The Ban Still Banned

Florida was forced to do something. Horrific mass murders–and all the accompanying optics– mandate no less. So it did something. Being Florida, it did something less than it should have done. Yes, waiting periods, age limits and mental-health improvements help. But not nearly enough. The partisan political elephant in the room is still militarily armed for battle.

Ban assault weapons? No way. The sacrosanct Second Amendment, regardless of the late, conservatives’-revered Justice Scalia’s sensible take on real-world responsibilities, won’t permit it. Weapons of war–for non-warriors and faux warriors–are still legal and lionized by the Gunshine State’s usual suspects. Beyond frustrating, negligent and maddening.

Or ban assault weapon-enabling oversized magazines? As if.

Or how about mandated, all-inclusive background checks? Alas, that’s a rhetorical question.

Another affront to common sense, another assault on public safety, another outrage with cherry-picked, constitutional bullet points.

You’d think teachers and students would be a cause–and constituency–second to none. No surprise, however, they still ultimately rank behind the National Rifle Association and all the compromised pols who fear being primaried if they go too far. They fear that more than the next mass shooting expedited by an AR-15-type weapon more appropriate for Baghdad than Broward County.

Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson reined in the rage and summed up the Florida Legislature’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act. “This is a first step,” he noted tersely. “We must require universal background checks on the purchase of a gun and get these assault rifles off our streets. Until we’ve done that, we still have a lot of work to do.”

Until we’ve done that, Walmart and Dick’s Sporting Goods will continue to stake out the moral high ground of social conscience and societal responsibility that lawmakers disingenuously keep abdicating.

“Thoughts and prayers?” Let’s pray for better thoughts.

Trumpster Diving

* What to make of the summit sit-down with North Korea?

This, after all, is a country that has prioritized nukes over food. It’s also the world’s weirdest despotic monarchy. A fat kid with a bad hair cut runs it. His to-do list periodically includes handing out execution orders, some of them familial.

But there is also this: North Korea has been deceitfully playing for time for more than a generation. It has wanted in on the nuclear club; it wants to retain the Kim Jong Un regime; and it wants the U.S. out of the Korean Peninsula.

It wasn’t willing to negotiate in good faith during the Clinton, G.W. Bush and Obama Administrations. But now it, arguably, has what it wants: Enough nuclear and ballistic-missile cred. It also gets instant regime legitimization with a seat at the same table as the U.S. And it advances chances of reduced or eliminated sanctions, which undermine its economy, which still matters.

The devil, as always, will be in the details. What exactly does “denuclearization” mean? Does the U.S. need to keep thousands of troops near the DMZ trip-wire in perpetuity? What of regional security? Who does what to save face? How will China help out–and will it be a function of tariff fallout? How well prepared will Trump be? Did he give away leverage with knee-jerk summit acceptance? This isn’t some casino-bankruptcy ploy.

Here’s hoping Trump gets more informed input before the summit than he got before announcing that the summit was on. But, alas, this is not “The Apprentice.” Ask “Rexit” Tillerson.

* So Donald Trump’s commitment to school security is manifested in his latest iteration of a school security strategy that is highlighted by a plan to arm staff. This was underscored by Andrew Bremberg, director of the Domestic Policy Council. “The president is determined to get to the root of the various societal issues that lead to violence in our country,” he said. “No stone will be left unturned.”

Not quite. The assault-weapons-ban boulder will remain in place, and universal background checks will remain an ignored pebble.

* Newsweek’s Ryan Sit offers a bottom-line take on Trump’s proposed Veterans Day parade. “This could feed every homeless vet for the cost of his military parade–even conservatively estimated, which is $10-$30 million.”

* I kind of miss Sean Spicer. Kind of. Chalk it up to White House briefings by Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who gives duplicitous, career-first harlot a bad name.

* One analogy we don’t need is the Oval Office and a Day at the Improv. Whether it’s a tariff accompanied by “trade war” rhetoric or the knee-jerk acceptance of a summit with North Korea without requisite expert input, an erratic, impulsive approach to critically key decision-making by a U.S. president is beyond unacceptable. It’s downright scary.

* The Stormy Daniels’ “Make America Horny Again” tour: Call it a meme for our political epoch. Thank you, Donald Trump; thank you, ubiquitous media; and thank you, again, unconscionably enabling “basket of deplorables.”

Seeing And Saying

“See something, say something.” Of course. These are the insecure, paranoid times we live in.

But lenses differ. That’s a thin, slippery-slope line between profiling the usual suspects and helping prevent potential domestic attacks. But collective vigilance and community cooperation have to carry the homeland security day.

The Week That Was, Alas

Another week at the Oval Orifice.

We still have White House aides and advisers in the news cycle–for security-clearance matters, for unsettling, out-of-school quotes, for nepotism issues, for conflicts-of-interest scenarios. The usual. Plus, we have the ever-ratcheting Russian investigation that stalks the White House–with collusion and/or obstruction of justice charges looming. Plus, that White House revolving departure door that includes Hope Hicks, Donald Trump’s therapist babe and image masseuse. Plus, that counterproductive tariff proposal, prompted in part by a temper tantrum that caught everybody off guard, from allies to Paul Ryan. Plus, blatantly confusing signals about guns. Plus, a “Mr. Magoo” insult hurled at the appropriately beleaguered Jeff Sessions and some lingering Stormy Daniels references.

Does anything really matter from one impulsive, ego-driven tweet to another? From one “Apprentice”-like performance to another? Ask Canada. Ask the European Union. Ask North Korea. Ask Vlad Putin. Ask Wayne LaPierre.

How to characterize the Oval Orifice resident? How about “unstable, inept, inexperienced and also unethical.” Resulting in a state of “deep worry and concern.” Whose words? Former CIA Director John Brennan.

Or this: “I think the president is starting to wobble in his emotional stability, and this is not going to end well.” Whose words? Retired four-star Gen. Barry McCaffrey. “Trump’s judgment is fundamentally flawed, and the more pressure put on him and the more isolated he becomes, I think, his ability to do harm is going to increase.”

From nuclear-code access to “easy-to-win” trade wars. An unhinged, circus act has never been so existentially alarming.

No, impeachment scenarios are not going away. Neither are subplots involving the 25th Amendment, although it requires cabinet and vice presidential collusion, so to speak. And, yes, “Seven Days in May” is still selling well. As is “The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump,” a sobering assessment of Trump by more than two dozen psychiatrists and mental health experts.

Missed Signals

In the aftermath of another mass shooting, the usual suspects are inevitably singled out for a collateral role. Bureaucrats who missed red flags–from mental health warnings to public safety concerns–to neighbors who didn’t get involved.

But there is typically a more obvious, insidious suspect. The see-something-say-something culture has to include–indeed, start with–those literally closest to a would-be mass murderer. The Columbine killers’ clueless parents. Adam Lanza’s unconscionably enabling mother. Or Omar Mateen’s wife, who is accused of helping, witlessly or not, her husband in casing potential terrorist attacks, including the Pulse nightclub.

We also know that a couple, James and Kimberly Snead, took Nikolas Cruz into their home last Thanksgiving at the request of their son. “We didn’t see this side of him” they told the South Florida Sun Sentinel.  What they did see, however, was that Cruz came with a small arsenal–the notorious AR-15, two other assault-type rifles, plus knives, BB guns and pellet guns. He was welcome as long as he agreed to keep it all locked up.

Say what? You invite, indeed, welcome a 19-year-old friend of your teen-age son into your home, your neighborhood, and he comes with a weapons cache? See-something-say-nothing.

Tell-Tale Tie-Cutting

That’s a pretty impressive and representative list of corporate America that has announced the severing of ties with the National Rifle Association. As in sizable discounts. We’re talking Delta and United Airlines; Avis, Hertz and Enterprise car rentals; the Best Western Hotel chain; and MetLife insurance. But it begs the question of what the hell took them so long? More  embarrassment and awful PR than outrage?

We’re also talking a stark U.S. reality: You can’t have a functioning gun culture without the complicity of corporate and political America.

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.

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.