Media Matters

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

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

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

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

Florida Targets Airbnb

On balance, Gov. Ron DeSantis has been a bipartisan surprise. He’s no Rick Scott. Seemingly, not even close. But his stand on Airbnb andIsrael seems like a disingenuous regression. For the record, DeSantis says the company risks sanctions by discriminating against Israel. As a result, Florida is considering whether to put the popular tourism service on a state list of scrutinized companies that boycott Israel. “We have a moral obligation to oppose the Airbnb policy,” stated DeSantis, who attended the opening of the relocated U.S. embassy in Jerusalem. “It does target Jews specifically. I think that’s wrong.”

But context matters. This is not anti-Semitism. This is about Airbnb’s decision not to list some 200 properties in the West Bank because, it says, it was uncomfortable doing business in an “occupied territory.” The West Bank, as we know, is land Israel claimed after the 1967 war. The United Nations, which has scrutinized the territory more than Florida’s State Board of Administration has, does consider the West Bank an occupied territory.

Moreover, this is hardly reflective of how Airbnb treats Israel, per se. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be doing business with more than 20,000 Israeli hosts in Jerusalem. For what it’s worth, Airbnb no longer does business in Crimea. Doing business in problematic areas of de-facto occupation is arguably at odds with their business model, even if Ron DeSantis and Sheldon Adelson disagree. It’s Airbnb’s call, and they shouldn’t be called on it if it’s not anti-Semitic discrimination.

Who We Really Are

You ever think that if we have to keep telling ourselves that “We’re better than that,” it might be that we, well, aren’t? At least not enough of us. How did we get to where we are and still be “better than that”? But, then, we see various communities, including our own, stepping up to help federal workers unfairly impacted by the partial government shutdown. From free tickets from the Florida Orchestra and Ruth Eckerd Hall and a daily popup food bank at TIA to free pet food from the Humane Society, gratis restaurant meals and waived fees at credit unions. We’ve also seen where all the profits–an expected $15 million–from the three-week run of “Hamilton” in Puerto Rico will go to Hurricane Maria relief efforts.

It’s a welcome reminder that, indeed, we are “better than that.”

Mayoral Matter

No, former state Rep. Ed Narain of Tampa did not jump into Tampa’s mayoral race, despite some speculation to the contrary. As a result, Tampa will go another four years at least without its first African-American mayor. Time was when Bob Morrison, the executive director of the Hillsborough County Hotel and Motel Association–and one time, high-profile assistant to former Mayor Bob Martinez–looked likely to be that mayoral pioneer.

Sports Shorts

* Amid all the talk of the Tampa Bay Lightning having the best record in the National Hockey League and what that might–or might not–portend in another Stanley Cup run, there is, unalterably, another reality. The Lightning–in an area where baseball and football are embedded in our societal DNA–is Tampa Bay’s pre-eminent sports franchise. It’s not even close. We’ll leave it at that.

The team is successful. Every game is a sellout: 19,092 to be precise. That’s 158 in a row since 2014. The Amalie Arena vibe is cool and fan friendly. The owner, Jeff Vinik, hands out a check for $50,000 for local causes and charities at every home game. He also fronted multi millions to upgrade the arena–which wasn’t incidental to the city’s pitch to host the Republican National Convention in 2012.

Hockey in Florida: Who would have thought? The best team in the NHL: Who would think otherwise?

* A shout out to St. Petersburg’s Danielle Collins, a former Northeast High tennis player, who made it to the Grand Slam semifinals at the Australian Open.

* New Bucs head coach Bruce Arians recently announced the assistant coaches he’s bringing on: all 18 of them. It’s a reminder of the level of specialization these days. New hires include offensive quality-control, defensive quality-control, and even assistant special teams coaches, among others. No, it’s not the NFL we grew up with.

Quoteworthy

* “When it comes to China, Germany has to walk a very thin line in a rapidly changing international environment. The trans-Atlantic relationship has been rattled since Donald Trump took office; Germany suddenly finds itself agreeing with China more on certain issues, like climate change, than with the United States, its longtime ally. As a consequence, German diplomats have to play a tricky game: partnering with an ideological adversary against its close ally on some issues, while sticking with that suddenly difficult ally against its most important trading partner on others.”–Anna Sauerbrey, deputy editor in chief of Der Tagesspiegel.

* Sheldon Adelson now has more influence on American foreign policy than even the secretary of state, the Koch (brothers) tool Mike Pompeo.”–Timothy Egan, New York Times.

* “Drones and all of the rest are wonderful and lots of fun, but it is only a good old fashioned Wall that works!”–President Donald Trump.

* “Our president is behaving like an autocrat. His willingness to fabricate a national crisis and subvert constitutional checks and balances to avoid legislative defeat places him closer to Ferdinand Marcos than Ronald Reagan.”–Steven Levitsky, co-author of “How Democracies Die.”

* “Usually, rhetorical (campaign) promises are vague enough where they can be effective but not cost the president any real capital. Whereas this (border wall and Mexican underwriting) promise was very specific, and we’re seeing where that gets us.”–University of Houston political science professor Brandon Rottinghaus.

* “How would a president who is willing to fabricate a national emergency over a simple legislative impasse behave during a real security crisis?”–Daniel Ziblatt, co-author of “How Democracies Die.”

* “Democrats who demanded new leadership in the House should be thankful they didn’t get their wish. It is hard to imagine anyone better matched to the moment and this task. … Trump is being knocked around by Nancy Pelosi and, even more hurtful, the attention for now is on her.”–Eugene Robinson, Washington Post.

* “Directing a subordinate to lie to Congress is a federal crime.”–House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y.

* “If we undercut the president, that’s the end of his presidency and the end of our party.”–South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham.

* “I don’t need you (mainstream media) guys anymore.”–What Donald Trump told Ted Koppel in a July 21, 2016 interview just hours before accepting the Republican presidential nomination.

* “Instead of covering Trump’s tweets on a live, breaking basis, just cover them in the last five minutes of a news show. They’re presidential statements, but we can balance them.”–Amanda Carpenter, author of “Gaslighting America: Why We Love It When Trump Lies To Us.”

* “Female (presidential) candidates are battered by professional consultants who claim to understand voters, and who tell them to be strong but approachable, warm but steely, mom but dad, young and bouncy but wise and grave. These operatives are the swarming locusts of politics, eating all in their path.”–Peggy Noonan, Wall Street Journal.

* “Swooping toward 2020, the moment of truth for Donald Trump that is also aptly the centennial of women’s suffrage, the women are gathering force at a giddy speed. … His greatest shock will be that his election woke up the wrath of the Furies, who are unceasing until they get their man.”–Maureen Dowd, New York Times.

* “We face the greatest crisis of leadership we’ve seen in our lifetimes, and powerful voices are filling the void, sowing hate and division among us. … We know America is better than this–but it’s on us to build it. We’re going to have to fight for it.”–California Sen. Kamala Harris, in announcing her 2020 presidential candidacy.

* “Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge.”–Charles Darwin.

* “The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people, but the silence over that by the good people.”–Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

* “We’re not an activist company. If you don’t like what we’re making better than cigarettes, then have a cigarette, that’s fine.”–James Monsees, co-founder and chief product officer of Juul, in 2014.

* A healthy business needs to be part of a healthy community. And a healthy community must have housing within the economic reach of every part of the community, including the many dedicated people who provide the vital services on which we all rely.”–Microsoft President Brad Smith, in announcing the company’s $500 million pledge to address affordable  housing in the Seattle area.

* “The quality of our water and environmental surroundings are foundational to our prosperity as a state. It doesn’t just drive tourism; it affects property values, anchors many local economies and is central to our quality of life.”–Gov. Ron DeSantis.

* “Whether they (patients) have to smoke (medical marijuana) or not, who am I to judge that? I want people to be able to have their suffering relieved. I don’t think this law is up to snuff.”–Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is pressuring the legislature to repeal a law that prohibits smokable medical marijuana.

* “When there’s insurance for medical marijuana, that’s when we’re really going to put a dent in the opioid and Oxycontin industry.”–Attorney John Morgan.

* “The mayor of Tampa is the single-most important political position in the region.”–Tampa City Council member Mike Suarez, a mayoral candidate.

* “They (pirates) come in here, think I’m gonna surrender the key to the city, and they realize that one Irishman against 600 krewe members is pretty much a fair fight.”–Mayor Bob Buckhorn, on the Gasparilla invasion.

Pompeo Goes Beyond “Water’s Edge”

* It spoke volumes when Secretary of State Mike Pompeo chose to speak recently at the American University in Cairo. That’s where former President Barack Obama spoke early in his presidency in an attempt to reset U.S.-Muslim relations. In his globally-chronicled speech, Obama spoke emphatically, if idealistically, of a “new beginning.”

In his speech, Pompeo underscored that he wasn’t restrained by the adage that partisan politics stops “at the water’s edge.” Would that he were.

“The age of self-inflicted American shame is over,” he trumpeted, “and so are the policies that produced so much needless suffering. Now comes the real new beginning.” Zing.

It’s one thing to try and be President Trump’s Middle East “fixer” and walk back his blindsiding declarations on Syrian policy. But it’s a new low to denigrate a former president while on a foreign mission to cozy up with the usual authoritarians.

* The biggest undocumented-immigrant problem we have are visa overstays. How does a wall fix that? We also know that smuggled drugs mainly come through legal ports of entry. A wall doesn’t address that either. Then there’s anxiety-and-anger-inducing anecdotal evidence of illegal perps committing heinous crimes against innocent Americans on our sovereign soil. The crimes remain blatantly disproportionate, but no less emotionally impacting. Too bad we can’t wall out home-grown criminals, including domestic gangbangers.

* Migration from Mexico is now negative. There are more Mexicans returning there than coming here. The issue is Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. Maybe we could help Mexico build a wall on its southern border.

* “The Wall” is part of Trump branding. It works well at a rally or on a bumper sticker. Forget the real issues dealing with border security and illegal immigrants. His base wouldn’t rally around “Improve E-verify!” Just like “Lock her up!” goes over much better than “What questionable ethics!”

* How could it be that this president–who built his marketing reputation by building a brand–has missed an obvious wall-funding opportunity? How about naming rights? It doesn’t even have to be “1-800-ASK-MEXI.” Hell, maybe WALL Street would be interested.

* “I think he’d like it being called ‘The Great Wall of Trump.'”–Trump biographer Michael D’Antonio.

* There’s obviously no love lost between Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Donald Trump. And it was visceral even before the shutdown-sit-down fiasco. This is, among other things, a battle of wills. One key variable: Pelosi actually knows how the legislative process works.

* Seeing Trump in that “Make America Great Again” cap is, uh, grating enough. But wearing it while there’s a government shutdown that he “owns” and is “proud of” only ups the ante on insult, hypocrisy and anger.

* Ultimately, after anxiety fits over family budgets, furloughed federal employees will be paid for work they didn’t do. So much for conservative, Republican fiscal ideology.

* Last week Mexico was one of the few countries to have representation at the swearing in of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro. A few weeks earlier leftist Mexican President Andrés 

 Manuel López Obrador had invited Maduro to his own inauguration. It doesn’t bode well for any future Obrador-Trump negotiations–from trade to border security.

* The Democrats are hardly resting on the laurels of a retaken House of Representatives. Campaign solicitations for 2020–in the form of “Senate Majority PAC” donor mailings–are out over the signature of Sen. Chuck Schumer. It’s a reminder that 2020 doesn’t look like 2018 for Democratic Senate inroads. “Republicans have to defend 22 seats–while Democrats have to defend just 12, giving Democrats a huge strategic opportunity,” says Schumer. “We have a real chance to take back the Senate.

“Under Senator McConnell and his caucus of yes-men, the Senate has become Donald Trump’s most reliable blank check. Only Democrats will stop his reckless ideas from becoming law.”

And, BTW, if you didn’t receive a mailing, the online contribution counterpart is www.SenateMajority.com/TurnTheTide. And all contributions will be matched one to one.

DeSantis Debut

Granted it’s a low bar, but the case can be optimistically made that we’re better off with Ron DeSantis, the Trump acolyte who was more familiar with the Fox green room than his home state, as our governor.

His inaugural address was notably inclusive–not numbingly inciting and polarizing. For openers, there was no mention of Donald Trump. None. Battling green algae and Red Tide, protecting drinking water supplies and getting a better grasp on controlling state-managed lands were high-profile priorities. Green infrastructure is not an oxymoron, nor should it be a partisan bullet point. It’s integral to Florida’s economy as well as its quality of life. That gets buy-in.

The following day he formally pardoned the Groveland Four, something his predecessor chose not to do. He also made it clear that he’s committed to rescinding some of the classless, last-minute appointments made by lame duck Rick Scott. He’s also picked a couple of Democrats to serve as department heads and named the first Cuban American woman to the Florida Supreme Court.

But now let’s see how he handles Amendment 4, school-choice priorities and the lack of a justice of color on the State Supreme Court. And how about rescinding the appointment of Richard Corcoran as Commissioner of Education, Dana Young as president and CEO of Visit Florida and Carlos Beruff as a member of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission?

But on balance, it was a good–better than expected–start. “It’s good to be able to do some things that are not just red vs. blue all the time,” underscored DeSantis at his inauguration. Indeed.

Media Matters

* I’ll admit to binge-watching video of the Fox News Sunday Chris Wallace interview with White House mouthpiece Sarah Huckabee Sanders. The one where Wallace wouldn’t let her get away with talking points that were not remotely fact-based as she stated that “nearly 4,000 known or suspected terrorists have come into our country illegally, and we know that our most vulnerable point of entry is at our southern border.” Turns out that those illegals were captured at airports.  His dad would have been proud.

* Because the media have been demonized by the prevaricator-in-chief as the “enemy of the people,” it typically fails to acknowledge where it has truly fallen down on the media-coverage job. As in the over-the-top, disproportionate attention paid to candidate Donald Trump because he brought high ratings. As in ceding too much narrative control to the commander-in-Cheeto.

Dan Rather had an interesting take. “The shadow of what we did last time looms over this next time,” he recently noted. “When you cover this as spectacle, what’s lost is context, perspective and depth. And when you cover this as spectacle, he is the star.”

* Remember the subjunctive mood? If I WERE a copy editor, I’d familiarize myself with it.

* Another “You can’t make this update.” Thanks to what’s being called the “Bird Box challenge,” derived from the hit movie “Bird Box,” society now has another viral video stunt to confront. This one records people doing various tasks–including driving–while blindfolded. Imagine making “driving while texting” look almost sane and safe. Almost.

Tampa Bay

* This Saturday is the Gasparilla Children’s Parade. There are none better, including the one next week. The Children’s Parade is impressively big, colorful and family-oriented. It actually looks like Tampa: Hispanic, African-American and Caucasian. A true celebration of Tampa. Moreover, it’s never been a booze fest and there’s no rite of pissage in the neighborhood alleys.  

* Why is there a debate? Wherever you’re from, whatever your race and ethnicity, if you are a resident of Tampa, you are a Tampeño. Revel with a cause.