River O’Neill

Thanks, again, Mayor Bob. No, not for the two-term, Buckhorn run, although you’ve been the CEO-cheerleader-steward during downtown’s revitalizing makeover. No, this is for eight years of the River O’Green Fest, an homage to the Irish where the river and the beer both flow green.

When you are the O’Neills and you celebrate your wedding anniversary on St. Patrick’s Day, hanging out along an emerald-colored river while listening to live music courtesy of the Irish Buskers and Paddy O’Furniture is special. It’s also an exercise in goofy, Irish-themed costuming, including for pets, little lads and lasses and seniors multi-tasking as they savor a Guinness while navigating a walker. There was also good-humored winks and nods to those sporting (Larry Bird) Celtic jerseys and green-and-gold USF Bulls shirts. What the hell, close enough. T-shirts once again ranged from the witty to the semi-risqué. From “Save the Ales” to “Let’s Get Lucked Up.” My favorite: “So this Irishman walks out of a bar–no, seriously, it really can happen.”

But because this was St. Paddy’s weekend–and this is Tampa–the crowd was diverse. Like the Children’s Gasparilla Parade. White. Black. Hispanic. Old. Young. Laughing, dancing. No need to be authentically shanty on St. Patrick’s. Everyone’s honorary Irish. It’s the highest compliment.  

Only one aberration. Amid the flotilla of watercraft near Curtis Hixon Park was a group of four boats that were anchored and tethered together. Most notable was a reminder that there’s a thin line between a sexy bikini bottom and a wedgie. Also notable, a prominent blue Trump flag.

No, you can’t avoid them. You just have to remember that you do outnumber them.

Trumpster Diving

* You could see it coming. The proposed Trump budget: “MAGAnomics.” It’s a meme for a $1.1 trillion deficit–as well as priorities that include a border wall and hikes in defense spending, as well as cuts in economic safety-net programs, environmental spending, education and the Affordable Care Act. How grating is that?

* We know what Trump unscripted sounds like. For anyone else, it would be “GaffeGate”–from the Comey firing, Charlottesville equivocation and Access Hollywood vulgarities to Vlad Putin fealty and Kim Jong-un infatuation.

Speaking of Kim, who Trump “fell in love” with, this just in from North Korea’s deputy foreign minister, Choe Son Hui. After, ahem, announcing that Kim was considering the resumption of nuclear and missile tests, Choe blamed John Bolton more than Trump, saying the relations between the two leaders was “still good.” In fact, “the chemistry is mysteriously wonderful,” Choe added. Say what? This sounds more like the relationship between Trump and his Mike Pence-led evangelical followers.

* Not that we should expect much difference in rhetoric between President Trump and candidate Trump–because he’s always in campaign-rhetoric mode–but this was a new low. His re-election campaign sent out this Trump message to supporters: “I look forward to VETOING the Dem inspired OPEN BORDERS & Pro-Crime Resolution! Donate NOW for the WALL & we’ll TRIPLE MATCH your gift.” It wasn’t outrageous enough to demonize Democrats as “pro-crime,” but then doubling down to ask his cult-following base to help pay for the WALL that he had promised them Mexico would pay for.

* Here’s more satirical context for Trump’s “Tim Apple” reference that he has tried to pass off as some eponymous riff. The Trumpspin version: “I referred to him as ‘Tim Apple’ on purpose. I was kidding; of course, I was. No, it wasn’t some presidential gaffe as the ‘Fake News’ would have you believe. Believe me, I’m quite familiar with the names of all of our hot-shot, great tech entrepreneurs like Tim and Sergey Google and Mark ZuckerFace.”

* Much was made of the dozen Republican senators who voted with Democrats to block Trump’s bogus declaration of a national emergency that was a blatant ruse for funding his base-loving border wall. Alas, that’s not enough to override Trump’s veto or undermine his perversion of the political process.   

This should be about taking one for your country, living with your conscience and, yes, earning the approbation of non-Trumpsters, who are still the majority of the country. And if sheer, self-serving pragmatism must be in play, as it always is, there’s this career reality for those who might pay a ballot-box price for not prioritizing Trump above all else. A “moderate” GOPster can stay in the game and carve out serious, career-enhancing face time on MSNBC or CNN. Ask Michael Steele or Bill Kristol–or ex-Florida Congressmen David Jolly and Carlos Curbelo. Failing that, there’s always consulting, lobbying or, what the hell, ambulance-chasing.

* As for Florida’s two Republican senators, they split. Clueless, feckless Rick Scott fell in line and voted with Trump. “It’s clear that there is a crisis and it’s long-passed time to fix it,” was his staff-crafted, bullet-point rationale for the blatant misuse of the National Emergencies Act.

As for Marco Rubio, it was vintage because as the de facto secretary of state for Latin America who still harbors Oval Office ambitions, he has a more complex agenda. He said that passage of Trump’s emergency declaration “would create a precedent a future president may abuse to jump-start programs like the Green New Deal.”

How self-servingly nuanced.  Rubio’s doing more than standing up to Trump and reasserting Congressional authority. He’s saying that Trump’s wrong–knowing that at some point saying so could help his post-Trump credibility–but Dems are still Dems, of course. They just can’t be trusted with their socialist schemes.

*How important is it that the final Mueller Report goes public? The U.S. House couldn’t have been more emphatic. Even though it’s non-binding, the House voted unanimously (420-0) to make the report public–with an exception for classified material. The House is rarely unanimous on anything, although the “ayes” could have been a bit more. Florida Panhandler and Trump lackey Matt Gaetz actually voted present.

* George Conway, the conservative, ex-Republican Trump critic–and husband of Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway–has been commenting on Trump’s mental state. As in, it’s worrisome–or worse. His Twitter assertions included screengrabs from the “Diagnostic & Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders,” most notably the ones referencing anti-social and narcissistic personality disorders.

Most establishment Republicans won’t agree with G. Conway on the record, because, in effect, they’d be calling out the Trump base who remain in lockstep fealty following their “very stable genius” cult leader. BTW, the odd-couple Conways make James Carville and Mary Matalin look like Ma & Pa Kettle.

* How unconscionable that there was even a passing reference to Trump in that 47-page manifesto of the New Zealand mass murderer who slaughtered 50 Muslims in Christchurch. The white-nationalist killer called Trump “a symbol of renewed white identity and common purpose.” Yet another reminder that America’s president matters far beyond our electoral shores.

* Will the charismatic, high-energy, fund-raising marvel that is Beto O’Rourke, 46, be a factor in the 2020 presidential election? Only if he makes sure that his feisty followers stay the course for the Democratic nominee when he’s not on the ticket. His time still awaits. And when it arrives, he should be able to point to a track record that no longer includes opposing the Affordable Care Act but does include winning an important statewide race–not losing to one of the most disliked members of Congress.

Tampa Topics

* We know Hillsborough County schools, especially the under-achieving, urban-poor Achievement Schools, face both teacher and principal shortages. Tricia McManus, an assistant superintendent who teaches half days at an Achievement School, cut to the real-world chase with her assessment of the challenge awaiting prospective AS principals–as well as a reminder of what the Gates Foundation money never addressed. “Let me tell you, there’s still a fear factor there,” said McManus. Sobering.

* There was a time when you could assume that those going door to door for a candidate, typically unpaid, activist volunteers, could, if required, likely hold their own in talking to a skeptical resident. That, quite arguably, is no longer the case. Even if they’re being paid.

Media Matters

* The Tampa Bay Times has its challenges, and the signs are most manifest in an absence of familiar bylines and copy editors in a thinned out version of what it used to be. But there’s also news judgment. How many more stories–with multi-page jumps and accompanying photos–about wrestling will there be? Moreover, could we have a moratorium on prominent, space-devouring stories about Hulk Hogan and Bubba Klem Sponge?

* I understand the Dems not wanting to allow Fox News to host a 2020 Democratic presidential primary debate. But debates wouldn’t be moderated by de facto Trump adviser Sean Hannity, the obnoxious Laura Ingraham, the haughty-punk Tucker Carlson or the suck-ups from “Fox & Friends.” It would be Shepard Smith, Bret Baier or Chris Wallace, who haven’t made Faustian Fox deals. Besides, more than just hard-core Trumpsters, such as independents and some sane Republicans, also watch Fox.

That’s exposure that shouldn’t be passed up because Fox has its high-profile, right-wingnut personalities. Besides, there’s nothing wrong with aggressive-progressive Dems showing some guts. In effect, grow a pair and expose your unfiltered agenda to more eyeballs. Better that you define and contextualize  economic inequity, serious national security threats, racism, protectionism and climate-change implications by talking over moderators to the America electorate that would be tuning in–in notably big numbers.

Lightning Strikes

Much is being made of the Tampa Bay Lightning’srecord-breaking season, which has already resulted in new franchise records for wins and points. The team will wind up winning the league’s President’s Trophy for most points. Plus, the Bolts still have a shot at making history if they surpass the 62 wins of the (1995-96) Detroit Red Wings.

Not surprisingly, the Bolts, themselves, are not going out of their way to publicly focus on making history. The first priority is to prepare for the playoffs, which could include some rest/maintenance time for key players. The Bolts want to be well positioned for a long playoff run into early June. The Bolts are also well aware that making history doesn’t necessarily make for Stanley Cup success. Those record-setting Red Wings did not win the Stanley Cup that year.  


* “I can tell you one thing right now. Our gun laws will change.”–New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

* “Nationalist, populist and even austerity agendas are tearing social fabric, aggravating inequality, splintering communities, curtailing women’s rights and cutting vital services. … We will push back against the pushback. … For wholesale change. For rapid change … our world needs, starting by addressing the imbalance in power relations.”–UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

* “Today I am vetoing this resolution. Congress has the freedom to pass this resolution, and I have the duty to veto it.”–President Donald Trump, in overruling Congress’ disapproval of his emergency declaration.

* “I would generally make the case that the Democratic Party should always be nominating the next-generation candidate–except I’m not sure any of the old rules apply.”–Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy, 45, the youngest Democratic senator.

* “Sometimes, bigger ideas are more possible to accomplish. Because you can inspire people.”–Sen. Elizabeth Warren.

* “Unless there’s something so compelling and overwhelming and bipartisan, I don’t think we should go down that (impeachment) path, because it divides the country. (He’s) just not worth it.”–House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

* “I know the software fix is going out in a couple of weeks and going fleet-wide is going to take at least through April.”–Rep. Rick Larsen, the Democratic chairman of the aviation subcommittee of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, in noting that Boeing’s 737 Max passenger jets will be grounded until Boeing is finished preparing fixes to anti-stall software.

* “Elite colleges have become a status symbol with the legitimacy of meritocracy attached to them, because getting in sanctifies you as meritorious.”–University of California, Berkeley sociologist Jerome Karabel.

* “Today’s action to finally allow smokable medical marijuana brings four words to the lips of people across our state: “It’s about damn time.'”-Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, a former marijuana lobbyist.

* “We recognized this major mobility problem that was starting to present itself between densely populated too-short-to-fly but too-long-to-drive areas, and we saw it as an opportunity.”–Patrick Goddard, president of Brightline, on the rationale for offering train travel in top Florida urban markets–including Orlando to Tampa.

* “Assign a designated ‘water watcher’ anytime children are playing in pools or at the beach. … It only takes 20 seconds for a child to begin to drown, and supervision is the single best method of prevention.”–Dr.  Kelly Devers, Hillsborough County’s chief medical examiner.

* “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.

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.