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.