Sign Of Change?

It was the student-led, anti-gun violence “March for our Lives” gathering in St. Petersburg. It was only a few hundred people, and it was only a few dozen signs. But one of those signs spoke volumes for what it will take politically to get beyond the dysfunction, divisiveness and sheer anger we are now living.

“We are diverse. We are truthful. We are compassionate. We are informed. We vote.”

If only that one sign were to truly resonate. Because that must be the realistic, idealistic and pragmatic message going forward for all those desperate to make a difference as they fear where this country is going under this Administration.

In short, remember that you still represent the majority in this country: from demographics to values. But that, as we lamentably saw in 2016, is not nearly enough, even though volume and vitriol don’t define majority. And it’s not nearly enough if caring, diverse people are not informed enough on the issues and not motivated enough to vote for America’s self-interest.

And that includes Democratic millennial socialists and Bernie die-hards who can’t muster enthusiasm for “establishment” Democratic candidates, including the ultimate, non-socialist Democrat at the top of the ballot in a presidential year. It also includes minorities, even if the presidential ticket is all white.

The focus has to be more than post-Pelosi and encouraging electoral signs from Queens to Little Havana. The focus must also prioritize Trump-Pence and all its dire implications. How can the possibility of that reprise not rally everyone who truly cares about America and truly fears its current caretakers?

The 2018 mid-terms are about political leverage, human values and societal priorities. The 2020 presidential election will be all of that plus where America fits in the world, what’s really in our national-security and economic self-interest and who we still are as a people.

Being angry is understandable and appropriate. In-your-face confrontation with the usual sell-out suspects shows attitude and can be a visceral rush. But ultimately this is about group therapy. This is about being collectively caring, informed and motivated to vote for all the right, not just righteous, reasons. It’s also about having the guts to be undaunted by vile and volume.

And this is about Making America Grateful that enough of its citizens are moving to reclaim the moral and ethical high ground of the Oval Office and remove a cult figure lionized by societal haters and political harlots.

Trumpster Diving

  • This has to be part of anyone’s takeaway from that sham summit between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin: Something is compromising Trump’s behavior. Increasingly, it looks like it’s a lot more than “golden showers.”
  • Trump accepts the word of Putin that Russia didn’t meddle in our election. He dismisses the word of Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats—and demeans the entire intelligence communitywho say they certainly did meddle. How does Coats not quit? Or is he concerned that next up will just be a Trump sycophant who will make matters even worse?
  • Bottom line: Trump is good for Russia, not America. In an international forum, he stands forcefully against American media’s “witch hunt,” but he stands down to Putin.
  • Donald Trump, as we know, is the “enemy of the press.” But he looks almost tolerant when juxtaposed to Vladimir Putin. That’s because the bar is subterranean low. Trump demonizes, stigmatizes, threatens and scapegoats. Putin does mob hits.
  • Speaking of the media, this just in from Donald Tusk, president of the European Council: “America and the EU are best friends. Whoever says we are foes is spreading fake news.”
  • Amid all the back and forth regarding the Russian state’s obvious meddling in the U.S. elections, one quote continues to resonate more than any other. “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing.” It should still Make America Grate.
  • It says a lot about our virulent, divisive politics when Stormy Daniels and Michael Avenatti are cast as the “good guys.”
  • That Judiciary Committee exchange that featured FBI Deputy Assistant Director Peter Strzok, the F-bombing Trump disparager, was beyond contentious. It was an in-your-face exercise in mutual contempt that most American observers, including “Saturday Night Live” staffers, would find deplorably embarrassing.

Trumpster Diving: Putin To Pruitt

* “A republic, if you can keep it.”–That’s Ben Franklin’s famous take on what had resulted from the Constitutional Convention. It’s telling how that cautionary comment continues to resonate.

* Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin: It still seems like Trump is meeting up with his handler.  No one else in the room but translators. This will be prominent in somebody’s memoir.

* When Trump sat down with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, he was doing what he should have been doing–talking to the other side. But no one of sound reasoning could have disagreed that the blatant lack of preparation downgraded the summit to an exercise in world-stage narcissism and geopolitical negligence.

After the summit, Trump rhetorically high-fived himself over having been the catalyst for North Korea “no longer (being) a nuclear threat.” Now the North Korean Foreign Ministry is telling that world that “The attitude and demands from the U.S. side during the high-level talks were nothing short of deeply regrettable.” And this just in: Satellite surveillance appears to show NK expanding its nuclear capabilities.

Bottom line: There isn’t even a common definition of “denuclearization,” let alone its “phases.”

It’s what happens when there are no extensive, low-level talks to build the framework for an agreement with substance that two leaders can ceremonially sign off on. It hardly helps that Trump is also under-briefed and largely unread. No, high-stakes international summitry isn’t the same as a handshake deal with a leverage-challenged, Queens sub-contractor.

* Trump, as we’ve been noting too often, has the sinister wherewithal to normalize–whether it’s authoritarians, such as Putin and Kim, or racists, such as American Nazis in Charlottesville.

* When it comes to states’ rights, some things are more appropriate than others. A state income tax or building codes, for example, are well within state purview. Alas, abortion and states’ rights are also contextually joined. But existential issues, such as women’s rights and abortion, shouldn’t be as discretionary as crossing state borders to play the lottery.

* So much of the focus on former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt was over his chicanery. Understandable, but in the scheme of things  these were ethical blips in an Administration stocked with ethical blipsters. Pruitt’s legacy, alas, is that he was a true “enemy of the people” in his anti-environment, anti-science, anti Paris climate agreement agenda. That matters more than self-aggrandizement. So does leaving his right-hand man, former coal lobbyist Andrew Wheeler, as next up to continue the dismantling of the EPA.

* Trump’s nomination of federal appeals court Judge Brett  Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court has predictably prompted ideological speculation about abortion and gay rights.

But if he’s confirmed, Kavanaugh will likely be dealing with another high-profile, galvanizing issue first. It’s one that would highlight Kavanaugh’s (expansive) take on executive power and limits on presidential investigations. In short, how would Kavanaugh rule in Trump v. Mueller? Chances are, that matters a helluva lot more to Trump than Roe v. Wade.

* When the Senate confirmed Bill Clinton’s nomination of Ruth Bader Ginsburg to the Supreme Court in 1993, the vote was 96-3. That’s not a misprint. Nor is it a political era we’ll likely see again.

* Of all the ally push-back at Trump, none, ironically, has been as blunt as that of Emmanuel Macron, the French president. “We won’t talk at all with a country if it is with a gun to our heads,” said Macron. So much for that budding bromance.

* “I will do anything to protect Mr. Trump. I’m the guy who would take a bullet for the president.” That was Michael Cohen, Trump’s longtime personal lawyer, last year.

“I put family and country first. … I don’t agree with those who demonize or vilify the FBI.” That was Michael Cohen last month.

* American presidents have occasionally been received overseas with demonstrations of dissent by our trade-and-treaty partners. Happens in any relationship. They’re usually measured, and they come and go with the geopolitical dynamics of the times.

But this is different. Visiting Americans are advised to keep a low profile. And a high-profile part of London’s “reception” for Donald Trump will be a prominently-positioned, giant orange balloon of Trump depicted as a baby in a diaper. It’s part of massive “Stop Trump” protests organized by activist groups and trade unions. “This is a man who lacks the capacity for moral shame,” explained the Trump-balloon creator Leo Murray. “Liberal outrage just makes him smirk harder.”

*According to the always blunt Republican pundit Pat Buchanan, “some painful truths” about the current state of the Republican Party need re-stating. To wit, the GOP of the Bushes and Bob Dole and John McCain is history. “Unlike the Bourbons after the Revolution and the Terror, after Napoleon and the Empire, no restoration is in the cards. It is over.” Sobering, if not nostalgic.

* Relationships in the age of Trump: They are impacted.  As in families, friends, neighbors and co-workers. When it comes to families, neighbors and co-workers, you take one for the familial team and one for sheer self-interest because of proximity and inherent awkwardness.

When it comes to “friends,” however, this is different. This is about values and respect. Without respect, there is no friendship. That’s where you draw the line: Good bye. Line-drawing can be as brutal as it is shocking. But these are the times that bring out the worst in too many of us, including those we thought we knew.

Self-Evident Cause

Much has been made–and rightly so–about the Texas-based Arnold Foundation pledging $20 million for research into gun violence. The aim is to draw the federal government into the effort as well. It is also collaborating with the Rand Corp. to collect and analyze empirical data needed to make a case that would prompt consensus on acceptable gun control legislation.

Well (intentioned) and good (luck). It’s just too bad that common cause, common sense and what’s self-evident about what needs to be done about our malignant gun culture aren’t enough to make the case.

Trumpster Diving

* For those hoping that Roe v. Wade won’t be the key criteria when it comes to Donald Trump’s (July 9) Supreme Court nominee, keep hoping–but stay grounded. There are subplots to play out.

This is–as is everything–about Trump’s legacy. It’s a lot more than following the recommendations of The Federalist Society. Midterms are coming and this pseudo-Republican president’s popularity with GOP politicians and voters keeps going up. Expect him to double down on Steve Bannon’s scapegoat-and-demonization playbook.

That notably means pandering to the base in opposing the Democrats on their “open borders” immigration policy that is “invader” friendly and keeping the campaign promise that prioritized the repeal of Roe v. Wade. That pledge was underscored with the selection of Indiana’s Mike Pence as Trump’s running mate. Pence did his deplorable part and delivered the outrageously hypocritical, evangelical vote. It was arguably determinative in a couple of key states. Now it’s payback time.

One consolation, of sorts, in this worst-case, Roe v. Wade scenario: If the Supreme Court ultimately overturns such seemingly settled law, the Administration could play up the “state’s rights” angle. But, no, that’s not consoling enough.

* Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts is now the, uh, “swing” vote on the Supreme Court.

* Looks like Trump’s chief-of-staff, Gen. John Kelly, is on his way out. Apparently he’s become redundant with a president who is, in effect, his own chief of staff. It also means that Trump never got over Kelly’s “idiot” reference that seemed to confirm Rex Tillerson’s “moron” characterization. And it also means that not even a four-star general could rein Trump in.

*When it comes to civil discourse in this country, there’s a lot to shout about. Unfortunately. So much for civility requiring mutual respect.

Anyone else miss old-fashioned, self-serving, disingenuous, political-agenda spin? That’s politics in an untidy, sometimes tumultuous democracy. But not narcissistic, cruel, pathological lying from the top and the invective of fear and divisiveness from the dupes, brigands and party careerists below. That can’t be politics as usual. That can’t be us. But it is right now.

* You know you’re in brutally controversial times when a relevant frame of reference for an immigration ruling is Korematsu v. United States. Never good to see Japanese-American internment camps back in the news cycle.

* All families should be kept together with rare exceptions–maybe the Mansons and the Trumps.

* Legally, that Virginia restaurant was within its rights not to want to serve Sarah Huckabee Sanders. It wasn’t an ugly confrontation, and the owner did it out of deference to gay employees who were uncomfortable. Sanders then ranted on her government Twitter account, and then Trump weighed in as only he can. He said The Red Hen “should focus more on cleaning its filthy canopies, doors and windows… .”  Imagine, Huckabee Sanders even opting for a meal in a filthy restaurant.

* In some nefarious, parallel-universe way, doesn’t the upcoming Trump-Vladimir Putin summit feel like a collusion update?

Mi$cellaneou$

Here’s something that’s been making the internet rounds–after making a splash on CNBC’s “The Filthy Rich Guide”–and is worth pondering if you’re prone to second guess yourself.

Imagine being Ronald Wayne. Back in 1976, when he was 40, he was the third person in on the founding of Apple Computer. Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, the cash-challenged catalysts, were both in their feisty 20s.

From the get-go, Wayne had misgivings about working with the young whirlwinds and the possibility this could all head south. Within two weeks, he sold his 10 percent stake back to the co-founders for $800. Today, that would be worth around $80 billion.

But no regrets, says Wayne, an electronics industry retiree with a net worth of $300,000. “If I had stayed with Apple, I probably would have wound up the richest man in the cemetery.”

Some epitaphs are better than others.

Railroading Update

What goes around … .

Shortly after taking office in 2011, the Tea Party-backed Gov. Rick Scott turned down $2.4 billion in federal funding for high-speed rail connecting Orlando and Tampa. Too risky, he said. The Sunshine State would still be on the “hook.” More to the point, no way was he accepting anything, however progressively beneficial and necessary, from the “socialist” administration of Barack Obama.

Fast forward to now. The state will be considering private bids to build a high-speed rail link between Orlando and Tampa. Brightline, the railroad line that connects Miami and West Palm Beach, has already put in a high-profile bid to build track along I-4 to connect Orlando and Tampa.

What’s changed–besides Scott needing to broaden his appeal for his Senate run?

The biggest change is that instead of the Orlando-Tampa megalopolis being already connected–with plans likely in place to push high-speed rail to Atlanta–this area fell farther behind the competition and quality-of-life improvements that meaningful mass transit promised. And modern mass transit, as we all know and most of us acknowledge, has long been the missing link in Tampa’s efforts to realize its smart-growth potential.

But now, eight years later, Scott would have us believe that he held out for better timing and a private-sector savior.

Here’s the reality, lest we forget, courtesy of the Florida DOT. Late in Scott’s first Tea Partying year, the DOT sent a post-facto report to the Federal Railroad Administration with revealing projections on Tampa-to-Orlando ridership and operational costs. The numbers, which were based on findings of two consulting firms–hired by the state of Florida–projected an annual ridership of 5 million and a surplus of $30-million to $45 million within a decade of start-up. The DOT also estimated 3 million passengers and a $4.3 million surplus in the initial year (2016) of operation.

And while we’re trafficking in railroading reminders, let’s not forget that the bidding consortiums back then–all the major global players–were never even given the opportunity to present their building plans. Instead, the “on the hook” mantra and a specious comparison with California trumped everything–including bottom-line input from those who would actually build the line along a shovel-ready corridor.

And speaking of input, the bid winner would have realized a major global marketing coup: It would have been heralded as the one that built America’s first dedicated high-speed rail line. Any chance that winner would have agreed to make up any deficits and overruns to get the contract?

Some things you don’t–and shouldn’t–forget.

Scott will soon be gone from Tallahassee. But the incalculable damage done–from short-term jobs to the long-term development and redevelopment of the Tampa-Orlando axis of synergy has lingered on as part of his con-jobs legacy.

Party Labels

In the best of all possible democratic worlds, party labels for local public office shouldn’t be part of the election equation. It makes sense that ministerial jobs that lend themselves to non-ideological competence should be nonpartisan contests.

But we’re obviously not in the best of all possible democratic worlds. Otherwise, the Donald Trumps and Rick Scotts wouldn’t get elected. Diligence is still due from the electorate. And when it comes to non-presidential years, the turnout can be embarrassingly low, and outcomes can be determined by activists and extremists.

Hillsborough County commissioners have voted to include constitutional offices–clerk, sheriff, property appraiser, tax collector and supervisor of elections–on a referendum ballot that would remove party labels from candidates. All five would be nonpartisan races. The rationale: How relevant is a “D” or “R” in evaluating candidates for sheriff or clerk of county court?

The only issue with a change to such county nonpartisanship, is that it ups the ante on voter responsibility. Will voters do their homework and make their call based on candidate experience and pertinent credentials? If not, what else would be a relevant difference-maker other than political affiliation as an indicator of partisan values?

Trumpster Diving

* “I REALLY DON’T CARE, Do U?”

As we’ve noticed, every facet of fashion worn by Terse Lady Melania Trump is a de facto statement. It’s her plagiarism-free, go-to communication mode So, which is it, Mel? Are you that clueless, that uncaring, that arrogant, or that, well, Trumpian?

BTW, what were your other message-jacket choices? “I MARRIED A BILLIONAIRE, U DIDN’T”? “I’M STILL HOT, UR NOT”? Or “U FIGURE IT THE HELL OUT”?

Unsolicited advice: File for divorce, break out the pre-nup agreement and move back to Ljubljana or risk becoming the Cursed Lady.

Final thought: Bess Truman never looked so eloquent and classy.

* The Civil Rights Office of the Homeland Security Department should not be an oxymoron.