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Sarasota Thursday, Jan. 7, 2010 8 years ago

OUR VIEW: Kissing off the kiss


No guts. Leaderless. Masters of do-nothing or do-it-over.

Four months ago, the Sarasota City Commission voted to create a 10-year home for the Unconditional Surrender sculpture on Sarasota’s bayfront, contingent on satisfying a list of measures that appeared solvable, albeit more difficult than necessary.

And Monday night, Mayor Dick Clapp, Vice Mayor Kelly Kirschner and Commissioner Fredd Atkins led the majority in extending a deadline until May 31 to satisfy copyright, indemnification and hurricane concerns.
It was a tacit extension. The only commissioner showing any enthusiasm at all for what has been the city’s most popular attraction the past two years was the commission naysayer himself, Atkins.

“We have benefited more from this statue sitting on our bayfront than (sculptor J. Seward Johnson) has,” said Atkins. “Every time I go by the bayfront, there’s a line of people waiting to get their picture by it.”

And yet, the other commissioners clearly don’t share similar sentiments. Indeed, Commissioner Suzanne Atwell, good friend of the statue’s biggest foe, Virginia Hoffman, is tired of the subject. Kirschner commented that the city has more important things to do. And Commissioner Terry Turner, while remaining consistent in his view from the start, clearly doesn’t want the statue. He says the city is “displaying stolen intellectual property.”

Oh, and then there’s Mayor Clapp and City Manager Robert Bartolotta. Neither of them can muster the forthright leadership to become the champion for Unconditional Surrender and make it a signature accomplishment for this economically limping city.

All of them remind us of the sales executive who never makes a sale and has a million excuses and reasons why not.

The obstacles still unresolved are copouts.

• Unresolved obstacle 1: The city has not received confirmation the statue can withstand 130-mph winds.
How long does this take — four months to find out? Come on.

• Unresolved obstacle 2: Commissioner Turner wants indemnification from Time-Warner that the city would not be sued for copyright infringement. Turner believes the city could be subject to an expensive lawsuit with Time-Life, publishers of Alfred Eisenstaedt’s famous 1945 V-J Day photo in Times Square. Turner wants Time-Life to license the image to the city or to Johnson, the sculptor.

Johnson’s foundation, meanwhile, says it would indemnify the city itself and gladly show the city it has the financial wherewithal to do so. The foundation also says that, as a matter of principle, it will not seek a license from Time-Life because that would be an admission that Johnson indeed lifted the statue from the Eisenstaedt photo. Johnson steadfastly maintains the statue is based on other similar images that have been in the public domain for the past 60 years.

What’s more, there is ample evidence elsewhere that Time-Life isn’t interested in suing. At least three other Unconditional Surrender sculptures have been displayed elsewhere in the United States — one of them across the street from the Time-Life Building in New York City — and not once has Time-Life sued.
So, what’s the hang-up?

There really is none. Except for one — a lack of leadership.

+ Domestic terrorism
There’s a saying about airline/airport stories: They’re like rear ends. Everybody’s got one.

Most of us have more than one — airline horror stories, that is. But we’ll thank the Almighty that we weren’t among those poor souls at the Newark Liberty International Airport who had to suffer through that check-in fiasco last weekend when a man walked into Continental Airlines’ departure concourse, bypassing the TSA security checkpoint.

For everyone’s safety (hah!), the TSA forced everyone who had been cleared to go back through the screening process again. This went on for six hours — affecting 100 flights and causing 27 flight cancellations.

Talk about terrorism!
If you flew over the holidays, surely it crossed your mind that the check-in process our government has devised has become our own version of domestic terrorism.

It’s nonsense, a classic case of the Law of Punishment by Exception. We punish the vast majority of travelers in the hope we scare away the rare exception, the would-be terrorist.

And the terrorists? Good gosh, they must be laughing their heads off at their success — all the grief they’re causing everyone around the world who wants to fly. It’s terrorism without deaths; it’s the terrorism of constant and absurd fear.

Scenes from the Denver airport last weekend:

• TSA officials scanning with great care the wheelchair of an elderly white woman who looked as much like a terrorist as Big Bird.

• A TSA official standing watch over two teen-age girls embracing and crying in the snaking check-in line. One of the girls, who wasn’t traveling, had a TSA guard stand watch as she crossed a rope to hug her friend. Ridiculous.

This system is crazy. As you observe it in action — stripping yourself of your belts, jewelry, jackets and shoes while watching small groups of uniformed TSA employees meander around in slow motion — you cannot help but get the urge to be outwardly defiant and sarcastic. That, of course, would only get you thrown in some TSA clink — and cause you to miss your flight!

Surely there’s a better way.

For starters, we would require every member of Congress to use the public TSA check-in system. Make them taste and feel the aggravation that we do. Next, we’d make the process a competitive, for-profit business. Bid it out to such companies as Disney or Universal Studios. Those two know how to move people efficiently — and keep them happy.

+ False recovery?
We’re beginning to see signs of improving economic activity locally. Sarasotans and others want this recession to be over.

Hope that it remains so.

But increasing comments from economic watchers are otherwise. Take Kevin Duffy and Bill Laggner, principals of the Dallas-based hedge fund Bearing Asset Management, who believe another downturn is inevitable. They make a good case. To wit:

At what point will society demand some sort of change from the government?

Duffy:”To get to the heart of the problem, we need to address fractional-reserve banking, which is causing the instability. We have essentially socialized deposit insurance and prevented the bank run, which used to impose discipline on this unstable system.

“Until we address the root of the problem, we are going to have a series of crises, greater responses and intervention and more bubbles — and the system will keep perpetuating itself.

“Last year, 70% of the people were opposed to the bailout. And so far, through these massive interventions, government has been able to stabilize the financial system.

“But you have this divergence between the real economy and the political economy. People are still hurting. Consumer confidence has not rebounded like investor confidence has. If we are right, and we are heading for the next leg down, that’s when I think all bets are off. If the political economy and some of those who got bailed out are back asking for another bailout, that’s when the backlash really starts to heat up.

“For bear markets to end, they have to teach lessons. But the people who didn’t see this bus coming two and a half years ago — they’re back in droves, and they’re bullish. We haven’t changed behavior, and this bear market will not end until we do.”

+ Global warming!!
Global warming? Too much CO2? Humans are choking the earth?

Climate change/global-warming skeptics like us do this every winter— point out the fallacy of the global-warming kooks.

Below are the lead headlines from Tuesday’s Drudge Report:
• Winter Could Be Worst in 25 Years for USA ...
• 3 Deaths Due To Cold in Memphis ...
• Britain braced for heaviest snowfall in 50 years ...
• Elderly burn books for warmth?
• Vermont sets ‘all-time record for one snowstorm’ ...
• Iowa temps ‘a solid 30 degrees below normal’ ...
• Seoul buried in heaviest snowfall in 70 years ...
• Historic ice build-up shuts down N.J. nuclear power plant ...
• Midwest Sees near-record lows, snow by the foot ...
• 3 die in fire at Detroit home; power was cut ...
• Miami shivers from coldest weather in decade ...

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