Monday, April 26, 2010

Bonanza Column 182 – The New Crime in Arizona - WWH

One of the great paradoxes of America is that the country as we know it is completely the product of immigrants and the descendents of immigrants. The Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Emancipation Proclamation, the National Anthem (and we could go on and on) were all conceived and written by immigrants or their descendents. Every single president and an overwhelming majority of legislators at the national, state, and local level were immigrants or descendents of immigrants Add to the list almost everything we can call "American Culture," whether that is regional or national, all our national treasures with the exception of the Statue of Liberty, our most treasured music and literature.

Early immigrants and their immediate descendents worked systematically to create an America that started in the 16th Century, disconnected from anything that might have been here before European colonists arrived. Very little of Native American culture survives except for a few pockets, most notably in Alaska and Hawai'i, but unless you are 100% Native American in your family history, your people came here from somewhere – long ago or recently, but you are a descendent of immigrants.

The paradox comes when these same descendents of immigrants somehow claim for their own the mantle of "real Americans" and take it as their right and duty to be sure that this culture, which is an amalgam of all the cultural strains that have gone into it over the past 500 years, isn't contaminated by any current input. When they want to close the borders to people who, but for the grace of God and timing, could be their grandparents.

Like many Incline residents, I spend a lot of time in Arizona – working there. I don't find Arizonans, at least in Phoenix and Tucson where I hang out, to be very different from people I meet elsewhere in the country. Nonetheless, they seem to have a predilection for going out on some fairly loony limbs. They keep electing Joe Arpaio Sheriff in Maricopa County, for example, despite the fact that in any other state the only thing he'd be a candidate for is a rubber room. Now they've passed a law making it a state crime to be an illegal immigrant, requiring that immigrants carry proof of their legality at all times (I'm pretty sure these same folks would reach for their guns if anyone suggested a required national ID card), and allowing police to stop anyone at any time if they suspect they might be an illegal alien.

So now in addition to the nationwide unwritten law making DWB (driving while Black) cause for random stops and searches, we have in one state legislated WWH (working while Hispanic). We could, I suppose, write it off to one more bit of Arizona craziness – the Right has AZ, the left has CA, and leave it at that. But TV stations in Las Vegas (channel 5) and Reno (channel 4) are conducting online polls, and as of now both show majorities (very strong in LV and substantial in Reno) of those responding approving of the Arizona law.

Lots of folks aren't going to like my saying this, but just as poll taxes and "literacy tests" were ostensibly aimed at unqualified voters but were really attempts to keep any African-Americans from voting, and same-sex marriage bans are ostensibly to protect the "sanctity of marriage" but are really an expression of homophobia, the fuss over illegal immigration has at its roots anti-Hispanic racism. Yeah, yeah, I know, it's ostensibly about their not paying taxes (catch-22: they can't pay taxes because if they did we'd know they were here) and overtaxing services (which mostly they don't do for the same reason) but I don't buy it any more than I bought that the reason country clubs didn't allow Jews was because they didn't mix well and were pushy.

The Roman Empire operated on the principle that the way to world peace and order was to (a) conquer everybody else and (b) make them become Romans. It didn't turn out well for them and it's unlikely to turn out well for the US.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Bonanza Column 181 – Gibbons and the Tea Partiers

While there is a lot you can say about Governor Jim Gibbons, I don't think anyone could accuse him of being: smart, low-profile, or rational.

Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto correctly refused to join an ill-advised lawsuit filed by some states' attorneys general against the anemic health care reform bill passed by Congress and signed into law by President Obama. You don't need to agree with the bill to support Masto's logic in refusing – in the unlikely event that the other states' suit is successful, the results of that suit would apply nationwide including Nevada, so there is no reason to expend state resources. Gibbons, naturally, attacked Masto for doing her job and vowed to soldier on alone if need be. He has now started a fund to do that and named a Las Vegas attorney as special counsel to pursue the suit.

Gibbons is not, to my knowledge starting any funds to improve education, hire more teachers, prevent furloughs and outright layoffs of state employees, or for any other purpose that might actually benefit the state.

Instead, the Governor is grandstanding as part of his campaign for re-election. After all, even if the other states' suits were to win, how can he claim any credit for it or curry favor with the tea party crowd if he didn't visibly take action – never mind what's good for the state or where else he might spend his time on business that is actually needed. No, Gibbons, along with Sue Lowden, the massively unqualified candidate for Harry Reid's seat, is out there working the tea party circuit.

There is very little possibility that the Tea Party "movement" will be a major factor in any of this year's elections. A recent study by the Winston Group, a conservative-leaning polling and strategy firm run by the former director of planning for former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, found that the portion of the public that identifies with the Tea Parties is around 17%. 65% of Tea Partiers self-identify as "conservative" as compared with 33% of the electorate at large. 81% of Tea Party respondents expressed very little approval of Barack Obama's job as president, which exceeded disapproval levels held even by Republicans (77%) and conservatives (79%).

All this suggests that the Tea Party crowd is comprised predominantly of ultra-conservatives, and that despite their insistence that they are the "real Americans" who will "take their country back," they are in fact a fringe movement whose views are not shared wholeheartedly even by others who are with them on the right side of center. One has to question, then, the wisdom of Gibbons' aligning himself with the movement and with Lowden, whose record in business is already being exposed as at odds with her stated positions as a candidate.

The Tea Partiers, though, are right about one thing – it's time for a change. Gibbons and his GOP crowd have failed to lead in Nevada – we remain at the bottom of the heap in education, we have record unemployment levels, and are failing to attract new business to the state. Rory Reid, the leading Democratic candidate for Governor, is young and largely untested, but if you listen to what he has to say, there is at least the possibility of something different. His father, Harry Reid, is, of course also up for re-election to the Senate, and has done more for Nevada from Washington than Gibbons (and for that matter the ethically-challenged John Ensign) have come close to doing. Reid's seat is one area where we don't need, and can't afford change.

But as for Gibbons, remember the old saying – if we don't change our direction, we're liable to get where we're headed – and on almost any measure you can hold the Governor accountable for, where we're headed ain't pretty.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Bonanza Column 180 – Public Service or Indentured Servitude?

A recent letter to the Bonanza took the "spendthrifts" on the IVGID Board of Trustees to task for considering a 3 percent raise in salary for District staff, characterizing the salary and benefits of the staff as "generous."

I'm writing this from Hawai'i, where furloughs for state employees including teachers and librarians have resulted in cutbacks in services, closing of libraries, cuts in school hours for education and activities, and a general decline in public services, statewide. I suppose we could do that in IVGID – cut back on salaries and staff, have less frequent garbage pickup, close the rec center, tennis courts, and golf or skiing a couple of days a week, and generally skimp, but I'd be willing to bet almost anything that the same people that are complaining about the rec fee and staff benefits would demand that the level of services be maintained. You can't have it both ways.

Personally, I'm glad that we are able to provide what I think are adequately competitive compensation packages to IVGID staff – they provide outstanding services, are genuinely customer-centered, and are on the whole a cut above most municipal employees, and that goes from the folks who pick up the trash and keep the grounds to the executive level, in my experience without exception. IVGID has taken some steps to cut costs without diminution of services, e.g., by offering various food services to local restaurants and caterers if they want to bid for the opportunity to provide them. The General Manager and the staff have been appropriately cognizant of and conservative about needed renovations and improvements while being clear what would be lost if these are not done. I know something about management in both the public and private sectors, and I think IVGID does one of the better jobs I've seen of managing money, facilities, and people.

As I pointed out in last week's column, the facilities in the Village contribute both directly and indirectly to our property values, and to the quality of life here. The sentiment of a significant portion, maybe even a majority, of residents, against affordable housing makes it necessary to compensate District staff who cannot afford to live here for the added expense and inconvenience of having to commute. All told, I think the proposal to the Board of a 3 percent (i.e., cost of living) raise is reasonable and prudent.

Mostly, though, it's important to recognize that we can't have it both ways – we can't have world class facilities and services and at the same time cut back the way Hawai'i and California have done. We can't continue to pay those we consider "public servants" as if they were indentured servants and not lose them to the private sector – that goes for teachers, IVGID staff, police, and fire as well. After one of my columns on the future of IV/CB, one resident called and in all sincerity made the argument that we should not have anything but the most basic services, no businesses, and be a purely residential community like, for example, Sea Ranch. OK, I suppose that's one way to go, but I predict that if we go that way there will be no "here" here in twenty years or so, and then what would the bears do for food?

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Huffington Post Column 13 – Political Dialogue: Too Important to be Hijacked

Writing about politics from a perspective that is pretty far left of Center, I frequently hear from readers on both sides of the political spectrum that things will not work politically in the US until everyone thinks as they do – they seem to feel that those they disagree with should be done away with in some way – deported, voluntarily leave the country, die, and then all would be right with the world.

There has always been this strain at the fringes of American politics and neither side has a monopoly on it. From time to time there have been movements to send the Irish back to Ireland, the Jews back to Europe, the Blacks back to Africa and the American Indians back to … well, no one's quite sure about that one. Notwithstanding that, these have always been the ideas of ideologues and extremists. The vast majority of Americans have, historically, been proponents of the sentiment attributed (perhaps wrongly) to Voltaire: "I may not agree with what you say but I will defend to the death your right to say it."

It seems to me, though, that in recent years American political dialogue has degenerated into a war that has as its object the demolition of the other side. I think it is absolutely crucial that we nip this trend in the bud. So far this war has been mostly rhetorical, but recently the rhetoric has escalated to unwarranted insults ('you lie," "baby killer"), racial slurs, and homophobic slurs directed at members of Congress. And it seems to be heating up to the point of bricks through windows and assassination plots, and lest we forget, people on both sides have been injured or killed, though so far, thankfully, this has been rare. Nonetheless, it seems to be heating up.

Readers, apparently stung by my criticism of hypocrisy on the Right often accuse me of wanting the Right to disappear. On the contrary, I think that would be a very bad thing, just as bad as if the Left disappeared. In my work with corporations one of the key principles I teach, one for which there is clear scientific evidence, is that in order for any group to come up with ideas that are smarter than its smartest members would have come up with on their own, it must have a wide range of diverse viewpoints. I am convinced that one of the reasons that the US has been a consistent world leader in innovation, quality, human rights, standard of living, and on and on is that we have had a lively and vibrant dialogue among wide-ranging points of view.

Another principle of group intelligence is that the extremes cannot be allowed to hijack the debate. During the Vietnam War era, the anti-war left took control of the debate. While the view is not popular on the left, it is my firm belief that, despite the best of intentions, our taking over that debate from Nixon et al. had them resist all the more and thus prolonged the war and cost countless lives. This is not something of which I am proud – it is something I try to make up for in my life and in my writing.

Today the anti-government Right has an influence in current political debates that is, by all indications, all out of proportion to its actual numbers or popular support. Just as the Left in the 70's attracted all kinds of ideas that were irrelevant to being against the war – Leary's "tune in, turn on, drop out" comes to mind as do Kesey's Acid Tests and others – the anti-government Right finds itself in bed with the insanity of the birthers, racists, militia extremists, and a whole clown car of idiots and nutcases.

Just as the Left had to get itself straightened out in the post-Vietnam dialogue, it's time for those on the Right who know the value of the dialogue to retake control of it from the extremists, both those in the Tea Party movement and those in Congress. We need two sides or we will become very dumb indeed at a time when we need every ounce of intelligence and wisdom we can find.