Saturday, August 27, 2011

Charley Reese's final column for the Orlando Sentinel.

A friend forwarded this to me and I think it's worth wide circulation. Please pass it on, post and tweet.

Charley Reese's final column for the  Orlando Sentinel. 

This is about as clear and easy to understand as it can be. The article below is completely neutral, neither anti-republican or democrat. Charlie Reese, a retired reporter for the Orlando Sentinel, has hit the nail directly on the head, defining clearly who it must assume responsibility for the judgments made that impact each one of us every day. 
      545 vs. 300,000,000 People

                     -  By Charlie Reese

Politicians are the only people in the world who create problems and then campaign against them.

Have you ever wondered, if both the Democrats and the Republicans are against deficits, WHY do we have deficits?

Have you ever wondered, if all the politicians are against inflation and high taxes, WHY do we have inflation and high taxes?

You and I don't propose a federal budget. The President does.

You and I don't have the Constitutional authority to vote on appropriations.  The House of Representatives does.

You and I don't write the tax code, Congress does.

You and I don't set fiscal policy, Congress does.

You and I don't control monetary policy, the Federal Reserve Bank does.

One hundred senators, 435 congressmen, one President, and nine Supreme Court justices equates to 545 human beings out of the 300 million are directly, legally, morally, and individually responsible for the domestic problems that plague this country.

I excluded the members of the Federal Reserve Board because that problem was created by the Congress. In 1913, Congress delegated its Constitutional duty to provide a sound currency to a federally chartered, but private, central bank.

I excluded all the special interests and lobbyists for a sound reason. They have no legal authority. They have no ability to coerce a senator, a congressman, or a President to do one cotton-picking thing. I don't care if they offer a politician $1 million dollars in cash. The politician has the power to accept or reject it. No matter what the lobbyist promises, it is the legislator's responsibility to determine how he votes.

Those 545 human beings spend much of their energy convincing you that what they did is not their fault. They cooperate in this common con regardless of party

What separates a politician from a normal human being is an excessive amount of gall.  No normal human being would have the gall of a Speaker, who stood up and criticized the President for creating  deficits. The President can only propose a budget. He cannot force the Congress to accept it.

The Constitution, which is the supreme law of the land, gives sole responsibility to the House of Representatives for originating and approving appropriations and taxes. Who is the speaker of the House? John Boehner. He is the leader of the majority party. He and fellow House members, not the President, can approve any budget they want.  If the President vetoes it, they can pass it over his veto if they agree to.

It seems inconceivable to me that a nation of 300 million cannot replace 545 people who stand convicted -- by present facts -- of incompetence and irresponsibility. I can't think of a single domestic problem that is not traceable directly to those 545 people. When you fully grasp the plain truth that 545 people exercise the power of the federal government, then it must follow that what exists is what they want to exist.

If the tax code is unfair, it's because they want it unfair.

If the budget is in the red, it's because they want it in the red.

If the Army & Marines are in Iraq and Afghanistan it's because they want them in  Iraq and Afghanistan.

If they do not receive social security but are on an elite retirement plan not available to the people, it's because they want it that way.

There are no insoluble government problems.

Do not let these 545 people shift the blame to bureaucrats, whom they hire and whose jobs they can abolish; to lobbyists, whose gifts and advice they can reject; to regulators, to whom they give the power to regulate and from whom they can take this power. Above all, do not let them con you into the belief that there exists disembodied mystical forces like "the economy","inflation," or "politics" that prevent them from doing what they take an oath to do.

Those 545 people, and they  alone, are responsible.

They, and they alone, have the power.

They, and they alone, should be held accountable by the people who are their bosses.

Provided the voters have the gumption to manage their own employees.

We should vote all of  them out of office and clean up their mess.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Bonanza Column 244 - Ave et Vale

I began writing this column in September of 2004 – this particular column is number 244 and will be the last, at least for a while.
After writing about TRPA critically during the Juan Palma years, hopefully during the John Singlaub regime, and enthusiastically as I’ve watched Joanne Marchetta engage with reinventing the Agency, I’ve decided to put my money where my mouth is. Several weeks ago Joanne approached me and asked if I’d take the job of Chief Operating Officer and partner with her in transforming TRPA along the lines that, at about the same time, were being demanded by Nevada SB 271. I agreed to do so on a half-time basis so that I didn’t have to bail on my other clients and began work at TRPA on July 1.
I’ve been in the business of organizational transformation since before the discipline had a name, starting with pioneering work at IBM, moving through other companies in a variety of industries. I’ve been a contract executive before, but not with the organizational redesign portfolio, and after thirty years of working with organizational leaders at arms’ length as a consultant, the opportunity to actually get in and work inside organizational change was just too good to pass up.
Unfortunately, now that I’m on the TRPA payroll, it wouldn’t be appropriate for me to continue to write a political column – even if I did, I couldn’t write about TRPA, and that wouldn’t be fair to the paper or to its readers, so with surprisingly mixed emotions, I’m going to discontinue this column and hope the Bonanza will find someone else willing to represent the Progressive view on a weekly basis.
I know there will be those who are glad, even gleeful to see my departure from print, and even a few who will be sorry. I know from letters and blog responses that I’ve really annoyed a lot of Conservatives, and that has been more than half the fun for me – the rest has been satisfaction when other Progressives told me how much they appreciated my speaking their views, and there have even been a number of thoughtful folks who have told me they didn’t agree with me, but I made them think – no writer could ask for more.
I’ve never subscribed to the definition of an intelligent person as “someone who agrees with me.” (Given the number of times I’ve been called dumb, stupid, and a moron in response to my columns, there are those around here who do subscribe to that definition.) I can’t fathom most of what Conservatives think or believe, but I don’t disrespect them for thinking it (except for the far Right fringe, but then again I feel the same about the far Left fringe). I believe that one of the key things that makes America great is our diversity – of opinion, of culture, or religion, all of it – and I originally took on this column to be sure that there was more than one voice in the Bonanza. I think I’ve done that and I hope it won’t end with my stepping down.
I consider Freedom of Speech the cornerstone of all the other freedoms we have – without free speech and a free press, if the other freedoms were abridged, there would be no way to make that known or to act against it. It’s no accident that the recent democracy movements began with acts of speech, or that repressive regimes focus on making sure people don’t have the freedom to speak. For that reason, writing this column has been a privilege, and opportunity, and a gift.
By the same token, there would be no point in speaking if no one was listening, so I want to take the opportunity to say thank you – to friends, to foes, and to innocent bystanders. Your reading made my writing possible and, not incidentally, fun.
In that first column in 2004 I quoted JFK’s definition of a Liberal. I think it’s fitting that I close with that in this last column:
A "Liberal" [is] someone who looks ahead and not behind, someone who welcomes new ideas without rigid reactions, someone who cares about the welfare of the people -- their health, their housing, their schools, their jobs, their civil rights, and their civil liberties -- someone who believes we can break through the stalemate and suspicions that grip us in our policies abroad, if that is what they mean by a "Liberal," then I'm proud to say I'm a "Liberal."
And don’t worry – I’ll be around, and you’ll hear from me. Y’all take care now…

Friday, July 08, 2011

Bonanza Column 243 - Who Are the GOP Working For?

The New York Times reports that high-ranking executives at 200 of the biggest U.S. companies saw their pay increase an average of 23 percent from 2009 to 2010, bringing them close to pre-recession earnings. Those big paychecks didn't trickle down to the rest of the workforce, with the average American employee seeing less than a 1 percent increase in pay. The average CEO made $10.8 million last year, with CEO Philippe Dauman leading the pack with a whopping $84.5 million.
You read it right – eighty-four and a half million dollars. Now I’m sure Viacom is a very nice company – they are in the entertainment business, and it’s hard to fault that. Still, after a lifetime of working with some top CEOs, I can’t imagine anyone being worth that kind of money, or even $10.8 million, particularly when the people who are actually doing the work that earns the company its money get a 1% increase against 23% for top executives.
In addition to working with CEOs and top executives as a consultant, I’ve been an executive myself, and I don’t subscribe to the view that “the suits” or “the people on the top floor” don’t produce anything of value. On the contrary, it’s been my experience that the work of strategic design and strategy execution are what allow companies to grow, innovate, and be profitable and what allow employees to focus on customer service, quality, and sales. Still, if the top salesperson in a company makes, say, $250,000 per year and top executives make $10 million, it’s hard for me to imagine that what the executives do is worth 40 times more to the company than what the salesperson does.
All this becomes more relevant when you consider the current debate between the GOP and the Democrats over closing tax loopholes for the wealthiest Americans (In case you’ve been living in a cave, the GOP opposes this). Now the Right would have you believe that the debate is over raising taxes “on the American people,” but what the Obama Administration and Congressional Democrats want is to raise revenues by closing tax loopholes and exceptions for the very wealthiest Americans, not for the middle or working classes. Republicans, on the other hand, under the dubious banner of “no tax increases” would reduce spending by cuts in programs like Social Security and Medicare.
However they clothe it, it’s hard to escape the conclusion that the GOP, or at least the right wing of the GOP, which seems to be driving the Republican train, don’t really care about the vast majority of Americans. According to, roughly one family in 50 will make over $250,000 this year – that’s 2% of the population that would be affected by closing tax loopholes or even raising taxes on those making more than a quarter million a year. Said another way, the GOP is fine with protecting this 2% at the expense of 98% of the people in the US.
I know this is not a popular argument here in Incline Village, where probably the percentage with incomes over $250k is considerably higher than 2%. But for humanity’s sake, what happened to noblesse oblige, the idea that people born into the upper social classes must behave in an honorable and generous way toward those less privileged?
If the United States is not to become a two-class society¸ with a huge working class supporting a privileged few, Republicans in Congress will have to stop pandering to their wealthy patrons and lying to people about who is paying their freight, and start thinking in terms of what’s good for the people who elected them.

Saturday, July 02, 2011

Bonanza Column 242 - Politics vs. Ideology

As the state’s new fiscal year begins, I guess you’d have to say we’re in better shape than Minnesota – at least our state government is open for business. At the same time, with Washoe and Clark Counties demanding the return of a total of $123 million from the State to County coffers, it’s clear that Governor Sandoval has a tough row to hoe in managing the state’s economy.
I’ve been an outspoken critic of the past two governors, both Republicans, and the long-time reader of this column (and I’m sure there is one, even if it’s only my brother) might expect me to continue that course of criticism with Governor Sandoval, but I’m afraid I’m going to have to disappoint you for now. My disagreement with Governor Guinn was largely ideological – he was farther right than I like to see in the State House. My antipathy for Governor Gibbons, while also ideology-based was also based in my distaste for his arrogance and his ethics.
Despite his being a Republican, I’ve liked Brian Sandoval since he was Attorney General, and as I’ve said in earlier columns, his giving up a lifetime appointment to the Federal Bench to re-enter electoral politics and run for Governor bespeaks for me an authentic commitment to public service and to serving where he can make the most difference. We do not always agree on the means for making that difference, but we differ very little about the ends. I supported Rory Reid in last Fall’s election because I thought (and still think) his plan for rescuing our suffering educational system was the better one, but I’m willing to give Sandoval’s approach a chance now that he’s in office.
And I think he’s off to a good start. Because of the timing of the governor’s taking office and the budget’s taking effect (January and July, respectively), most first-term governors go with the budget they inherit from their predecessor. To Sandoval’s credit, he built his first budget from the ground up and, again, while I don’t agree with significant parts of it, it reflects his commitment to resolving the state’s economic ills, and I can respect that and give it a chance to work rather than condemning it out of hand as some of my fellow Progressives might expect me to do.
The point, for me, is this. There is politics and there is ideology. Both involve belief systems, and no one can say that a given belief system is totally wrong or without merit except maybe at the extremes of the political spectrum. But politics goes beyond belief and into persuasion and, as Machiavelli said, into the “art of the possible” – where can we find common ground despite our different beliefs and move forward? At its best, politics is about finding the values that, at the root of it all, we have in common and resolving our differences in favor of those values. Ideology, on the othe r hand is too often about dogma and beliefs that we are certain are right. Concomitantly, any beliefs other than ours must be wrong, and we focus on differences rather than common ground. Too often, ideologues use either force or isolation to deal with those of differing beliefs, and both of those are impediments to progress.
So Progressives can differ from Governor Sandoval politically and not turn it into an ideological battle of who’s right and who’s wrong, but rather have our differences be the heat that forges new ideas and real progress. In an era where national politics has become almost essentially ideological, perhaps Nevadans can demonstrate that real political progress is possible. Let’s hope so, anyhow.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Bonanza Column 239 - The Lake Knows No Parties

As a veteran of the organizational change business, there are two things I emphasize to my clients – one is that change takes time and the other is that seeing the change reflected in the market’s response to your business takes even more time.
For those of us who watch the workings of TRPA closely, there is no doubt that significant organizational change has occurred since Joanne Marchetta took over as Executive Director, and that that change is continuing in the face of all the stresses impinging on the agency and on Marchetta herself. At the same time, it’s not surprising that much of the public have taken a “we shall see” attitude – I don’t blame them With anti-government feeling at a long-time high, many are not disposed to trust any agency to have their interests at heart, and TRPA has a long history of being one way and a short history of changing.
Now the Legislature has passed the bill that was AB and SB 271, and TRPA will have until 2014 not just to have its house in order, but to meet certain metrics that will, arguably, demonstrate that it has done so. This is not an unreasonable requirement to place on the Agency, and it is one that I am confident it will meet. Ideally I would have preferred that the bill not pass. Ms Marchetta and her staff have, I think, amply demonstrated in action their commitment to change how the Agency does business and responds to the public. Still, the inertia of public perception of change is real and needs to be taken into account, so this seems to me like a good compromise. If I were in Ms Marchetta’s shoes it seems to me that I would see the deadline as a real challenge, but one I and my staff can meet and in doing so prove our bona fides.
And make no mistake – we need TRPA. The agency was not set up on a whim – even in 1969 it was apparent that advances in technologies and increased traffic and development would make regulation a necessity if the unique character of the Lake and Basin were to survive. Tahoe’s unique position of having a state border running down its spine, leaves three options for regulation – each state regulating its side separately, the Federal Government regulating the bi-state area, or a bi-state compact leaving regulation in the hands of the coordinated effort of the two states involved. The Federal option is a nightmare that no one wants to see. The separate states option is a logical impossibility – that line down the middle of the lake is imaginary – what affects any part of the lake affects the lake. The compact is the only option that has any hope of protecting the lake and the Legislature has but some teeth into a demand that TRPA meet its responsibilities under the compact.
The bi-state compact is not perfect by a long shot. Given the varied and often competing interests of Northern California, Southern California, the Central Valley, etc., as well as Northern and Southern Nevada, urban and rural Nevada, etc., I’d rather see the Governing Board composed of people from those geographical areas most affected by the lake, but we have the Compact we have, not the Compact we want and it’s working better than not.
Two things should not enter into the scrutiny of TRPA, though it would be a miracle if they didn’t. One is party politics – this cannot be allowed to be turned into a political football. On January 10, 1945, Senator Arthur Vandenberg of Michigan delivered a celebrated speech in the Senate chamber announcing his conversion from isolationism to internationalism saying “politics stops at the water’s edge.” Vandenberg's Senate career stands as a monument to the benefits of bipartisanship in American foreign policy, and applies no less to the edge of Lake Tahoe than to the edge of the Atlantic.
The second thing is misguided environmental Puritanism – TRPA is not perfect, and local environmental groups have repeatedly demonstrated their willingness to sacrifice the good and improving because they can’t have the perfect.
Anything less than TRPA’s meeting the criteria and the Compact being strengthened would be the beginning of the end for the Lake Tahoe Basin.

Bonanza Column 240 - The First World and the Third

Recently a friend of mine sent me one of those emails that talked about all the things people our age remember that our kids and grandkids have never heard of. You know, like milk delivery to your front door (in glass bottles) (with cream on top). There was a quiz of 25 items to see which ones you remembered first-hand. I got 25 out of 25.
That, along with seeing online reports of the IHS graduation and various college commencements got me thinking about what we may have gained and lost in the past fifty or sixty years.
As I write this I’m concluding a three-week business trip to Botswana in Southern Africa. During my trip here I’ve had the enormous privilege of working with a number of Batswana (the country is Botswana with a long o, the people are Batswana, or in the singular Motswana), mainly in the diamond mining business, and have been impressed with how modern they are in some ways and how old-fashioned they are in others.
Don’t get me wrong – everything is up to date in Gaborone and in the villages around the mine sites. The Internet is alive and well, there are HD TVs everywhere, everyone drives a nice car, etc. At the same time from an American point of view much of the Batswana behavior looks quaintly Victorian. The people here are enormously polite, and you don’t get the feeling it’s put on – it seems quite natural, and they are as polite to each other as they are to outsiders. I quickly learned that even the most trivial conversation, business or personal, must start with an exchange of “how are you?” You can go for days here without hearing a single word you would not say in front of your grandmother – even in the rough-and-ready atmosphere of mining, four letter words are conspicuous (to an American) by their absence.
Botswana has been a democracy since 1965 and has an active political process. While there is only one party on the books, that party is so factionalized that there may as well be several. The current President is the son of the founding President and his popularity is not great at the moment – they’ve just gone through a seven-week public employees’ strike that he refused to settle, and Batswana, particularly parents of children who have had no real school for seven weeks, aren’t happy, but the criticism of the President in the press and by people is political, not personal in nature.
Which brings me back to our 2011 graduates from High School and College. They are graduating into a world of technology that was undreamt of in the days of home milk delivery and Butch Wax, but also into a society the incivility of which is unmatched in our history, where public officials who have done nothing wrong are subject to personal attacks that have nothing to do with reality (see “Birthers”) and others are engaged in activities that would make a Nevada Madam blush and don’t seem to see anything wrong with it unless they are caught (see Spitzer, Weiner, Ensign, et al.) or it comes back to haunt them when they think they deserve higher office (see Gingrich).
We are fond of thinking of ourselves as the “First World” and places like Botswana as the “Third World,” (the Soviet Union and its allies were the “Second World,” but now have presumably vacated that space), with the implication that somehow they need to catch up. After three weeks here I’m no expert, but I do see a lot of the values that existed sixty years ago reflected in these supposedly primitive people – sure there are goats and donkeys wandering around in the country and many people still live very simply in thatched huts, but I wonder if on “family values” and living out a deep religious faith we’re not the ones who need to catch up. I’m just sayin’.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Bonanza Column 238 - It's All About the Brain

The eminent scholar and public policy advisor Jeremy Rifkin makes a compelling case that the history of the history of the human race is characterized by the development of wider and wider circles of empathy – starting in the hunter-gatherer days with the tribe, then affiliated groups (e.g. religions) and progressing toward the nation-state. Hence today, Americans feel closer to Americans than to, say Germans or Saudis, and this feeling extends to some very real material results such as the outpouring of aid to the areas struck by Hurricane Katrina and the oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. We’ve even seen what Rifkin calls natural empathy transcend national borders after the earthquake in Haiti, the tsunami in Southeast Asia, and the more recent earthquake in Japan. For Rifkin, greater levels of civilization are marked by expanding circles of empathy and compassion, and he cites both biological and social data to back up his contention.
On the other hand, we have House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) saying he will block aid money for Missouri tornado victims unless Democrats agree to an equal amount of spending cuts. As Steve Benen points out in the Washington Monthly, “When part of the country is devastated by a deadly natural disaster, federal lawmakers "are expected to put aside politics and ideology" and help, not hold the victims "ransom" to their pet causes,” and I would add particularly in the case of a disaster such as happened in Missouri where the timeliness of aid will make a difference that could save families, properties, and lives.
Cantor and the GOP leadership have interpreted the results of the mid-term elections last year as a wholesale mandate to cut spending and damn the consequences. Republicans gave up "compassionate conservatism" as a Bush-era failure, and their renewed passion for small government essentially means "you're on your own," even in the face of disaster.
So how do we explain this seeming contradiction – as a human race we seem to be evolving in the direction of, as Einstein put it, “widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.” On the other hand we have Mr. Cantor and the GOP taking this regressive position, putting a political bargaining ploy ahead of the real need of people, many of whom are presumably in their political base.
Just as Rifkin’s research on empathy and compassion began with neuroscience, and particularly with the discovery of so-called “mirror neurons” in the 1990s, we can begin to look for an answer in the brain. A study was published last month by researchers at University College London that, the researchers say, links personality traits of liberals and conservatives to differences in brain structure and, presumably, function. The study was based on 90 young adults who reported their political views on a five-point scale from very liberal to very conservative, and then submitted themselves to brain scans using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), a well-established method for studying both brain structure and activity.
The study found that self-described conservatives had a greater development in an area of the brain called the Amygdala, while liberals had greater development in an area called the Anterior Cingulate Cortex. The functions of both these brain areas have been well-established. The Amygdala is a brain stem structure that is, essentially, a threat-detection sensor. When the Amygdala is activated, the result is the familiar “fight or flight” response. So people with a highly developed Amygdala will be more sensitive to threat and more likely to respond to threat aggressively.
The Anterior Cingulate Cortex (ACC) is a region that responds to uncertainty and conflicts. The researchers said “it is conceivable that individuals with a larger ACC have a higher capacity to tolerate uncertainty and conflicts, allowing them to accept more liberal views.” They go on to say “Our findings are consistent with the proposal that political orientation is associated with psychological processes for managing fear and uncertainty.”
It is also well-established that a big part of the fight or flight response is to see the world, temporarily at least, in binary terms – good and bad, black and white, and to avoid uncertainty or shades of grey. Now none of this is my opinion – the London study was published in Current Biology, a peer-reviewed journal, and 90 is a good-size sample; Cantor’s remarks and the support of (and non-repudiation of) his position by other Republicans is a matter of record. I’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions, but I’m just sayin’…

Friday, May 20, 2011

Bonanza Column 237 - The End is Here (or It Isn't)

Have you heard? The end of the world began last Saturday. So by the time you are reading this, presumably there are signs of the end – maybe people have started disappearing, or worse yet appearing, maybe the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (not to be confused with the Four Horsemen of Notre Dame) are riding down Tahoe Boulevard right now.
As you probably know Harold Camping, a civil engineer who is a self-taught biblical scholar has been trumpeting this doomsday scenario on his Family Radio network, predicting Judgment Day on May 21st, a date he arrived at through a series of calculations that assume the world will end exactly 7,000 years after Noah’s flood. Believers (in what I’m not sure – Camping, I guess) are to be transported up to heaven as a worldwide earthquake strikes. Nonbelievers will endure five months of plagues, quakes, wars, famine and general torment before the planet’s total destruction in October. According to the New York Times, Mr. Camping said in 1992 that the rapture would probably be in 1994, but he now says newer evidence makes the prophecy for this year certain.
I don’t expect Camping to be right (it’s Friday night as I write this, so who knows?), and if he is it’s really going to annoy the folks who believe that the supposed Mayan calendar predicts the end in 2012. What is curious to me is how willing some people are to believe something like this. Friday’s New York Times carried a story about a family where the parents are Camping followers (Campingites? Campers?) but the teen-age children are not, and the kids keep trying to make summer plans while the parents say “why bother?” More poignantly, the mother has decided that some of the children will not be saved, and has told them so – not to get them to change their ways, just to let them know what’s coming.
I’m not going to argue the religious or philosophical merits of eschatology. If you believe in an end to the world and a last judgment, that’s your prerogative – religious thinkers are divided on this one right down the middle both within and between various religions. If the thought or fear of judgment keeps you on the straight and narrow, more power to you. But in my understanding, the judgment is supposed to be heavenly in origin, and most of these folks like Camping and his ilk seem to be very interested in judging those around them, particularly those who don’t think as they do. It boggles my mind that a parent could be so caught up in how right someone like Camping is that they will, in effect, reject their own child, but this happens in these doomsday cults, and it happens a lot.
So for me, Camping is in the same camp with Jim Jones, Osama Bin Laden, those crazies that picket servicemen’s funerals because they hate gays, that so-called preacher that finally got to burn his Quran, and all the other religious fanatics who seem to be multiplying these days, and I just don’t see that they’re adding anything useful to the social dialogue.
So I hope this column finds you, on Tuesday or Wednesday, or Thursday happy and healthy and unplagued by plagues, demons, or hellfire. If it doesn’t, well, then I bet on the wrong horse. My bad.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Bonanza Column 236 - Dissent in a Civil Society

All over the world governments that have been entrenched for many years are being challenged. In almost every case, those mounting the challenge have lived under the regime for most or all of their lives and have only recently awakened to possibilities that they had not imagined.
Here in the US the unrest is less dramatic, and yet our government seems to be clear that to ignore all but the fringes of, for example, the Tea Party movement would be a risky business. And the pressure is not one-sided – the protests in Wisconsin were very much in that state’s progressive tradition. All told, these seem to be times of great change, and as Bob Dylan said, it’s probably best not to “speak too soon, for the wheel’s still in spin.”
And of course here in Incline Village/Crystal Bay we have our own small-scale unrest, though the agenda behind the unrest seems unclear, at least to me. We had the long-running resistance to the Boulder Bay project which hopefully will subside now. We have Mr. Katz and his “organization” The Village People mounting challenge after challenge to the IVGID Board of Trustees, claiming to speak for many people, most of whom have not identified themselves. If such support exists, they seem content to remain in the shadows and let The Village People and a couple of others speak for them. Or, of course, the support doesn’t exist. You can’t prove a negative, so as long as this supposed group remains silent, the issue will remain in doubt.
For about twenty years a lot of (publicly identified) people have advocated a change in IVGID’s structure and governance. There have been attempts to form a county and a town, and other options have been researched, publicly discussed, and deemed unlikely to be better than the GID formed under NRS 318. In all these efforts local residents have made it clear that a majority prefer the GID system, so that’s what we have.
There is a widespread view that NRS 318 restricts GIDs to managing water, sewer, trash, and recreation, and it’s true that these four areas are called out specifically, NRS 318.116 lists 21 separate areas that are available for GIDs to manage, and 318.015 mandates that GIDs “serve a public use and will promote the health, safety, prosperity, security and general welfare of the inhabitants thereof,” which seems to include a great deal of latitude. The IVGID Board, like all GID boards, operates under the Nevada Open Meeting Law, which among other things means meetings are open to the public, include public comment, and agendas are published in advance.
Somehow, for The Village People, this amounts to a “lack of transparency,” which I understand according to the following definition: “Transparency is a general quality. It is implemented by a set of policies, practices and procedures that allow citizens to have accessibility, usability, utility, understandability and auditability of information and process held by centers of authority. Feedback mechanisms are necessary to fulfill the goal of transparency.” It seems to me that both the Nevada Open Meeting Law and the practices of the IVGID Board meet this standard, so I wonder what the so-called Village People want.
More disturbing is the constant imputation of dark, and by implication criminal, motives to the IVGID Trustees and the IVGID Staff. I don’t always agree with the Trustees – as is the case in most areas of politics, I agree with some of them most of the time, some of them some of the time, and some of them never. However, having gone through the process of running for the Board some years ago and knowing many current and former Trustees, I cannot imagine what nefarious motives anyone would have or what they would stand to gain by serving in this largely thankless job. Similarly over the past 15 years I have gotten to know many IVGID staff members and to a person have found them to be hard-working, dedicated, and honest, from the Executive Director to those staff who work “on the line” at facilities, etc.
Every citizen has the right to question their government and to hold officials to account. In a civil society, though, it behooves each of us to do this in a civil manner, and in that the recent activities of The Village People have fallen short.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Two Contrasting Political Cases

As was widely predicted, Governor Sandoval has appointed Dean Heller to the Senate seat vacated by the disgraced John Ensign. While the Nevada law on how to fill Heller’s House seat is notoriously vague in some ways, it clearly mandates a special election. Secretary of State Ross Miller has thrown that election open to all comers rather than having candidates selected by party caucuses, and as noted in an earlier column, we can expect a lively campaign between now and the special election in September, during which time the state’s Congressional delegation of two will be down to one, Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-Las Vegas), who has already announced her intention to run against Heller for election to the Senate seat in 2012.
While Sandoval’s appointment of Heller was expected, it was not the only possible way to go. The Governor could, for example, have appointed a respected Nevadan to fill Ensign’s seat until the 2012 election – Bill Raggio comes to mind as someone who would have been an excellent choice. This would have left our Congressional representation intact, but would not have given Heller a leg up in the election, which I suspect was at least a part of the Republican Governor’s motivation for the appointment.
Appointing what is sometimes referred to as a “placeholder” would also have saved the State an estimated one million dollars that could be used, (and is desperately needed) for other purposes in these difficult economic times. At the same time Sandoval is cutting jobs and programs, he seems blithely oblivious to the possibilities of using this money more wisely. To bring it closer to home, the special election will cost Washoe County about $350,000, and we will pay for that one way or another.
Sandoval has not said much about his thinking in appointing Heller, and of course under state law he can do pretty much what he wants in filling the seat. Still, in the absence of anything from him to counter the widespread view that the purpose of his appointing Heller was political, I’m inclined to take that view – that the Governor who was elected on promises of fiscal accountability has put politics ahead of good financial judgment, and that it’s worth a million dollars of our money to him to have his pal and his party get an edge in an election they probably would have won anyhow.
On a more bi-partisan note, Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) has put ideology second and is making common cause with the Right, including and Oklahoma Republican Sen. Tom Coburn have joined forces with Tea Party activists in an attempt to kill six billion dollars a year in ethanol subsidies, taking on the corn lobby. Ethanol is made from corn and has been promoted by corn growers as an alternative to dependence on oil. It has also been blamed by environmentalists for contributing to algae blooms in the Gulf of Mexico. Most importantly, corn used for ethanol production is corn that is not available to feed cattle, pigs, chickens, and other food sources which then have to be fed more expensively, raising food prices.
Feinstein and Coburn are garnering support from both sides of the political spectrum including the Tea Party Patriots group which noted on its Facebook page “When the Left and the Right agree…amazing things can happen.” Ethanol production accounts for 40 percent of the US corn crop and its value as a fuel is questionable given that fossil fuels are used both to grow corn and to refine it into ethanol and because ethanol yields less energy per gallon than gasoline. To add insult to injury, ethanol not only doesn’t save much energy overall, but may increase greenhouse gas emissions.
So we have two cases in point – a Governor who, for all his piety about cutting spending, is willing to spend much-needed money for political purposes, and two Senators who are willing to put partisan differences aside for the greater good. We can only hope that the latter is a harbinger of a more rational and intelligent political future.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Bonanza Column 234 - Leon Festinger, Obama's Birth Certificate, and Boulder Bay

In the 1950’s, Stanford psychologist Leon Festinger studied a doomsday cult that believed that the world was going to end (and that they would be rescued from the cataclysm by aliens) on a certain date. They sold their possessions, quit their jobs, etc. and gathered on a mountain top to be picked up by UFOs. When the world didn’t end and you would expect them to have changed their beliefs, they were unfazed – the world didn’t end not in spite of their beliefs, but because they believed and therefore the world was spared. Festinger coined the term cognitive dissonance to describe this phenomenon of people becoming more committed to their beliefs in the face of evidence to refute them, and it has since been validated many times.
The past week has given us two great examples of the cognitive dissonance mechanism at work. First, President Obama released the long form of his Hawai’i birth certificate with all the requisite signatures and seals, which should have put the whole “birther” nonsense to rest, right? Not so much. Some birthers questioned the authenticity of the certificate (where does that one end?), some accepted it, but said he must be hiding something, and others just changed “birth certificate” to “diploma” and suggested that this Summa cum Laude graduate of Harvard was faking his educational credentials.
Closer to home, we saw the long approval process for the Boulder Bay project culminate in a twelve-hour meeting of the TRPA Governing Board, at the end of which the project was overwhelmingly (12-2) approved along with the EIS and an amendment to the height restrictions. The public comment at that meeting took four hours, during which some 80 people spoke, with about 80% of the comments solidly in favor of the project. A couple of things struck me about the 10 or 15 comments that questioned or opposed the project. One was the theme of “I don’t really oppose it, but I want it to be smaller.” Given how much the Boulder Bay team has reduced the size over the past four years, one wonders if it could be small enough to satisfy them.
But the other thing that struck me and brought Festinger to mind was some of the opponents’ responses to the traffic studies. There were three studies and a fourth memo clarifying the studies. These studies were done by experts, engineering consultants whose reputation and livelihood rests on the scientific validity of their work. Granted, no forecast can be said to be “the truth” – all forecasting is, in the end, a guess, but these people’s job is to make guesses that are grounded in and can be defended by data, and so it would be reasonable to expect that if someone were to disagree with their conclusions, that disagreement would be based on data as well. Not here – the predominant theme of the objections to the traffic studies could be summarized as “it doesn’t make sense to me that this project won’t increase traffic, so the studies must be wrong.” A couple of the objectors had the credentials to make them worth listening to and challenged the baselines used in the studies, but again failed to give any coherent, data-based objection to the baselines – they just didn’t think they were right.
It would be nice to think we have heard the last of the controversy and that the Boulder Bay project could proceed on schedule – design work this summer and break ground next May – but given the cognitive dissonance mechanism I'm not holding out much hope. As Festinger said: “A man with a conviction is a hard man to change. Tell him you disagree and he turns away. Show him facts or figures and he questions your sources. Appeal to logic and he fails to see your point.” As a result, the general expectation in the community as reflected in the online poll conducted during the Bonanza’s live coverage of the hearings, is that there will be lawsuits from one or more of the groups who have been intransigent in their opposition to the project. I'm referring here to the local version of the Sierra Club, the League to Save Lake Tahoe, and the North Tahoe Preservation Alliance.
Now this is America, where anyone can sue anyone over everything and we let the courts sort it out. Given the exhaustive work and hearings by TRPA over the past four years, I suggest that any suit brought at this point will be groundless and simply a tactic to delay and harass the Boulder Bay group and will be held as such by the courts. These groups, as Wednesday’s hearing showed, represent a very small minority of the community, if that. The NTPA has consistently inflated its membership figures -  many people who spoke Wednesday objected to being listed on NTPA’s rolls of those opposed when all they had done was ask for information – and the rest of us should not stand for their throwing sands into the gears of progress.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Bonanza Column 233 – Tearing the Tattered Ensign Down

With apologies to Oliver Wendell Holmes:
Ay, tear tattered Ensign down!
Long has he waved on high,
And many an eye has danced to see
That banner in the sky;
After several years of agony, denials, and disingenuous statements, Senator John Ensign has announced he will resign from the Senate on May 3. According to Jon Ralston, who follows Nevada politics for the Las Vegas Sun, the Senate Ethics Committee was about to launch a full-scale investigation into Ensign’s activities, which investigation will be forestalled by Ensign’s resignation.
As we’ve said before in this column, Ensign’s resignation is long overdue. He can insist that he’s violated no ethical standards until he’s blue in the face, but the facts speak for themselves – the married Senator had an affair with a staffer who was married to another staffer. When the affair came to light, he dismissed both of them and his parents gave the couple $96,000 dollars as a “gift,” after which the husband took a lobbying job that Ensign got him, ignoring the requirement that Congressional staffers cannot take a lobbying position for a year after leaving their post and cannot in any case lobby the person they worked for, both of which he did.
Ensign may be right that he broke no laws, but he did violate the trust of the Nevadans who voted him into office and all of Nevada which he was supposed to be representing. He is also arguably a hypocrite given his public statements on family values and his membership in the Family, an ostensibly Christian organization.
Oh, better that his shattered bulk
Should sink beneath the wave;
His thunders shook the mighty deep,
And there should be his grave;
Now the fun begins. In a game of Nevada GOP dominoes, Governor Sandoval will almost certainly appoint his friend and ally Rep. Dean Heller to Ensign’s seat. Heller has already announced for election to the seat in 2012, and being a sitting (albeit appointed) senator should give him a leg up on his only announced opponent, Democratic Rep. Shelley Berkley of Las Vegas. A number of people including the perennial Sharron Angle have already announced they will run for Heller’s district (which includes Incline), and it will be up to the Governor to call a special election once he appoints Heller; naturally, whoever wins this special election will have an advantage in the race for that seat in 2012.
How far the dominoes will fall beyond that is hard to predict and depends on how many people who already hold office decide to enter the fray, but what is predictable is that there will be a circus to rival the 2010 Senate race and that we will see the national media struggling with the Nev-a-da/Nev-ah-da quandary. It will be interesting to see how much damage Angle did to herself in the 2010 race and how much of her supposed support in that race was really anti-Reid efforts that will not necessarily stick to her when she runs against other (rational) Republicans. For me as a Democrat, I’d love to see Angle run against almost anyone.
A lot depends on Secretary of State Ross Miller. The procedure for filling Heller’s seat is unclear and it will be up to Miller to decide how it will go. The most likely possibilities include either appointment of candidates by party caucuses or open primaries. If Heller is appointed and Miller decides that the primary is open, the large number of Republican candidates who have already announced bids to replace Heller could divide the party vote. Angle and former Navy Cmdr. Kirk Lippold have already launched campaigns. State Sen. Greg Brower told Jon Ralston Friday that he would enter a special election . State GOP Chairman Mark Amodei and Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki are also mulling bids. It’s hard to imagine that a party caucus would nominate Angle – they would probably favor party insiders Amodei and Krolicki – but an open primary sounds like a lot of fun.
At any rate, this off-year just got considerably more interesting in Nevada.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Bonanza Column 232 - Who's Carrying Whom?

As I’ve mentioned, my recent columns taking issue with economic policies advocated particularly by the right wing of the GOP have garnered a great deal of criticism from those on the other side of the political spectrum, which is to be expected. This criticism divides into two not particularly equal parts – the greater portion of the responses takes me to task, sometimes with great heat, for employing tactics that the Right has used for years – characterization, insults, and, according to them, presenting only one side of the picture. It may be that characterizing my detractors as troglodytes and favoring the rich is inelegant, but no more so than their characterizations of the Left as bleeding hearts, and profligate spenders – I'm not saying either is right, just that for them to take such umbrage when their own tactics are turned against them is disingenuous at best, and hypocritical would not, in my view, be too strong a term.
The minority of the responses, and the more thoughtful of them, take the case that, since those at the top of the economic ladder pay the most taxes and are, in effect, carrying those at the bottom, they (and most of the writers include themselves in this group) deserve extra breaks. I'm not sure of the merits of that argument, but I am sure the facts behind it are flawed.
A recent post on the New York Times Economix blog cites statistics from two reputable sources – a book published by Oxford University Press studying income and wage inequality in the US from 1913 to 2002 and an analysis of the Federal Reserve Board Survey of Consumer Finances and the Federal Reserve Flow of Funds that was prepared for the Economic Policy Institute.
The first study shows that as of 2008, about 21% of income in the US was received by just 1% of earners. The second looks at disparities in wealth (how much people have rather than how much they make) and shows that wealth distribution is even more skewed than income distribution. The top 1% of earners receive about a fifth of all US income, but the top 1% of Americans by net worth hold about a third of US wealth. Wealth-related inequality, the studies show, has been stable for decades, while income-related inequality has been growing since the 1970’s.
As income grows, however, so does wealth – the highest earners can save more of what they make, accumulating more wealth over time, and have more opportunities to pay less taxes, both because they can afford better tax advice and because the more money you have, the more you can put into vehicles that are taxed as capital gains rather than income. This means that while those in the working and middle classes pay more in taxes ass their income grows, those in the highest income bracket pay less, calling my correspondents’ argument into question. It’s possible that the very wealthy pay more in absolute amounts, but it’s been documented over and over that they pay a smaller proportion of their net worth toward taxes than do the lower 67%.
The Census Bureau reported in September that the poverty rate for 2009 was 14.3%, the highest since 1994, with the number of uninsured reaching a record high. So, as Charles Blow said in another Times blog, who “should be expected to sacrifice a bit for the benefit of the other and the overall health and prosperity of the nation…? The poor, of course. At least that seems to be the Republican answer.”
The GOP are proposing to make the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy permanent and to reduce their taxes even more, ostensibly to promote growth and job creation, despite the incontrovertible evidence that cutting taxes for the wealthy does not create economic growth. For example, the average tax rate for the top 1% of households dropped by 20% from 1979 to 2007 (the overall average dropped by only 8%) and the GDP has shown no correlation with the level of top tax rates. Currently the average tax rate ofr those with an average annual income of about $350 million is lower than the tax rate for average Americans.
And that’s just individuals – while many of the very wealthy manage to minimize their tax exposure, the richest Americans are corporations, which the Supreme Court in the Citizens United ruling says are, in effect, people –some of the richest corporations in America including GE last year pay no taxes at all.
So who’s carrying whom?

Saturday, April 09, 2011

Bonanza Column 231 – Pots and Kettles

I just bought a t-shirt that says “Annoy a Conservative: Use Facts and Logic,” and I seem to have been doing a pretty good job of that even without the shirt. There is a strong trend in Conservative responses to these columns and Conservative discourse in general to (a) accuse Progressives of ignoring or not having the facts of a given situation, (b) stating at most one fact and then (c) going on to state opinions and interpretations of the facts as if they were the truth and anyone who does not see it that way must be crazy, agenda-driven, or both. I.e., the pot calling the kettle black.

Case  in point: Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis) keeps pointing to a graph he made charting US debt as a percentage of GDP from 1940 to the present and extrapolated to 2080. The first 70 years of this chart are fact – they show that debt was as high as 100% of GDP during World War II, has hovered around 50% since 1990 or so and is now about 70% (you can find Ryan’s plan at Ryan then goes on to extrapolate a “current path” leading to debt being 900% of GDP in 2080 – a classic “hockey stick” curve, and a “path to prosperity leading to zero in 2050. Both are pure guesswork, and neither can be said to be right or wrong, though extrapolating a very weak trend into a straight, high-slope curve is a statistical stretch.

Here’s the problem, though – in pushing his “path to prosperity, Ryan is only telling part of the facts. Under his plan (which is unlikely to be enacted), the cost of Medicare does follow a hockey stick curve while Social Security income continues at an almost flat rate of growth. Under the current system, that slow growth roughly matches the cost of living (or lags behind it), and includes Medicare; under Ryan’s plan, a greater and greater portion of retiree’s income would go to pay for health care, or they would go without. By 2030 or so, most older Americans will face a Hobson’s Choice of bankruptcy or no medical care.

Now I don’t know about you, but I was taught that there are three ways to lie: falsify the truth, omit relevant facts, or only tell part of the truth as if it were the whole. Ryan’s argument and that of the right wing of the GOP fits the last two criteria at least. According to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO),  under the GOP plan, people entering the program in 2030 can expect to pay $20,000 out of their own pockets for health care. At the current rate of adjustment, the average person on Social Security will receive about $21,000 that year. Those are facts. Good luck living on that other thousand, and heaven help you if you enter the program after 2030.

There’s more to the Ryan/GOP proposal than this, but none of it is any better. Conservatives seem to be banking on scare slogans like “Road to Ruin” to panic people into supporting proposals that benefit large corporations that have given millions to the GOP and to the Tea Party while leaving ordinary people in the dust. Call me naïve, but I don’t believe the average American is quite that stupid. Notwithstanding that, in the post-Citizens United world, the influence of the average American on his or her government is quickly diminishing and that of the likes of the Koch Brothers, the NRA, and lobbies for industries like health insurance is on the rise.

Both here in the Tahoe Basin and nationally, those who have amassed enough wealth that they don’t need to worry about Social Security and health care are all to ready to dismantle these and other programs in service of keeping their own coffers intact. It’s an “I’ve got mine, too bad about you” mentality reminiscent of the 19th Century robber barons, and even those rapacious individuals were socially conscious (or guilty) enough to endow various public institutions – what have the Koch Brothers done for you lately?

So our local version of the Tea Party (hmm… Tea Party=TP, We the People = WTP…I'm just sayin’) will come screaming back with name-calling and slogans and precious few facts while accusing those who oppose them of doing exactly what they themselves are doing – substituting opinion and agenda for facts and distorting the evidence. Don’t be fooled.

Saturday, April 02, 2011

Bonanza Column 230 - We Can't Afford to Lose TRPA

There are certain things that, if they’re not examined too closely, seem to make people look smart. Go up to a stranger and say something like “I don’t know what it is, but I have a sense you are troubled about money” and you’ll be right better than 4 times out of 5. Around here, bashing TRPA will have the same result – everyone will have a good laugh, and you’ll be considered pretty smart, if no one thinks about it too much.
In better than 15 years that I’ve lived here, TRPA has been a consistent whipping boy. People who willingly sign agreements with their HOA that restrict everything from where they put their trash to what kind of fence they can have bristle when TRPA has the temerity to suggest that a bright red roof or a bright blue house might detract from the scenic quality of the area.
Don’t get me wrong – TRPA has, historically, done some really dumb things. I really don’t think the color of the guard rails on Route 267 over Brockway Summit have much impact on scenic quality, and there have been other bonehead moves. From time to time any agency can get a bit intoxicated with its own authority and have to be reined in, but the “I don’t want any government except where I say they should be” types – the ones who say they want the government to stay out of their Medicare (sic) pick up on the occasional gaffe and use those to try to discredit all the work the agency does.
During the tenure of John Singlaub and particularly under the tenure of the current Executive Director Joanne Marchetta, the TRPA staff and Governing Board have worked very hard to keep the agency focused on its primary mission of protecting the environment and the scenic quality of the Basin. Reasonable minds can differ on the interpretation of the scope of this mission, but most of the foolishness of past administrations has been stopped. The Agency has been particularly effective in holding the line against Aquatic Invasive Species (AIS), to the point where they have been able, through aggressive boat inspection and anti-AIS programs in the water, to keep Tahoe from being overrun by these  the way, for example, Lake Mead has been. A study by the Army Corps of Engineers put the potential economic impact of AIS in the region at $22 million a year in lost recreation, tourism, property values, and increased maintenance costs.
Now a group of these knee-jerk anti-regulation types are trying to get the Nevada Senate to pass a bill, SB 271, that would pull the state out of the TRPA compact, leaving the environment of the lake and the basin at the mercy of California and the Federal Government. Their rationale for this is that the agency has gone beyond its mandate and interferes with decisions people make on their property.
As I said, TRPA has, from time to time, gone overboard in its interpretation of its mission. Director Marchetta has been forthcoming in taking responsibility for past errors and has been clear about her intention to prevent what could be seen as abuses. At the same time, what about all the good the Agency does – who will inspect boats this summer if SB 271 passes? Predictably Tahoe will go the way of Lake Mead and we will all be hurt.
To the best of its ability, TRPA makes decisions and choices based on what will benefit the whole region. Inevitably these decisions will, from time to time, tread on the toes of what some individual wants to do. It looks to me like there are a couple of things the people advocating SB 271 don’t seem to get. First, no one’s home, property, or business is isolated from the rest of us – in any community, in any environmental system, decisions the good of the many may need to outweigh the wishes of a few. If you don’t like that, you should find someplace where you are can live apart from everyone else – and good luck with that. Secondly, there is such a thing as genuine scientific expertise that my conflict with what you think you know and with what you want. I'm told that, counter-intuitive as it might be, leaving a certain amount of pine needles on the ground, because they absorb and hold water, is a better fire preventive than getting rid of all of them. OK, assuming that there is some scientific authority behind that, that’s a better thing than what I would do.
We can’t afford to let a group of people who think their political ideology and short-sighted opinions and interests are more important than the good of the rest of us and the health of a lake that belongs to us all. Let your State Senator know.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Bonanza Column 229 - Time to Take a Stand

A couple of weeks ago the Bonanza reported on the results of the 2010 U.S. Census as it applies to Incline Village – Crystal Bay and the Tahoe Basin as a whole. In case you missed it, the population of IV/CB has declined some 12% since the 2000 Census, and there are currently more vacant housing units than occupied. The Census does not measure second home ownership versus primary residences, but IVGID figures indicate that the former has increased at the expense of the latter, and the schools have shown a decrease of some 400 kids from ten years ago.
These figures will no doubt be very good news for the vocal minority who want to see Incline decline. The ones who would strip IVGID of all be the most basic powers and those whose misguided form of environmentalism boils down to having as few people in the environment as possible. For those of us who are concerned with the quality of life here and with a future for this community (and that group includes both full-timers and second home owners), it is bad news indeed.
In the same article, Kathy Carter, Washoe County Community Relations Director is quoted as saying that the decline in building due to the economy, along with the population decline, the community planning that was done several years ago is “not as urgent as it was.” I disagree and I suggest that Ms Carter’s view is both short-sighted and wrong.
In my view the economic situation of the past couple of years, while in many ways devastating, is a correction to an overheated economy that began in the ‘90’s and was based on a combination of greed and self-delusion – the first created a series of bubbles and the second allowed most of us to believe they would never burst. When they did, sanity returned with painful consequences to a great many people. I believe these consequences, while difficult in the short run, will return us to a more rational economy that, if we can remember the lessons learned, will give us much greater stability and sanity in the long haul.
If that view is correct, it means that planning for a community that is sustainable – economically, socially, environmentally – the “triple bottom line” – is more, not less important. If those of us who care about the future of the community as more than a retirement community allow a nebulous group of malcontents led by an outsider who has a very troublesome history of disrupting communities for reasons that are unclear to take advantage of the population decline and current economic situation to hijack that future, then we will have done a great disservice to a community we love and that they will leave. Similarly, if we allow eco-fundamentalists to block business efforts that are valuable and sustainable while environmental damage from current structures continue, then we are naïve indeed.
Since I began this series of columns on the subject of “vocal minorities” I have received the usual attacks – no matter how many facts I cite, I am accused of not having any facts by people who then cite none in rebuttal. I am told that I and those who agree with my views are the real minority, and the troglodytes are the majority, yet these accusations come from the same people over and over again, and they have yet to reveal who they count in their supposed majority. Typical demagogic tactics when you have no arguments that hold water and no people to pose them.
More importantly,, I have heard from many people who agree and who want to know what to do . My answer is simple: speak up – often and loudly. Make it clear that the so-called Village People and the eco-fundamentalists (and I'm distinguishing them from those of us who have a real concern for the environment, one that includes that people and businesses are part of it) are NOT the majority. Research and reveal their real agendas, and let the entities involved – the IVGID Board, the TRPA Governing Board, the Washoe County Board of Commissioners – that they have allies in holding the line against the forces of regression. There have started to be letters and guest columns in the Bonanza along these lines – we need more. It’s time to end the foolishness and take our community back from those who would throw sand in the gears of progress just for their own amusement or their own agendas.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Bonanza Column 228: Boulder Bay - Will Reason Prevail?

Continuing our theme of the past couple of weeks, we have another example of a vocal minority trying to advance its agenda regardless of anyone else’s view.

This week the TRPA Governing Board will take what should be the final action to allow the Boulder Bay Project to proceed and actually start building. Since it was first proposed in 2007, the Boulder Bay plan has made change after change in response to concerns from “interested public parties.” In the end, the plan that will go before TRPA on Wednesday will be a huge improvement over the current sight which is both an esthetic and environmental blight, will reduce energy use on the site by 38%, provide alternative-fuel transportation and walkable spaces for guests, transportation and housing for employees, and create an additional 225 jobs. Four traffic studies, each taking a more conservative look than the last, concluded that traffic would decrease.

So everybody wins, right? The objectors got a lot of what they asked for, the project will be built, and all’s well. Not so much. According to last week’s paper, the League to Save Lake continues its vocal opposition as does the so-called North Tahoe Preservation Alliance. It seems that no matter what Boulder Bay does, no matter what study after study says, these groups or at least their putative leaderships will continue to insist that it be done their way or not at all. They’ve blocked progress for four years and one would hope that the TRPA’s passage of the final approval on Wednesday would put the issue to bed and these worthies will move on to other matters.

It’s worth noting that, as usual, it’s the opposition that has been most vocal and has received the most attention in the media. From that you might think that public opinion on the pro side has been weak or non-existent. On the contrary most of the public comment at TRPA hearings has been unabashedly positive as have written comments submitted by people who could not attend the hearings.

There has been a cost to the delays – every day that the current structure exists has environmentally negative effects. For example, a UC Davis study indicated that in a wet year (like this year) some 30,000 pounds of sediment runoff from the site goes into the lake, including fine sediment, nitrogen, and phosphorus. This will be reduced by about 90% when Boulder Bay is built.

You understood correctly. These groups, in the name of the environment and their view of what the scenery should be, have been willing to tolerate this kind of environmental damage. If they refuse to accept defeat as seems likely on Wednesday, (there’s a reason detractors call it “The League to Sue Lake Tahoe”), this damage will be prolonged. In what environmental universe does this make sense?

But that’s the problem with our local vocal minorities – whether they’re suing IVGID over the beaches, accusing hard-working IVGID staff of being corrupt, blocking intelligent community planning, or demanding that their view of what’s good for the environment prevail, they always insist that their take on things is so right that it should prevail even in the face of widespread disagreement. Even if they have the best of intentions, and I believe that some (though not all) of them do, their insistence on imposing their will on the community regardless of the public will or of evidence that they are, if not entirely wrong, certainly not entirely right invalidates those intentions.

One respondent to my column last week said “TVP [The Village People] live here TOO!” True, but they’re not the only ones and not the majority by far. It’s interesting to me that while a number of people respond negatively to these columns, none of them seem to have anything to offer except ad hominem attacks and name-calling, but no rational argument except that they’re right and I'm not. Maybe so, but it seems a whole lot more people agree with me than with them. If you do, get out to the TRPA Governing Board meeting at the Chateau on Wednesday afternoon and make yourself heard; if you can’t make it, send them a written comment and let rational heads prevail.