Not As If We Weren’t Warned

Think back to 2015-16 and what Republican primary candidates, prominent GOPsters and certain right-wing media were saying about Donald Trump–and where we are now. There’s  political trash talk, of course, and then, eerily and ironically, there’s this: a prescient sampling.   

            > “(He’ll be) a chaos president.”–Jeb Bush.     

            > “A pathological liar.”–Ted Cruz.

            > “This guy is dangerously unhinged.”–Glenn Beck.

            > “A jackass.”–Lindsey Graham.

            > “There’s plenty of evidence that Mr. Trump is a con man.”–Mitt Romney.

            > “He’s not going to make America great; he’s going to make it orange.”–Marco Rubio.

            > “Defend conservatism against the cancer of Trumpism.”–Rick Perry.

            > “Since he has  changed his mind on amnesty, on health care and on abortion, I would just ask, ‘What are the principles by which he will govern?'”–Carly Fiorina.

Trumpster Diving

* So, Trump rolls out his (OK, Jared’s) “big, beautiful (immigration) plan” in a Rose Garden address. Yes, beefing up border security was prioritized, as was a much more merit-based immigration system. But, no, there was no mention of the DACA-immigrants status, nor did it reference what to do with the 11 million undocumented immigrants already living shadowy American lives.

But he did express hope in his speech that Democrats would join him in “putting politics aside” and passing “historic reforms.” Alas, the same speech had earlier referenced Dems as the party of “open borders, lower wages and, frankly, lawless chaos.” Nice inclusive touch.

* Some GOPster had to be first, and while this was no Barry Goldwater/Richard Nixon-come-to-Jesus moment, it was still worth noting that the first Republican congressman has now (openly) called for President Trump’s impeachment. Michigan Rep. Justin Amash, a libertarian, actually read the 448-page report and subsequently took exception to Attorney General William Barr for having “deliberately misrepresented” the findings. “Contrary to Barr’s portrayal,” stated Amash, “Mueller’s report reveals that President Trump engaged in specific actions and a pattern of behavior that meet the threshold for impeachment.”

But Amash is well known as a (rare) GOP outlier when it comes to publicly criticizing Trump. The president has already called him a “loser” and a “lightweight.” So, how about more prominent Republicans, who are known to be critical, if not belittling, of Trump in private? That means you, Senators Lindsey Graham, Ted Cruz, Mitch McConnell & Co. That means taking one for your country before it’s too late. And too late could happen before we get to early November, 2020.

* I was among those political junkies who tuned in to MSNBC’s recent, well-hyped “Hardball” show on location from Northeast Pennsylvania that featured a “Deciders” theme. As in, those voters who, having voted for Barack Obama twice, then went for Donald Trump last time. The site was near Wilkes-Barre in Luzerne County, now widely, if not notoriously or inexplicably, known for having boldly switched from Obama to Trump. It helped Trump upend projections by turning the Keystone state red. It had a town hall kind of vibe, as it provided a forum for local officials, union workers, business owners, everyday voters–and one notable ringer, DNC Chairman Tom Perez.

But I’m still waiting to understand why any Obama voter would vote for Trump. To go from the first African American president to the one who played the racist birther card against him. To go from classy to classless. To go from evolving to devolving.

I’ve heard the rationales. Often. Those who felt forgotten and wanted economic security. Those who preferred a “businessman” to another politician-in-chief. Those who needed a rationale for life not turning out better. Those who feared the undocumented in their midst. Those who wanted a more economically assertive America. Those who were tired of sending in the marines to problematic parts of the world.

In the abstract, they are all eminently understandable. My roots–along with Chris Mathews’–are not far from Wilkes-Barre: Philadelphia. Blue collars don’t get much bluer than a bus-driver family of seven living in an Archie Bunker row house in Northeast Philly. I get the populist pitch and appeal.

Here’s the part I don’t get. Wherever you are on the political spectrum, wherever you are occupationally and economically, wherever you are on American “greatness,” you still have to do some due diligence and use your brain more than your gut. Especially on a game-changing, world-altering presidential election. And if you like the current, positive economic numbers and attribute it all to Trump, the bankruptcy avatar, then remember that a GNP boost has come at the cost of an exploding deficit, unsettling trade war scenarios, environmental degradation, reduced protections for workers and consumers and a flippant, anti-constitutional attitude. 

Were you more impressed with “The Apprentice” star widely known as an unethical, un-read, mercurial, narcissistic, pathologically lying sexist than the flawed candidacy of Hillary Clinton, who was at least well qualified to be president? Did it not make any difference that any vote that would enable a Trump presidency was a vote for an existential threat–nationally and globally? Did it not make any difference that you were voting to install an embarrassing charlatan in the White (Nationalist) House? This wasn’t Clinton vs. Kasich or Clinton vs. Romney or Clinton vs. Huntsman. This was closer to Clinton vs. Kid Rock. What the hell were you thinking? Please don’t do any more deciding, unless it’s to decide to make electoral amends.

*New York Mayor Bill de Blasio has given the upcoming presidential campaign something other than anti-de Blasio punch lines. His contribution–another Trump nickname: “Con Don.”

* It’s been well chronicled how Trump has evolved–or pragmatically pivoted–on certain issues since he became a serious presidential candidate. But there is certainly one notable constant: He’s always been pro-strife.

* Trump is driven by narcissistic drama, including the rhetoric of war and immigrant invasion, points out Trump biographer Michael D’Antonio. “It’s a game of revving up the excitement and making people afraid,” says D’Antonio, “and then backing off on the fear in order to declare that he’s resolved the situation.”

* “This season on SNL started in 2018, but it looks like it’s going to end somewhere back in the 1970s.”–SNL “Weekend Update” co-host Colin Jost.

* To those Dems who can’t abide a Joe Biden candidacy primarily because he’s, well, an unfashionably “old white guy,” remember all your hard-core values. If “Caucasian-male-septuagenarian” status is disqualifying, whatever happened to “ageism” as a capital societal sin typically condemned by true-blue progressives?

It’s not a crime against humanity for progressives to wax pragmatic for the ultimate just cause. Just make sure the candidate at the top of the ticket is best suited to take down the menace that is Donald Trump.

* Trump Tower Tampa. Talk about dodged bullets.

Environmentoll

Gov. Ron DeSantis calls himself a “Teddy Roosevelt Republican.” It’s a lot better than his previous label: a “Fox Green Room Donald Trump Republican.” And, indeed, he has vetoed a bill that would have prohibited cities from banning plastic drinking straws, is supportive of the Everglades Trust, is critical of Big Sugar and has hired a chief science officer. This, as we have seen, is not a Rick Scott sequel.

But he has also done something that Rick Scott would have approved of–and would have supported with some “jobs, jobs, jobs” rationale: the biggest state road project in decades. That’s the upshot of signing on to a massive new toll road through the state (from Polk County to Collier County) and extending two (Suncoast Parkway, Florida Turnpike) others. “I think we need new roads in Florida to get around,” explained DeSantis. “So, I’m supportive of infrastructure.”

In effect, DeSantis has really said, “Look, I’ve been a Teddy Roosevelt Republican on some things that have surprised both sides of the aisle. It’s not hard to look good when you follow Rick Scott, who even Republicans didn’t much lot. But I’m not going to go overboard–as if my only constituency were the Sierra Club and tree huggers.”

Alas, those who went to the mattresses for wetlands and wildlife corridors went unheeded. Their clout pales next to those of the Florida Chamber of Commerce, road builders and others with self-serving, vested interests. “Make Florida Sprawl Again” still resonates with the usual suspects. Or maybe it should be: “For Whom Florida Tolls.”

“Teddy Roosevelt is probably rolling in his grave right now that a comparison was ever made between him and Gov. DeSantis,” said Sierra Club Florida Conservation Chair Tim Martin. Maybe so, but maybe DeSantis also wants it both ways, not unlike Roosevelt in a way. TR’s legacy includes having created a Forestry Service, establishing several national parks and paving the way for the Antiquities Act and the National Park Services. He’s also, of course, remembered for his swaggering “thrill of the hunt,” which included a number of well-earned big-game, mounted trophies.

Quoteworthy

* “The cause of America is the cause of all mankind.”–Essayist Thomas Paine.

* “The troika of tyranny.”–How national security adviser John Bolton characterizes Nicaragua, Venezuela and Cuba.

* “What the president hasn’t explained is how depriving quasi-failed states (El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras) of assistance will help them do better by us.”–Bret Stephens, New York Times.

* “The administration’s decision to announce a tax on every product coming from China puts America’s entire economy at risk. No product category will be spared if this latest threat materializes. …Americans entire shopping cart will get more expensive.”–Excerpt from a statement issued by the Retail Industry Leaders Association.

* “Like the new NAFTA, any deal with China would have to get through Congress. … When the Trump Administration demanded that China change their laws immediately, China balked. Why would they change their laws for a negotiated agreement that Congress has not even seen?”–Alan Green, economics department chairman at Stetson University.

* “There’s no question that both the U.S. and China have benefited from a trading relationship over the last 25 years. And there’s also no question that things about that relationship need to change. I think the issue now is tit-for-tat tariffs aren’t going to work.”–Carly Fiorina, former Hewlett Packard CEO and 2016 Republican presidential candidate.

* “The American people have a right to know whether the president has violated the tax law or acted on conflicts of interest, and whether the IRS has adequately policed any such violations. But because Mr. Trump, unlike every other president since Richard Nixon, has refused to release his tax returns, only Congress has the authority to investigate these questions. The courts should enforce this right.”–NYU law professor Lily Batchelder, a former majority chief tax counsel for the Senate Finance Committee from 2010-14.

* “If Trump doesn’t want a war, he needs to make that clear–not just to the Iranians but to Bolton and Pompeo as well. … We already have a trade war. I fear Trump may stumble into a real one.”–Eugene Robinson, Washington Post.

* “If part of your brand is that you’re not going to get the U.S. into unnecessary wars, why in the world would you hire John Bolton?”–Former Obama adviser David Axelrod.

* “Say what you want about Trump, he is not stupid. He is a smart man with a deep understanding of what stupid people want.”–Satirist Andy Borowitz.

* “House Democrats holding Barr in contempt isn’t a ‘constitutional crisis’ and it’s not ‘oversight.’ It’s a show.”–Sen. Marco Rubio.

* “If the people who are referenced in the Mueller report won’t testify, then we need to hear from the author of the report.”–Florida Democratic Congressman Ted Deutch, a member of the House Judiciary Committee.

* “I think Nancy Pelosi has already missed the moment on this.”–David Jolly, Former Florida Congressman–and former Republican–on the U.S. House Speaker’s impeachment strategy.

* “Indulging in ideological purity is great until you actually want to solve the problem.”–Paul Bledsoe, strategic adviser at the Progressive Policy Institute.

* “Mark (Zuckerberg) may never have a boss, but he needs to have some check on his power. The American government needs to do two things: break up Facebook’s monopoly and regulate the company to make it more accountable to the American people.”–Chris Hughes, Facebook co-founder.

* “You just said to my daughter … ‘You don’t matter in the state of Alabama.'”–What Alabama Senate Minority Leader Bobby Singleton said to Republican legislators after Alabama passed the harshest anti-abortion bill in the U.S.

* “Whether purposefully or not, (DeSantis) is not letting people figure him out. No one knows what his next move is. Guess what? That makes him powerful.”–Democratic strategist and lobbyist Screven Watson.

* “For the time being, I’m comfortable with where we are (on Europe flights), but we are looking at Latin America and the Caribbean markets, and Bogota is actually our top target.”–Kenneth Strickland, TIA’s director of research.

* “Our vision for Midtown is to create a unifying place for hospitality, living, working and shopping designed around four acres of common public spaces.”–Bill Haines, chairman of the Bromley Companies, master developer for the $500 million, mixed-use Midtown Tampa project under construction at I-275 south N Dale Mabry Highway.

Trump, Bolton And Giuliani

* Absent relevant details and absent Robert Mueller, the Mueller report remains more Trump bombast than Democratic bombshell. Obviously Mueller, who has earned the respect of anyone who matters over his career of service, has to speak out to un-spin William Barr’s client-agenda. Fortunately, Rep. Jerrold Nadler, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, concurs–and then some. “(Mueller) will come at some point,” underscores the New York Democrat. “If necessary, we’ll subpoena him.” Hopefully, it won’t be necessary.

* John Bolton is like having Gen. Curtis “Bombs Away” LeMay back in the White House orbit. Only Donald Trump, who chose Bolton, is not John F. Kennedy, who inherited LeMay.

* North Korea’s recent launching of (short-range) ballistic missiles has reinforced the reality that negotiations between the Apprentice president and Kim Jong-un are not delivering results. Trump needs a fixer. Maybe Dennis Rodman is available.

* So the Rudy Giuliani plan to go to Ukraine–to urge that government to investigate the origins of the Mueller report as well as the involvement of Joe Biden’s son in a Ukrainian oligarch-owned gas company–has been canceled because of bad optics. How inexplicably perceptive. But Giuliani certainly didn’t cancel the rationale for ironically wanting to go to a country–that’s deeply reliant on the U.S. for financial and military aid–in the first place. “We’re not meddling in an election,” Giuliani had disingenuously explained. “We’re meddling in an investigation, which we have a right to do.”

And we are once again left to ponder: Who the hell scripts this guy? Eugene Ionesco? John Dean has never seemed so patriotically eloquent, honest and competent.

But Giuliani did at least accomplish something–just by working Hunter Biden into the conversation. If Biden Sr. were to be the Democratic nominee, Trump will have a push-back line beyond “sleepy, creepy Joe” to base-pleasingly divert the focus from Don Trump Jr.’s subpoena scenario.

* During his Panhandle rally, Trump reaffirmed, as only he can, that the border was, like, overrun with immigrants and was, like, dangerous and we have to do everything we can to “keep them out.” That sparked, unconscionably, a chant of: “Shoot ’em.” Trump shrugged, smiled and responded: “Only in the Panhandle.” Not exactly a “deplorable-basket” rebuke.

* “The president is almost self-impeaching.”–U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

* Speaking of the constitutional crisis, the Founding Fathers never indicated an advocacy for a system of bounced checks and imbalances.

*Whatever happens as a result of Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin’s stonewalling on Trump’s tax returns, this much we do know. Fred Trump always made a lot of money, and Donald Trump always lost a lot of money. We’re also constantly reminded that those born on third base did not hit a triple.

Media Matters

* A dozen years in the making and three years in the writing. That’s what will have preceded Michael Cohen’s tell–more or less–all book. You know it’s coming. It’s also a good use of government-imposed down time. But, no, Cohen won’t morph from whore-out to hero. More like a huckster doing what everyone soiled by Trump fealty winds up doing.

* “Christchurch Call“: That’s the pledge that a number of governmental and tech-industry leaders took this week at a Paris summit aimed at curbing the dissemination of violent ideologies on the internet. The summit was led by New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and French President Emmanuel Macron. Participating countries ranged from the UK, Ireland and Canada to Norway, Senegal and Jordan. Not among the participants: President Donald Trump and Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg.

* The Tampa Bay Times, as part of its “Florida Wonders” coverage, recently referenced the elegant-back-in-the-day Princess Martha hotel in St. Pete. It was where Babe Ruth signed a Yankees contract for $80,000 in 1930. That was $5,000 more than President Herbert Hoover made, it was noted. Not mentioned was Ruth’s response to the media’s inevitable question about a baseball player making more than the president of the United States. “I had a better year than he did,” deadpanned Ruth. Still a classic.

Gunshine State Update

For all the media attention about armed teachers, assault weapons, background checks, mental health scrutiny, “Stand Your Ground” and the NRA, the ultimate, underlying firearms issue is our gun culture. You can legally own, of course, and we have an amendment, although anchored in an 18th century militia context, that sanctions as much. Over the years, we’ve added concealed weapon permits such that now nearly 2 million Floridians can legally carry. Each month adds another 17,500 carriers.

So, it’s hardly as shocking as it should be when we read of a woman’s gun going off in a Land O’ Lakes Publix. It was in her purse, which she had knocked off the check-out counter. Her husband was shot in the foot. Then there was the construction worker on a residential roof in Riverview, who was killed when a fellow worker’s gun discharged when he slipped while stepping from his pickup truck. And we need no reminding about the three men who died when they were shot, respectively, in a movie theater, a playground and in front of a Circle A food store.

The bottom line is this: Why the hell are you taking your gun to Publix, to your construction job, to a movie, to a playground or to a convenience store? Because you can?

Fat Reality

I know I’m not the only one. The other day I opened a cup of Chobani Yogurt: low-fat vanilla with mixed berry. Only natural ingredients. One of my favorites. But upon opening it, it seemed like someone had already done some sampling. It was barely two thirds full. It’s not uncommon. I’m wondering if the well-marketed, lowered fat content is a result of, well, lowered content.

Sports Shorts

* In effect, President Trump welcomed the defending World Series winners, the Boston White Sox, to the White House the other day. That was the upshot when the Puerto Rican manager and star players of color and/or Latin American lineage stayed away. It’s also another reminder that the WH–whether its occupant is Trump or somebody who actually belongs there–is not a proper forum to salute professional athletes. Limit such a prestigious forum to those who represent the country in international competition.

* Despite the Rays fast start, the team–as of this writing–with the best record in all of MLB is the Minnesota Twins. But there’s a Rays connection. The Twins rookie manager is former Rays player and coach Rocco Baldelli.

* When it comes to college baseball, Florida is a major player. Two years ago, the University of Florida won the College World Series. The University of Miami has won it four times. But what Florida school can count two Cy Young Award winners among its alums? It’s midmajor, Deland-based Stetson University. Former Hatter Jacob deGrom won it last year with the New York Mets, and Corey Kluber won it in 2014 and 2017 with the Cleveland Indians.

* A Tampa Bay Times piece recently reflected on the Lightning’s Nikita Kucherov, the Russia native who led the NHL in scoring this year, and noted that he’s not all that cooperative with the media. As in frequent “no comment” and “next question” responses to post-game media queries.

Three points. First, for professional athletes, especially well-paid, elite ones, dealing with the media is part of the job. Players, especially marquee ones, don’t just represent themselves, but their team, their franchise and their city. It’s part of being a highly-compensated professional. Just do it.

Second, if you’ve ever been privy to locker room interviews, you know that this is where sausage is made. Most of the questions are neither thought-provoking nor incisive, especially if it’s from the broadcast side. The actual questions are only intended to prompt a pro forma deadline quote. To wit: “So, how happy are you that the team won?” “So, how thrilling was it to have scored the winning goal?” “So, walk us through that (goal, at-bat, etc.).”

Third, English is not Kucherov’s native language, and he has had to learn on the job. He’s still learning. Cut him some slack.

* The media and horse racing fans had plenty to digest with that unprecedented disqualification of the winning horse, “Maximum Security,” at the Kentucky Derby. Win or lose, I was frankly taken aback by the name. “Maximum Security?” It seems too suitable for the dark times we now live in. “Secretariat,” “Citation,” “Count Fleet,” “Whirlaway,” “Charismatic,” “Silver Charm,” “Winning Colors,” “Gallant Fox,” “Lucky Debonair,” or “Carry Back” actually sound like winning horse names. And if you want to be cute or funny, there’s always “Foolish Pleasure,” “I’ll Have Another,” “Behave Yourself” or “Funny Cide.” But “Maximum Security”? What’s next? “Old Sparky”? “Collusion?” “Little Rocket Man”?

Quoteworthy

* “What is history but a fable agreed upon?”–Napoleon Bonaparte.

* “We are a country that is fighting to get away from a legacy of populism that has failed.”–Marcos Pena, chief of cabinet ministers under Argentinean President Mauricio Macri.

* “The United States is not seeking war with the Iranian regime, but we are fully prepared to respond to any attack, whether by proxy, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps or regular Iranian forces.”–National security adviser John Bolton, in addressing the Trump Administration’s message with its deployment of the USS Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group and a bomber task force to the Middle East.

* “It is John Bolton, not Iran, who poses the greatest threat to American national security today.”–Scott Ritter, the American Conservative.

* “I believe that Kim Jong-un fully realizes the great economic potential of North Korea and will do nothing to interfere or end it. He also knows that I am with him and does not want to break his promise to me. Deal will happen!”–President Donald Trump.

* “Trump promised a disruptive foreign policy that would deliver results, but instead is alarming Americans with impulsive and erratic decisions that leave us less safe and less respected.”–Jeffrey Prescott, senior Middle East policy director at the National Security Council during the Obama Administration.

* “(Beijing poses) a new kind of challenge; an authoritarian regime that’s integrated economically into the West in ways that the Soviet Union never was.”–Mike Pompeo.

* “Tariffs will make our Country MUCH STRONGER, not weaker. Just sit back and watch!”–Donald Trump.

* “We appear to be in a slow motion train wreck, with both sides sticking to their positions. As is often the case, however, the losers will not be the negotiators or presidents, but the people.”–William Reinsch, trade analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

* “The question is how do you use U.S. leadership? Do you use it to try to force a major counterpart to capitulate and do it in a humiliating way? Or do you use your moral leadership, which has driven the process forward in the past?”–Former Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, who served in the Obama Administration.

* “It will not be indefinite.”–Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan, on the status of those 4,364 military troops on the Southwest border.

* “The House’s most appropriate response to an attorney general who has dissembled about the Mueller report, refused to produce the report for Congress and defied a duly passed contempt citation would be impeachment. Impeachment of a cabinet secretary (the first since Reconstruction) would be a fitting capstone to a career that will be defined by William Barr’s rabid partisanship and disdain for the Constitution.”–Jennifer Rubin, New York Times.

* “Why do rural areas support Trump? A lot of it has to do with cultural factors. In particular, rural voters are far more hostile to immigrants than urban voters… . Rural voters also feel disrespected by coastal elites, and Trump has managed to channel their anger.”–Paul Krugman, New York Times.

* “Sexual violence is a national crisis that requires a national solution. We miss that point if we end the discussion at whether I should forgive Mr. Biden.”–Anita Hill.

* “There’s a lot of hate out there on the internet. Violent extremists around the world have access to our local communities to target and recruit and spread their messages of hate on a global scale.”–Mike McGarrity, the FBI’s top counterterrorism official.

* “My career in the CIA was cut short by partisan politics, but I’m not done serving our country.”–Valerie Plame, the former CIA officer whose cover was blown in a leak that touched off a political scandal during the George W. Bush Administration, in announcing that she plans to run for Congress as a Democrat representing New Mexico.

* “Silicon Valley’s touted utopia helped deliver our current dystopia.”–Maureen Dowd, New York Times.

* “Senate Bill 168 (“Federal Immigration Enforcement Act”) is a solution for a problem we do not have in Hillsborough County. It has long been our practice in Hillsborough to cooperate with federal law enforcement and that will not change.”–Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister.

* “My position is that we’re too big of an area to lose a professional sports team. I believe there are spots throughout the area that would work. If it turns out to be in Pinellas County, that’s fine. We want the team to stay in the area, and I believe that’s what the Rays want too.”–Tampa Mayor Jane Castor.