Sports Shorts

* His next birthday will be his 30th: the Lightning’s Steven Stamkos, that is. Did time go by as fast for the erstwhile teen phenom as it did for Bolts’ fans?

* Super Bowl LV in Tampa is now less than two years away. It will be this city’s fifth Super Bowl. How have we done it? To paraphrase Rob Higgins, the director of the Tampa Bay Sports Commission, Tampa is ideally positioned. Yes, it’s Florida in the winter with downtown buzz and a world class facility, but it’s much more than that, points out Higgins. It’s big enough and prominent enough to logistically compete with the bigger cities to accommodate fans, media and VIPs. But it’s still small enough to expedite often overlooked details through relationships.  

Quoteworthy

* “The time has come for our European partners to stop undermining U.S. sanctions against this murderous (Iranian) revolutionary regime. … The time has come for our European partners to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal.”–Vice President Mike Pence, at the Munich Security Conference.

* “(Retreating from democracy and human rights) will have a dramatic impact on the trans-Atlantic alliance. Countries like Hungary that are backsliding are much more vulnerable to malign influences like Russia.”–Jonathan D. Katz, former State Department official and current senior fellow at the German Marshall Fund of the United States.

* “If I had not been elected president of the United States, we would right now, in my opinion, be in a major war with North Korea with potentially millions of people killed.”–President Donald Trump.

* “President Obama was never on the verge of starting any war with North Korea, large or small.”–Former Obama CIA Director John Brennan.

* “Responsible leaders don’t fabricate fear to motivate their followers.”–Martin Dempsey, retired four-star Army general who was chairman of the joint chiefs of staff under President Barack Obama.

* “It’s an invasion. We have an invasion of drugs and criminals coming into our country.”–President Donald Trump, in declaring a national emergency on the border with Mexico.

* “Legal briefs arguing against Trump’s action practically write themselves.”–Eugene Robinson, Washington Post.

* “The only national emergency is that our president is an idiot.”–Conservative commentator Ann Coulter.

* “This is a real institutional threat to the separation of powers to use emergency powers to enable the president to bypass Congress to build a wall on his own initiative that our elected representatives have chosen not to fund.”–William C. Banks, Syracuse University law professor and co-author of “National Security Law and the Power of the Purse.”

* “No crisis justifies violating the Constitution.”–Sen. Marco Rubio.

* “No man will make a good leader who wants to do it all himself or to take all the credit for doing it.”–Andrew Carnegie.

* “My record as mayor (of Newark), my record as a senator is fighting those interests that are trying to screw people. And when it comes to defending folk, I will be ferocious.”–New Jersey Democratic Sen. Cory Booker, a 2020 presidential candidate.

* “We’re a capitalist country, let’s face it. Capitalism needs a lot of mending. … The slavish devotion to shareholders has gotten out of control.”–Democratic Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York.

* “Democrats used to talk about the poor more than they do today. … Democrats today talk about the middle class because that’s where the votes are. Republicans talk about…how many flat-screen televisions poor people have, mostly.”–Kevin D. Williamson, National Review.

* “A small group of politicians put their own narrow political interests above their community.”–New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, in response to Amazon’s announcement that it was dropping plans for a big new headquarters in New York. Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, had lobbied intensely to land the Amazon project.

* “In the 21st century, environmental policy is economic policy. Keeping the two separate isn’t a feat of intellectual discipline. It’s an anachronism.”–Jedediah Britton-Purdy, Columbia law professor and author of “After Nature: A Politics for the Anthropocene.”

* “Blackface, particularly in white sororities and fraternities, is as common as cheerleaders on a football field.”–Lawrence Ross, author of “Blackballed: The Black and White Politics of Race on America’s Campuses.”

* “Both Donald Trump and Rick Scott are fond of branding and using short, catchy phrases–perhaps because neither has even a rudimentary understanding of the issues and neither shows an interest in learning about them. … Can’t wait to see how Sen. Scott is going to ‘Make Washington Work.'”–Former Florida Republican legislator Paula Dockery.

* “Let’s make vaccines about science and not politics or personal ideology.”–Dr. Mona V. Mangat, St. Petersburg immunologist and allergist and past board chair of Doctors for America.

* “Adults whose symptoms are relieved, and whose lives are made possible, by smoking medical marijuana in its whole plant form should be able to do just that–just as 6.5 million Floridians intended.”–Nikki Fried, Florida commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

 * “Our local Tampa team is committed to successfully transforming the property from a traditional enclosed mall into a mixed-use, urban neighborhood development incorporating science and tech research and innovation.”–Chris Bowen, management strategist for RD Management, which is planning to turn University Mall into a research village. Demolition began this week,

* “I’ve been an architect here for 38 years, and I’ve never been more excited than I am right now with this community and where we are at. The possibilities we have to transform this city are just amazing.”–Mickey Jacob, principal of the Design Studio at BDG Architects in Tampa.

* “The vote for mayor is such a personal, intimate decision. It’s almost like the Iowa or New Hampshire primary. … It’s retail politics at its finest.”–Mayor Bob Buckhorn.

SOTU: Disingenuous

* Despite President Donald Trump’s scripted call for unity, no one on either side of the aisle could realistically have thought: “Bye, partisanship.” That’s not how a solipsistic authoritarian stays in power. Trump’s SOTU speech–from economic touting to flowery clichés on unity and American ideals to references ranging from our border “crisis” to “socialism” caveats to “ridiculous partisan investigations”–sounded more like a 2020 campaign speech. That was underscored by: “I will get it built.” As in more divisiveness.

One notable topic wasn’t broached–climate change. It speaks volumes about his–and his party’s–priorities that an existential national and planetary threat doesn’t check any SOTU boxes.

“Trump boasted of a ‘revolution in American energy’ that included nothing revolutionary–just the same old embrace of fossil fuels,” pointed out Tampa Congresswoman Kathy Castor. “The President refuses to acknowledge the urgency and escalating costs of climate crisis on American families. The cost of doing nothing is very high. Instead the Trump Administration sides with dirty fossil fuel corporations and installs oil industry lobbyists at the EPA, Department of Interior and other agencies that protect our health and economic wellbeing.”

* It’s beyond disturbing when an uninformed, largely unread president calls out his own intelligence chiefs for being “passive and naive.” Then he calls out the press for “misquoting” them in their congressional testimony, which was carried on live television. The bottom line: A U.S. president needs to know how the world really works. Earning a reputation for “willful ignorance,” being disengaged from intelligence experts and ignoring their expertise is a recipe for foreign policy disaster. Undodged bullets are still out there.

* “A time comes when silence is betrayal.” That was the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. referring to why he was speaking out about Vietnam in 1967. As a diversion from his civil rights agenda, it cost him support. But it was the right thing to do. More than half a century later, that quote still resonates–and could now apply to Congressional Republicans, who need to speak out against the threat posed by Donald Trump.

* So Russia says it too will formally abandon the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty after the U.S. announced it will be pulling out as a result of Russian violations. Too bad there isn’t a savvy White House negotiator available to America to save a treaty that helps rein in missile deployments. Obviously, negotiating with leverage-challenged subcontractors and bankruptcy courts back in the day is not preparation enough for the ultimate big time.

* Maybe it’s just happenstance, but could it be more than coincidence that a society that has fallen for e-cigarette nicotine alternatives is the same society that fell for a reality TV-populist alternative to Hillary Clinton.

* Donald Trump. Vladimir Putin. Xi Jinping. I miss Mikhail Gorbachev.

Venezuelan Reality

The U.S. involvement in Venezuela, including coup talk, can be seen by some as imperial America meddling again in Latin America. The track record, to be sure, is nothing to be proud of, and President Trump has underscored that “all options are on the table.” But this isn’t Guatemala or Chile or Cuba. The OAS and most Latin American countries are on board with regime change as the only avenue to halt further devolution of a country that is in economic, health-care and criminal-justice free fall and has created a refugee crisis with its neighbors.   

But there is one Latin American constant: the military. So far, it’s supporting the de facto dictator, Nicolás Maduro. But opposition leader Juan Guaidó, the 35-year-old leader of the National Assembly, has notably not been arrested. Moreover, he has made it clear that he is supportive of an amnesty law the assembly passed that encourages members of the armed forces to switch their loyalty to him. That could be determinative.

Media Matters

* I watched Sen. Kamala Harris’ on her CNN town hall from Des Moines, Iowa. She’s good.   Articulate, camera-friendly, passionate and tough. From issues to optics, she’s more than ready for prime time. Even Donald Trump seemed impressed by the early rollout of her presidential candidacy, although Trump praise is nothing any Dem would ever covet. “I would say the best opening so far would be Kamala (pronounced ‘Kameela’) Harris,” he observed. “In terms of the opening act.” In other words, it’s still performance art for Trump–but Harris is much more than that. It would be brutally apparent if it ever came to a presidential debate.  

* We live in an oxymoronic, news-junkie era when news has never been more reviled, more cherry picked, more susceptible to tampering, more profit-and-survival conscious–and more flat-out necessary. The new news normal ranges from Russian bots to Fox’s partisan reality to the pathological liar-in-chief.

Countering all this will take an all-out, societal effort, so that our electorate becomes less vulnerable to forces that seek to undermine American democracy. One way would be to get serious about our school curricula and what’s at stake electorally. No, we’re not extolling the virtues of old school civics to see who knows how many years a U.S. representative’s term lasts. And, no, this is not nostalgia for some “Americanism vs. Communism” Cold War social studies relic.

Here’s hoping that Florida lawmakers, currently smitten with the teaching of science “options” and Bible-literacy electives, will evolve and mandate the teaching of contemporary media along with real-world American democracy. In short, how to be your own best advocate for non-fake news. What to look for, how to look for it. The value of knowing the other side of issues–and not just cherry picking that which validates the cherry picker. We need to groom the next generation to know what’s at stake and how self-serving partisans and cyber attackers can manipulate an electorate that is blatantly vulnerable.

* “Stan and Ollie.” This holiday, pre-Oscar season has had more than the usual amount of good movies wedged among the usual comic-book, video-game genres. Another good one: “Stan and Ollie.” As in Laurel and Hardy. The ending–oops, a bit of a spoiler alert–is appropriate. You’ll tear up while you’re smiling.  

* Still my favorite bumper sticker: “TAMPA 2012: Where Stupidity Meets Humidity.”

* Some numbers are still boggling. To wit: There are less than 8 billion people on Earth. More than a quarter of them (2.3 billion) are on Facebook.

Not Face Saving

So the Democratic governor of  Virginia, Ralph Northam, apologizes for appearing in a blatantly racist yearbook photograph that featured a man in blackface and one sporting KKK garb. Then he denies being part of what he had just apologized for. Sounds like another cold opening for “Saturday Night Live.”

Frankly, Northam should consider apologizing for being two-faced.  

There’s also an element of irony here. Should Gov. Northam ultimately resign, his place would be taken by Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, who happens to be black beyond his face. Fairfax would become the second African-American governor in Virginia’s history. Sounds almost karmic, except that there are now accusations of sexual assault against Fairfax.

And this just in. Virginia’s Democratic Attorney General Mark Herring has now acknowledged appearing in rapper-esque blackface back in the 80s. That’s Virginia’s top three elected officials engulfed by scandal. Moreover, should all three wind up resigning, the next in line to become governor would be House Speaker Kirk Cox, a Republican.

No, you can’t make this stuff up.

Sports Shorts

* Quarterback-challenged FSU just jettisoned its starting QB Deondre Franciois. It had everything to do with another all-too-disgustingly-familiar domestic violence accusation. Call it doing the right thing. But also call it the expedient thing that is part of Jameis Winston’s infamous legacy. FSU does not want to re-enter that notorious spotlight that Winston put them in a few years back. Besides, Francois was never going to win a Heisman and lead the ‘Noles back to the, however soiled, glory years.

* While speculation about Super Bowl player participation continues regarding a New England Patriots team visit to the White House, this is always a good time–even in a non-Trump presidency–to re-think this tradition. Just eliminate all teams from a WH visit unless they are representing the U.S.–not their franchise owners–in international competition. The Olympics and World Cup, yes.  The NFL, NBA, MLB or NHL, no. Regardless of who’s president.

* Not that Bruce Arians is deterred, but the oddsmaking Westgate SuperBook already has Super Bowl odds out for next year. The Bucs are 80-1 longshots. But it could be worse. We could be talking about the Miami Dolphins, who are listed at 300-1. BTW, next year’s game is in Miami.

Quoteworthy

* “The distribution of risks around Brexit outcomes is widening.”–Goldman Sachs, in a report that places the odds that Brexit will be delayed at 50-50.

* “We never really had a trade deal with China, and now we’re going to have a great trade deal with China if it all works out.”–President Donald Trump.

* “(By) radiating authority.”–The way a female politician earns credibility, according to German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

* “Some U.S. allies and partners are seeking greater independence from Washington in response to their perception of changing U.S. policies on security and trade.”–Excerpt from the “Worldwide Threat Assessment” report from U.S. intelligence agencies.

* “Perhaps Intelligence should go back to school!”–Donald Trump.

* “The risk of miscalculation or misunderstanding is already higher than at any point since the end of the Cold War, and this decision only makes it worse.”–Democratic Rep. Adam Smith of Washington, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, on Trump’s announcement that the U.S. would be pulling out of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty with Russia.

* “For the first time, you have an opposition leader (Juan Guaidó) who is clearly signaling to the armed forces and to law enforcement that he wants to keep them on the side of the angels and with the good guys.”–William Brownfield, former American ambassador to Venezuela.

* “Reading about the indictment of Donald Trump’s longtime pal Roger Stone, you can’t help thinking that we’ve got a president whose circle of associates closely resembles the guys Tony Soprano used to hang around with outside the pork shop in New Jersey.”–Gail Collins, New York Times.

* “Despite Trump’s claims, the main challenge for coal is not regulation. It’s technology. Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in particular, has made natural gas a much cheaper alternative.”–Catherine Rampell, Washington Post.

* “(Government shutdowns) hurt federal employees and their families, disrupt critical government services and increase the cost to taxpayers. This shutdown confirmed what we already knew about shutdowns. Let’s do something about it now while the pain and inefficiency of this moment is fresh on our minds.”–Ohio Republican Sen. Rob Portman, who has re-introduced legislation to prevent government shutdowns.

* “The moment when we reach a compromise on the (border security) vocabulary is the moment when we will reach a compromise on the policy.”–Jeh Johnson, former homeland security secretary under President Barack Obama.

* “It will be interesting to see how primary voters wrestle with these questions: Is America too racist and sexist right now to elect a black woman? Or would nominating a black woman in fact be the perfect rebuttal to Trump?”–David Brooks, New York Times.

* “(Howard Schultz’s) immediate problem is the Democratic Party. … Democrats will never forget … what Ralph Nader’s Green Party candidacy in 2000 did to Al Gore. … They feel they are this close to taking out Mr. Trump. They are not going to let another independent get in their way.”–Peggy Noonan, Wall Street Journal.

* “Grateful patient programs.”–Wealth screenings by nonprofit hospitals to gauge which patients are most likely to be the source of large donations.

* “A sunny place for shady people.”–How Roger Stone characterized Florida.

* “In a twisted way, the Florida dateline might have blunted the shock of last week’s (Sebring bank murders) crime. We live in a notorious firing range, the Gunshine State, where the rush of blood-splattered headlines seldom lets us catch our breath.”–Carl Hiaasen, Tribune Content Agency.

* “Nothing is ever settled if it’s science, because people are always questioning science. If you look at the history of human learning, for a long time the official worldview was that the world was flat.”–State Sen. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala.

* “A study of a book of creation by its creator is absolutely essential. … In the world there is one book that is the ultimate authority on mankind. That is the Holy Bible. I think it should be studied in our schools.”–State Rep. Brad Drake, R-Fort Walton Beach, the co-sponsor of a bill that would require high schools to offer an elective course on the Bible and religion.

* “We want to be nimble. We want to be responsive to how the economy changes.”–Gov. Ron DeSantis, in advocating for better workforce and technical training programs during an appearance at Tampa Bay Tech.

* “Though skeptical, I’m willing to wipe the slate clean and judge him on his environmental record going forward. Florida is in desperate need of a new environmental hero. I’d be thrilled if DeSantis turned out to be one.”–Former Republican state legislator Paula Dockery.

* “I believe it’s a good idea. We need access to our rural communities. We need to improve access so prosperity can return there.”–Florida Senate leader Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, in announcing that one of his top priorities is pushing legislation to extend the (lightly traveled) Suncoast Parkway to the Georgia state line.

* “The story of Tampa is really quite remarkable but not surprising. You had the vision to take the waterfront and do something with it. You have a live-work-play that’s the envy of other cities.”–Mitchell Roschelle, co-author of the 2019 “Emerging Trends in Real Estate Report.”

* “The greatest feeling in the world is winning (a Super Bowl). The absolute worst feeling in the world is when the confetti is coming down on them, and you’ve got to walk through it.”–New Bucs head coach Bruce Arians.

New Normal Ignominy

* “Never worked for Russia.” Doesn’t that speak “Manchurian Candidate” volumes about this president when he actually has to say this? When we actually have to ask this? While scenarios of a Trump presidency ending prematurely are in play, we are reminded that no one ever had to ask Richard Nixon such a question.

* As critical–and crushing–as the 2016 election was, 2020 will be even more impactful. While the historical stain of this travesty will remain, we can reverse much of what Donald Trump has wrought. That’s because much of what he wreaks is via executive action. To wit: canceling the Paris climate accord, halting the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, exiting from the Iran negotiations and raising tariffs and global ire while reducing respect for the U.S. and cooperation among our allies and partners. These are all reversible by a Democratic president.

* So Trump will sit down again with North Korea’s Kim Jong-un, this time, presumably, with a written definition and details of denuclearization resulting. But one thing we do know–and it’s worthy of concern–is that North Korea, as well as the rest of the world, knows what Trump is facing domestically. They know part of his MO is to create diversions–which could be trumpeted as “wins.” So heads up on what these expedient negotiations actually yield.  

* Trump: “(The United States) will devastate Turkey economically if they hit Kurds.” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu: “You will not get anywhere by threatening Turkey’s economy.”  Mike Pompeo (to himself): “I miss Rex Tillerson. I didn’t whore out for this.”

* “If you want to see a stock market crash, impeach Trump!” That was Donald Trump saying, in effect, “Whatever the hell I did or didn’t do, so what? This isn’t about right or wrong. True or false. This is about me, as it always is, and I will play all the scare-tactic cards I can.”

* “Absurd and almost childish.” That was the take–just a couple of years ago–on “The Wall” by a South Carolina Republican congressman who no longer talks that way. Oh yeah, that was Mick Mulvaney, now this absurd and childish president’s acting chief of staff.

* Sen. Mitch McConnell: He’s no longer just a gutless, sycophantic Trump enabler. He’s a co-conspirator.

* Could this Trump presidency get any worse? Yes. Trump could take up drinking.

Media Matters

* New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, 52, formally announced the formation of a presidential exploratory committee on “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert.” At the risk of political naiveté, I still feel that such an important announcement about such an important office should have a forum other than a late-night comedy host.

I know it’s how you reach a wider demographic audience–and there’s ample precedent going all the way back to John F. Kennedy doing the old “Tonight Show.” But at a time when the presidency has been debased and demeaned by a grandstanding former reality-TV performer, we’ve never needed a sense of serious purpose and class more than now. The presidential-candidacy forum should reflect that.

* Former Texas congressman Beto O’Rourke has youth-energizing charisma, modern-media appeal, an impressive, grass-roots organization and proven (non-PAC) fund-raising wherewithal. It’s why he’s prominently in the mix among would-be, Democratic presidential contenders for 2020. Some early media polls actually have O’Rourke, 46, behind only Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders among early favorites.

Imagine what we’d be seeing had he not lost his senate race to Ted Cruz, the most hated man in the Senate.