Off Key

| November 1, 2015

By Bob Frederickson

From Political Theatre to Political Paralysis

A Comedy Tonight?

You know we’re in trouble as a nation when the presidential race starts to resemble the plot line of a sequel to Neil Simon’s 1960s Broadway hit The Odd Couple.

Call it Uncle Bernie and the Trumpster.

Imagine the playbill tease:

“What happens when a self-proclaimed socialist who spent his 1988 honeymoon in Moscow meets an uber capitalist who critics claim hates women and immigrants…?”

“Forget Marx or Schumpeter! Who knew economics could be such a hoot? Hilarity ensues while the fate of the free world hangs in the balance!”

 

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Campaign Slogan Suggestions…

For Bernie: “Send our campaign $30 today…we’ll be back for the rest later!”

From the Donald: “You’re Gonna Love the Walls I Build!”

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Back to the Future For Local Weather Personality

Thomas Wolfe had it wrong. Turns out you can go home again. Just ask Steve Newman. The veteran meteorologist returned to the local airwaves last month, covering the weekend weather duties after rejoining the station that gave him his first on-air opportunity some forty-four years back.

David Nelson, the owner of WXLT Channel 40 at the time (later to become the current local ABC network affiliate, WWSB) hired Newman while the latter was still a senior at Sarasota High School all the way back in 1971.

In the years after leaving Sarasota, Newman held an on-air weather gigs in Chicago, Dallas and San Francisco. He has also worked as an environmental correspondent for ABC News and The Discovery Channel.

It should be an easy transition for the well-traveled weatherman now that he’s back home. After all, he already knows how to pronounce “Oneco,” “Bahia-Vista” and “Robarts.”

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Crooks Make Clean Getaway

Up the road in Tampa two Laundromat bandits cleaned out the business’ change machine, pocketing some $500 in quarters. But instead of beating a hasty retreat, the culprits – a man and woman – were recorded on the establishment’s video surveillance system loading up several of the washing machines with their own dirty laundry and waiting for the wash and dry cycles to finish before making their ‘clean’ getaway…proving once again the old adage that nerve succeeds.

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Reasoned Absurdity in ACLU/Sarasota Homeless Dispute…

So by now you’ve likely heard about the lawsuit the local chapter of the ACLU has brought against the city of Sarasota for administering what it calls “cruel and unusual punishment” in its enforcement efforts to clear city sidewalks of homeless folks sleeping in public. The argument goes something like this: since sleep is a basic human necessity, it is cruel and unusual to prohibit such behavior on public property for a class of citizens that – by definition – has nowhere else to go.

Critics of the suit, including City Attorney Robert Fournier have called the suit a transparent effort to pressure the city into building a homeless shelter somewhere near downtown…an effort supported by the county, but not the city, which has greeted the plan with all the enthusiasm reserved for an outbreak of red tide.

Those judging the suit a nuisance point to the Salvation Army as fulfilling the needed alternative to sleeping on the curb. But homeless advocates disagree, saying the facility is too often filled to capacity and closed for the night. 

So what comes next if the suit is successful? Relieving oneself in public? That’s a basic human necessity too, right? What’s to stop that essential behavior from becoming an unpleasantly familiar feature of the local landscape?

Or how about starting a campfire on the plaza at City Hall to stay warm on a cold winter’s night or to boil some blue crabs caught by the docks at the 10th Street boat ramp…or cook some redfish reeled in from the Ringling bridge. What’s that you say? Fishing isn’t allowed off the bridge? Or without a license? Well, under the ACLU’s logic those rules wouldn’t apply to the homeless. After all, ‘ya gotta eat,’ right?

It’s all so absurd that perhaps solutions that once might have been considered equally absurd should be given a fair hearing in response…time to think outside the box, so to speak…just like the ACLU.

How’s this for a start: perhaps the city should sell public sidewalk frontage to any adjoining business owner or landlord willing to maintain the formerly public, now private, property. The ACLU suit only covers public spaces. There’s a good reason you don’t see homeless folks camping outside the entrance to the Saks Fifth Avenue entrance at the new UTC Mall: It’s private property. Absurd idea? Absolutely…but, hey that’s the bunny hole we’ve fallen into here. But wait, there’s more…

How about the airport? As mentioned previously in this space, it gets very little use for its intended purpose, with vastly more flights available out of Tampa and Fort Myers. Of the hundreds of acres at this under-utilized public facility, why can’t two or three acres be set aside for a sunset to sunup basic tent city that would address the absurd notion the ACLU has put forward that the city should be in the lodging business. The location halfway between Sarasota and Bradenton might also help the latter municipality deal with its own homeless population. Since the SCAT and MCAT stations are near the spots in both cities that are frequented by the homeless, free transportation to and from downtown Sarasota and Bradenton could be provided each evening and again the next morning…under police supervision of course.

Or how about a police van transporting offenders to the top floor of one of the city’s fancy new parking garages? In the event of rain, the second floor from the top could be used. Cots could even be provided, free of charge, setup each night by 8:00 PM, removed at dawn the next morning when the City’s “Homeless Affairs Department” would shut the shelter down until the cycle repeats the following evening.

The garages were built with the idea of enhancing the business environment downtown by providing plentiful parking, right? Why shouldn’t they fulfill the complementary purpose of keeping the sidewalks clear of the slumbering homeless?

All absurd suggestions you say? No argument here. But when absurdity reigns, an in-kind response becomes every bit as plausible.

I remember a quote that has stuck with me for decades, though unfortunately the author’s name is in the wind:

“There can be rules without meaning, but there can be no meaning without rules.”

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Mourning the Passing of Yogi (and Copy Editors too)

When Yankee Hall of Famer Yogi Berra rounded third base last month for the last time, the world lost a true original. But his passing reminded me of another loss: copy editors. Once they were the guardians of fact and credibility at every newspaper across the land. Sadly, like Yogi, they are gone now too.

Witness the Associated Press obituary that ran in many papers shortly after the former catcher made it safely “home.”

“Yogi Bear Dead at Ninety…”

Our condolences to Boo Boo.

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Downside to Government in the Sunshine?

Remember the bad old days when deals were struck in smoke-filled back rooms out of public view? We’re so much better off today aren’t we?…with government business conducted out in the open…

Sometimes I’m not so sure. ‘Sunshine’ laws like those in Florida can in some cases contribute to gridlock by actually hardening positions on different sides of an issue as politicians play to their respective bases instead of reaching out to the opposition in hopes of reaching compromise.

Case in point: as mentioned above, Sarasota County supports building a new come-as-you-are homeless shelter downtown. The City doesn’t. 

Meantime, the City would like continued countywide funding of the Community Redevelopment Agency that has helped fund scores of infrastructure projects within the city over recent decades. But the county has voted to allow the CRA to sunset next year.

In the past, a deal might have been struck. You want the CRA? Help us build the homeless shelter we’re looking for. But nowadays that kind of ‘deal’ never sees the ‘sunshine’ because so much gets handled through ‘departmental’ channels where everything has to be wrapped up neat and tidy, with a big bright bow; few risks are ever taken for fear of political retribution being exacted by opponents or even allies offended by any ‘straying from the reservation,’ so to speak. ‘Politics’ in the traditional sense just doesn’t work in this type of environment, though I fully realize many think this is nothing to complain about.

But it is at least part of the reason why so little seems to get done these days and why projects end up costing so much and taking so long.

Letters get passed back and forth between various staffs…but no one in authority actually talks to their counterpart on the other side – honestly and openly – about what needs to get done. Ironic no? The ‘sunshine’ can actually work against progress by making the perfect the enemy of the good.

Witness the tortured process Republicans have faced recently trying to pick a new Speaker to replace John Boehner (whose credo for keeping members in line was reportedly: “The punishment will continue until morale improves).”

Old school politics may have been messy; but some of those old school pols – on both sides of the political spectrum – knew how to get things done…by taking risks and engaging in some old fashioned horse trading along the way.

As any Texas Armadillo will tell you, nothing good happens by trying to play it safe in the middle of the road.

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Category: Columns

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