You Go, Joe

The top priority for a major political party is to choose a presidential candidate with the best chance of winning. There are always subplots, of course, such as hoping that primaries don’t tack a candidate too far from where most voters are. It’s a prudent approach that kept John F. Kennedy moderate against Richard Nixon and Barack Obama pragmatic against Mitt Romney.

And arguably, the same basic strategy–Rep. Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, Rep. Ilhan Omar and Rep. Rashida Tlaib notwithstanding–can be successful in 2020 with former Vice President Joe Biden as the Democratic nominee. We’ll know soon if he’s making his long-speculated move.

The reasons, arguably, why it shouldn’t be Biden are familiar. Age. Establishment. Gaffes. Plagiarism. Iraq war vote. Anita Hill. Family issues. Normally, he’s only in this conversation to endorse. But this is the new normal. No longer are “disqualifiers” disqualifying. There is context to all the downsides, and there’s a lot to play up in his impressive resume. But, most of all, there is 72-year-old Donald Trump. His pathological baggage–from the unethical to the immoral to the intemperate to the existentially dangerous–would be juxtaposed to Biden holding a well-seasoned, centrist tote bag.

It also leaves Biden holding the best option for going one-on-one with Trump while talking over him to the forgotten and left behind who panicked and pivoted to Trump in 2016. He wouldn’t back off from putting the loudmouth buying the house a round at last call in his unprincipled, uninformed place. Biden’s populism is Delaware and Pennsylvania blue collar–not branded towers and Mar-a-Lago. It will show. It’s who he is. True-blue progressives can still be to the right of Bernie Sanders.

If the objective of the Democratic nominee is a Trump “Trexit,” Biden’s the guy. Not a Bernie, a Liz or a Beto. In 2016, the role of consummate liberals was, in part, to tack Hillary Clinton more to the left. That won’t be necessary with Biden who, while not advocating a socialist revolution, will promise the restoration of international dignity, more than lip service to a progressive agenda and what it means to be an American without a MAGA cap.

What he would need is what Clinton didn’t get enough of in 2016, when too many Sanders’ supporters sat out the election because their guy wasn’t on the ticket, and Hillary wasn’t likable enough. And then a Jill Stein Green Party candidacy hardly helped. That can’t happen in 2020 when the choice is pulling this country back from the brink–not merely the nominated Dem vs. a Republican incumbent.

If he were to win in 2020, Biden would be 78 upon inauguration. It would behoove him to put someone like Sen. Kamala Harris, a generation removed, on the ticket. She’s impressive and would be well positioned–wink and nod–to make history if President Biden decides that one term would be enough to change course and pave the way for America’s first female president.

What do you say, Joe?

Trumpster Diving

* Talk the walk? “There is no longer a nuclear threat from North Korea.” That was President Donald Trump last June in Singapore. The upshot is this: When America’s president breaks with his predecessors and actually meets one-on-one with the North Korean leader, in this case Kim Jong-un, and no deal results–now what? No, it’s not likely that John Bolton will become Trump’s “fixer.”

* It’s worth noting the appointment of former federal prosecutor Daniel Goldman by the House Intelligence Committee. During his decade in the office of the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, he oversaw prosecution of Russian-organized crime networks. Goldman is a serious hire who is already up to speed–and handles the media well.

* “We believe in the American dream, not the socialist nightmare.”–That, of course, was the Demonizer-in-Chief disingenuously oversimplifying and targeting Democrats as only he can. Too bad that mendacious reference is as credible with his base as is his guarantee about a certain wall that “Mexico will pay for.” 

* Does Mike Pompeo realize that Marco Rubio is secretary of state for Latin America?

* The sentencing guidelines that were notably disregarded in the “white-collar” Paul Manafort case also contained a gobsmacking, cringe-worthy rationale by U.S. District Court Judge T.S. Ellis III. He referred to Manafort’s “otherwise blameless life.” We’re talking about a consummate schemer who had carved out a lucrative, living-high career on the felonious dark side. Moreover, his country was worse off for his self-serving agenda. This is like saying that Al Capone, convicted of tax evasion, had led an “otherwise blameless” life. 

* When it comes to impeachment, the Dems’ strategy must be: Rein in the double-edged-sword impeachment talk until a stop-the-presses smoking gun is revealed. Nancy Pelosi would obviously agree. That’s because such a necessarily high-profile, emotionally partisan effort would be room-service, pep-rally material for Trump’s “witch hunt” rants. It would further energize a base that needs no further innervation. That smoking gotcha gun, whether from the Mueller Report or the Southern District of New York, is the only chance of Senate galvanization and ultimate conviction.   

* England is scheduled to leave the European Union at the end of this month. The divorce-deal terms are, to say the least, uncertain and controversial. They are also, increasingly, the root of anxieties and bitter partisanship among Brits. While the issues are sovereign, economic and political, the Brexit debate has viscerally devolved into an emotional clash between the “leave” crowd and its “remain” counterpart. It has resulted in friendships lost and relationships ruined. It’s about Brits talking past each other because of “values” rifts. It’s about an uptick in business for psychotherapists. And, yes, it’s about a number of anti-EU Brexiteers wanting to make the UK great again. America, alas, understands.

* You get to a certain point in life, with more life lived than yet to play out, and you can understandably yearn for the calendar to decelerate. But this is the era of Trump–and all the worry, embarrassment and frustration that comes with it–and now you perversely want time to speed up to a nightmare-ending 2020 reboot.

Democratic Indifference

Whoever the next mayor is, the reality is this. She or he will be a product of a vote that will likely reflect the direct preference of 1 in 5 voters. That’s what mayoralty turnouts (20.55 percent last week) look like in this city–and all the excuses, including the truncated time period, post-mid-terms fatigue and possibly less-than-chamber-of-commerce weather, are ready for the rehashing and rationalizing. The unrationalized bottom line: This is a microcosm of this country’s flawed, democratic underbelly. Voting–especially for representatives who are closest to the people–is a right and a privilege. For too many it’s a bother or a parallel universe they don’t inhabit. And chances are, voting via smart phone won’t be a game changer.

Low turnout, underscores Mayor Bob Buckhorn, “puts the future of our community in the hands of a small number of people.” That’s not how American democracy is supposed to work. No, the American electorate no longer precludes those who aren’t white, land-owning males from voting, although subtle forms of suppression still linger. It typically excludes those who preclude themselves out of indifference and laziness.

Florida Fodder

* The criminal justice package that is advancing in the Florida House is headlined by the eminently sensible proposal to ban the use of drones over and near state and private correctional facilities. That’s a concession to tech-world common sense, contraband-and-surveillance prevention and overall public safety. Less hyped–and less sensible–is an accompanying provision to reduce the minimum age of correctional officers to 18 as a way of addressing high turnover rates. But what’s next if this is far from a panacea? How about part-time for the18-year-olds, who could report for duty after their high school classes are over?

* It wouldn’t be the Florida Legislature without public school bills for Bible study and science alternatives. So much, ironically, for evolution.     

* Some accidental deaths should be easier to prevent than others. But pedestrians killed by trains should top any list. Exhibit A: More than a dozen people have died after being hit by Brightline trains since test runs were initiated in the summer of 2017.

Sports Shorts

* WWE and branding: Don’t say wrestling, which might imply a competitive sport instead of choreographed show business in a ring. Say “WWE” or “Sports Entertainment.” And don’t say “professional wrestlers.” Say “WWE Superstars.”

But don’t get me wrong, having Wrestlemania 36 finally come to Tampa–April 5, 2020 at the RJ–is a big deal, 10 years in the making. The expected economic impact should reach nine figures. That’s what matters.

* It wouldn’t be spring training if the team that Joe Maddon is managing didn’t debut a new team slogan. This year’s Cubs’ version: “Own it now.” One thing that Maddon doesn’t yet own, however, is an extension of his five-year contract that expires this season.

Quoteworthy

* “So they go in strange paradox, deciding only to be undecided, resolved to be irresolute, adamant for drift, solid for fluidity, all powerful to be impotent.”–Winston Churchhill in 1936, another time when Britain was wavering about its future.

* “The European Union is our national scapegoat.”–British Tory M.P. Sam Gyimah, giving context to Brexit.

* “The Iran nuclear deal was laboriously negotiated with full international support for the sanctions that were then leveraging Iran, but now it is the United States, not Iran, that is isolated. … The Administration’s insistence on ostracizing Iran has yielded diplomatic initiative in the Middle East to Russia’s Vladimir Putin, who more wisely deals with friends and foes alike.”–Paul Pillar, senior fellow at the Center for Security Studies at Georgetown University and former national intelligence officer for the Near East and South Asia.

* “We still have a window of American pre-eminence before us, in which we can help shape international order to safeguard our interests and values, before others shape it for us. What that requires is the revival of American diplomacy as our primary tool for navigating a more crowded, complicated and competitive world.”–William J. Burns, president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and former deputy secretary of state and U.S. ambassador to Russia.

* “The dirty secret of European welfare states is that they tend to be business friendly.”–Roger Cohen, New York Times.

* “The Woodstock of the Republican Party.”–Comedian Bill Maher’s characterization of CPAC.

* “Probably the best way to get the truth would be to put the president under oath.”–House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff.

* “It takes two to bamboozle: the illusionist and the enraptured.”–Frank Bruni, New York Times.

* “I mean, I am always prepared to walk. I’m never afraid to walk from a deal. And I would do that with China, too, if it didn’t work out.”–Donald Trump.

* “It’s undeniable that (Republicans’) fire-and-brimstone debt rhetoric was nothing but a pose, an attempt to weaponize the deficit as a way to block and undermine President Barack Obama’s agenda. The moment they had a chance, the very politicians who grandstanded about the need for fiscal responsibility rammed through a huge tax cut for corporations and the wealthy–a tax cut that is the main reason for the exploding budget deficit.”–Paul Krugman, New York Times.

* “The U.S. labor market is still in good shape. Slower job growth was expected after huge average gains of better than 250,000 over the preceding four months. Job growth should bounce back in March and through the rest of the year.”–Gus Faucher, chief economist at PNC Financial, after data showed that the country created 20,000 new jobs in February. More than 300,000 had been added in January.

* “I think he’d have a big advantage because of his name recognition and because of the imprimatur of the Obama vice presidency.”–The Rev. Al Sharpton, in assessing the possible presidential candidacy of Joe Biden.

* “I do not favor giving up liberty for a false sense of security.”–Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., a libertarian and a physician, on his rejection of mandatory vaccinations.

* “If Ron DeSantis really cared about expanding access to affordable health care, he would back Medicaid expansion.”–Florida Democratic Party chair Terrie Rizzo.

* “Know the process, know the players, understand what motivates the various actors and develop a strategy to advance your objective or defeat ill-conceived proposals.”–Former State legislator Paula Dockery’s advice to newly elected officials on how to be effective.

* “There is really no established science on most things, you’ll find.”–Florida state Sen. Dennis Baxley, who is pressing for legislation that would allow schools to teach alternatives to certain scientific theories.

* “We take security very seriously. Unfortunately, in 2019, all our devices and accounts are susceptible to being compromised.”–Ashley Bauman, spokeswoman for Mayor Bob Buckhorn, in acknowledging that someone had taken over the mayor’s Twitter account and posted a number of vile tweets.

* “She is prepared to be our mayor. She has trained for this moment.”–Bob Buckhorn, in endorsing Jane Castor for Tampa mayor.

* “We’ve got a couple more years of state money, we’ve brought down costs and we’re seeing ridership increase. Let’s keep doing this until we’re in a position, big picture, where we can (start) up service with multiple boats.”–St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman, on the Cross-Bay Ferry, which has a 40 percent increase in ridership half way through its six-month season. 

Trumpster Diving: What A Week

* So what did we learn as a result of the abruptly ended summit between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un? The one that Trump “walked” away from because no deal is better than a bad deal, which is, of course, quite true. Well, we learned that what we already knew hadn’t changed. Even if an Ignoble Prize were part of the mix. An amateur hour approach featuring less-than-seamlessly coordinated preparation and a narcissistic, seat-of-the-pants negotiator will end in a bad deal or no deal. And once again, we are reminded that a Trumpian one-on-one, winging-it approach works a lot better with underleveraged, New York contractors than with an authoritarian thug.

* Speaking of authoritarian thugs, Kim, we were told by Trump, said he didn’t know about Otto Warmbier. Moreover, such incredulity was quite credible to Trump. “I will take him at his word,” he underscored. There’s precedent. This keeps Kim on Trump’s short list of autocrats–including Russia’s Vladimir Putin, Saudi Arabia’s Mohammed bin Salman, Turkey’s Recep Tayyib Erdogan and the Philippines’ Rodrigo Duterte–whose prevaricating words are their duplicitous bonds. It’s utterly absurd to think an authoritarian such as Kim would not know everything he needs to know–such as the status of a tortured American imprisoned in high-profile geopolitical context. The only authoritarian who might not know important, geopolitical, hot-button stuff is Trump, the exception to most rules.

* Trump’s rambling, two-hour, lie-infested, opponent-demeaning rant at CPAC was vintage Trump–if the goal was to sound like an Alec Baldwin Trump parody. “You know, I don’t know, maybe you know. You know, I’m totally off script. Right? This is how I got elected, by being off script … and if we don’t go off script, our country is in big trouble, folks.” No, they don’t put stuff like that on a Teleprompter, not even Baldwin’s.

* Michael Cohen’s best line from his House Oversight Committee testimony was aimed at grandstanding GOPsters displaying embarrassing fealty to Trump. “I did the same thing you’re doing now,” underscored the erstwhile Trump “fixer.” I protected Mr. Trump for 10 years.”

* How shocking, indeed shocking, that during his decade-plus as Trump’s all-purpose, personal attorney and “fixer,” Michael Cohen never manifested signs of being a chronic liar?  Or maybe pathological liars are incapable of recognizing the symptoms.

* No, it’s not likely that impeachment (and Senate conviction) will be the most likely scenario preventing Trump from a second term. In fact, it could ironically energize the Trump base if there’s no Nixonian revelation of blatantly obvious guilt. But the “i” word is still in play. Here’s how House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., framed it: “We don’t have the facts yet. Impeachment is a long way down the road. … This investigation goes far beyond collusion–we’ve seen all the democratic norms that we depend on for democratic government attacked by the Administration. … But we’re going to initiate proper investigations.” BTW, only the Judiciary Committee can recommend the president’s impeachment.

* On a party-line vote, the Senate has now confirmed the new EPA administrator, Andrew R. Wheeler. So it’s now official: The person charged with oversight of the nation’s air and water is a former coal lobbyist. Once again, you can’t make this stuff up.  

* Climate change isn’t like tariff controversies or Affordable Care Act partisanship or a Trumped-up, border-wall emergency. No, this is existential. This is low-lying Tampa Bay, the vulnerable United States of America and the exposed Planet Earth. This can’t be another zero-sum standoff with Green New Deal distortions and no science-embedded alternative acceptable to the other side.

* “Fascism was an affair of the gut more than of the brain.” That was the take of historian Robert Paxton, author of (2004) “The Anatomy of Fascism.” Alas, it continues to have application.

* The first Democratic presidential primary debate is in, yes, June. A key question–given all the declared candidates and those still likely to jump in–is how many nights it will encompass. At least two, to be sure.

* What’s in a name? Well, call this one a Congressional oxymoron: Trump-supporting, NRA-backed, Democrat-turned-Republican Louisiana Sen. John Kennedy.

Media Matters

* I just finished “No High Ground,” written in 1960 by Fletcher Knebel and Charles Bailey. It’s an informative and demoralizing account of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. All the secretive plans, all the strategic implications, all the moral equivocation. “This is for history, so watch your language. We’re carrying the first atomic bomb.” That was Enola Gay pilot Col. Paul Tibbets reminding crew members that he would be recording the intercom conversations on celluloid disks. Hard to imagine–such protocol and decorum preceding apocalyptic devastation of civilian populations.

* How ironic that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the Democratic rookie, media-magnet congresswoman from New York, was singled out by media and political observers for her un-dramatic, targeted questioning of Michael Cohen during his testimony before the House Oversight Committee. Too bad this non-grandstanding “AOC” model wasn’t the rule, instead of the exception. “AOC” was so prepared and business-like she wasn’t featured on “SNL’s” cold-opening, Cohen spoof.

* There’s unsolicited junk mail and then there’s … a Neptune Society flyer. You know you’ve reached a certain time line–and demographic–when you’re on the receiving end of cremation solicitations. But, as with much in life, there’s always humor, however mordant, to be found.

In the case of the Neptune Society, it takes me back to a previous incarnation as a staff writer for the Tampa Bay Business Journal. I was assigned a feature piece on the founder of the Neptune Society, Charles Denning. He had a studied look that featured a white mustache and goatee and a yachting cap worn at a jaunty angle. And, as incongruous as it seems for someone in the burial biz–including at sea–to be humorous, he was. He readily referenced the “burning issues” of the ever-burgeoning funeral business And he knew his calculated look was not unlike that of a certain Kentucky Fried Chicken icon. He was a parallel-universe “Colonel Cinders.” And that reference wound up in a TBBJ headline, much to the delight of the bylined reporter and a typically irreverent and pun-enamored production staff.

Florida Fodder

* “Flori-duh” is back in the news. Thanks again, Panhandle Republican Congressman Matt Gaetz and Florida House Speaker Jose Oliva. The former tweeted Michael Cohen the night before his Congressional hearing and claimed that extramarital relations would now come back and haunt him. Even Rick Scott found it “disgusting.” The Florida Bar found it disturbing enough to initiate a preliminary investigation of witness tampering. Fox News, unsurprisingly, found it worth featuring Gaetz in network teases and promos.

As for Oliva, he found himself in major apology mode for having referred to pregnant women as “host bodies” in a CBS-affiliate interview in Miami. Yes, it also went viral. “Hurtful, dehumanizing and misogynistic” were not even the worst characterizations. “You’d expect to hear this offensive language in the “Handmaid’s Tale”–not from the Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives,” said Florida Democratic Party chair Terrie Rizzo.

* A bill proposed by state Rep. Will Robinson Jr., R-Bradenton would add warnings to lottery tickets. As in, “The chances of winning a big prize are very low.” But that, arguably, won’t impress or impact those who comprise the base that spent more than $6.7 billion on lottery tickets last year. They already know the odds are stacked against them; that’s why it’s a long-shot gamble. So why not make the warning a bit more cautionary and personal: “Don’t be a fool. Your chances of winning a big prize are virtually the same whether you play or not.”

Sports Shorts

* Enough of the criticism of Rays pitching. As in its non-traditional reliance on “non-starting” pitchers to “start” games and pitch for an inning or two. It helped the Rays to an unexpectedly successful (90-win) season last year. The criticism is establishment-rooted. The players union sees payroll implications. Old-schoolers want traditional starting pitchers to, well, actually start games. That’s understandable, if not compelling. Isn’t winning the ultimate priority among those who compete in the athletic arena? And without getting analytically creative, the Rays would not have won as much last year. That should be the last word.

* So if you’ve ever wondered why it is that no NCAA or SEC championship is ever staged in Mississippi, here’s the formal answer. The Mississippi state flag still has the Confederate stars and bars in one corner. No one wants a championship event in any sport to be upstaged by another variation on a controversial, racist-history theme. Just ask South Carolina. It was under a similar ban until it took down the Confederate flag that had long flown in front of the state capitol in Columbia.

* It’s called the “No Hits” bill. It’s a bipartisan bill in Massachusetts that would ban organized youth tackle football until after seventh grade. It’s all about protecting growing brains from traumatic injury. It’s all based on studies increasingly showing that children who began playing tackle football before the age of 12 were at greater risk for cognitive, mood and behavioral issues late in life–as well as conditions like chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative brain disease linked to repeated hits to the head. And, BTW, what’s wrong with flag football while you’re still a pre-teen? It’s all about common sense, protecting our kids–and parental buy-in.