Abominable Autocratic Agendas

You don’t have to be a journalist to be worried about America’s eroding First Amendment and “enemy of the people” demonization of the media by this unprecedented president. Attacking and scape-goating the press are on every authoritarian’s bucket list. Always have been.

Too bad “American exceptionalism” doesn’t preclude autocracy. There was a day when we could criticize, sans hypocrisy, the usual cast of right-wing strongmen: from Russia and the Philippines  to banana republics and Middle East “stans.”

No longer.

Now, attacking the U.S. media–with certain sell-out and alt-Reich exceptions–is an MO for governing and keeping a Trump cult-following base stoked.

We’ve seen the domestic impact of the Oval Office avatar of “fake news” on our democracy in the era of “alternative facts.” Ask Jim Acosta what it’s like to cover a race-baiting, isolationist-promoting, mainstream media-bashing, Trump rally. George Wallace never looked so polished and presidential.

It has even impacted foreign relations.

Anyone think that the ratcheting controversy over the suspicious disappearance–if not dismemberment–of Saudi Arabian-born, Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi from the Saudi consulate in Istanbul is coincidental to what has been happening here at home?

You’d have to be clueless to think that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the imperiously despotic “reformer” who doesn’t suffer critics, didn’t see some signals he liked from the Trump Administration. Most notably, arms-sales money talks and dissenting media opinions walk–if they’re ambulatory. Besides, who can account for “rogue killers”?

The United States is not a macro version of Las Vegas. What happens here doesn’t stay here. The rest of the world–from the Moscow puppet master to the Saudi Prince of Darkness–take it all in.  And play Trump–and America–accordingly.

Trumpster Diving

* Donald Trump and Kanye West deserve each other. The rest of us deserve so much better.

* Speaking of that bizarro visit of West to the Oval Office, it was yet another reminder that “Saturday Night Live” continues with its ongoing, Trump-era challenge: How do you spoof a farce?

* Trump rally playlists have typically included “Purple Rain” by Prince. Now the late rock star’s family members are asking Trump to rein it in and stop using it. No official word yet from the White House, but speculation grows that this might mean more exposure for Ted Nugent, Kid Rock and maybe Kanye West.

* “I think he’s sort of a Democrat, if you want to know the truth.”–That was Trump recently  on “60 Minutes,” in reference to Defense Secretary James Mattis. It was a reminder of why Trump no longer refers to Mattis as “Mad Dog.” The former Marine Corps general is too globally-oriented, too NATO-centric and too, well, geopolitically normal. Indeed, the Mattis exit signs are increasingly manifest–put, please, not John Bolton as a replacement.

* Maybe Texas Congressman Beto O’Rourke, should he knock off Ted Cruz in their uber-hyped, “America is watching” senatorial race, will be catapulted into the Democrats’ 2020 presidential-ticket scenario. Stranger things have happened. Ask Barack Obama. Although O’Rourke, 46, still trails in polls, his campaign just raised $38.1 million in the third quarter, which is a U.S. Senate record–and a lot more than Cruz is raising.

And it’s likely this quote from 2016 is making certain constituency rounds: “Ted (Cruz) is a nasty guy; that’s why nobody likes him.” That was Donald Trump, who certainly wants Cruz re-elected in defense of a Republican Senate majority.

* Every First Lady has a cause. We get that. A presidential spouse has an awkward niche–and optics matter. So why not use the high-profile forum for something bipartisanly good? What’s not to get? Well, this: Melania Trump has chosen an “anti-bullying” campaign for her cause. How, uh, ironic. At best. She married a celebrity misogynist with a life-long reputation of bullying people–from subcontractors and adultery enablers to immigrants and non-Fox media. “Be Best”? First, be honest.

* I miss Mikhail Gorbachev and Barack Obama. The world was better off, even if they were taken for granted and subject to inevitable, global-leader criticism.

Active Shooter Overkill

As we’ve been reminded recently, when the Florida Legislature drafted new laws to make schools safer, it included a requirement for schools to hold active shooter drills. But it didn’t specify how many. Presumably common sense would carry the day in each county.

Well, that doesn’t seem to apply to Pinellas County, which will have active assailant drills monthly–or 10 times this year. A number of parents have complained. That many drills, they worry, will more likely reinforce fear than expedite a safety precaution. Can only imagine how Pinellas County handled the duck-and-cover school drills during the Cold War nuclear crisis.

TIA Reminder

As we’ve all been noticing, there’s no lack of lists that rank cities and amenities for all kinds of things.  From relevant to immaterial. But the one from Conde Nast Traveler that ranked TIA the fifth-best airport in the country–and the only Florida airport to make the top 10–was spot on. It referenced TIA’s “vision of the future from 50 years ago” to the ongoing expansion projects that enable it “to jet into this century and beyond.”

In short, TIA, which was presciently built in a non-suburban location, has always prioritized passengers over planes. It became the model for urban-market airports. Ask Orlando.

Sports Shorts

* So, half way through the college football season, Florida still has two undefeated teams. And none of them are Florida, Florida State or Miami. They are USF and UCF, which both won on the road last weekend, each with a comeback, 1-point win against Tulsa and Memphis, respectively.  It probably won’t happen, but here’s hoping both stay undefeated until Nov. 23. That’s when the Golden Knights would bus down I-4 to play the Bulls at RayJay on national TV and in front of the biggest USF crowd in years.

* Last week I found myself “looking in” on the American League series between Boston and New York. I had the sound turned down while I was reading. I looked in because I like baseball, and I was curious. I kept the sound down because I wasn’t rooting for either the Red Sox or the Yankees. In fact, I like neither, because they get to play by rules that don’t apply to modest-budget franchises such as the Rays. Also, their fan bases always seem entitled. The geopolitical analogy would be indifference in a competition between ISIS and the Taliban.

* I don’t have serious rooting interest in the MLB playoffs, but, if pressed, I’d choose the Milwaukee Brewers. The Brewers had the most wins in the National League and are now playing the Los Angeles Dodgers to see who moves on to the World Series. This, despite the fact that the Brewers play in MLB’s smallest market and are in the bottom third of MLB payrolls. It can be done. As the Rays know.

Quoteworthy

* “They do nothing without our approval.”–President Donald Trump on America’s relationship with South Korea.

* “There is very little evidence to suggest that Haley served Trump as an ‘adult in the  room.’ She was an ally, an apologist and an acolyte of a man she once recognized as irresponsible. That’s not how able diplomats operate, and Nikki Haley will never be confused with an able diplomat.”–John Nichols, The Nation.

* “We are talking to the European Union again, we are talking to Japan again, and we are moving to what I have characterized as a trade coalition of the willing to confront China.”–Larry Kudlow, White House economic adviser.

* “They’re going to use these bilateral deals to strong-arm countries into lining up behind the U.S. on China. But when we get there, what’s the next step? I don’t know what the endgame is.”–Mary E. Lovely, Syracuse University economics professor and a fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics.

* “The Fed’s going loco. … I think the Fed has gone crazy.”–President Donald Trump.

* “Free societies do not die overnight. The growth of a climate of intellectual fear is one sign of their weakening. So are the development of a personality cult, the stripping of meaning from language and the spread of disorientation.”–Roger Cohen, New York Times.

* “The new Democrats are radical socialists who want to model America’s economy after Venezuela. If Democrats win control of Congress this November, we will come dangerously closer to socialism in America. Government-run healthcare is just the beginning.”–Donald Trump.

* “Today, with President Donald Trump in office and some countries embracing explicitly nationalist policies, the United Nations has become the symbol of the fading internationalist dream. The choice between ‘America First’ and ‘the international community’ could hardly be starker.”–Martin Perez, former editor-in-chief of The New Republic.

*”While Democrats are largely ducking the topic on the campaign trail, few in Washington doubt that impeachment will be on the table if they win the House on Nov. 6.”–Peter Baker, New York Times.

* “Should American citizens get a new Bill of Rights for the internet? Given all the damage that tech companies have done, including the disaster of the week–a breach at Facebook that exposed tens of millions of accounts and maybe lots more–many Democrats think the answer is yes.”–Kara Swisher, editor at large for Recode, producer of the Recode Decode podcast.

* “From now until November 6th, we’re going to remind voters that they have the power to move the needle on issues like affordable health care, racial justice and climate change.”–Carly Cass, youth director for NextGen Florida, an offshoot of Tom Steyer’s NextGen America. NextGen Florida has registered more than 50,000 Floridians to vote ahead of next month’s general election.

* “The best time to get vaccinated is in October. It takes two weeks for the body to produce antibodies to fight the flu. You don’t want to get it too late.”–Dr. John Morrison, Florida Hospital family medicine physician.

* “Florida does have this kind of disaster amnesia. You’re in that build-disaster-rebuild mode like the old rinse-wash-repeat shampoo commercial.”–Steve Ellis, vice president of Washington-based, Taxpayers for Common Sense.

* “The president is not only inept, he’s prejudiced, he’s a narcissist, he’s angry, he’s not fit to be president. State attorneys general are a line of defense.”–Florida democratic attorney general candidate Sean Shaw.

* “If we’re going to continue the progress that we made under the last three governors of the state of Florida and Republican leadership, we’re going to need to elect Ron DeSantis as our next governor.”–Republican state Sen. Tom Lee of Brandon.

* “As governor, one of the things you have to do effectively is work constructively with the administration in Washington, and I think people running who say they want to impeach Trump, well, when you become governor and that’s your position, how the hell are you going to get anything done for us?”–Ron DeSantis.

* “What Tampa (Bay) has in common with other top 10 cities is that its employment base is growing, its population is growing and the result is an engine for continued economic prosperity.”–Mitch Roschelle, a partner at PwC US and co-author of “Emerging Trends in Real Estate 2019,” which ranked the top American markets for real estate in 2019. Dallas/Fort Worth was ranked no 1; no other Florida market made the top 10.

* “We have a huge transportation problem in this community. We bring people in here to the airport at 500 miles an hour, and then they just stop. We have do something about this.”–TIA CEO Joe Lopano.

* “If it passes there, I think it helps us talk about it here again.”–St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman, on the ramifications of Hillsborough County passing a transportation sales tax.

* “I fully acknowledge the district’s funding issues are not our responsibilities. However, I cannot sit back and ignore the issues facing hundreds of thousands of our children.”–Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan, on how the county can help the school district tackle its air-conditioning crisis and other critical maintenance priorities.

* “I was shocked. They’ve endorsed me in 10 previous elections since 1992.”–Hillsborough County Republican Commissioner Victor Crist, in response to not getting the endorsement of the Greater Tampa Realtors.

SCOTUS Circus

Remember when the biggest issue with Brett Kavanaugh was his right-of-Anthony Kennedy ideology?  And you had to wonder how that would impact cases that could come before the court ranging from abortion and affirmative action to the government’s protection of the environment and the interplay of religious beliefs and gay rights.

And, yeah, there were his past indications that a sitting president was in a legal cocoon until leaving office. Could that be disqualifying? It was legal crunch time.

Relatively speaking, that all now seems to hearken back to a more civil judicial era–instead of the SCOTUS hearing from hell that ultimately resulted and, consequently, demeaned our most revered, constitutional institutions. From senatorial probes about legal precedent, it devolved into a circus with a punk ringmaster. Judicial temperament?  How oxymoronic. Was this about a Supreme Court nomination or the appointment of the next Capitol Hill Ralph Club president? Was this an iconic, deliberative body doing its constitutional duty–or reality TV?

This was supposed to be about a president using or abusing his prerogative to appoint a justice with a certain legal leaning. There’s ample precedent, although justices don’t always turn out the way appointing presidents had envisioned. President Dwight Eisenhower’s appointment of Earl Warren, for example, is as classic example as there is.

But back when we learned that Trump had chosen Kavanaugh from the Federalist Society’s short list, the most immediate concern was about the backdrop of a special prosecutor investigating an incumbent president. After all, Kavanaugh had written that he believed a president should not be distracted by civil suits and criminal investigations while in office. We all know the Oval Office implications.

So Kavanaugh’s appointment looked less about ideological preference–and more like a self-serving, presidential reach. Recall Sen. Kamala Harris’ take. “The president is an unindicted co-conspirator in federal crimes and has nominated someone to the Supreme Court who believes a sitting president should never be indicted.”

Too bad that wasn’t as bad as it would get.

But we’ll give Kavanaugh the last word in this forum. While he has shown himself to be far less credible than, say, Christine Blasey Ford, he can also, as we observed, be brutally candid.

“This confirmation process has become a national disgrace,” he groused in his opening statement. All too true.

Trumpster Diving

* Whatever happened to judicial temperament? Hell, whatever happened to presidential temperament? This is not a coincidence.

* Donald Trump: “self-made billionaire.”  Can’t help thinking about the late Texas Gov. Ann Richard’s line that she used against George W. Bush during their 1994 Texas gubernatorial race. “He was born on third base, looked around and said ‘I guess I hit a triple.'” Trump’s no Jeff Bezos or Bill Gates.

* Hypocritical would be an upgrade for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell as he scolded Democrats for their partisan, delay tactics on the Brett Kavanaugh Supreme Court nomination. Anyone recall the unconscionably partisan card he played on Merrick Garland’s nomination? There was no hearing to delay.

* Was the Kavanaugh hearing of more help to the GOP or Democratic base going forward? Arguably, the latter. It’s human nature to be more viscerally moved by what stokes protest than by what prompts celebration. Plus, add the #MeToo-fueled momentum for further rallying the female vote.

* The president weighed-in in Trumpian fashion about Columbus Day. What indigenous controversy? “Christopher Columbus’s spirit of determination and adventure has provided inspiration to generations of Americans,” said Trump. No word on prominent Columbus Day shout-outs from Hispaniola, one of the places Columbus actually landed in his four trips–none of which were on what would become the United States of America.

“Country First” Reality

* No. Not a chance.” That was Republican Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona in a candid answer to the “60 Minutes” question of Scott Pelly as to whether he would have gone out on a political limb to push for a delay in the Senate Kavanaugh vote–if he weren’t retiring. It speaks volumes when even a relatively moderate, sensitive Republican can only act on his conscience if he no longer has to worry about re-election. Meanwhile, the rest of us worry about our increasingly authoritarian and dystopian society.

BTW, what happens to a politician of conscience who is not re-elected? How about political commentating, lobbying, book-writing or ambulance-chasing?

* “I did not do any kind of political calculation in making my decision. I have to apply my best judgment. I cannot weigh the political consequences.”–That was Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, addressing her vote for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. She should want a mulligan: Her vote was disgraceful, her explanation disingenuous.

* Sen. Lindsey Graham deserves his perch atop Trump’s basket of deplorables. He knows better than to be taken in by a cult figure. This is about blatant hypocrisy and opportunism and a frequent golfing partner. Remember he was part of the GOP primary field in 2016. Recall he was the candidate who, in reference to Trump, who he had called the “world’s biggest jackass,” rhetorically asked: “You know how you can make America great again? Tell Donald Trump to go to hell.” Well, some of us are still taking his advice.

Media Matters

* “Drastic independence.” That was what Joseph Pulitzer–yes, that Pulitzer–argued for when it comes to the relationship between editors and publishers–as well as from government and the general public. Today that would win you a prize for naiveté.

* “I don’t like to hear (“fake news”) aimed at my colleagues, but it’s just white noise now. It has never affected what we do.” That was NBC News Anchor Lester Holt, who was in town this week as part of the network’s “Across America” series. That was a very tactful and professional way of characterizing something that has most media members fuming off camera. Ask Jim Acosta.

* The media spotlight that made Dr. Christine Blasey Ford a household name and a White House nemesis, has adversely impacted her a helluva lot more than less-than-credible, newly-minted Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. “This has been terrifying,” said Ford’s attorney, Debra Katz. “(She and her family) are not living at home. … The threats have been unending.”

In the aftermath of that deplorable SCOTUS crucible, we’re left with a sobering societal message to women wanting to come forward about being victimized by sexual predators. Thanks again, Donald Trump, Brett Kavanaugh, Lindsey Graham, Mitch McConnell and, yes, Susan Collins.

* Where politics, partisanship, opportunism, the Fox network and show business converge: Hope Hicks, former Trump Organization director of communications and former White House communications director, is now executive vice president and chief communications officer for Fox. Seamless career track.

* Should we be adding Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti to the list of potential 2020 Democratic presidential hopefuls? The articulate, telegenic 47-year-old is currently on a media-centric “College Tour,” where he is ginning up interest in the critically important mid-term elections.

* Presidential historian Michael Beschloss’ new book, “Presidents of War,” is a sobering, scary reminder that the Cuban missile crisis didn’t teach us all that we thought it had taught. And that includes never again putting this country and this globe in jeopardy of nuclear Armageddon.

Via recently declassified documents, Beschloss reveals a set of preparations by Gen. William C. Westmoreland to have nuclear weapons handy for American forces in Vietnam. Westmoreland had put together a secret operation that involved moving nukes into South Vietnam so that they would be available on short notice against North Vietnamese troops. That was 1968–six years after the missile crisis and 23 years after Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The Westmoreland plan was ultimately rejected by President Lyndon Johnson.