Saturday, January 26, 2013

Bonanza Column 269 - IVGID Trustees Need to Slow Down

If there is one theme in the early reports about the new IVGID Board of Trustees, it is “slow down.” The new Trustees (three of the five on the Board) were no sooner sworn in than the Board embarked on a four-hour meeting to consider such matters as the search for a new General Manager, the e-Learning Café’s proposal to the Library Board, and Board meeting locations and frequency. The Board packet for this meeting totaled 171 pages and covered a lot of ground. One assumes that the Trustees, particularly the newly-elected three, pored over this packet and studied it carefully to be able to deliberate on all this in just four hours.
Two of the three new Trustees ran on almost identical platforms of cost-cutting and “efficiencies.” As I’ve discussed before, interpretation of election results is at best an inexact art. Except in the case of a landslide, everyone is able to read in the tea leaves of vote counts anything they want to, but objective conclusions are difficult. In my view, the best course for a newly elected official to take is to consider his or her election a limited endorsement (at best) of whatever views they put forth in their campaign, and tread cautiously with a finger on the public pulse.
According to the 2010 census, the population of Incline Village/Crystal Bay is 8,777. Of these there were, in the 2012 election, 5,566 registered voters (Washoe County Registrar of Voters), or 63% of the total population. The three who were elected, Mssrs. Smith, Devine, and Hammerel, received 47.75%, 39.5%, and 39.3% of the vote respectively. This means that 50 to 60% of the electorate did not endorse the three who were elected. I’m not saying that means their positions were wrong, just that they do not necessarily reflect the views of over half of those who voted.
Based on this it would be a mistake for the Board (and I’m speaking here about Trustees Smith and Hammerel in particular) to think their only job is to cut costs and create “efficiencies.” Yes, these are high priorities for governments at all levels, and every decision taken should include an analysis of fiscal impact, but as any executive will tell you, cost is only half of the financial picture – the other half is benefit, whether financial (return on investment, ROI), or environmental or social – and it is the cost/benefit ratio that should guide decisions.
The Trustees need to remember that they are stewards of the District’s resources. A steward manages property and affairs on behalf of someone else. Stewardship is an ethic that embodies responsible planning and management of resources, and is generally understood to include returning the resources in improved shape, and where stewardship of financial resources is concerned, growing the resource wherever possible.
This point about stewardship is an important distinction because Trustees are not the same as representatives. The IVGID Trustees are elected by the whole village to be the stewards of the District, not necessarily to do what is popular. At the same time, they have to be responsive to the “owners” of the resources, and where there is no clear downside should probably act in alignment with vox populi. However, it’s important that they have a good read on what that voice of the people is telling them. In the case of the eLearning Café and the Library Board, while the Café’s founder asserted that the majority of the community is in favor of her proposal, there is scant evidence to support this assertion and there is definite opposition. For the Board to have endorsed the idea without a clear sounding of the community was precipitous at best.
This brings us to the matter of the new GM, a decision that will have a major impact on the direction of IVGID in the future. I can’t see how the Board can make this decision without a clear indication from the residents about what we want the character of the community to be. When Bill Horn announced his impending retirement, the work of Incline 2020 went from interesting and important to crucial. Hopefully the Board will take this work into account and not base its decision on generic hiring parameters.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Bonanza Column 268 - Who Does the NRA Work For?

So there is this device that is in widespread use – almost every family has at least one. Used carelessly or incorrectly it can do damage or even create lethal effects. It is often used in the commission of crimes, and theft of the device itself is a common crime.
This device must be registered – anyone who wishes to own one has to give personal information and obtain insurance against its misuse. The owner is required to display evidence of registration prominently, and every device has a unique identification number so even if it is found without the evidence of registration, the owner can be identified and located. Further, even non-owners of the device must be licensed if they wish to use one. The licensing involves extensive testing on knowledge of the rules for operating the device and practical operation of the device under real-world conditions.
If a used device is sold, the sale must be registered with the government and the buyer is subject to all the above requirements. If the device is retired or destroyed, its registration must be cancelled.
Improper or illegal operation of the device can result in revocation of the operator’s license, confiscation of their registration, and cancellation of their insurance.
Notwithstanding all this, there is almost no resistance to the registration, licensing, and insurance requirements. Registration and license fees provide significant revenue to government agencies, and insurance provides a substantial private market as well. To date no government has undertaken a mass confiscation of these devices, nor has their use been significantly restricted – in fact there are more of these devices in private ownership than at any time in history.
I suspect you’ve figured out by now that the device in question is motor vehicles – cars, trucks, motorcycles, etc. If someone proposed the above set of requirements for gun ownership, however, the outcry from the NRA and its disciples would be loud and long.
Why do we have this whole system for vehicle registration? Because while cars don’t kill people, people in cars kill people at a rate very close to the rate at which people with guns kill people. Yet no one worries that the government is coming to take their cars, no one threatens revolt if cars are regulated, and no one much worries about car registration.
The current debate on gun control has given rise to a whole raft of nonsense. “Gun ownership is a mainstay of American culture.” Hogwash – 39% of US households own guns; 95% own cars. Even if the 39% figure is low, it’s still not close to car ownership. Yet the rates of fatalities by cars and by guns are, by all accounts very close.
“Gun ownership is a God-given right.” Errant nonsense, and also the usual right-wing cherry picking of the Bible.
“The Second Amendment guarantees my right to own guns.” This is true by usage if not by intent. The Second Amendment says “A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” The ownership argument never bothers with that first part – it seems to me that “well-regulated” is a good argument for (wait for it) REGULATION! Also, by way of intent, there is a school of thought that the Second Amendment was created to appease southern states, and the “militias” referred to were slave-catching vigilantes.
And finally, who exactly is the NRA working for? Poll after poll indicates that the views of a significant majority of its membership on regulation are not nearly as extreme as what its leadership espouse, and while La Pierre and his cronies scream about the government “coming for your guns,” not one person in government from the President on down has put confiscation forth as even an idea.
I don’t know about you, but I have to think that the corporate leadership of the NRA have some other agenda. I don’t know what it is, but it’s not hard to make some educated guesses. According to research reported on the National Gun Forum website, LaPierre, the Executive Vice President of this non-profit organization, pocketed about $950,000 in compensation in 2005. It’s not a leap to suppose that he and others in the NRA have a vested interest in keeping the funds coming in, and scaring gun owners seems to work for that. And of course there is also the cash that comes in from gun manufacturers and others.
I’m just sayin’ – maybe the NRA is to the interests of gun owners as Lance Armstrong is to the interests of competitive cycling.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Bonanza Column 267 - Who is Being Represented?

According to a number of respectable polls, 57% of Americans favor some form of gun control. Ninety-plus percent of NRA members favor background checks for gun ownership. The fact that Congress has failed to take any meaningful action on any form of gun regulation illustrates, in my view, a situation that is both unfortunate and dangerous.
We elect our Senators and Representatives, yet once they are elected a large majority of them are unresponsive to what the electorate thinks and wants. Instead, they become the servants of those who pour large amounts of money into their campaigns and continue to find ways through their lobbyists to keep those in Congress in their debt. I am referring, naturally, to groups like the NRA, major businesses and business organizations such as the Chamber of Commerce, and, yes, even more liberal-leaning groups like labor unions.
In a poll taken last June, 61 % of respondents favored allowing young adults to stay on their parents’ insurance plans until age 26, 72 % of respondents wish to maintain the requirement that companies with more than 50 workers provide health insurance for their employees, and 82 % of respondents favored banning insurance companies from denying coverage to people with pre-existing conditions – all components of the Affordable Health Care Act.. Notwithstanding that, 34 bills have been introduced in Congress for the wholesale repeal of the AHCA, the latest just this week by the redoubtable Michelle Bachman (R-MN).
We cherish the myth of “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” when a grass-roots campaign by a determined lay person could send them to Congress where their passion and the rightness of their cause could change the course of political events, and it’s possible that before about 1940 that could work. Now, however, the cost of running for national office makes politics beyond the most local level the province of the well-financed, whether through personal wealth or outside support. When that outside support comes in large infusions of cash, it would be naïve to think it comes without some expectation of quid pro quo, no matter if the infuser is Sheldon Adelson, the NRA, the UAW, or the Sierra Club.
I’ve always been fond of the Chinese proverb that says if we don’t change our direction, we are likely to get where we’re headed. In this case a change of direction means a radical reform of how our government is elected. That starts with genuine campaign finance reform, and meaningful finance reform requires that we reassess the legal fiction that a corporation is a person. This doctrine originated in the Dartmouth College case of 1819, in which the Supreme Court ruled that a corporation may sue and be sued in court in the same way asnatural persons.” This doctrine in turn formed the basis for legal recognition that corporations may hold and exercise certain rights under the law The ruling was never intended to mean that corporations are "people" as that word is normally understood, nor did it grant to corporations all of the rights of citizens. Given that there is no bar to restricting or even barring corporations’ donating to candidates and campaigns, and to eliminate PACs and Super-PACs which are connected to corporate entities.
There should be a limit to donations by individuals as well, both to candidates and PaCs and Super-PACs, so that millionaires and billionaires have no greater ability to influence elections than do the 98 or 99% of Americans who fall below that level of wealth.
Finally, and this would require a Constitutional amendment, the terms of Representatives should be four years rather than two. The two-year term means that a Member of Congress start running for his or her next term almost immediately after the current term begins. This was not the case when the Constitution was written, and to extend the term would simply be to acknowledge the realities of governing and running for office in the modern era.
None of this can happen unless the American people demand it, loudly and persistently, until the stranglehold of special interests and the very wealthy on the electoral process is broken. This is not an issue that fractures along the Right-Left fault line. Whichever way you lean politically, your interests are being represented only to the degree that they coincide with the interests of those in control, and that is clearly not what the Founders had in mind.

Sunday, January 06, 2013

Bonanza Column 266 - Here Comes 2013

The 112th Congress, arguably the least effective in US history, has ended, and there are at least some indications that the 113th won’t be as feckless. One can argue over the interpretation of election results ad nauseum, and as I’ve said many times in this space, interpretations can’t be proven or disproven Nonetheless, I assert that the overall results reflect what my colleague, Verita Black Prothro, called “a slight but fundamental shift in our country’s ethos [that is] encouraging for those of us on the left.”
While I don’t think we’ll see the immediate disappearance of the Tea Party and its supporters, I do think we’re seeing the sun start to set on that distorted world view that each of us lives separately from the rest of the human race and it’s every person for him or herself. Issues such as marriage equality (now the law in nine states and the District of Columbia) are coming to be seen (correctly) more and more as civil rights issues. Women are standing up for their interests and to maintain the gains of the movement for women’s equality, and while the House failed to renew the Violence Against Women Act this week, such regressive moves are being seen more and more for what they are – a rear-guard action in a losing cause. John Boehner was re-elected as Speaker of the House over the Tea Party’s opposition, so hopefully he won’t feel so inclined to kowtow to them.
So I, for one, am optimistic going into 2013. I realize there will be setbacks such as the House’s action, but there will be victories as well and as Martin Luther King said, the moral arc of the Universe bends toward justice.
On the local scene, just as we have a new Congress in Washington, we have a new Board of Trustees for IVGID, a new County Commission, and a new Board of Governors for TRPA. Arguably these three governing bodies have a more direct and immediate effect on us as residents of Incline Village/Crystal Bay than do the President, Congress, and Supreme Court in DC. Here again I’m cautiously optimistic.
The IVGID Board has three new members who have not served in our local government before; the two Trustees who were not up for re-election are in their first four-year term, so we have a Board that, while it may be short on history and institutional memory, is to that same extent not likely to be bound by “how we’ve always done it.” Two of the three new Trustees ran on platforms promising greater accountability and closer fiscal management. Both, along with their third Freshman colleague, are young enough and intelligent enough to allow us to hope that this will go beyond mindlessly cutting spending or services and lead to a real consideration of what this community will be like for the next twenty or so years.
I’ve had the chance to meet and talk with our new County Commissioner, and she seems intelligent, non-doctrinaire, and eager to learn about her constituency. She also strikes me as articulate and persuasive, which is important as she is our one voice among the five County Commissioners.
The TRPA Regional Plan Update has survived extensive public scrutiny and seems to have stimulated an unprecedented level of bi-state collaboration. There are those who are certain that their analysis of the likely effects of the RPU are more accurate and honest than that of the TRPA Staff, Governing Board, and experts, which I think is unlikely to be true. If those well-meaning (but misguided) folks can restrain themselves from filing suit, which will delay, but, I am convinced, not deter the implementation of the RPU, they will have ample opportunity to make their case on a project-by-project basis. I am confident they will not do any better there than they did in the adoption process, and I am of the view that the RPU, in both the short and long-term will be one of the best things ever for the environment, economy, and people of the Basin.
On to 2013!