Media Matters

* ABC’s George Stephanopolos: “Is Donald Trump unfit to be president?”

   Former FBI Director James Comey: “Yes.”

* ABC’s Martha Raddatz: Would you “accept” a Trump Administration position?

   Retired Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal, former commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan: “I’d say no. It’s important for me to work for people who I think are basically honest, who tell the truth.”

* “The Times regrets the error.” That’s an all-too-frequent, front-page, Tampa Bay Times note, indicating regret for another one of the editing errors it did manage to catch.

* Mark Zuckerberg reportedly lost nearly $20 billion last year. That’s what a 13 percent stake in Facebook–in the year its self-serving business model is outed over privacy and oversight scandals–will get you. But Zuckerberg is still worth more than $50 billion. And he can still binge watch “The Social Network” for back-in-the-day context.

* For once, I’d like to hear politicians begin their response to a “yes” or “no” question with something other than “look.” That’s a classic heads up that spin and agenda-pivoting are on their way. Don’t you agree?

* I cannot help but hold my breath when I hear a Federal Reserve Chairman, in this case Jerome Powell–giving a post-Fed statement press conference. The chairman is no longer literally on a parsed-wording script–but in a combustible media environment where markets pounce on any uncertainty, any nuance, any misinterpretation.

* If you only get to see one movie this holiday season, make sure you don’t waste your time and money with “The Favourite.” It may be the favorite of numerous critics, but that just proves what can happen with a vintage, British period piece and well-credentialed, famous actresses. But the bottom line: It’s really annoying.

A whole different genre and experience is “Vice.” It’s worth seeing because it has something to do with how we got to where we are right now. And it’s worth seeing just for Christian Bale’s spot-on send-up of Dick Cheney. It has its gimmicks and caricatures. Call it: Where “The Big Short” meets Michael Moore.

Sports Shorts

* “Our relationship to these young people is to educate them, to help them grow. Not to be their agent for financial gain.” That was the Rev. John Jenkins, president of Notre Dame, on the student-athlete reality in a high-profile, iconic football program. Of course there was some self-serving, Irish spin there, but, all the same, I don’t see the presidents of Alabama, Clemson and Oklahoma, for example, having the effrontery to go public with that kind of statement.

* Yes, Urban Meyer is retiring–but won’t actually leave the Ohio State University campus. Meyer, 54, will become an OSU assistant athletic director and will also co-teach a class on “leadership and character.” The latter seems ironic–at best–for one who was suspended this season for mishandling domestic-violations allegations against a former assistant coach.

* One word we can do without when it comes to, especially, football is “swagger” or “swag.” It’s meant to mean playing with “attitude.” We get that–until we’re reminded how swag typically manifests itself. It’s an on-field synonym for arrogance and boorishness. Why not encourage players to play “with confidence“–even if that doesn’t sound very cool or intimidating.

Quoteworthy

* “We have the ways. What we need is the political will to move forward.”–United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres, at the global warming conference in Katowice, Poland.

* “We can’t have a rich government and poor people. … For the good of all, the poor first.”–Recently sworn-in Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.

* “The United States has an abundance of natural resources and is not going to keep them in the ground. We strongly believe that no country should have to sacrifice their economic prosperity or energy security in pursuit of environmental sustainability.”–Wells Griffith, international energy and climate adviser to President Donald Trump.

* “Our strength as a nation is inextricably linked to the strength of our unique and comprehensive system of alliances and partnerships.”–Former Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis.

* “‘Full and rapid’ withdrawal from Syria is a grave error with broader implications beyond just the fight against ISIS.”–Sen. Marco Rubio.

* “The president wanted the shutdown, but he seems not to know how to get himself out of it.”–From a Nancy Pelosi-Chuck Schumer joint statement.

* “Any time you stand and say, ‘I own the shutdown,’ then you own it.”–Outgoing Arizona Republican Sen. Jeff Flake.

* “Make no mistake, Democrats will honor our constitutional responsibility to exercise oversight of the Trump Administration and get the American people the answers they deserve.”–Incoming Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.

* “Trump makes everything personal. Whether it’s a result of his own narcissism, his history as head of a company dependent on his personal celebrity, or his lack of understanding of how government works, it leads to the same place: It’s always and only about him.”–Paul Waldman, Washington Post.

* “The only problem our economy has is the Fed. They don’t have a feel for the market. … The Fed is like a powerful golfer who can’t score because he has no touch–he can’t put.”–President Donald Trump.

* “Things many of us have taken for granted have been called into question, including the endurance of liberal democracy, the political salience of truth and the assumption that it would be a big scandal if a president were caught directing illegal payoffs to a pornographic film actress. Often it feels as if none of the old rules still apply in American politics.”–Michelle Goldberg, New York Times.

* “While Mr. Trump’s case is more complex than (Richard) Nixon’s, the evident dangers of keeping an out-of-control president in office might well impel politicians in both parties, not without controversy, to want to make a deal to get him out of there.”–Elizabeth Drew, author of “Washington Journal: Reporting Watergate and Richard Nixon’s Downfall.”

* “Politics is a feeling. It’s a visceral reaction to someone. Especially when you’re voting for an executive.”–Former New Jersey Republican Gov. Chris Christie.

* “There are three kinds of economist in modern America: liberal professional economists, conservative professional economists and professional conservative economists. (Professional conservative economists) are people who even center-right professionals consider charlatans and cranks; they make a living by pretending to do actual economics–often incompetently–but are actually just propagandists.”–Paul Krugman, New York Times.

* “The lobby is the new public square.”–Aytan Litwin, founder and chief executive of White Space, a company that designs and furnishes hospitality and commercial spaces.

* “As a self-proclaimed ‘constitutionalist,’ Gov.-elect DeSantis should know better.”–State Senate Democratic Leader Kionne McGhee, on DeSantis siding with those who want more time to “implement” Amendment 4. Both DeSantis and Florida Senate President Bill Galvano publicly opposed Amendment 4, which automatically restores voting rights to former felons–and was passed with nearly 65 percent voter approval.

* “Her incredible depth of knowledge in government and the legislative process will be invaluable. He’s going to really come to rely on her.”–Bill Rubin, co-chairman of the Ron DeSantis inaugural committee, on the role that Lt. Gov.-elect Jeanette Nunez will have in the DeSantis Administration.

* “Hindsight is clarity that you don’t have when you’re going through it.”–Former Congresswoman Gwen Graham, reflecting on her “painful,” Democratic gubernatorial primary loss.

* Florida historically has been a small business state. As we go from small businesses into larger privately held businesses and publicly traded companies, we are going to attract much more of the higher-wage jobs.”–Greg Kadet, managing director of (the financial firm) UBS.

* “She’s not stuck in the 1950s as a Polk County cowboy. She is somebody who would make the agriculture cabinet position really relevant, instead of just a rubber stamp for sugar and overseeing carnival rides.”–Attorney John “For the People” Morgan, on incoming Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried.

* “This is going to be a very different place this time next year.”–James Nozar, CEO of Strategic Property Partners, developer of Water Street Tampa.

* “We’re going to go through our blips in the (economic) cycle. The good thing is, the (Water Street Tampa) developers have the wherewithal to withstand those types of cycles. They’re committed to the long-term, 30-year window, not a five-year flip.”–Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn.

More Trumpster Diving

* So, Mick Mulvaney is now acting chief of staff for President Donald Trump. So much for those Eric Trump, Joe Arpaio and Roy Moore rumors. But, really, who else would want this job–after what we’ve seen the last two years–and more recently from Trump’s border wall sit-down with Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer. Those were the optics from hell, as well as a “Saturday Night Live”cold opening. No credible chief of staff would have signed off on such a sure-fire fiasco. But Trump, in effect, is his own, credibility-be-damned, narcissistic chief of staff–and that’s not changing.   

Mulvaney, who came to the House in the Tea Party surge of 2010, has been the Director of the Office of Management and Budget. He’s a fiscal conservative ideologue. But if he can adjust to presiding over the de facto Office of Deficit and Budget, perhaps he can find a compromised accommodation with Trump whose only ideology is his brand.

And perhaps Trump can overlook the fact that Mulvaney referred to him as a “terrible human being” during a South Carolina congressional debate in November 2016. Perhaps he can overlook it because he’s been called worse by those he’s hired or has campaigned for–and now plays golf with.

* That was a telling letter sent by those 44 ex-senators, including Florida’s Bob Graham, on defending our democracy. It was notable that they represented both parties. “We are at an inflection point in which the foundational principles of our democracy and our national security interests are at stake, and the rule of law and the ability of our institutions to function freely and independently must be upheld,” it read in part. “Whatever united or divided us, we did not veer from our unwavering and shared commitment to placing our country, democracy and national interest above all else.”

No less notable, they are all FORMER senators. Sure, it was a reminder of what’s at stake and what our priorities must be, but it was also a foremost reminder that these same principles must be the priorities of those STILL SERVING in Washington. We need senators who aren’t retired or retiring–to step up, speak out and take one for their country–not their party or their career. We need, in short, a show of senatorial guts, especially among Republicans, whose fealty must be to patriotism–not POTUS.

* How do you have a personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, who is your “fixer” for more than a dozen years and, yet, he only did “low level work” that was “more public relations than law”? Moreover, he’s a “liar.” Only in Trump world, where prevarication is a job requirement.

* No, Time’s “Person of the Year” wasn’t Trump. It was, however, Trump-related. It was journalists: “Guardians of the Truth,” including those whose calling cost them their lives. Call it a rebuke against fake-news and “enemy-of-the-people” demonization by the pathological Liar-in-Chief.  

*New Jersey Democratic Sen. Cory Booker has already been to 24 states this mid-terms year. You don’t do that without serious 2020 presidential plans. And it’s hardly coincidental that New Jersey just changed a law that would allow Booker to seek both the presidency and senate re-election in 2020.

* So, could Robert Mueller interview Donald Trump? Rudy Giuliani: “Over my dead body.” Non-Trump consensus: “Offer accepted.”

* The popularity ratings of First Lady Melania Trump continue to head south. But how fair is that? What has Lady MAGA done in what has to be an awkward, no-win FLOTUS role? Well, it started with actually marrying someone so unconscionably unethical and immoral as Donald Trump. You don’t leverage a modeling career and whore out and expect credit for a hypocritical “anti-bullying” campaign.

*This just in on the roiling stock market that never reacts well to uncertainty, let alone chaos: So far, this has been the market’s worst December since, well, 1931.

Truman Doctrine

Ever notice that when oil prices are heading south, which is good for consumers, there is always the other edge of the sword for how that impacts energy stocks that could skew the market. And let’s not forget that when the Fed leaves interest rates low, where so many of us like them–that also can encourage risky lending. But if the Fed hikes them, they could trigger an economic slump. Is there any wonder that President Harry Truman used to yearn for a “one-armed economist,” one who wouldn’t be inclined to say, “But on the other hand.” Bada bing.

Teachable Moment

Let’s hear it for Hillsborough County Schools that went beyond the usual Plan Bs to help some of their system’s struggling schools. These schools, with well-chronicled issues that include embarrassingly low test scores, need help–including, frankly, better teachers. That’s a familiar problem, because teachers with seniority and savvy are likely well established at the better-performing schools. Rookies and the relatively in experienced are asked to do what they can, even if they can’t, at the high-needs schools.

So the county has signed up more than a dozen former teachers who have impressively advanced in the administrative ranks, including to high-profile positions such as assistant superintendent and chief academic officer. They all will, in effect, be on sabbatical for the rest of the school year so they can literally help out in classrooms. More are expected to follow.

They have volunteered for classroom duty after having earned their career promotions. Hopefully, they can make a difference with their presence, as well as through the message that this sends through the ranks. “Do as I do” always goes over better than “do as I say.” This is no struggling-schools panacea, of course, but a recommitment to the pedagogical principle that all students matter, and this is an all-hands-on-deck approach to a problem with serious societal implications.

Media Matters

* In a world of Kindles, audiobooks and old-school hard-bounds, where does that leave paperbacksthese days? Time capsule fodder? They are increasingly hard to, literally,read. I was reminded when I re-read a paperback version of Jack Kerouac’s 1950s Beat Generation classic, “On The Road,” last year and am now slogging through the paperback version of Barbara Tuchman’s World War I classic, “The Guns of August.” “On The Road” doesn’t hold up well these non-Beat days, but the incredibly detailed “The Guns of August”provides a fascinating chronicle of how World War I happened beyond the assassination of Austria’s Archduke Ferdinand. But the words are so small.

* If you get a chance, try to get to the Florida Holocaust Museum in St. Petersburg early in the new year. It’s worth it to see the award-winning, short (17-minute, one-person-at-a-time) virtual reality film, “The Last Goodbye” that will be there until mid-January. It chronicles the experience of Holocaust survivor Pinchas Gutter’s return to the Nazi death camp of Majdanek in Poland, where he lost his parents and sister. It’s a viscerally immersive experience.

Spoiler alert: Gutter’s gut-wrenching return to familial hell is not without a measure of hope. “I’m always hopeful about the future,” he says at the end. “Maybe not in my lifetime. Maybe in yours.”

* As a political junkie, I watch, alas, more than my share of cable talk shows. I will watch some Fox because, not unlike a lawyer preparing for trial, you need to know the other side’s best spin. I’ll periodically catch CNN’s Chris Cuomo, who gives as good as he gets, but I do watch MSNBC the most. I prefer “The Beat” with Ari Melber and “The 11th Hour” with Brian Williams. The former is an attorney–and it shows with his questions and follow-ups. The latter is a consummate pro who knows how to ferret opinions and hold an audience. I respect Rachel Maddow for being smart and informed, but her camera-optics shtick can be off-putting. Chris Matthews has made interrupting his modus operandi.   

* A tell-tale experience back in 2001 helped hype the pro-Republican, TV reputation of Heather Nauert, Donald Trump’s nominee as U.S. ambassador to the U.N. She had already caught the attention of network types for her energetic, on-camera presence after a stint at ABC News. Such that Fox News enlisted her to share her lecture notes when she was taking journalism grad courses at Columbia University in 2001. The lecturer happened to be Al Gore. She then provided regular dispatches for Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly, who routinely ridiculed the former vice president. That led to full-time work for Fox that culminated in “Fox & Friends.” Then on to Trump’s State Department as a spokesperson and now to the United Nations. That’s how that works.

* In a prominent Tampa Bay Times “Year in Review” of “Top TV shows” piece, the Associated Press listed its top 10. No.1 was Amazon Prime’s “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.” It’s not for everybody. That said, it is a colorful, 1950s New York period piece that has all the optic upsides of costuming and music: the back-in-the-day allure of “Mad Men.” That’s the fun part. But the characters are not “quirky.” Too many are asinine and annoying. Not enough period pieces to compensate.

Rays Reality

When it comes to the Tampa Bay Rays, we always knew it was about money and commitment when it came to finding a stadium site. The one in Ybor checked a lot of urban-synergy as well as market-hub boxes. But commitment, of course, meant being committed to money. Did we mention money?

So much for the feel-good dynamics and upbeat spin about modest and incremental progress. It’s a near-billion-dollar field of schemes. Nobody in the community has stepped up with 9-figure guarantees. The Rays won’t ante up about half ($450 million MOL), and there’s seemingly no Jeff Vinik waiting in the wings to complete Tampa’s revitalization with a MLB franchise. We’re not talking Opportunity Zones, tax-increment financing and Rays 2020 to the rescue.

So where are we? Likely game (still) on. But the game is zero-sum hard ball. The fact that the Rays used the baseball winter meetings in Las Vegas as an opportunistic forum to formally announce that they are rejecting the plan for an Ybor Stadium spoke leverage volumes. Deadline-extension discussions won’t happen, underscored principal owner Stu Sternberg. And the Rays announcement came in front of the national media with the endorsement of Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred. How’s that for blunt and in-your-face.

The ultimate bottom line: Creating a sense of urgency, and flushing out bucks bigger than what a self-taxing community development district would yield. Otherwise, make your case: Montreal, Las Vegas, Charlotte, San Antonio and Portland, Ore.

BTW, that new Seattle franchise that’s coming into the NHL in 2021 will be playing in the renovated KeyArena. The cost will exceed $800 million. It’s already spoken for–with private funds.

Trumpster Diving

* According to Donald Trump, attorney Michael Cohen is “weak, very weak.” In addition, Cohen’s also “not very smart.” Moreover, Cohen “makes up stories.” It’s beyond incredulous how this media-savvy businessman tolerated a weak, less-than-intelligent, lying personal lawyer/fixer for 12 years.

* “I have a no-conflict-of-interest provision as president. I have no deals that could happen in Russia, because we’ve stayed away.”–That was Donald Trump in January 2017. Stay tuned.

* Trump canceled plans to formally meet face to face with Vladimir Putin at the Group of 20 summit in Buenos Aires. It was pushback over that clash between Russian and Ukrainian ships. Anyone other than Sarah Huckabee Sanders believe that was the real reason? And not the fact that Michael Cohen and the Russian back story were breaking news at home?

* The Artifice-of-the-Deal update. Looks like there is a pause–or “truce”–in the market-roiling tariff war with China, although key specifics are notably still missing. Sounds not unlike the “denuclearization” deal “negotiated” with North Korea that only lacks a mutually acceptable, written definition of “denuclearization.”

Tampa Bay TidBits

* Good luck to the University of South Florida in its presidential search to replace Judy Genshaft, who has been a fixture at USF for 18 years. The challenge is obvious for a major, urban, research-oriented university in 21st century America.

USF needs somebody well suited to be a major regional leader. Someone who’s comfortable being a high-profile part of regional economic synergy–from surrounding counties to Water Street Tampa. Somebody who knows that a university president’s responsibilities transcend campus and departmental priorities. But they also need somebody with serious academic cred, not a glib, political operative.  As noted, good luck.

* There’s been some speculation about how a change in congressional representation could impact defense spending for Florida–and the Tampa Bay area. It’s a reminder of the sheer level of spending involved. It’s about $80 billion annually, including more than $17 billion a year in the Tampa Bay region. Defense spending is critically important to our economy, and a number of elected officials deserve credit for bringing in important, impactful pet projects. Just don’t mention the military industrial complex.