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.  

Media Matters

* Not that anybody would be shocked, but the NRA recently ran an unconscionable, even for them, headline in its American Rifleman magazine. The low-caliber, two-word headline, “Target Practice,” was juxtaposed to photos of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and former Arizona congresswoman Gabby Giffords, a high-profile shooting victim.

* “I thought I was courtside at the (Madison Square) Garden, and the refs made a bad call.”–That was Spike Lee’s poor-sport call in response to the best-picture Oscar being awarded to “Green Book”–not the Lee-directed “BlackKklansman.” To put it into woeful New York Knicks context: That was an offensive foul.

Sports Shorts

* At least what Jeff Bezos did was just dumb and creepy. What New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft is charged with–soliciting prostitution–is sleazy at best and a lot worse if a sex-trafficking connection is proven. “Spagate” makes “Spygate” and “Deflategate” look innocent. But, no, his Mar-a-Lago membership is likely not at risk.

* I saw a reference recently that Tropicana Field was now the eighth oldest stadium in Major League Baseball. It opened in 1990. (And debuted in 1998 as the Devil Rays home field.) I was transported back to 1990, when I was there for the grand opening of the “Florida Suncoast Dome.” In fact, I still have my souvenir “Tampa Bay Baseball Welcomes You!” card, because “build it and they will come” was still a motivator, notwithstanding MLB Commissioner Peter Ueberroth’s disavowal of such thinking.

My “Florida Suncoast Dome” card had a few baseball bullet points that seemingly “covered all the bases.” To wit:

            <“MAJOR LEAGUE COMMITMENT… 22,697 season ticket reservations sold in 30 days.”

            <“Unlimited political and corporate support coupled with a dedicated local ownership group.”

            <“MAJOR LEAGUE MARKET … The 13th largest media market in America. Florida’s number one metro in America’s 4th most populous state.”

            <“MAJOR LEAGUE FACILITY …  43,000-seat baseball showcase–The Florida Suncoast Dome.”

* Blindsided by injuries, the Philadelphia Flyers were forced into calling up touted rookie goalie Carter Hart, 20, before he was deemed ready. Hart, however, became an overnight sensation and fan favorite for his excellent, far-beyond-expectations play. Even national media picked up on the unexpected Hart success. Last week the Lightning caught Hart’s act in person in Philly. The Bolts scored three goals on nine first-period shots, and the Flyers removed Hart for the unforeseen, flawed performance. He left to a chorus of what-have-you-done-for-us-lately boos. It was a reminder: Yo, it’s still Philly.


* “Our call to the armed forces couldn’t be clearer: Put yourself on the right side of history.”–Juan Guaidó, the self-declared interim president of Venezuela who now has the backing of more than 50 governments around the world.

* “The Chinese challenge is no longer just economic; it’s moral and intellectual. … We used to think China would democratize. Wrong. We used to think the regime would liberalize. Wrong. We used to think the Chinese people would rise up and join the free democratic world. Wrong.”–David Brooks, New York Times.

* “The overlapping investigations by different entities, housed in different branches of government, spanning geography and even different governments (such as the New York attorney general’s investigation into the Trump Foundation), make it difficult for anyone, even Attorney General Barr, to end the inquiries. … So whenever Mr. Mueller turns in his report, do not assume that things are over.”–Neal K. Katyal, Georgetown law professor and former acting solicitor general under President Barack Obama.

* “We will obviously subpoena the report. We will bring Bob Mueller in to testify before Congress.”–California Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, on what he would do if the Mueller Report on Russian interference in the 2016 election is not made public.

* “Kids, study history. The fact that so many Americans know so little about the past means that we as a society are vulnerable to demagogues.”–Max Boot, senior fellow for national security studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.

* “You think the Green New Deal won’t work? Fine. Then what’s your idea? Whatever it is, make sure it takes into account the urgency of the moment, the fracturing of our social covenant, the peril of the planet.”–Leonard Pitts, Miami Herald.

* “It’s yet another sign of the degradation of our political discourse that anything that deviates from the economic status quo is deemed ‘socialist.'”–Alex Shephard, the New Republic.

* “While not all of those who spoke out against the (Amazon New York) deal wanted it scrapped, they were united by a common concern: Why does a company with billions in profit need billions in subsidies to bring 25,000 jobs to a city where it already has a significant presence?”–Bryce Covert, The Nation.

* “White supremacy and far-right extremism are among the greatest domestic-security threats facing the United States. … At both the federal and state levels, immediate steps are required to curtail the alarming rise of hate crimes and extremist violence in this country.”–Thomas J. Cullen, U.S. attorney for the Western District of Virginia.

* “The vote for mayor is such a personal, intimate decision. It’s almost like the Iowa or New Hampshire primary. … It’s retail politics at its finest.”–Mayor Bob Buckhorn.

* “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.

* “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.

* “If we had 30,000-35,000 walking through the door every night and we had naming rights and we had big sponsors, the funding would be a layup.”–Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg.

Trump’s Wall Of Crisis

* Unless something apocalyptic happens under Trump, his tenure as president could very well be best summarized by his “Wall” and all that it represented in the spurious names of “crisis” and “emergency.” As in a narcissistic, inhumane, anti-immigrant, diversionary, media-demonizing agenda that appeases his cult-follower base and displeases virtually everybody else–from resurgent Democrats to gutless Republicans to constitutional scholars. Alas, climate change, a malignant gun culture, overtaxed infrastructure, Russian bots and the insidious threat to separation of powers don’t require crisis intervention in this Whitewashed House.

And how utterly Trumpian that the demander-in-chief undercut his own sense of “emergency” when he noted in a vintage press briefing that “I didn’t need to do this, but I’d rather do it much faster. I just want to get it done faster, that’s all.” What a palpable sense of, uh, urgency. And how dare a power-grabbing, Fox-appeasing, face-saving gambit become a constitution-threatening gamble?

* As outlandish and wink-and-nodish as Ted Cruz’s proposal to make El Chapo pay for the border wall is, it still has more credibility than having Mexico ante up. Trump knows that, even if his populist cult followers don’t. BTW, can you imagine how much Cruz-staff time went into acronyming  the Ensuring Lawful Collection of Hidden Assets to Provide Order (EL CHAPO) Act?

* The Trump Administration, as we’ve seen, has not been an uber staunch, democracy-encouraging, human-rights advocating player in Europe. But it does, interestingly, have a soft spot for Slovakia. It has everything to do with the fact that last year Slovakia bought more than a dozen F-16 fighter jets from the U.S.

* Imagine the Trump vitriol and Sean Hannity commentary if James Comey, Robert Mueller, Andrew McCabe and Rod Rosenstein had all been card-carrying Democrats.

* The Trump Administration now has its White House science adviser on board. It had gone 19 months without one. It’s Kelvin Droegemeier, a meteorologist and former research vice president at the University of Oklahoma. He made his debut at the annual conference of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, where he underscored the value of private initiative and downplayed the importance of the government’s investment in science. So much for any federal initiative that would have the government taking a leadership role in addressing the most compelling, existentially-threatening issue we all face: climate change. Even if your science adviser’s name is Kelvin.

* “My concern is our government wasn’t designed to operate by national emergency.”–No, that wasn’t Speaker Nancy Pelosi. It was Texas Republican Congressman Will Hurd, Beto O’Rourke’s bipartisan buddy, speaking up and out.

* We know that a Trump concern is being challenged in a primary next year. Now it’s official; a candidate has announced. It’s former Massachusetts Gov. William Weld, a moderate Republican who ran for vice president last time on the Libertarian ticket. No, it’s not the same as Utah Sen. Mitt Romney or former Ohio Gov. John Kasich or current Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan announcing, but somebody had to formally initiate the “Party of Lincoln” pushback.

* To be sure, Trump is not nickname challenged. From “Adolph Twitler” and “Boss Tweet” to “King Leer” and “Benedict Donald.” But “Benedict Donald” is not as funny as it should be.

* Trump doesn’t like how he’s portrayed in the media by the practitioners of partisan “fake news.” He threatens “retribution,” especially to CNN and NBC. Too bad he no longer has access to John Barron, who could at least set the record straight with the tabloids.

* Snark Tank: Has Mark Cuban ever looked so presidential?

Gunshine Update

A year after Parkland, we’ve seen incremental progress on sensible gun laws. Now the upcoming legislative session looks like it wants to expand the existing “Guardian” program and arm more teachers. Florida’s Republican leaders seem unified on that priority. Bad idea. The law of unintended consequences cannot be revoked.

But there’s also this. Why can’t the Legislature ban assault weapons? OK, that’s a rhetorical question, because we know the reality of spineless legislators and the influence of Marion Hammer and her NRA Second Amendment revisionists. But some things just shouldn’t be subject to political partisanship and leverage. If you’re not law enforcement or military, how do you make a rational case for owning assault weapons? That’s an assault on common sense. It’s also an inevitable, sure-fire assault on public safety and the common good, which ought to be the ultimate constituency.

Media Matters

* As media, we’re used to dealing with news-maker spin. We don’t like it, but it comes with the territory of self-interest in a public forum. That’s why follow-up questions are imperative. And follow-ups to follow-ups. But what’s worse–as in infuriating and embarrassing–is media spin. As in by the media itself. A prime recent example: McClatchy Newspapers, which owns 29 dailies, including the Miami Herald, in 14 states. It just laid off about 10 percent of its workforce. We all know 21st century print reality, but that’s not how McClatchy spokeswoman Jeanne Segal couched her announcement. “(It’s) not a staff cut,” she said–possibly with a straight face. “It’s a chance to retire early.” Yeah, run that by certain early retirees at the Tampa Bay Times and the late Tampa Tribune.

Being bludgeoned by digital realities and paywalls is today’s grim publication reality. We all get it. But don’t make it viscerally worse with an insulting rationale as professional journalists, those who have had to combat disingenuous spin-meisters throughout their careers, scoop up their cubicle identities and exit the calling they used to love.

* It’s hard not to be a poll skeptic these days. Given political cynicism and the proliferation of cell phones, what exactly was the sampling? Who did the sampling? How were the questions phrased? Was it a push poll? Was it a media outlet that was trying to stay relevant and make a headline? This is not the age of Gallup with cooperative, land-lined participants who were willing, if not honored, to be able to participate.

* Like a lot of folks on the left side of the political spectrum, I watch comedian Bill Maher. He’s politically informed and caustically entertaining. He’s also a source of political therapy and vicarious venting in this tumultuous time of Trump. “Real Time with Bill Maher” has been an HBO staple for 17 years.

Having said that, Maher can also be–and increasingly so–annoying as he gratuitously carpet F-bombs his way through an hour-long episode that is too long by half. Maybe we shouldn’t give a shtick because this is HBO, but classlessness still matters even if you’re bashing Trump. Ask Michelle Obama. But it’s not all Maher, to be sure. Some of his guests need the exposure and some need to be heard; some have a book out and some are part of pop-culture activism. Some can contribute–and you want to hear more from–and some blatantly can’t. Yeah, I miss Mort Sahl.

* In watching former acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe reference the possible relevance of the 25th Amendment as a means of removing Trump from office, I thought of the novel I recently read: “Night of Camp David” by Fletcher Knebel. It carries the tag line: “What would happen if the president of the U.S.A. went stark-raving mad?” He wrote it in the 1960s when LBJ was president. Knebel, not coincidentally, also co-authored “Seven Days in May.”  

Perhaps I need better escape than Bill Maher and Fletcher Knebel. But Sinclair Lewis’ “It Can’t Happen Here” now looms.

* Tampa Bay Times Executive Editor Mark Katches has announced that the Times will no longer be running the Non Sequitur  comic strip. Seems that its creator, Wiley Miller, recently inserted an anti-Trump obscenity into one of the panels. It passed muster with editors, but then some readers caught it and complained, as they should have. The Times has replaced Non Sequitur with a Nancy reboot until it figures out a permanent replacement. Here’s a suggestion. Forget the reboots and variations on a Hi and Lois or a Dennis the Menace theme. Why not go local with something that’s as proven funny as it is pertinent. Why not create another forum for the cartoonist who is a weekly staple in Friday’s “Tampa Tribune” section. Why not max out on the home-grown humor of Charlie Greacen? He’s got plenty of material and an appreciative following over the years.

Sports Shorts

* His next birthday will be his 30th: the Lightning’s Steven Stamkos, that is. Did time go by as fast for the erstwhile teen phenom as it did for Bolts’ fans?

* Super Bowl LV in Tampa is now less than two years away. It will be this city’s fifth Super Bowl. How have we done it? To paraphrase Rob Higgins, the director of the Tampa Bay Sports Commission, Tampa is ideally positioned. Yes, it’s Florida in the winter with downtown buzz and a world class facility, but it’s much more than that, points out Higgins. It’s big enough and prominent enough to logistically compete with the bigger cities to accommodate fans, media and VIPs. But it’s still small enough to expedite often overlooked details through relationships.