Saturday, March 25, 2017

Viva ObamaCare

The will of the people has been upheld.

ObamaCare remains the law of the land.

The voters made the call by electing congressmen who just agreed to keep the existing healthcare system.

Democrats stood united for the status quo, implacably rejecting anything different. Republicans couldn't agree on an alternative -- seeking the impossible instead of the achievable. As such, and in spite of cries to the contrary, they de facto accepted ObamaCare. And the voters who duly elected them, Democrats and Republicans alike, got exactly what they voted for.

What did they get? A system of failing exchanges, dwindling choices, skyrocketing premiums, fleeing insurance companies -- in short, imploding healthcare. And it won't be fixed. Not by this congress and not by this president. There will be no additional subsidies, no more shoring up with taxpayer money. Hell will freeze over first.

So ObamaCare will continue until it fails and millions lose their coverage. Democrats and Republicans, and the many voters who elected them, now own ObamaCare and its perilous future.

Thank you, voters.

We have a great form of government.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Frontal Attack on Home Rule

The common wisdom among Republicans, me included, is that the best government is the government closest to home. Who better than city or county officials to know how businesses should be regulated, funds allocated, growth managed? Where better to take voter input than in your own back yard, where workshops and town hall meetings give the guy next door his turn at the microphone?

Home rule has been a sacred tenet in Florida. But it's slipping away. In past years, loss of autonomy has been gradual -- a drip, drip wearing away of city and county control, slowly transferring power to Tallahassee.

But now that drip, drip is about to become a flood. Home rule may soon be a thing of the past. Three horrendous bills are making their way through the legislative process this year -- one of them, sorry to say, authored by our own Kathleen Passidomo.

House Bill 17 (Fine, R-Brevard) is a two-by-four to the forehead, undisguised and arrogant. It would transfer to the state the right to regulate businesses, professions and occupations. Period. The language of the bill is that broad. All regulations of local businesses would take place in Tallahassee. Locations of gas stations, massage parlors, shopping centers would be decided by distant bureaucrats.
Property values be damned.

Senate Bill 1158 (Passidomo, R-District 28) is almost as bad. It would prevent local governments from enacting rules or ordinances that have an adverse impact on economic growth, employment or investment. Again, remarkably broad language that covers just about everything. And, of course, "adverse impact" would be decided by Tallahassee.

PCB WMC 17-02 is still another attempt to ravage home rule. It would rip away local taxing authority by forcing city and local governments to spend down money in special funds before increasing property taxes. And, just as bad, it would restrict special taxes (think landscaping, Conservation Collier, new recreational complex) if property taxes had been increased within the past three years. Why, you ask, should this be any of Tallahassee's business? Why indeed.

We are told the rationale for HB 17 and SB 1158 is that the 67 Florida counties could enact 67 different sets of business regulations, gumming up inter-county commerce and stifling economic growth. Responding to a Collier Citizens Council email opposing SB 1158, Senator Passidomo complained, "Local governments have passed legislation that negatively impact jurisdictions outside their area or impede commerce, trade or labor beyond their boundaries."

As examples, she cites (don't laugh) use of Styrofoam cups and plates, shopping cart regulations, sale of helium balloons, retail sale of cats and dogs. Included in this comedic potpourri is one troublesome example: Establishment of chain retail stores. Suppose the City of Naples doesn't want (my examples, not Passidomo's) a twenty-seven-pump gas station on 5th Avenue or a block-long self-storage building on 3rd Street. Tough. The City of Naples doesn't make the call. Tallahassee does.

Passidomo said SB 1158 "is not intended to take away local authority or local control over whatever local governments can do within their own jurisdictions." But the bill's broad language puts the lie to that disclaimer. An attorney friend said page 4 of SB 1148 has a neatly disguised Trojan Horse. I don't think it's much of a disguise. To me it looks like a clear dismantling of home rule.

Joining the Collier Citizens Council in opposing this power grab is the Collier County Presidents Council, another civic group concerned about residents and neighborhoods getting the shaft. Interesting we haven't heard from the League of Women Voters.

We have heard from friends on the Naples City Council who said they are "furious" with Passidomo. And top officials of Collier County government said they are "very much aware" of these bills and are working with the Florida Association of Counties to defeat them.

Perhaps enough punch-back will have an effect. Our lawmakers should be aware voters have long memories. A short-term legislative victory could have a long-term Pyrrhic effect at the ballot box.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Pass the Earplugs Please

It's a true curmudgeon who finds fault with anything in the Naples art scene.

We've got the wondrous Naples Philharmonic Orchestra, six chamber music programs, the Stay-in-May festival, Opera Naples, church music galore, jazz, barbershop, marvelous theater groups, Broadway shows, visiting orchestras, the Baker Museum and more.

And we've got big-time donors funding it all.

What can you possibly complain about?

I'll tell you what: The screeching cacophony of modern music.

We're being force-fed discordant noise and told it's music -- even better, music of our times, chic and elite. We're told to get with it. We won't look sophisticated if we don't whoop and applaud some of the worst sounds since an Amtrak train wreck.

It's been building like a cancer. In a past season, the Naples Philharmonic poisoned a wonderful Mahler program with the shrill honkings of Szpilman and Desyatnikov. One evening we had to endure abominations by Rozsa and Weinberg to get to Scheherazade (many had already left by then). That was topped by something called "How Wild the Sea" (Puts), drifting and atonal. Those who stayed got Tchaikovsky after intermission.

Last year the Phil outdid itself with a farcical piece that featured bowls of water, inverted cocktail shakers, a water tube, a sieve and three submergible gongs. The finale of this "Water Concerto" entailed the head splasher raising a colander out of one of the bowls to create a waterfall (allegro molto agitato). Only the first two rows got wet. Who says the circus is dying?

How about this season? If possible, it's getting worse. At a recent Phil concert, the audience was subjected to an ear-shattering piece misnamed "Beautiful Passing" (Mackey) -- think of a sharp object scratching a blackboard. People were stunned. One said, sotto voce, "My god, that was awful." The woman next to me said, "They would never get away with crap like that in New York." Of course, this isn't New York. Naples Daily News arts columnist Harriet Heithaus reported a plethora of negative emails. She wrote, "Gauging by the emails ... the 20-minute work ran 20 minutes too long."

We can't seem to get away from it. The usually reliable Classic Chamber Concerts went off the rails in January with an atonal potboiler called "River" (Kernis) -- a catastrophe made worse by the musicians first playing snippets of each movement and discussing them ad nauseam. One dispirited subscriber said, "That was doubly bad. We had to listen to it twice." Those with the courage to stay got Debussy after intermission.

Even great orchestras aren't immune. The mighty Vienna Philharmonic demeaned itself with some unrelenting noise called "Time Recycling." The audience didn't know what to think. The composer came out, perhaps embarrassed, and got a smattering of applause. At least no one booed. It proved the adage that bad music played by a great orchestra is still bad music.

So what gives here? Why the angst?

While it's true some people actually like modern music, the vast majority do not. The demographic in Naples is overwhelmingly elderly, and most concertgoers want the classics -- Bach to Rachmaninoff and most of the masters in between. Dissonance doesn't sell unless it's artfully hidden. ("Tonight's program features Mozart and Brahms.")

In any event, here are some suggestions that may help, some gratuitous advice to artistic directors.

First, put the contemporary pieces after intermission. That way people can get out before the carnage  begins.

Second, insist on truth in advertising. Something like the warning on cigarette packs: "Modern music could be dangerous to your listening health."