Trumpster Diving

* “Americans love our freedom and no one will ever take it away from us. For Americans, nothing is impossible.”—That was President Donald Trump trying to wax proud and patriotic. Instead, it was more than ironic. There was a time when it would have seemed impossible to have elected someone like Trump to be a successor to George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and Franklin D. Roosevelt.

* Trump’s Fourth of July speech beneath the statue of Lincoln underscored a soberingly obvious point. No staff-prepared, homily-rich speech, even if not delivered awkwardly from a Teleprompter, can offset the image of tanks on parade. What works well in Beijing, Moscow, Pyongyang and Caracas, looks like hell in Washington. And B-2 stealth bombers remind us that we don’t, alas, have a stealth president. His mega-MAGA presence is ubiquitous.

Plus, exclusive VIP seating for deep-pocketed Republican donors only made an ego-driven, charade parade into a partisan sham. The new normal now includes a hallowed holiday.

* “Reducing our nation to tanks and shows of muscle just makes us look like the loud-mouth guy at the bar instead of the extremely diverse and energetic nation that we are.”—Pete Buttigieg. And Mayor Pete could have added that for an already fortunate few, that loudmouth picked up their tab at last call.

* Make America Gluttonous Again: Speaking of symbols, Joey Chestnut wolfed down more than 70 hotdogs to retain his title at the annual July Fourth hot dog eating contest at Coney Island. Too bad this isn’t “fake news.”

* The Trump Administration perceives North Korea and Iran as its—and the world’s–biggest military threats. Arguably, North Korea is the bigger threat—and, ironically, the bigger conundrum. Trump has a, however weird, personal relationship with NK leader Kim Jong Un, which is potentially helpful, and there are UN sanctions still in force. That’s nothing like Trump’s unilateral withdrawal from the Iran-nuclear deal that alienated the U.S. from international partners.

But there is this: North Korea, unlike Iran, already has a nuclear arsenal. And there are still no concrete signs that both countries can even agree on a definition of “nuclearization.” Love letters and a political-theater two-step across the DMZ into North Korea are not nearly enough.

* Kim Darroch, the British ambassador to the United States, has been quoted as describing the Trump Administration as “incompetent,” “dysfunctional” and “diplomatically clumsy and inept.” Diplomats typically speak in calculated diplomatese. Wonder what Darroch really thinks.

* It’s now official. There is no longer a lone Republican in Congress calling for the impeachment of President Trump. U.S. Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan has officially changed his status from renegade Republican to candid, country-first independent. That now renders the Republican Party totally spineless when it comes to holding Trump accountable for his justice obstruction.

Foreign Affairs

  • Vatican Vlad: Can only imagine the details of those “substantive talks” between Pope Francis and Vladimir Putin at the Apostolic Palace. We do know, however, that the “relevance of the Catholic Church in Russia” was addressed. We don’t know if meddling in other countries’ elections came up, or if the Pope offered to hear his confession.
  • It’s that time of the year again: the nine-day San Fermin fiesta—or the “running of the bulls” through the narrow streets of Pamplona, Spain. It draws about a million spectators, some of whom mindlessly mix among the bulls that will be killed later in bullfights. Several American tourists have been hospitalized. Regardless, I still root for the bulls.
  • “This is by far—by thousands of times—the cheapest climate change solution.” This was Thomas Crowther, a climate change ecologist at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, in making the case that the most effective way to fight global warming is to plant lots of trees. That’s because trees help remove carbon from the air—especially when they are younger. And the top six nations with the most room for new trees: Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Russia and the United States. But, no, it’s not nearly enough without emissions cuts, reminds Crowther.

Florida Fodder

* You go, Senator Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, and Hillsborough State Attorney Andrew Warren.

Rouson has already filed legislation that would ban private schools that ignore sexual orientation and gender identity from being part of the voucher program. It’s bad enough that tax-dollar tuition vouchers go to unregulated private schools, but it’s unconscionable that there would be a gender loophole. This is the 21st century and the LGBTQ cause needs formal inclusion.

As for Warren, his office is looking closely at the possibility of judges waiving the court costs of former felons caught in the Tallahassee machinations of Amendment Four. Warren’s office is proactively making the case that judges could substitute community service for court costs for a large number of cases. It would, if it passes legal and logistical muster, create special courts—so-called “rocket dockets”–to eliminate debts that thousands of defendants owe to the criminal justice system. It would also eliminate de facto “poll taxes.”

It would thus speed up the process of those who want to regain a key right on the way back to societal reintegration. And lest we forget, society at large also benefits when those who want back into their communities after paying their debts are allowed to do so–as was envisioned in Amendment 4.

* Are felons always felons, even after paying their felonious debt to society? Or are they “former felons”? The media uses both—not unlike the interchange of ACA and “Obamacare.” As we well know, labeling carries connotations and matters to partisans.

* Suppose a leading Democratic presidential candidate with an impressive fund-raising haul wrote a check to help the cause of former felons getting their vote back in Florida? As in a big, possibly game-changing check underwriting substantial costs associated with fees, fines and even restitution in America’s ultimate swing state. A classic win-win: doing the morally right thing—for a lot of politically pragmatic reasons.

* So, Gov. Ron DeSantis vetoed a controversial bill that would have required prominent warnings on lottery tickets. As in, “Warning: Lottery games maybe be addictive.” Or the less-alarmist “Play responsibly.” The governor rationalized that the result might be fewer players and, thus, less money for education. Maybe he should consider an alternate warning, one that might truly resonate with gambling sorts, but might not impact educational dollars. Perhaps: “Odds are, you won’t get addicted.”

* Roil Tide: Floridian Hugh F. Culverhouse Jr. has further underscored his opposition to the Alabama Legislature and governor for enacting an anti-abortion statute in May. Last week he took out a full-page ad in the Wall Street Journal with the less-than-nuanced headline: “WHEN WE SING ‘GOD BLESS AMERICA’ ON THE FOURTH, IN ALABAMA, SOME WILL WHISTLE ‘DIXIE.’”

USF Prez Debut

By definition, first impressions don’t allow for do-overs. They matter that much. By all accounts, new USF President Steve Currall nailed his formal USF debut. It was a lot more than an engaging smile and a green-and-gold tie. Given USF’s varied priorities and unique campus composition, he maxed out.

His early-morning, first-day email and press availability emphasized service to USF’s student-faculty-alumni constituency and stewardship and leadership of a major, urban research university that has a catalytic role regionally and globally. “My mission now is to increase the slope of the trajectory of the university and take it forward,” he stressed. His analogy of USF and Tampa Bay to Stanford and Silicon Valley underscored a philosophy of thinking big. His first official order of business was a meeting with faculty, which always appreciates such a symbolic priority.

Then he literally made the rounds via a “listening tour” of the university’s three campuses, noting that his No. 1 job was to “knit together” all three locations. That remains a formidable challenge, one that he may well be up to if first impressions are any indication.

Sports Shorts

* First things first with the Rays: No reliable closer, no prospect of playing into October.

* As to the ExRays proposal, a lot rides on the meaning of “negotiations.” Is talking to—or conversing with—Montreal’s Stephen Bronfman, sans a paper trail—an actual legal loophole? Or just wink-and-nod rhetoric? Is this not unlike what the meaning of “is” is?

* “Signing the brief was not only the right thing to do, but is also best for our business.” That was Brian Auld, Rays president (and Rowdies’ vice chair), referring to the Rays joining more than 200 major American corporations signing on to an amicus brief filed with the U.S. Supreme Court in support of workplace rights for the LGTBQ community.

* I was watching—OK, transfixed by–the last 10 minutes of the U.S.-UK Women’s World Cup semifinals from the health club I work out at. But for the first few minutes, it was beyond frustrating to tell which team was which. I’m (obviously) not a hard-core fan and the easily identifiable Megan Rapinoe was not in the game. A small patch on the jersey indicates country. That’s it. Until there is a close up of an individual player, it’s hard to tell the difference between teams, especially when they are demographically similar, in this case mostly white with a player or two of color. If this were Nigeria vs. Iceland, it wouldn’t be a problem.

And BTW, if we’re going to reference a clock, why not actually stop it when there are delays—whether for injuries, controversial calls or when the soccer ball goes careening out of bounds? Having a prominent clock and approximating “stoppage time,” however steeped in tradition, still seems oddly incongruous.

Quoteworthy

* “We will continue working with our JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) partners–particularly with Germany and France–to keep the (Iranian) nuclear deal in place. This is in our shared security interests.”–James Slack, spokesman for British Prime Minister Theresa May.

* “Appalled.”—The response of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet to conditions that migrants and immigrants face in U.S. detention facilities.

* “News reports about the Department of Commerce dropping its quest to put the citizenship question on the Census is incorrect or, to state it differently, FAKE! We are absolutely moving forward.”—President Donald Trump.

* “The (Democratic) party should welcome refugee (Republican) ‘Never Trumpers’ with open arms. But they can’t be ‘Never Democrats’ too.”–Eugene Robinson, Washington Post.

* The public pays parks fees to fix national parks and for educational programs, not the president’s parade.”–Theresa Pierno, president and CEO of the National Parks Conservation Association.

* “If you’re a Christian and think there’s nothing wrong with this abuse of innocent (border-crossing, immigrant) children, please imagine trying to explain yourself to Jesus. Play that one out.”–Connie Schultz, Creators.com.

* “Today’s partisan split is anything but a flash in the pan. It now defines the (Supreme) Court and will likely play a key role in court decision-making for the foreseeable future.”–Neal Devins, author of “The Company They Keep.”

* “The chief justice’s efforts to steer the court through partisan shoals is likely to get even more difficult as the justices are called upon to referee hot-button issues left unaddressed by partisan dysfunction in Congress and the White House.”–Carl Hulse, author of “Confirmation Bias.”

* “I do not believe in packing the court. But I do believe that constitutionally we have the power to rotate judges to other courts. And that brings in new blood into the Supreme Court.”–Sen. Bernie Sanders.

* “There’s a concerted effort to equate Elizabeth Warren with Bernie Sanders, to make her seem more radical. (But Wall Street and its allies) are more afraid of her than Bernie, because when she says she’ll change the rules, she’s the one who knows how to do it.”—Luigi Zingales, University of Chicago economist and co-host of the podcast “Capitalisn’t.”

* “As big as the Democratic field is, it actually feels the absence of two significant figures with a proven ability to speak to moderates and traditional, working-class voters. Both Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio and former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe chose not to run, presumably at least in part because they thought Mr. Biden would dominate the moderate lane in the race, leaving little room for them.”—Gerald F. Seib, Wall Street Journal.

* “Debates about who is ‘electable’ (or not) have become a smokescreen for lingering discomfort with what we have still, after 243 years as a republic, never seen: the election of a woman president.”—Amy Chozick, Vogue.

* “We’ve done exactly what we set out to do, done exactly what we wanted to do, said what we feel. … We’re such a proud and strong and defiant group of women.”—Megan Rapinoe, in the aftermath of the U.S. defeating the Netherlands, 2-0, to win the Women’s World Cup in Lyon, France.

* “If Florida voters care about the security of our elections, we should insist that our Legislature and our county officials switch to hand-marked paper ballots.”—Paula Dockery, former Florida Republican—now NPA—legislator from Lakeland.

* “If we truly want to help students, let’s drop the misguided grading system and do the work, providing the resources and support to build a more equitable, high-quality system of free neighborhood public schools.”–Fedrick Ingram, president of the Florida Education Association.

* “I remain steadfast in my belief that if baseball remains in Tampa Bay, it’ll be in Tampa.”—Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan.

Trumpster Diving

* “Speed is not the object. … Nobody knows how things turn out, but certainly this was a great day. This was a very legendary, very historic day.” That was vintage Donald Trump-speak after setting foot on North Korean soil to rekindle his beyond-bizarre bromance with Kim Jong Un. It was about autocrat coddling in a worldwide spotlight while he was in the G-20 neighborhood. But the actual bottom line has not changed. Can this Apprentice president–while globally elevating the stature of a thug-murderer–ultimately make something meaningful happen? As in an actual written agreement–sans self-serving ambiguity–that actually defines and implements “denuclearization”? All that rides on it is everything.

No, “speed is not the object,” but timing before the 2020 election just might be a factor.

* We all know somebody who voted for Trump.

But it’s not like knowing somebody who voted for George Romney or John McCain or would have voted for Jeb! Bush, Jon Huntsman or John Kasich.

We have our political differences; this is our system. We know the democratic script. Even if a bit begrudgingly, we come together while remaining in ideological disagreement. But nobody ever thought the Romneys, McCains, Jeb!s or Kasiches were pathologically unhinged, narcissistic, immoral existential threats–merely opposing-party candidates with a different take on the economy, the role of government and foreign policy. There was a place for undemonized compromise. Partisan didn’t mean poisonous.

But having said all that, how do we handle it when our neighbor, our colleague, our client, our family member is a Trumpster? We’ve all experienced it. It is part of our abnormally abhorrent, new normal. Here’s one scribe’s experience.

I know I can’t convert a cult follower, a stock market zombie or an spineless, quisling GOPster. I know I am not alone. So I try keeping it apolitical and civil and avoid awkward discomfort and counterproductive confrontations. But I do invoke a Trump-induced standard: Respect withheld. Yeah, that goes for a neighbor as well as a family member.

* “Don’t meddle with the election.” That was Donald Trump to Vladimir Putin at the Group of 20 summit in Japan. Too bad it was publicly accompanied by a smirk, a finger point and a blatantly joking manner. But that’s how you handle your handler.

* “I think my base is so strong, I’m not sure that I have to do that.” That was Donald Trump’s response, during a recent Time magazine interview, to a question about him reaching out to swing voters. Trump, who lost the popular vote in 2016, remains the only president in the history of Gallup polling to never crack 50 percent approval.

* “If it was up to him, he’d take on the whole world at one time, OK? But that doesn’t matter, because I want both sides.” That was President Trump’s reassurance, of sorts, that we shouldn’t be overly concerned about John Bolton, the hair-trigger hawk who he appointed national security advisor.

* “The White House is afflicted by mental retardation and does not know what to do.” That was Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. Normally that would be unconscionably inappropriate language to use in any international forum. But there’s ample precedent. Not that long ago North Korean leader Kim Jong Un referenced the American president as the “mentally deranged U.S. dotard.” Remember when words used to matter?

* “I just don’t know about the case.” That was Marco Rubio’s self-serving answer when asked for his take on allegations of sexual assault against Trump by writer E. Jean Carroll. It was a calculated response aimed at the Trump base, which could still linger on in 2024 when Rubio hopes to be back on the GOP presidential hustings.

* Mark Esper, the acting secretary of defense, recently met up with counterparts in Brussels to hash out NATO’s role in the looming Iranian crisis. Esper’s goal was to convince allies to take a harder stance against Iran. You have to wonder what the dynamics were like for Esper, given the U.S. role in unilaterally pulling out of the Iran nuclear deal and his next-guy-up, acting status as defense secretary. Quite possibly: “Who are you, again?”

* “No.1, she’s not my type. No.2, it never happened.” That was the president’s revealing, hierarchal response to the E. Jean Carroll sexual-assault charge. The all-too-familiar bottom line: Trump would never, ever sexually attack somebody who wasn’t his kind of hot babe. Presumably, that prioritized denial goes for all 16 of the women who have made allegations of sexual misconduct against Trump.

* This just in: The White House is developing a plan to cut taxes by indexing capital gains to inflation. According to the Penn Wharton Budget Model, the top1 percent would receive 86 percent of the benefit. That should certainly please Trump’s populist base.

Debate Dynamics

* We all saw the debates, even if we didn’t all view them through the same lens. That’s the nature of partisan politics and “debates,” which are really performance art for a casting call of candidates and monetized, show-business optics for the networks. We’ll never see a Lincoln-Douglas sequel. A few takeaways:

* Some elements of the punditocracy have been fantasizing about a Kamala Harris-Pete Buttigieg ticket. One that would galvanize progressives and rally the party to a historically big, nation-saving turnout. No, it won’t happen. But as long as there are pundits and fantasizers, why not really double down to go after the menace that is Trump? How about a Harris-Obama ticket? He could legally do it.

No, it won’t happen, but all options–including trenchant warfare–should be under consideration when so much is at stake–and so much more damage, domestically and globally, would be done by a 2020 Trump re-election .

* Two and a half years ago, Joe Biden was one of the most powerful people in the world. He had been vetted by Barack Obama and given an eclectic portfolio that prioritized global strategies and domestic politics. That Joe Biden has to show up later this month in Detroit. If he’s still around.

* As noted, these are not really debates. Too big a field, too much of a premium on performance. Sen. Kamala Harris, an impressive candidate by any measure, underscored that reality with her calculated, orchestrated confrontation with Biden.”I know you’re not a racist….” was unnecessarily insulting as she literally pivoted in his direction for a multi-minute lecture on school busing for integration. It was effective; it was game-changing; and it was pure performance ploy–with an enabling NBC split-screen capturing all the juxtaposed drama.

* Julian Castro still bears an awkward surname for an American presidential candidate. But his “Marshall Plan” reference for Central America makes eminent sense–and should continue to resonate. Not unlike its post-war namesake, a Central American version would be an investment and an exercise in enlightened self interest–not some give-away to those playing Uncle Sam for a “sucker.” Asylum seekers are fleeing horrific violence in El Salvador, Guatemala and, worst of all, Honduras, the murder capital of the world. Hell, we still don’t even have an ambassador in Tegucigalpa.

* It was somewhat revealing, but hardly surprising to hear several candidates work in some Spanish in a Miami debate that was also carried by Telemundo–not far from a border detention center. Even NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio–until he went too far. “Hasta la victoria siempre.” Never a good idea to quote Che Guevara in South Florida. Ay, Dios, Guillermo.

* John Yang got the memo; he just ignored it. Entrepreneurs don’t wear ties anymore.

Tampa Bay Tidbits

* Among the off-putting, controversial tweets attributed to St. Pete City Council candidate Scott Orsini is this one: “I thought about getting a bicep tattoo and then remembered it wasn’t 1992 and that I’m not a lesbian.” Maybe that was Orsini’s indirect way of outing himself as a biceptual.

* From the get-go, it was always telling that Jeff Vinik, Tampa’s makeover catalyst, never became a player in a baseball-stadium scenario for Tampa. That was–and still is–a difference maker.

* How, ironically, appropriate that the Hillsborough County Republican Party has a new monthly meeting location: The River of Tampa Bay, an evangelical church. Although some GOPsters are apparently a little uncomfortable with the overlap of religion and politics, it makes sense. The evangelical vote helped elect Trump, an absolute avatar of immorality. Obviously hypocrisy is still not a sin.

Media Matters

* Plaudits to the Tampa Bay Times for joining several other major Florida newspapers plus WLRN Public Media to share content and produce stories about climate change. For once, the Times‘ “Inside the  Newsroom” column wasn’t perfuming the pig about something that is a distraction from letting good people go, not prioritizing proofreaders and limiting coverage of important events because of early deadlines. Times are tough; it’s a daily challenge; but prioritizing the existential issue of our lives in such a collaborative way is commendable.

* “Yesterday” is a romantic comedy. That’s like saying Abraham Lincoln was a lawyer. True, but. Once you accept the premise that anything can happen as a result of a nano-second, global power outage, you’re in for a fun, magical-realism experience featuring classic Beatles tunes.    You go with the fanciful flow and enjoy the tribute.  Especially if you’re of a certain generation.

Catch it while it’s around on the big screen. If convenient, see “Yesterday” today or tomorrow. It’s quality escape–no Marvel heroes; no sequels of sequels. Only gratuitous fun and nostalgia. Now, more than ever.