Trumpster Diving

* Amid all the White House high-fiving over the Mueller Report, there remain caveats. The words “total exoneration,” now a rallying cry for this Administration, is self-servingly inaccurate. While special counsel Robert Mueller did not find conclusive evidence of Russian collusion, he reached no such conclusion on whether Trump obstructed justice. According to Attorney General William Barr’s summary, Mueller indicated that “while this report does not conclude the president committed a crime, it also does NOT exonerate him.”  

There’s also this. The prosecutorial focus has now shifted from Washington to New York–to the notably aggressive Southern District of New York, sometimes referred to as the “Sovereign District.”

“The important thing to remember is that almost everything Donald Trump did was in the Southern District of New York,” pointed out retired federal Judge John S. Martin, who was the U.S. attorney in the Southern District during the Carter and Reagan Administrations. In other words, Trump ran his business there and he ran his campaign there. And he could still run into trouble there.

Maybe in the end, we will be left merely with the unalterable realization that all we have–still–is an unethical, unhinged, duplicitous narcissist as president, one who has always surrounded himself with sleazy Soprano sorts. From Roy Cohn to Paul Manafort and Roger Stone. Why surround yourself with liars if there’s nothing to lie about?

* “Total loser.” President Donald Trump’s tweet directed at George Conway, Kellyanne’s bitter half.  “You. Are. Nuts.” George Conway’s tweet directed back at Donald Trump. Another day at the orifice.

* U.S. Rep. Devin Nunes, a Trump lackey, is suing Twitter for $250 million over a parody account that allowed”defamatory” attacks on him. It involves unhappy cows living on one of Nunes’ farms attacking the California Republican as, among other things, “udder-ly worthless.” Some of the humor is crude. Courts generally hold that satirical works are opinion–and therefore not subject to libel and defamation laws. The burden of proof is even higher when a public official is involved. In the case of Nunes, a Trump-transition-team member and former chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, he was known for being Trump’s mole and released a memo in 2018 alleging FBI conspiracy against Trump. Ironically, Nunes co-sponsored the Frivolous Lawsuits Act last year. He is what he is. Maybe he should be sued for definition of character.

* We know, alas, that the U.S. is part of the international pattern of increasingly popular right- wing leadership. Trump’s recent welcoming of Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro, AKA the”Trump of the Tropics,” was just the latest reminder. And this just in. Among those courted for advice by Vox, Spain’s first far-right party since the end of the Franco dictatorship in 1975, was former Trump chief strategist Steve Bannon.

 * Trump keeps doubling down on Israel and its embattled prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. It’s more than pulling out of the Iran nuclear deal and moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem. Now Trump backs Israel’s claim to the Golan Heights. His official pronouncement came within hours of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo emphasizing that America’s longstanding policy had not changed. Oops. Rex Tillerson would understand that this is what you get with a president who, until recently, wouldn’t have known the Golan Heights from Washington Heights or “Wuthering Heights.”

* And what’s next? Look for Jonathan Pollard, an American intelligence analyst convicted of spying for Israel in the 1980s, to be back in the news cycle. He spent 30 years in prison and was released in 2015. His parole keeps him from leaving the U.S., but that could change. Look for an announcement on Pollard being allowed to travel to Israel, where he has citizenship, as soon as the Trump Administration needs another serious media diversion. Also look for the U.S. to ask the Israelis not to spike the geopolitical football when Pollard finally arrives.

* “A Night At the Garden” was one of this year’s Oscar Short Documentary nominees. It is footage compiled from a 1939 German-American Bund, pro-Hitler rally at New York’s Madison Square Garden that featured prominent swastikas and 20,000 Nazi celebrants. The film shows the German-American Bund leader Fritz Kuhn decrying “the Jewish-controlled press” and demanding “a socially just, white, gentile-ruled United States.” “A Night At the Garden” is also a reminder that nothing can be absolutely precluded when it comes to nationalism and cult-figure leaders.

* “Fake News” is not merely some self-serving Trump gambit meant to demonize America’s media and characterize himself as a tell-it-like-it-is victim to his base. It’s also a classic staple right out of the authoritarian playbook. No surprise, then, that Russian President Vladimir Putin, Trump’s de facto handler, just signed into law a set of bills that will make it illegal to spread, yes, “fake news.”

Carter History

I’ve had the opportunity to cover and interview a number of presidential candidates, some of whom became president. It comes with the reportorial territory. But only one did I actually work with, even if sort of tangentially. That was Jimmy Carter, who’s back in the news because he is now–at 94 and change–our longest-living president. He recently passed the late George H.W. Bush.

His post-presidency accomplishments are well documented–including the founding of the Carter Center that has focused on global human rights issues and efforts to eradicate parasitic infections in Africa. His involvement with Habitat for Humanity, where I was a volunteer while living in Georgia, is the one that I relate to.

Carter was a serious carpenter and craftsman. While politicians were always anxious for a HfH photo-op–because sweat equity appealed across the political divide–he was always about the work. He could frame; he could roof; he could trim. He didn’t do small talk when there was a big task at hand. I can still recall trying to talk him down from a roof in Houston where he was nailing shingles in mid-day, late-summer humidity. It was about staying hydrated, not chatting with local media.

I can also recall him standing in a lunch line at a Houston junior high cafeteria, refusing any presidential protocol to be served first. He never acted entitled, just polite.

Carter was important, but not self-important–presidential traits we miss more and more each day.   

Quoteworthy

* “The Chinese market is not sufficiently open to European companies, and we must change this.”–The European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker.

* “After 52 years, it’s time for the United States to fully recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights, which is of critical strategic and security importance to the state of Israel and regional stability.”–President Donald Trump.

* “Amid all the complications of policy, may we never forget that immigration is a blessing and a strength.”–Former President George W. Bush, in welcoming new U.S. citizens during a naturalization ceremony in Dallas.

* “Throughout the world today, from Saudi Arabia to the Philippines, from Guatemala to North Korea, bad things happen because the Trump Administration winks at them. The United States as moral guardian, however flawed, has vanished.”–Roger Cohen, New York Times.

* “We will protect the president as we would protect any individual taxpayer under their rights.”–Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, testifying before the House Ways and Means Committee–and signaling that he would likely block a congressional request to obtain President Donald Trump’s tax returns on privacy grounds.

* “I hope that Mr. Trump is not impeached and removed from office before the end of his term. … If Mr. Trump were removed from office by Congress, a significant portion of this country would see this as a coup, and it would drive those people further from the common center of American life, more deeply fracturing our country.”–Former FBI Director James Comey.

* All I’m interested in is them releasing the full report, the full Mueller Report.”–House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

* “Donald Trump has renewed his campaign of insult against John McCain, proving that the lowest place on earth isn’t the Mariana Trench–it’s the president’s soul. … It showed that Trump isn’t merely unsuited to leadership. He’s unfit for mankind.”–Bret Stephens, New York Times.

* “For all the nativist movement’s efforts over the decades to rein in immigration, the chances of preserving a white majority are effectively gone.”–Noah Lanard, Mother Jones.

* “The road to the White House runs through Florida. We can deny Donald Trump a second term right here in the state of Florida.”–Andrew Gillum, in announcing that he will be launching a voter registration initiative in Florida.

* “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 showed a 40 percent increase in ridership half way through its six-month season.

* “USF’s trajectory is truly unlike any other public university in the country, and there is so much potential for future growth.”–SMU Provost Steven Currall, who was named the next president of USF.

* “The ability to vote should never be conditioned on your ability to pay a court cost.”–Ashley Thomas, Florida director for the Fines and Fees Justice Center, weighing in on bills that would require ex-felons to pay court fees before voting rights are restored.

* “We’re people serving people. We’re more than schedules and a slogan and a way for people to get from point A to point B.”–Benjamin Limmer, the new CEO of the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority.

* “I’m a coach who happens to be a woman. I’m not a woman who happens to be a coach.”–Lori Locust, one of two pioneering full-time, female coaches hired by the Bucs. Locust is an assistant defensive line coach.

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.