Florida Fodder

* Two issues–allowing ex-felons (not convicted of murder or sex crimes) to vote once they have completed their sentences and making driving-while-texting a primary offense–are not typically paired. But they should be.

The reason is cut-to-the-chase simple. It’s common sense and public safety. And the “public” is us. All of us non-ex-felons and all of us non-texting drivers. We’re all at risk.

Here’s hoping the Legislature will keep in mind that nearly two-thirds of the electorate voted for Amendment 4 and can clear up any rights-restoring details without playing partisan, ideological cards. But it should also know that ex-felons who are not integrated back into society have a scary recidivism rate. It’s what happens to those who’ve paid their dues but still find themselves disenfranchised with problematic prospects for the rest of their marginalized lives. No good results.

As for drivers who text, that has to finally become a primary offense. Right now it’s still a secondary offense, meaning recklessly not paying attention behind the wheel is not reason enough to get pulled over. With the rate of distracted driving accidents ever ratcheting, it only makes sense that the state should crack down on those who would imperil the rest of us on the road.

This isn’t about doing the right, responsible thing in the abstract. This is about doing what’s in our literal self interest. It’s about all of us. How’s that for a constituency?

* It looks like Florida Gov.-elect Ron DeSantis will be naming Richard Corcoran as the next education commissioner. Corcoran, the acerbic, former House Speaker, is also a charter-school champion. I miss Betty Castor.

Tampa Bay TidBits

* Signs of the new-normal times we live in:

^ Pinellas County has an administrative position called  “violence prevention specialist.”

^Earlier this month First Baptist Church of College Hill held a two-day “Church Intruder Training workshop.

* The Tampa Bay area, with Tampa as its hub, has been, as we know all too well, an unconscionable outlier when it comes to mass transit. Remember T-BART (Tampa Bay Area Rapid Transit) from the 1980s? It was a San Francisco/Oakland-esque rail proposal that would have connected Hillsborough and Pinellas counties via the Howard Frankland Bridge. We also had Orlando-to-Tampa, high-speed rail derailed by Gov. Rick Scott. As a result, we have done more sprawl, poured more asphalt and voted down more than our share of transit proposals.

Then one, manifestly imperfect, referendum (1-cent sales) tax finally passed last month, because it was well organized, well financed and well received outside the city. It was for 30 years and would raise nearly $16 billion. The voters spoke. Our retrograde transportation past would start receding. Tampa Bay would no longer be notorious for its counterproductive, 21st-century-defying, stupid history on transit. A history that transcended generations and defied common sense and blatant self-interest. Finally, there was a sense of progress and maybe a last-gasp chance to “re-imagine our transportation future,” to quote Tampa City Councilman Harry Cohen, who is also vice chair of the Hillsborough County MPO.

What could go wrong now? Well, this is still Hillsborough County, voter epiphany notwithstanding. So a county commissioner, Stacy White, has filed a lawsuit against the transportation tax. It’s either pragmatism at play so possible legal issues can be sorted out now. Or it’s the politics of spite.

* Pasco did not join its county counterparts on the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council’s coalition dedicated to addressing climate change and sea level rise. The reason: Pasco’s representative, Commissioner Jack Mariano, doesn’t believe in “climate change.” Maybe we shouldn’t be shocked given the high-profile of other Republican climate-change cynics such as the president of this country and the senator-elect of this state. But we should be angry and alarmed when another politician of this climate-vulnerable state doubles down on “Flori-duh.”

Sports Shorts

* That was a candid, but unsurprising, comment on the Rays’ stadium scenario by St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman the other day. It only underscored the priority that must be keeping the Rays in the Tampa Bay market. Parochial ego can’t be a factor.  “Psychologically, we’d take a hit,” acknowledged Kriseman, “but economically the city will be fine. That’s a transformative property (Tropicana Field’s 86 acres) with or without a stadium.”

In his own way, Kriseman is conceding the obvious. Keeping a baseball franchise is a regional “win-win.” St. Pete won’t miss a developmental beat. And Tampa, as the business, media and geographic hub of this asymmetrical, mass transit-challenged, regional market, is where the stadium belongs–if the franchise is going to remain here. The hard-nosed, leverage game has already begun. Just ask the other Rays-involved mayor.

* Tampa’s own Lou Piniella, 75, missed the Hall of Fame by one vote. How ironic that had he not taken the Rays job, he likely would have made it in. He ended his managerial career on a down note: a three-year (2003-05) Rays run that was his only losing record.

* Tampa winter resident Joe Maddon is a strong proponent for a state-of-the-art baseball stadium in Tampa. “I think for the survival of major league baseball in this community, it needs to be built, it needs to be that nice and it needs to be over on the other (Hillsborough County) side,” he said. Left unsaid: Who all is paying exactly what to make that happen.

* It still seems weird to read about Rays off-season moves that include the naming of a new “process and analytics coach” (Jonathan Erlichman) and a new “mental skills coach” (Justin Su’a). But as we’ve been seeing, this kind of “weird” works.

* It’s official; the XFL is coming to Tampa Bay in 2020. The eight-team, winter-spring football league is backed by World Wrestling Entertainment chairman Vince McMahon. For the record, McMahon says there will be no, uh, crossover between the XFL and WWE. Also for the record, it’s never a good sign when you have to address any possible connection between a football league and pro wrestling.


* “We had some serious differences in the past. But it has become much more confrontational, at the worst possible moment. We need to stand together as defenders of the liberal order.”–Marietje Schaake, vice chairman of the European Parliament’s delegation for relations with the United States.

* “We do not take domestic America politics into account, and we want that to be reciprocated … I say this to Donald Trump and the French president says it too: Leave our nation be.”–French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, in response to a Trump tweet.

* “I believe it will be said that no occupant of the Oval Office was more courageous, more principled and more honorable than George Herbert Walker Bush.”–Former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney.

* “We did not have a common value system. I think (Trump) grew tired of me being the guy every day who told him that ‘you can’t do that.'”–Former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

* “I don’t think (Trump’s) capable of sustained focus. I don’t think he understands the system. I don’t think the Congress is on his side. I don’t think his own agencies support him.”–Fox News host Tucker Carlson.

* “Running America isn’t like running a family business. It has to be done by setting broad policies and sticking to them, not by browbeating a few people whenever you see a bad headline.”–Paul Krugman, New York Times.

* “The bigger pardon question may come down the road as the next president has to determine whether to pardon Donald Trump.”–Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff, the incoming chairman of the House Intelligence committee.

* “This just confirmed what I thought all along: This all leads up to the crown prince.”–Sen. Richard C. Shelby, R-Ala., after emerging from a closed-door briefing by CIA Director Gina Haspel on the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul.

* “Divisiveness sells. Comity doesn’t.”–James Baker, former chief of staff, secretary of state and Treasury secretary during the Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations, on the upshot of today’s media.

* “I say there’s no more 24-hour news cycle; it’s down to about two hours.”–NBC Nightly News anchor Lester Holt.

* “I have argued for some time that it’s very difficult to craft a business model for non-Trump media these days. I do think a lot of people on the right think of conservative media as a safe space for them. There’s a great deal of resentment for conservatives who are going to push back against Trump and Trumpism.”–Charlie Sykes, conservative radio host and contributing editor at The Weekly Standard, which has been getting its share of pushback from Trumpsters.

* “Humor is the universal solvent against the abrasive elements of life.”–Former Wyoming Republican Sen. Alan Simpson.

* “It’s the absentee ballots that are most ripe for fraud. People have been saying that for years.”–Jason Roberts, professor of political science at the University of North Carolina.

* “Through thick and thin, up and down, one thing about elections in America has never changed: You cannot win them without non-political people. It is the undecided masses who decide elections.”–Jesse Kelly, the Federalist.

* “As this country becomes blacker, browner, gayer, younger, more Hispanic and more Muslim, it is increasingly the case that the GOP cannot win if all voters vote. It cannot win, in other words, without cheating.”–Leonard Pitts, Miami Herald.

* “The party is over in crypto world. … During Thanksgiving week alone, bitcoin shed more than two-thirds of its value.”–Jill Schlesinger, CBS News business analyst.

* “Print may be best for lingering over words or ideas, but audiobooks add literacy to moments where there would otherwise be none.”–Daniel T. Willingham, psychology professor at the University of Virginia.

* “We see this as a historic shift that will allow us now to go after significant new customers.”–Port Tampa Bay CEO Paul Anderson, in announcing that Cosco Shipping Lines of China plans to begin sending a container ship a week to Tampa early next year.

* “Arming a teacher with a gun crosses the line of civility and common sense.”–Hillsborough County School Board member Lynn Gray.

Who We Once Were

They couldn’t, alas, be more different. The beloved, late George H.W. Bush and the loathsome, still-among-the-living Donald Trump. Both presidents for their times.

One presided over the end of the Cold War, the military removal–with an international coalition–of Iraq from Kuwait, and also yearned for a “kinder, gentler nation.” His resume included Phi Beta Kappa from Yale, war hero, congressman, envoy to China, ambassador to the UN, RNC chair, CIA director and two-term vice president before being elected president. He had a working, honest relationship with Mikhail Gorbachev. He was married to the same woman for 73 years. He was respectful and respected. He loved writing personal letters and notes. He had a sense of self and a sense of humor that even allowed for friendly banter with Dana Carvey, his “SNL” satirist. The most regrettable thing he ever said was: “Read my lips; no new taxes.” That and Ross Perot cost him re-election.

There was no Oval Office sense of presidential ego, recalled Bob Martinez, the former Tampa mayor and Florida governor who served as Bush’s drug czar. “It was always about ‘we’–not ‘I.'”

He was a statesman and a gracious gentleman who also understood the world–and that having class mattered. He elevated the country as well as the presidency.

The other has disparaged America around the world, befriended sinister authoritarians and polarized the U.S. by demonizing those–from judges to reporters–who haven’t fallen in line with white nationalism, protectionism and climate-change cynicism. His resume includes a bone-spurs deferment, inherited money, bankruptcy filings, a fraudulent “university,” “branding” fees and reality-TV fame. His mentor was Roy Cohn. He has a suspicious, weirdly deferential relationship with Vladimir Putin. He is a manifest misogynist and serial philanderer. The most unregrettable thing he ever said was: “Grab ’em by the p***y.” It cost him nothing with his basket of deplorables.

He’s also a pathological liar as well as a practicing narcissist. He tweets to attack others, defend and exalt himself, and remind his cult followers that he determines the news cycle.

He’s a bombastic, largely unread charlatan with no sense of history and no pertinent preparation for the presidency. He’s motivated by anger and grievance and ego. Gentility and dignity are beneath him. He has mocked Bush’s “thousand points of light” reference.

The juxtaposition couldn’t be more stark living through this “Make America Great Again” charade. It’s sad and tragic that we’re not trying to make it more like the Bush 41 America.

Trumpster Diving

* According to Donald Trump, attorney Michael Cohen is “weak, very weak.” In addition, Cohen’s also “not very smart.” Moreover, Cohen “makes up stories.” It’s beyond incredulous how this media-savvy businessman tolerated a weak, less-than-intelligent, lying personal lawyer/fixer for 12 years.

* “I have a no-conflict-of-interest provision as president. I have no deals that could happen in Russia, because we’ve stayed away.”–That was Donald Trump in January 2017. Stay tuned.

* Trump canceled plans to formally meet face to face with Vladimir Putin at the Group of 20 summit in Buenos Aires. It was pushback over that clash between Russian and Ukrainian ships. Anyone other than Sarah Huckabee Sanders believe that was the real reason? And not the fact that Michael Cohen and the Russian back story were breaking news at home?

* The Artifice-of-the-Deal update. Looks like there is a pause–or “truce”–in the market-roiling tariff war with China, although key specifics are notably still missing. Sounds not unlike the “denuclearization” deal “negotiated” with North Korea that only lacks a mutually acceptable, written definition of “denuclearization.”

Tampa Bay TidBits

* Good luck to the University of South Florida in its presidential search to replace Judy Genshaft, who has been a fixture at USF for 18 years. The challenge is obvious for a major, urban, research-oriented university in 21st century America.

USF needs somebody well suited to be a major regional leader. Someone who’s comfortable being a high-profile part of regional economic synergy–from surrounding counties to Water Street Tampa. Somebody who knows that a university president’s responsibilities transcend campus and departmental priorities. But they also need somebody with serious academic cred, not a glib, political operative.  As noted, good luck.

* There’s been some speculation about how a change in congressional representation could impact defense spending for Florida–and the Tampa Bay area. It’s a reminder of the sheer level of spending involved. It’s about $80 billion annually, including more than $17 billion a year in the Tampa Bay region. Defense spending is critically important to our economy, and a number of elected officials deserve credit for bringing in important, impactful pet projects. Just don’t mention the military industrial complex.

China’s Priorities

* Amid all the talk of China overtaking the U.S. as the world’s biggest economy and becoming a key player in international development, there is one area that continues to hinder China’s progress. For all its hybrid, ethically-challenged economics–including cyber espionage and theft of technology and intellectual property–its military impact is not in sync with its growing economy. The military controls roughly 70 percent of airspace in China. Among other things, it restricts options for departure and arrival routing. It thus limits the number of takeoffs and landings that airports can handle. By comparison, the U.S. military controls 20 percent of America’s airspace.

* Speaking of China, I recall an insightful exchange I had with Chinese officials back in the early 1990s. I was the media relations manager at USF at the time, and the officials were visiting the College of Business as part of their nation’s outreach to capitalist countries. The subject of the recently devolved Soviet Union came up. (OK, I brought it up.) One of the Chinese visitors succinctly summed it up. China, he said, was only about a globally-pragmatic “economic revolution,” not a political one. The Soviets’ fatal mistake: They were experiencing “two revolutions” at the same time: economic and political. In short, the Chinese were no fans of Mikhail Gorbachev’s perestroika, the restructuring of economic AND political systems, or glasnost, societal and governmental openness.

Media Matters

* This is the time of year when the best–countdown to Oscars–movies are out. Not just sequels of sequels or big-screen adaptations of comic books and video games. Exhibit A: “Green Book.” It’s a “dramedy.” It’s poignant, historical, humorous, outraging and entertaining. It’s set in America’s “Colored Only,” racial-crucible era.

Spoiler (sort of) alert: It ended the way it should.

* “Trumpaganda: The War on Facts, Press and Democracy.” That’s the name of a journalism course at the University of Illinois. Go, Fighting Illini.

* The Tampa Bay Times certainly made a big deal–via prominent “Editor’s Note”–about the changes coming in comics. (Yes, Blondie and Pickles are staying!) The wait continues, however, for those of us looking for an Editor’s Note announcing that the Times is bringing back some of the editing and proofreading staff that had obviously been jettisoned–and is obviously still missed.