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.

Quoteworthy

* “Eventually we will get there. … But for this particular visit, we decided that we had to walk.”–President Donald Trump after the Hanoi summit with Kim Jong-un failed to live up to expectations for a comprehensive agreement on North Korea’s nuclear program.

* “North Korea wants us to exhaust all our leverage before we get to denuclearization.”–Thomas Pickering, former undersecretary of state and former U.S. ambassador to Israel, India, Russia and the United Nations.

* “The revelation that President Trump personally intervened to overrule White House security officials and the Intelligence Community to grant a Top Secret security clearance to his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, is the latest indicator of the president’s utter disregard for our national security and for the men and women who sacrifice so much every day to keep us safe. There is no nepotism exception for background investigations.”–House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif.

* “We live in a climate where everything will be used against us, whether by the fake news or by Democrats who are only interested in presidential harassment and wasting everyone’s time.”–Eric Trump.

* “With a few exceptions in his inner circle and with family, Trump doesn’t give loyalty or deserve it. That’s why Republicans on the Hill who obsequiously stand by him will eventually learn it wasn’t worth it, just as Michael Cohen warned them.”–Maureen Dowd, New York Times.

* “(Trump’s) never had to deal with the people he has face-planted coming back to haunt him–ever. … He’s never had law enforcement turning people on him and essentially weaponizing them against him.”–Trump biographer Timothy O’Brien.

* “Given my experience working for Mr. Trump, I fear that if he loses the election in 2020 that there will never be a peaceful transition of power, and this is why I agreed to appear before you today.”–From Michael Cohen’s closing statement in his public testimony to the House Oversight Committee.

* “The most consequential action in the Trump presidency was the voters’ decision to turn the House over to Democats. We still would have no idea about any of these (House Oversight Committee-related) matters had that not happened.”–Jennifer Rubin, Washington Post.

* “We have a responsibility to find common ground–if we can’t, to stand our ground.”–House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

* “If Trump fails (a distinct possibility, based on what we see of his governing style), the resulting increase in civic anxiety and a natural desire for experimentation could drive the country to the left. That is precisely what Democrats are banking on.”–Robert W. Merry, the American Conservative.

* “This body is going to continue to change as more people of a diverse background come. America is changing. We all need to get on board.”–U.S. Rep. John Lewis, Democrat of Georgia and a civil rights icon.

* “We need the best candidates possible to win the majority. It’s critical that some of the long shots in the presidential primary consider the Senate this year.”–Guy Cecil, former executive director of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

* We are not in a space race. That race is over. We went to the moon and we won. It’s done. Now we’re in a position where we can take our time and make sure we get it right.”–NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, on the recent Cape Canaveral launch of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying the Demo 1 crew capsule to the International Space Station.

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

* “I encourage the governor to be bold in establishing Florida’s clean energy future and moving the Sunshine State away from polluting fossil fuels and their exorbitant costs. Florida should be a national leader in building the clean energy economy and we at the federal level are poised to help.”–U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, who chairs the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis.

* “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.

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

* “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: Kim to Baldwin

* Here’s hoping President Donald Trump is coming back from this Kim Jong-un summit with at least a detailed, written definition of “denuclearization,” even if that alone doesn’t guarantee a Nobel Peace Prize.

* The president has nominated another successor to Nikki Haley as U.S. ambassador to the U.N. It is Kelly Knight Craft, whom he had appointed ambassador to Canada last year. Craft, if confirmed, would replace the previously nominated Heather Nauert, a State Department spokeswoman and former “Fox & Friends” co-host, who recently withdrew from consideration. Craft is not without partisan connections herself. Trump was urged to pick her by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Ms. Craft and her husband, Joseph W. Craft III, a billionaire Kentucky coal magnate, were major contributors to Trump’s 2018 campaign and inaugural committee.

* Of all the accepted explanations and rationalizations employed by pundits and pollsters in the aftermath of Trump’s 2016 win, one still seems particularly inexplicable. How a segment of voters went from Barack Obama to Donald Trump–and what the Dems can do to win them back. From “Hope and Change” to MAGA mania? Feeling ignored or disliking Hillary Clinton shouldn’t be explanation enough to imperil the country.

* It’s hard to quantify the impact, but if the charges stick about Jussie Smollet making a false police report, he will have done incalculable damage. This wouldn’t be a stupidly misguided attempt to bring further attention to the plight of African-Americans amid an increasingly white-nativist, Trump-led backlash. No, this would be an unconscionably selfish career move with ripple effects ideally suited for exploitation by Trump, Hannity & Co. This was room service for haters looking to divert blame.   

* The other day at the health club I overheard some locker room talk about Trump. Yeah, such partisan encounters are more frequent–and annoying–than we prefer, especially when you’re just trying to escape the ubiquitous news cycle for a workout. Anyhow, it was an amped-up white guy and two bemused black guys. The white guy had seemingly run out of slogans and rally rhetoric that wasn’t resonating. He made one last attempt at playing the common-ground, inclusion card. He said that “Trump has guts,” “stands up to everybody” and “tells it like it is.” He takes “nothing from nobody.” Yada, yada. Then he referred to Trump as a “battle rapper.” Seriously.

The two black guys zipped up their gym bags, smiled fulsomely, avoided fist-bumping and summarily left, shaking their heads. Another day at the orifice.

* Some Trumpian tweet lines deserve to be delivered by Alec Baldwin. As in: “Hold the date! We will be having one of the biggest gatherings in the history of Washington, D.C. on July 4th. … Major fireworks display, entertainment and an address by your favorite president–me!”

Tampa Topics

* As we head toward the climax of another mayor’s race, we are again reminded that Tampa has yet to elect its first black mayor. But it’s not as if time has stood racially still when it comes to leadership diversity around here. While it’s easily overlooked, it shouldn’t be taken for granted that African-Americans currently chair Tampa City Council (Frank Reddick), the Hillsborough County Commission (Les Miller) and the Hillsborough County School Board (Tamara Shamburger). It’s well worth noting and not just because we recently celebrated Black History Month. Reddick, Miller, Shamberger: They are a reminder that progress, even if too often in societal increments, is being made.  

* No it wasn’t Amazon HQ2 or some stop-the-presses relo. But it made news, and it will make a difference beyond jobs. Stockholm, Sweden-based Vycellix, which creates cell- and gene-based cancer therapies, will begin operations this spring at the University Park Business Center–near the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center & Research Institute. Tampa will be Vycellix’s primary headquarters. The synergy with Moffitt, which has been morphing into a life science and biotech hub, is expected to enhance many of the immuno-oncology therapies being developed there. And this just in: Vycellix isn’t getting state or local incentives. Moffitt was the incentive.

* By all accounts, WMNF is still roiling over the firing of Rob Lorei as news and public affairs director–and we haven’t heard the last of it. That’s guaranteed if Lorei files a grievance–and he’s indicated he will. Moreover, a number of contributors have indicated that they may withhold or request a return of contributions. This could be serious leverage for a non-profit community station that relies on community contributions for roughly 70 percent of its budget.

Internally, the station faces familiar challenges in a brave new radio world where audiences have a host of digital and satellite options for alternative news. Apparently Lorei’s general manager, Craig Kopp, didn’t think Lorei was the right 2019 fit for a radio station that wants to become a multi-platform source of news.

But the controversy and sense of outrage among many insiders and listeners is hardly unexpected given that Lorei, 64, helped co-found WMNF 40 years ago and is an integral part of its identity. Over four decades, he has become a valued journalistic staple with a reputation as a progressive who can reach across the political spectrum for community input. He has made it a priority to provide a forum to those with a cause–from environmentalists to feminists. He matters–and we can expect a number of journalists, community leaders, board members and contributors to be weighing in. Yes, we will stay tuned.

Florida Fodder

* The upside of the North Carolina congressional voter-fraud case is three-fold.  First and foremost, legitimate–not faux–fraud has been outed. Second, there will now be a re-vote, where the Dems could pick up a 41st House seat from the 2018 mid-terms. And third, it puts somebody other than “Flori-duh” in the national media’s electoral cross hairs for being stupid, incompetent or worse.

* Democratic State Rep. Ben Diamond and Republican State Sen. Jeff Brandes, both of St. Petersburg, have filed identical civics-education bills that would create civic engagement courses in our public schools. The need–as often illustrated by discouraging voter turnouts and disappointing winning candidates–is obvious. Such courses should also, as has been noted here before, include a complementary primer on how to navigate contemporary media. An unengaged, under-informed, easily manipulated electorate that can ideologically cherry pick for validation is a major threat to meaningful democracy.

* Another state legislative tandem, Rep. Jackie Toledo, R-Tampa, and Sen. Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, are also sponsoring critically-important legislation. In this case, outlawing distracted driving: making texting-while-driving a primary offense. “The focus of this bill is to save lives and get people’s behavior to change,” explained Toledo. “While you’re driving, you should be focused on driving.”

Of course. And it’s about time. Florida currently is one of only four states where texting is merely a secondary offense. As if those who are a threat to everyone else on the road is a secondary matter.

But this is the Florida Legislature and nothing is ever as easy as it is obvious, even if well- intended. To wit: a Senate committee has now broadened the bill to basically target any action that distracts a driver. It makes perfectly good sense in the abstract. In the real world of drive-by, law-enforcement scrutiny, much less so. “It’s completely subjective,” underscored Sen. Brandes. He’s right.

“What constitutes a distraction,” noted Sen. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, “can open drivers up to profiling or discriminatory treatment based on culture or personal choice.” He’s right too. It’s paramount to do the right thing to save lives, but it’s problematic to introduce judgment calls about somebody munching on a hamburger, mouthing loud rap lyrics or looking emotionally addled while listening to talk radio.