Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Column 72 - Dick Cheney

Dick Cheney – L’Etat, c’est lui.

In the grand scheme of things, the furor over the Vice President’s hunting accident would be a tempest in a teapot. Hunting accidents happen – it’s almost inconceivable that a group of people armed with rifles or shotguns and firing at fast-moving game will not occasionally hit something other than what they were aiming at, and sometimes that will be another hunter. It’s fortunate that the outcome of this particular accident was not much worse.

In our free society, when something that could happen to anyone happens to a public figure, it becomes fodder for the talk mill and the comedy shows – Carter had his encounter with the “attack bunny,” Clinton his stops at McDonalds, and Ford his famous falls and Quayle his spelling impairment – so at worst l’affaire Cheney should have been good for a few laughs at the Veep’s expense.

But humor ranks right below candor in this administration’s value system. Not long after the incident, the blogosphere began buzzing with stories of lies and cover-ups and then on Saturday the AP published an article detailing what it called “a week of shifting blame, belatedly acknowledged beer consumption (not ‘zero’ drinking after all) and evolving discrepancies in how the shooting happened, its aftermath and the way it was told to the nation.”

Arrogance has been a hallmark of this administration, and Cheney is in a close race with Rumsfeld for most arrogant. Beginning with the campaign, every piece of unwelcome information has been met by defaming the messenger. Questions about Bush’s military record and Cheney’s having “other priorities” than serving in Viet Nam? Get Rove’s minions together to smear John Kerry and Max Cleland, who did answer the call to serve. Unwelcome facts about the supposed yellowcake from Niger? Send Scooter to smear Joe Wilson and expose his wife as a CIA agent. And so it goes right up to Cheney and the White House blaming the poor sap who got shot.

While there is no evidence that beer drinking impaired Cheney’s judgment, drinking while hunting is an unsafe practice. The solution? Lie. Katherine Armstrong, the ranch owner and doyenne of Texas Republicans said “No one was drinking. No, zero, zippo” – that they drank Dr. Pepper with their lunch. Later Cheney acknowledged that “I had a beer at lunch.”

There is more, of course – the minimizing of the extent of Whittington’s injuries, the fact that Cheney’s licenses were not in order, and the speculation of experienced hunters that if, as was stated, the victim was 30 feet from Cheney, and if he were wearing the sort of layers of clothing that would be expected given the temperatures, the pellets should not have penetrated and harmed him below the one that hit his face – yet clearly they penetrated enough to get into his system and be carried to his heart. Most importantly there is the constipated flow of information both to the White House and to the public that has the appearance, at least, of an attempted cover-up.

Dick Cheney epitomizes the attitude of this administration that they are accountable to no one but themselves, and least of all to the public. They lie, cover up, and rationalize their behavior under the umbrella of national security and the war on terror. Yet these chickens are starting to come home to roost. In an administration that was accountable, that had not lost touch with all but the most blindly partisan segment of the public, that had an approval rating that was not in the cellar, this would have been an unfortunate case of bad judgment. In the case of this administration and its arrogant disregard for the public, it is an example of Lord Acton’s maxim that power corrupts.

Column 73 - Place-Based Planning

The next phase of the Pathway 2007 Place-Based Planning process has begun, but not without its share of controversy.

Any planning process that hopes to be effective starts with a poorly understood process called “visioning.” In visioning, stakeholders in the process come together to address the question of what the group hopes to be for the near- to intermediate-term future. This is by it nature a process that begins with art, and is never intended to reach to the level of science. It is intended to create the design parameters for the planning that is to follow, and that planning is to flow from and be informed by the vision. One of the less understood aspects of vision is that, once formulated, it is not intended to be fixed in stone, or even in Jell-O. The vision of the United States, which we could encapsulate as “the land of the free,” has morphed continually as times and thinking changed and that had not previously been included in "the free" came to be part of the vision. After vision comes planning, beginning with sorting out all the ways the vision might be fulfilled lo find the most feasible and valuable and in the end, there must be changes in policy and even law to reflect the new vision and its values.

We in IV/CB started early and have been ahead of the curve entering into the Place-Based Planning efforts and whether by following our example or just because it's the right way to go, the PBP Process is doing with other constituencies what we have already done. The problem is, they seem to want us to follow their, plan. In Incline Vision Chair Bea Epstein's words, "to go forward by going back;" this we should not do.

A case in point is the request from PBP for us to form a committee to sit with similar committees from around the Lake to ensure that all the PBP efforts are consistent. Now I'm all for consistency, and this is a reasonable request right up until they start to tell us how to constitute the committee. I guess it's appropriate for the consultants to have guidelines, and I understand that some communities around the Lake have needed them. What  worries me, though, is the a appearance that the consultants seem to plan to take a cookie-cutter approach to the process. I warned early on of the danger of any approach that could appear to ay to Incline Vision "That's nice stuff you've done, and now were here to show you the right way.” I'm not saying they're doing that - what concerns me is that even the perception that they are might be sufficient to kill the momentum that  Incline Vision has built up.

For this reason, I think that Incline Vision is doing the right thing by, on the one hand setting up a committee to take place in this phase of this process and on the other hand setting up that committee according to its own view of who from IV/CB should participate. The work of Incline Vision and its subcommittees thus far must be preserved and built upon, and the level of participation by community members in Incline Vision is critically important to the future of our village. Equally importantly, Incline Vision, by dint of its early start and the effectiveness of its work should take a leadership role in the PBP process and the overall visioning process around the Lake, and this is clearly the path being pursued by Ms Epstein, Mr. Brockman, and the others on the Incline Vision Organizing Committee. They should continue to do so.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Column 71 - For the Democrats 2008 Begins Here & Now

For the Democrats, 2008 Starts Here and Now

Last Saturday I attended the Washoe County Democratic Party’s Precinct Caucus. In his column last week, Jim Clark did a good job of explaining how the Caucus/Convention system works, so I won’t go over that again. As one who values grassroots participation in the political system, though, I have to say I was impressed at what I saw and participated in.

There were about 350 people there from all over the county. County Chair Chris Wicker told me that this was a surprising turnout – they expected around 200 people, maybe 250 at most. There are probably a lot of reasons for the turnout, but certainly the fact that this year, for the first time in Nevada’s history, every constitutional office in the State is, as former Attorney General Frankie Sue Del Papa put it, “up for grabs.” No office has an incumbent standing for it, and so the races are wide open.

Another factor clearly affecting people’s participation is a deep discontent with what the Republican Party has given us at the national level over the past five years. At a time when even rock-ribbed Republicans like former congressman Bob Barr (R-GA) are questioning the legality of the President’s actions, Democrats who had despaired for their party almost as much as for their country are starting to think it will be possible to break the GOP’s one-party government, and that the state races in 2006 are the place to start a movement toward 2008.

While I was gratified to see what I think are some outstanding candidates for offices such as Governor (Dina Titus and Jim Gibson), US Senate (Jill Derby) and others, I was dismayed to see that there are 8 county offices and 5 state offices with no Democrats declared (I’m not counting Washoe School District Board of Trustees, the State Board of Education, or the UNR Regents). I have to wonder why.

On local offices I believe that party politics don’t mean much. Alan Tiras is standing for Jim Mancuso’s judgeship, and while Alan and I mostly don’t agree on anything at the State and National level, I’m supporting him without reservation in his run. But when I look at Sharron Angle and the damage her Prop 13 mentality could do, I can only stand dumbfounded that no one from my party is challenging her, and the same goes for the Lt. Governor’s office and for the District 4 State Senate seat now held by Randolph Townsend.

So I’d like to say to my fellow progressives that 2008 starts now, and starts here. There is every indication that, at the national level, things are only going to get worse, and if we are going to avoid disaster, we need to start now, and at the State level. The Washoe County Democratic Convention will be held March 11th at the Reno-Sparks Convention Center. Our precinct is entitled to 4 voting delegates and as of now has one – me. In addition, any Democrat can and should attend. Go to www.washoedems.org for information. Between now and then, Jim Gibson will be at the monthly meeting of the Incline Democratic Club on February 23 at the Library and I hope you’ll be there to meet and question this candidate for Governor.

On an entirely different and unrelated subject, if you missed Macavoy Layne’s (Joe Tahoe’s) column last Wednesday lamenting the departure of Mary Jurkonis from the Bonanza, you should look it up online at http://www.tahoebonanza.com/article/20060208/Opinion/102080001/-1/OPINION. Mac really said it all, and I won’t try to match his well-known eloquence. All I can say is that Mary did a really remarkable job and did it with ineffable style and grace. I know she still lives here, I know she’s not really gone, and I’m sure Lee Denmark will stand on her shoulders to take the Bonanza to the next level in its contribution to the community. And all that said, we’ll miss her. So long, Mary, and thanks for the cake.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Column 70 - "Pay to Play" or The Cost of Doing Business?

Pay to Play or The Cost of Doing Business?

There has been a good deal of discussion about a number of community issues lately – to wit, the Place Based Planning effort, and particularly the request from TRPA for IVGID’s financial participation, the acquisition by IVGID of land adjacent to the Incline Lake property, putatively to be acquired by the Forest Service under SNPLMA, and (though not as recently) the sale of the Denio property on Route 28 to the Forest Service, also under SNPLMA. We can expect more of the same when round seven of the SNPLMA money comes up.

Any public discourse of this type is, I think, healthy for the community Still there is one aspect of it I find troublesome, and that is the strain of argument that seems to suggest that Incline Village/Crystal Bay can and should act independent of TRPA, Washoe County, and everyone else. I would characterize this line of thinking as naïve, at best.

Since the 1950’s every field of science – physical science, biological science, and social science – has moved toward acceptance of Systems Theory as a unifying principle that extends across all the fields. Simply put, Systems Theory stresses the interdependence of life. Anything that occurs in one sphere can and probably will have wide-ranging effects, and to the extent that we ignore this fact we will be blind-sided by unexpected results of what we do, effects that are sometimes at a far remove from our actions. Conversely, when we take a systems view and look at the dependencies that are affected by our actions, we will be more likely to effect positive outcomes.

The system that is the Tahoe Basin is made up a variety of subsystems – for example we have the high-end residential community where we live, the honky-tonk tourist atmosphere of the South Shore, the wooded and relatively sparsely populated areas of the East and West Shore and the more reserved tourist communities of the North Shore, as well as reserved forest lands. What happens in any of these areas affects all of them, and if you don’t think so, plan to go to dinner at Squaw during the winter or on the West Shore in summer and see if the traffic in those areas doesn’t have an effect on your plans. The Martis fire did not come over the mountain largely due to coordinated efforts at fuels management, and if it had, no one fire district would have fought it alone.

This being the case, to look at the request from TRPA for financial participation in the Place-Based Planning effort or at IVGID’s participating in the Incline Lake development by buying a five-acre parcel adjacent to it as “pay to play” is, I think, short-sighted. We really have a very poor choice in this – the Pathways 2007 effort is needed and proceeding. It is an effort at integrated (system-wide) planning for the Basin, and its results will affect our lives very directly. The Forest Service is likely to purchase the Incline Lake property, and we will be affected by what they do.

Rather I suggest we look at it as an imperative for the future of Incline Village. We must have a voice in the process, and if what it takes to gain that voice is financial participation, well is that so different from anything else in life? I own stock in several companies – my purchase of that stock gives me a voice I would not otherwise have in those companies. I must pay taxes as a condition of my citizenship and residence in the US, in Nevada, in Washoe County, and I must pay fees as a condition of my living in Incline, and these payments give me a voice in how those entities are governed. If Incline is to have an effective voice at the table, it is unreasonable to think that that voice will not have a financial obligation attached.

The alternative is to let Washoe County, TRPA, the State, and the Federal Government impact the quality of our lives and not to have any direct say in what happens. I for one don’t care to risk that.

As for $27 million for the Denio property, well that’s just silly.