Media Matters

* For a lot of us, watching the Ken Burns’ “Vietnam” series moves on multiple levels. From where we were back in the day to the brutally graphic carnage to foreign-intervention lessons still unlearned.

Two quick takeaways:

< Burns notably omits a key facet of President John Kennedy’s role in the Vietnam War, and how it escalated in the 1960s. Shortly before his assassination, he wrote a memo to Defense Secretary Robert McNamara to start the troop–oops, “advisers”–withdrawal. He was inclined to go full throttle, except it would have given Barry Goldwater an “appeasement” card to play in the 1964 election. But Kennedy had definitely made the call to start getting out before it got worse.

Barely days after Kennedy’s November 1963 assassination, President Lyndon B. Johnson countermanded the memo–and jumpstarted the unconscionable buildup that would result in nearly 60,000 deaths of American G.I.s.

> It was a reminder of a key character flaw that certain presidents have demonstrably shared. When things don’t go well on your watch–and it’s because of you–don’t accept responsibility. Instead, find a scapegoat. LBJ, Richard Nixon and Donald Trump all targeted the media for blame and diversion.

* In the scheme of things, it’s not all that important, but for a guy from Philly it’s still baffling and, well, perplexing. The Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame just announced its nominees for the class of 2018, and once again South Philly’s Chubby Checker didn’t make it. The HoF, which has been around since 1983, has all the iconic rockers–from Chuck Berry, Fats Domino, Little Richard and Elvis Presley to the Supremes, Stevie Wonder, Fleetwood Mac and Bruce Springsteen. But no Chubby Checker, the literal embodiment of “The Twist,” a societal phenomenon across numerous iterations and several generations.

So this year’s nominees include the less-than-iconic likes of The Cars, the Sex Pistols and MC5. There’s even gospel guitarist Sister Rosetta Tharpe. But no Chubby Checker. Again. Conspiracy theorists, have at it.

Here’s mine. Voters have never forgiven Checker (Ernie Evans) for covering Hank Ballard’s (and the Midnighters) version of “The Twist,” which sounded nearly the same. Plus, “Chubby Checker” was an obvious riff on “Fats Domino.” (Mercifully, Evans didn’t become “Pudgy Parcheesi.”) OK, that’s a reach, but twisting away for fame and fortune with Ballard’s initial recording is not. And, yes, Hank Ballard is in the HoF.

Sports Shorts

* If you think the Washington Nationals’ scripted “W” looks a helluva lot like the “W” in Walgreens, you’re not alone. Walgreens thought so too. Yes, there is an agreement.

* The AP Top 25 now has three Florida teams listed. Not among them: FSU AND Florida. Among the three: USF (18) and UCF (22). Go, Bulls. Oh yeah, the other one is Miami.


* “This prize is really a tribute to the tireless efforts of many millions of campaigners and concerned citizens worldwide who have, ever since the dawn of the Atomic Age, loudly protested nuclear weapons, insisting that they can serve no legitimate purpose and must be forever banished from the face of our Earth.”–Beatrice Fihn, executive director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons. ICAN recently won the Nobel Peace Prize.

* “Get your rosaries off my ovaries.”–Among the signs at the recent March for Choice protest against abortion bans in Ireland.

* “The Administration needs to ramp up the pressure on China to crack down on trade with North Korea across the board.”–Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.

* “Puerto Ricans deserve consistency and compassion in both action and tone from the Trump Administration. It’s about them, not about @POTUS.”–Jeb Bush.


* “We wanted to have a woman president. But when we didn’t, then I couldn’t walk away and say, O.K., just let all the men have the seats at the table that are making decision for our country.”–U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.

* “When people are angry and looking for someone to blame, they don’t want to hear your 10-point plan to create jobs and raise wages. They want you to be angry too.”–Hillary Clinton, in “What Happened.”

* “For of all sad words of tongue and pen, the saddest are these: ‘It might have been.'”–John Greenleaf Whittier.

* “The Republican Party has long preyed on the shame of dispossessed white voters.”–Diane McWhorter, author of “Carry Me Home: Birmingham, Alabama, the Climactic Battle of the Civil Rights Revolution.”

* “Attacks on the press by Donald Trump as enemies of the people (are) more treacherous than Nixon’s.”–Carl Bernstein.

* “It’s a shame the White House has become an adult day care center.”–Tennessee Republican Sen. Bob Corker.

* “We wanted to play the tape on loop to remind the people who the president said he is–a proud sexual predator.”–Emma Boorboor, campaign director for UltraViolet, the women’s advocacy group that played the infamous and lewd “Access Hollywood” video on a large screen on the Washington Mall.

* “The president’s sabotage of affordable care for working Americans is cruel, misguided and costly.”–Florida Democratic Congresswoman Kathy Castor.

* “There is no other way to say this: the NRA funds domestic terrorism.”–Singer and songwriter Rosanne Cash, daughter of Johnny Cash.

* “There are more gun clubs and gun shops in the United States than there are McDonalds.”–Hahrie  Han, professor of political science at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

* “Facebook, Twitter and Google are some of the world’s richest and most ambitious companies, but they still have not shown that they’re willing to bear the costs–or the political risks–of fixing the way misinformation spreads on their platforms. … Facebook and Google have spent billions of dollars developing virtual reality systems. They can spare a billion or two to protect actual reality.”–Kevin Roose, New York Times.

* “My mission as State Attorney is to keep our community safe while promoting fairness and justice for everyone in Hillsborough. Given the lack of evidence that the death penalty deters crime and legitimate questions about its fair and just application, capital punishment does not help accomplish that mission.”–Hillsborough State Attorney Andrew Warren.

* “I have no  doubt whatsoever that I’m going to wake up into a better existence.”–Convicted Florida murderer Michael Lambrix before his execution.

* “We have seen ups and downs with our government’s relationship with Cuba. Eventually, I believe those doors will open permanently.”–Tampa City Council member Yoli Capin.

* “Post hurricane, abundant piles of debris from trees and plants becoming laden with mold and other environmental triggers will heighten allergic symptoms.”–Dr. Farzanna S. Haffizulla, assistant dean for community and global health at Nova Southeastern University.

* “What a wonderful government. So do as I say, not as I do. A refrigerator-sized (wireless facility) on a pole. I don’t understand what’s happening in this country.”–Tampa City Council member Charlie Miranda, in complaining that the Legislature passed a law that pre-empts the city’s authority to regulate many aspects of where new 5G wireless antennas will go.

* “The money in politics is obscene. Our current mayor’s race–that’s all the proof you need that money has become a problem in local elections.”–St. Petersburg City Council member Charlie Gerdes, on the council’s (6-2) vote to limit contributions to political action committees. St. Petersburg became the first city in the country to do so.

Trumpster Diving

* How much longer can Secretary of State Rex Tillerson remain in his position? He’s still trying to defuse that Trump-fueled, Saudi Arabia-Qatar crisis and now seems notably at cross purposes with the president when it comes to North Korea. This is beyond concern.

Tillerson recently said in Beijing that the U.S. had open “lines of communication” with North Korea. He was emphasizing the point, as a secretary of state should, that it’s always worth talking to your adversaries–especially when military confrontation in a nuclear world is too viable an option. And in this case, holding out hope is an existential strategy, not just a diplomatic one.

So what does the charlatan-in-chief say? “Save your energy, Rex. We’ll do what has to be done.” Say what?

“I told … our wonderful secretary of state that he is wasting his time trying to negotiate with Little Rocket Man.”

Not only does Trump publicly deride Kim Jong-un, but he undercuts and mocks his own secretary of state. This can’t continue. Here’s hoping Tillerson outlasts Trump.

* When Gen. John Kelly left his post as Homeland Security secretary to become presidential chief of staff, it begged a couple of questions.

Would he ultimately be able to significantly impact–and possibly rein in–an undisciplined, temperamentally ad hoc president? And, frankly, might he be more valuable to the country had he stayed on as a competent HS secretary instead of being a White House insider overseeing Oval Office access and offering sane, if ignored, advice?

Trump’s schoolyard insults of “Little Rocket Man” and belittling responses to the emotionally-blindsided mayor of San Juan are reminders of the limits of a chief of staff, whether it’s a fawning Reince Priebus or a furious Marine general. Moreover, criticism of acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke–who infamously characterized the federal response to Puerto Rican devastation as a “good news story”–only underscores the downside of replacing Kelly.

* Puerto Rico, has we’ve seen, has been devastated. And this, we now know, is what it took to get the Jones Act, the 1920 maritime law that says shipping between ports in the U.S. must be done by U.S.-owned, U.S.-flagged and U.S.-built ships operated by U.S. citizens–waived. The Jones Act goes back to a time steeped in nationalist and protectionist rhetoric and rationales. How ironic.

* It used to be that national presidential polls, before getting issue specific, surveyed the public for approval and disapproval ratings to gauge a president’s performance and popularity. Standard stuff. They go up and down and vary with foreign relations, the American economy and domestic politics. We get that.

Now, however, we have a lower-bar assessment. For what it’s worth, the most recent Quinnipiac poll showed 42 percent of respondents characterized Trump as “fit to serve as president.” Sobering.

* “Last cycle I never once said that Democrats would win back the House. I have made that pronouncement this cycle.” Those are the optimistic words of New Mexico Congressman Ben Ray Lujan, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. For the record, Dems need to gain 24 House seats to regain a majority.

In other words, gerrymandering and Nancy Pelosi piñata notwithstanding, 2018 is not 2010. That’s when the Republicans, fueled by Tea Partiers, anti-Obama animus and normal anti-incumbent backlash, picked up 63 House seats. A couple of dozen–amid ever-ratcheting Trump turmoil and national embarrassment–could be downright doable next year.

* Remember when Trump U, multitudinous bankruptcies, contractor stiffing, pathological lying, the emoluments clause, income tax returns and Access Hollywood outtakes were hot topics? Those were the days of relative innocence. Before scary exchanges with North Korea and withdrawal from the Paris Agreement underscored that the real issues were existential ones–for this country and for this planet.

* So what is Jon Huntsman’s end game? He’s a wealthy, well-spoken, camera-savvy former governor (Utah), ambassador (China) and presidential candidate. He’s now the recently confirmed U.S. ambassador to Russia.

This can be a career dead end–given the overlapping scenarios of Russian collusion/tampering in the 2016 election and Vladimir Putin’s high-stakes, international meddling. And who would have his back as a former Trump critic? Or it could be an uber, high-profile role on the world-leader stage that could have major implications if he’s seen as America’s ultimate foreign policy adult.

* Just wondering. What keeps Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, in the Republican Party? She’s the national version of Paula Dockery, who finally yielded to her better angels and converted to NPA last year.

Incestuous Sleaze

There was a time when the sports page was a sanctuary from the real world. It was about games. Who won, who lost. The drama of heroics. The agony of defeats. Life goes on. It was interesting, even intriguing and inspirational, however unimportant. Big city newspaper reporters, who trafficked in real news with real consequences, often referred to their sports counterparts as working in the “toy department.”

Fast forward to now. Page one headlines recently chronicled a greedy, criminal nest of NCAA coaches, agents, sporting goods execs and high school basketball prospects linked to federal bribe, fraud and other corruption charges.

In the same news cycle, the University of Louisville ousted its prominent, Hall of Fame coach Rick Pitino for his program’s involvement in directing Adidas money to recruits. This came a few months after the program was sanctioned for providing prostitutes to recruits. Prior to that, there had been another incident involving prostitutes, strippers, players and recruits. Before that there was the sleazy affair Pitino had with the wife of his equipment manager.

Meanwhile, the University of Florida confirmed that its nine suspended football players were involved in a credit-card scam.

This isn’t about “kids” and “bad choices.” That’s partying late the night before SATs.

This is about endemic, incestuous corruption borne of billion-dollar TV network and footwear money and universities who must recruit game-changing mercenaries in basketball and football. That’s how they stay bowl-and-tournament eligible, prime-time worthy and profitable enough to pay obscene coaching salaries that dwarf what a college president, let alone a professor, makes.

The term “student-athlete” is applicable for cross country, field hockey, lacrosse, tennis, golf and the like. These are non-revenue sports, and recruits don’t have to masquerade as students. In the revenue sports, however, the most coveted athletes can major in eligibility. Online courses, tutors and majors in criminology–the “phys ed” of 2017–help enable the system.

The networks and athletic apparel companies aren’t going to change. This is what they do for access and profits. This is what they are. Any change would have to come from institutions who ultimately decide their raison d’être can’t include athletic prostitution. But don’t count on it.

The Straz Age?

Should banker-philanthropist David A. Straz Jr. get into the next mayoral race–and the signs are more than manifest that he’s very seriously considering it–he will be more than a viable candidate. He could be the political pre-season pick if he decides to go all in. He has business acumen, money, connections, likeability and credibility.

This wouldn’t be a next-step, political career move for an up-and-comer. This could be the next national step in a maturing, redefining city’s growth and realization of potential.

And Straz, it should also be well noted, has a refreshing, enlightened-self-interest take on Tampa’s relationship with Cuba, one that has been missing in action at City Hall for too long.

Marseille Attack

Terrorism is as old as human history. Evil, insanity, and perverted ideologies and religions have long littered mankind’s vulnerable landscape. Having said that, could there be anything more unconscionably sacrilegious than a murderous attack on innocents preceded by a “God is great” (“Allahu akbar”) invocation? Wholly heinous.

Don’t Facebook It Yet

It’s been speculated–well, sort of–that the next billionaire to consider a presidential run wouldn’t be Mark Cuban or Michael Bloomberg. It could actually be 30-something Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook fame.

It’s been noted that he’s on target to visit all 50 states this year. He has announced that he is no longer an atheist. He has hired David Plouffe, Barack Obama’s former strategist, and brought on Hillary Clinton’s pollster. He’s even altered Facebook’s charter to accommodate a run for political office.

Personally, I wouldn’t give much credibility to such speculation until I see him in a collared shirt.