Thursday, December 22, 2005

Column 64 - Workforce Housing

Workforce Housing is a Good Deal for Incline

You run into some interesting attitudes around the North Shore. In last Wednesday’s paper there was a letter from a couple of Incline residents in response to a letter that had been published in the Tahoe World the week before. The letter in the Bonanza was outraged at the attitude expressed by the World writer toward locals – so outraged, in fact, that I had to look up the letter in the World, sure that the Bonanza writers were exaggerating. Well, they weren’t. The World writer, a second home owner, really did characterize locals as no-class low-lifes!

Then there is the Bonanza letter-writer who was outraged (again) at the idea that IVGID would discuss workforce housing. The Bonanza is running an online poll wherein something over 100 people have responded and that is running about 88% to 12% against the idea that employee housing is an employer’s responsibility, and this will undoubtedly be cited to support the view that workforce housing should not be being discussed.

I believe that the question in the Bonanza poll is badly worded. Without question, employee housing is not an employer’s responsibility, legally or morally, but that’s not the issue. At the same time, many employers have, when circumstances made it sensible to do so, provided housing. When I worked in the kitchen at a summer camp, we lived at the camp. When I worked at a hotel in the Catskills, we lived in employee housing and ate in an employees’ dining room. In the military, on-base housing is available, and other examples abound. Why do employers provide housing when they are not, technically required to? Because it is in their interest to do it, ensuring low absenteeism, high employee loyalty, and making it unlikely that weather or other factors will interfere with people being able to do their jobs.

I know from conversations I have had that there are more than a few people in Incline and other affluent areas of the North Shore who would prefer to keep this as the enclave for the privileged that much of the world believes it is. Everyone acknowledges that we need people to work here – to cook and serve and clean in the restaurants and in our homes, to stock the shelves at Raley’s, to fix our cars, tend our grounds and clear our driveways, but do they have to live here?

Yes, I think they do – for their sake and for ours. I am old enough to remember the lily-white suburbs and neighborhoods of the ‘50’s, with their genteel prejudice and their “gentlemen’s agreements,” and I would not return there, nor would I live in such a community in 2005, and it would be naïve to pretend that racism and economic elitism are not factors in the opposition to workforce housing. The editorial in last week’s Bonanza gave the statistics very well – Incline is in danger of becoming a retirement community for the rich and the very rich, and I for one will grieve and leave if this comes to pass.

The vitality and sustainability of our community require diversity – in our schools, in our social life, in our cultural base, and in our town. We need to have those who protect us – from fire and from crime, those who protect our health and safety, and those to whom we turn for services, to be living in the community and caring about the community as only one who lives here can.

Workforce housing is a good deal for the community, our businesses, and for those who will live there. It is short-sighted to oppose it, and those who do, if they are successful, will wind up living in an artificially structured environment with no one to talk to but themselves. More’s the pity.

Column 63 - Christmas

With the coinciding of Christmas, Chanuka, and a National Column day, Jim suggested we write parallel columns commenting on key issues of the day from a Christian and Jewish perspective. Because Jim was going to be out of town, he wrote his column early and sent me a copy. and I was inspired to at least try to match his effort, although if you read his column today you’ll see that that’s not going to be easy – it’s one of his best ever.

I would not expect to find too much difference between what I would call a mainstream Jewish perspective and Jim’s answers to the question “What would Jesus do?” After all, Jesus was Jewish, and at a time when much of what we now consider Judaism was formed, and when I read Jim’s analysis, I didn’t find much to differ with.

Capital punishment has never set well with Jews as a whole – we’ve been unjustly on the receiving end of it too many times, and our involvement in its administration where Jesus was concerned has been a source of unending grief for us. For me personally, I can’t make it make sense from any perspective that I consider civilized, and I can’t reconcile it with modern Judaism, so here Jim and I are of one mind.

Jim seems to think Jesus “would not have much use for unions.” Jews were instrumental in the creation of the trade union movement, and were disproportionately affected by some of the worst labor disasters. In the Triangle Shirtwaist Company fire, for example, 146 people died, leading to the formation of the ILGWU. But unions today are not what they were 100 or even 50 years ago, and if the Jewish value that led us to support them was protection of the under protected, I’m not sure they still deserve our support.

The big question, of course, is war. Here the modern Jewish perspective is colored by the case of Israel, which has fought both defensive and offensive wars in its short history. In Israel’s case, I don’t think many Jews would advocate turning the other cheek. The commitment to the destruction of Israel is absolute in much of the Arab world, and it is fundamental to Judaism that the land is ours, promised to us by God. On the one hand, I think most Israelis and most Jews worldwide would prefer to live in peace side by side with our Arab neighbors and with a Palestinian state. That said, if forced to fight to retain what we believe is ours, the past 57 years shows that we fight we will, so I guess I’m more definite here than Jim is.

On issues of hypocrisy, lying, power grabs, and corruption, I don’t think there is any difference at all between the Jewish and Christian perspectives. Similarly, Jim says Jesus was a true believer in universal access to medical care, and I think most Jews would agree. I can’t imagine that any of the prophets would hesitate to take a stick to today’s health care system and drive it out of the temple in favor of easy and universal access.

If you’ve read Jim’s column, you know that he ends it with a twist worthy of Hitchcock on the question of who Jesus would vote for for President. That’s an interesting one. I was brought up to support any Jewish candidate for office just because he was Jewish, and so Jim’s proposal has a certain appeal to me. At the same time, I don’t think that Joe Lieberman just being Jewish is sufficient for me or Jesus to support him. So from a Jewish perspective who should be President? The Prophet Micah said that all that is required of people is to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly. For me, that narrows the field down a lot, I just don’t know to whom.

Merry Christmas, Happy Chanukah, Happy Kwanzaa, Happy Eid al-Fitr, and to all of us, a happy, healthy, prosperous and peaceful new year.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Column 62 - Gibbons 5

The Man Who Would Be Governor Strikes Again

It’s usually pretty easy to come up with topics for the monthly Sunday column on national issues, but about one week out of three I find myself stuck for anything local to write about that is not too repetitive. Fortunately I can always count on Nevada Republicans, particularly Jim Gibbons, the man who would be governor (TMWWBG), for material.

Mr. Gibbons inserted into a lengthy budget bill in Congress, a measure that would allow mining claim owners to buy land from the federal government for $1,000 an acre or fair market value after undergoing a patenting process. Mining claims exist on 5.5 million acres of public land nationwide, including in national parks and forests. The measure would lift a 1994 moratorium on mining claim patents;before the 1994 moratorium, mining companies could buy public land cheaply and reap huge profits off the minerals. Land speculators also tried to use the patent process to obtain land for other developments, such as ski resorts or condominiums.

Many in Congress and many environmental groups oppose Gibbons’ effort. A policy advisor for the Great Basin Mine Watch was quoted in the Reno Gazette-Journal as saying "We're talking about 58 million acres of public land in Nevada which could be up for sale to foreign corporations, oil and gas companies, real estate developers, anybody who was willing to pay as little as $1,000 an acre," Others have argued that there is nothing in Gibbons’ proposal to prevent the kind of exploitation that the 1994 moratorium was designed to present. I agree that there is real danger here. So do Senators Reid and Ensign, who oppose the effort, which has been characterized by one UNLV political analyst as “grandstanding” on Gibbons’ part in behalf of his gubernatorial ambitions.

TMWWBG has some arguments in favor of his proposal, and while I don’t agree with his conclusions, the arguments he advances are at least reasonable. Characteristically, though, Gibbons places these arguments second to ad hominem attacks on those who oppose him, characterizing them in an interview with the Reno paper as “hysterical.” "They fail to understand the process," Gibbons said. "It is simply hysteria to say all these lands are being opened up for purchase and development in pristine areas. We are working very hard to make sure that doesn't happen." (TMWWBG doesn’t specify what these efforts are – perhaps taking his lead from President Bush, who seems to think that “we’re working hard” is an explanation rather than an evasion.)

Once again, it seems that for a significant number of right-wingers from the national to the local level, disagreement with their views is tantamount to disloyalty, stupidity, ignorance, character flaws, and now hysteria.

I imagine someone could cleverly suggest that objecting to an ad hominem attack is also an ad hominem attack, but I don’t think so – if Gibbons had used this response once, OK, but this is at least the fourth time he has done so. First Gibbons said that anyone who opposed the lavish corporate funding of the Bush Inauguration parties is a Communist.  Next he said people who opposed his position on the Iraq War should be sent to Iraq to be used as human shields, and then he said we should “encourage” people who are on Medicaid to have healthier lives by assigning a watchdog to them to be sure that they have a healthy lifestyle.

It seems clear on the evidence that Congressman Gibbons thinks that he can run for Governor on a platform of attacking those who disagree with him and assuming that the actual arguments for and against his views don’t matter. I don’t know who else will be running for Governor in 2006, but it would have to be someone really awful to be someone I would not vote for in preference to a man who seems to so low a view of the electorate that he thinks vicious demagoguery will get him elected.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Column 60 - Theres an Empty Chair

There’s an Empty Chair

In Julius Caesar, Shakespeare writes “The evil that men do lives after them, the good is oft interred with their bones.” For some people that may be appropriate, but for others it would be tragic if that were the case.

I was a member of the Rotary Club of Incline Village for a few years until my work schedule made my participation impossible. During the time I was a member, I noticed that there were a few different kinds of people in Rotary, and I suspect this is true of any service club. There were some who were there for the fellowship, some there for business reasons, and some who seemed to thrive on the opportunities Rotary provided for them to participate in and serve the ideal of making our community a better place to live. Jack Cooke stood out as one of the most active of this last group.

I can’t say I knew Jack very well – we were casual acquaintances – when we ran into each other at parties or around town we’d chat, and Jack was invariably cheerful, ebullient, and positive about whatever his current project or enthusiasm was. In this he was just the opposite of so many people who seem to thrive on complaining and to pride themselves on their diagnosis of what is wrong. Not Jack – for Jack life was a series of opportunities to serve, to contribute, and to make something better.

In a time and place where so many people have to let you know how important or connected they are, Jack was a guy who would take on any job no matter how small, just because it needed to be done. In Rotary one year he encouraged me to be Membership Chair. Jack was a Past President of the club and a past chair of the Membership Committee. He was clearly an elder statesman of the club and if he had done nothing but attend meetings no one would have faulted him – he had done his service. Still, when I asked him to be on the committee and to do induction meetings with new members, he dove in as enthusiastically and energetically as if he was doing it for the first time. Jack was involved with the High School Boosters Club, the Hospital Foundation, the Tahoe Arts Foundation, the Parasol Community Collaboration's Arts and Culture Committee and was a perennial star in the Star Follies. He was a founder of the K-16 Council and was always there to help anyone in the Village who needed help.

When Jack was named the Club’s Rotarian of the Decade this year, a bench was dedicated at Burnt Cedar Beach in his honor. But the real memorial to Jack is all over the community in the people and organizations he touched and helped and in the spirit of community service he embodied. Perhaps the poet Stephen Spender said it best:

Near the snow, near the sun, in the highest fields,
See how these names are feted by the waving grass
And by the streamers of white cloud
And whispers of wind in the listening sky,
The names of those who in their lives fought for life,
Who wore at their hearts the fire's centre.
Born of the sun, they traveled a short while toward the sun
And left the vivid air signed with their honour.
Stephen Spender, I Think Continually

There’s an empty chair in Incline today, Jack, and you are missed.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Column 59 (National) - Where Are the Progressive Leaders?

Where Are the Progressive Leaders?

For this month’s National column, Jim and I decided to each do a critique of our own parties. Although I take the Progressive Democratic position in this column, I am not what’s called a “Yellow Dog Democrat,” (one who would vote for a yellow dog before he would vote for a Republican). I was dismayed at how my Party and its candidate presented itself in the last couple of elections, and have continued to be very concerned about the future of the two-party system if those on my side of the aisle continue as they have been.

I would begin the critique at the core – for the past six years or so, the Democratic Party has been the Party of “no.” We have defined ourselves by what we are against, not by what we are for, and have ceded to the GOP the ground of being “for” rather than against. In my work with organizations, I teach that there are three positions you can take – for, against, and about (the last is critiquing from the sidelines), that “for” is by far the fastest, most efficient route to creating value, and that organizational leaders who define themselves and their organization by what they are for have more successful organizations than those who are defined by what they oppose. President Clinton, whatever his faults (someday will we be able to mention him without that caveat?), led the country from a positive stance; since the Clinton Administration, the Democrats have stood against Bush, against the deficit, against revoking Roe v. Wade, against ultra-conservative judicial appointments, and lately against the war in Iraq. The Republicans, and I don’t blame them, have seized on this to define us as against the President, against tax cuts, against the “right to life,” against the President’s right to appoint judges, and against the military. The facts, e.g., on judicial approvals don’t’ support these attributions, but they stick in the absence of a vigorous positive Democratic message.

A second, and related criticism is of the lack of real leadership in the party. After losing to Bush in 2000, Al Gore went into retreat. In 2004, John Kerry effectively did the same thing as far as party leadership is concerned – he may already be campaigning for the 2008 election, but he is not doing so by leading the party, certainly not the way I would expect a candidate who lost by the slimmest margin of any election  to lead. Hilary Clinton, John Edwards, Joe Lieberman, Howard Dean? When was the last time you heard from them other than in terms of what they were against or in transparent attempts to position themselves for 2008? Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi are as close to leaders as we have.

Finally, I have to fault the Democrats for allowing the national debate to be framed by the Republicans. Understand, I don’t fault the GOP – if I had a clear field to set the terms of the political arena, I’d take it also, but why give it to them? We have allowed the Republicans to stage the debate on the right to privacy with them as “pro-life” and us as “pro-choice,” a thinly disguised version of “anti-life,” in the same way that the NRA has hijacked the gun control issue and made it one of leaving people defenseless in their own homes. Similarly, beginning with the Swift-boating of John Kerry, we have allowed questioning the wisdom of a war we entered under questionable circumstances to be painted as anti-American, unsupportive of the troops, and duped by, if not downright in favor of terrorism. In my darkest hours I have had the thought that any party dumb enough to allow these McCarthyist tactics doesn’t deserve to be in power.

I see some hopeful signs lately – Harry Reid’s calling the Senate into closed session to deal with the leak investigation, John Murtha’s standing up against the war and for the troops, and John Kerry’s standing for Murtha all suggest that maybe we have some leadership emerging. I hope so – right now John McCain is looking pretty good to me.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Column 58 - Fire District

Probably you’ve received emails over the past couple of weeks “Citizens for Cost-Effective Fire and Medical Safety.” The last of these emails linked you to a website that is colorful and professional-looking, though still “under construction.” The emails and the website came from a nltfpd (as in North Lake Tahoe Fire Protection District) dot org, and you might reasonably think they were somehow connected to the NLTFPD (

In my view, some clarification is in order. As far as I have been able to ascertain, CCEFMS consists of two individuals, probably students of Ovid, who said “we two form a multitude,” but in this context I think calling themselves a group is misleading, as is the appropriation of the NLTFPD domain name.

These two individuals, seem to think that the Fire District receives and spends too much of our tax money. One of them wrote a report to that effect two years ago – the problem is that the methodology he employed in his comparison of the District to other districts was arguable at best, and a number of the facts cited in the report were in error. I’m sure we will see a rehash of this and I will leave a point-by-point rebuttal to Chief Linardos and the Board.

The “group” posts some fourteen “solutions” on their site. These include such things as getting rid of the District’s ladder truck, reducing ambulance transport, and reducing the number of firefighters,. A recurrent theme in the solutions is “the average for a district of our size.” As in so many things, however, size is not the whole story. Many “districts of our size” are surrounded by other districts that can lend aid – we are not. Many “districts of our size” do not deal with houses that are at street level on one side and fifty feet off the ground on the other. Many “districts of our size” do not have houses surrounded by pine needles and highly flammable ground cover, and many “districts of our size” do not provide water rescue, ambulance service, fuels management, etc.

One of these individuals has said that the fact that we have not had a major fire in the Village is due to luck. I don’t think so. We are fortunate to have a Fire District that, from the Chief to the newest firefighter, is composed of top-notch personnel – most of them experienced and long-term servants of the community. We have four ambulances, and we have a ladder truck that allows firefighters to reach houses that would otherwise be unreachable. I guess if I was dumped in the lake or suffering chest pains I could wait for help to come from Reno, but frankly the idea doesn’t appeal to me.

Not long ago, a part-time resident lost her family’s condo to a fire. It took two years to rebuild. For her, those two years were two Christmases with her family that were irretrievably lost. The taxpayers of the District have spoken repeatedly – we want fire and safety service that will protect lives, protect the value of our property, and be quick and effective. NLTFPD is highly rated by the insurance industry – that means you and I pay lower fire insurance rates – reduce the services of the Fire District, and those rates will go up – do you think taxes will go down enough to make that worth it? I don’t.

CCEFMS says on their site that “The condition exists because the board has perceived – correctly so - that the public was unaware of and thus had no interest in their excessive spending.”  That sort of contempt for the public’s intelligence is typical of self-appointed crusaders who think they know better than everyone else what is good for the community. Well, CCEFMS, the public is neither as unaware nor uninterested as you think, and if you don’t believe that, wait and see the support that is rallied for the NLTFPD in the face of your manipulative and dishonest attempt to pull the wool over the public’s eyes.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Column 56 - Community

Signs of rationality and dialog found on the North Shore

In an unusual confluence of circumstances, Incline has almost simultaneously acquired three new clergy – at St. Patrick’s, St. Francis’ and the North Tahoe Hebrew Congregation. At a time in America and in the world where religion is more divisive than it has been in a long time, there is every indication that these new members of our community bring with them a spirit of fellowship and alignment that is refreshing – indeed, there are already plans under way for an ecumenical Thanksgiving service, something I remember fondly from my childhood, but that I have not seen in my 10 years here in Incline.

Similarly, a group of Incline residents has taken the initiative in creating a series of debates on national and state issues between representatives of the Democratic and Republican sides of the issues – they invited Milt Hyams’ students at IHS to be on the panel, and Milt and his students accepted enthusiastically. At least for the first debate Jim Clark and I will lead the two sides along with another adult and one of the students. The debate will take place on Monday, November 7th  at 7 pm at the High School Auditorium and will cover topics to include the war in Iraq, homeland security, immigration policy, Social Security, and State tax issues including TABOR and Proposition 13,

Finally, on November 12th the Incline Vision Committee of the IVGID Board of Trustees will hold a Town Meeting to set priorities for creating the Village’s future and to create community-based task forces to present plans to the Board for how to implement these priorities. Hopefully we will see a large number of residents from all sectors of the community (yes, we do have sectors, and not just, as the Wall Street Journal would have it, “the millionaires and the billionaires”) at this meeting. There is compelling evidence that diversity-based groups have the ability to come up with solutions to problems that are more creative and intelligent than any individual in the group or even a group of experts could come up with. I’ve been asked to use some of the techniques and models I use with corporations to set strategy to facilitate the process and hope that everyone will come. The meeting will be from 9am to 12 noon at the new Elementary School.

Actually, I hope all three of these events will be confronted with the problem of not having enough room for everyone who shows up. In my last Wednesday column I said that I do not subscribe to the conventional wisdom that Incline residents are apathetic. Rather, I said, I think the appearance of apathy is actually a result of people experienced being disenfranchised or having no meaningful access to affecting the future of their community. In the spiritual/religious arena our local institutions have, for the most part, operated in isolation from each other and while many have done a lot of good for the community, this separation has contributed to an erosion of community spirit. Now in the month of November we have three major opportunities to come together as a community as well as the annual drives by Project Mana, the Children’s Cabinet, and others to gather food, warm clothes, and holiday gifts for those who cannot afford them. This combination of efforts could, if we get behind them, create an inflection point in the history of Incline Village/Crystal Bay in the direction of becoming a true community.

I hope to see you at the debate, the Town Meeting, the Thanksgiving service, and to work with you to have us come together as a community of relationship.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Column 55 (National) - Supreme Court Criteria

Last month I wrote that, while I was not 100% happy with the nomination of John Roberts for Chief Justice, I trusted our system of checks and balances. Now we have the Harriet Miers nomination, and I’d like to address the criteria that I would like to see applied as the Senate exercises its accountability to “advise and consent” on the nomination.

The longevity of democracy in the US reflects the genius of the Framers of the Constitution. The height of this brilliance is the system of checks and balances - the Framers created a system to elect those who make and enforce the laws, and placed those who interpret the laws above the political fray. Supreme Court Justices are nominated by the Executive, vetted and approved by the Legislative, and if approved are appointed for life to insulate them from political pressure.

So I think the first key criterion for a Justice should be that they are not servants of any political agenda, but are committed to interpreting the law in the light of the Constitution, of precedent, and of the world as it has changed since 1789.

A second criterion is that a Justice should know the law, particularly the Constitution, and should be a student of what it is possible to know not only about the Founders’ thinking in framing the Constitution, but also of the philosophy that informed that framing. It is inevitable and desirable that the provisions of the Constitution will be changed to keep up with the times, but the integrity of the United States lies in the changes always reflecting the basic spirit on which it was founded.

A Justice should be mindful of and responsive to the responsibilities of the other branches – this criterion will be reflected more in how a nominee responds to the vetting process than in the content of his or her response. The current nominee’s acquiescence in what seems to be a White House policy of concealment with regard to the interview process raises questions for me about how seriously she and the Administration take the process – first with the Chief Justice and now with Ms Miers, the tactic seems to be to stonewall the Senate and assume that the Republican majority will line up behind the President’s wishes. This may get her approved, but it should be of grave concern to us as citizens.

A judge on the Supreme Court is called a Justice. The dictionary defines justice as the maintenance or administration of what is just especially by the impartial adjustment of conflicting claims or the assignment of merited rewards or punishments; the administration of law;  especially the establishment or determination of rights according to the rules of law or equity; the quality of being just, impartial, or fair. (emphasis added). So my final criterion is that a Supreme Court nominee should be subjected to tests to determine if they can be impartial, just, fair, and equitable. One of the defining features of the United States from our founding is that we are a country ruled by laws, and not by people. There is a great deal of agitation today to change this, to have us be governed by the views of people – not even a majority of people, but a vociferous minority who would have us believe they represent the majority view. A recent Pew Foundation study indicated that while more than 30 percent of Americans answer to the appellation "conservative," and only 18 percent call themselves "liberal," more than 60 percent take positions that are liberal in everything but name. Indeed, on many if not most issues, Americans hold views well to the left of those espoused by almost any national Democratic politician. Yet a small number of far-right extremists would have us believe that the Conservative agenda is the voice of the people, and should take precedence over law, Constitution, and Supreme Court decisions. Harriet Miers or any nominee to the high court must be someone who places law above personal views and will live up to the oath to protect, preserve, and defend the document that makes the United States what it is.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Column 54 - Apathy

It is pretty much an article of faith among those who are active in Village affairs that (a) the vast majority of Incline residents are apathetic and (b) those who are not totally apathetic are roused only by issues that impact them directly, e.g. golf or dog parks. On the face of it, this position seems reasonable – of 9000 residents, some 20 or 30 show up with some regularity at the Tuesday morning Bonanza Community Forum, and unless there is a hot issue under debate an IVGID meeting or a CAB meeting rarely draws even that many.

But while apathy may be a reasonable explanation for these and other facts, it’s not the only one and it’s not one I am very drawn to. I get around the Village quite a lot and people often talk to me about things they agree or disagree with in my column, or that they just want to discuss. No one I talk to seems particularly apathetic to me, and many of them are people whom I don’t see at the Forum or at IVGID meetings.

I have a few ideas about where the appearance of apathy comes from. First of all, I think we live at a time of deep cynicism about the ability of an individual to make their voice heard in any way that really affects how things are going. We’ve been trained at the national and state level that any advocacy that is not accompanied by large sums of money or large numbers of very vocal people or (preferably) both has no chance, and for the length of the current administration it seems that even that does not help if the position you are advocating is not in accord with the President’s pre-determined agenda. In a state the size of Nevada it isn’t hard to get access to our elected officials, but even at the state level it has taken a massive effort by the Tax Revolt, for example, to get any action at all, and as for the County, we have a part-time representative who also represents other parts of the county, so it seems hard to get heard even at that local level.

Compounding that is the problem of bureaucracy. Government at almost all levels is in the hands of people who were never elected and who are, by and large, accountable only to other bureaucrats and only tangentially to our elected officials. Some people who work in government agencies are great and are really committed to service. Too many, however, fit the stereotype of the officious bureaucrat who cares only for his or her own importance and not for the people they are ostensibly there to serve. TRPA, for example, has had this rep for so long it’s hard to deal with them in any other way.

But here’s the rub. It’s not that way in Incline. Our five trustees are people you see and have access to every day – two of them are regulars at the Bonanza Community Forum because they are genuinely committed to dialogue with the community. IVGID’s Executive Director, who could live at the most remote remove of the bureaucracy, is also a regular at that meeting as is the Director of Public Works, the Fire Chief, the Police Chief, the heads of the hospital, the library, and the Presidential Appointee to the TRPA Board. Even when I lived in a smaller community in Vermont where Town Meeting is the system of government, we did not have this kind of access or public officials this committed to being in communication with the community.

So if you’re apathetic, cynical, or resigned, I invite you to give it up and to start to make your voice heard by IVGID, Incline Vision, the Fire Board, the CAB, and anywhere else where you have something to say. In a community this small, with so many people who are already involved, there is really no reason why you shouldn’t be involved also.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Column 53 - Ice Rink

As I’ve written before, one of the lowest forms of discourse is the ad hominem argument – this is an argument that, instead of attacking someone’s ideas or positions, attacks personally. A singularly scurrilous form of the ad hominem is the “those people” argument. Here, again instead of arguing against the idea, one attacks a real or imagined class of people, lumping those one wants to defeat with others who may not be involved, but who will incur disapproval, casting a negative light on the case being opposed.

Unfortunately, this form of attack is very enticing in a polarized political environment, and I’ve used it myself, to my regret. Not long ago I was having lunch with a close friend of the conservative persuasion and made the mistake of using the “right-wingers think…” form of argument  and that it did not cost me a friendship is a tribute to my friend’s generosity.

So I am saddened to see my colleague Jim Clark attack “how these people [liberals] think” in service of a cause that I support, namely the installation of a public ice rink at the Crystal Bay Club.

I began contributing to the Incline Ice Foundation in 1995 – I still own the car I bought at one of the IIF’s first fundraisers – and was on the Board for a couple of years. I have continued to be called for consultation by Board members, and have kept up on the Foundation’s progress. I think the Crystal Bay solution is an excellent one and have advocated this proposal to the TRPA and elsewhere.

So why turn this local, non-political issue into a partisan fight? The League to Save Lake Tahoe is an environmental organization. Various Republican politicians going back to President Reagan have tried to turn the environment into a partisan issue, but the fact is that environmental concerns cross party and ideological lines – I know Democrats who are rabid anti-environmentalists and Republicans who are “tree-huggers.” I am an environmentalist and have been a consultant to the Sierra Club for several years, but I believe, for example, that the jury is still out on global warming, a key concern of the Club.

And, by the way, in all my years in and around the environmental movement, I have not heard the California Attorney General’s Office referred to as either liberal or environmentalist before. Yet Jim would have us believe that “liberals” are out to stop the ice rink.

None of this makes any sense to me except in one context: Jim is a faithgu Republican, and his party is in deep trouble. The President’s approval ratings are underwater, support for the Iraq war is at late Vietnam levels, Bush’s nominee for Assistant Attorney General has withdrawn for lack of support, he has nominated an inexperienced nonentity to the Supreme Court, key Republicans are under indictment, Karl Rove is appearing before the Grand Jury, etc., etc.

In the face of such trouble both parties have sometimes resorted to the ad hominem attack, but it has been a favorite tactic of the Republicans since 1884 when they labeled the Democratic Party the party of “Rum, Romanism, and Rebellion” (anti-prohibition, Catholic, and Southern). From Senator McCarthy’s “lists of known Communists” through Nixon’s going after Alger Hiss, to the Swift Boat attacks on John Kerry, the use of labels – Communist, Liberal, Socialist, you name it -  has been a tactic of choice.

Well, if turnabout is fair play, I guess we could say that today’s Republican Party is the party of “Cronyism, Corruption, and Incompetence,” but it is also the party of John McCain, Olympia Snowe, and Abraham Lincoln, and I would not say that all Republicans are cronyists, corrupt, or incompetent.

“Liberals” do not oppose the ice rink any more than “Conservatives” oppose the separation of Church and State, and this sort of tactic will not serve the cause of the Ice Foundation.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Column 52 - Gibbons (4)

In the columns and letters I’ve written for the Bonanza over the past couple of years I think I’ve demonstrated that I’m willing to change my position when the evidence warrants – for example, I’ve gone from being rabidly anti-TRPA to a position that I would call cautiously optimistic, and in my work with Independent Incline I’ve gone from being against the city option to saying we should consider it seriously. These changes were occasioned by learning new facts, changing circumstances, persuasion by sincere advocates for the other position, or most often a combination of the three.

I’ve written several columns pointing out why, based on his stated positions and actions, I think Congressman Jim Gibbons is not fit or qualified to be Governor of Nevada. Interestingly, no one has attempted to dissuade me from my opposition to “the mouth that roared,” and yet the media continue to say that Gibbons is the front-runner not only for the Republican nomination, but to win the Governor’s race in 2006. Kinda makes one wonder…

In August, the Reno Gazette-Journal ran a profile of Gibbons as part of its series on the gubernatorial candidates. That article included a short interview with the Congressman in which he was asked “What specifically would you do about health care?” His answer follows:

There are a lot of things that take need to take place. One place where the state has some nexus to it is Medicaid. We need to encourage people to have healthier lives ... . We may have to do more to assign, for example, a nurse to an individual, which would be a homecare-type nurse or doctor that will encourage that person to have a healthier lifestyle instead of using the hospital or emergency room.

OK, so this leading apostle of the party that says the Government should stay out of our lives says that we should “encourage” people to have healthier lives by assigning a watchdog to them to be sure that they have a healthy lifestyle. And to whom should we assign these monitors – to those receiving Medicaid. Medicaid is a program managed by the states and funded jointly by the states and federal government to provide health insurance for individuals and families with low incomes and resources. Among the groups of people served by Medicaid are eligible low-income parents, children, seniors, and people with disabilities.

So, to recap, liberals and environmentalists are tree-hugging Birkenstock wearers who should be sent to Iraq, those who question donations of some $40 million to fund parties at the Bush inauguration are Communists, and we should assign nurses or doctors under Medicaid to monitor low-income individuals’ “lifestyle” choices to make sure they are healthy. And what lifestyle choices might they monitor? Diet, drinking, drug use, weight? And why stop there – after all, sexual choices have ramifications for health as does a woman’s right to choose with regard to abortion.

As is the case with the Administration in Washington’s corruption and incompetence, the Republican Party has a choice to make about Gibbons. GOP true believers may buy that it’s the media and the Left that are out to get Bush, De Lay, Frist, Libby, etc., but anyone with a brain can see that things are too far gone for this to be an unfounded conspiracy. Here in Nevada, the local true believers can continue to point to Gibbons’ military record and call him “a plain-spoken Nevadan,” but thinking Republicans should see that there is at least one other candidate who does not share Gibbons’ inanity and they should run, not walk, to distance themselves from a candidate who can’t control his mouth and whose ideas echo George Orwell’s worst nightmares.

Then again, speaking as a Democrat, maybe Gibbons is the best thing that could happen to us.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Column 50 - City

I’ve been a part of the Independent Incline movement from its inception. The tax impact of various options has been almost the singular focus of the group today. Because the group has focused primarily on Incline’s becoming a county through legislative action, our activity has waxed and waned with the legislative/election cycle.

For many of those on the IIC the issue is taxes, but that may be too narrow a view. To be sure, the disparity between what we pay and what we get back, which I have detailed in earlier columns, makes my blood boil, and nothing but becoming a county will cure that completely. The possibility of incorporating as a city as an interim step has never got very far, particularly since such analysis as was done indicated it would probably mean an increase in taxes for residents.

A number of recent developments and conversations have led me to reconsider my skepticism abou the city option and I have proposed the committee meet to re-look at our position. Right now we have a situation where not less than three groups are looking at plans that will materially affect Incline’s future. The County is encouraging Crystal Bay to go its own way in economic planning, and that is clearly of interest at least to the casino owners there, if not to the residents, to do so. Secondly, TRPA’s Pathway 2007 is in a planning process that has only just now, after almost a year, realized it might be a good idea to engage local input, and IVGID and the CAB began the Incline Vision process a few months ago

I see no reason to trust that the County, in conversation with the casino interests in Crystal Bay have IV/CB residents’ interests in mind. While TRPA’s effort has not realized my direst trepidations, and I am not sure where they are going, their area of interest is the lake as a whole, not just Incline Village. Finally, I have the highest regard for Bea Epstein and the Incline Vision group, but in the end, they will have only as much power as the government of Incline has to implement their plans. In addition, at least one candidate for Governor, Senator Beers, has propsed a 3% cap on budget increases, which would cut back on our public services such as roads, sheriff, etc.

In researching further the powers a city would have, I have learned that there is more to it than I thought and that we as a committee have discussed. Chief among these are land use powers. A city has powers over land use, land use planning, zoning, building codes, eminent domain, etc. that are close to absolute within its borders. For example, we are dependent now on help from TRPA and maybe the County if we don’t want a new Post Office built where the USPS plans to build it – as a city we would have the power to control our own destiny. Given the recent Supreme Court decision on eminent domain powers, this should be of great concern to us. In addition, as a city we would be included on public boards such as the RSCVA, the Airport Board, and others where we would have our own voice.

I am not prepared at this point to raise the “Incline City” banner – a lot more research needs to be done. My call to the committee to reconvene and reconsider the city alternative was made on this basis. I do think, though, that the issue needs to be considered from a broader perspective than taxation alone – from a business perspective any prospective expense should be reviewed against the potential benefit, and ways to offset those expenses should be considered. For example, as a city what would we be entitled to in terms of returns on our taxes from the County, what could we realize in city taxes on resort and transient accommodations, etc. Again, I’m not recommending we do any of this now, but rather that we study the matter fully and see whether the return on investment in terms of local control and protection might not be something that would make some small increase in taxes worthwhile to Incline residents. Make your voice heard.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Column 50 (National) - Katrina

Hurricane Katrina has ripped the façade off the Bush Administration as easily as it ripped the roof off the Superdome. There are a few true believers for whom their hero is right and who would not be shaken in the face of divine revelation. Aside from those however, it is hard to imagine how anyone who has been a Bush supporter can maintain their position in light of (a) the Federal Government’s unbelievably inept response to the cataclysm and (b) the President’s characteristic dissembling, spinning, and irresponsibly taking care of his friends.

Since the Nixon impeachment, the GOP, with the complicity of much of the media has done a masterful job of blaming the Left for everything from poverty to abortion to drugs. Indeed, in the wake of Katrina, according to the Mississippi Clarion-Ledger, the Department of Justice sent an email to US Attorneys that can only have had the intent of gathering “evidence” to blame environmental groups for the hurricane damage. The difference this time is that, unlike the non-existent WMDs in Iraq, the biased recount in Florida, and other concealable lies, the Administration’s ineptitude in responding to Katrina was impossible to cover up. Notwithstanding that, the Right would have us believe that, somehow, the President’s “cutting his vacation short” by a couple of days after days of non-action, his rushing Condy Rice to the Gulf from her New York vacation, and his ringing endorsement of his pal “Brownie” for “doing a heck of a job” constitute a response. Never mind that Brown had no qualifications for the job, even after lying about his experience. Now, of course, the President would have us believe that he barely knew “Brownie,” just as he “barely knew” Kenny-Boy Lay after the Enron scandal broke.

Now the Administration is rushing to cover their tracks with money the government doesn’t have – the President says we will do whatever it takes, but he has said nothing about how we will pay for it. The plan they are designing turns the Gulf Coast into a field day for the usual Rightist agendas and cronies – Halliburton for rebuilding, private school vouchers to undermine public education, abandonment of environmental regulations, abolition of wage standards, and yet another tax cut for the wealthiest.

And most astonishingly all this will be overseen not by experienced planners or development, but by Karl Rove, the quintessential political operative whose involvement in the Valerie Plame affair has never been accounted for.

The most damning part of all this is what it exposes about how little this President and this Administration understands about how the vast majority of Americans live. The President’s mother goes to the Astrodome and sees it as fortunate for those forced to stay there in squalor, separated from their families. Tom DeLay goes there and asks a young African-American child if it’s not like camp. After 9/11, the wealthiest victims got more compensation than those who were less well off. Here those with means got out and are staying with family or in hotels while the poor get the scraps.

When money is on the line, cronies always come first for this President, who calls himself “the CEO President,” but who has a consistent track record of crashing and burning every time he had something to run. I doubt that anyone but the true believers takes seriously any more the President as a “uniter” or his “culture of life,” but if he has a shred of decency Mr. Bush will see that in a culture of life, all human life must be valued. This country, and the 90% of its people who earn less than six-figure incomes needs compassion, competence, integrity, and heart. What we have is cronyism, poverty, and a government that cares only for the 10% that fund it and its pet projects.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Column 49: Tax Caps

In his column last week, Jim Clark appeals to knee-jerk reactions and a surface analysis to get us to favor tax caps. On the face of it, tax caps sound like a good idea. After all, here in Incline our property taxes keep going up, don’t they? Well, not exactly. Actually, our assessments keep going up, and property taxes are based on assessed value. For this reason, the Tax Revolt has wisely gone after unfair, irrational assessments. With a tax cap, assessments will keep going up, and the disparity between the property tax we pay and the assessed valuation will get greater and greater.

But what will happen to people who pay taxes on properties with lower assessed valuation? Their valuations will also also go up, though not as quickly, and so will the taxes they pay. In other words the effect of a property tax cap, when taxes are based on assessed valuation, is a tax that disproportionately favors those who own more expensive properties while providing no relief to those whose properties are worth less.

Also, what services are the proponents of tax caps planning to cut? The net effect of tax caps is that revenues to the state will decrease – taxes on high-end, fast-appreciating properties will level off, and the increase in revenues from taxes on low-end, slowly-appreciating properties will not be sufficient to cover the loss. As a result, some tax-funded services must suffer. Property taxes go to fund education and other services. Clark says “prophets of doom…are already predicting that children will die of starvation and the elderly will be thrown out in the cold if these Scrooge laws are imposed.” In my research I have not found anyone saying anything even close to that.

Here is what I have found: while no states have been bankrupted by tax caps (another non-argument the Right likes to “rebut”), in every case there have been significant service cuts. Proposition 13 in California directly resulted in cuts in mental health care that closed a number of hospitals and released thousands of patients - these released patients form the core of the homeless in cities such as San Francisco. In the 1970’s, California’s education system was number one or two in the nation. Prop 13 was passed in 1978 and California’s primacy in quality education was lost.

If there is a lesson from Hurricane Katrina it is that we must be responsible as a society for the least fortunate among us. The Republican administration dragged its heels, content to see those with the means to get out of New Orleans save themselves before doing anything about those too poor or infirm to help themselves. The danger in tax caps is that we will once again “save” those with means while ignoring those with less.

Jim wants to make the issue here the supposed “absolute authority” of the legislature to raise taxes, but this again is Republican sophistry. The Nevada Constitution, like the US Constitution, includes a system of checks and balances. The Governor has the power to veto legislation, whether to check profligate government spending or to block inappropriate tax measures, and the courts can overrule both the government and the legislature. In addition, both the Governor and the legislators are elected and subject to voter pressure. Jim and his cohorts want us to believe that the power of the electorate to overrule tax caps affords better protection than that provided in the Constitution, but this is again a canard – Prop 13 in California, for example, cannot be overruled, and even if a tax cap bill includes this possibility, the system of voter initiatives is cumbersome and meant to be used in extreme cases, not as an ersatz substitute for checks and balances.

In considering the question of tax caps it is critical that we think about this and not buy into the Right’s assumption that we are too dumb or too shallow to think about the real issues.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Column 48 - Rumors

Much of what I love about Incline is its small-town-ness. And as in any small town, it is very easy here for rumors not just to get started but to be accepted as true, and it’s very easy for those who speak for a special interest or even their individual interest to be heard.

Two recent instances of this involve the Federal Government’s contemplated purchase of property on Route 28, and public comment on TRPA’s Shorezone Regulations, Alternative 6.

With regard to the Denio property, a figure of $27 million that was “penciled in” by the selling agent for the property quickly became “the truth.” Imagine– a selling agent starting out at a ridiculously high figure, particularly when dealing with a deep-pockets client like the Federal Government. It took almost no time at all for this to be transformed in the press and in public opinion to “the Federal Government is going to pay $27 million.” OK, a couple of facts: first, the assessed value of the property on the tax rolls is just north of $2 million. Second, the Federal Government may not, by law, pay more than Fair Market Value for any property it acquires. Now we can argue about what the FMV of this property is, just like we can argue with TRPA’s giving it a builidability score of 825, but it stretches my poor imagination beyond bearing to think that the FMV of these properties will be more than 12 times its assessed valuation.

It should be clear to even a casual reader of these columns that I have not been a fan of TRPA over the years. However, when I listened to a presentation by TRPA staffer Colleen Shade about Alternative 6 and read some of the backup material, it made sense to me – if there is a weakness in Alternative 6 it is that it tries to cover too many bases, but each base seems to me to have good scientific thinking behind it.

Given TRPA’s obviously good intentions and the amount of work and study that went into the proposal, the firestorm of opposition they ran into at the public hearings last week seems odd to me. Not that I think we should accept everything TRPA proposes – ever – but an awful lot of what was reported and printed in letters to the editor seems to me to be very narrowly motivated, down to people who don’t want to give up 8 or 9 days a season of boating in Emerald Bay. Let’s take that as one example: when I first heard about that proposal it sounded trivial and silly to me – how much difference can 8 or 9 days make? But when I saw the figures that went into the thinking behind the proposal, I thought it was at least worth considering – I haven’t heard any of the opponents address those figures and wonder if they’ve bothered to read them.

Another example is the proposed increase in piers and buoys over several years. It seems to me that this is a level of rationality that we haven’t often seen from TRPA – it accepts the fact that boating on the lake is going to increase and rather than try to stop or limit this increase, TRPA proposes to monitor and regulate it so that they have some way to assess and mitigate the environmental impact, yet many who claim to be environmentalists oppose the increase but propose nothing more realistic than limiting or banning boats – ain’t gonna happen, folks.

The point is this: living in a small community is a gift – it gives us a platform to make our voice heard and access to public officials that would be unthinkable even in a small city. That’s a tremendous amount of freedom and power, but as the historian Carl Becker (and Spiderman’s Uncle Ben) said, with freedom and power comes responsibility, and I think we need to be responsible for getting our facts straight and taking a larger view than our own opinion or interests.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Column 47 (National) - Cindy Sheehan

The Right has a favorite tactic that, if you don’t have too high a regard for the truth, has until recently been very effective – when there is a setback to what you are doing, change the subject. Richard Clarke says the Administration was inattentive before 9/11? Question his character. Thomas Wilson questions Rumsfeld about armor? Call him a media plant. Karl Rove is under fire? Nominate John Roberts to the Supreme Court ahead of schedule. Public support for the war in Iraq is eroding? Assassinate Cindy Sheehan’s character. Character assassination is a tactic dear to Rove’s heart that has been adopted widely on the Right. It’s not a new tactic, of course – it is a descendant of the “big lie” propaganda technique – tell lies, tell them loudly, and tell them often and a certain number of people will believe they are true.

Cindy Sheehan has chosen to protest the war in a very public way, and others have rallied to her banner at the Bush ranch in Texas. She has made a meeting with the President her goal, and I think that is a poor choice for a number of reasons, but it is a choice she and others are free to make. From the point of view of the Right, however, this makes her fair game for slander. Her marriage, her motives, her dead son all become grist for the vicious mill of the radical right wing press and commentators.

No one can know what is in Ms Sheehan’s heart or her mind, or what was in her late son’s; She has lost a son, and I can only feel compassion for her loss. She has not represented herself as anything but a grieving mother who wants to know why her son died. She has not claimed to represent anyone else, and certainly not to represent other mothers who have lost their children, yet the Right has rallied other grieving parents to say she does not speak for them. – OK, fine. I don’t know how I would react if I lost one of my children, and I would venture to say that that tragedy is something each person must find their own way to deal with. I do not think that the parents who support the war are any righter or wronger than Ms Sheehan – everyone has to come to terms with their loss in their own way.

Yet the Right feels the need to demean Ms Sheehan by portraying her as either a dupe of some mythical radical Left or to distract us from the fact that increasing numbers of Americans are questioning the war. with epithets like “poster child for surrender” and “America’s most embarrassing mother.” The Right is increasingly desperate to make “support for the troops” equate to “support for the war,” and Ms Sheehan clearly communicates that that equation is false.

The fact is, (and even Trent Lott gives testimony to this in his new book,) that President Bush invaded Iraq because he was determined to invade Iraq, and then made up a thin tissue of justifications for his actions. He continues to do this by linking the war in Iraq to the war on terrorism, and by insisting that those who oppose the war are advocating that we “cut and run.” This is an administration that is becoming increasingly desperate in the face of waning public support and a President who is incapable of admitting he is wrong. As a result he has flip-flopped on key promises he has made (e.g. on the Valerie Plame issue and the Transportation Bill), and the strategy of fighting a war while hiding and obfuscating the true sacrifices involved is backfiring. To quote Frank Rich, “this White House no longer has any more control over the insurgency at home than it does over the one in Iraq.”

Column 46 - Post Office Call to Action

Aside from the perennial issue of dog waste, little in recent memory has stirred up as much local interest and comment as the relocation of the Incline Village Post Office. What’s interesting is that there has been very little controversy about it – everyone who has commented publicly and everyone I’ve spoken to is, to a greater or lesser extent, against it.

In a series of four articles in the Bonanza, USPS spokesperson Dee Dee Tarrano seemed to take a carrot and stick approach, on the one hand touting the benefits of a new PO and on the other making not very veiled threats of cutbacks in service if community opposition proves to be sufficient that the USPS changes its mind. What Ms Tarrano never addressed is the source of the opposition – I haven’t spoken to anyone who objects to a new or even a larger Post Office – the issue is, as they say in the Real Estate business, location, location, location.

Let me make it very simple so that even a bureaucrat can understand. First, there are serious objections to the Village Boulevard/Incline Way site that the USPS has not addressed. Second, the IVGID Board of Trustees, the Citizens Advisory Board (CAB) and Washoe County are engaged in a planning process for the village as a whole.

Ms Tarrano makes a number of points in her articles that are, at best, dubious. First, she says the current PO has only 40 parking spaces. I am at a loss to see how she arrived at this figure. According to Art Hoff, the owner of the Village Center, there are more than 300 parking spaces in the lot, and all are available to PO patrons, not to mention some 10 spaces that are specifically reserved for USPS delivery vehicles. She objects to TRPA saying a new PO needs a minimum of 47 parking spaces, and says “As I drove around Incline Village, I don’t believe I saw any single business locations that had 47 parking spaces.” (I guess she missed Raley’s.) Her argument continues that it makes no sense for TRPA to require 47 spaces when the current PO is allotted 40 in the TRPA documentation. This is specious reasoning at best – the 40 spaces are for the current building, which is less than half the size of the building being proposed, so she is comparing apples and oranges.

When we look at traffic issues, on the one hand things get more complicated and on the other Ms Tarrano’s statements appear even more disingenuous. First of all, in her articles, Ms Tarrano is at pains to say that Tanager Street (site of the new Fire Station) should not even be discussed – according to her the new PO will only use Village Boulevard and Incline Way. The USPS commissioned a study by LSC Transportation Consultants on the impact of the proposed new PO on traffic and air quality. The Bonanza has obtained copies of this study, the main part of which is 37 pages long (66 pages with appendices) and which is too technical to go into in detail in this column. A few points, however. First, the study specifically includes Tanager Street and the increased traffic it will see. Second, despite Ms Tarrano’s assertion that Incline Way is the “least traveled street in Incline,” the study shows that on average almost 2,000 vehicles use Incline Way every day. That may be the least in Incline (I doubt it) but it is not a small number. The study also shows that the new facility can be expected to have over 5,000 “vehicle trip ends,” i.e., vehicles coming to the PO every day. Figures for the impact of the new facility on air quality and on parking are equally serious, yet Ms Tarrano seems to want us to believe that the new PO will have minimal impact on the village. I don’t think so.

In her second article, Ms Tarrano acknowledges the value of the PO to the businesses in the Village Center and goes on to say “While we understand the economic hardship that this might create for some businesses, it should be noted that the Postal Service is not responsible for maintaining or subsidizing private industry.” If Ms Tarrano ever leaves the USPS, she should consider employment as a scarecrow maker – she is masterful at setting up straw men. No one has suggested that the USPS be “responsible for maintaining or subsidizing private industry.” What is being suggested is that, the USPS consider its responsibilities as an important part of the community and not take actions that may be deleterious to the community’s well-being.

The simple fact is that the USPS could accomplish what it says it wants to accomplish while staying in the Village Center. Art Hoff has said, as he reiterated in his letter to the Bonanza last Friday, that he is prepared to negotiate any reasonable terms to keep the PO in the center. I understand that this could include selling the USPS one of the buildings in the center which they could remodel or rebuild to suit their needs. Ms Tarrano’s articles, however, make it clear by implication that, as far as the USPS is concerned, this can only turn out one way or the community will be punished with further curtailments of service.

In addition to all the very valid questions that have been raised, there is the matter of community planning. Incline Village is a small, very compact community. We are essentially built out, so growth (and by extension increased PO needs) is not an issue. Over the years the community has grown organically and without any real integrated planning except where recreation and certain services are concerned. Now IVGID, the CAB, and the County are taking steps to look at what this community wants and needs as it continues to develop. There are already a few “stakes in the ground” that the planning bodies will need to take as fixed points in their process. The schools are already located and will not be moved. Likewise the new library, the ski area, the golf courses, and the fire houses are fixed points. If the Post Office moves to the proposed location, smack in the middle of the village, there will be that many fewer degrees of freedom in the planning process, particularly given the volume of traffic, parking needs, etc. that the PO entails. If the USPS is at all interested in the needs and wishes of the community of which it is a part, the least they could do is to wait until the planning process is complete and recommendations are forthcoming. Absent significant public pressure, it seems to me unlikely in the extreme that they will do that.

So what is there to do? Letters to the Bonanza are fine, but I would suggest that this is the time for anyone with an opinion to voice it directly to the USPS. I urge you to take Ms Tarrano up on her request for comments by emailing to her at or by writing to Dee Dee Terrano, Manager of Consumer Affairs, United States Postal Service, 1001 E. Sunset Road, Las Vegas, Nevada 89199-9655. I would also urge you to copy the Postmaster General, John. E. Potter at or John E. Potter, Postmaster General, United States Postal Service, 475 L’Enfant Plaza SW, Washington, DC 20260-0010. Only fast and massive community pressure has a chance of diverting the USPS juggernaut.

Column 45 - Incline Vision

At a party recently an acquaintance mentioned he was going to be traveling to Aspen soon and how much he liked the small-town atmosphere of Aspen. He wondered why we don’t have a similar setup here – “it seems like there is nothing doing in Incline” he said. Recently a letter-writer to the Bonanza voiced a similar complaint in terms that were uncomplimentary to our little space in the woods.

On the one hand, they’re right. As Gertrude Stein didn’t really say about Oakland, “there’s no there there!” I've been coming to Incline since long before I moved here, and it always seemed to me that I must have missed it. At the same time that’s kind of nice. We don’t have a “downtown” like Truckee or Aspen, with shops cheek by jowl and people jostling just to walk on the sidewalk. We didn’t even have sidewalks until not so long ago. And it’s not like there is nothing to do here, it’s just not right here – we can go a few miles south to Shakespeare at Sand Harbor, a few miles west to concerts put on by the Lake Tahoe Music Festival, to films put on by the film festival, and if we get tired of the restaurants here, ranging from the rotisserie Mexican cooking of T’s to the gourmet fare of Le Bistro, Frederick’s, Big Water, and the Lone Eagle with everything in between including some of the best Thai food I’ve had outside Bangkok, we can go a few miles to take in over 70 restaurants – more if you count South Shore.

I’ve written positively about the effort of the IVGID Board and the CAB to create a vision for Incline’s future, and that effort is just getting underway. The Bonanza has asked us to sound off on what we want Incline to be like in the future on the North Tahoe Living web page, and the last time I checked, the responses were pretty sparse. Do we want a “village center” with stores and the look and feel of an Aspen? Or do we want to hide the businesses and stores even more than they are? Let your voice be heard – silence on important issues gets what it deserves and costs us the right to complain later, a right we all hold dear here.

On another front, it looks like we are going to be the proud (part-) owners of Incline Lake, and we may get our cross-country ski area back. Personally, I think that’s great – how do you feel about it?

And last week President Bush signed a transportation bill of gigantic proportions (despite having sworn to veto anything that big, but that’s a subject for a Sunday column), and it included $8 million for Tahoe water-borne mass transit. I rode high-speed hydrofoils and catamarans in Greece and thought they were amazing – I don’t like to go to South Shore, but I probably would go just for the fun of riding one of those craft, and what about getting to Tahoe City or the West Shore in a shorter time than you could drive it, with none of the summer traffic hassles? Of course this will entail putting in better mass transit to move people to and from the ferries, etc., etc. How do you feel about that.

One of the most precious freedoms of our democracy is the freedom to sound off and be heard – take advantage of it. Go to and make your feelings known. Oh, and enjoy the rest of this glorious summer.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Column 44 - Gibbons (3)

University of Nevada Chancellor Jim Rogers, a Republican who was thinking of running for governor, recently described Gibbons as someone who’s not very bright and might look for simple solutions to complex problems, such as the state’s higher education budget. This remark caused a major flap, at least in Northern Nevada, most of which centered around Rogers’ position with the University. It seems that, for those who back Gibbons, a University Chancellor has no right to characterize another public figure, and to do so is in some way to fail to live up to his august position.

I don’t have much use for characterization, and as at least one letter-writer pointed out, Gibbons’ background, a B.S. in Geology and a M.S. in Mining/Geology from the University of Nevada at Reno, suggests Chancellor Rogers was probably incorrect in his assessment of Gibbons’ intelligence. Still I think he has a constitutional right to say it, and if he wants to say that the institution he heads graduated someone who is not too bright, and twice at that, I suppose there is a degree of accountability in that.

What amazes me is the flak Rogers caught, including calls to members of the Board of Regents demanding that the Regents do something about this exercise of First Amendment rights by the Chancellor. It seems that if you are of the far-right persuasion, as I assume Gibbons’ supporters are, your boy can say anything. (By way of review, Gibbons called those who questioned lavish corporate donations to the 2005 inaugural festivities "communists", then he called people who opposed his position on the Iraq War "those liberal, tree-hugging, Birkenstock-wearing, hippie, tie-dyed liberals" who “would be put to death at the hands of Saddam Hussein or Osama Bin Laden…it's just too damn bad we didn't buy them a ticket" to become human shields in Iraq.”)

So when Gibbons, a far more public figure than Rogers, characterizes people who disagree with him with epithets that are much stronger than “not very bright,” that seems to be OK with his followers, but when someone else characterizes Gibbons, that person should, at the very least, face censure from those to whom he is accountable in a job that has nothing directly to do with his political ambitions.

This is characteristic of the current thinking of the far-right in Nevada and throughout the United States. Reason and facts play little part in their thinking, and name-calling and characterization rule the day. Like the late unlamented Senator Joe McCarthy, Gibbons has no hesitancy in calling people with whom he disagrees Communists, or plagiarizing a speech someone else gave to talk about liberals, hippies, and human shields. Rogers is equally willing to smear and characterize, he’s just more judicious in his tone. The Right had no compunction about smearing mud on John Kerry’s war record, and was not bothered at all that there were no facts to back up their allegations, and there are those who still insist there were WMD’s somewhere in Iraq.

It’s time the American electorate took off whatever ethical and moral blinders have made this campaign of lies, deceit and name-calling tolerable to us. The far Right has a philosophy that the end justifies the means, and that kind of thinking has never led to freedom, human rights, or the moral high ground. Let the Republican gubernatorial hopefuls self-destruct and look at what candidates such as Dina Titus have to offer for Nevada. Oh, and watch for the storm of name-calling and vilification this column sparks from our local right wing. That should be fun.

Column 42 - (National) Supreme Court

This month Jim and I decided to write our “national” head-to-head columns on the Supreme Court. For my part, I am not going to address the nomination of John Roberts, not because I particularly like the President’s choice but because the nomination is, at this writing a done deal and even those who are not particularly happy at the prospect seem to think that Roberts will be confirmed.
Actually, I am not quite so unhappy as many of my liberal brethren about the nomination. Not because I particularly like Mr. Roberts, and not because the President might have nominated someone much worse, but because I have a lot of faith in the system of government our founders set up.
To review, the US Constitution is almost unique in having set up a system of government self-regulation called “checks and balances” that is designed to ensure that, over the long haul, no one branch of the government can dominate or take over. The President must operate in major areas such as appointments with the advice and consent of the Senate, and cannot, for example, go to war in a major way without either a declaration of war by the Congress or at least its tacit support. The Congress can make laws, but without the President’s signature, passing these laws requires overwhelming support in the Congress, and if the President does not operate within Constitutional bounds, the House can indict him and the Senate try him and possibly remove him from office.
And overseeing all this we have the Supreme Court. So the Legislative Branch is the primary check and balance on the Executive and vice versa, and the Judiciary oversees it all and protects the integrity of the Constitution, while its members are nominated by the President are vetted and approved by the Senate. The only way the Supreme Court can be overruled is by the intentionally ponderous and difficult process of a constitutional amendment, and so the Federal Government moves forward with each branch watching over and balancing the others, a system that has, overall, kept the US government from long-term excesses and abuses of power for 329 years – a world record for constitutional government.
The job of the Legislative Branch is to make the laws, the Executive Branch enforces those laws, and the Judiciary applies and interprets the laws, chief among which is the Constitution, the supreme law of the land. That document, with its original ten amendments that were inserted to ensure individual rights not addressed in the main text, is the charter for the US democracy and forms a body of constraints on all three branches, constraints that cannot be loosened without a great deal of public debate and support.
That system is what I trust – history has shown that anyone appointed to the Supreme Court quickly comes to find that the supremacy of the Constitution is the bedrock on which the court stands, and we have seen time and again Justices placing their limitations of the Constitution senior to their personal and political views. Nominee Roberts has already done that in stating that, while he does not necessarily agree with Roe v. Wade, he would uphold it as the law of the land.
I will say, though, that it seems odd to me that the Right, which has made such an issue of what they call “judicial activism” in the past seems so anxious to have judges appointed who will be active in pursuit of the Right’s, and particularly the “Religious Right’s” agenda. Judges that will tear down Roe v. Wade, oppose gay marriage and stem cell research, etc. While I find precious little to appreciate about President Bush and his policies and actions, I have to applaud him for withstanding, at least to an extent, the pressures of the right-wing constituency that put him in office and nominating a candidate for the Supreme Court whose record suggests he can be trusted to put the Constitution first and agendas second. We can only hope he continues to do this as future seats on the Court open up.

Column 43 - TRPA Culture

In my “national” column on Sunday, I wrote about the Constitution and the system of checks and balances – that I trust that system and am not too worried about the Supreme Court nominations. That got me thinking about how that system works or doesn’t at a more local, personal level.

The Federal Government handles all the big stuff, but the decisions that affect our day to day lives are made more locally and very differently. Legislatures, down to the local level, make the laws, the Executive branch, from the President to the local mayor or commissioner enforce them, and courts, from the Supremes down to Jim Mancuso interpret them and judge those who transgress. That’s fine as far as it goes, but throughout history there has been a parallel structure that administers the laws, enforces policies, and interprets the policies to you and me, and that is the government bureaucracy.

Now sometimes that works pretty well. In the case of IVGID, the Board of Trustees function in the executive capacity (the legislature and judiciary are at the County level, which creates a whole host of other problems) and the IVGID staff, under the able leadership and direction of Bill Horn administers the District. It works pretty well for the Fire District as well, again due to capable leadership by Jim Linardos and a staff that understand their job and do it well.

In the case of TRPA, the results are more mixed. TRPA falls under the Executive Branch – it is appointed by two governors and the President – and its job is to enforce the Compact, regulating activities that would impact the clarity of the lake and (as amended) the scenic quality of the lake. Sounds simple enough, right? Not really. You see, where the executive branches of government have a whole body of laws and cases to tell them exactly what it is they are to enforce, TRPA’s compact is written in very general terms and leaves it up to the agency to determine what will and will not fall within its purview. That’s where the bureaucracy comes in.

TRPA is governed by its Board, and its day to day work is done by its staff. Unlike IVGID and the Fire District, TRPA’s Board has a history of deferring to its staff and being dominated by its former Executive Director. Unlike the generally mature and professional staffs of the other two organizations, TRPA’s staff tends to the young, idealistic, and doctrinaire – in short, it is a classic bureaucracy government characterized by specialization of functions, adherence to fixed rules, and a hierarchy of authority; a system of administration marked by officialism, red tape, and proliferation (dictionary).

John Singlaub, TRPA’s new Executive Director took the job with a declared commitment to changing the culture. So far his results in this regard are mixed, at best and instances of the staff ignoring his and the Board’s directives to do what they feel should be done continue. I am told by people who work with John that “culture change takes time.” As one who has made a successful career of facilitating culture change efforts in business and non-profits alike, I would be the first to say it doesn’t happen overnight, but I have found the “it takes time” mantra to be an excuse for footdragging and ineffectiveness more often than not. Several things make organizational change move faster:

1. Strong, consistent leadership that talks about, lives, and promotes the new culture 100% of the time.
2. A strong commitment on leadership’s part that members of the organization are either on for the new culture or they will be gone
3. A demand for clear, unfiltered communication both within the organization and with the outside.
4. A commitment to break down hierarchy and silos so that everyone has all the information they need at the same time.
5. Clear alignment of the culture change with the organization’s vision and mission so it is clear to all that this is not the “management flavor of the month”
6. Unequivocal Board support for the change and the executives leading the change.

I wish John well in his efforts, and want to remind him that this is a case where speed counts – a slow culture change effort will not succeed and will be ground down by bureaucracy, whose main mission is to maintain the status quo.

Column 41 - Post Office 2

We are in the final stages of having the new post office location on Village Boulevard shoved down our throats.

The drawbacks to this site seem to make a no-brainer case against building there, yet the USPS is marching on and local opposition seems isolated and muted. One has to ask why, and the answer is likely to be found in Deep Throat’s advice, “follow the money.”

My sources tell me (and I have not verified this) that some influential local people own lots that will be bought by the USPS for the site. Given the USPS has committed itself to the site, if I were selling land that they need, I would expect to get top dollar for my lot and would stand to hold the USPS up if they offered less than what I wanted – the only limit would be my own greed. Also, it may be in some people’s interest to have the post office move out of the Village Center, which could lower the value of the center and make it easier for someone who was interested in developing that area to buy it.

To review: The proposed site is in an area (Village and Tanager) that already sees a lot of traffic, and locating the post office there will only increase that traffic. It will back up to the fire station and unless Tanager is widened could interfere with the Fire District’s responding efficiently in an emergency. The Fire District has not weighed in publicly on this, but again it seems to stand to reason that increasing traffic flow in this area could hinder fire response.

Locating the PO away from other businesses means that people who need to go there will need to make an extra stop, increasing gas usage and pollution. Moving the PO out of Village Center cannot help and will probably hurt the businesses there.

The Board of Trustees and the CAB have formed a committee to create an integrated community plan. If the USPS moves forward with their relocation as planned, any community plan will have to work around the new PO, a setup for a classic case of the tail wagging the dog. The USPS failed to consult the community when they made their plans several years ago – they can make up for that insult now by putting off their plans until the community plan is formulated.

As I’ve pointed out before, the USPS is cutting services and raising prices (tried to find a Post Office on Saturday lately?) while failing to compete for reliability, predictability, or speed with Fedex and UPS. At the same time they have arrogantly ignored and bypassed the community in their plans while telling us they are relocating to provide better service.

The potential negative effects on traffic, parking, emergency services, and local business, in my view, far outweigh the benefits that the relocation might provide. The Postmaster has left (coincidence?) and we can expect him to be replaced by someone who will toe the USPS line. The PO staff don’t want to move, there is at least some opposition to the move in the village, and what is predictable is that the USPS will move ahead regardless, since they are not accountable to anyone here and no one here can stop them. Notwithstanding that, it is time for the community to be heard. I call on the IVGID Board, the Fire District, the Sheriff’s office, and the public to weigh in. If the problems I and others have cited are not real, show us that. If they are, then show us where Incline, not just the USPS or some narrow interests, will benefit. Otherwise, wait until the Incline Vision project has made recommendations, and integrate the USPS’s plans with those of the community.