Tampa’s Canopy

Florida is the Sunshine State and Tampa is no shady exception. That’s why, amid all the downtown revitalization and all the eclectic accolades that Mayor Bob’s office can cite, there was an announcement the other day that was particularly noteworthy. It was about quality of Sunshine State life. It’s about prioritizing trees and their canopies.

We now know that more than 11,000 (free) trees have been planted around town–or nearly four a day since 2011. The practice goes back to the late ’90s and then was re-branded in 2013 as, yes, Tree-Mendous Tampa. But “free,” of course, is a relative term. In this case, the tree plantings are paid for, appropriately enough, from fines collected from builders and developers who didn’t check all of the boxes before removing trees.

Media Matters

* It’s too late, of course, but I still wish the mainstream media–caring more about style than substance–hadn’t played a major role in helping to incorporate “Obamacare” into popular parlance. The Affordable Care Act was just too formal and unwieldy. The result: The media became a clueless enabler of political partisans out to demonize the ACA by rallying the Republican base against anything associated with President Barack Obama.

* For once, I’d like to see a Tampa Bay Times “Editor’s note” that talks up something more important than comics priorities and improvements to the Weather page. In a parallel universe that “Editor’s note” might say: “We’ve made improvements in editing, proof-reading and news judgment. We’re also hiring back some of our most experienced journalists.” Dream on.

Sports Shorts

* Sports Illustrated’s 2019 MLB Preview has the Rays ranked fourth in the American League and likes their chances of earning a post-season wild card. “This is a playoff-caliber team, but the division (Red Sox, Yankees) is a bear,” summarized SI.

* “World Series or Bust.” That was how Rays Cy Young Award-winning pitcher Blake Snell characterized the 2019 season. A couple of days later, it was Snell on the mound for opening day against the Houston Astros–and the chance to set that “World Series” tempo. It was, alas, a “bust.” The Rays lost; Snell hadn’t pitched that poorly at home all last year. Then two days later he was officially honored with the presentation of his AL Cy Young Award, which was also, uh, Blake Snell bobblehead night. Timing is everything in a four-game series where the only game the Rays lost was the one that Snell pitched.

Quoteworthy

* “Remoaners.”–How British tabloids reference the anti-Brexit crowd that wants to remain in the European Union.

* “Stand idly by.”–What Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says the U.S. will not do as Russia sends military forces to Venezuela.

* “As secretary of state and as a Christian, I’m proud to lead American diplomacy to support Israel’s right to defend itself.”–Mike Pompeo.

* “Everyone will soon be able to read it. … Accordingly, there are no plans to submit the report to the White House for a privilege review.”–Attorney General William Barr on how the Mueller Report on Russia’s election interference will be handled.

* “No matter what the Mueller Report contains, a harsh verdict remains: Trump and his gang betrayed the United States in the greatest scandal in American history.”–David Corn, Mother Jones.

* “In Washington, leaking is an art form. … In the lengthy course of the Mueller investigation, there was not a single leak. … It takes an extraordinary leader to persuade those around him to comply with demanding standards.”–William Galston, Wall Street Journal.

* “Richard Nixon and John Dean … were the last occupants of the executive branch who played politics with the rule of law as recklessly as is being done today, causing long-term damage to our democracy that reverberated for years.”–Christopher Hunter, senior fellow at the Atlantic Council.

* “The Senate would pass a paper bag as long as it had the words ‘free trade.’ The real battle over NAFTA is going to be in the House.”–Lori Wallach, director of Global Trade Watch at Public Citizen.

* “Why would the working class unite for a Green New Deal? For one thing, working people are set up to suffer the worst effects of climate devastation–especially where property or oppression make it far harder to survive, move or adapt. … A strategy of building working-class power and waging class struggle from below is the only thing that can save the planet.”–Keith Brower Brown, Jacobin Magazine.

*”There is a reason why the United States is the only major country on earth that allows private insurance to profit off of health care. The function of private health insurance  is not to provide quality care to all, it is to make as much money as possible for the private insurance companies, working with the drug companies.”–Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.

* “When we talk about Medicare for all, there are a lot of different pathways. What we’re all looking for is the lowest cost way to make sure that everybody gets covered.”–Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren.

* “Let me tell you exactly what my message is: The Republican Party will soon be known as the party of health care. You watch.”–Donald Trump, after the Justice Department argued that the Affordable Care Act should be thrown out in its entirety.

* “In 2020, we need to elect a president who will make health care a right.”–Sen. Kamala Harris.

* “We feel obligated to be good stewards of this planet God has given us. But we do not worship the planet, we simply live on it.”–Sen. Rick Scott.

* “Reality check: America is not a planet, and countries like China would happily watch us jump over the cliff by destroying our economy with the Green New Deal.”–Sen. Marco Rubio.

* “Congress restricts access to machine guns because of the threat the weapons pose to public safety. Restrictions on bump stocks advance the same interest.”–Federal District Court Judge Paul L. Maloney, in refusing to block the government ban on bump stocks.

* If Facebook or Google takes ad revenue for promoting political misinformation, or misinformation of any kind, it should face the same regulatory punishments that a broadcaster would face.”–Philip N. Howard, author and head of the Oxford Internet Institute.

* “Given Trump’s Everglades budget request, he should be ashamed to even show his face in South Florida.”–Florida Democratic Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz. The Trump Administration budget provides only $63 million for Everglades restoration, less than a third of the $200 million that is needed.

* “There’s a good reason that 2020 will be ‘the year of the mayor.’ Mayors are on the frontlines of cleaning up Washington’s mess.”–Miramar Mayor Wayne Messam, in formally launching his campaign for president.

* “Rick Scott is an old, bald-headed dinosaur. The Rick Scott generation has a fear of marijuana. They don’t know the difference between marijuana and LSD and fentanyl.”–Orlando attorney John Morgan, who bankrolled the constitutional amendment that led to legalizing medical marijuana and fought against the smoking ban.

* “We’re excited to be part of Uptown.”–Robert Bishop, dean of USF College of Engineering, announcing plans for USF’s Institute for Applied Engineering to become the first research tenant in the future “Uptown District,” the transformed University Mall.

“Bring It Home, Florida”

When it comes to high-profile, media-magnet, generational progressives, the Democrats are hardly short-changed right now. From Georgian Stacey Abrams and Texan Beto O’Rourke to the House triplets: Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib. But let’s not forget Andrew Gillum, who came tantalizingly close to being elected Florida’s first African-American governor last fall and has been part of the speculative conversation about Dems with possible presidential ambitions. And, yes, he’s already appeared on Bill Maher’s show.

Be that as it may; presidential buzz about energizing new blood is part of the high-octane, proactive, anti-Trump era we are now living through–and confronting–in various ways. But the personable, charismatic Gillum has just done something that’s more important than just upping his profile. Last week in Miami, Gillum, 39, introduced an initiative to register a million new voters before we get to 2020. Moreover, the Florida Democratic Party is spending $2 million to register 200,000 new voters.

As we know, a handful of votes in a few key states, such as Florida, cost this country dearly in 2016. The Trump base is still a minority, but a loud, raucous and effective one that channels its faux-populist, cult leader. It’s also sizable enough to bring about another Trump term if the opposition doesn’t do more than affix bumper stickers, cheer on the Betos and AOCs and then pout if their candidate doesn’t make the ticket. The party–and the country–need more registered Democrats and ever-higher numbers actually showing up to vote out all that Trump stands for–and against.

Florida is the swing state that matters most in a presidential election. Barack Obama carried it twice. It can be done again, and Andrew Gillum, who’s making it a priority to actively court Hispanic and black voters, is on the energizing case to “Bring It Home, Florida.”

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.