Foreign Fodder

* Who would have thought less than a year ago that the 30-something, internationally unknown Frenchman, Emmanuel Macron, would now be a major world-stage player and the de facto leader of a fractured Europe. German Chancellor Angela Merkel can’t form a coalition government and no longer wields uber influence. The leaders of Britain, Italy and Spain have serious home-front priorities. President Macron is now the EC’s go-to guy for progressive thinking, continental optimism and hope for some form of unity. Sacre bleu.

* “My desire  to  resign is voluntary on my part and arises from my concern for the welfare of the people of Zimbabwe and my desire for a smooth, non-violent transfer of power.” So said, possibly with a straight face, Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe, 93, who once vowed to rule for life. Well, his 37-year, corruption-rife, economically-chaotic rule ended before his life did. As for that “voluntary” resignation, chances are impeachment proceedings and military house arrest were key motivators.

* This just in from impoverished North Korea and blind-sided Egypt, which just experienced a horrific, massive assault on a mosque full of worshipers. Are there more outrageous examples of warped, tragically unconscionable priorities than nukes over food or the murder of innocents in the name of religion?

Sports Shorts

* Like a lot of USF fans, I was emotionally spent after that wild, last-minute 49-42 loss to UCF. But, as opposed to most observers, I still wouldn’t say this rivalry game has officially arrived. Hear me out.

This was a perfect grid-storm climax to the regular season with two nationally-ranked teams playing for the AAC division championship–and the opportunity to play on for national prominence. An opportunity to play on for the best season in either school’s history.

Actually, next year–at RayJay, where the turnstile count struggles to exceed 20,000 for most USF home games–will be the year to decree that the rivalry is for real. If the crowd is large and raucous, although much less is at stake because at least one of the teams (likely USF) is not as good, it’s I-4 rivalry on. I’m a believer.

When regional pride is viscerally at stake, and the utter chagrin of losing to your unneighborly rivals down the interstate is unthinkable, you have a real rivalry. If it’s merely an ultra-exciting game when both teams are uncommonly good, that’s a tease, however welcome and exciting.

* So UCF is now one of only two undefeated teams (Wisconsin is the other) in the country, yet it still isn’t ranked in the top 10. The AP has them at 12th–behind five 2-loss teams. Obvious conclusion: Still only begrudging national respect for teams in the American Athletic Conference.

* We went to a Lightning hockey game the other night and a Chicago love-in broke out. Seemed like a third of Amalie Arena was swathed in red–the color of Blackhawks’ jerseys. It still seems weird, but it is what it is in a hybrid market like this. I’ll leave it at that.

No, I won’t.

You just know most of these people are not visitors with a well-planned itinerary that happens to include ‘Hawks hockey. They are mostly locals still mired in their old allegiances. Get over it. This isn’t Chicago or Philly or New York or Boston. You have to be born somewhere. You choose to live here. Unless you arrived yesterday, this is your team. Act like it.

* Another point about that Tampa Bay-Chicago hockey game. Whatever happened to spectator-sport protocol? This isn’t a movie. You shouldn’t just pop up and head to the concession stand when a thirst needs quenching. All games come with built-in stoppages of play. Hockey is no different. Why not wait for a TV break or a penalty or an icing call or a fight or a puck flipped out of play to make that move–instead of a view-blocking, spectator-annoying trek?

* Bands playing at halftime is so old-school. It’s only for those in attendance, who may or may not be paying attention. They play on while TV viewers are seeing game highlights and a national scoreboard update.

But don’t tell the University of Louisville about band anachronisms. The band of its recent football opponent–the University of Kentucky–proved relevant, snarky and gotcha-funny last Saturday. At half time of the UL-UK game, Kentucky’s band formed a gigantic $. A less than subtle dig at Louisville’s reputation as a cheating, athletic outlaw. Advantage UK.

But next year could be payback. “One-and-done” UK basketball isn’t exactly immune from rival taunts.

* One way to get Roy Moore out of a certain news cycle: Have Alabama lose its undefeated, No. 1 ranking with a loss to Auburn.

Quoteworthy

* “The role of France is to talk to everyone.”–French President Emmanuel Macron.

* “Russia can do to us only what we allow it to do. Putin is exploiting fissures and tensions that already existed, not creating them. If Americans decide that our country is better than Putin’s vision of it, we can make it so.”–Fred Hiatt, Washington Post.

* “I have an objective that Mitch McConnell will not be majority leader, and I believe will be done before this time next year.”–Stephen Bannon.

* “It’s not a question of left vs. center–it’s forward vs. backward.”–Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s perspective on the Democratic Party divide over ideological purity.

* “It’s almost going to take a historic wave to overcome the gerrymandered map in a handful of states. … (But) the House of Representatives is certainly in play.”–Eric Holder, former attorney general during the Obama administration.

* “If we don’t convey the right tone, we might energize a small percent of our base, but we still need to have independents. … You don’t want to turn those voters off.”–Arkansas Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson, advising the GOP to moderate its tone for the 2018 elections.

* “At the end of the day, ‘America First’ may devolve into the U.S. being home alone.”–Tang Siew Mun, head of Asean studies center at the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute in Singapore.

* “Under my proposal, the federal government will stop micromanaging the internet.”–FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai, in indicating his plan to scrap rules around open internet access.

* “It’s an intense, painful memory, but the generation of my parents has died. … I think there is a bit of Cuban fatigue now in the Cuban-American community.”–Andy Gomez, interim director of the University of Miami Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies, on the anniversary of last year’s death of Fidel Castro.

* “While it’s amazing to be leading the polls for governor without being a candidate, I can’t muster the enthusiasm to run for the nomination.”–John Morgan.

* “Sea-level rise has become a mobilizing factor for a lot of voters.”–Sean Foreman, political scientist at Barry University in Miami Shores.

* “Put simply, we need a federal investment to sustain our industry.”–Michael Sparks, executive vice president and CEO of Florida Citrus Mutual.

* “If we do economic development really well, hopefully, we’ll also do poverty eradication really well.”–St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman.

It’s Back: Winston’s Past

It’s not the Bucs’ worst nightmare. Yet. But it’s uncomfortably close. Wasting a high draft choice on a failed kicker never seemed like such an innocent miscalculation.

Sexual groping allegations against quarterback Jameis Winston are hardly in the Harvey Weinstein league. But for Winston, his viability as the highly-touted, highly-paid, highly-marketed face of the franchise is in jeopardy. It’s never good when the NFL–under increasing pressure to clean up its image–is investigating your quarterback catalyst. This is national news.

Given his back story, Winston cannot afford to stray. His margin of error is zero. To his credit, he has, heretofore, represented the Buccaneer organization in commendable fashion.

But that past is beyond problematic. Last December he settled a high-profile lawsuit with a woman who accused him of rape when both were students at FSU. The details were disgusting, but Winston and the Bucs thought the matter was behind them. Not.

Allegations that he groped a female Uber driver last year have now surfaced at the worst possible time as Weinstein, Louis C.K., Kevin Spacey, Roy Moore and the like have created a self-sustaining, creepy news cycle that Winston is now part of. And if you are the Bucs, you are again reliving the Jameis Winston/Marcus Mariota draft dilemma that never goes away.

As for Mariota, whose Tennessee Titans team is on course to make the playoffs, he has become a solid NFL quarterback, one who continues to make better decisions on–and off–the field than Winston. But, yes, he did throw four interceptions against Pittsburgh last week.

As for the Bucs, this has to be an agonizing waiting game as this matter gets inevitably lawyered up. What’s at stake is more than their quarterback. Their identity and their credibility are part of this crucible.

Trump/Clinton Context

Notice how Bill Clinton’s name is increasingly being inserted into the political byplay that is part of the Trump-presidency dynamic. It was inevitable. You can’t have a misogynist president, an era of outed, prominent male sexual predators and bypass Clintonian licentiousness. You can’t be a former Democratic president, the husband of Hillary Rodham Clinton and have Monica Lewinsky, Jennifer Flowers, Juanita Broaddrick and Paula Jones in your wake and not become rhetorically useful to today’s political partisans.

Talk about a deplorable perfect storm.

But here’s what was missed then–and now–about Clinton, and there could be an ironic parallel with the moral reprobate that is President Donald Trump.

The operative President Clinton issue was really not morals, per se, despite the headlines. It was about a character and temperament flawed in ways that could have jeopardized national security. Fortunately, Lewinsky was no Mata Hari or blackmail operative. Along with perjury, that should have always been the underlying rationale for even considering impeachment and what could conceivably qualify as a “high” enough crime or misdemeanor.

As for Trump, let’s see how the Mueller investigation plays out.

If Russian collusion and accompanying campaign lying and Trump complicity are proven, the wagons of impeachment will circle. Hell, five articles of impeachment have already been proposed by members of Congress. Yes, it’s a Republican Congress–for now–but, no, these mostly establishment sorts will not go to the mattresses for Trump, who is not one of them and likely is still channeling Steve Bannon.

Collusion would necessarily prompt a presumption of national security concern and potential quid pro quos with Russia. And a viable “dossier” may still be in play. And for the “clear and present danger” rationale, look no farther than ratcheting concern over the reality of Trump’s nuclear trigger finger disturbingly complementing his hair-trigger temperament.

This ultimately will come down to a national and global security threat, not to just a morally challenged, embarrassingly sleazy person in the White House.

Tampa’s Good Fortune

Whether it’s philanthropists such as Les and Pam Muma and Frank and Carol Morsani or entrepreneurs and business magnates such as Richard Gonzmart and Jeff Vinik, Tampa is very lucky to have their significant impact on our area. From the University of South Florida to restaurants in The Heights and Hyde Park to Water Street Tampa. What they have most obviously in common in this: Their involvement is a vote of confidence for our city and an investment in its future.

Adams Recalled

It was noteworthy, if not stop-the-presses stuff. Gerry Adams–the long-time leader of Sinn Fein, the political arm of the Irish Republican Army–is stepping down. Now 69, Adams has long been a high-profile advocate for “democratic socialism” and an end to the political partition of the island of Ireland. He has led Sinn Fein for more than 30 years.

And during that time–1995 to be exact–he visited Tampa as part of his barnstorming American tour to raise awareness and money. I heard his history-heavy talk at the University of Tampa, and later caught his more activist, emotional approach at a fund-raiser at Four Green Fields Irish pub.

The latter was more entertaining. Pubs guarantee it. Adams was both wry and emphatic. He talked about the Good Friday peace accord and the shared-power experiment in self-government as merely part of a process. It was a “short-term, strategic goal” he told the crowd.

That’s because unification with the Republic of Ireland remained unwaveringly the “long-term” goal. And Adams made it clear that “long” was, in short, not all that long as demographic patterns continued to favor Northern Ireland’s Catholic population. A Catholic majority was not much more than a generation or two away, if that, he underscored. So why resort to violence when demographic inevitability can carry out your agenda?

“Peace is not just the absence of violence,” he told his beer-quaffing audience. “It’s also justice. Irish unity will manifest itself in whatever society people want.”

It went over well with the Guinness crowd.

Foreign Fodder

* Not that it’s a major consolation, but it’s now apparent that the Russians didn’t limit themselves to the U.S. when it came to sovereign, political disruptions. Britain and Spain also have issues with Russian meddling: the former with its Brexit referendum and the latter over Catalan independence.

The common theme, as noted by British Prime Minister Theresa May, is Russia’s intent to “sow discord  in the West.”

* Hardly surprising, but still somewhat humbling that other countries issue travel warnings to its citizens who are planning to visit the U.S. And those warnings have been picking up apace recently. A scary gun culture, beyond-volatile politics and a rash of high-profile violent crimes are the major factors behind the advisories. The countries involved include Canada, England, New Zealand, Ireland, Germany and the Bahamas.

Sports Shorts

* Whoever would have thought that the biggest intrastate college football game of the year would be matching schools from Tampa and Orlando–not Tallahassee, Gainesville or Miami. But Friday’s USF-UCF game is exactly that. For the (9-1) Bulls, it means a chance for a best-ever-in-its-history season can happen with a win against the undefeated, 13th-ranked Knights.

USF has had good teams and big wins over two decades, but by each season’s end there was an inevitable sense of disappointment and reflections on opportunities lost. USF has never played for a conference championship, let alone won one. The year (2007) the Bulls advanced to a No. 2 national ranking–and played before 67,000 fans at the RayJay in a win against West Virginia–ended with a downward spiral and a humiliating Sun Bowl loss to Oregon.

The Bulls have played better as underdogs. Big wins against Auburn, Notre Dame, Florida State, Miami and Clemson, for example, are part of their grid history. This Friday, as 11-point underdogs against UCF, the Bulls get a chance to do it again. A win puts them into the AAC championship game against Memphis. A win there puts them into a big-time bowl game. And a win there… . Well, that all rides on Friday’s outcome. A climactic win like this is overdue.

What’s truly ironic is that there was a time, during the Jim Leavitt era, when USF didn’t even want to schedule UCF, because it was a step down in stature. Now a win would elevate USF in prestige and the national rankings and position them for their best season ever. Ever.

Make history. Go, Bulls.

* Here’s the memo that those three UCLA basketball players arrested for shoplifting in China either didn’t get or didn’t heed. “When you go overseas, especially in an official capacity representing your university, you are also–de facto–representing your country. When your travel involves a country with high-profile, problematic geopolitics such as North Korea, Iran or, in this case, China, you also run the risk of an international incident if you break any laws. Especially the really obvious, universal ones. Be on your best behavior and don’t do anything DUMB that would reflect poorly on your country, your university or you–in that order.”