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.