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 na├»ve 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.