Sports Shorts

  • Thanks again, Tampa Bay Lightning. You won, and we won. A feel-good story never felt so good. The ultimate cup to runneth over. In the midst of an unimaginably horrific, perfect storm, we’re going to milk this for a while. May the bubble never burst.
  • The sports world—football—lost a special one recently: Gayle Sayers, the former Chicago Bears star. He was one of the two greatest running backs of all time: he and Jim Brown.

Quoteworthy

  • “Barbados could be a tipping point. If Barbados is successful in taking this step, it would inspire other countries to do the same.”—Richard Drayton, professor of imperial history at Kings College London, on the announcement that Barbados would remove Queen Elizabeth as its head of state and become a republic next year.
  • “If totalitarianism comes, it will almost certainly not be Stalinism 2.0., with gulags, secret police and an all-powerful central state. … The power of surveillance technology, woke capitalism and fear of losing bourgeois comfort and status will probably be enough to compel conformity by most.”—Rod Dreher, the American Conservative.
  • “It makes me despondent about America. The country we have looked to for leadership has descended into an ugly brawl.”—Former British diplomat and chief of the British Security Intelligence Service (M16) John Sawers, on the optics of the presidential debate.
  • “The biggest surprise was that the president of the United States was the single largest driver of misinformation around Covid. That’s concerning in that there are real-world, dire health implications.”—Sarah Evanega, director of the Cornell Alliance for Science.
  • “A negative test isn’t enough to break quarantine. Isolation is the key.”—Dr. Leana Wen, emergency physician and former health commissioner of Baltimore.
  • “(Republicans’) monomaniacal drive to confirm Judge Barrett at all costs needlessly threatens the health and safety of senators, staff and all those who work in the Capitol complex.”—Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.
  • “(Trump) may be vulnerable to financial blackmail from a hostile foreign power, and God knows what else.”—Sen. Elizabeth Warren.
  • “Americans should be concerned about the president’s debt because it’s a national security risk for our country.”—Donald Sherman, deputy director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.
  • “The main reason Trump could avoid paying income taxes is that he was a lousy businessman.”—Jonah Goldberg, The Dispatch.
  • “The unpaid-taxes story may be more of a threat to Trump than the Access Hollywood tape. The president never pretended to be a good guy around women; he has pretended, however, to be a brilliant businessman—and the knowledge of all that debt, and all those losses, could pull out the block that will send his Jenga-tower reputation toppling.”—Molly Roberts, Washington Post.
  • “Trump is becoming more frantic and unhinged by the day. He is staring not only at a possible landslide defeat, but potentially also economic ruin and criminal prosecution.”—Jennifer Rubin, Washington Post.
  • “There are some break-glass options available to us if there really is an extremely chaotic and, worse still, violent set of circumstances.”—Nick Clegg, Facebook’s head of global affairs, in underscoring that the company was war-gaming election night scenarios.
  • “I am confident that your vital energy, high spirits and optimism will help you cope with the dangerous virus.”—Russian President Vladimir Putin to Donald Trump.
  • “This is a sobering reminder that COVID-19 is not a hoax, and this pandemic is far from over. Continue to wear a mask.”—Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried.
  • “I hope that everyone saying maybe once somebody is sick, they can be off limits for criticism.”—Brian Ballard, prominent Florida lobbyist and Trump fundraiser.
  • “The larger the crowd, the greater the probability that someone in that group is positive, including asymptomatically.”—Jay Wolfson, professor of public health at USF.
  • “There’s not going to be any type of closure in Florida.”—Gov. Ron DeSantis.
  • “I’m sorry for wasting your time, and thanks again for doing such a great job keeping us safe each and every day.”—Florida Republican (lame duck) Congressman Ross Spano, after security workers found a loaded pistol in his bag at a TSA checkpoint at TIA. Spano has a concealed carry permit.
  • “Job growth, investment, is driven by the access to talent. That talent wants to be downtown. Jobs and investments will follow. … Everyone we’re working with expects this formula to be fully in place.”—David Dixon, vice president of Stantec, the urban planning group that is a lead figure in the development of Water Street Tampa.
  • “I’m not playing. We’re going to implement them across the board.”—Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, in announcing plans for body cameras for deputies.
  • “This is the best hockey town ever.”—Steven Stamkos.

Transfer of Power And First Debate

 “A Republic, if you can keep it.”

  • “We’re going to have to see what happens.” That was Donald Trump’s go-to, wink-and-nod non-answer response to a media question about whether he would commit to a peaceful transfer of power if he loses in November. In short, that’s a de facto “No.”
  • “The winner of the Nov. 3 election will be inaugurated on Jan. 20. There will be an orderly transition just as there has been every four years since 1792.” That was Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, speaking as if this were just another quadrennial, business-as-usual presidential election—or somehow akin to the rather reluctant George Washington’s virtually uncontested re-election. As if autocratic, Constitution-dismissing Donald Trump were someone whom the Founding Fathers could ever have imagined as an American president. As if McConnell’s party-first, hypocritically compromised credibility means anything.
  • If anyone should be a prominent advocate for mandatory, anti-pandemic mask-wearing, it should be Mitch McConnell, one of the few who, frankly, looks better in a mask. Elaine Chao might agree.
  • It was always a given that COVID, SCOTUS, election scenarios, racial injustice and protests would be part of the first debate. Good for moderator Chris Wallace to make sure climate change was included. Its obvious impact on the planet transcends issues that are institutional and societal. That, unfortunately, was just about it for the good part. The presidential debate Tuesday night was an embarrassment for America and for democracy. “SNL” cold openings have been more dignified. Certainly more dignified than “There’s nothing smart about you, Joe” or “Will you shut up, man?” And, yes, there was a Trumpian Proud Boys “Stand back and stand by” shout-out and even a “Pocahontas” reference.

In short, if we can’t prevent one of the participants from turning a debate into a debasing farce that disrespects and abuses the frustratingly ineffective moderator and pre-empts his opponent, then cancel the two remaining ones. America, with a sociopathic punk for president, will be even further demeaned by international ridicule. When contentiousness would be an upgrade, you need a paradigm shift or a presidential change.

Three quick takeaways from this appalling, rhetorical train wreck that trashed another democratic norm. First, Trump is behind and needs to add to his cult-enamored base. But his obnoxious, interrupting, preening performance didn’t help that cause. Biden tried to look presidential, and at times succeeded in projecting welcome understanding and empathy—from health care and pandemic response to job creation and American unity–in direct addresses to viewers. Biden “won” by default. Second, new rule: No more presidential debates unless both parties agree to a kill switch on the microphones. Third, “Elections have consequences,” as we were ironically reminded by Trump.

  • It’s been said that the confirmation of Trump’s choice for Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s successor, the Federalist Society-approving Judge Amy Coney Barrett, would be the most dramatic ideological swing since Clarence Thomas took the seat of Thurgood Marshall. Alas, that’s as true as it is outrageous and ideologically sacrilegious.  
  • Judge Barrett, who once clerked for Antonin Scalia, would be Trump’s third appointee on the Supreme Court. That’s fully one third of SCOTUS appointed by a president who didn’t win the popular vote. More reprehensible than representative.
  • Barrett, whom Trump had previously appointed to the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, also represents a promise kept to white evangelicals who seemingly no longer wonder “What would Jesus say?” Probably not: “OMG, what a great move! She could surely help Trump with post-election litigation.”
  • Trump, for all his pandering to Cuban Americans, doesn’t mention that he registered his (10-year) trademark in (not-free, Communist) Cuba in 2008 to build hotels, golf courses and, what the hell, casinos.
  • “(Trump) lacks the empathy, integrity, intellect and maturity to lead.” That was Tom Ridge, the first secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (under President George W. Bush) and the former Republican governor of Pennsylvania.
  • “Vote him out!”: Chant from the crowd honoring the flag-draped coffin of the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg outside the U.S. Supreme Court. 
  • So another insider, former top homeland security aide to VP Mike Pence Olivia Troye, has gone public with Trump Administration criticism–and has endorsed Joe Biden. The mismanaged coronavirus was the final straw. “At this point, it’s country over party,” she explained. What she didn’t explain is why it took this long for “country over party” to finally resonate with an unhinged president who’s been an ongoing threat to American security and democracy since day one.
  • “American patriot.” “A shining symbol of the American fighting spirit.” That’s how the high-profile, high fund-raising defense of Kyle Rittenhouse has characterized its client, the teen who came to Kenosha, Wisc., brandishing an assault weapon and wound up killing two protestors.
  • “I am not engaged in sabotaging the election.” That was Postmaster General Louis DeJoy. Imagine needing to say that?
  • It’s no surprise revelation—or fake news—that Trump, who played the oxymoronic “populist”/business-mogul card in his otherwise nativist, cartoonish presidential pitch, is a lot better at playing a “mogul” than, well, being one. Revealed tax information confirms years of minimal ($750) or zero federal income taxes—in the context of depreciation, tax credits, bankruptcies, lawsuits and chronic losses of Daddy’s money. Then there’s that less-than-populist item about deducting $70,000 in hair-styling expenses. Trump biographer Tim O’Brien has called him a “human billboard” and a “serial bankruptcy artist who gorges on debt he may have a hard time repaying.” There are lots of reasons the grifter-in-chief is the only president in modern history to not release his tax returns.
  • American exceptionalism: Has there ever been a country this big, this economically and military powerful, this globally impactful and this close to failing-state status?  

COVID Bits

#AloneTogether

  • 700 million: That’s the number of vaccine doses that should be available by April, according to CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield at a Senate health committee hearing.
  • According to the International Air Transport Association, the only realistic hope of reviving demand for flights in the absence of a vaccine is to require universal coronavirus tests for departing passengers. Rapid antigen tests should be available in October. They would cost as little as $10—and deliver results within 15 minutes.
  • 45 percent: That’s the estimated current national mask-usage, according to the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics.
  • Scammer update: In Boston, U.S. Customs officials seized more than 20,000 counterfeit N95 respirator masks from Hong Kong.
  • Whether the governor approves or not, Florida’s public universities should be playing the student-discipline card. It’s what adults in charge do during a pandemic. It should be seen as part of preparing students for that real, non-virtual world that awaits. And a reminder that, even if you’re of college age, immortality is not an option.
  • 11 percent: Florida’s average positivity rate. 5 percent: Hillsborough County’s rate.
  • Pinellas County for Mask Freedoms: a Facebook group that posts talking points to help those challenging local ordinances.

Dem Notes

“Yes, we can.”

  • The Biden campaign has created a “special litigation” unit, which will include hundreds of lawyers and be led by two former solicitors general, Donald Verilli and Walter Dellinger, plus former Attorney General Eric Holder, acting as a liaison between the campaign and various independent groups. As we know, legal battles over voting and ballot-counting are already ratcheting up.
  • The National Committee to Preserve Social Security & Medicare has endorsed Joe Biden. It’s the first-ever presidential endorsement for an organization with deep roots in New Deal politics. Indeed, the vice chairman of the NCPSSM advisory board is James Roosevelt Jr., FDR’s grandson.   
  • Speaking of first-ever such endorsements, the respected scientific journal Scientific Americanhas done just that as well. In its own words: “Scientific American has never endorsed a presidential candidate in our 175-year history—until now. The 2020 election is literally a matter of life and death. We urge you to vote for health, science and Joe Biden for President.”
  • A big reason Trump won in 2016 is because so many Americans—from primary opponents to casual voters—thought it could never happen. That’s no longer the case. Call it an existential mulligan for an electorate that has seen what an unfit reality TV charlatan has wrought.
  • “Biden is a man who doesn’t do culture war, who will separate the cultural left from the political left, reduce politics back to its normal size and calm an increasingly apocalyptic and hysterical nation.”—David Brooks, New York Times.
  • It used to be that senators, including politically prominent ones, didn’t need to overplay the party- or presidential-fealty card when voting on a SCOTUS nomination. To wit: Republicans Strom Thurmond, Bob Dole and Mitch McConnell voted for Ruth Bader Ginsburg in 1993. Seven years earlier, Democrats Al Gore, John Kerry and Joe Biden voted for Antonin Scalia.

Media Matters

  • The Poynter Institute will honor Chris Wallace with its Medal of Lifetime Achievement in Journalism. It will be an online presentation after the election. Wallace is the son of the late “60 Minutes” icon Mike Wallace and the host of Fox New Sunday. He’s also the one who tried to moderate the first presidential debate this week.  
  • “Saturday Night Live” will begin its new season this Saturday (Oct. 3). Look for regular appearances from Jim Carrey as Joe Biden.
  • Scary when Facebook is the chief vector for QAnon. No, that’s not a conspiracy theory.
  • Google will halt all election advertising after the polls officially close on Nov. 3—a move designed to limit false messages about the outcome. That also applies to YouTube.
  • Since 2007, the State Department has been annually giving out an International Women of Courage prize. It’s not known for controversy—until this year. One of the 10 women to be honored, Finnish journalist Jessikka Aro–whose reporting helped expose Russian disinformation campaigns–has had her award revoked. Seems that some of her posts on Twitter and Facebook were quite critical of Donald Trump for his media assaults.

Florida Fodder

  • Gov. Ron DeSantis’ Phase 3 of reopening includes lifting restrictions on businesses’ capacities and operations—and no more fines and penalties for mask-ordinance violations. What could go wrong with depending on self-discipline, common cause and common public-health sense in our bars and restaurants? Is it laissez-unfaire? Whether it’s COVID management, former felons’ voting rights or anti-protestor legislation, DeSantis keeps doubling down on his whoring out for Trump approval and agendas.
  • “Flori-duh” update: Hillsborough deputies show up at an apartment where guys are watching Lightning hockey. A neighbor had overheard “Shoot, Shoot” yelled loudly. It meant a puck, not a bullet.

Sports Shorts

  • Pandemic Cup: Thanks, Bolts, we needed that. Stanley needed another Tampa Bay tan, and our community needed the opportunity to revel with a cause beyond bar reopenings. Yes, the Lightning, encased in its two-month Toronto-Edmonton bubble, won the iconic Stanley Cup with its Game 6, 2-0 shutout of the Dallas Stars on Monday. There’s no more iconic trophy, one that was first presented in the 1890s, in the sports world. It also resonates internationally—from North America to Scandinavia, Europe and Russia.

After last season’s colossal disappointment, the Bolts got bigger, tougher and better. Redemption, at last, will no longer be a theme going forward. Nothing needs exorcising.

For now it’s well-timed, community celebration after that two-month Canadian gauntlet, and nobody embodies the ultimate hockey achievement and feel-good fan frenzy quite like Lightning captain Steven Stamkos, who has long been the competitive face and classy identity of the Bolts. A Lee Roy Selmon on skates. That’s why it was appropriate for Commissioner Gary Bettman to literally present the Stanley Cup to him. And how appropriate that the injured Stamkos, who played less than three minutes total throughout the playoffs, used his precious time to score a key goal on his only shot, one that further energized and galvanized the Bolts to go on and win game three. It was no mere cameo. It was an adrenaline boost for a team on a mission. And now mission accomplished: a Stanley Cup for a franchise that was overdue—and a COVID diversion for a community that needed to test positive for unbridled joy and pride.

  • “Our hope is going to be to fill this stadium with fans. But the smart thing to do is to prepare just in case.”—Jonathan Barker, head of live events and production for the NFL, on fan scenarios for Super Bowl 55 at Raymond James Stadium.
  • This year’s pandemic-impacted NCAA basketball season will still begin with the annual Maui Invitational—Nov.30-Dec. 2—but it will be played in bubble-prepared Asheville, N.C.—not Hawaii.
  • The Rays won the American League East for the third time. It’s a very big deal—even if the celebration involved Silly String being sprayed instead of champagne. But confetti canons are still cool.
  • “Phandemic.” How especially loyal sports fans describe their new-normal gatherings to root on their favorite team.

Quoteworthy

  • “We are moving in a very dangerous direction. Our world cannot afford a future where the two largest economies split the globe in a Great Fracture—each with its own trade and financial rules and internet and artificial intelligence capacities. (Such a divide) risks inevitably turning into a geostrategic and military divide. We must avoid this at all costs.”—UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres on the growing discord between the U.S. and China.
  • “Today as part of our continuing fight against communist oppression, I am announcing that the Treasury Department will prohibit U.S. travelers from staying at properties owned by the Cuban government.”—President Donald Trump, during a speech to honor Bay of Pigs veterans at the White House.
  • “White supremacist extremists, from a lethality standpoint over the last two years … are certainly the most persistent and lethal threat when we talk about domestic violent extremists.”—Chad Wolf, acting head of the Department of Homeland Security.
  • “I propose that Congress … form a supremely high-level bipartisan and nonpartisan commission to oversee the election. If we fail to take every conceivable effort to ensure the integrity of our election, the winners will not be Donald Trump or Joe Biden, Republicans or Democrats. The only winners will be Vladimir Putin, Xi Jinping and Ali Khamenei.”—Dan Coats, former director of national intelligence from 2017 to 2019.
  • “She has won the admiration of women across the country and indeed all across the world.”—Judge Amy Coney Barrett, Trump’s SCOTUS nominee, on the legacy of Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
  • “There are really no precedents in our country. This is a president who has threatened to jail his political opponents. Now he is suggesting he would not respect the results of an election. These are serious warning signs.”—Chris Edelson, professor of government at American University.
  • “Nothing says democracy like a president who’s a squatter.”—Comedian Bill Maher.
  • “We want to make sure that the election is honest, and I’m not sure that it can be.”—Donald Trump.
  • “If Republicans lose, we will accept the result.”—South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham.
  • “Fundamental to democracy is the peaceful transition of power; without that, there is Belarus.”—Utah Republican Sen. Mitt Romney.
  • “Justice Ginsburg’s death is going to be a wake-up call when (Floridians) hear that their health care weighs in the (election) balance.”—Florida Congresswoman Kathy Castor.
  • “We are betting on the recovery of Ybor. We’re betting on the recovery of Florida, of the rest of the country.”—Pablo Molinari, general manager of the recently opened Hotel Haya in Ybor City.
  • “Not only are we planning for Gasparilla, we’re still planning to make it fun too.”—EventFest founder and president Darrell Stefany.

Debates and the Passing of RBG

 “A Republic, if you can keep it.”

  • Here they come, those quadrennial presidential debates that galvanize the media and entice the public with the promise of political performance art. The first one is but days away with Chris Wallace, the “Fox News Sunday” anchor, serving as the sole moderator.

A few thoughts on the process. No, we’re not returning to the rudimentary Kennedy-Nixon debates hosted by Howard K. Smith, but we can still cherry pick from that historic time. We now have a Commission on Presidential Debates making the important calls. No more than one moderator is a good start. We don’t need a team, for whom network branding is a given. Ideally, however, C-SPAN or PBS should be first among equals. Someone with journalistic bona fides and a commanding enough presence to stay in charge—including via fact check–is mandatory. And hold debates sans live audiences, who are primed to cheer and jeer gotcha lines. Let’s not encourage—and reward—inevitable performance art.

Substantive global and national issues must be debated—not reduced to cliches, punch lines and put downs. Forums of this magnitude can’t be reality TV, even if the incumbent is still an apprentice. No, we can’t do anything about who’s debating, but we can still do something to make it obvious who isn’t qualified for the most important job in the world.

  • Debate advice for Biden: Call the incumbent “Donald” not Mr. President. It matters to a narcissist. Then go on the offensive and call him out–and be ready for the fire hose of lies from an opponent who just wings it because debate prep is just for suckers. Bring the fact-check extinguisher—and hope the moderator has access to real-time fact-checking.
  • “We have done a phenomenal job with respect to COVID-19… If we didn’t do our job, it would be three and a half, two and a half, maybe three million people (dead).” That was the misleader-in-chief riffing on his self-serving, parallel universe.
  • Unless you are the Palestinians, the deal the U.S. cut with some Gulf Arab countries is a qualified success. It results from Iran-driven geopolitics, a number of years in the making, and billion-dollar military hardware deals. But West Bank annexation is still unsettled and still festering, a two-state scenario still stillborn and an historic peace accord no less illusive–as the Palestinians well know.   
  • “Fill that seat!” The latest Trump-rally chant.
  • “Talk to a firefighter if you think that climate change isn’t real. It seems like this administration are the last vestiges of the Flat Earth Society of this generation.” That was Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti—responding to President Trump’s clueless, climate-dismissing take on devastating, West Coast wildfires. The ones that killed dozens, forced hundreds of thousands of people from their homes, burned millions of acres and wiped out communities. The ones that Trump attributes to poor forest management.
  • It’s downright frightening—and unconscionable–that a number of doctors are increasingly worried that a lot of Americans just won’t trust a vaccine promoted as a possible October surprise by the president, one who has extolled the pandemic value of Clorox.
  • Trump got a grilling at an ABC/George Stephanopoulos-hosted town hall. The Bob Woodward-esque begged question (again): Why deal with those who are better informed and won’t accept your ongoing misinformation and generalizations—and, as a result, can put you in an embarrassing position? Because Trump is narcissistically Trump, and nobody can talk him out of anything that he wants to do, especially if it involves a microphone and a national forum. 
  • “To him, a lie is not a lie. It’s just what he thinks. He doesn’t know the difference between the truth and a lie.”—No that wasn’t some disgruntled, former Trump administration staffer. That was Dan Coats, Trump’s former director of national intelligence, who knows how critically important and sacrosanct truth is to national security.
  • During his (under oath) testimony before the House Homeland Security Committee, FBI Director Chris Wray confirmed that Russia has been “very active” in trying to influence the November election by sowing divisiveness and trying to “denigrate” the candidacy of Joe Biden. Another reminder that Putin prefers Trump as the U.S. president. Still beyond disturbing as to why that would be.
  • Candor, whatever its context, has never been more welcome. Exhibit A: Michael Cohen’s response on why Republicans have continued to support Trump. “Because we’re stupid,” he admitted. “You know, we’re a bunch of sycophants. He’s very much like a cult leader.” Maybe we should have seen it coming. Charles Manson, Jim Jones, Donald Trump.
  • In the zero-sum, polarizing time of Trump–he’s a nativist cult leader or an existential threat–how is anyone an “undecided” voter?
  • There’s self-serving political exaggeration and then there’s the Trump-enabled new hyperbolic normal. Most recent example from someone other than Trump: AG William Barr and his characterization of the COVID lockdown. “The greatest intrusion on civil liberties (in U.S. history) other than slavery.” But, yes, slavery was worse.
  • Trump as we know, called the Big Ten commissioner, Kevin Warren, about playing football this fall. Interestingly, he didn’t contact the Pac-12. Hardly coincidental that the Big 10, where the culture of football is deep-rooted and rabid, includes a number of swing states: Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan, most notably. The West Coast is notably politically blue—and at lethal odds with Trump over climate change and federal response to police-brutality protests. 
  • Ivanka Trump and Pam Bondi met up with invited local GOPsters at the Columbia Restaurant for what was called a “fireside chat.” It could also be called an Ybor City desecration.