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.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Huffington Post Column 23: Why Single Out Muslim Women?

The controversy over Muslim women's dress is taking on global proportions. France, some time ago, banned the wearing of hijab, the head scarf in public, and now Syria, that most secular of Arab nations, has banned the niqab or full-face veil in schools. In a report on NPR the head of the Syrian Women's Observatory (sic), whatever that is, a man, made the dubious claim that the niqab constitutes "violence against women."


Let me be clear – I don't support anyone being required to wear or not wear anything against their will. I agree that if a woman is forced to wear a head scarf or veil by her government or her husband or her father, that is wrong and should not be allowed. But I've heard and read interviews with women who wear the hijab and even the niqab voluntarily, who want to wear it, and who feel religiously bound to wear it by their own beliefs. On what grounds can a government or institution require that they not wear it, and isn't such a requirement the equivalent of requiring someone who does not want to wear it to do so?


I suppose the argument will be made that women in the latter group have been brainwashed or some such thing and need to be protected, but even if we grant that (and I don't), isn't that the selfsame paternalistic and patronizing attitude that the women's movement has always been against?


More broadly, why is this group being singled out? Other religious groups – maybe every religious group – have groups that adopt a particular garment or style of dress. Some Hasidic Jews dress in clothes that were common in 14th Century Poland. Mormons wear "temple garments," albeit under their clothes, Buddhist monks and nuns wear robes, Hare Krishna adherents wear a queue with the rest of their head shaved, Orthodox Jewish men wear skullcaps, and the women dress modestly in long sleeved blouses and long skirts, and often wear a head scarf over their ritually required wigs. Then there are priests' collars, nun's habits, monk's robes, and on and on. Why is no one proposing banning all those as well as that most visible of symbols, the Hindu bindi or dot on the forehead?


Sadly, I think the answer is that we are all too ready to conflate religious fundamentalism, or even orthodoxy or conservatism with terrorism where Muslims are concerned, though we don't do so nearly as much when it comes to other faiths. Every religion has its fundamentalists, and terrorists have perverted every world religion except maybe Quakerism to justify their crimes. Terrorists who act in the name of Islam are only the most recent and currently active example.


But to tar all Muslims (or in this case Muslim women) with the brush of terrorism is racist, anti-Muslim and, dare I say, sexist on the part of those who claim to be acting in these "oppressed" women's interests.


Again, I am not advocating that one person in the world be required to wear or refrain from wearing anything against their will. I'm not even crazy about school uniforms or dress codes for the same reason. I am saying that I'm equally opposed to anyone being required to wear something they don't want to or to refrain from wearing something that, as an adult, they choose for whatever reason to wear.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Bonanza Column 194 – A Time for Unity

I don't know anyone who is not, by their own lights at least, an environmentalist. I have never met anyone who advocates destroying the environment, though some, like BP, may put other priorities such as profit ahead of it, they will find some rationale for doing so. That said, in many cases those who take on "The Environment" as with most people who take on a cause, have a tendency to see things in black and white terms and, as this week's editorial in papers around the Lake puts it, to "judge a book by its cover."

That editorial went on line at the end of the week and has already as of this writing on Saturday begun to draw fire from people and organizations whose identity (and in some cases salary) depends on their position on the environment. When the papers come out in print it's likely that it will draw more. As an unpaid columnist I have no obligation to agree with the paper's position on anything and sometimes I don't. In this case, though, I think the editorial staff hit the nail on the head and if you haven't read the editorial, I recommend you stop here and do so (then come back to this column).

Economists are currently debating two dangers inherent in economic recovery – inflation and deflation. I would submit that in the environment "debates" in our community we have another danger – conflation. Conflation occurs when the identities of two or more individuals, concepts, or places, become confused until there seems to be only a single identity — the differences appear to become lost.

As an example, I attended the presentation last week by the Lake Tahoe Basin Prosperity Plan that is reported on elsewhere this week. That presentation was not without its flaws – not enough time for public input, for example, but it was mostly very well done. The stated vision of the LTBPP in the draft plan is:

"The Lake Tahoe Basin is a world class center of innovation around green tourism, green building and sustainable design, scientific research and applications for environmental resource renewal and management, renewable energies, and health and wellness. "It is the sustainability powerhouse of the nation."

In two slides out of sixty-two in the presentation, workforce housing was mentioned as one of a number of bullet points – one mentioned as a basin-wide issue "Lack of financing for businesses and community development/infrastructure/workforce housing" and the other reported that the "cluster group" on tourism and visitor issues included as one bullet point in one of four proposed strategic initiatives "Create a basin-wide workforce housing strategy."

Despite the tiny percentage of the draft plan that even mentioned workforce housing at all, one of the first people to comment objected to this and focused on it as if it were the core of the plan. In other words, the speaker conflated workforce housing with the whole plan and treated them as one issue (see my earlier column on "Trotsky was killed with an ice axe"). I mention this not so much to criticize this individual as to illustrate how common it is. Housing (and workforce, affordable, low-income, moderate-income are not the same thing, but subject to conflation), tourism, the canard of "becoming like South Shore," building height, and other issues are argued about as global matters without regard to individual cases.

I propose that it's time for a more intelligent and rational debate about the future of the Basin and Incline Village/Crystal Bay in particular. If we don't get serious about determining our future and putting our communities' destinies into the hands of the people who are affected by it, those futures will be determined for us, and not in a good way. For example, the Washoe County Board of Supervisors has, by a vote of 4-1, authorized an advisory ballot question for the November election to give the Legislature guidance on whether to approve a merger of Reno & Unincorporated Washoe County. In case you're not clear about this, IV/CB are "unincorporated Washoe County."

I wonder how much a Reno-dominated Washoe County will care about the Lake and IV/CB as anything but a cash cow to finance underfunded areas. It's time for obstruction in the name of the environment or anything else to stop. As Ben Franklin said, we must hang together or we will surely hang separately.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Bonanza Column 193 – The GOP Won’t “Spoil” Americans

Summertime, even in an election year, is not the best time to write a column at Tahoe. In the winter, when it's cold and dark, or even when it's sunny but there's snow on the ground, it seems easier to find things to write about, but when it's 80 degrees and the sun is shining, the breezes blowing and the lake is there in all its azure splendor, somehow it's harder.

Even more so after a successful Independence Day celebration – record crowds, great events and fireworks, beautiful weather. I keep wondering, as I did in my Independence Day column two weeks ago about what the Founding Fathers (and Mothers) would make of America today. What would those Easterners make of Lake Tahoe in the summer, or of San Francisco or Seattle or San Diego? All these places would, I suspect, seem very strange and foreign to them. What would they make of a society that, even though racist and sexist attitudes persist, has de-institutionalized discrimination to the point where we have an African-American President, a woman Secretary of State (who was a close second for the Presidency), a population growing to the point where Hispanics are headed for the majority, and an economy that, even when it's in trouble, dwarfs anything that would have been in their reality.

What, also would they make of double-digit unemployment? I listened to a story on NPR on Sunday about a woman in a small town in Georgia – she was an Assistant Manager at a bank and was let go when the bank was bought by a larger bank. She has a 17-year old son and an older daughter who has two small children, all of whom she supports, and her unemployment benefits have run out. She has been looking for a job for over six months in an economy where there are, on average, 6 applicants for every available job, she is behind in her rent and facing eviction, and in disconnect territory with her utilities (which I guess won't matter if she's evicted). She is qualified, willing – no, eager – to find any kind of job and so far has not found one. And her unemployment, which she figures paid her about $8.40 an hour or $17,470 a year (she was making $41,000 plus benefits in her job) is about to expire.

In time of high unemployment, Congress has traditionally extended the 26-week limit on unemployment benefits to as much as a year. Now, however, the GOP minority in the Senate is using the filibuster to block any such extension – I guess they agree with candidate Sharron Angle that the woman in Georgia is "spoiled" by her "benefits," which are 42% of what she was making in her modest job. I wonder if they think her children and grandchildren are spoiled also.

Republican Senatorial leadership are piously avowing that they are not opposed to extending unemployment but simply want to see cuts elsewhere so that they don't add to the deficit the estimated $3 trillion it would cost . (They had no such reservations about the deficit when they voted a similar amount for war funding, despite there being nothing in the budget to cover it.)

Economists are as close to unanimous as economists get that extending unemployment would provide a stimulus to the economy. It's simple: if you give tax cuts to the well-off, they are likely as not to save or invest their gains. Those who have been unemployed for six months or so do not have the luxury of saving – they will spend the money on food and rent and utilities and maybe consumer goods, and that money will instantly come right back into the economy, creating jobs which will, in the long run, obviate the need for further unemployment benefits.

But the Party of No doesn't seem to care. They will do anything they can to prevent the government's helping anyone other than the wealthy and the big corporations in whose pockets they live. I wonder what the writers of the Declaration of Independence, who said that the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are self-evidently inalienable and who said that the proper function of government is to secure these rights for its people, would think of all this. I fancy that, like the Native American in the old "don't litter" ad, they would weep to see how their ideals have been perverted by people who claim to speak in their name.

Monday, July 05, 2010

Bonanza Column 192 - A Great Small-Town Fourth

Basking in the afterglow of Independence Day Weekend this will be a column of kudos. Full disclosure: I am a founding member and current member of the Red, White, and Tahoe Blue Board, and make no claim to be unbiased. I will, however, for reasons of good taste, refrain from commenting on any of the events I was accountable for.

This fourth RWTB was, arguably, the best yet. The weather and the calendar conspired to give us record crowds, and all the events were terrific – the wine and cheese tasting, under April Marriner's able management had more wineries and more attending than ever before – the biggest problem was getting people to go home afterward. The well-attended Beer and Brats (that's bratwurst, not nasty kids) tasting was also April's idea and production – congrats to her and to Amy and Will from Incline Wine & Spirits for two great events. Joanne Devine and her committee produced a spectacular (and huge) parade, the Duck races sold out (thanks, Rotary), and the fireworks thanks to Jim Smith, Greg McKay, and others were appropriately spectacular. Thanks also to Chris Talbot for arranging great entertainment including the wonderful Sigtuna Brass Sextet (I guess they don't count the drummer – only the brass – or it would be a septet). Also our dedicated Americorps volunteers led by Katy Washington who put on an outstanding Village Fair on the Green. And finally thanks to Bill Horn, Hal Paris, Shelia Leijon, and all of the IVGID staff who must be breathing a sigh of relief today and who did their usual outstanding job along with the Sheriff's Department in managing the whole event.

But in all this there is one group that often goes unnoticed and that deserves a shout-out. Every year, Boy Scout Troop 37 under the dedicated leadership of Kim and Jim Schmidt and their able Assistant Scoutmasters raises and lowers the flag each day, carries the colors in the veterans salute, and this year did something that didn't get enough notice. Title Four of the US Code, called the "Flag Code" was adopted in 1923 and governs almost everything about the flag including display, but also including how to properly dispose of a flag that has become so worn or tattered that it should no longer be displayed. On Friday evening on the Village Green, Troop 37 conducted the little-known Flag Retirement Ceremony. They began with a very respectful retirement of a large flag that had flown in front to the Rec Center – a large wood fire was lit, a color guard marched the flag in, Gen. Hal Strack (USA ret.) played "Taps" on the bugle, and the flag was burned while all saluted until it was gone. A similar ceremony gave those present who had brought flags an opportunity to retire them as well. A great, moving ceremony that should be an annual event – thanks to all concerned for reminding us of what Independence Day is really about.

Lastly, the regular reader of this column will know that I am one of TOCCATA's biggest fans. By the time this comes out, you will have missed the opportunity, but I have to tell you that in this year's celebration concert they outdid themselves. Maestro James Rawie and his very capable partner Nancy have an uncanny gift for attracting world-class talent. In this show, in addition to a somewhat smaller Tahoe Symphony (they were competing with the Reno Phil for musicians this weekend) and the TOCCATA Chorus, local soprano Joy Strotz and her sister, a Broadway performer Melody Moore (with their mother on harp with the orchestra) performed songs from Wicked, nationally-known (but Tahoe-based) musician Donna Axton did a performance of Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue that was as good as or better than any I have ever heard, and the whole program was up to that standard. If you are not a fan and supporter of TOCCATA you are missing the opportunity to participate in something that makes living here truly special.

Next week it's back to politics, but for this week, it's just great to live in a small town that knows how to celebrate.