Gunshine State Update

For all the media attention about armed teachers, assault weapons, background checks, mental health scrutiny, “Stand Your Ground” and the NRA, the ultimate, underlying firearms issue is our gun culture. You can legally own, of course, and we have an amendment, although anchored in an 18th century militia context, that sanctions as much. Over the years, we’ve added concealed weapon permits such that now nearly 2 million Floridians can legally carry. Each month adds another 17,500 carriers.

So, it’s hardly as shocking as it should be when we read of a woman’s gun going off in a Land O’ Lakes Publix. It was in her purse, which she had knocked off the check-out counter. Her husband was shot in the foot. Then there was the construction worker on a residential roof in Riverview, who was killed when a fellow worker’s gun discharged when he slipped while stepping from his pickup truck. And we need no reminding about the three men who died when they were shot, respectively, in a movie theater, a playground and in front of a Circle A food store.

The bottom line is this: Why the hell are you taking your gun to Publix, to your construction job, to a movie, to a playground or to a convenience store? Because you can?

Fat Reality

I know I’m not the only one. The other day I opened a cup of Chobani Yogurt: low-fat vanilla with mixed berry. Only natural ingredients. One of my favorites. But upon opening it, it seemed like someone had already done some sampling. It was barely two thirds full. It’s not uncommon. I’m wondering if the well-marketed, lowered fat content is a result of, well, lowered content.

Sports Shorts

* In effect, President Trump welcomed the defending World Series winners, the Boston White Sox, to the White House the other day. That was the upshot when the Puerto Rican manager and star players of color and/or Latin American lineage stayed away. It’s also another reminder that the WH–whether its occupant is Trump or somebody who actually belongs there–is not a proper forum to salute professional athletes. Limit such a prestigious forum to those who represent the country in international competition.

* Despite the Rays fast start, the team–as of this writing–with the best record in all of MLB is the Minnesota Twins. But there’s a Rays connection. The Twins rookie manager is former Rays player and coach Rocco Baldelli.

* When it comes to college baseball, Florida is a major player. Two years ago, the University of Florida won the College World Series. The University of Miami has won it four times. But what Florida school can count two Cy Young Award winners among its alums? It’s midmajor, Deland-based Stetson University. Former Hatter Jacob deGrom won it last year with the New York Mets, and Corey Kluber won it in 2014 and 2017 with the Cleveland Indians.

* A Tampa Bay Times piece recently reflected on the Lightning’s Nikita Kucherov, the Russia native who led the NHL in scoring this year, and noted that he’s not all that cooperative with the media. As in frequent “no comment” and “next question” responses to post-game media queries.

Three points. First, for professional athletes, especially well-paid, elite ones, dealing with the media is part of the job. Players, especially marquee ones, don’t just represent themselves, but their team, their franchise and their city. It’s part of being a highly-compensated professional. Just do it.

Second, if you’ve ever been privy to locker room interviews, you know that this is where sausage is made. Most of the questions are neither thought-provoking nor incisive, especially if it’s from the broadcast side. The actual questions are only intended to prompt a pro forma deadline quote. To wit: “So, how happy are you that the team won?” “So, how thrilling was it to have scored the winning goal?” “So, walk us through that (goal, at-bat, etc.).”

Third, English is not Kucherov’s native language, and he has had to learn on the job. He’s still learning. Cut him some slack.

* The media and horse racing fans had plenty to digest with that unprecedented disqualification of the winning horse, “Maximum Security,” at the Kentucky Derby. Win or lose, I was frankly taken aback by the name. “Maximum Security?” It seems too suitable for the dark times we now live in. “Secretariat,” “Citation,” “Count Fleet,” “Whirlaway,” “Charismatic,” “Silver Charm,” “Winning Colors,” “Gallant Fox,” “Lucky Debonair,” or “Carry Back” actually sound like winning horse names. And if you want to be cute or funny, there’s always “Foolish Pleasure,” “I’ll Have Another,” “Behave Yourself” or “Funny Cide.” But “Maximum Security”? What’s next? “Old Sparky”? “Collusion?” “Little Rocket Man”?

Quoteworthy

* “What is history but a fable agreed upon?”–Napoleon Bonaparte.

* “We are a country that is fighting to get away from a legacy of populism that has failed.”–Marcos Pena, chief of cabinet ministers under Argentinean President Mauricio Macri.

* “The United States is not seeking war with the Iranian regime, but we are fully prepared to respond to any attack, whether by proxy, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps or regular Iranian forces.”–National security adviser John Bolton, in addressing the Trump Administration’s message with its deployment of the USS Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group and a bomber task force to the Middle East.

* “It is John Bolton, not Iran, who poses the greatest threat to American national security today.”–Scott Ritter, the American Conservative.

* “I believe that Kim Jong-un fully realizes the great economic potential of North Korea and will do nothing to interfere or end it. He also knows that I am with him and does not want to break his promise to me. Deal will happen!”–President Donald Trump.

* “Trump promised a disruptive foreign policy that would deliver results, but instead is alarming Americans with impulsive and erratic decisions that leave us less safe and less respected.”–Jeffrey Prescott, senior Middle East policy director at the National Security Council during the Obama Administration.

* “(Beijing poses) a new kind of challenge; an authoritarian regime that’s integrated economically into the West in ways that the Soviet Union never was.”–Mike Pompeo.

* “Tariffs will make our Country MUCH STRONGER, not weaker. Just sit back and watch!”–Donald Trump.

* “We appear to be in a slow motion train wreck, with both sides sticking to their positions. As is often the case, however, the losers will not be the negotiators or presidents, but the people.”–William Reinsch, trade analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

* “The question is how do you use U.S. leadership? Do you use it to try to force a major counterpart to capitulate and do it in a humiliating way? Or do you use your moral leadership, which has driven the process forward in the past?”–Former Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, who served in the Obama Administration.

* “It will not be indefinite.”–Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan, on the status of those 4,364 military troops on the Southwest border.

* “The House’s most appropriate response to an attorney general who has dissembled about the Mueller report, refused to produce the report for Congress and defied a duly passed contempt citation would be impeachment. Impeachment of a cabinet secretary (the first since Reconstruction) would be a fitting capstone to a career that will be defined by William Barr’s rabid partisanship and disdain for the Constitution.”–Jennifer Rubin, New York Times.

* “Why do rural areas support Trump? A lot of it has to do with cultural factors. In particular, rural voters are far more hostile to immigrants than urban voters… . Rural voters also feel disrespected by coastal elites, and Trump has managed to channel their anger.”–Paul Krugman, New York Times.

* “Sexual violence is a national crisis that requires a national solution. We miss that point if we end the discussion at whether I should forgive Mr. Biden.”–Anita Hill.

* “There’s a lot of hate out there on the internet. Violent extremists around the world have access to our local communities to target and recruit and spread their messages of hate on a global scale.”–Mike McGarrity, the FBI’s top counterterrorism official.

* “My career in the CIA was cut short by partisan politics, but I’m not done serving our country.”–Valerie Plame, the former CIA officer whose cover was blown in a leak that touched off a political scandal during the George W. Bush Administration, in announcing that she plans to run for Congress as a Democrat representing New Mexico.

* “Silicon Valley’s touted utopia helped deliver our current dystopia.”–Maureen Dowd, New York Times.

* “Senate Bill 168 (“Federal Immigration Enforcement Act”) is a solution for a problem we do not have in Hillsborough County. It has long been our practice in Hillsborough to cooperate with federal law enforcement and that will not change.”–Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister.

* “My position is that we’re too big of an area to lose a professional sports team. I believe there are spots throughout the area that would work. If it turns out to be in Pinellas County, that’s fine. We want the team to stay in the area, and I believe that’s what the Rays want too.”–Tampa Mayor Jane Castor.

Trump And Putin, Barr And Mueller

*So how does President Trump spend an hour and a half on the phone with Vladimir Putin, and the subject of future Russian interference in our elections never comes up? Only if your sovereign counterpart is also your handler. But they did broach the subject of the “Russian hoax.” No wonder Putin “sort of smiled,” however inexplicably, over the phone. The joke’s on us.

* “Mueller, Mueller… .” It sounds like a line from “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.” But there’s nothing funny in needing Bob Mueller to step up and publicly put his report into non-William Barr, agenda-driven language. It’s past Mueller Time, and America needs him to re-capture and re-affirm his report’s conclusions. In short, its “context, nature and substance.” 

* Another untimely, unforced error by the Dems. This time it was Tennessee Congressman Steve Cohen of the House Judiciary Committee trying to heap ridicule on William Barr for his no-show at the committee’s hearing. Barr, in effect, was “chickening” out because he didn’t want to face questions from staff attorneys. An empty chair with a nameplate should have been sufficient optics. But not for Cohen, who proceeded to re-focus attention from Barr’s lack of cooperation. First, he munched on Kentucky Fried Chicken on the dais as press cameras clicked. He looked stupid. Then he doubled down by placing a ceramic chicken on the table at which Barr would have sat. It was so dumb that “Saturday Night Live” passed on it for its cold opening, and that’s saying a lot.

* The latest D.C. oxymoron: “the Honorable William Barr.”

* First the good news: The (Democratic-controlled) House has approved a bill that would prevent President Trump from fulfilling his pledge to formally withdraw the U.S. from the Paris climate agreement. It would also affirm that the U.S. will honor its commitments under the global accord. The bad news: No way does it move forward in the (Republican-controlled) Senate. The consoling news: Congresswoman Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, is on the case as chairwoman of the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis. “This is just the start of climate action in this Congress,” vows Castor. You go, KC.

* A lot of Democrats are making the case that while it’s urgent to replace Trump, it’s not smart to make him the singular focus of the 2020 campaign. It has to be about principles and game-changing programs. It’s also a jab at Joe Biden, who is a moderate septuagenarian with across-the-aisle bona fides. That’s utterly understandable if these were remotely normal times. They’re manifestly not. The overriding priority has to be the removal of Trump, who remains an existential threat–not just an off-putting, opposition occupant of the Oval Office.

How to prioritize the electoral ouster of Trump? Think Hitler and Kim–or Rev. Jim Jones and Charles Manson. Nothing less than the removal of an authoritarian, pervertedly charismatic cult figure who literally embodies a movement is required. Then we can talk policies and plans and business, however cantankerous, as usual.

* Here’s hoping that Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado doesn’t become the Democratic nominee. Can you imagine the “fake news” and journalistic “collusion” Trump push-back on a candidate whose younger brother is the editorial page editor of the New York Times? While Jim Bennet has already recused himself from weighing in on the upcoming election, that won’t matter to those in bed with Fox.

* Too bad Trump can’t reprioritize a big chunk of the money he wants for his wall into the immigration court system.

* On his way to the Big House, erstwhile Trump “fixer” Michael Cohen took a parting shot at the occupant of the White House. “I hope that when I rejoin my family and friends, this country will be in a place without xenophobia, injustice and lies at the helm of our country.”

* Yes, there’s enough of Trump every news cycle to cause despair. But we shouldn’t forget; we still outnumber them, even if we don’t out-decibel them. Remember that Republicans have lost the popular vote in six of the last seven presidential elections–and Trump was not the exception. The Republicans–and Trump–can’t win without Democratic compliance: sheer laziness and/or ideological stubbornness.

Primary Politics

* It’s still weird that Sen. Bernie Sanders, stoked for another run at the Democratic presidential nomination, still can’t actually call himself a “Democrat.”

* We all know the pragmatic reality: If the Democrats had a sure-fire, baggage-free, kick-ass candidate who could go after Trump as well as rally all Dem troops for the progressive cause, we wouldn’t have nearly two dozen, formally-declared candidates.

* But say this forCaliforniaSen. Kamala Harris: She made good use of her Senate Judiciary Committee forum in her questioning of Attorney General William Barr. Most senators come equipped with staff-prepared queries. But staff can’t prepare ad hoc follow-ups, which she is really good at. Her prosecutorial chops were more than a match for Trump-surrogate Barr, who seemed more DOJ grunt than grandee. Presidential candidate Harris’ persistent probing–OK, “performance”–does make you fantasize how she would handle the pompous, sophomorically-spoken, detail-challenged Trump one on one.  

Sunshine State Shade

* On balance, Gov. Ron DeSantis has been much better than expected by Democrats who knew they were getting a governor vetted in the Fox News green room. And not being Rick Scott, however subterranean that bar is, was a decided plus. But his de facto victory speech after the 2019 legislative session ended, was disappointingly disingenuous. He portrayed the session, which was an homage to the right-wing agenda (from school vouchers and armed teachers to “sanctuary city” bans, free-market health care reforms, a certain rural toll road and Amendment 4 retreat), as a win for both sides. As if.

“There’s really something in here, I think, for everybody, in one way or another, so that’s a good thing,” declared DeSantis. “There are great wins for conservatives, but there’s also, with the environmental stuff, that appeals to a lot of Democrats.” As if “environmental stuff”–and, BTW, whatever happened to enough Florida Forever money to really matter?–was purely the purview of Dems. As if this wasn’t everybody’s “environment.” As if this wasn’t business as usual–even without Scott.

* When it comes to legislation about distracted driving and voting rights for ex-felons, not nearly enough is made of this obvious rationale: It doesn’t just impact texting drivers and former felons. It impacts ALL of us. Those who, otherwise, have to run the risk of being on the road with drivers who menace the rest of us. Those who have to live in a society where former felons remain second-class citizens with predictably disturbing recidivism rates. Talk about a vested interest.

* As we know, the residents of Panama City Beach and Bay County still await federal help after the devastating hit by Category 5 Hurricane Michael last summer. This is the longest delay in memory–even though President Donald Trump inspected damage last fall and has scheduled a (swing state) return trip for this week.

“We’re not a community that has ever asked for handouts,” said Bay County Commissioner Philip Griffitts. “The one time that we need Washington to step up to the plate, they’re really failing the Panhandle.”

One ironic postscript: In 2016, Trump carried Bay County by more than 70 percent. Karma, anyone?

Tampa Takeaways

* Tampa has always been diverse, and now it’s on a downtown, revitalizing roll. How symbolic that our new mayor, Jane Castor, is the first gay woman to serve as mayor of a major city in the Southeast, and her inauguration was held at the Armature Works, emblematic of the new waterfront vibe and the resurgent Tampa Heights community.

* If we’re talking about signs after an election, it’s usually in the form of complaints about how too many, winners and losers, are still up there–some way beyond the legal grace period. Here’s a different scenario: the prominent sign on North Dale Mabry in front of the “TK” civil-trial law offices of Trentalange & Kelley. It arguably, alas, speaks for a lot of voters: “Shame on You, David Straz.”

Sports Shorts

* Word out of Philadelphia is that Phillies fans are still Phillies fans. Bryce Harper, who signed an obscene, 9-figure contract in the off-season is hearing his share of boos for not playing better. But it comes with the territory. Ask Mike Schmidt. He’s a 12-time All-Star and Hall of Fame third baseman with more than 500 home runs, plus three National League MVPs and 10 Golden Gloves. He also bore the brunt of lots of hometown boos. I was there for some of them. The fans–as well as the media–always wanted more.

Of the love/hate paradox, Schmidt famously once said: “Philadelphia is the only city where you can experience the thrill of victory and the agony of reading about it the next day.” It is what it is, Bryce.

But they don’t just boo their own. Ask Joe Maddon. When the Rays were in Philly for the 2008 World Series, his family had to watch the last two games from a hotel because the fans were so vulgar and threatening at the park. It is what it is.

* It’s hard to see some of those Lightning flags still flying around neighborhoods. It comes from a good, loyal-fan place, but it’s a graphic, depressing reminder of all that should not have happened.

* The Rays just made the cover of Sports Illustrated. “The Amazing Rays” was the article headline. No, it won’t affect attendance, but it’s a nice, national shout-out about what the low-budget Rays are accomplishing by being smart and creative.

Quoteworthy

* “Step up to stamp out anti-Semitism, anti-Muslim hatred, persecution of Christians and all other forms of racism, xenophobia, discrimination and incitement.”–What U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres demanded of the world.

* “More (U.S.) saber-rattling would weaken the broad regional coalition that supports a return of democracy to Venezuela. And six decades of a failed trade embargo has shown that such pressure, though it may garner some votes and bring in campaign donations in South Florida, has little effect on the Cuban regime and serves only to diminish the United States’ standing in Latin America and elsewhere.”–Michael Shifter, president of the Inter-American Dialogue.

* “China is set on an implacable course to run the world in the second half of this century.”–Roger Cohen, New York Times.

* “The whole idea behind the notion that a sitting president cannot be indicted is that the responsibility lies in Congress.”–Georgetown law professor Neal K. Katyal, former acting solicitor director in the Obama Administration.

* “The attorney general of the United States of America was not telling the truth to the Congress of the United States. That’s a crime.”–House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

* “Amoral leaders have a way of revealing the character of those around them. … Often, proximity to an amoral leader reveals something depressing. I think that’s at least part of what we’ve seen with Bill Barr and Rod Rosenstein. Accomplished people lacking inner strength can’t resist the compromises necessary to survive Mr. Trump, and that adds up to something they will never recover from. … Mr. Trump eats your soul in small bites.”–Former FBI Director James Comey.

* “I’m living rent free inside of Donald Trump’s brain, and it’s not a very nice place to be, I can tell you that.”–Hillary Clinton.

* “Even if we should get a Democratic president and retain a Democratic House, if Mitch McConnell stays the majority leader, nothing will get done.”–Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer.

* “What accounts for the extremes in U.S. healthcare spending? At every single turn, the U.S. healthcare system is designed to limit choice and gouge the consumer.”–Jonathan Tepper, the American Conservative.

* “Experts know the plural of ‘anecdote’ isn’t data.”–Dr. Michael Segal, neurologist and neuroscientist.

* “I don’t think we ever would have tried what we did this year under the old Supreme Court, because we know it would have gone right into the  ditch.”–State Sen. Tom Lee, R-Thonotosassa, on how much having a Supreme Court with no Democratic appointees meant to the effort to allow students to get public-money vouchers to spend at private schools.

* “You have to market to draw visitors. Coke spends a fortune on marketing, and they’ve been around more than a century.”–Santiago Corrada, chief executive of Hillsborough County tourism agency Visit Tampa Bay, on why Visit Florida deserves continued funding.

* “We needed a city where we could attract the best talent. Tampa quickly rose to the top of the list. This region has emerged as a driving force behind the state’s fast-growing life science industry.”–Karen Zaderej, president and CEO of AxoGen, a nerve-regeneration start-up that has signed a lease at the Heights Union project.

* “The Tampa Bay region has continued to transform into an attractive environment for innovation.”–Steve Case, co-founder of AOL and author of “The Third Wave.”

* “Tampa Bay is on fire. I can’t go a day without hearing from somebody who wants to invest in Tampa Bay or lend in Tampa Bay.”–Yakhin Israel, senior vice president of the brokerage firm CBRE, in assessing Tampa Bay’s building boom.

* “Plastic straws, bags should be phased out in Florida. You don’t need to do a study to understand the harm plastic does.”–St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman.