Thursday, April 05, 2007

Column 97 - Incline Vision Town Meeting 2

There is an apocryphal story about a school boy who, upon entering second grade was told that one of the requirements of this school year was that he read a book of his choice, to which he replied “why do I have to read a book? I already read a book!”

I hear a similar plaint from locals about the upcoming Incline Vision Town Meeting and it makes about as much sense to me. “We did planning in 1996 – do we need to do this every ten years?”

Well, I guess the answer is yes. The 1996 planning addressed land use and a lot of good things came out of it over the subsequent years. I moved here in 1995 and a lot has changed for the better in the town since then – we have sidewalks we didn’t have, we have facilities we didn’t have, and in general the physical aspect of the village has improved in many ways. Much of the improvement has come from direct citizen involvement – the sidewalks were, in part, a result of accidents that occurred when people were walking where there were no sidewalks. The pedestrian-operated traffic light at the south end of where the Northwood/ Southwood loop intersects Highway 28 came because a group of citizens were unwilling to wait until someone being injured or killed prompted a safety measure. The skateboard park was a direct citizen effort, and on and on. I guess the connection between the Town Meeting and citizen involvement and these and other improvements is just too indirect for some people to see, but I think it’s real – when people get involved in their community beyond sitting around or writing letters to the paper about what’s wrong and “somebody ought to fix it,” good things happen.

Here’s the thing folks – in an unincorporated area outside the mainstream of county services if the residents don’t get involved, improvement is a hit or miss proposition. In November of 2005, Bea Epstein and a small group of others (full disclosure - I was one of them) took the initiative to raise the question “What do we want Incline Village/Crystal Bay to be like in 2025?” This was before TRPA’s Pathway 2007 got started, before Place-Based Planning, before much of anything was happening in this arena. That group pulled together the second planning effort in ten years and held a Town Meeting with over 300 people present. From that meeting came ten committees focusing on issues ranging from demographics to the environment to arts and culture and to recreation, encompassing a hundred or more concerned individuals that spent the next 18 months planning and working with the other efforts that got started as well. From time to time the effort was declared successful, unnecessary, dying, dead, and revolutionary, and on it went.

Now the time has come for the committees to report out what they have learned and to move from planning to action, and that is the purpose of Saturday’s Town Meeting – to move from vision to action and to come out of the meeting with commitments either for direct citizen action or action to influence the appropriate public bodies and officials.

As I told someone today, I’m too old for cynicism. When I was young and had lots of time, I could afford to say “aw, nothing’s gonna change – it’ll just be meetings every ten years forever.” Now I’m older – I don’t have the luxury of cynicism and if I’m going to help change things for the better I need to do it now. Where will you be Saturday morning? Basketball doesn’t start till 3 – why not take a chance that community involvement makes a difference, even when it takes 10 years or it’s indirect.

Column 96 (National) - Gonzales

The current issues surrounding Attorney General Alberto Gonzales point up again the arrogance and complete lack of accountability of the Bush Administration and the willingness of its hard core of true believers to excuse the most egregious behavior on the part of BushCheneyRove on the flimsiest of pretexts.

At this point it’s probably overkill to point out that the Gonzales affair is only the latest in a long trail of lies, obfuscations, and half-truths going back at least to the non-existent WMD’s in Iraq and Saddam Hussein’s non-existent links to Al Qaeda – that trail wends its way through the abortive nomination of the totally unqualified Harriet Miers for the Supreme Court, on down to the exposure of Valerie Plame and the scapegoating of Scooter Libby as the fall guy for the Administration’s lies about that. Now we have the firing of eight US Attorneys, where we are to believe was somehow just an innocent exercise of executive prerogative.

There is no question that the firings were political. All eight cases bear the same stamp – whether the US Attorneys failed to investigate voter fraud cases that might have reversed Republican victories or whether they pursued corruption charges against Republicans like Duke Cunningham, in every case they resisted interference from Washington and were fired. And please hold the letters to the editor about how Clinton fired all the US Attorneys – there’s a world of difference between pro forma firing and restaffing and firings that targeted specific people who were not, in Sampson’s words “loyal Bushies.” The issue isn’t that they were fired but why they were fired.

We are now to believe that Gonzales, who should be working on his resum̩, or the feckless Ms Miers were behind the firings, but as the Romans said, in investigating guilt, ask cui bono? Who benefits? Neither Miers nor Gonzales had a dog in this fight Рwhy would the Attorney General want to replace conservative US Attorneys, some of whom had just had stellar performance reviews, with party hacks?

The only one who had a motive was Karl Rove. Rove's job is to build a permanent Republican majority; If that means replacing principled conservatives in the US Attorneys Office with Bush loyalists; what in Rove’s record suggests that he or his masters would hesitate?

The Military Commissions Act, the Patriot Act, the disregarding of habeas corpus, due process and the presumption of innocence all proclaim this Administration’s lack of regard for the Constitution and for basic justice. BushCheneyRove also have a low regard for law enforcement; preferring round ups of anyone who might plausibly be detained rather than the traditional methods of investigation and detention.

The Bush Administration is trying to hide behind the doctrine of “executive privilege,” which in this Administration’s case thinly masks contempt for the balance of powers mandated by the Constitution. When Congress rightly demands a public accounting of the actions of public officials, the President offers unsworn “testimony” behind closed doors and without a record, and blusters about a Constitutional Confrontation if he does not get his way, despite the fact that when presidents have tried to invoke this privilege, the courts have been skeptical.

The Bushies’ contempt for Congress should not surprise us. This administration has shown over and over that it does not believe that the laws apply to it, and that it does not respect its co-equal branches of government. Congress should subpoena Mr. Rove and the others, and question them under oath, in public. If Congress has more questions, they should be recalled. That’s Congress’s job- to exercise the “checks and balances” mandated by a document BushCheneyRove do not seem to have read – the Constitution of the United States of America.