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.