House Of Blue

Like a lot of you, I’m sure, the countdown to Tuesday’s vote triggered the 2016 flashback from hell. The night where we would dodge the reality-TV bullet and celebrate the historic election of the first woman president. Instead an outrageously unprepared, unethical, immoral, misogynist pseudo-populist cult figure changed our country for the worse.

As a result, this time it felt like America was in the doctor’s office awaiting STD results. Looking through finger slits at a TV screen as the results came in.

The good news, of course, is that President Donald Trump’s scaremongering antics couldn’t keep the House of Representatives in GOPster hands. Instead they energized enough Americans–not all of them Democrats–to stand up for something besides partisanship, nativism and media demonization. As former President Barack Obama said, “The character of our country is on the ballot.” It was.

Let’s savor the reality that a new House majority will be using its oversight powers to investigate the Trump Administration and issue subpoenas to officials. Hopefully, those results will remind Americans that our constitutional democracy only works if enough of us actually practice it.

Then there’s “Flori-duh.” Still. Governor-elect Ron DeSantis and (presumably) Senator-elect Rick Scott–a fawning, Trump acolyte who was more Fox-than-Florida friendly and a self-serving Trump supporter who once again wrote enough checks to buy a win against an uninspiring opponent. We know their back stories. We know their values. We know the implications for this state. It’s unconscionable that this is who now represents us in Tallahassee and Washington.

Those who voted for DeSantis and Scott–or didn’t vote–deserve what they get. The rest of us don’t.

But, yes, both the transportation and schools initiatives passed locally, as did (former-felons’ voting rights) Amendment 4 statewide. So maybe the Kavanaugh keg is half full. Maybe.

Trumpster Diving

* Lost in the fear-mongering fomented by the White House over the Central American “caravan” is this: The U.S. has no meaningful policy when it comes to Central America. In fact, it doesn’t even have an ambassador to Honduras, which has devolved into a nightmare scenario for its most vulnerable inhabitants. There’s more we can do–from constitutional, humanitarian and enlightened self-interest perspectives–than send in the troops and separate families.

* “It’s my only form of fighting back. I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t do that.”–That was Trump in a recent Axios interview, explaining his polarizing media-attacks rationale. Never know when the truth will be outed.

* For what it’s worth, Corey Lewandowski, Trump’s pre-Manafort campaign manager, says the 2020 Trump threat that worries him is billionaire, former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg, for whom fund-raising would not be an issue.

* “If you back the evangelicals out of the white vote, Donald Trump loses whites.” That was Ralph Reed of the Faith & Freedom Coalition in candidly assessing this president’s base. Which only reminds us that hypocrisy is apparently not a sin.

* Politicians selling out is nothing new. But pols doing a self-serving, 180 pivot in the era of Trump have reached a new low. Exhibit A: South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham. Not that long ago he referred to Trump as “the world’s biggest jackass” and then doubled down with “race-baiting, xenophobic religious bigot.” That was then; this is not. Now Graham is a regular golfing partner of the president. His likely end game(s): Become Jeff Sessions’ successor as attorney general or at least make sure he doesn’t get primaried in a state where Trump re-election support definitely matters.

* Remember the “Axis of Evil” during the George W. Bush Administration? That was Iran, Iraq and North Korea back in 2002. Not to be outdone, the Trump Administration has now rolled out the “Troika of Tyranny” and the “Triangle of Terror.” That would be its 2018 shorthand for Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua. We can thank National security adviser John Bolton–and likely alt-Reich, anti-immigrant adviser/speech writer Stephen Miller–for that outlandishly alliterative, geopolitical update. Bolton also sophomorically mocked their leaders as “stooges of socialism.”  As in, “They are clownish, pitiful figures more akin to Larry, Curly and Moe.” He was, of course, talking about (Miguel) Diaz-Canel, (Nicolas) Maduro and (Daniel) Ortega, respectively. How ironic; that could easily apply to Trump, Bolton and Miller.

* No, we’ve not seen anything like this administration before, but we have heard rhetoric before that now sounds eerily on point. This is what a Democratic presidential candidate once said: “A strong nation, like a strong person, can afford to be gentle, firm, thoughtful and restrained. It can afford to extend a helping hand to others. It is a weak nation, like a weak person, that must behave with bluster and boasting and rashness and other signs of insecurity.”  That candidate was Jimmy Carter in 1976. In retrospect, Gerald Ford never looked so good.

Signs Of The Times

* Last Friday a car plowed into five children and two adults waiting at a school bus stop. Fortunately, they all survived. Police officials said the crash did not appear to be intentional. Imagine having to say that?

* A substitute elementary teacher in Largo was recently arrested in the aftermath of carrying a loaded, 9 mm handgun to work. It fell from his front waistband on the school’s playground. The school was placed on a brief lockdown. A Tallahassee yoga studio became a multiple-murder scene. A place synonymous with tranquility became a venue of unspeakable violence. The murderer was a former substitute teacher in two counties. This can’t be the new normal.

* Tampa’s plan to turn highly treated wastewater into drinking water is on hold. That’s the upshot after Pinellas and Pasco officials indicated their misgivings about how the Tampa Augmentation Project  might impact their communities. One obvious issue is image. It hardly helps that the media routinely references the project as “toilet-to-tap.” Yuck.

* That was good news that Jeff Vinik’s development company (Strategic Property Partners) and Cascade Investment finally closed the deal to buy the 3-acre, 80-year-old ConAgra flour mill. It’s an anachronistic eyesore in an area under urban lifestyle reboot and Water Street Tampa revitalization. It is, as Mayor Bob Buckhorn underscored, “the last missing piece of the puzzle.”

But it will still be a few years before a new, relocated, state-of-the-art mill is built. And I still think some mural artists would help in the transition from butt ugly to urban aesthetic.

* I’m skeptical about autonomous, driverless cars. Hardly a fan of computerized chauffeurs and the like. But then I’m reminded–all too graphically–that driverless cars are immune from texting and huffing and boozing. They don’t do wrong-way u-turns, and they don’t traffic in road rage. How’s that for a market niche?

Trumpster Diving

* There is still a discernible difference among Democratic strategists as to how to respond to in-your-face Trumpian dynamics. From “go high” to “(metaphorically) kick ’em.” I prefer the former; don’t look to replicate the same sort of MO you deplore. It should be beneath the cause–and, in the era of ubiquitous media, can give the other side gratuitous, “liberal mob” ammo. Stay with principles without playing the punk card at restaurants or at the annual Washington Correspondents Dinner. Put it this way: Don’t fight fire with fire; fight it with a fire extinguisher of better proposals worthy of the America we still want to be.

* Approximately 30 million women voted for Trump in 2016. Alas, that’s not “fake news.” It also remains embarrassingly inexplicable.

* Looks like the tax cut that would “pay for itself” has reached the credibility level of “Mexico paying for the Wall.” That wouldn’t be the way Mitch McConnell would actually frame it, but that’s the uncomfortable upshot when you advocate cutting entitlement expenses to try and undercut a burgeoning budget deficit. But who expected the senate majority leader to make the case for cuts in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid right before the mid-terms? Timing is everything, as we assumed McConnell knew.

* Imagine, the Saudis are still working on a cover story for the killing of journalist-critic Jamal Khashoggi. Whatever its ultimate iteration beyond “fistfight”-gone-wrong, this much is obvious. “Rogues” don’t operate independently of authoritarian leaders on anything of import. Underlings misunderstanding instructions or overstepping authorizations just doesn’t happen. That’s not how Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, whose personal agenda notably includes the silencing of critics, operates. And let’s not forget that if MBS had wanted a de facto green light to go after a Washington Post columnist residing in the U.S., he could hardly have missed the ongoing signals emanating from the White House in the form of Trump’s routine assaults on American media. We’re seeing the tragic consequences.

* “Vote against the GOP this November.”–This blunt directive was issued by George Will. Yes, THAT George Will. It’s THAT scary.

* “Despite us having the worst laws in the world and no help from Democrats, our administration is doing a great job on the border.” That was White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, not President Donald Trump. But, yeah, she not only shills for her boss, she now sounds like him too.

* Yeah, that was quite the shocker that the Philippines just won another term on the UN’s Human Rights Council–given that Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has become synonymous with human rights violations–aka “extrajudicial killings”–in his beyond-brutal drug war. Philippine Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano used some familiar phrasing in lauding the UN’s decision. “We are really greatly honored as this is a vindication that fake news and baseless accusations have no place in modern-day human rights discussions.” Yeah, that’s who else traffics in such familiar, media-bashing rhetoric.

* “Here’s a quote, from the late writer and political cynic Gore Vidal, that still has currency. “The great American formula: socialism for the rich, free enterprise for the poor.”

“Women For Gillum”

My wife and I checked out the “Women For Gillum” rally at Waterworks Park last Friday. A crowd of about 500 braved the humidity. And I was not the only guy. Nor the only guy to go next door to get a plastic cup of Ulele stout to offset the heat. Good synergy.

The stage was filled with A-list women Dems–from Kathy Castor and Janet Cruz to Ione Townsend and Alex Sink. The crowd was diverse, not unlike a Gasparilla Children’s Parade turnout–Black, White, Hispanic. Older, younger. Kids and parents. Not even an infiltrator with a bull horn yelling something about “George Soros” could dampen the enthusiasm.

We all know that a blue wave is not guaranteed, but it can’t happen without a show of activism and enthusiasm. Boxes checked.

Gillum, who was introduced by Congresswoman Castor, hit his main speaking points: from Medicaid expansion and criminal justice reform to restoring power to environmental agencies,  raising teacher salaries and standing up to the NRA. He’s obviously a natural campaigner and patiently accommodated parents with little kids who had queued up for smiling selfies after the formal rally.

But he also underscored the bottom line. “If we vote, we win,” he declared, without cracking a smile.

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.

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.

Chaotic Supreme Courtship

I know I’m not the only one.

As I watched Brett Kavanaugh’s last Senate Judiciary Committee appearance–following that of his accuser, Christine Blasey Ford–I couldn’t overcome the sense that this might be hard for “Saturday Night Live” to spoof. I mean, how to you satirize a parody? Is the “Honorable Brett Kavanaugh” an oxymoron?

It was obvious from the start that Kavanaugh was doubling down on the tactic that mattered most at sexual-misconduct-allegation crunch time. This was more than damage control. In short, this was about showing viscerally that Kavanaugh was a victim of a reputation-destroying Democratic witch hunt. Plus, he wanted the back-in-the-day theme to be beer for the cool guys, not babes for assaultive sorts.

The hearing was a “circus,” a “sham” and a “national disgrace,” he charged. Moreover, the Senate had “replaced ‘advice and consent’ with ‘search and destroy.’” In response, Kavanaugh had replaced judicial temperament with calculated anguish and anger. Wonder what RBG thought about a punk on the court.

Then it got worse. He was never a “boring Boy Scout,” as Ted Cruz had mischaracterized him. He was just one of the guzzling guys, only the one who was top of his elite, country-club-milieu, prep school class and Yale-and-legal-career bound.

He even worked in a conspiratorial Clinton reference. He was angry, belligerent, defiant and flippant. He liked beer; he liked girls. Who doesn’t? But he had never assaulted anyone, and he had never passed out, even if he had been a member in particularly good standing of the “Beach Week Ralph Club.”

He lacerated the process and all Democratic Party enablers. This was a job interview, and the committee and the nation had just heard the excruciating testimony of Dr. Ford, a relative avatar of authenticity. As a result, he was on the #MeToo ropes–and nobody was more important than his nominator, Donald Trump. Certainly not Christine Blasey Ford, playing the lead in an immorality play to take down his besieged nomination.

Given Kavanaugh’s defiant demeanor and sniffling, thirst-quenching, rage-against-the-machine manner, it was surprising that one of the Democratic senators didn’t ask: “So, Judge, how many beers have you already had today?” I’m even more surprised that “SNL” didn’t go with it.

The bottom line: It was an embarrassing circus, one that should be unworthy of this country and its pre-eminent, “advice and consent” deliberative body.

But, yeah, Matt Damon as Brett Kavanaugh pulled it off on “SNL.” “I’m still an optimist” wryly noted Damon as Kavanaugh. “The keg is half full.” But we’ve all had Kava-nough.