Thursday, December 31, 2009

Tahoe Ticker Column 19 – IT’S NOT THE END OF THE DECADE!!!

OK. I know I'm crazy on this subject, but indulge me. I've heard all week long about the "end of the decade." I've heard it on sports shows, news shows, talk shows, you name it. There's just one problem:


Right now, count to 10 in your head (don't do it out loud – people will look at you oddly). Did you count from one or from zero? I'll bet you my hat, buns, and overcoat that you started from one. If, oddly, you started from zero, you must have ended at 9, and then 2009 would be the end of a decade of years, but NOBODY STARTS COUNTING FROM ZERO!!!

Zero is the day you were born. One year from then you had your first birthday; when you had lived for ten years (a decade) you had your tenth birthday, and you started your second decade – that is, age ten was the zero point of your second decade.

The year 2000 was the last year of the second millennium and of the decade of the 1990's, which began in 1991. The year 2010 will be the last year of the first decade of the third millennium of the Common Era (sometimes called A.D.). Nothing that happens this week will be the "last of the decade," unless it's the last until after December 31, 2010.

Thank you for listening, I feel much better. They say I can go home soon if I promise to take my medication. Happy New Year – the last year of the unnamed decade.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Huffington Post Column 8: It's Time We Recognize We Have a New Kind of Enemy

A lot has been written about last week's terrorist attempt aboard a Detroit-bound flight, and there is no question in my mind that it was a security failure of biblical proportion. I think HuffPost blogger Taylor Marsh summed it up very aptly:

Let's see, a young Nigerian male, whose flight originated out of Lagos airport on the continent of Africa, a notoriously iffy security proposition to begin with, reportedly buys a one-way ticket, paying in cash, with his father (chairman of Nigeria's FirstBank, the oldest bank in the country, with offices in London, Paris and Beijing), notifying the U.S. embassy in Nigeria that his son has been radicalized, warning the U.S., with the young man attempting a terrorist attack that was foiled by sheer sweet luck

In the wake of the event, for a few days at least, airport security was tightened up, with attendant long lines and increased personal searches, and passengers on flights were made to sit, bookless and iPod-less for the last hour of their flights, and heaven help anyone who didn't make it to the bathroom before that hour. There are already signs that this increased security is lightening up, and with good reason – it was a massive overreaction to begin with.

I wonder, though, if we don't need to rethink our whole approach to security in a number of ways.

It seems to me that behind our thinking there is an unarticulated expectation that we should and can be 100% secure, if we just do enough. That thinking may be a holdover from a world that no longer exists.

In 1941, the attack on Pearl Harbor was a shock to Americans – no foreign enemy had assaulted our shores since the British in 1812, and, with two oceans between us and Europe and Asia and friendly powers at our north and south, we felt we were unassailable. The advent of air warfare changed all that and we recognized that we were not so secure any more. Through the cold war of the 1950's and the foreign wars of the rest of the 20th Century we were more or less alert to the possibility of attack, and even expanded our attention to include air hijackings (mostly to Cuba, for some reason).

Finally, 9/11 drove it home – this is a new world. The assault on our shores is not from an army, navy, or air force, but by a new kind of enemy, one who attacked stealthily, in small numbers, and without apparent regard for the deaths of civilians or even for their own death. This took the guerilla warfare that defeated us in Vietnam to a whole new level of danger and frustration for a government and military that was not versed in fighting such an enemy.

There is a country, though, that has lots of experience with this type of enemy – the State of Israel has, since 1948, been under siege in exactly this way, interspersed with conventional wars, and they seem much better at dealing with it than we are – maybe it's time to learn from them.

Israel has what may be the most effective border security in the world, particularly where air travel is concerned. Traveling to Israel I was put through rigorous screening on departure from the US or from points in Europe – in Frankfurt, for example, El Al departures were in a separated area of the airport, and had their own very thorough security.

On leaving Israel the screening was even more tight – usually a minimum of two interviews that were interspersed with trick questions designed to catch lies, and a very complete examination of both carry-on and checked luggage. An Israeli friend of mine was a security officer for El Al, and on one flight a gentleman sat next to me on the upper level of a 747 – this young, very muscular-looking fellow never took off his sport jacket, didn't read, eat or drink, and never took his eyes off the cockpit door. I might have been nervous if my friend hadn't told me enough for me to recognize the man as an air marshal.

I've asked Israeli friends what it's like for them to live under siege, and they are surprisingly relaxed about it. They are clear that the government and military are doing everything they can, and they recognize that even when terrorist attacks are frequent, the odds of any one person being in the wrong place at the wrong time are low, so they go about their lives calmly, albeit carefully.

Maybe we can learn from that – maybe profiling doesn't have to be crude and racially biased, but targeted based on real information and interviews, and maybe the alternative to profiling is not to treat everyone like a potential terrorist, subjecting the very old, the very young, and the infirm to endless inspection while others go through unmolested.

Maybe it's time to recognize that this really is a war – we may be at war against terror and terrorists, but they are also at war against us, and we're not going to find them all and kill them – we have to have more effective defense as well as spending billions on offensive initiatives that don't seem to be working.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Bonanza Column 165 – We Need Representative Government in IV/CB

My column two weeks ago on the International Baccalaureate Program (IB) has drawn a lot of response from people who are for IB, people who have reservations about IB, and people who aren't sure. I've had a number of meetings and will have more and have been given a lot to read. I'll be writing a follow-up column (or maybe two) after I've had a chance to study all this – my goal is next week, but we'll see. Meanwhile to anyone who took offense, I did not mean to imply that UNR or community colleges are not good schools – just that, rightly or wrongly, there are levels of prestige in Academe – in my experience differences in quality of education are much smaller than differences in prestige (or tuition levels).

For this week though, it seems to me that much of our experience in 2009 has shown that voting down the proposal to become a town was a mistake. I know, I was one of the early and vocal proponents of the town idea (and the County idea) and so I may be biased. Heck, I am biased. Notwithstanding that, let's look at the evidence.

It is a simple fact that, with the exception of water, sewer, recreation, and trash, the only place we have to go to find recourse for anything that a majority of people in the community might want is to the County or possibly TRPA, both of which have much wider constituencies than IV/CB. I have not found anyone except maybe the owner of the property, who has anything good to say about the Orbit Station, but we have no way to change the fact that it's there – IVGID can't do anything about it, neither can TRPA, and the County shows little indication of giving a hoot.

We have "our" County Commissioner, and I think John Breternitz is a good person who really cares about the part of his constituency that is here at the Lake, but the key word here is "part." Even John has a wider constituency to consider and I probably don't need to remind you that there are people down the hill who have a less than stellar view of us up here, and with all due respect to John, no County Commissioner has ever lost his seat over an IV/CB issue.

I suggest that the problem is one of political will here, and as I pointed out last week it's going to get worse. The County Office of Community Development has issued the report I alluded to last week and it's online if you want to see it. It confirms what I reported in last week's column – that we have become a community where the majority (about 60%) of properties are second homes, that the average income for working people is far below what it takes to live here, and that, as we know, our school population is declining, and as it declines we will lose teachers and services.

The question for me is how do we address these issues, but really that question presupposes that there is something to address – maybe we, as a community, want to go in this direction, maybe we don't. There is no coherent way to answer that question.

And by the way, if you think IVGID should be addressing them, think again. There is a persistent (but erroneous) view that IVGID is a representative government – they're not. The GID in IVGID stands for General Improvement District, and the Trustees are just that – those entrusted with managing (not governing) the aforementioned areas of water, sewer, recreation, and trash. As Trustees they certainly need to pay attention to community opinion, but they are under no obligation to represent that opinion if, in their judgment, following it would go against good management of the District's assets.

That was the whole point of the town proposal – a Town Board would, in fact, be a representative government with broader responsibility for the community and with an obligation to represent community interests. I realize that, politically, a lot of people here have a knee-jerk reaction to the idea of government in any form (though I don't see any of them refusing their Social Security or Medicare benefits), but the current rudderless condition of this community with regard to any coherent plan for our future demonstrates that there is a role for government in some form. Personally, I prefer the direct democracy we practiced in the town meeting system in Vermont, but I'll settle for a representative body that can take on the question of what do we want the community to be in ten or twenty years.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Huff Post Column 7 – Making the holidays meaningful – Micah, Desmond Tutu, and my friend Jim

I have a guest blogger this week – the following is excerpted from a sermon by my friend, co-author, and co-conspirator, the Rev. Jim Beebe Rector of St. Patrick's Episcopal Church in Incline Village, NV. He was preaching on a reading from Micah, but the message of the sermon is one that, taken to heart, can make the holiday season and the coming year more meaningful for all of us.


Over the years
I've heard a lot of sermons. And one of the things that drives me crazy about them is how they belabor the obvious. They start with ideas like faith, hope or love. They define them and give examples of them. They will baldly state that faith is better than doubt, that hope is better than despair, that love is better than hate.


Then, right at the end,
with a seriousness that is as earnest as it is shallow, the preacher will say, "And therefore, brothers and sisters, have faith" or, "In sum, then, beloved, maintain hope" or "Consequently, my friends, we should love one another." It's like if he says it, then we'll do it. It's the same mistake Plato made when he assumed that to know the good is to do the good. Please….


This week's reading from the prophet Micah (5:2-4) is misleading because it's taken out of context. The prophet gives us hope that Someone will come along to right the wrongs of the world. But that's not all he says. He vacillates between love and hope, on the one hand, and fury and vindictiveness on the other. Want to know how this chapter from Micah ends? Well, it revels in the destructions of Israel's enemies:


"'In that day,' says the Lord, 'I will cut off your horses from among you and will destroy your chariots; and I will cut off the cities of your land and throw down all your strongholds; and in anger and wrath I will execute vengeance on the nations that did not obey."


It's like that
throughout the book of Micah – one minute his heart is filled with hope and forgiveness and the next, well, he's out after blood. But this is the very reason I like this book – it tells the truth about how we experience suffering in this life. It's never a simple matter of experiencing the pain, then forgiving those who trespass against us.


It's more like we bounce back and forth – at this moment, our hearts are full of compassion and hoping, at the same time, they get their just desserts. The spiritual reality of forgiveness as it's actually lived out is that it takes a lot of time. And sometimes we need to go back over that same ground and live it out again. In his book,
No Future Without Forgiveness, Desmond Tutu tells the stunning story of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa. His assignment? To help a land ravished by apartheid heal the wounds of racism and oppression.


Taking the simple idea
at the core of his faith – forgiveness – Tutu led a brutalized nation in an unprecedented exercise in truth-telling. If we had to do this in the United States, we'd just declare a National Day of Forgiveness, at the end of which some preacher would get up in front of us and say, "And therefore, brothers and sisters, we should forgive each other." Not so in South Africa. Tutu patiently led the nation back to where it needed to go.


The testimony
from the more than 20,000 victims was overwhelming. Stories of police fixing supper as the bodies of their victims burned nearby. Of "disappearings." Of unspeakable – but now spoken – tortures. The hearings revealed that the South African Defense Force, the special security arm of Botha's government, was responsible in one way or another for one and a half million deaths, four million refugees, and the economic destruction of the equivalent of $60 billion U.S. dollars.


Tutu and his commissioners created a process where such stories of suffering could be told and where people who had committed such atrocities could come forth and take responsibility for what they had done. And they could receive amnesty as long as they told the truth. In essence, they created a new reality, an environment of shared ministry in which all of a nation's people – victims, oppressors, and bystanders – could work together to heal.


This is not to say, of course, that South Africa is a healed nation. Far from it. But the work has been started because one man was not afraid of the truth. One man was willing to do the hard work of reconciliation and not just blow it off with some facile remark about how we ought to forgive each other. It is that shallowness which is leading to the exodus from mainstream churches these days.


So I'm not going to stand before you and wind up this homily with, "And therefore, brothers and sisters, we ought to forgive one another." What I will say, instead, are these three things:


1.    First, the simple thing. We can all do some preventive medicine so that we don't create a situation where others have to forgive us. Deep in our reptilian brain we have something called the amygdala. Its evolutionary purpose is to warn us of threats. It works really, really well.


That's why fear mongering politicians are so effective. At any rate, when that little sucker kicks in, there's an eight-second burst of chemicals in your brain that demand fight, flight, freeze, or appease. Those urges are nearly irresistible. Nearly. Count to eight and the possibility of holding your tongue goes up exponentially.


2.    Second, when you read the Bible, read the whole Bible, not just your favorite parts. Read the ugly parts, the difficult parts, the disturbing parts. Allow your minds to experience the rage of the authors as well as their gentleness.


3.    And finally, do the work of forgiveness and don't just say the words. Forgiveness is a journey in which rage, as well as kindness, are frequent friends. Take the time. Be honest. And don't expect your "final answer" to be nearly so final.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Bonanza Column 164 – A New Vision for IV/CB

Sometime, hopefully soon, a report will be forthcoming from the Washoe County Community Development Department. The report will, as I understand it, report some statistics and demographic trends that could spell dire news for Incline Village and Crystal Bay. Based on what we've heard of the report so far and other statistics that have been reported, the following seem to be the case:

  • As our senior population, many of them long-term residents, grows older, more and more are moving away to places where they don't have to deal with winter; some will still be here in the summer, and some won't.
  • The percentage of homes that are not owner-occupied year-round has risen over the past few years from around 20% to more like 40% and is expected to continue to rise.
  • School populations continue to decline.
  • The average annual income for working people in Incline Village/Crystal Bay is about $44,000.
  • To live in a 2 bedroom condo in IV/CB requires an annual income of about $110,000.
  • To live in a 3 bedroom house in IV/CB requires an annual income of about $200,000.


If you extend those curves for, say, 10 years into the future it looks to me like IV/CB in 2020 will be a lot like Martha's Vineyard – a collection of homes that stand empty or are rented for much of the year with a small full-time population who maintain things so that "in season" everything is nice for the property owners. The tax base will be there – second homes, after all, pay the same property tax as owner-occupied properties – but not many people and not much of a community.


To some extent it seems to me that development efforts here have been aiming at a fast-fading past. We have outstanding medical and emergency medicine facilities – appropriate to a community with a high senior population – and point with pride to excellent facilities in Reno and the availability of care flight and ambulance service for getting people there. We have terrific public safety services – sheriff, fire, and rescue – and a lot of community concern for the quality of education in the face of declining populations.


We've had periodic bursts of concern for what the community will look like in the future – community planning sessions have been convened over the past 15 or 20 years by IVGID, the ad hoc Incline Vision Committee, TRPA, and others. When a proposal like Boulder Bay or four lanes in Kings Beach comes along there is significant discussion about the impact it will have on the physical quality of life in the community, but despite all these expressions of public sentiment, I haven't found anyone who would say that we have, as a community, a coherent vision of what we want IV/CB to look like in the future.


If you ask people what would attract newcomers to our community they will point with pride to the medical and safety facilities, the quality of the schools, the library, recreation, the beauty of the area, etc., and these are all valid points of pride, but something is missing. If you look at the three income and cost figures cited above, it is clear that only well-heeled people can afford to live here unless they are willing to hold two or three jobs. Lest you think that's improbable, I can introduce you to a teacher in the Incline Schools who has been teaching here for 30 years, lives in a modest condo, and has to hold 2 other jobs in addition to her teaching in order to afford to live in the community she serves.


Let me put it very simply: we need opportunities for people to hold well-paying jobs here in town – that means a lot more businesses that pay well and employ professional and technical people than we currently have. That kind of change will be a break with the history of the community and will require a coordinated effort that can't happen without a clear and aligned vision of where we want to be in 10 years.


We (and I include myself) who are getting older and may or may not see the results of that vision must cede leadership of the community to the next generation. Right now only one IVGID Trustee represents the demographic that is the future of the community – that will have to change. In JFK's words, it's time to pass the torch to a new generation in IV/CB, or in 10 years the place will be very, very different.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Tahoe Ticker Column 18 – Affordable Housing in Incline

Here are three interesting facts (numbers are rounded off):

  1. The average annual income for working people in Incline Village/Crystal Bay is about $44,000.
  2. To live in a 2 bedroom condo in IV/CB requires an annual income of about $110,000.
  3. To live in a 3 bedroom house in IV/CB requires an annual income of about $200,000.

These numbers will figure prominently in a soon-to-be-released report on affordable housing by the Washoe County Community Development Department. I think they have a lot of implications for the IV/CB community, particularly when you take into account other demographic factors, but for this article I want to focus on the impact it has on people who work in the community.

Relatively few teachers, firefighters, law enforcement officers, and others who work in IV/CB can afford to live there – some live on the California side, some in Reno, some in Carson, Minden, etc. One friend of mine who has been a teacher in Incline schools for 30 years works three jobs to afford a modest condo in Incline. When there is a snowstorm, safety officers on duty have to stay on duty and those who could relieve them can't get here to work.

The original plan for IV/CB was for a bedroom community, particularly for airline pilots. The same things that made it an attractive place for people who work elsewhere attracted retirees, people who work at home, and wealthy people who didn't need to work, as well as second home owners. None of these groups would naturally have their attention on or have a concern for working people in the community. Not because they are bad or uncaring, but because it wouldn't naturally occur on their radar. In another community, the needs of working people would be the natural concern of employers who wanted to attract and retain talent, but again in IV/CB circumstances conspired to operate against this.

First, the major employers are the County (teachers, sheriffs) and the Fire District. The County is remote from Incline and the relationship between the community and Washoe County has often been problematic at best. The Fire District Board is local, but not in position to do much about the problem. Other employers tend to be in businesses that traditionally don't pay well and whose profit margins don't allow them to pay much better – low- and middle-end restaurants, bars, and casinos, food stores, gas stations, etc.

As a result, we have a community with little or no affordable housing and an absentee workforce. I don't know if you see that as a problem or not – as a resident of Incline, I do see it as a problem in that it severely limits the diversity and the options for development for the community. Hopefully this forthcoming report from the WCCDD will have some solutions – I don't know because other than a few factoids such as those above, the report is being kept pretty close to the vest, including no indication of when it will be released beyond "soon." I sent an email to Adrian Freund, the CDD Director asking when it would be out, but haven't gotten a response. If you're interested, you could let him know at or 775.328.3600.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Bonanza Column 163 – IB – It Will Take a Village

Normally I write these columns because I have an opinion about something and write to express that opinion. This week, though, I have questions rather than opinions.

I've been hearing about the International Baccalaureate Program (IB) as a possibility for Incline's schools for quite some time now – since the Incline Schools Reflective Task Force first gave the program a strong endorsement. Many people whose thinking I respect are in favor of the program as well, and as a proponent of anything that would enhance the quality of education, I have been disposed to support it.

Last week, however, at a public meeting on the subject, some concerns were raised that gave me pause. The most serious of these speaks to the relationship between IB and IHS's Advanced Placement (AP) program, which is an excellent program in its own right. Research cited by Assistant Principal Kevin Taylor seems to indicate that while cooperation between these two programs works in large schools, it does not seem to work as well in small schools like ours.

Another concern is funding. The Washoe County School District has been clear (if not to say adamant) in its refusal to fund IB, even partially. School Trustee Dan Carne seems to think that Incline gets more than its share from the District already, and between his input last week and the former Superintendent's earlier statements, unless the new Superintendent makes a big change in the District's stance (and there is no reason to think he will), Incline will have to self-fund this program. I didn't like it when we had to self-fund an new athletic field when high schools in Reno have, in some cases, college-quality facilities, and I like this even less where an academic program is concerned.

For one thing, while we may be able to raise the $400,000 needed to fund the program over the next ten years, we cannot be sure that community funding will be there later, and absent any commitment from the WCSD, it seems likely that if local funding were to fail or fall short, the program would die an early death.

While there is clearly a community base of support for IB, I really have no idea of how broad or deep that support goes, and it also concerns me that some teachers for whom I have very high regard seem to have serious reservations about the program and/or the timing of implementing it.

Finally, and this will not be a popular view, it seems to me that IB, however good it is, is a program that will bring up the top students, but what about the bottom? If we are going to make a big investment of time, money, and talent, shouldn't we be looking to raise the level of the students who, now, will not be candidates for Harvard, Yale, Cornell, or Cal – those who have the ability but not the motivation or the connection to education to graduate, and those who may be headed for Community Colleges and UNR, and who need the best educational grounding we can give them to succeed there and in life.

Programs like ARC show that with a much smaller investment, those kids can be supported in excelling. I'm not saying that the exceptional, university-bound students don't need better education as well, but will IB be one more program that gives to the haves while ignoring the have-nots? I don't know, but I think it's worth asking.

I want to repeat that I don't have an opinion on this yet – but I do have questions, and I think they are questions that we as a community need to take seriously. A lot of our very good community efforts, from Pet Network to Project Mana, arose from commitments of one or a few individuals who started them and have been able to mobilize sufficient support to keep them going. IB, however, is a horse of a different color – it is a proposal that will affect every family with children in the community and will require support from the whole community. While I respect the commitment of those who have taken up the banner for the IB program, I don't think we can or should depend on a part of the community to carry a program to which others in the community are tepid or even cold toward. This one will take a Village, and we should take that seriously.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Tahoe Ticker Column 17 – Obama and Afghanistan

I've watched with interest the reaction to President Obama's decision to initiate an Iraq-type surge in Afghanistan and to set a timetable for withdrawal. The Right seems to have no problem with the surge, but doesn't like the timetable – I guess because Bush didn't like it in the Iraq surge, or maybe, like bowing to the Japanese Emperor, Dick Cheney thinks it's a sign of weakness.

The Left, on the other hand, has no problem with the timetable, it's the surge they hate. In a blog post on, Garry Wills wrote a sad and impassioned statement of deep disappointment and disaffection with the President, ending by saying that while he'd never vote for a Republican, he won't give one more cent or one shred of support to Obama in the future.

Obama said in his campaign that, while he thought Iraq was the wrong war, he would expand the war in Afghanistan. He then studied the problem for 8 months and made a decision that he would, in fact, do that. He feels, rightly or wrongly, that this is essential to America's security. I don't think I agree, and I don't think the surge will do much vis-à-vis Al Qaeda and the Afghan Taliban, but I can see what his thinking might be – if he just pulled out of Af/Pak and then there was another attack emanating from there, he would have to wonder. If the surge doesn't work, at least he will have done what he could.

I have to wonder who the anti-surge folks think they voted for – maybe Gandhi? Martin Luther King? Those heroes weren't liberals – they were radicals. They wanted to change their society at the root – what in business circles is called culture change. Obama is a liberal in the tradition of JFK. When Kennedy accepted the Liberal Party nomination in New York he said, in part:

if by a "Liberal" they mean someone who looks ahead and not behind, someone who welcomes new ideas without rigid reactions, someone who cares about the welfare of the people -- their health, their housing, their schools, their jobs, their civil rights, and their civil liberties -- someone who believes we can break through the stalemate and suspicions that grip us in our policies abroad, if that is what they mean by a "Liberal," then I'm proud to say I'm a "Liberal."

That's who Obama is. He is out to break through the Conservative thinking and governing that puts the welfare of the rich and big corporations ahead of that of the people, and who believes, in the words of another Massachusetts liberal, that "politics is the art of the possible" (Tip O'Neill). In other words, he would rather have less than perfect health reform that will be enacted than to be right about insisting on a perfect plan (as the Clintons did) that will not pass and leave us in a worse mess than we're in. Similarly with the war, he won't risk the "perfect" course of immediate withdrawal – he'll try the less than perfect plan of the surge and timetable.

I yield to no one in my opposition to unnecessary wars, and I don't know if this war was necessary or not – I think it probably was – and I support this President. He thinks, he listens, and in the end he has the terrible responsibility of doing what he thinks is right, knowing that "the buck stops here." To my radical friends, I say "get over it." You don't get to be governed by the president you want, you are governed by the president you elected.

Bonanza Column 162 – Ensign’s Latest Outrage

John Ensign continues to show us his true colors. First, of course, there was the tawdry affair with a married staffer and the transparent attempt to buy off the staffer and her husband by a "gift" of almost $100,000 through Ensign's parents. Not to mention the attempt to get the husband a lobbying position even though the man was also on Ensign's staff, and therefore not allowed to be a lobbyist for at least a year after he left his post.

Now, according to a story in the Reno Gazette-Journal, Ensign has announced that he won't resign his post because that might make it more likely that Harry Reid will be re-elected. The logic here seems a bit twisted, but what is clear is that, despite Ensign's sanctimonious avowals of "family values" and his supposed evangelistic Christianity (and his membership in and residence with "The Family), where his values really lie is someplace much more profane than sacred. He is, and I mean this to carry all the cynical connotations I can load onto it, a politician, first, last, and foremost.

He's also a hypocrite. As I've noted before Ensign (along with the redoubtable Mark Sanford, was among the loudest voices calling for President Clinton's resignation after the Monica Lewinsky affair became public – yet now, having been outed about something at least equally egregious, if not more so (Lewinsky was, at least, single) somehow political considerations trump his supposed moral values and he won't resign. I guess in Ensign's mind a liberal (Reid) is worse to have in office than a hypocrite.

I wonder what his excuse for not resigning will be after Reid is re-elected. I guess he figures that it will all have blown over by then, but I wouldn't count on it. I really think that the country is getting wise to these manipulations when politicians espouse family values, anti-gay, anti-choice positions while carrying on in their private lives in ways that directly contradict their public stance.

Again, I don't mean to paint everyone who takes a socially conservative position with the same brush, nor do I believe that everyone who holds strong religious beliefs is a hypocrite. There does seem to me to be a strong relationship between how loudly those views are trumpeted in public and the discovery that the trumpeter protests too much. I know an awful lot of deeply religious people – Jews, Christians of all stripes, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus and people who would describe themselves as spiritual rather than religious – who do their best to live within their values and to clean up any damage they do when they fall short. They also tend to hold those beliefs rather quietly, and they never try to impose their values on others, no matter how sad it makes them to see people living in a way that they believe is wrong.

Then there are those, again not restricted to one religious persuasion, who feel they must let everyone know what they believe and why others should believe as they do. Those are the ones who are, in my experience, most likely to turn out to have feet of clay.

I've said it before and, Senator, you can bet I'll keep saying it until you're out of office. Ensign should resign and get out of public life. He has proven by his behavior that he is unfit to hold a public trust.

Huffington Post Column 6 – Why Do We Care About Tiger Woods?

Henry Kissinger said "power is the greatest aphrodisiac." Given ol' Hank's track record with such ladies as Jill Ireland, I have to assume he was speaking from experience, particularly since he was never exactly in the Brad Pitt or George Clooney class of male eye candy.

The Kissinger quote came to mind as I pondered the Tiger Woods debacle. In the normal course of events, Woods' peccadilloes are so common as to be a non-event. Various sources put the percentage of men who cheat on their wives in the 60 to 70% range. Furthermore, the point has been made that unlike, say, Sen. John Ensign or Gov. Mark Sanford, Woods never held himself out as a proponent or exemplar of any values in this area. He is a great golfer with an amazing work and development ethic, and has never claimed to be anything else. So why the public kerfuffle?

I think the answer lies in a conflation of celebrity and power that is uniquely American Although we're probably in the process of exporting it as we do so much of our culture, the phenomenon of being "famous for being famous" remains largely American in its provenance. So we have the Gosselins, Paris Hilton, the balloon boy hoax family, and most recently the White House gate crashers who have done nothing to merit fame, yet are famous.

Also we have celebrities across the political spectrum who are listened to and whose endorsements are sought by politicians, even when there is no evidence at all that they have any basis for their views beyond their own opinion – just like most of us. I'm not talking here about, say, Bono or other celebrities who have made a real study of the issues they speak on and would qualify for some level of expertise – I mean those who have nothing to stand on but their celebrity.

So here we have the young Tiger Woods who has worked since he was five on being a great golfer. He goes from Stanford to the pro tour, and now, at age 34 has played and won every major and is worth about a billion dollars. This guy isn't famous for being famous, he's earned his fame. Everywhere he goes this fame translates into power way beyond the power to hit a 300 yard drive or hole an 18 foot putt. He's also very handsome in a boyish kind of way, so it's not hard to imagine that, per Kissinger's tenet, women are putting themselves in his path.

I'm not justifying or apologizing for Tiger's infidelity – frankly I think that's between him and his wife, or it should be. I am attempting to explain the public fascination with it. Because once we've conflated celebrity with power, it's inevitable that we will see a celebrity's errors as a betrayal. We made him famous, we imputed all this power to him, and he took advantage of it, putting him in the same category as people like JFK, Bill Clinton, John Edwards, John Ensign, and Mark Sanford – people whom we actually did invest with real power, who then acted duplicitously not just with their wives, but with we who empowered them.

But Tiger Woods has no power, really. On the power spectrum he's at the same level as most of us – sure, he has a public platform if he chooses to use it for good or ill (see Magic Johnson, Dennis Rodman, etc.), but in this day of blogs and the Internet, everyone can have a public platform if they want one (see yours truly). In terms of real power he's not even up to a state legislator or a city mayor. So what has he betrayed?

I say let's leave Tiger and his family to sort this out the way you and I would – in private, and as best they can. It has nothing to do with you and me, really.

Monday, November 30, 2009

HuffPo Column 5 – The Hate That Dare Not Speak Its Name

Well, it appears that getting into a White House State Dinner where the President and a visiting head of state are present is considerably easier than getting on a Southwest flight from Reno to Oakland.

For that half-hour trip, flyers need to show a picture ID, be checked against the reservation list and the no-fly list, put limited supplies of liquids into a see-through bag which is then X-rayed, and go through a metal detector.

To get into the aforementioned White House function it appears you need to be (a) well-dressed, (b) good-looking, and (c) (maybe) Caucasian.

It's estimated that this President has received about 4 times as many death threats as his predecessors, yet admission to his house is apparently based on having one's name checked against a list, and even that isn't all that tight.

The Secret Service has, appropriately, fallen on its sword over the security lapse, but there appears to be more to the story than that. According to Michael Isikoff in Newsweek, a White House staffer who was accountable for checking these guest lists resigned earlier this year when she was told her being at the door with the Secret Service was not necessary.

I was starting to think that this whole incident might be being blown out of proportion until my wife forwarded to me an email she received from a friend of the right-wing persuasion. The email is below:



Everyone of voting age should read these two books.. Don't buy them, get them from the library before they are removed from the shelves.

From Dreams of My Father: 'I ceased to advertise my mother's race at the age of 12 or 13, when I began to suspect that by doing so I was ingratiating myself to whites.'

From Dreams of My Father : 'I found a solace in nursing a pervasive sense of grievance and animosity against my mother's race.'

From Dreams of My Father: 'There was something about her that made me wary, a little too sure of herself, maybe and white.

From Dreams of My Father: 'It remained necessary to prove which side you were on, to show your loyalty to the black masses, to strike out and name names.'

From Dreams of My Father: 'I never emulate white men and brown men whose fates didn't speak to my own. It was into my father's image, the black man, son of Africa, that I'd packed all the attributes I sought in myself: the attributes of Martin and Malcolm, DuBois and Mandela.'

And FINALLY, and most scary!

From Audacity of Hope: 'I will stand with the Muslims should the political winds shift in an ugly direction.'

If you have never forwarded an e-mail, now is the time to do so!!!

We CANNOT have someone with this mentality running our GREAT nation!!

I don't care whether you are a Democrat , a Republican, a Conservative

or a liberal, We CANNOT turn ourselves over to this type of character in a President.

PLEASE help spread the word.

We have really put ourselves in harm's way with this monster in disguise.

I haven't checked on whether these quotes are accurate; let's assume for the moment that they are - it really doesn't matter They are context-free, and, as I read them, they have a clear and singular intent - to portray the President as anti-white. As much as they tried to leave the reader to draw their own conclusions, their real agenda is clear – to foment racial hatred against the duly-elected President of the United States.

Earlier this year when I and others suggested that the Birthers, the Tea Baggers, the Limbaughs and Becks (and now Palins) of the world were motivated at least in part by racism, the President himself said that he did not believe that to be the case. I wonder if the above email would change his mind.

I've never been attracted to conspiracy theories – it's too easy to find a boogie man (boogie person?) behind every door. When Hilary invoked a "vast right-wing conspiracy" against her, I wondered. Now I'm getting a bit frightened. Is it possible that the lapse in security at the White House is part of something larger? I pray not.

But I also pray for this country – to paraphrase Benjamin Franklin, we must hang together, or we will be hung out to dry separately.

Bonanza Column 161 – Why Not a Multi-Party System?

Historically Americans have been very committed to a two-party political system. While other countries boast a large number of parties covering the entire political spectrum from far-left to far-right, we seem to be content with just the two. With the exception of Teddy Roosevelt's Bull Moose Party, no third party has ever gained much traction in our system.

One result of this is that the lines between the liberal and conservative ideologies tend to be very blurry. While most will say that the Republican Party represents the conservative view and the Democrat Party the liberal, and while that may be true at a 30,000-foot view, it doesn't hold up on closer scrutiny. The GOP has included Nelson Rockefeller as well as Barry Goldwater, and the Democrats have found room for everyone from Jesse Jackson to Joe Lieberman. Indeed I know many people in both parties who find themselves explaining that, while they may be Republicans, they are fiscal conservatives, but social liberals, and vice versa for many Democrats.

Yet somehow we seem to like the convenience of the label, and in most locations our primary election system forces us to choose or to forego participating in the nominating process. I think this leads to a lot of unnecessary confusion and I've advocated for years the realignment of the political system into something more rational – if it must be two and only two parties, then at least let's have Liberal and Conservative Parties, and why only two? I'm not advocating a multiplicity of parties like, say, Italy, but maybe 5 or 6 so that people can find an affiliation that matches their ideology and doesn't require lengthy explanations.

I must say the Republican Party seems to be moving in this direction – the right wing of the party seems intent on purging those it considers ideologically suspect, and someone has even come up with a test that purports to show if someone is faithful to the doctrine of their icon, Ronald Reagan. Unfortunately, based on Reagan's actions in office and his statements in his career, the Gipper would fail that test miserably, but it seems to be the mythos of Reagan that is at issue, not the actuality.

The leaders of this move to ideological purity are the usual suspects – Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, and of course the redoubtable Ms Palin. They seem intent on "reclaiming America" from the nefarious liberals and anyone who might actually attempt a government that is (in the words of another Republican icon) "of the people, by the people, and for the people." Senators and Congressmen who actually try to find a way to pass laws and work with the current majority are castigated and, in the case of the Congresswoman from my home district in upstate New York, campaigned against. Only the ideologically pure need apply for public office in these folks' eyes.

I applaud the efforts of Beck, Limbaugh, et al. to purify the Republican Party – I hope they succeed. I'd love to see the moderates, centrists, and yes even liberals in the GOP form a new party that will stand for the values that the majority of Americans stand for – tolerance, responsibility, accountable government to name a few. I'd also like to see the Democrats suggest (after all, liberals don't command) that the likes of Joe Lieberman, Mary Landrieu, and Blanche Lincoln form a party that will stand for whatever it is they stand for. Maybe then we will have political parties that are FOR something rather than merely AGAINST.

Because while all this bickering and horse-trading and name-calling is going on, 14 million Americans are without health care, 24,000 children die every day from causes that are not only preventable, but in many cases can be prevented cheaply, easily, and efficiently, hundreds of thousands of soldiers and civilians have died in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the suicide rate among veterans of these wars is going up.

Let's give everybody their own party – then they can all be right that theirs is the best position and maybe the President and Congress can get some work done.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Tahoe Ticker Column 16 – The Boulder Bay Project

As I write this on Friday afternoon, the snow is dumping and it looks like our reluctant winter is starting. No more road crews, no more outdoor construction, and for a couple of weeks the North Shore is ours before the holiday hordes descend.

This week I attended the first of the TRPA public hearings on the Boulder Bay Project. I'd say that over the course of the public comment period in the afternoon, about 100 people were there. Comments were about 31 in support of the project, 2 or 3 I would characterize as opposed, and 4 or 5 neutral. Positive comments came from representatives of The Tahoe Forest Health System, Booth Creek/Northstar, Sierra Nevada College, North Lake Tahoe Resort Association, the Family Resource Center, Tahoe Women's Services, Placer County, Truckee North Tahoe Transportation Management Association, North Tahoe Business Association, Parasol, the Incline Veterans Club, Northstar Environmental Action Team, National Geographic Geo-tourism, small business owners, and the neighbors of Crystal Bay, Kings Beach, Incline Village, Tahoe Vista, Tahoe City and Truckee.

The proposed project is to be built to the LEED Silver standard and will mitigate some significant runoff problems now contributing to the decline in lake clarity. It will be a destination resort with less gaming space than the Biltmore, and some beautiful landscaping.

I've been trying to understand what little opposition there is to the project. Of the three people who spoke against it at the meeting, one said, in effect, "nothing like this has ever worked in Crystal Bay, and this won't either." This is not an argument I find compelling, or even interesting. Others, from the North Tahoe Preservation Alliance were, in my view, unclear. In the past there have been more than a few documented instances of this group arguing based on false, distorted, or unproven assertions about the project. In my testimony I spoke out against this sort of duplicitous attempt to derail what I think is an excellent project, and was then taken to task by two people from the NTPA for (a) violating my own writings against uncivil personal attacks and (b) being unable to prove that their assertions were, in fact, false.

To the first, I attacked no one personally – I did call out the NTPA for what I mention above. As for the second, I am putting my research together and will respond in a future column, probably in the Bonanza, where I have more space. I don't think I'll do that in my next column because it comes out on Thanksgiving.

Also about the first, check out - Tahoe Truckee Community Foundation has joined in a nationwide effort toward civility called "Speak Your Peace" – this site is your opportunity to sign on.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Bonanza Column 159 – The Spirit of the Holidays

Time seems to go more quickly as I get older. I'm not sure what happened, but the winter holiday season is suddenly upon us – Thanksgiving next week, then Christmas, with Hanukah thrown into the mix as well as Kwanzaa and both Ramadan and Diwali already behind us.

This time of year, between the gratitude of Thanksgiving and the gift-giving and partying of the December holidays (isn't that backward?), it seems we give more of a thought than usual to those who have less or have nothing. That seems especially appropriate at the moment, given the continuing struggle with the economy. Last year the economy was arguably worse, but there was the optimism of a new administration coming in, and we had not yet begun to confront the fact that some 14 million people in the US have no health care. Also, the good feeling of an economic recovery is dampened by the very real prospect that this recovery will be "jobless."

The economists tell us that the recession is over, but it seems to me that that's a bit like Einstein's golf game – it's good in theory. There is a wide gulf between the world of technical economics, which measures recession and inflation in graphs and charts and the world of personal economics, where the measures are income, outgo, and the gap between the two. A "jobless recovery" strikes me as an oxymoron on the personal level, whatever the graphs and charts might say.

Here in IV/CB we have a plethora of organizations that provide a way to try to redress the plight of individuals and families in need all year round and especially at this time of year. Childrens Cabinet, Project Mana, Tahoe Womens Foundation, Tahoe Childrens Foundation, our churches and synagogue, the list goes on and on.

Along with these organizations, we have some really great individuals and businesses as well – the US Marine Corps runs Toys for Tots nationally, and the Incline Village Board of Realtors does a splendid job of running it locally. Volunteers run the thrift shops as a way of creating some income for non-profits, but also to provide affordable clothing, furnishings, and toys for those who can't shop at Macy's or Dillards or even Wal-Mart and Costco. The Rotary, Lions, and Optimists help where they can and do a great job, and the churches and synagogue collect toys, warm clothes, and send shoeboxes of items to the troops.

In kindness and caring for others less fortunate, as in crime, there needs to be means, motive, and opportunity. As the last paragraphs show, we have ample opportunity. Most of us in this community, however hard the economy has hit us, have the means. What we need is the motive.

What if no one in the Incline/Crystal Bay community was hungry at this holiday season? What if no child had to try to understand why Santa skipped him or her? What if every family, regardless of means could sit down and be thankful for a holiday dinner? A tree? Gifts for all? What if no veteran was alone or homeless at this season?

Unlike a metropolis like New York or San Francisco, we have it in our power to make that vision a reality. All we need to do is to set aside politics, selfishness, and not caring and to replace those unworthy motive with the motive of caring, of compassion, and the real grace of the season which expresses our gratitude for what we have by sharing it with others. Isn't that what it's about?

So contact one of those organizations or individuals who work so hard to care, and give them a hand, preferably a hand with money, food, toys, or shelter in it. You'll enjoy the holidays a lot more, I guarantee it.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Bonanza Column 158 - Civility

I've written before in this column lamenting the tendency in local political discourse to attack and demonize individuals rather than sticking to the merits of the issues. Often this is because the side being advocated has fewer merits, but sometimes it just seems mean-spirited and weak.

The assumption seems to be that if you disagree with me about something you are attacking me personally, and so I have full license to attack you in kind. Except it's not in kind. I say I disagree with your position on, say, what kind of signage is appropriate to the scenic quality of the area, and you respond by calling into question my morals, ethics, parentage, and patriotism.

We see this on the National scale and in my view, no matter which side is doing it, it's reprehensible. It was no more right to call George W. Bush "the boy emperor" (Maureen Dowd) than it is to call Barack Obama "the man-child president." (Rush Limbaugh). But at least on the National political level it is distant and about people we know about, but we don't know personally.

When it becomes local, I think it's particularly pernicious. We live in a small community – about 9000 people, only about half of whom are here all year-round, and only a small fraction of whom are active in local politics and issues debates. These are people we know, we go to church with, we see if not daily, then often. What is the point of personal attacks? If you are strongly for local modification of nuisance laws and someone else is strongly against it, is it not more productive to listen to each other and maybe even learn from each others' views than to cut off the conversation because of a personal attack?

Recently this already lamentable situation has sunk to a new level. I'm not going to be specific here to avoid further embarrassment to the parties, but in a hotly contested local debate, one party has been heard to making charges based on aspects of another party's personal life. The first person claims that the personal allegations are relevant to the public matter, but that claim is dubious at best, particularly since it requires drawing some conclusions from the personal matters that are very, very questionable.

I'm sorry to be so cryptic, but I want to call out the nastiness of the matter without adding fuel to the matter itself. It's not even an issue of whether the charges are accurate or the conclusions warranted, it's a matter of decency and propriety. Time and again, including in my own campaign for IVGID Trustee (which I regret mightily), I've seen people who had the courage and commitment to take on a potentially controversial public issue subjected to name-calling, personal attacks, and rumor campaigns that I believe have no place in any public debate, and even more so when the issues are purely local to our community.

We are entering another election season as recent columns by Jim Clark and I attest. On the principle of "think globally, act locally," I wonder if we could take on, as a community, raising the standard of discourse to a higher level of civility. Maybe if we do, it will catch on and spread to the state level in California and Nevada and who knows? Maybe from there even to the national level. I don't know about you, but I'm tired of the shouting, the vilifying, the name-calling on both sides of the political debate. Let's make IVCB an island of civility in the political arena – if we do, I promise to use my national platform on Huffington Post to spread the word and try to ignite a national movement toward greater civility.

And in the interests of civility, the following: I got a call last Thursday from County Commissioner John Breternitz regarding my column last week on the "local determination" aspect of the County Nuisance Ordinance. John told me one thing I didn't know and haven't heard from anyone up here, namely that the consideration of a local option did not apply to all communities in the County, but to Incline only. John was uneasy about it on constitutional grounds from the start and felt that it would set the County up for a lawsuit. I can't disagree with him on that – I thought it was for the whole County, and would have felt as John does if I'd known. He also clarified that his comment about "broad community support" was meant to indicate the local community, not the County as a whole. Finally, John told me that he is trying to find a way to get a good gauge on public opinion up here – he had very little input on the nuisance issue, even after he asked for input, and really wants to know what people in IVCB think, which I think is commendable.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Bonanza Column 157 – The County is a Nuisance

Maybe it's because I grew up in a small town, but I've always believed that the closer government is to the people being governed, the more likely it is that the governing will be well done. I think this is doubly true when the relevant issues being considered by the governing body are essentially local in nature.

When the local nuisance task force began working some time ago, it was, as I understand it, under the premise that the County was committed to a nuisance ordinance that would have room in it for significant local determination. It seems obvious to me that Incline is very different from, say, Spanish Springs or Sun Valley, or other parts of the County. We are a mountain community with significantly higher property values and issues of scenery, tourism, recreation, etc. that are different from those faced by other communities. They are in the valley, more rural, with different scenic and land use standards. We're not better and they're not worse, just different, so the idea of leaving part of the County nuisance ordinance "blank" so that local communities could tailor it to their needs and preferences made sense, at least to me.

Then all of a sudden we heard that, somehow, vacation rentals were under consideration as a nuisance factor. Probably not a big issue in Sun Valley, but a major one here. We have a significant industry in vacation rentals – we have exactly one hotel and one motel here, and many property owners derive real income from renting their properties part of the time, whether because they are "snowbirds" (or sunbirds) or because their property in IV/CB is an investment property.

The Incline Village Board of Realtors took a strong position against this idea, as was their right and, one thinks, their responsibility to their members and clients, and the next thing we know, the County Board of Commissioners, including our own representative, not only eliminates the offensive position against rentals but also seems poised to throw out the whole idea of local "tailoring" of the nuisance ordinance.

The Vice-Chair of the Board said "I do not support Incline having their own design and their own modifiers. If it's fair for them it should be fair for every other community." Well, gee – wasn't that the whole idea – for any community that wanted to have their "own design and their own modifiers" to be able to do that, or am I missing something?

On the face of it this looks like good old-fashioned Incline-bashing by the Board, and I'm very disappointed that John Breternitz, our Commissioner, went along with it. Breternitz is quoted in this newspaper as saying that the year and a half of work that was done by our working group can be incorporated into land use rules or community plans if "the proponents of these custom provisions get broad public support." How broad? County-wide? What about TRPA, John? Don't we have enough government bodies to answer to?

If I were the cynical type, I'd say that the absurd rental provision was floated knowing that the realtors and others would rise up in protest, giving the Board an excuse to go back on the policy they announced almost two years ago and to trash eighteen months' work by a group of dedicated volunteers. Whether that's true or not, it seems clear once again that until we have local rule we are going to continue to be treated like stepchildren (and rich ones, at that) by the County and even by our own Commissioner. For shame.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Huffington Post Column 4 - What of What You Are Is No Longer You?

On his website at, HP blogger Dr. Pavel Somov says:

Mind is its own hostage. Each belief, each schema, each defense is both an adaptation and a handicap. The very anchors that have helped you feel grounded may now hold you down with all the weight of their historical usefulness… Yes, mind is its own hostage... But mind is also its own search-and-rescue.  Take a look at what of what you are is no longer you…

It may be that this hit me at a particularly opportune time, or maybe I'm so much of a Zen geek that it struck me, but I find myself haunted by this concept.

He prefaces the statement with a quote from a song by Russian musician, Boris Grebenschikov, who is described in Wikipedia as one of the founders of Russian rock music:

"There's only one way out of prison, which is to set your jailer free."

(The Time, Radio Silence, 1989 CBS Records)

which only complicates the matter further. If I'm my hostage to "each belief, each schema, each defense," then how do I "set my jailer free?"

For example, if I have an old, long-established behavior pattern, the more of less standard way to approach that is "well, that's just Ed," and most people in my life kind of accept it with a shrug and a tolerant smile. Yet in another area of my life, where different things are expected of me, the response when that pattern arises is "Ed's not himself today" from people who know me well and "Ed's behaving in an unacceptable way" from those who don't. So which "Ed" is me? In Somov's terms, which is the what I am that is no longer me? I guess it's for me to say.

But hold on, it's not that simple, because this "adaptation and handicap," this "anchor that helped me feel grounded" is what I've historically considered not just "useful," but "me!" It's one thing to declare that that's no longer me, and another to experience it as suddenly alien when it comes up.

The point is that, while I think Somov is right, and have even coached people along just those lines, when I am in the grip of an old pattern I don't experience it as alien to me but rather as exactly how I need to be at that moment. So how do I "set my jailer free" if I don't experience being in jail?

I'm betting that the answer is outside of me. As a coach, I must surrender to being coached; I must find someone I trust completely and bet that when I forget who I am committed to being and think that I'm who I have always been, he or she will know and remind me and return me to how I want to be. In other words the way to set your jailer free is to find someone to aid and abet in the jailbreak.

In my seventh decade of life, I've been actively engaged in my own personal and spiritual development for at least half my life, and I know it's never done, so I'm under no delusion that this will be the end of the story. If (and it really is "if" for me) I beat this particular demon, there will be another, but at least it'll be different.

I'll keep you posted.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Bonanza Column 156 – Nevada Needs Harry Reid

The GOP, both nationally and in Nevada, has Harry Reid in its crosshairs. While I can understand that – they are desperate to break the Democrats' supposed filibuster-proof majority in the Senate – Nevada Republicans' opposition to Reid is not in the best interests of Nevada.

Before we get to the latter, let's look at the "filibuster-proof majority" fantasy. Granted, given Republicans' propensity to vote along party/ideological lines regardless of the merits of the issue, if the GOP had 60 seats, they would have a filibuster-proof majority. Getting the Democrats aligned around any issue is like the proverbial herding of cats – even with 60 seats, Reid is having trouble and will probably fail at putting together 60 votes for a robust public option in the health care reform debate.

But the Republicans aren't going to have 60 seats after the 2010 election, and probably won't even break the Democrats' 60, so that's a moot point.

What is significant is that, regardless of party considerations, Nevada has one senator now. John Ensign is so tainted by his hypocritical actions (see last week's column) that, even if he doesn't resign as he should, he has no voice in the Senate. If Nevada voters are misguided enough to defeat Reid, then in 2010 we will have an impotent senior senator and a junior senator who is, by virtue of his newness, at the bottom of the Senate food chain. Given that, it won't matter which party he comes from, he will have as little influence as the pathetic Ensign.

Whatever you think of Reid's politics on national issues, it's hard to argue that he has not represented Nevada well. He's been a wall on Yucca Mountain, had major accomplishments in energy legislation, sponsored and supported significant health care bills, without even talking about health care reform, extended the Federal deduction for state and local sales taxes, and the list goes on. Space doesn't permit a full list here, but his accomplishments for Nevada are a matter of record.

I'm not saying you should ignore those things he's done or he believes that you disagree with, but I think that, on balance, an objective look at the data will show that, even considering those, on balance he's done a lot of good for Nevada, and a lot of his ability to do that good has been a function of his senior position in the Senate. It would be a mistake to trade this seniority and influence for the sake of adding one faceless name to the GOP numbers.

Nevada Republicans should take the lead among their political brethren in putting the interests of constituents – local, state, and national – above the interests of their party. Only by doing that will they take the GOP back from the domination of mindless, knee-jerk rightists like Limbaugh, Beck, and Palin.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Huffington Post Column 3 – The “Generosity” of Pope Benedict XVI

Pope Benedict XVI has opened the door of the Roman Catholic Church to those in the Anglican Communion (which includes the Episcopal Church in the US, the Church of England, and others) who are disaffected over issues of ordaining gays and women, same-sex marriage, etc. He has even said that these disaffected Anglicans, including married priests, can form their own congregations under the aegis of the Catholic Church and go on as if nothing had happened. Oh – married clergy can't become Catholic Bishops, but that's probably unlikely even for unmarried clergy. (Presumably, given the issues involved, they won't have to deal with what to do with female Anglican Priests, but it would be fun if they did.)

On the face of it, this sounds good – the Pope is willing to have the Catholic Church be a "big tent" to take in those who feel disenfranchised by the progressive views of, particularly, the Episcopal Church in the US. But this is the same Pope who, thus far in his short reign, has on numerous occasions emphasized that while the RC Church is willing to co-exist with other Christian denominations, his commitment that the Catholic way is the only right way is unwavering. So why would he not only reach out to disaffected Anglicans, but even tacitly endorse one of the practices that most distinguishes the two churches, that of allowing clergy to marry?

OK – time out for a credentials check. I'm a Jew who is married to an Episcopalian and who teaches and writes with my close friend Jim Beebe, an Episcopal Priest. I've made an avocational study of how the first century Jewish group called "followers of the way" came to be a new religion called Christianity and how that new religion and its mother religion came to be persecutor and victim, respectively. We are currently working on a book on this subject. None of that makes me an expert on Catholicism, Anglicanism, or much of anything, but I've probably studied more about the two (plus Judaism) than many, so you can take my views for what you think they're worth.

So to the question I raised at the end of the second paragraph. I think the answer is simple – the Pope's move seems to me transparently calculated to sow dissension in the Anglican Communion and to further polarize it. The leaders in the Anglican debate are the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, who has taken on the role of trying to resolve it for the benefit of the worldwide Communion, the Presiding Bishop of the United States, Katherine Jefferts Schori, and a number of Anglican Bishops in the US and particularly in Africa. Beginning in the 2008 Lambeth Conference (an every 10 years conference of bishops convened by the Archbishop of Canterbury – 2008 had 800 bishops in attendance and was boycotted by a number of the aforementioned conservative bishops), Williams began to take steps toward finding a solution.

I don't know if a solution can be found. Even if we take the case that the two sides of the Anglican debate are both people of good faith, the polarization is so great that it seems unlikely. Add to that that, in my opinion, the conservative position smells suspiciously of homophobia and sexism cloaked in dubious scripture, and it makes it even less likely. But one of the principles of negotiation is that the more difficult and polarized the parties are, the more you need to cut off alternatives to a solution. If Williams can appeal to both sides as Anglicans and to their commitment to the integrity of the Anglican Communion, he at least has a chance of starting with something both sides can agree on. If the Conservatives in the debate have a place to go and leave the Communion, the chances diminish.

But back to the Pope – why would he do this? Well, maybe, just maybe, he gets two benefits from it – he undermines the integrity of the Anglican Communion and possibly he has a place to move from to bring these disaffected Anglicans gradually into the arms of the RC Church.

In our book, Jim Beebe and I take the view that the institutionalization of Jesus' teachings in dogma and church politics has distorted those teachings beyond recognition. I can't help but find the Pope's "generous" gesture suspect in its piety and more likely to be cynically political.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Tahoe Ticker Column 14: If I ruled the World

Sometimes, usually when I'm driving in the evening after the NPR stations have gone to music, I listen to one or another right-wing talk show. I don't particularly enjoy it, but I feel as a blogger and writer from the left, I need to at least pay attention to what is being said on the right.

I want to live in the world that right-wing radio talkers live in.

That world is run by the left. The left control the media (except for Fox News), professional sports, Academia, and of course the White House. America is run by a president who is all-powerful and runs everything from the government to the press (except for Fox News) and the NFL.

Not only that, but the lefties who are running and ruining the world are really dumb. In point of fact everyone except the talk show host and Rush Limbaugh is dumb to the extent that they don't agree point for point with the speaker, conservative Republicans are dumb because they're actually trying to accomplish something by working with Democrats in Congress, but the dumbest of all are liberal government officials, writers, talk show hosts, etc. Michael Moore is the dumbest of the dumb, along with MSNBC and the Comedy Channel.

But the best part is that the world of these righties is run by Jews and African-Americans, in an unholy alliance with gay men, lesbian women, communists, socialists, nazis, and Muslims. In this world, bankers, insurance executives, and CEOs in general deserve to be richly rewarded as is only their due, and anyone who can't afford insurance, a home, or enough to eat or who is out of a job probably doesn't deserve to live anyhow.

The good part is that as a Jew with lots of African-American, Gay, and Muslim friends and family members (some of whose communist and socialist leanings are very possible), that puts me in charge. So here's the deal – universal health care, amnesty for undocumented aliens, a cap on executive pay, and government food banks for those who can't afford to feed their families.

I have spoken. So let it be written, so let it be done.

Bonanza Column 155 – John Ensign Should Resign, but He Probably Won’t

The "religious right" is neither. Rather, we have seen case after case of people who publicly espouse strict religious/moral/family values while privately doing whatever they want to. This crosses party lines – John Edwards is as egregious an example as Mark Sanford – and it crosses gender preference boundaries – from Mark Foley and Larry Craig to John Ensign.

If you look into this, though, something far more sinister may be afoot. I'm no fan of conspiracy theories, and generally I think they hold as much water as alien abductions and bigfoot sightings. But I recently read a book called "The Family" by Jeff Sharlet that chilled me to the core.

Sharlet is a writer for Vanity Fair and set out to investigate the pervasiveness of the so-called religious right in American politics. He joined a group called "the Family" that has almost a 100-year history in the US, and is in a line of heritage that goes back almost to the revolution. This particular iteration was founded by a Norwegian immigrant pastor who had an epiphany – he decided that mainstream Christianity had it backwards – Jesus' message was not to take care of the downtrodden, but the "uptrodden." Those at the top were put in command by God and we should listen and obey them. (This has not translated into any great outpouring of support for Obama however – apparently God makes mistakes).

The family owns "the house on C Street," where a group of US Senators and Congressmen live together, professing deep Christian faith and morality, and at the same time either engaging in their own and covering up others' extramarital affairs. The former group included our own John Ensign and the now-laughingstock Mark Sanford of South Carolina. To compound the hypocrisy, both have repeatedly refused to resign, even though both called on President Clinton to resign when he got caught in his affair with Monica Lewinsky.

Ensign, to the time of this writing, continues to take refuge in legalism, saying "I have done nothing legally wrong." OK, how about ethically? How do you square having an affair with a staffer, using political influence to try to get her cuckolded husband a lobbying job (though legally he can't take such a job until he is off the government payroll for a year), having Ma and Pa Ensign pay almost $100,000 to the couple, presumably to keep them quiet, and the list goes on.

Well, the Family knows how to square it. Men in power are answerable to no one. They were put there by God, and have no accountability except to themselves. Not even to each other. After he was confronted by some of his C Street comrades, Ensign wrote a letter to the woman cutting off the affair and was marched down to Fedex to send it. The next day he called her and told her to ignore the letter, so apparently it's OK to lie to your Family brothers as well as to the rest of us.

When are we as a nation and as voters going to get it? Holier-than-thou types have a very high probability of being hypocrites. I'm not saying all religious people are phonies – far from it – but public officials who loudly and self-righteously proclaim their "faith" seem to keep coming up lousy. There is a reason that the founders went to great lengths to separate church and state, and this is a prime example of it. I'm not condemning them for having "strayed" – the best of us have fallen prey to that – it's being so very sanctimonious about others when they stray and acting as though you have no accountability to anyone. Wasn't it He whom they claim to worship who said "why do you take note of the grain of dust in your brother's eye, but take no note of the bit of wood which is in your eye?"

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Huffington Post Column 1: Standing up to the Lies

David Letterman slept with one or more women who worked for him on his show. Threatened with extortion, he went on his show, told the audience what happened with directness, candor, and as much dignity as one can muster when (literally) caught with one's pants down.

David Letterman is an entertainer, a comedian. He's not accountable to the public for anything other than making us laugh. He could have survived this in any number of ways (see Polanski, Roman), he could have let it blow over, he could have blustered and denied, he could have paid the guy off. He didn't do any of these things – he just took responsibility and didn't justify a thing.

John Ensign (R-NV) had an affair with a staffer while employing her husband. He tried to use political influence to find a job for the husband while the affair was going on, he had his parents pay almost $100,000 to his paramour and her husband, and to this day insists on splitting legal hairs ("I did nothing that was legally wrong") in an attempt to evade responsibility for his actions.

John Ensign is a United States Senator. He is supposed to be in Washington to serve his constituents (of which I am one) and to participate in governing the country at the highest level of the Legislative Branch. He is also part of a clique of Senators and Representatives who belong to "The Family," a clandestine group that believes that their take on Christianity puts them above the Constitution and above accountability to anyone but each other, and a leading "family values" Conservative.

When did entertainers become more responsible and accountable than elected representatives?

Apparently some of our elected representatives have decided that their job is to advance their and their friends' views of what should be done rather than to represent their constituents' views. John Boehner (R-OH) says that no one has told him they want a public option in health care reform, and from that he concludes that "[the public option] is about as popular as a garlic milkshake." Even if we accept that that statement is true – no one has said those words to Rep. Boehner – poll after poll has shown that 70 to 80% of Americans support some form of public option, so Mr. Boehner's statement is disingenuous at best.

President Obama travelled to Copenhagen to carry the bid by Chicago and the United States for the 2016 Olympic Games. The IOC voted to send the games to Rio. Within minutes Rush Limbaugh, Michael Steele, and others triumphantly declare this a defeat for the President. Limbaugh makes the egregiously false statement that the President has spent eight months traveling all over the world telling people how terrible America is, so "why would they want to send the games to someplace that sucks so bad?" In point of fact, President Obama has spent eight months trying to restore the reputation of America after it was all but destroyed by eight years of George Bush.

I guess not all entertainers are responsible and accountable.

I could go on with example after example of irresponsibility, lack of accountability, and mendacity on the part of our public officials and others such as Limbaugh, Beck, and Steele who have appointed themselves public voices, but you've heard it all. My question is when did we, as a nation, become numbed to this?

Where is the Joseph Welch who will stand up and say "Have you no shame, sir? Have you no decency?" Surely Tail-gunner Joe McCarthy was scarier than Ensign, Limbaugh, et al., so why has no one stood up to them?

Or let's make it more local – when that person down the street or down the hall gives you the benefit of their sincere view that Obama was born in Kenya or that health care reform will mean killing grandma, why do we not call them out for the idiot that they are?

Have we come to the point where we just accept this, or is it just that we are so committed to not making waves that we won't confront blatant lying and hypocrisy? In either case we are in grave danger. Remember the classic statement by Martin Niemoller, a Lutheran Pastor who who was arrested by the Gestapo in 1938 and interned in Dachau until 1945:

In Germany, the Nazis first came for the communists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a communist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn't speak up because I was a Protestant.

Then they came for me, and by that time there was no one left to speak for me.

This is a no-kidding crucial situation. Unless someone will stand up and (metaphorically) shout "you lie!" to those who are lying, we may find one day that there is no one left to speak for us.

Huffington Post Column 2: The MBTI of the USA

If you've been around the business world you are familiar with the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) - by means of a relatively short set of questions it comes up with a "type" based on four bipolar dimensions:

  • Extraversion - Intraversion - basically how you renew your energy - from outside (other people) or by going inside.
  • Sensing - Intuition - how you process information
  • Thinking - Feeling - the basis on which you make decisions
  • Judging - Perceiving - how you make sense of the world

From these eight poles you get a four letter profile - E - I, S - N (the I was taken), T - F, and J - P. I, for example am ENTJ and from that, someone who is versed in the MBTI can draw a host of inferences about me.

The remarkable thing about the MBTI is how uncannily accurate and consistent it is. I recently took an abbreviated version on Facebook - just about eight questions - and it came up ENTJ just like the full version. Most people find it at least about 80% accurate, usually better.

So what about us as a nation? As I thought about it, I decided that the USA is ENFJ

  • Extraverted - we draw our energy as a people from outside; isolationism has never really gained a foothold here.
  • Intution - we trust interrelationships, theories, and future possibilities more than we do facts, details, and present realities.
  • Feeling - we like our decisions to create harmony even if they're not logical and objective - more McCoy than Spock.
  • Judging - we orient to the world by making decisions quickly and sticking to them.

One standard work on the MBTI (Working Together by Isachsen and Behrens) calls ENFJ "the Mentor." They describe the Mentor as responsive and responsible, popular and sociable, charismatic, communicative, and warmly enthusiastic.

The weakness of ENFJ is in taking care of oneself and in taking care of details. ENFJ's don't value objectivity overmuch and aren't good at setting priorities and sticking to them. We are frustrated, as a people, by cold, impersonal logic, by being excluded, and by criticism and lack of appreciation. We value cooperation, harmony, and self-determination, and we irritate others by being overly emotional, moralistic, and wanting to be seen as knowing everything.

Viewed in this way, the unhappiness of most Americans with the Bush years makes sense - how Bush/Cheney wanted us to be goes against our national character - isolationist, ignoring reality (why else would we have gone to war in Iraq when the enemy was funded by Bush's friends the Saudis?), making decisions that turned the world against us and sticking to unpopular or illogical choices (climate change, health care, torture, Guantanamo).

Conversely, when you look from here Obama's Nobel Prize makes sense. After eight year of irritating the rest of the world, we now have a President who is an expression of our national character - open, optimistic, communicative, warm, charismatic. We are once again in relationship with others and with ourselves, and oriented toward collaboration and harmony.

As Polonius said, "to thine own self be true, and it follows as the night the day thou canst be false to no man." Maybe he had something there

Friday, October 09, 2009

Tahoe Ticker Column 13: The People of Health Insurance

As I write this I've just finished a 3-day workshop with 40 mid- to upper-level managers of one of the biggest health insurance companies in the US. Since April I've done 4 of these as well as other work here, and have met a lot of these people, and that has affected my view of issues of health care reform greatly.

Don't get me wrong – I'm still solidly for universal health care and, at the very least, the public option. What's changed, though, is that, having worked intensively with these people I really can't abide the demonization of the insurance industry that I hear from others who share my views.

I guess it's possible that there are greedy, rapacious executives who are out to screw the public in the name of outrageous profits, but I haven't met them. I've watched the CEO of this company – a guy who is often quoted in the debate and who is well known in the industry and in Washington – talk with the managers I work with and take their questions, and I believe he's for real when he says he is out to (a) provide the best service to their customers (b)provide that at an affordable price and (c)find a national solution that works for everyone and provides health care for all.

At the end of each 3-day program we ask the participants to write a "letter from the future" based on the idea that it's three years from now and they and the company have achieved success beyond their wildest dreams. None – that's not one – of the 150 people I've worked with so far has written about profits, market share, or denying claims. They write about health, conquering obesity and smoking, and wellness.

Please don't bother writing in to tell me I'm naïve or that I've been coopted unless you've spent as many days as I have interacting as intimately with these people as I do. I know everything that's wrong with business, the capitalist system in general and the health care industry in particular. So do they – when we ask them, before the program, to assess how the company is doing in terms of trust and working with their customers and health care providers, they invariably say "I'm doing well, my immediate work group is doing OK (though not as well as I am individually), and the company is doing terribly." They don't trust "the organization" any more than you or I do, but they are committed to fixing it and to creating a real partnership with customers and providers.

My point is there is no enemy in this fight except maybe those lawmakers and lobbyists who, for whatever reason, seem to think it's their job to take an extreme position and hold it. Nothing is gained by demonizing the people in the industry; like the Beatles' "Nowhere Man," they're a lot like you and me.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Tahoe Ticker Column 12: Denial Isn’t Post-Racialism

Is denial the same as being "post-racial?"

My last column (The Hate that Dare Not Speak Its Name, Tahoe Ticker, September 5) has received more response – on my blog, on Facebook, and by email – than anything I've written in a long time. Some of the responses agreed with what I said and felt it was time it was said out loud. Others, though, were somewhat surprising to me.

The first surprise was that the disagreement was (relatively) rational – none of the vituperation that my columns often draw. The second was the level of what I would characterize as denial that racism is a significant factor in the current political climate.

Let me be clear about this: I don't equate disagreement with the President's policies or ideas with racism. President Obama is a Liberal in the best tradition of Roosevelt and JFK, and as such, Conservatives (in the tradition of Goldwater and Reagan) will disagree with him on his approach to most if not all social and economic issues, just as they disagreed with FDR and JFK. No problem there. That's healthy political/philosophical/economic debate.

But when Glenn Beck calls Obama a "racist with an abiding hatred for white people," when Rush Limbaugh casts a school bus fight as "white kids aren't safe in Obama's America" and calls for segregated buses, when protestors carry pictures of the President with exaggeratedly thick lips and pictures of monkeys and apes, long a symbol of racism, that's not healthy or debate, it's racism.

The other argument is that only some of the protestors are racist. One correspondent said that "cherry picking is dishonest" and that by her estimate only 5 to 10% of the protestors are racist. Well, to call out the racist protestors is, in my view, no more "cherry picking" than to call out those who aren't. I never said they were all racists, but I do think it's more than 10%, and I think it needs to be called out.

Racism has always been a factor in American politics. Just as Obama's legitimacy is questioned by the "birthers" against all common sense, opponents of FDR attempted to undermine his legitimacy by saying he was Jewish and calling him "Franklin Delano Rosenfeld." When I see rallies with caricatures of Obama in whiteface or with exaggerated features I'm reminded of Germany in the 1930's where caricatures of Jews with huge hooked noses and long beards were common. That led to rallies where those same drawings were carried, and that led to a populace that looked the other way as 12 million Jews, homosexuals, Gypsies, and Catholics were murdered.

This is beyond respect for the man or the office – it goes to one of the most vile aspects of human nature, dehumanizing someone we disagree with. When that happens, we need to speak up against it, even if only one person (much less 10%) does it. You've heard it before, but it's worth repeating the words of Lutheran Pastor Martin Niemoeller, who was arrested by the Gestapo in 1938 and interned in Dauchau until 1945:

In Germany, the Nazis first came for the communists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a communist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn't speak up because I was a Protestant.

Then they came for me, and by that time there was no one left to speak for me.