outgoing Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez.

* “To announce that there must be no criticism of the president or that we are to stand by the president, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public.”–President Theodore Roosevelt.

* “For the first time in years, Republicans must shed their obstructionist mission and actually pass a few laws. The pressure is huge; only Charlie Manson has lower public approval ratings than Congress.”–Carl Hiaasen, Miami Herald.

* “If we go down this path, we won’t have (Affordable Care Act) repeal and replace. What we’ll have is repeal and repent, because we’re going to owe a huge apology to the American people for the damage that we cause.”–Rep. John Yarmuth of Kentucky, the senior Democrat on the House Budget Committee.

* “Our job today is to defend the ACA. Our job tomorrow is to bring about a Medicare-for-all, single-payer system.”–Sen. Bernie Sanders.

* “It’s a cruel jest to say a bootless man ought to lift himself by his own bootstraps.”–Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

* “The conditions of this election weren’t tailor-made for me and I lost. But I’m not in therapy. I’m not in the fetal position. Life goes on.”–Jeb Bush.

* “Brick-and-mortar is not necessarily dead, but you need fewer stores to achieve the same amount of sales volume.”–Liz Dunn, CEO of Talmage Advisors, a retail consulting firm.

* “Contractors have relatively high expectations for 2017 as they predict the economy and demands for all types of construction will grow.”–Stephen E. Sandherr, CEO of Associated General Contractors of America.

* “The competitor in many ways is time. … It’s a different model that we can’t see how it works in today’s world… .”–Kenneth Feld, Chairman and CEO of Feld Entertainment, in announcing that after 146 years the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus would be closing in May.

* “Maybe we’ve taken a good thing too far, and now it is time to bring some common sense to it.”–Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, a member of the Florida Senate Education Appropriations subcommittee, on the need to rein in the number and impact of school exams.

* “What I saw was a highly organized event that managed traffic flow well. … I saw terrific customer service. And then I saw very strong branding without it being overwhelming.”–Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, commenting on how Tampa handled the college football championship game.

* “This move gives us access to Florida’s strong talent pool and allows us to continue the strategic expansion of our business.”–Rocky Silvestri, president of BlueLine Associates, a staffing and consulting agency that is moving its global headquarters to Tampa.

* “You can’t put a price on history.”–Richard Gonzmart.

* “The cruise business is a big part of what we do here, and it will play a major role in what we do going forward.”–Edward Miyagishima, vice president of communications and external affairs at Port Tampa Bay, commenting on the port’s plan to develop a niche market that doesn’t put it into direct competition with megaship ports.

* “I’ll always be a Bolt.”–Marty St. Louis.

* “But you also don’t need a performing arts center. You don’t need a waterfront parks system. These to me are amenities that really differentiate cities. It separates what are good cities from what are great cities.”–St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman, defending his support of an enhanced Pier project.

Common Sense Security: An Oxymoron?

We know that Esteban Santiago killed five and wounded eight more in his cold-blooded, planned attack at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport. Less than two months prior, the former national guardsman with a less-than-honorable discharge walked into the FBI office in Anchorage and said the U.S. government was controlling his mind and forcing him to watch ISIS group videos. There were also some domestic violence issues in his immediate past. He had a gun and a newborn baby in his car and a loaded magazine on his person.

Warning signs, anyone?

They took his gun, evaluated him for a few days, released him and returned his weapon. Another day at the Anchorage office. No follow-up and free to fly anywhere. Santiago then bought a one-way ticket to Fort Lauderdale, took no luggage except his unloaded gun and ammo that he legally checked separately, and opened fire at the baggage carousel upon landing.

Where to start? Let’s begin with federal rules that look like they could have been written by Florida legislators. They allow airline passengers, including the manifestly mentally unhinged, to transport unloaded firearms as checked baggage. Ammo can also be carried separately in checked baggage. The firearm, ammunition and owner can later be reunited upon arrival in an unsecured area. Santiago broke no laws until he murdered five innocents awaiting their luggage.

Apparently treating areas such as baggage claims, check-in counters and passenger pickup zones the same as we treat screening checkpoints could be a logistical nightmare in many airports. But let’s at least treat the transportation of weapons with some common sense. The onus is on the passenger to make a compelling case for needing to have his weapon and magazine clips along for the ride.

“You can’t have (more than) 3.4 ounces of shampoo, but we’re allowing people to travel with guns?” rhetorically asks tourism and security expert Peter Tarlow. That security incongruity made little sense before Fort Lauderdale. It makes none now. There’s nothing as tragic as a preventable tragedy.

Trumpster Diving

* Ever notice that when Donald Trump says something that’s not bombastic or controversial–and, indeed, could be said by a normal president-elect–he can’t help throwing in a qualifying gotcha line or a hint of self-serving nuance? To wit:

After he had received his highly-publicized intelligence briefing: “It was a really great meeting. I learned a lot, and I think they did also.” From whom?

Explaining his criticism of House Republicans who had announced plans to weaken the independent Office of Congressional Ethics: “With all that Congress has to work on, do they really have to make the weakening of the Independent Ethics Watchdog, as unfair as it may be, their number one act and priority?”

Elaborating ever so slightly on the great wall of Mexico: “And they will pay for it” has become “and they will reimburse us.”

* Some Trump supporters have defended the Electoral College and his popular vote deficit of 2.9 million votes by pointing out that Hillary Clinton won California by more some 4.3 million votes. Therefore, Clinton actually lost the other 49 states by about 1.5 million votes. Why should the rest of the country have to abide by what easily addled California wants?

Excellent point. One man, one vote is so over-rated. Perhaps left-leaning, individual California voters should only count, say, 3/5? There’s precedent.

Media Matters

* Maybe it wouldn’t have mattered, given the unconscionably polarized political climate that President Obama inherited. But, still, there was no defensible reason for the mainstream media to have acquiesced and, in effect, reinforced deplorable partisanship by adopting “Obamacare” as its short-hand for the Affordable Care Act. Headline- and talking-points convenience is not a good enough reason for accommodating Republican demonization of the president via its relabeling of the ACA.

Now “Obamacare” is institutionalized as an eponymous Republican target and rallying point. Call it an “Obamination.”

* Speaking of media laziness and cluelessness, it works both ways. I was told by a local network affiliate anchor that management had to rein in careless, on-camera references to Barack Obama during the 2008 presidential campaign. Because his name was foreign-sounding, some news readers were referring to the candidate as “Barack” on second reference. And given that their politics were likely on the left-hand side of the spectrum, it only reinforced certain characterizations of the mainstream media.

* To the surprise of no one who was privy to the deplorable dynamics of America’s presidential election, the Oxford Dictionaries named “post-truth” as its 2016 “word of the year.” It’s defined as a state “in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.” Actually, “post-truth” is a euphemistic upgrade for “fake news” for the gullible.

* One quick takeaway from the Golden Globes Awards: If we must have someone playing the role of president, too bad it can’t be Meryl Streep. And, yeah, Trump still got off easy.

* Maybe local media will experience, well, an epiphany some day and no longer consider the Tarpon Springs Epiphany celebration as worthy of a big page-one, above-the-fold splash and top-of-the-newscast coverage.

* Living languages are always changing. Back in the day, stuff we liked was “cool,” which had nothing to do with temperature. Today, it’s “awesome,” which typically has nothing to do with awe. “You know” interjections morph into “like” faux analogies. “Notoriety” now looks nothing like the noun version of notorious. It’s what languages and their contemporary speakers do over the course of generational and cultural changes.

But here’s one that still sounds weirdly stilted: when authorities report that someone who is unaccounted for “goes missing” or “went missing.” I can envision former English teachers wincing at that verbal hybrid. But now we have “went disappeared” as well. Would that it went, like, missing.

* Here we go again: Another reminder of not being in post-racial America is the periodic incidence of controversies erupting over the teaching of “To Kill a Mockingbird ” and “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.” In the most recent case, it was a Virginia school district, where the books were banned from classrooms and libraries. A committee, of course, has been appointed to see if the bans should be permanent.

An obvious question is begged. Doesn’t context matter?

Why not make this a non-clichéd, teachable moment–not just in classic American literature but in contemporary societal maturity? How ironically hypocritical that we have to tolerate routine racist and sexist references in our pop culture, but we still draw a politically correct line at one complaining parent about American classics that have so much to teach. Is “N-Word Jim” the answer?

Gunshine State(ment)

It’s back. It wouldn’t be a new year in the Florida Legislature without more guns in more places, including college campuses, making a return engagement. It’s as predictable as Rick Scott answering any media question with a reference to jobs.

Courtesy, as it were, of Sen. Greg Steube, R-Sarasota, the senate bill could also open up airport terminals, elementary and secondary schools and government meetings to concealed weapons. And in a state with 1.7 million concealed weapons permits, that’s quite the arms-expansion scenario.

So, here come those NRA Second Amendment perspectives along with the rationale that more good guys with more guns can only help when horrifics happen. Countering that: those who note the militia context of the Founding Fathers’ reasoning and what they surely could not have anticipated nearly two and a half centuries later. In short, in order for good guys to weigh in on rare, but high-profile mass shootings, they have to always be packing because you, well, never know. And the law of unintended consequences, of course, will never be repealed.

Business as usual shouldn’t be this frightful.