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.