Friday, December 31, 2010

Bonanza Column 217 - As You Sow, So Shall You Reap - Here Comes Reno

In the November election Washoe County voters approved an advisory question authorizing the County to explore the possibility of consolidating the governments of Reno and the County. Despite Sparks making it clear that they wanted no part of consolidation and widespread opposition among the unincorporated parts of the County, the measure passed and Reno lost no time moving toward consolidation, which is all upside for the city and all downside for the rest of us, particularly the area governed by IVGID.

Jim Clark has done a good job of laying out the case against consolidation in his columns, both before the election and since, and I won't rehash the arguments here – go back and read Jim's columns if you're not familiar with them – I think you'll agree it's a bad idea, but that's not the point of this column.

As I write this, it's the last day of 2010, and traditionally columnists take the opportunity to look back at the past year, or in this case the past decade, but I've been looking forward as best I can, and I'm not happy about what I see. Normally optimism comes with the Progressive package, so I'm not altogether comfortable when I see a gloom and doom scenario, but in this case I can't avoid it.

You see, in my fifteen-plus years in Incline I've been involved, more or less centrally, in a lot of efforts to build a future for the community: Independent Incline, Incline Vision, TRPA's Place-Based Planning, attempts to explore the possibilities of becoming more independent politically from Washoe County. All these seemed to have broad support in the community – often Jim Clark and I partnered to rally support on both sides of the political spectrum, and in every case extensive (and I would say very good) research was done on both the risks and the benefits of every option. Where the risk:benefit relationship was not in our favor, we told the truth about that and, for example, took the option of incorporating as a city off the table. Jim and I along with other long-time residents have been advocates for greater independence, whether as our own county (blocked by the legislature) or as a town (rejected by the voters), and have been met with resistance to all these ideas despite our warnings about Reno's agenda and our being seen as a cash cow by the County.

The fact seems to be that it's very hard to advance any idea here that involves (a) change and/or (b) a municipal government that has a wider scope of accountability than IVGID has now. The problem with this is that history has shown that change will happen with or without the popular will, and the only real choice is between managed change and unmanaged change, and unmanaged change is rarely for the better.

In the musical "Kismet" there is a scene where a beggar implores passersby for alms and promises blessings on them if they give, but no one gives. Then he switches tactics and threatens them with a curse "may your taxes increase" and he's showered with money. There is a small but nasty faction in our community that is uses this tactic to undermining any attempt at determining a direction of change. They act for the most part covertly and prefer their opinion over the facts. In the case of the effort to become a town rather than a GID, the numbers were clear and positive. Nonetheless there was a persistent conversation that amounted to "I don't care what the numbers say, it will raise taxes," and in the end the effort was defeated.

I've often quoted in this column de Tocqueville's maxim that in a democracy, the people get the government they deserve. If Reno is successful in their takeover of Washoe County, this will apply to the know-nothings who will believe what they and their friends think and cannot be persuaded by facts, and it will apply to those too lazy or apathetic to study the facts for themselves, instead allowing those same know-nothings to tell them what to think. Unfortunately, in a democracy, the minority have to suffer under the results of the ignorance and prejudices of those who can panic the crowd like the beggar in "Kismet," and so I'm not optimistic about our ability or our will to fend off Reno at this late date.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Bonanza Column 216: To My Detractors

I've been writing this column for over six years now with a short break when I ran for the IVGID Board in 2006. I undertook this labor of love in the first place to bring some balance to the columns and letter to the editor in the Bonanza which, like the community, tended to reflect a Conservative view. Knowing that that view was not held by 100% of the people in town, I decided to write a column from the Progressive side. Over the years that polarity has been reflected in columns on national and state issue and elections, though on local issues Jim Clark and I have rarely disagreed.

A column like this (or Jim's for that matter) will attract responses, mostly from those who disagree. In the old days responding to a column or sending a letter to an editor took some time and effort – you had to write or type a letter, address an envelope, find a stamp, mail it. During all this the heat of the moment would be likely to dissipate and many letters would not be sent. Today, email makes it easy to dash off a response and send it, and with the columns on line, commenting on the web site is even easier, and so perhaps lends itself to less thoughtful responses. Some people seem to read this column on line for the sole purpose of getting aggravated and responding with invective. These I ignore, or if they're especially ad hominem or otherwise abusive I report them as violating the site's guidelines. Others are thoughtful and these I read and sometimes respond to.

It occurs to me in this last column of 2010, my 216th since 2004, to respond to everyone who has and does read the column and to thank those from both sides of the political spectrum who have taken the time to think about the issues I've raised and to respond thoughtfully. I'd also like to thank those who have taken the time to correct me when I've gotten a fact or facts wrong – they gave me the opportunity to correct those errors, and for that I'm grateful.

To the small minority who hide behind the anonymity of their website user names and respond with name-calling, invective, and the like, I want to say grow up and to let you know that, unless what you're trying to accomplish is to be annoying, you're failing to do anything that makes a difference. It's one thing to point out specific facts I may have gotten wrong, but it's another to say I don't know what I'm talking about with nothing to back that up. Comments on my being a Psychologist or having a degree are about as effective as playground taunts, and as for name-calling, I consider the source.

Here's who I take seriously – anyone, whether they agree with me or not, who makes a reasonable argument. I don't have to agree with them either – I can respect a sincerely held view that is based on reason, facts, or even just plain emotional preference. We may differ on the role of government in society and we may both feel passionately about or opinion, but I can respect the fact that the Conservative, small-government view is one that has been around a long time and is held by many intelligent people – I just don't agree with it. Similarly I have friends who are staunch conservatives who recognize the legitimacy of the Progressive view of government as a provider of services and support, while they disagree with that view as strongly as I do with theirs.

So if you want to display your pettiness by anonymously calling me names or the shallowness of your position by yelling "you lie" without backing it up, go for it, but be clear that you're less useful than my electric teakettle – at least when it gets hot and screams, there is water for tea. I will continue to follow the advice of Mark Twain: ""Always tell the truth. It will gratify some and astonish the rest."

Here's wishing us all a happy, healthy, and prosperous 2011.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Bonanza Column 215 – Who Should IVGID Serve?

In its final meeting last week, the 2010 IVGID Board of Trustees addressed the right question, raised by General Manager Bill Horn. The question was "who are we going to serve?"

Unfortunately, like most good questions, this one doesn't admit of an easy answer. Many would say that the choices are full-time residents, part-time residents, and visitors, but that may be painting with too broad a brush. Still, it's a place to start.

Current figures indicate that about 60% of IV/CB owners and renters would be called part-time residents. That means that, if we go by a simple majority rule, IVGID should be interested first in serving that 60%. I must say that, as one of the 40% who live here 24/7/365 (366 in leap year), I don't find that very appealing. Part-timers need fewer services and generate less revenue for IVGID and local businesses than I do, so maybe it's the full-timers who come first.

Then there are visitors – they may not pay utility or rec fees, but they bring a lot of money into the local economy – skiers, golfers, beach-goers, renters of vacation properties, all pay for those usages and spend money in the stores as well, so we can't really ignore them and IVGID probably shouldn't adopt policies that would turn them to other areas to visit.

In the 15 years I've lived here there has been an ongoing debate about what business IVGID should be in. Many golfers are sure they should not be in the ski resort business, and many skiers don't see the point of their being in the golf business. People find the Rec Center fees too high, but they're generally lower than private clubs, and everybody feels that their favorite activity is subsidizing those they don't use.

Nevada statutes define the responsibilities of a GID as water, sewer, waste, and recreation, and mostly it seems to be recreation that everyone has an argument with. In its role as a utility district, IVGID seems not to be generating much in the way of complaints. In recreation, the prevailing attitude seems to be that the answer to Mr. Horn's question depends on whose ox is being gored. I wonder if that's the best way to approach the question.

In my work with corporations, I see three approaches – companies that deal primarily in "stuff" – auto manufacturers, agribusinesses, oil companies – take the approach of simple accounting – keep costs as low as you can, keep prices as high as is consistent with moving product, and that's about it. The only "soft" consideration is quality – with differences in quality, sales will be a function of price and quality; in a commodities business it's just price, so cost control becomes essential – WalMart has shown that you can do very well with razor-thin margins if you keep costs as low as possible.

The third approach applies to service businesses. These companies have to be intelligent about price, cost, and quality, but depend on service to give them a competitive edge. Nordstrom was one of the pioneers of this approach, and Costco has shown that even in the low-margin, bare-bones approach of a "big box" store, customer service provides a significant advantage.

IVGID, of course, is not a business in the sense I've been discussing – they are a municipal government, albeit one limited by statute. Many of us feel IVGID could do a better job of serving the community if its scope were expanded and it took over many of the functions now under the County's aegis, but the voters rejected that idea in 2008, so we have what we have. Still, if IVGID were to be examined as a business, I submit it is closer to Costco or Les Schwab than to Walmart or Shell Oil or Ford Motor Company. By this I mean that while the quality of IVGID's "products" is important as is its revenues and expenditures, IVGID exists for the purpose of serving the community, diverse as it is in its opinion of what constitutes service.

So Bill Horn's question is exactly the right one and is one that does not lend itself to quick or facile answers. I also would suggest that it cannot be answered, by the new Board of Trustees or by any of us based on narrow self-interest (or the interest of groups we feel are important because they're the ones we belong to). Rather, I would hope that the 2011-2012 Board will take the matter up very seriously and from the perspective of the greatest good for the greatest number. Let's hope they will.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Bonanza Column 213 – NDOW: Neither Civil nor Servants

Somehow over the years since the Teddy Roosevelt presidency, the environment has increasingly become a political issue. This makes no sense to me unless I take a very dark, conspiratorial view that, in the case of the human role in global warming or the BP spill for example, what is really at issue is not so much the environment as big corporations' making money at the cost of people's welfare. Whatever the reason, and however little sense it makes, somehow the pro-conservation stand of TR and John Muir has become identified as a "liberal cause" and the anti-conservation position as conservative, though many of my most conservative friends will tell you that they are environmentalists, while disavowing the work of any of the environmental groups or movements. As I said, this makes no sense to me, but so little does these days.

Notwithstanding that, sometimes there arises an issue that can be legitimately viewed in political terms, and the Nevada Department of Wildlife (NDOW) has succeeded in making the issue of living with bears political. NDOW has approved plans for a very limited bear season as a way of controlling the burgeoning bear population. There are numerous restrictions on this – it's far from open season on bears – as detailed in a Bonanza article on November 24, and Carl Lackey, almost universally respected as THE local authority on bears in the Sierra, has stated that from a biologists' perspective the hunt makes sense.

Naturally, there are a lot of people opposed to the idea and they have been vocal in their opposition since the hunt was proposed. My purpose here is not to comment on the merits of either side's arguments, but on the NDOW's handling of the matter.

I think it's fair to say that the job of government, particularly those areas of government that deal with complex matters where there is both science and public opinion to deal with, is to listen carefully to all views and then to make a decision based on the public good. As Cato put it "the welfare of the people is the highest law," and often government may feel that one view or the other has right on its side, respect for all views is a core principle in a agencies are called upon to make a judgment call on what best serves the public welfare. Even where the agency democracy. When there is a difference of opinion and a decision must be made, one side will inevitably be overruled, and civil discourse and the opportunity for continued respectful dialogue requires that the side that "loses" go away feeling that their view was heard, respected, and taken into consideration. Where people cannot disagree with dignity, they become rebellious.

In this NDOW failed miserably at its hearing on December 4th in Reno. Far from feeling heard and respected, a significant number of those who spoke against the hunt left the hearing feeling ignored, patronized, and, in the words of one letter-writer in last week's Bonanza like it was "an exercise in futility."

I don't care which side of the issue you are on, no one should ever leave a public hearing feeling this way. In a time when so many of us feel alienated from the political process, to have one more piece of evidence that those who have political power are ignoring us is not a good thing. NDOW are supposed to be civil servants – in this instance they were neither.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Bonanza Column 213: Dirty Pool

For all the niceties of form that are observed once candidates are elected to office, electoral politics is and always has been a nasty business, and neither party or end of the political spectrum has clean hands in that regard. Maybe it's an inevitable side effect of the political system, I don't know, but you can go back as far as you want in the US, the UK, or elsewhere and you'll find name-calling, lying, and mud-slinging.

Notwithstanding that, it seems to me that we may be hitting a new low. It used to be that once someone was in office, issues would be debated on the merits and the dirty politics kept to a minimum and outside of the formal processes of government. Opposition from the rich to FDR's New Deal policies was virulent – Roosevelt was called a Communist and worse – but all that went on outside of the formal debates in Congress, regardless of the views of individual legislators.

Now, however, it seems that Republicans in the Congress have abandoned any pretense of legislative decorum or of having the country's interests at heart and is out to torpedo President Obama's chances for a successful term and possible re-election, no matter the cost to the people they were elected to serve. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) stated after the November elections that making Obama a one-term president was the most important priority for the GOP. Really? In the face of 14% unemployment, an economy in the tank, two wars, escalating tensions in the Middle East and North Korea, this is what the Republicans should spend their next two years on?

Well, it seems so. Right now the smart money says that extended unemployment benefits will end this week, leaving some six or seven million people without any source of income in an economy that remains depressed and a job market that is showing very slow growth, if any. That's millions of dollars that would have gone directly for food, rent, loan payments, etc. – that is, directly into the economy that will not go there and millions of people left without the means to take care of themselves or their families. In what world does that make sense?

Additionally, the GOP is insisting on extending the Bush tax cuts to everyone. The Obama Administration is advocating extending these rates to those with taxable income under $250,000 and reinstating the taxes on those above that – about 1% of the population. This would put about $70 billion to the government's top line and is supported by the likes of Warren Buffett and Bill Gates, who stand to be among those most heavily taxed. The only world in which that makes sense is one where the GOP are far more beholden to the rich than to the people who elected them.

Politics is one thing, and operating against the interests of the people you are elected to serve is another. The GOP has every right to oppose Obama and his policies and to do everything they can to convince the electorate to vote them in and him out in 2012, but I think we have to draw the line at this level of playing dirty – to block anything that might improve conditions for Americans in economic distress because there's a chance it might make Obama look good is worse than bad form, it's dereliction of duty, and hopefully it will come back to hurt those who are doing it in the long run. Meantime, if you're out of work or losing your home or business, the GOP's message to you is "tough luck."

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Bonanza Column 212 – Thanksgiving 2010

Living at Lake Tahoe ensures that with each Thanksgiving holiday we have plenty to be thankful for. While many of us grouse about the winter weather, most of us wouldn't trade it for the cold, wet weather back East or the foggy damp of the Bay Area (though if it would snow on the mountains and not on my driveway that would be OK with me).

Every year at this time I'm reminded of how fortunate we are to be able to give to the less fortunate among us, and how glad I am that we have organizations like Project Mana, Tahoe Family Services, Children's Cabinet, Tahoe Women's Foundation, and our religious institutions to ensure that the giving and the receiving are done with dignity and compassion.

We have a lot to be thankful for on the health and well-being front as well – we have a great little gem of a community hospital, thanks to whose efforts the IV Health Center will continue to operate, we have the efforts of Relay for Life, the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, and other groups of residents donating their time and their money for research and treatment.

While local businesses have been hit hard by the economic downturn, they are starting to bounce back, aided by the Local Business Association and the Chamber of Commerce, and we've even seen a few new businesses open up in the past year as well as a few locating to new spaces. The most important support we can give local business is to shop and buy locally as much as we can – in the end, it's going to be businesses that keep the community growing and vital.

Government at all levels has gotten a pretty bad rap for the past couple of years. Politics aside, we can be grateful that the government that affects our lives most directly is the government that is closest to those it governs. Whoever you supported in the recent election, our IVGID Trustees and the staff that runs IVGID operations are people we see every day and to whom we have direct access, and that's something to appreciate. And speaking of the elections, it would be easy to be flip and say I'm thankful they're over (which is true), but more importantly, despite the rancor and divisiveness, it's worth being grateful that we live in a society where we can have a difficult and rancorous election and afterward have government at all levels continue to function and move on with a faith that the values and the virtues we prize as Americans will survive even the worst election and the worst jobs of governing.

Relative to those virtues and values, there are those who said, when the draft was ended, that we would never find enough volunteers to defend them, but Thank God they were wrong. Our thanks this holiday and always should go all those who are serving and all those who have served, as well as those who serve those who have served – from IVGID to the VA to the USO. It's unfortunate, but one of the crucial tests of any set of values is the willingness of people to go in harm's way to protect them.

Finally, I'm grateful to live in a country where even a local weekly is willing to provide a forum for all political views and a forum for people who care about the community to come together regardless of their politics to tackle issues that affect us all.

So have a happy Thanksgiving holiday – enjoy the food, the football, and the launch of the December holiday season. I hope this column has been a reminder of what the holiday is really about; my list isn't exhaustive – I know I've left out people and organizations that deserve our thanks – so when you think "hey, what about ______?" give them a call or send them a note and thank them – for all of us.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Bonanza Column 211 – The Clinic Will Not Close

It's nice to have some good, positive news for a change. My column a couple of weeks ago on the possible closing of the Incline Village Health Center was the first in a long time that didn't draw any flak from my many "admirers." Now I'm glad to be able to report that, in part because of widespread community support, the Tahoe Forest Hospital District has stepped up to save the IVHC.

At a meeting of concerned community members last week, Fred Pritchard, former administrator of the Incline hospital and incoming president of the Tahoe Forest Hospital Foundation, along with others from the Hospital District and the Foundation, announced that the Tahoe Forest Hospital District intends to operate the clinic and keep it open at its location in the Centrepointe Building. The TFHD has made an initial 90-day commitment, but Pritchard and the others were clear that the District's intent is to keep it open and running, evolving it to provide broader services to uninsured residents as well as uninsured seasonal workers. Costs to patients will remain low, and the District will seek grant funding along with the current grants that they will "inherit" from Nevada Health Services, including funds from the County and from the Parasol Community Foundation. Nevada Health Services will be leaving the lion's share of the centers assets (furniture, equipment) behind, taking only their computers and telephone system, thus keeping transition costs down.

I asked Pritchard what they Hospital District needs from the community – he and the others present were unanimous that the key needs were community awareness, community support, and of course donations, particularly from local people who may have family or other foundations that could consider grants to the IV Health Center – something to keep in mind as the tax year winds down.

The bottom line is that, while all transitions are hard, and there may be a short period when the Center will not be open while certifications and records are transferred, people will have care, and the Hospital will pick up the slack. The Center is currently open nine days a month – the first Thursday of the month and every Tuesday and Wednesday – initially the hours will remain the same and may change depending on needs and funding.

It's important to emphasize that Medicaid, Medicare, and private insurance are not sufficient to cover all of the community's needs. For those of us who are insured, it's easy to forget that there are some 600 families – estimated at more than 15% of the community – who are uninsured, and as we know, medical care is not like owning a car or insuring your home – when you need medical attention, it's not optional.

The outpouring of support for the Center has been real – at the meeting last week there were attendees from the CAB, the County, Parasol, local churches, and concerned citizens. There will be more meetings as things progress, and it's important that we don't let the upcoming holidays distract us from the real need for this facility.

One person who read my earlier column and attended last week's meeting said he was surprised at the tone of the column – he felt the issue needed more anger and outrage to get the point across. While I understand his thinking, I'm really glad to see that it didn't actually need that. Despite real differences in our community – Left and Right, IB and anti-IB, year-rounders and part-timers, you name it, the response to this emergency shows that when the chips are down our community can agree, and with Thanksgiving a couple of weeks away, that's something to include in what we're thankful for.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Bonanza Column 210 – When All is Said and Done…

The adage "When all is said and done, more is said than is done" has been attributed to Aesop. Whoever first said it, that old saw is particularly apt with reference to last week's election results. It's been less than a week and rivers of ink (or electrons) have already flowed, none of which I've found terribly insightful, and I've come to the conclusion that the reason for that is that not much really happened.

Before my avid critics jump on this, let me acknowledge that there were losses in Democratic races – the GOP now controls the House, and the prospective Assistant Majority Leader has already said that he, for one feels his highest priority is to make sure President Obama serves only one term. Not jobs, not Afghanistan, not the economy – politics. Hopefully cooler heads will prevail on the Republican side of the aisle.

If you examine it factually, though, there is less there than meets the eye. Compared to mid-term elections over the past 40 or 50 years, this one was pretty much business as usual – every mid-term has seen the party in the White House lose ground, usually gaining it back in the next Presidential election year, and the magnitude of the loss this time was not remarkable.

On a hopeful note, I've seen reports that indicate that less than half of the candidates endorsed by the Tea Party and Ms Palin were elected, and I think that's a sign that the whole Tea Party frenzy is nearing the end of its 15 minutes, and despite indications she plans to try for a Presidential nomination for 2012, maybe the same can be said for Ms Palin. Sharron Angle and Christine O'Connell lost handily, as did Carl Paladino in New York, so there may be hope for intelligence and sanity to prevail on the Right yet.

Despite Mr. McConnell's sense of priorities, I'm hoping that the next two years will see a diminution of the "echo chamber" effect on both sides. By that I mean the increasing tendency to listen only to points of view that we agree with and thus to keep validating what we already believe. This is especially pernicious when things are presented as "facts" that are objectively not true and can easily be checked. It's OK with me if you want to object to the President making a state visit to India; it's not OK to make up that it's costing millions of dollars a day, or that he's taking 200 people with him or that 10% of the US Navy is being deployed for his security. Those things just aren't true. Let's argue philosophy, ideology, and how we explain facts such as the unemployment rate or the economic downturn, but let's have the intellectual integrity to get our facts straight. To paraphrase Bernard Baruch, everyone has a right to their opinions, but no one has a right to be wrong in their facts.

The one thing I've heard consistently from people all over the US in the past week is that they are glad the election is over and are sick of the rancor and nastiness in the campaigns. We need all kinds of election reform – campaign finance reform, reversal of the ill-advised Citizens United decision, a shorter campaign season – but the reform we need most in my opinion is a return to civility in our political discourse. Let's see if we can't demand from our candidates that they have a bigger conversation next time around.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Bonanza Column 209: It’s Time for an End to Politics as Usual

As I write this column, the mid-term election is only days away – by the time you read it it will be over, or nearly so. People I talk to, from every part of the country, are unanimous in saying they will breathe a sigh of relief when it's over, regardless of their political preferences. It seems as though each succeeding campaign gets nastier, dirtier, and more negative. Couple this with the length of our political season (which my European friends find astounding), and by now everyone has serious voter fatigue.

What's amazing to me is that office-seekers and their advisors continue to do this and believe that somehow it will be effective. The documented fact is that most voters have made up their minds long before election day, and it's the relatively small number of undecided voters who will be swayed. If a voter is undecided, then presumably they are not hard core partisans, and are interested enough in the issues to think about them and not respond along ideological lines, at least for the office or question they are thinking about. Why would anyone think that a voter like that would respond to negative attacks, lies, half-truths, shaded truths, and general stridency?

Over the past decade or so a new line of research in psychology called "positive psychology" or "positive organizational psychology" (POP) has shown convincing evidence that if you want to influence or change people's behavior, it is easier and more effective to do so by focusing on what works rather than what's wrong, enhancing and building on people's and organizations' strengths and assets rather than trying to fix their weaknesses and flaws. Lest you think this is some new age California fad, the research began at the University of Michigan, and has been extensively documented.

I've seen POP applied in my own and others' work with organizations, executives, and managers, producing really amazing results. In his new book "Drive," author Daniel Pink makes a convincing case for the idea that people are motivated more by their seeing meaning, purpose, and contribution in their work than by money or security, by carrots or sticks. It's reasonable to assume that this holds true in other parts of their lives as well – certainly in family and community life, and in politics as well.

Despite this, political campaigns seem to appeal to people's worst nature. Fear, greed, protecting myself and my own at the expense of the community, racism, sexism, homophobia – all these were themes of the campaigns this year along with lies so blatant and ridiculous that to tell them indicates a serious lack of respect for the voting public's intelligence.

Maybe it's time for a real change in our political system. First of all, let's stop pretending that party affiliation, on either side, has anything to do with certain offices. Law enforcement (the Sheriff, the District Attorney, the Attorney General) should be non-political – presumably when someone is arrested or prosecuted, neither their nor the prosecutor's (nor the judge's) political ideology should matter. Financial offices – Treasurer, Controller, etc. – should be about sound finance and personal integrity, not Republican or Democrat, right or left. Local offices, some of which are nominally non-partisan on the ballot, should be genuinely non-partisan, and those such as Constable that are currently partisan shouldn't be.

And then let's demand that our politicians run on the issues and on their actual record in and out of office. Keep religion and ideology out of it – if you're opposed to, say, abortion or gay marriage or if you're for those issues, give us real thinking, not slogans or religious (or anti-religious) cant. I don't know about you, but if either side on any issue can't come up with a reasoned, fact-based argument, then I think they should just say so – they're against it on personal, moral, religious, or ethical grounds and leave it at that, not try to back up what is a personal position with specious claims or pseudo-reasoning. And be clear I'm talking about both sides of the aisle here – I have no problem with fact-based, purpose-driven arguments, and I understand that sometimes there is purpose-driven with no basis in fact – I can respect an authentic commitment that I don't agree with – just don't try to convince me that it's right or wrong. It's your position, and I can respect that.

We have a short breather until the run-up to the next elections in 2012. Can we use it to try to remember that every one, Republican or Democrat, right or left, straight or gay, man or woman, white, yellow, brown, and black, is an American and has those rights the founders felt were inalienable. Can't we all try to get along?

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Bonanza Column 208 – The Clinic Cannot Close

What was your reaction to the story in last week's Bonanza regarding the impending closing of the Incline Village Family Health Center (Searching for healthy solutions: Impending health clinic closure worries low-income locals)? I suspect many people didn't even read it – after all, if you're not a "low-income local" it doesn't affect you, does it? Or does it?

In 1995 Dr. Rick Tietz started a clinic at the hospital to serve patients who needed health care but did not need the Emergency Department. Ultimately Dr. Tietz brought the clinic under the auspices of the Childrens Cabinet, providing primary care at nominal fees for those who could not otherwise afford health care. Eventually, to make a long story short, the County got involved bringing with it Title 10 funds to underwrite the clinic's operations. In 2007, after some years of the clinic moving around and often operating under battlefield conditions, Nevada Health Centers took over the operation, making it the 22nd or 23rd clinic under their operation.

Nevada Health Centers is a federally funded Community Health Center Program that has operated medical and dental centers in Nevada for 29 years. Since taking over the Incline clinic in 2007, NHC has expanded rapidly, at one point to 31 clinics (they now have 29), and seems to have overextended itself financially. One solution to this overexpansion is to close the Incline clinic. In the Bonanza story NHC CEO Thomas Chase cited finances as the reason for the closure, noting that the clinic ran at a deficit of $120,000 during the past fiscal year, with $160,000 in expenditures to only $40,000 in revenue.

OK, maybe I'm naïve, but it seems to me that a clinic that is set up to serve low-income folks isn't going to make much in income, charging $10 for an adult visit and $5 for a child. NHC knew this when it took on the clinic, and at that time we can reasonably assume the management of NHC was taking on getting funding for the clinic – indeed, for all its clinics. Now new management seems to expect the clinic to carry itself, which doesn't happen with this type of operation.

Now here's where it affects you and me. Low-income folks are, inevitably going to need health care services for themselves and their children. So without the clinic, where will they go? To the ER at the hospital. As you know, ER services are expensive, regardless of how minor the treatment may be. The ER will not, as a matter of policy, refuse services to anyone, without regard to ability to pay. I have no doubt that the folks who now go to the clinic would pay if they could – I'm told they pay the clinic's fees willingly and gladly – but they simply can't pay the ER's prices, so the hospital absorbs the costs and, inevitably passes the losses on in higher fees to those who can pay – you and me. In addition, these non-emergency cases in the ER impose an added burden of triage on the ER staff and can delay or interfere with services to genuine emergency cases.

Who are these clinic patrons? A few were interviewed in last week's article; they are working people – some are seasonal employees, some employed in service jobs in the community. They are mothers, fathers, school children, grand parents. I'm told almost 600 families will be affected by the clinic's closing – that's around 2000 people who will, by default, become ER patients or will suffer from a lack of health care. Here. In our town.

I, for one, say this cannot be allowed to stand. NHC should step up to its responsibility to the community, and we as a community should demand that they do so. The hospital has extended its hand to help in any way it can, and we as a community should do no less. Every religion and moral code has in its principles some version of "as you treat the least among you, so you treat Me;" We need to keep this in mind – our community is what it is not only because of the wealthy and retired among us but also because of the working folks who keep it all running. They take care of the rest of us in many ways – it's time to repay that.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Bonanza Column 207 – Election Endorsements

As you'll see elsewhere in this week's website and paper, the Bonanza has made its endorsements for various offices affecting us here at the Lake as well as on Washoe County Question 2. Mostly I agree with the paper, and where we disagree it's pretty minor. Nevertheless, in response to requests I've received, I'm going to chime in with mine.

Most will come as no surprise to regular readers of this column, and I won't rehash those arguments that I've made, sometimes more than once, in previous columns. So, for the record, Reid for Senator, Reid for Governor, Whomes for DA, and No on Question 2. The Senate and DA races seem like no-brainers to me. Angle has showed herself over and over again to be incapable of governing her mouth, much less the country, and most of the serious opposition to her seems to me to be coming from out of state interests whose interests would be served by getting rid of Harry Reid, but who have no interest in what's good for Nevada. Gammick has blocked the Tax Revolt's efforts to collect the tax refunds that the courts have said are coming to us, and that alone should be enough to make the difference.

The Governor's race is a closer call for me. I've liked Brian Sandoval for a while, and admire the commitment it takes to give up a Federal judgeship for a shot at other public service. However, his performance in the campaign has been lackluster to say the least, and he has failed to divulge any specific plans to back up his platitudes. Rory Reid, on the other hand has been open and explicit about his education and fiscal proposals. Campaign rhetoric is always a case of "we shall see," but at least Rory has given us something for which we can hold him to account, and I also like his plans better, so he gets my nod.

And No on Question 2 is another no-brainer – there is no conceivable upside for us in Washoe County spending money on studying the question of consolidation, because there is no upside to consolidation for anyone but the City of Reno.

For IVGID and the Fire District, I go three-quarters of the way with the Bonanza. We have what is arguably the finest fire protection in the country. Don Epstein and Gene Murrietta have served ably on the Fire Board, and deserve another term if they want it. Don't change horses in the middle of a race you're winning. For IVGID, I enthusiastically concur with the paper's endorsement of Bruce Simonian – I supported him in the primary and he has continued to show really good ideas and good sense in his campaign. For the other seat I go with Gene Brockman. Now if I had Gene's long record of distinguished service, I think I would retire to elder statesman status. But Gene wants to continue to serve, and with his experience and his incredible network of relationships with other municipal officials statewide, we'd be crazy not to take him up on it.

Now to briefly look at some other races, Dean Heller's bid to retain his seat in the House has received relatively little notice. While there are two people on the ballot opposing Heller, only one, Nancy Price of Sparks seems like a serious candidate. I don't know much about her but I do know this – when people from Incline went to DC to speak to Heller, Ensign, and Reid about the fight against pancreatic cancer they were received graciously and taken seriously by the two Senators' offices and rudely blown off by Heller's. That and his undistinguished record in the House are enough for me to pull the lever for Price.

Finally, Ross Miller, Kate Marshall, and Kim Wallin have all done a better than good job as Secretary of State, Treasurer, and Controller respectively and have earned the opportunity to continue the work they've started. Catherine Cortez Masto, despite her unfathomable endorsement of Gammick, has been an excellent Attorney General and should be retained in office as should Sheriff Mike Haley.

That's it; don't forget to vote!

Friday, October 08, 2010

Bonanza Column Number 205 – The First Amendment

I don't know anyone worth taking seriously who is not in favor of freedom of speech. "First Amendment Rights," while not absolute (see "shouting 'fire' in a crowded theater"), are probably the most sacred Constitutional guarantee of all to an overwhelming majority of Americans.

It gets hard, though, when that sacred right is exercised by someone you find morally repugnant. It doesn't matter if it's the KKK, the ACLU, the Right or the Left, everyone seems to have a point at which they say "yes, free speech, but not that free." Such is the case for me with the twin hate-mongerers Terry Jones and Fred Phelps. I have to swallow hard and remind myself that, in a free society, any restriction on speech or expression must be taken under very serious consideration and pass some very stringent tests regarding public safety, clear and present danger, and the like lest we become like so many countries where speech is limited to what the government or representatives of a supposed majority say is OK.

Jones, you'll remember, is the pastor of a 50-member church, most of the members his own family, in Gainesville, Florida who made news by threatening to publicly burn copies of the Holy Qu'ran a month or so ago. He garnered media attention way out of proportion to any sane estimate of his importance, and was arguably responsible for deaths of US troops in Afghanistan when Muslim elements there didn't bother to wait to see if any books got burned and took lethal umbrage at the suggestion that they might be.

Phelps, also a "pastor" travels around the country with his family (including his lawyer who, conveniently, is also his daughter) and demonstrates at the funerals of service people killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, with signs that say things like "God hates Gays" and "Thank God for Dead Soldiers" (no kidding – you can look it up) because, in his twisted mind, America's war deaths are God's punishment for the US tolerating homosexuality in our midst.

Both these individuals are execrable in so many ways, starting with cloaking themselves in the mantle of Christian clergy, that it's leaves decent people speechless with outrage just to think of them. You don't have to like or approve of Islam or homosexuality – that's your business – but simple human decency and the principles on which the Constitution was written and on which this country was founded are revolted by what they say and do.

Notwithstanding that, however, we must stand for their right to say and do those things. We do not, however, have to shield them from the consequences of their actions. The City of Gainesville has presented Jones with a bill for $200,000 for added security and other expenses incurred by the City because of his stunt. I sincerely hope they will do everything in their power to collect it, and that, as reported, it will bankrupt financially his "church," which is already bankrupt morally. There are two axioms of free speech – one is the "fire in a theater" principle cited earlier and the other states that "your right to swing your arm freely ends at the other person's nose," and that is what we are dealing with here. In addition, I think that the families of those killed as a direct result of Jones' actions have grounds to sue him as well.

As for Phelps, he's already been sued - by Al Snyder, the father of a fallen soldier who was so devastated by the Phelps family's demonstration at his son's funeral that he could find no way to deal with it other than to try to stop them. It seems unlikely that Snyder will succeed – Phelps and his family are punctilious about the letter of the law as regards their odious demonstrations and they will most likely be sheltered by the First Amendment. Worse, Snyder is suing them at his own expense while Phelps, as noted, travels with his built-in lawyer.

We can't stop the likes of Jones or Phelps – to do so would be to endanger everyone's First Amendment rights – but we can do everything in our power to see that they don't profit from their actions, either financially or by gaining notoriety. And we can exercise our own right to speak by denouncing them as decent human beings must.

Friday, October 01, 2010

Bonanza Column 205 - Groupthink

My column last week on the possibility of starting to listen to each other drew some interesting responses. One frequent commenter whose comments I've found to be pretty thoughtful more often than not, took the occasion to challenge me to have my column not be a "collection of talking points" but to present both sides of issues and initiate a dialogue.

Others were, to be charitable, not so thoughtful. One demonstrated severe tunnel vision by picking up on the brief mention I made of IB in a list of controversies to (yet again) voice tired old arguments against that program. Others replied that since I am a progressive and a Democrat, that disqualified everything I'd said – I belong to "the party of lies," am like Joseph Stalin, and "the Democrats are a party of vile hateful and divisive people." Really? Democrats have a corner on that market?

OK, let me try again. First of all, I'm not sure what "talking points" are, but as near as I can make out, they are anything someone you disagree with says. What you say, on the other hand, is considered discourse. So I can't promise that my reader won't hear what I say as talking points – in fact, I can guarantee that they will. One dictionary defines a "talking point" as "A specific topic raised in a conversation or argument which is intended as a basis for further discussion, especially one which represents a point of view." This is a political column and an opinion piece, so hopefully talking points are exactly what I'm raising.

I do try to get my facts right. I'm often accused of having them wrong by those who disagree with me, but they rarely give any evidence that I'm incorrect – when they do (and they have) I think I've been pretty reliable about correcting myself, in print, and in a timely manner. So to that correspondent, here's what I can promise: I will "represent a point of view" – specifically the Liberal/Progressive point of view, which often corresponds to the Democratic Party's view, though not always. I'll do that, to the best of my ability, in a way that is fact-based, and will provoke discussion. I know that that is what my counterpart Jim Clark intends as well, from the other side of the political spectrum.

To the other respondents, I can only say again "Really?" I do not deny that Democrats, particularly during the Bush administration, said some nasty things. Some Democrats also said nasty things during the Vietnam War about Lyndon Johnson. And Republicans said nasty things about Clinton, Gore, and Kerry. In both cases, some of the things were true and some were not, and some persist. The Tea Party folks are particularly prone to say some really vicious things, many of which have been proved to be patently untrue. So when you say you don't want to listen because the other side are liars and vile and hateful and divisive, presumably you feel we don't owe you the courtesy either.

More importantly, and back to the real message of the column, as long as we don't have to listen to each other, we will continue to see only our point of view. Now if you're convinced that your point of view is absolutely right and any other point of view therefore absolutely wrong, that will work out just fine. And you will be a fool. Nobody – not Republicans or Democrats, not Liberals or Conservatives, not Sarah Palin or Barack Obama – has a lock on the truth. If there is a smartest person on Earth, that person is not as smart as he or she would be if they thought together with another or others. That's not my opinion, it's scientific fact.

Groupthink, defined as a process of reasoning or decision-making by a group, especially one characterized by uncritical acceptance or conformity to a perceived majority view, has proven time and time again to result in really bad decisions, whichever side of the political aisle is engaging in it. The Bay of Pigs was a disaster due to Groupthink (that's where the term originated) and Groupthink was identified as a root cause of the Challenger disaster that cost the lives of seven Astronauts. Apparently my correspondents think this is a good thing. They will not be surprised to hear that I don't agree. Hopefully you don't either.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Bonanza Column 204 – Let’s Get Smarter, not Dumber

There is an old adage that says "all of us is smarter than any of us," reflecting the view that people thinking together will come up with better solutions to a problem than individuals, however expert, thinking separately. James Surowiecki, among other things the Economics columnist for The New Yorker undertook a study to see if this adage held water, and if it did, under what conditions did it obtain? He published the results of his research in a 2003 book, The Wisdom of Crowds. Overall, his conclsions were positive – under the right conditions, a group will, indeed, come up with smarter answers to a questions or solutions to a problem than would have been yielded by its smartest member(s) thinking alone.

It's the "right conditions" that are the sticking point. First of all, the group must be of sufficient size and at the same time not unwieldy in its size. Second, the group rules of engagement must maximize free, open, and honest interchange. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the group must embody sufficient diversity of thought. In fact, the "smartest" groups include people who know little or nothing about the subject at hand as well as experts – these naïve individuals bring a fresh point of view and ask questions that would not occur to the experts. As Surowiecki details, the results of groups of experts with no diversity of thought can be disastrous as in the Bay of Pigs fiasco and the Challenger disaster, where "groupthink" let to calamitous results.

Unfortunately, the current political climate does not seem to be making anyone smarter. We are facing critical issues – the economy, jobs, terrorism, the war in Afghanistan and the advise and train mission in Iraq, Iran and its wacko leader, the Middle East conflict, the continued discrimination against Gay and Lesbian Americans, anti-Muslim prejudice, the list goes on. These issues demand the best of our thinking and seem too often to get our worst. What is missing is, first and foremost, any real commitment to thinking together. We have stopped talking to each other, and more importantly we have stopped listening to each other. Conservatives have their favorite voices to listen to – whether it's Limbaugh and Beck or Krauthammer and Kristol, and Liberals have equally narrow pass-bands, limited to Olbermann and Maddow or Moore and Daily Kos. On both ends of the political spectrum we are engaged in something dangerously close to groupthink, and that does not bode well for solving our problems.

As importantly, this refusal to listen to views other than our own leaves both sides vulnerable to cynical manipulators whose agendas may have nothing to do with our best interests. I'm not privy to what the Florida "pastor" was trying to accomplish by his threat to burn copies of the Qu'ran, but what he did accomplish was to instantly polarize a national debate that was way out of proportion to anything he could actually accomplish, and to get people killed 8.000 miles away. Jon Stewart's and Stephen Colbert's "marches," while satirical in intent, are likely to attract non-satirical arguments, and so it goes – debate rules and the opportunity for dialogue is lost.

Here in Incline we have pro-and anti-IB, along with the Reid-Angle and Reid-Sandoval and Whomes-Gammick forces arrayed against each other, and in the words of W.H. Auden, "each ear is listening to its own hearing, so none hears," and as in the national debate, this leaves us open to outsiders with their own agenda coming in to manipulate the situation. With two weeks before early voting begins, and about a month until the election season is over, it's not too late to start listening to each other and getting smarter about what is best for our community, not for people in New York or Washington who are looking out for other interests.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Bonanza Column 203 – Washoe County’s a Circus and the DA is the Chief Clown

Ya gotta love Washoe County – for sheer entertainment value it's better than a three-ring circus. We have over 400 homeless veterans in the County, a mere fraction of the homeless population, we have the Tax Revolt's Supreme Court decisions that the County simply refuses to honor, we have Reno and Sparks in a "no you won't-yes I will" battle over consolidation (while the rest of us seem to be marginalized in the argument), and if all the other laughs fail, we have DA Dick Gammick.

First the non-Gammick entertainment: According to a story in Friday's Gazette-Journal, our County Commissioner, John Breternitz, has instituted an inquiry into why, if someone wants to volunteer to keep up County parks in the face of the budget cutbacks, that person has to fill out a five-page application and submit to a police background check. Breternitz, who generally brings a lot of common sense to the matter of governing, applies that common sense here and suggests that maybe if someone wants to weed a couple of days a month, the County could make it easier for them.


According to the RG-J report, "David Watts-Vial, Washoe assistant district attorney, explained that the county application, which includes several pages of information, is extensive because volunteers may come in contact with children. The county could be sued if it doesn't weed out volunteers with criminal histories who could present a danger to children, he said."


Now I don't know Mr. Watts-Vial. He may be a perfectly good lawyer and a good guy, but he reports to the aforementioned Mr. Gammick, so we can reasonably ask if there is more here than meets the eye. If you parse his statement carefully, it doesn't hold water. If protecting children were the priority, why would we make the bar high for volunteers when any registered sex offender can come into the park, sit on a bench, and do whatever? No, like so much of the DA's office's activities, it's about covering the County's legal butt. I realize that this is a legitimate function of the DA's office, but as Breternitz put it, in this case it's bureaucracy run amok. Gammick, it seems, puts the interests of the County bureaucracy ahead of its (and his) duty to its citizens.


Speaking of the DA, in a recent debate with his opponent, Roger Whomes, Gammick refused to say that he would serve out his term if elected, and said that if he did not, he would pass the office to his first assistant. He disingenuously said his health might go bad while at the same time saying his health is great (even though he had a 7 way bypass 10 years ago and his heart stopped 7 times about a year ago, and he has a pacemaker). Gammick is known to have been grooming Assistant DA Roger Helzer to succeed him – Helzer has never tried a case in 15 years in the DA's office.

Gammick also has recently stated that he will not allow an internal audit of his office's books because the person who the County wanted to do it "is not an attorney and would not understand what they do".  Mr. DA, in case you're not clear about it, audits aren't done by attorneys but by accountants, and they don't need to understand what you do – they understand accounting and its partner, accountability. Rumors are circulating about how the Victims of Crime Fund money is used (the Nye County DA was recently arrested for misuse of same) and Gammick admits he has funds within his control that he will not let anyone into. So much for being accountable to the people who elected him.

 Gammick's propensity to be a loose cannon is clear and on the record. He has made armed traffic stops which the DA has no legal right to do, he has run off at the mouth repeatedly about court cases and judges, and generally has an irresponsible relationship to the law, to accountable, and to the public.


Roger Whomes, who is running as a Democrat because that's the only way he can run, is a good guy with a clean record including five years in the Police. Don't let the fact that he's running on the D side of the ballot stop you – the DA's office should be a non-partisan race to begin with, so rather than looking at the label, look at the ingredients – Gammick is just too toxic for the County to afford.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Bonanza Column 202 – Political Potpourri

A roundup of political items too short to get a column of their own. Early voting starts in a month – don't forget to register and vote and to attend the Bonanza Forums.


While my column on Sharron Angle raised hackles among far-right correspondents to last week's Bonanza, it still confounds me that anyone who claims to have half an intellect can support her. Some of the criticism was, I think, over the top. For example if, as Don Kaplan says, having a strong preference for Democrats means that I would "vote for a terrorist if he ran as a Democrat," then presumably the same could be said for anyone who is a loyal Republican, and I doubt that's what my friend Don meant. Anyhow, Friday is Yom Kippur and I'll forgive him.

Mostly, though, it seems that the best argument anyone can muster for Angle is that she's not Harry Reid. I can appreciate that politically and philosophically one can be opposed to Senator Reid, but for a Nevadan to vote is an extremist nonentity just in order to defeat an arguably competent and experienced senator you don't agree with is a classic example of cutting off your nose to spite your face. Most of Angle's support is from out of state, and those folks could care less what happens to Nevada.

In her latest display of non-professionalism, Angle, on Jon Ralston's TV show, challenged Reid to a debate on this show. The challenge to debate, in Reno, on October 21st, was unambiguous – it's on video and you can watch it for yourself. Angle's Deputy Campaign Manager then confirmed the debate. All good, until Reid accepted and confirmed he would be there. Then, without explanation, Angle withdrew from the debate she requested. You figure it out – I can't.


When he ran for the Assembly in 1994, Brian Sandoval told the Reno Gazette-Journal "I would oppose a voucher system to the extent it would allow taxpayer money to be diverted to private schools." Now, in his run for Governor, he is proposing a system of vouchers that would take more than $100 million from 96% of the children of Nevada – that's the percentage who attend public schools – to support the 4% who attend private schools.

The sad thing is that Assembly Candidate Sandoval had it right – a voucher system diverts taxpayer money to private schools and, in addition, offers an incentive for the best and brightest students to leave the public school system. I actually don't have much of a problem with politicians changing their positions when they get educated and take a better position, but flip-flopping from a good position to a bad one smacks of cynicism – in this case pandering to the Tea Party crowd.


In case you missed it, NewsCorp, which owns Fox News, went public recently with its support of the Republican Party to the tune of $1 million. For years commentators on the Left have been saying that Fox was, for all intents and purposes, the publicity arm of the GOP and this confirms it. So that we're clear, Fox has advocated such back to the future moves as repeal of Medicare and Medicaid, repeal of the 16th and 17th Amendments (that would be the Income Tax and direct election of Senators), the ADA, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, elimination of nuclear arms control, labor unions, women's right to choose abortion, elimination of the Department of Education and unemployment insurance, the EPA, and progressive taxation. Hmm… sounds like Sharron Angle's platform.


As of this writing on September 10th, the case of the Pastor (his congregation is 50 people – I have more followers than that on Twitter – in Florida who is threatening to burn copies of the Qu'ran for reasons that are unclear to me is unresolved. Despite appeals from Gen. Petraeus, other Christian clergy, non-Christian clergy, and others, he seems to think he can use his threat as a bargaining chip to get the non-mosque that is not at Ground Zero moved to be even more not at Ground Zero. Funny, though, when he started, he never mentioned the non-mosque. That started after Palin, Gingrich, and other wingnuts (surprised we haven't heard from Angle on this) started conflating the two issues – you gotta hand it to Pastor Jones – he has a knack for getting media attention.

Friday, September 03, 2010

Bonanza Column 201 – Labor (sic) Day 2010

In addition to the usual melancholy associated with the "official end of summer," this year's Labor Day observance brings with it, for me at least, a particularly poignant reminder of the current state of the economy in the US in general and in Nevada in particular.

Labor unions, once a major positive force advocating for the working class have fallen into disrepute. Some of this is their own fault, with too many instances of corruption and greed on the part of unscrupulous union leaders, and too many instances of "protecting" their members against job insecurity by ignoring intelligent practices of workers' being accountable for producing an honest day's work for an honest day's pay. In too many instances unions have failed to advocate for all workers, regardless of race or gender, and this has contributed to their loss of the standing they had a century or so ago.

But it's not all the unions' fault. Management and business ownership have, from the beginning, resisted unions' legitimate efforts on behalf of their members where those efforts might increase their expenses and thus cut into profits. In recent years big companies have been particularly ready to demonize unions when the unions used their voices to object to US jobs going overseas and to the radical disjunction between executive ( particularly CEO) pay and what was being paid to labor.

During the major economic bubbles of the last 20 years – the dotcom bubble of the '90's and the housing bubble of the 20's, ordinary Americans, who have traditionally identified themselves with the middle class began to think like the upper classes – the CEOs and financiers. Maybe the euphoria of the bubbles along with the spate of paper millionaires of the dotcom era created the illusion that we could all become part of the wealthy class, but for whatever reason, we seem to have started to think that CEOs and Wall Street types are entitled to amass wealth beyond the dreams of avarice, and if they are entitled, then maybe we are also Thinking this way, a great many of the middle class oxymoronically tried to borrow their way into wealth – a way of thinking that built Las Vegas, but not one that will build an economy, as we've seen.

The unions are attempting a comeback – advocating for health care reform, retention and return of US jobs, and for the Employee Freedom of Choice Act which will afford the opportunity for workers to choose to join unions on their own, while still allowing employers to conduct their own canvasses to determine employee sentiment about joining – in other words the employers lose nothing while the workers gain a bit more freedom to initiate the process on their own, with the results binding on the employers if a majority choose to unionize. Under current law, employers are not required to take as determinative their workers' signed authorization forms designating a union as their representative and may insist that the workers use a secret-ballot election conducted by the National Labor Relations Board to establish their union "even if 100% of the employees provide the NLRB with signed authorizations designating the union as their bargaining agent." The EFCA would allow workers to have their union certified as their bargaining agent by the NLRB if a majority of them have signed valid authorizations."

Naturally employers, particularly large companies that have made it their business to keep unions out, oppose this. Former Home Depot CEO Bernie Marcus went so far as to predict the "demise of civilization" if this basically democratic process were to be instituted. More likely it would lead to a re-empowerment of labor in the face of corporate greed and the possibility of restoring sanity and balance to a system that stacks the deck in favor of the wealthy and powerful and leaves the majority of us (whatever our champagne wishes and caviar dreams) in the dust. The average Nevadan, and there are quite a lot of us, even here in Income Village, needs to realize that the Carly Fiorinas and Meg Whitmans and Bernie Marcuses of the world really don't have out best interests in mind, and that maybe "if you can't beat 'em join 'em" isn't a viable option for 95+% of us. The working class and the middle class are the backs on which the plutocrats stand, and maybe it's time we stood up.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Bonanza Column 200 – Nevada Can’t Afford Sharron Angle

There's an old expression – "yellow dog Democrat" - to describe a voter who is such a dyed-in-the-wool Democrat that he or she would sooner vote for a yellow dog than for a Republican. I'm not sure what the equivalent expression is on the GOP side, but whatever it is it seems to me you would have to be one to be supporting Sharron Angle at this point.

I understand that, particularly for Republicans outside Nevada, unseating Harry Reid is a priority, although given its highly unlikely that the GOP will gain a majority in the Senate, all that would mean is that Reid would be replaced as Majority Leader by another Democrat. Still, Reid has been very effective as ML and I can see that the GOP would want to get him out of there. That's why the national GOP has taken over Angle's campaign and is trying to tone down her crazy rhetoric, though they haven't been very successful.

For us in Nevada, however, there are overriding considerations. Republican talking points to the contrary, Reid has done a lot for Nevada – his national leadership has not detracted from his representation of the state. Pick your issue – jobs (see 22,000 jobs at City Center in Las Vegas), Yucca Mountain, veterans' issues, energy policy – Reid's influence has benefited the state, and while statistics can be bent to argue any way you want them to, the facts are the facts. To lose Reid, as I've said repeatedly, would be a big loss for Nevada. To trade him for Angle would be a tragedy.

In Angle's seven years in the 42-member state assembly, she voted "no" so frequently on matters of wide consensus that votes were often called as "41-to-Angle". Given that she will fit right in with the far right of the GOP whose stated strategy for the next two years is to oppose everything the government tries to do. While she has backtracked on some of her earlier positions, it is a documented fact that Angle has favored preventing women who are pregnant as a result of rape or incest from having abortions. elimination of publicly-funded Social Security and Medicare, elimination of the Department of Education, the institution of programs in schools and prisons that seem to be Scientology-based, and has said quite recently that the US Constitution violates the first of the Ten Commandments, since it seeks have government act in place of God.

Angle says in one of her TV ads that government is the problem, not the solution. Given that statement, I have to wonder why she and her ilk want so badly to be part of the problem. When I was politically active in the 60's we talked about "working within the system to destroy it" as opposed to opposing the system from outside it. Many of my colleagues at that time tried that and were invariably unsuccessful, usually becoming part of the system they intended to undermine. If I combine Angle's extreme positions, her record of "just say no" voting, and her repeated attempts to become part of the government she is so opposed to, I'm left with the conclusion that she wants to go to Washington to try to bring down the government from within. In this I doubt she'll be any more effective than my friends were.

Right now Nevada is represented by one of the most politically astute and powerful people in America and by a junior senator who has shown himself to be ineffective and ethically challenged, and who may soon be under criminal indictment. If Angle and her politically myopic supporters succeed, we will be represented by a senior who has shown himself to be ineffective and ethically challenged, and who may soon be under criminal indictment and a junior senator whose stated position is that government is the problem. I don't care how loyal a Republican you are, Nevada cannot afford Sharon Angle in so many ways.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Huffington Post Column 24 - Are We Moving Toward a Clan Society?

The controversy over the Park51 Islamic cultural and religious center in New York has generated controversy that is way out of proportion to any rational assessment of its importance. The so-called "Mosque at Ground Zero" is neither – it is a community center with a prayer space located three blocks from Ground Zero. If you're not familiar with New York, three blocks is much farther than it sounds – the density of buildings and population means that there is an awful lot between the two sites, including churches, businesses, strip clubs, and all the accoutrements of life in the big city.

Try as I might, I can't attribute this flap to anything but religious prejudice, whatever fancy rhetoric it's cloaked in. It's been nine years but we aren't building a memorial at Ground Zero – we're building new buildings – offices, restaurants, apartments will once more occupy the site, so how is it hallowed ground? And even if I buy the "hallowed" argument as anything other than a shibboleth for anti-Muslim bias, to whom is it sacred? There were American Muslims who died in the towers, there were American Muslim first responders who risked their lives and were injured or killed, so doesn't any "memorial" include them? And why isn't the site of the Murrah building in Oklahoma City "hallowed ground," or the IRS office in Austin?

I'm not sure how important this issue is taken on its own, but in a larger picture I think it's very important. First of all, some 56% of Americans according to the polls seem prepared to sacrifice the First Amendment to bias. Yes, all Americans have the freedom to worship when, where, and how they choose unless they are the designated enemy du jour. Secondly, that same proportion of Americans seem to be willing to tar all Muslims with the terrorist brush despite all the evidence that, as with every faith, Christianity and Judaism included, the extremists who would wipe out those of other faiths or forcibly convert them are a small majority

Most disturbing to me, however, is that we seem to be moving in the direction of a clan-based culture. The "culture wars" touted by O'Reilly, Beck, Limbaugh, Coulter, and others on the Right seem eerily similar to what Ayaan Hirsi Ali describes as the clan culture of her native Somalia.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali, in case you don't recall who she is, was born a Somali and went on to become a Dutch citizen and a member of the Dutch Parliament. She co-produced with Theo van Gogh the film "Submission" that cost van Gogh his life at the hands of an assassin and led to threats against her as well.

Ali's book, "Infidel" is a memoir of her growing up in Somalia and Kenya and her gradual distancing herself from Islam to the point of becoming one of its leading critics. Her criticism of the religion of her birth is couched in terms of her personal struggle with what began as a deep and unquestioning faith and became apostasy. Witnessing that struggle, we are privy to her thought processes as well as her emotional conflict, and it's not always pretty or easy reading.

One of the themes running through Ali's book and life is the rigidly hierarchical clan system in Somalia, which while not based in Islamic law, is closely intertwined with the religion, its practices, and its traditions. Ali's family belongs to a high-caste clan that has traditionally led and governed in Somalia. At the time of her growing up the country is ruled by the brutal dictator Siad Barré, and Ali's father was a leader of the resistance that was ultimately successful in overthrowing the government. Sadly, the result of this revolution was not freedom but vicious civil war among the clans, a war based in old rivalries and prejudices, that is still dominating Somali life today.

When Ali came to the Netherlands and got involved in politics there, she found similarities between the system of political parties there and the clans in Somalia – much the same stereotyping, rivalry, and refusal to cooperate, under a more civilized and peaceful facade. Reading her account of life in both systems, I became increasingly uncomfortable with what I perceived as similarities to life in the US today as we seem to be moving toward increasing polarization and enmity between Right and Left, non-Muslims and Muslims, "native" and immigrants.

It is axiomatic that the United States was founded on principles of individual freedoms (speech, assembly, even the right to bear arms), group freedoms (religion, freedom from discrimination), and protection of minorities under the rule of the majority. More importantly, another critical principle is that these freedoms are based on rights that are "inalienable," that is impossible to take away.

In 1947, the then Department of War made a short film that was rarely if ever shown. The film, called "Don't Be a Sucker" showed how easily the Right in Germany hoodwinked the German people into supporting murderous racism, a process that was echoed in Pastor Martin Niemoller's famous statement ("First they came for the Communists…"). We would do well to remember our Virgil – "the descent to Hell is easy," and to keep in mind that while it may be the Muslims now, sooner or later "they [will come] for me and there [will be] no one to speak up."

Friday, August 20, 2010

Bonanza Column 199 – Tourist Season

Over the past couple of weeks the Bonanza has run a number of pieces – articles, letters to the editor, person in the street questions – about life here in a tourist destination and its ups and downs. Mostly these have been light-hearted notes, with some serious undertones, the theme of which has pointed to the tendency of some (though by no means all) tourists to behave in ways that are objectionable to those of us who live here.

I've lived in a number of tourist destinations, and the complaints are the same wherever you go. It seems that a significant number of people, when they go on vacation, leave their manners and consideration for others at home. I've spoken to rentors who have horrific stories of vacation properties being trashed in ways that would make a heavy metal band proud, and we all have stories of crazy drivers, rudeness in the super market, on the beaches, and in restaurants. And don't get me started about hairy, sweaty, beer-bellied individuals of both genders who seem to feel that tank tops and no tops are appropriate attire for public places – I object to them on both esthetic and hygienic grounds.

But the one that I think is over the top is the boater who, when told that he would need to decontaminate his boat before putting it into the Lake, went to another inspection station, lied, and launched his boat. In case you missed this story, this person came to Cave Rock wanting to launch on June 28th – his boat had last been in Sand Hollow Reservoir in Utah — a mussel-infested body of water, according to the Tahoe Resource Conservation District. In addition to having been in this water, the boat had water in it, and so was very likely to be carrying mussels. The inspectors deemed that decontamination was required and told him to return on July 1. This worthy then went to the Meyers station on June 29th, told the inspectors there that the boat had been in Lake Powell, which is not infested, that it had been out of the water for six months, and, interestingly, the Meyers inspectors found no water in the boat, so they issued a permit and allowed him to put the boat in the lake.

The TRPA Governing Board will most likely fine the man at its meeting on Wednesday, but if there is damage, it is done. I don't know how this individual justifies his actions, but you can be sure he does - people who place themselves above the law and above the common good always do. I have no doubt he thinks he had a "right" to launch – after all, it's a public lake, he pays taxes that support TRPA, he made sure he got rid of the water, etc., etc. Friday's article about this on the Bonanza website said that the paper is trying to contact him, and I hope they do – as a Psychologist it would be very interesting to me to hear how he rationalizes what is, at its heart, an anti-social and anti-nature action.

We've all heard the old joke – why do they call it tourist "season" if we can't shoot them? In my experience the vast majority of tourists who come here Winter and Summer are nice people, act civilly, and follow the rules. Of those who don't, mostly they seem unconscious about their actions and don't seem to intentionally be trying to give offense. This guy, though, can't claim that – to be given a lawful instruction, disregard it, and lie to get around the rules requires thought, premeditation, and intent. I guess a fine is all TRPA can do, but I'd like to see his name and picture in the paper – this is a case where public shaming might actually be effective, and it would surely be appropriate. Too bad we did away with the stocks.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Bonanza Column 198 – Politics Makes Strange Bedfellows

The origin of the phrase "politics makes strange bedfellows" is obscure – most likely it is a 19th Century paraphrase of Shakespeare's line in "The Tempest," "Misery acquaints a man with strange bedfellows." Whatever its origins, the phrase has never been more true than this year, in Nevada.

First, a couple of weeks ago I was approached by the Nevada chapter of the Republican Jewish Coalition, a national group, with a request to help them broker a debate between Harry Reid and Sharron Angle, candidates for the US Senate in November. Angle has been offering to debate Reid, being careful to make her offers only for times when Reid, the Senate Majority Leader, will have to be in Washington. Based on her campaign so far, I assume that she will then make much of her offers and of the Reid camp's refusal, given that the Senator rightly considers his duty to lead the Senate to have priority over the debates.

The NRJC happened to have Angle booked for a certain date in Reno, and wondered if Reid might be willing to debate under joint sponsorship with a group of Democrats. It was, I believe, an offer made in good faith and I don't know if Angle's people even knew about what was, after all, a preliminary inquiry. When I spoke to Reid's Campaign Manager he explained the situation to me and said that, until the debates already under negotiation are set, they were not going to discuss any others. Too bad, but that's politics. Still, in the "strange bedfellows" category, here we had grassroots groups of Republicans and Democrats trying to get the candidates to debate, which the candidates themselves seem unable to do.

Then, last Wednesday, the other Reid, Rory, and Brian Sandoval, the two candidates for Governor, were scheduled to deliver separate keynote speeches to the Nevada Subcontractors Association. Instead, Reid stepped up to the stage and challenged what the Las Vegas Sun described as "a stunned Sandoval" to an impromptu, unscheduled debate. The debate, using questions submitted by audience members, lasted only about 15 minutes when after two questions each, the candidates reverted to their prepared speeches.

Finally I learned late last week that the same GOP-affiliated group that had tried to stage a Reid-Angle debate had proposed to Washoe County District Attorney candidates Dick Gammick (the incumbent Republican) and Roger Whomes (running as a Democrat) that the group sponsor a debate between them. The group, had set up a debate between Whomes and Gammick.for August 18, 2010, at 7:00 pm, at the Atlantis Casino. The media had been informed of the event and then, on Thursday morning, Gammick informed the group he was pulling out.

Gammick had initially agreed to debate on the condition that he be allowed to pick the moderator.  He wanted Sam Shad, of Nevada Newsmakers, who is considered to be friendly to Gammick and on whose show Gammick has appeared, according to one report over 100 times. Shad was not acceptable to Whomes, and with the RJC's brokering a compromise, it had been agreed that Joe Hart of Channel 4 and/or Anjeanette Damon of the Las Vegas Sun (formerly of the Reno Gazette-Journal would be acceptable moderators.

According to my sources, Gammick objected to one of the people who was going to help
formulate questions for the debate for the Coalition and pulled out of the debate, despite the fact that Gammick was to be allowed to have
his own people help to frame the questions as well.

Again in the "strange bedfellows" category, many IV/CB residents, both Democrat and Republican, are uniting behind Whomes and against Gammick – the latter's performance regarding the tax issues here as well as his very odd behavior in his office in general seems to be causing opposition that transcends party affiliation, and in my opinion that's a good thing. Gammick seems afraid to meet Whomes unless the deck is stacked in his favor, and this seems consistent with his heavy-handed application of power everywhere in his tenure in office. Let's hope this spirit of putting issues above party spreads – maybe even to Washington.

Bonanza Column 197 – IB: The Facts DO Matter

The local fight over IB has been an interesting one. I've written before urging that the argument he on a factual, rational basis, but it does not seem that that's going to happen. A column in last week's paper purported to give the "facts" about IB, but was so egregious in its slant on those facts (and in its use of some things that were not facts at all) that it needs a response.

It's one thing to disagree – reasonable people disagree all the time. It's quite something else, in my view, to distort or misrepresent the truth to sway public opinion in a disagreement. Writing an opinion column, I have no responsibility to be objective and make no claim to be. When I state facts, though, I do my best to check them and once in a while readers will challenge me, publicly or privately, on my facts and if it turns out I had something objectively wrong, I do my best to correct it. Often readers who mean to challenge my facts turn out to disagree with my interpretation of those facts – fine; that's why there's chocolate and vanilla.

I don't have the space to go through the entire 732 word column – I'll leave that to the IB Task Force to refute. But when a column takes the school district and IB supporters to task for "ignoring the facts," it seems to me it's incumbent on the columnist to have present the facts clearly and without omission or spin.

Possibly the most extreme example is in the oft-repeated statement from the anti-IB folks is the one near the end of the list that says "IB is a UN sponsored program that will be FORCED on all our students." I'm going to start by picking on this one because I believe it is the one behind all the rest – the real agenda of the "Truth About IB" website and much of the opposition. Here are the facts:

IB is one of 337 (at last count) Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) maintaining official relations with UNESCO, the UN Economic and Social Council (UNESCO). UNESCO's mission is "to contribute to the building of peace, the eradication of poverty, sustainable development and intercultural dialogue through education, the sciences, culture, communication and information." According to the UNESCO Encyclopaedia, NGOs came about in 1945 when a variety of groups from the US and abroad succeeded in having included in the UN Charter a provision for strengthening and formalizing what had previously been an informal relationship between various groups and what had been the League of Nations. The 337 NGOs are a varied group that are, first of all, independent of any government, are not constituted as political parties, are non-profit, and non-violent. In sum, "an NGO is defined as an independent voluntary association of people acting together on a continuous basis, for some common purpose, other than achieving government office, making money or illegal activities."

IB is in good company in its affiliation with UNESCO. In 2003, Former First Lady Laura W. Bush, was an Honorary Travelling Fellow for UNESCO. Others among the 337 include World Scouting (the Boy Scouts), the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts, the International Association of Lions Clubs, Rotary International, the International Federation of Red Cross And Red Crescent Societies, the YMCA and YWCA, police organizations, eight or ten Catholic organizations, four Jewish, and about six organizations that identify themselves as Christian. Scary, huh?

IB is headed by Jeff Beard, Director General, a US Naval Academy graduate and Former Naval Officer. Beard led a campaign to raise over $800,000 for the USNA to fund a new academic position, the Distinguished Military Professor Chair for Character Development. Because of his strong belief in ethics and character development in young people, he has agreed to continue in this role for the school, and is currently leading a campaign to raise another $1 Million for the same purposes..

It seems highly unlikely to me that a program headed by a former US Naval Officer who is still heavily involved with the US Naval Academy is a UN plot to be foisted on our children. From everything I've been able to learn, IB is highly regarded by the US military academies which exemplify patriotism and embrace the IB curriculum. This example of spinning the facts should be enough to have you look closely at the "facts" in last week's column.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Bonanza Column 196 – My Sit-Down with Rory Reid

I promised last week that I would report on my meeting with Gubernatorial Candidate Rory Reid, so here goes.

I spent about 30 minutes one-on-one with Reid, and came away impressed both with him personally and with what it became clear were substantive distinctions between him and his opponent Brian Sandoval. Going into the meeting, as a Democrat, I was inclined to support Reid, but I like what I've seen of Sandoval and was impressed with his commitment in resigning a lifetime appointment to the Federal Bench to run for Governor, and felt I wouldn't have been too unhappy if he got elected. Having had a chance to talk with Rory and look more deeply into the issues, I now find myself squarely in Reid's corner.

Before the meeting with Reid I asked the folks at the Tuesday morning open forum at the Bonanza what I should talk with him about. Their response, not surprisingly was "the state's economic situation, taxes, and education, particularly IB," so that's what I focused on.

Like Sandoval, Reid is very aware that Nevada will lose $10 million in stimulus money next year and will face a difficult financial situation. Like Sandoval, Reid has promised no new taxes. Asked how he will deal with this Reid said he has short-term and long-term solutions in mind – the short-term he was about to publish and understandably declined to give me a preview – the plan may be public by the time this column comes out. Long-term it will be no surprise that Reid sees the solution to the state's economic difficulties as expanding business in the state. In his words, "we need to be exporting more" – more products, more services, more energy, more of everything. Historically, Nevada has relied on importing – tourists, vacationers, and gamblers – and that source of revenue has been falling off for some time.

To export, we need a stronger, wider, and more varied business base – new businesses in every area and particularly high-tech and clean energy, Reid said, but this won't happen as long as we are perceived as having a poor educational system and an uneducated work force, as exemplified by our 42% high school graduation rate, and so dramatically improving education in the state is the foundation of Reid's plans and campaign, and is also where he most dramatically differs from Sandoval.

Sandoval's published plan for education involves dramatic cuts in funding for schools. In Washoe County, for example, we currently have 3,620 teachers – Sandoval would cut 550 of these, or 15%. Statewide he would cut 5,080 of a current 22,852 for 22%. I just can't see how losing 1 out of 5 of our teachers from schools that have already undergone cuts under Gibbons is anything but a short-term (and short-sighted) solution to the projected budget deficit. How will we improve class sizes, increase graduation rates, or build the economy of the future? What is the message Sandoval's cuts would send to businesses and industries deciding between Nevada, Arizona, and New Mexico?

Under the Republican administration, Nevada failed to make the cut for "Race to the Top" funds and Sandoval and Gibbons are attempting to pin that on Harry Reid. Actually this failure is on Gibbons who cut $300 million from education – now Sandoval proposes further cuts and more of the same. Sandoval is proposing a band-aid for the schools; Reid is promising a genuine overhaul, eliminating bureaucracy and affording principals and teachers the freedom to innovate and to lead.

As for IB, Reid feels that it's a good program – in fact two of his kids are in an IB program in Henderson. Nevertheless, he feels that it should be up to the community to decide what it wants.

Overall, as one who places the highest value on education as the key to meeting the challenges of the future, I came away from this conversation convinced that Rory Reid is on the right track and he has my support – I'd invite you to look seriously at his EDGE plan for education, which is published in a 22 page booklet and his vision for the future of Nevada, published as "The Virtual Crossroads" and available from the Reid campaign, then make up you mind based not on party but on what's best for the future of our state and our community.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Bonanza Column 195 – Consolidation - the Wolf Behind the Door

Last week was pretty interesting politically – for me at least. I had the opportunity to meet with County Commissioner John Breternitz to discuss the advisory ballot question on consolidation of Washoe County and Reno. Then later in the week I was able to sit down for a private half-hour interview with Gubernatorial Candidate Rory Reid. Both very interesting conversations.

I've been a supporter of Commissioner Breternitz since he ran for the office two years ago. He has an impressive background as a business executive (in the construction industry) and is my kind of public servant – he's retired, does not plan to make a career of elective office, and is genuinely interested in representing the people in his district, including the 25% or so of the district who live up here at the lake.

As Jim Clark mentioned in his column last week, Commissioner Breternitz was a "champion" for the advisory ballot measure. It's not that he's in favor of consolidation, but this question keeps coming up and he and other Commissioners want to get the sense of their constituents' view on it so that they can either drop it once and for all or move toward spending money to investigate the pros and cons. After talking with John at length, I'm convinced he's sincere in this – he just wants to know what people want.

All in all, it's hard to fault information-gathering – there will be pro and con statements on the ballot, and with any luck they will be well-written and clear so that people can make an informed vote. I'm concerned about it, though, because it's rare in my experience that these well-intended attempts by elected officials to sound out their constituents' views come through as they were conceived.

First of all, there are vested interests on one side of the issue. As Clark points out in his article, the appropriate way to do this would be for Reno to declare bankruptcy so as not to saddle the County with its debt. Anybody want to call the early line on Bob Cashell and the Reno City Council saying "we have failed completely in the fiscal management of the City and now, as our last official act, we're declaring bankruptcy?" Then, the rest of the County minus the City of Sparks – that is all the unincorporated parts of the County will be inundated by Reno's side (after all, it's all upside for Reno) and who will speak for the other side? Sparks is the only organized local government in the County other than Reno – the rest is communities, GID's, and scattered homes and farms. Who will speak for the con side? Who will speak to the effect of a pro vote on those areas?

Jim Clark and I rarely agree on political matters on the State and National level. More often than not, though, the more local the effect, the more likely we are to agree, and here we are on exactly the same page. For the past 20 years Jim and I and other concerned residents have tried to get across to the community the need for some form of independence for IV/CB – ideally as a county, then last year we tried as a town, which would have afforded us a local government not restricted by NRS 318 as a GID is. These efforts have failed – at the state level because of pressures from outside the area, and at the local level for reasons that continue to boggle my mind. All the facts argued that the town proposal had no downside, and it failed. Go figure.

To quote Elmer Fudd, we need to be vewwwy vewwwy careful. We need to do more than watch developments – we need to be active in communicating the facts of the impact this would have and, if it's as bad as I think it will be, in defeating the advisory question and leaving Reno to sort out its own mess.

Next week I'll report on my sit-down with Rory Reid. Between now and then, start to educate yourself about this consolidation issue. Former Commissioner Jim Galloway, as Jim reported, thinks this will make the issues of the Tax Revolt look like small change.