Barr Won’t Be “Bullied”

* “A republic, if you can keep it.”

* When it comes to Department of Justice dysfunction, let’s put the blame where it belongs. The self-serving, impeached demander-in-chief is a given, but so is his quisling, presidential-vendetta tool,  Attorney General William Barr. In short, so much for the post-Watergate tradition preventing White House influence on DOJ investigations, especially the kind that involve administration insiders or POTUS cronies.

Barr–whether it involves Robert Mueller, Roger Stone or Michael Flynn–is responsible for “making it impossible” for him “to do (his own) job.” That happens when your first priority is not justice and the rule of law, but fealty. That happens when you’ve allowed yourself to become the president’s personal attorney. Barr’s declaration that he was “not going to be bullied,” seems more like a cynical, face-saving feint of independence.

Ultimately, karma will be the end game for enabling Trump insiders. Barr need only ask his predecessor. 

* The comparisons between Trump and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson are ongoing. Now this: Johnson has found it advantageous to criticize the press as a political tactic that impresses his Brexit base. Most recent example: BoJo has accused the BBC of biased reporting and has threatened it with legal changes that could dry up its sources of funding.

* Baseless gathering. President Trump managed to work in a fund-raiser during his weekend stop at his Mar-a-Lago resort. The event is believed to be his most expensive fund-raiser ever–$580,000 per couple–which reportedly included Keep America Grating caps.

* “America is very rude. They are so rude.” Ironically, that was the take of Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte, who has given notice that Manila will be terminating the Visiting Forces Agreement with the U.S. But “rude”? It speaks volumes when an authoritarian finds this Administration “rude.”

* “Westlessness. That was the era-of-Trump-and-Brexit theme of the recent gathering of Western diplomats and business leaders in Munich. The restless, ripple effects of Trump’s unilateralism continue to manifest themselves.

* “Never argue with stupid people. They will drag you down to their level and then beat you with their experience.” That was Mark Twain, never more relevant–or prescient.

Dem Notes

* As Bernie Sanders well knows, labels matter. Exhibit A: “Socialist.” And in this politically polarized era, “socialist” makes it too easy for the Trump base and their cult leader to mischaracterize and mislead. But Bernie is Bernie; he wants to be the Democratic nominee without actually being a card-carrying “Democrat.” He’s a socialist-Democrat–in that order. And he’s the guy to stick it to the one-percent greed heads.

But that works better in the partisan abstract than in the alternate-facts reality we’re living with. A universe that equates “socialism” with Communism and “free stuff” for the “lazy.”

At some point, Sanders will have to present himself as something other than a Larry David-like socialist messiah that the other side can too easily demean to a too-easily seduced base. America, lest we forget, is still largely a center-left nation.

At some point, Sanders needs to look into a debate camera and say: “When I say ‘socialist,’ I mean somebody who prioritizes the common good. That’s all of us. Nobody is left behind. Because I will defend and protect Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid and improve the Affordable Care Act, doesn’t mean that I favor nationalizing our major industries or replacing markets with central planning. I’m neither stupid nor a Communist. I’m all about a customized capitalistic–yes, I actually just used that term–demand economy. Not a command economy. But it needs safety nets. All societies do. I like the Denmark model, if you will, not the North Korean, Cuban or Venezuelan models my Republican opponents disingenuously try to associate me with. That’s an insult–as well as a lie.

“If this were Europe, I’d be called a social democrat. But this is America, and I call myself a Democratic socialist–in that order. I’m proud to be a Democrat, and I would be proud to be the nominee of a party that puts common good before not uncommon political self interest. We deserve better. All of us.”

* “The world has changed, and my views have changed.” That’s Bernie Sanders candidly acknowledging that he’s no longer against most gun-control legislation. In fact, he’s no longer opposed to the Brady Bill. Yeah, he once was. Vermont can be like that. It’s a reminder that every presidential candidate has some back-in-the-day, constituent-influenced positions that don’t resonate a generation later.

Like Barack Obama on gay marriage, it’s best to acknowledge–and underscore–that you’ve changed your mind without any parsed equivocation. It’s also a sign that you’re open to changing times and, ultimately, what matters most is getting it right, whatever the timing.

* “We know some of the same people in NY. Behind your back they laugh at you & call you a carnival barking clown. They know you inherited a fortune & squandered it with stupid deals and incompetence. I have the record & the resources to defeat you. And I will.”–Michael Bloomberg’s response to Trump’s “Mini Mike” tweets.

* Speaking of the former NYC mayor, it’s not surprising that implausible reports that Bloomberg was considering Hillary Clinton as a possible running mate came from the Drudge Report. Just surprising that Breitbart or Rush Limbaugh didn’t get it out first. Should Bloomberg get the nomination, hardly assured, and be in requisite need of ticket balance, he’ll not be option challenged. That would include Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, California Sen. Kamala Harris and Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

* It’s telling that Joe Biden, the former consensus favorite, has had less money to spend than most of his rivals. Name recognition opens check books; a precipitous drop from front-runner status can close a lot of them.

* Biden could have gotten by with competitive showings–shy of victory–in Iowa and New Hampshire. That didn’t happen. Now he has to win. A non-win in South Carolina, where black voters make up about 60 percent of the Democratic electorate, would be devastating–or worse.

* Pete Buttigieg has gone from one media-forum extreme to another. He was recently on HBO’s “Real Time with Bill Maher” as well as a Fox News town hall hosted by Chris Wallace. He showed well. He also showed that those running to be president of all the American people should take their message–and their principles and rhetorical skills–to diverse forums, including the de facto opposition. The best candidates know they can’t just preach to the converted and then glibly pivot for the general election.

* The Florida Democratic Party has launched a “Democrats of Faith” outreach throughout Florida. It is promoting voter registration before the Florida primary and speaking to core Democratic values and policies that are in stark contrast to the personal actions and policies embraced by Trump and the Trump-groveling Republican Party. The outreach smartly is aimed at all denominations.

Everything helps, of course, including a possible outreach to cult-leader averse agnostics, whose skepticism likely includes everything that has been unconscionably unfolding during the Trump Administration.

No Guts On Guns

So, a bill that would close Florida’s “gun show loophole” will likely not get passed this year. No surprise, but no less a disgrace. The usual blame has been assigned: election-year politics in a GOP-controlled legislature. Alas, there’s nothing about gun legislation that would fire up a GOPster base or please the NRA. So much for an assault weapons ban.

The Gunshine State reality is that the farther removed we are from Parkland, the less priority given to serious gun legislation. We either convert red to blue or we wait for obligatory legislation after the next mass shooting.

Mentors Matter

Nobody on the Rays, arguably, is regarded with more respect than veteran Charley Morton. The two-time All-Star, 36, was the Rays best pitcher last year; he’s also well-spoken, professional and a mentor for younger players. Prior to last season, he had spent the previous two with the cheating Houston Astros. He has a World Series ring from 2017. He never said anything until the sign-stealing scandal had broken wide open. Many call it guilt by complicity. 

He finally spoke out on the scandal. “Good people made mistakes; it’s as simple as that,” said Morton.  “I really don’t have anything else to say about it. I think mistakes were made, and everybody is just trying to move on.” That said, it’s likely he’s not doing as much mentoring this spring.

Quoteworthy

* “The steps China has taken to contain the (coronavirus) outbreak at its source appear to have bought the world time.”–Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the World Health Organization.

* “The only solution in Afghanistan is a political agreement. Progress has been made on this front and we’ll have more to report on that soon, I hope.”–Defense Secretary Mark Esper.

* “(The economic) sanctions have changed absolutely nothing in Russia–I am not proposing at all to lift them, I am just stating this.”–French President Emmanuel Macron.

* “Today, when we remember the history of the bombings in our country, we remember both the suffering of people in German cities and the suffering that Germany inflicted on others. We, as Germans, do not forget our guilt, and we remain true to our responsibility. Always.”–German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, in officially marking the 75th anniversary of the Allied bombs that destroyed the city of Dresden.

* “You don’t see the world’s vulnerable people risking their lives to skip illegally en masse to countries like Iran or to Cuba.”–Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

* “These days, time frames are shorter. … A single disturbing video put up on social media is enough to spark a revolution, as in did in Tunisia in 2010.”–Jim Bitterman, CNN’s senior international correspondent.

* “The basic perception influencing the Kremlin is that Russia cannot afford to rely on the good will of its former Western competitors, who in Moscow’s view have taken advantage of the Soviet Union’s collapse by, for example, extending NATO membership up to Russia’s borders.”–Kent Brown, former U.S. ambassador to the Republic of Georgia.

* “Democrats should be scared to death watching the president play in thuggish type, re-enacting the chilling final payback scenes of “The Godfather,” when Michael Corleone took out all his enemies. It’s not business. It’s strictly personal.”–Maureen Dowd, New York Times.

* “These are difficult times. … Trump and his enablers have wrought a slow-burn crisis of democracy. … For Trump, this is a government of Trump, for Trump, and by Trump. And his GOP handmaids and tens of millions of Americans are just fine with it.”–David Corn, Mother Jones.

* “Nobody walks into the (Oval) Office on Day 1 with what they need to know, full stop. Do you have the experience to be self-reflective, to have the capacity to grow and to have judgment, and are you secure surrounding yourself with other smart people?”–Rahm Emanuel, former mayor of Chicago and former chief of staff to President Barack Obama.

* “I would like to see a new beginning. I’d like it to start over. There’s too much controversy about latecomers.”–Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, in urging E.R.A. supporters to set aside their long-running campaign for ratification and start over.

* “Everywhere I travel, I hear from parents and educators about active shooter drills terrifying students, leaving them unable to concentrate in the classroom and unable to sleep at night. … If schools are going to do drills, they need to take steps to ensure the drills do more good than harm.”–Lily Eskelsen Garcia, president of the National Education Association.

* “Our field team is making sure that Latino communities understand that Democrats match their values on jobs, healthcare and climate change, and we are working to register tens of thousands of Hispanic voters before the start of the general election season in July 2020.”–Luisana Fernandez, the Florida Democratic Party’s Hispanic media director.

* “Nothing is off the table. We’re looking at single-family homes, small developments that have five to 10 units, all the way up to multi-story apartment and condominium complexes. And then even the tiny homes, the container homes. There is nothing we are not going to explore.”–Mayor Jane Castor on plans to meet Tampa’s need for affordable living.

* I think the Water Department is acting in a rogue fashion.”–Tampa City Council member Bill Carlson, on the city’s intentions about its Tampa Augmentation Project, which would convert highly-treated wastewater to drinking water.

 * “I ran on the promise to make development pay its fair share of our infrastructure costs. For too long, our impact fees have been far too low.”–Hillsborough County Commissioner Mariella Smith, in urging support for higher school impact fees being proposed by outgoing superintendent Jeff Eakins.

* “This will be a landmark project that furthers Tampa’s emergence as a next-generation city.”–Mike Hammond, senior vice president of the Related Group of Miami, which has filed plans for two luxury condo towers on Bayshore Boulevard, south of W. Bay-to-Bay Boulevard.

SOTU Optics Hardly Help

* If I had been the Speaker of the House, I would have done what Nancy Pelosi did in tearing up her SOTU speech copy. Damn right. She had just sat through–prop-like–a braggadocios Celebrity Apprentice presentation after being blatantly snubbed on a pre-speech handshake. So she tore up a speech after Trump had completed another round of reality-shredding rhetoric in what had morphed into a “Four More Years” rally among sycophantic, Party First GOPsters. This “House of Shards” was an all-too-appropriate forum for going on a symbolic tear. In the context of one who rips the Constitution, this was nothing but a well-deserved, cutting gesture.

But I would still be wrong.   

However understandable and fist-bumpable as a visceral counter punch, it was not helpful. It reduced Pelosi, however briefly and inadvertently, to a perversely complementary act behind the ringmaster. Unfortunately, it will be used and re-used, sans context, as a Trump-rally meme. Optics matter, especially to the “Lock her up,” “Take her out” crowd. Historical archives will not be enriched by its certain inclusion. One has to believe that Michelle Obama, even during this dystopian administration, would still have advised her to “go high when they go low.” Even if AOC thoroughly approved.

BTW, isn’t it way past the time for some furniture rearranging for the annual SOTU speech? No matter who’s giving it. Whether it’s Barack Obama or Donald Trump, the president shouldn’t be sharing a framed, necessarily distracting, TV shot with the vice president and Speaker of the House. Whether it’s Joe Biden or Mike Pence, Paul Ryan or Nancy Pelosi.

This is the president’s forum, and there will always be additional optics and cut-away response shots, but framing the VP and Speaker in the same shot–as they gesture or notably don’t stand or applaud in unison, is an unnecessary distraction. Even if the president is the distracter-in-chief.

* “Ignorance and despotism seem made for each other.” No, that wasn’t Nancy Pelosi. It was Thomas Jefferson.

* The Friday Night Firings: No one was surprised that the recently acquitted president ranted, raged and exercised knee-jerk retribution by summarily jettisoning those–including Lt. Col. Alexander Vidman, the war hero-Purple Heart winner–whose testimonies to the House underscored Trump’s political extortion involving Ukraine. It’s also a reminder of why there are Whistleblower laws requiring anonymity.

As for the ousting of Gordon Sondland, the million-dollar Republican donor who bought his position as envoy to the European Union: Call it karma. Just ask Paul Manafort or Michael Cohen or Jeff Sessions. Faustian deals can end this way–no matter what Rudy Guiliani thinks.

* Not that it’s a shock, but Sen. Mitt Romney, the lone GOPster vote for impeachment conviction, has been officially disinvited from this month’s annual Conservative Political Action Conference convention by CPAC chairman Matt Schlapp. Only Schlapp doubled down on the partisan retribution raining down on Romney by warning that Romney, were he to show up at CPAC, should be “afraid” for his “physical safety.” Yeah, that’s what it’s come down to these days. That’s also how an authoritarian’s surrogates communicate for the bully pulpiteer. But at least Schlapp didn’t advocate “taking him out.”

* “I don’t like people who use their faith as justification for doing what they know is wrong.” That was the president referencing Mitt Romney–not Mike Pence.

* This much we still know: Trump’s base is not enough to re-elect him. The 2018 mid-terms were a reminder that moderate suburban voters, especially women, can be difference-makers in several key states.  A crucial GOPster priority is to win back this demographic. But what, candidly, is still puzzling–despite the punditocracy’s analysis about anti-establishment, anti-elite, populist appeal and anti-Clinton sentiment in 2016–is how anyone defined as “moderate,” could have voted for Donald Trump in the first place. He had a track record, one that was as public as it was notorious.

* “We are part of the problem, as an institution that cannot see beyond the blind political polarization.” That was Alaskan Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski, going candid.

* “I cannot vote to convict.” That was Sen. Lisa Murkowski, going along to get along.

* “It’s not a party. It’s a cult. (Trump) can’t be beat in the Republican primary.” The reason, explained former Illinois Rep. Joe Walsh, that he ended his Republican primary challenge.

* So Sen. Rick Scott is proposing a constitutional amendment that would make it harder for the House to impeach an elected official. That will be hard; the constitution hasn’t been amended in a generation. Alas, it’s a lot easier to elect an impeachable president.

* “Race-baiting bigot.” That was Sen. Lindsey Graham’s take on Donald Trump before Trump became his unprincipled lodestar and presidential golfing partner.

Dem Notes

* Enough of the pettiest of the candidate back-and-forths. Nobody in this field is the next Barack Obama. Get over it.

* “Future former Republicans.”–Pete Buttigieg’s characterization of certain prospective, “Mayor Pete” voters.

* Who were the winners by the time the Iowa-caucus fiasco was finally finished? Obviously, Bernie Sanders and Pete Buttigieg. But also Mike Bloomberg, an outsider taking a pass on a debacle. Then there’s the Oval Orifice incumbent. Adversaries always love the other side’s unforced errors, like a last-minute Anthony Weiner email. There’s also New Hampshire, which would like to go first in primary season–and Florida, which seems less like “Flori-duh” after the silo vote shared its embarrassing, unvetted-app sausage with everyone.

* It’s likely that Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, whom the Dems chose to answer Trump’s SOTU reality-show riff, will be in the conversation when it comes to the Democratic ticket. She’s the articulate, 40-something female governor of a swing state that the Dems must win back as well as an effective, national-stage spokeswoman for solidifying gains with female voters. She pushed back against Trump’s spiking of the economic football, made the case for affordable and inclusive health care and underscored the need to expedite infrastructure improvements and investments. She also spoke from East Lansing High School–where her two daughters are enrolled. Nice touch.

* “Whoever gets the nomination, we have to rally behind them, no matter who it is.” That was Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the uber feisty supporter and campaign surrogate for Bernie Sanders. Here’s hoping the “Bernie or Bust” zealots are on board with AOC’s words. And here’s hoping AOC is too.

* “We are not going to be able to out-divide the divider-in-chief.”–Amy Klobuchar.

K. Castor Weighs In

Nobody around here has a more direct perspective on the Trump Administration’s priorities and their societal and global impact–as well as the value of fighting the good democratic/constitutional fight–than seven-term, Tampa Congresswoman Kathy Castor.

“I know my Tampa neighbors and I will continue to value America’s Constitution, to show that what is right still matters, and demonstrate that we still possess the character essential in ‘keeping our Republic,'” underscores Castor. “The hard fact is President Trump’s behavior and the vote of GOP Senators make it that much harder for us to prove this to the world and to our kids and grandkids.”

Media Matters

* Here’s an out-of-town take we never expected to read; it’s from a column by Dan Shaughnessy of the Boston Globe. He’s commenting on a blockbuster trade by the Red Sox that involved two of their highest-priced players, Mookie Betts and David Price, in order, primarily, to save money. “Welcome to Tampa Bay North. Say hello to your Boston Rays,” wrote Shaughnessy, possibly a back-handed compliment to the Rays, who do more than most, with less than almost everybody.

* Whatever your take on what movie should have won this year’s Oscar, it’s worth recalling that “Citizen Kane” never won an Oscar. “How Green Was My Valley,” which is never mentioned in the context of the greatest movies of all time, won it that year (1942).

Believers Who Matter

Ex-Rays update: “Keeping baseball in Tampa Bay” used to mean what it has always meant: A spot-on, Tampa-centric location and modern facility in this asymmetrical market without mass transit or many corporate headquarters. That was the challenge; that was the reality. Now it’s an unprecedented scenario that would have the Rays sharing baseball seasons with Montreal. Tampa is listening.  Among the most prominent believers: MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred. “People continue to believe that the two-city alternative they’re exploring is viable,” says Manfred, “and could be a really good solution for keeping baseball in Tampa Bay.”