Monday, November 30, 2009

More Utah News: 69% Supermajority Support LGBT Anti-Discrimination Laws

Video Courtesy of

Yes, there's really a chance Utah might make an effort to move closer toward the 21st century and stop persecuting its LGBTQ citizens. Let's see if they can FINALLY make it happen next year.

Johnny Casino Still Refuses to Resign, Agrees to Hand His Senate Seat to Dems in 2012, & Wants to Help Harry Reid Win in 2010

Haha. Johnny is a joke. And not only will he hurt his own party next year, but he even wants to help us reelect Harry Reid next year! YAY!

Republican Sen. John Ensign gives his first, full-length interview this morning since disclosing an affair last summer with a staffer, and says he is getting Republican requests to campaign in 2010, has no plans to resign and cannot understand the health care bill as it is written.

About the affair, Ensign said, “It’s something I deeply regret and wish I wouldn’t have done.”

He reiterated previous terrain -- that he made some calls to help the woman’s husband, Doug Hampton, one of his top aides at the time, land another job, but said he did nothing wrong and would comply with any federal investigations.

As for the belief that Ensign is hurting the embattled Republican Party in Nevada – Republican Rep. Dean Heller has said part of his decision not to challenge Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was because Ensign would be sidelined – the senator, who is not up for re-election, may indeed show up on the trail for Republican candidates.

“They want me involved in their campaigns,” Ensign said. “I want to be helpful, not hurtful.”

Yes, Johnny. You will be plenty helpful next year... For Harry Reid and Nevada Democrats! Please keep speaking up in public and campaigning for GOoPers, and please keep helping your party fall off that cliff and become even more irrelevant.

As long as disgraced idiots like Johnny Casino and Jimmy "Luv-Guv" Gibbons remain the face of Nevada Rethuglicans, that party will continue to struggle in this state. People here don't mind "alternative lifestyles", but they're not all that into moral hypocrisy. Let them come forward in 2010, and watch the Nevada GOP suffer. :-)

The Bountiful PD Has a Transgender Officer... And Offers Some Hope for More LGBT Supportive Police

I found a great story in today's Salt Lake Tribune, one I wish I could read in the paper more often.

As a child, Kerry Bell dreamed of growing up to become a policeman -- both a police officer and a man.
Becoming a cop was relatively simple -- Bell joined the Bountiful Police Department 14 years ago. Becoming a man took more time.
Born female, Bell came out as transgender about a year and a half ago and started a transition to a new life as a man. He always had felt male, but did not think switching genders was a viable option until he saw transgender people gaining wider acceptance, along with advances in medical technology.
Surprisingly, the 42-year-old -- working in what many perceive as a super-macho culture -- says he did not fret about telling the police chief or his co-workers to start referring to him as "he," not "she."
"I wasn't worried about coming out at work," says Bell, who has had hormone treatments and surgeries. "I've worked for Bountiful for 14 years. I know everybody I work with."
Although some employees have trouble remembering to use masculine pronouns, Bountiful Police Chief Tom Ross says, "everyone's done a great job of accepting Kerry and staying focused on why we're here in the first place."
Bell, a corporal and SWAT member, is a "well-rounded police officer," Ross adds. "We're glad that he works here."

As we've talked about before, transgender people still face horrible burdens of discrimination. It's worse here in Nevada where our state anti-discrimination laws don't cover gender identity, and even worse in Utah where their state has no anti-LGBT-inclusive discrimination laws whatsoever. So it's really encouraging to see more LGBT police officers come out in Utah and serve proudly.

And honestly, it's good to see more police departments forge good relationships with the community for a change.

That many LGBT officers now serve openly at several Utah law-enforcement agencies speaks volumes to how far society has progressed, says Salt Lake City Capt. Kyle Jones, a founding member of the [LGBT Public Safety Committee].
"Twenty years ago, they wouldn't have been [welcome]," says Jones, who was inspired to get involved with the LGBT community after his son came out as gay. "The current crop of officers, by and large, don't give it a second thought."
Jones, along with other committee members, recruits potential new officers at the annual Utah Pride Festival for the Salt Lake City Police Department.
"Our department has tried for years to recruit from the populations that we represent," Jones says. "Anywhere from 8 to 12 percent of [Salt Lake City] is thought to be LGBT so we should have 8 to 12 percent of our cops who are LGBT."

Long before Stonewall, our LGBT community has had a rocky relationship with the cops at best. One need not look further than the recent Fort Worth bar raids and Newport Beach Police homophobia scandal to see that tensions still exist and many queer folk still think they have good reason not to trust the cops.

Hopefully with more LGBT police officers joining the ranks and police departments becoming more accepting of this, the often antagonistic relationship between the police and the community can change. It needs to if our community is to trust the police to be our public servants and keep us safe as well.

Nevada Still #1 in Bankruptcies, But Credit Card Delinquency Down

Uh oh, more bad news...

The Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts reported that nationwide, bankruptcies for the fiscal year ended Sept. 30 surged 34.5 percent to 1.4 million -- with Nevada posting the highest rate in the nation.

Nevada led the nation in filings for the year with a rate of 10.49 per 1,000 people, well above the national rate of 4.52 filings per 1,000 people.

In 2008, Nevada was No. 2 in the nation with a filing rate of 6.39 per 1,000 people and the national rate was 3.38 filings per 1,000 population.

In Nevada in the 2009 fiscal year, bankruptcy filings totaled 27,560 -- up 64.5 percent from 2008.

It's obviously still hard times in Nevada this holiday season with so many people at risk to lose it all... But at least more people are taking extra precautions to avoid this financial disaster.

Also, credit report company issued third-quarter credit card delinquency statistics, with Nevada again leading the nation with a rate of 1.98 percent.

That's the ratio of bankcard borrowers 90 days or more delinquent on one or more of their credit cards and compares to the national rate of 1.1 percent.

The national rate was down from 1.17 percent in the second quarter.

Despite leading the nation in this category, Nevada's numbers improved from the second quarter (2.19 percent) and the first quarter (2.44) percent.

In terms of dollars, the average credit card balance in Nevada was down 3.16 percent from $6,517 in the second quarter as Nevadans reduced spending and banks limited lending. projected that by the end of the year, the rate in Nevada is expected to drop again -- yet still lead the nation at 1.9 percent. Nationwide, the rate is expected to remain steady through the fourth quarter at 1.1 percent.

The new forecast reflects slightly more optimism about credit card performance in Nevada and around the country. Just three months ago, the national rate was expected to hit 1.2 percent and Nevada's rate was expected to grow to 2.25 percent by the end of the year.

Ain't it funny how it takes an economic meltdown like this to get people to become more financially savvy and prudent? It's too bad the federal government didn't require the big banks to be more prudent last year. But then again, it's always we the consumers who are required to be "fiscally responsible" while Wall Street gets more bailouts.

Well, at least people are being more responsible and credit card debt isn't as bad it used to be not too long ago. I guess we have at least some somewhat cheerful news today. Now excuse me while I check my bank account balance and prepare my December budget...

Sunday, November 29, 2009

City Center: The Extended Metaphor for Las Vegas

So The Sun has a big story today on City Center's grand opening. Jim Murren's putting on his confident face for the grand occasion. MGM Mirage continues to reassure us that Dubai World's debt crisis won't send Las Vegas' newest attraction crashing to the ground. So City Center starts opening this week and all of Vegas holds its breath.

I really think Jim Murren's heart was in the right place with City Center. Despite what all the critics are saying, it is exactly what Las Vegas needs. Until very recently Las Vegas has lacked an urban center, an artistic edge, and forward-thinking design. But now with City Center, we finally have something to call our own... Not just another carbon copy of yet another world landmark, but a stunning collection of postmodern architecture that we can really call our own.

It just seems like this was cursed with bad timing and bad financing. MGM Mirage has relied on Dubai World to help complete this project, but now Dubai is collapsing on its own debt load. MGM Mirage has also taken on more debt than it could handle in trying to monopolize almost all the west side of The Strip. In many ways, the tale of City Center so far is a reflection of the George W. Bush era of unbridled corporate greed let loose to cannabalize our economy.

I guess in many ways, City Center is a reflection of Jim Murren himself. We see his beautiful artistic side with the whimsical design of the buildings, the public art adorned all over, and the "green" defining this entire project. However we also see Murren's darker corporate side with the construction death scandals, the now hot mess with the Dubai World financing, and the constant reminder that the era of "New Vegas", started 20 years ago when Steve Wynn opened The Mirage and brought the "Wall Street Raiders" to conquer Las Vegas, has come to a brutal end here as we contemplate how to move forward in a "New New Vegas" with a more sustainable, both environmentally sustainable AND economically sustainable, future.

I still hope for success with City Center. We need some success in Las Vegas for a change. I guess I'm now also hoping that this become a wake-up call to all of us that Las Vegas needs to change. "Old Vegas" left the building long ago with its mafia history and Old Hollywood glory, and "New Vegas" didn't quite work out as planned, fueled as it was by unsustainable real estate speculation and "construction begetting construction" that was long doomed to fail. Now the cynics and skeptics that always predict the fall and demise of Las Vegas have somehow always been proven wrong, as we somehow always adapt for survival and undergo a metamorphosis to ultimately thrive. But that's just it, we succeed when we change what's wrong and do what's right.

Las Vegas could have died when the luster of the new railroad wore off, but instead we legalized gambling and made marriage (and divorce) so damned easy that almosr anyone could do it. Las Vegas could have died when World War II ended and the military build-up eased off, but instead The Strip was born and Hollywood glamour transformed our once sleepy outpost in the Mojave Desert into the cutting edge of "cool". Las Vegas could have died when the mob was driven out of town by the feds and the gaming regulators, but instead Howard Hughes ushered in a new era of "corporate casinos" that led Kirk Kerkorian to build bigger and inspired Steve Wynn to build better. Las Vegas could have died with the post-9/11 tourist slump, but instead this town became the "it destination" that's now made us the most visited place on earth.

I really think Las Vegas is at another turning point today. And interestingly enough, City Center may lead us to our future. We will be reminded of Wall Street greed gone wrong, but also inspired by eco-friendly design done right. We will be horrified by the massive corporate debt loads and shady "wheelin-dealin'" enabled by the corporate right and conservative wet dreams of hyper-deregulation, but we will also be awestruck by the moving public art that will encourage us to let our imagination run wild and free.

City Center now embodies Las Vegas. It tells the story of our past, warts and "beauty marks" and liposuctions and facelifts and triple bypass operations and all. It reflects our present, a jarring contrast of celebrity panache and inglorious economic collapse. It shows the way to our future, hopefully one that includes living in concert with Mother Nature and building a stronger community with a sound economy.

So let City Center open and start a new chapter in the great Las Vegas story.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Bill Raggio Recall Quickly Becoming a Hot Mess... Thanks to the "Teabaggers"

“These folks are pretty motivated to show up at events and carry signs, but they don’t quite get how to take that enthusiasm and put it into political action,” said Chuck Muth, a conservative activist and political consultant. “This is the next step for Tea Party activists. If they want to show up at rallies and complain about things, that’s fine. But now is the time to take their words and put them into action.”

Hehe. If even resident far right crazy Chuckie Muth is abandoning you, then you're in deep sh*t. Of course since State Sen. Bill Raggio (R-Reno) pared down and "sunset" this year's big tax/budget package, as well as made sure it included the most regressive taxes possible, he's now being labeled a "LIB'RUL!!!!1111111!!!!!!11111" by the tea party crazies. Oh yeah, and they want to recall him, too.

Reno businessman Dana Allen, whose been active in local Tea Party rallies, has formed a committee to recruit volunteers for a potential recall petition against Raggio, a veteran lawmaker whose been the head of Senate Republicans since the 1980s.

Allen said he plans to file official recall documents this week. That would start a 90-day clock for collecting 14,281 valid signatures from voters in Raggio’s west Reno district to force a special recall election. [...]

Allen said the Tea Party activists, many of whom are [Ron] Paul supporters, are different from those who have failed to deliver in the past.

“It has gone farther than I was expecting,” Allen said of the Tea Party rallies. “They’ve helped create associations where people can start working together on things. This time is different.”

Of course, we can't take this threat lightly. Right now, Democrats in Washington and Carson City really need to do more to motivate Democratic voters to actually get out and vote. If Democrats don't vote, the teabaggers may just win.

But if the sane majority actually gets out and votes, like they did in NY-23 earlier this month, the teabaggers just can't win. They have no real issues to run on. And their hypocrisy on "less government", just as long as that means Taliban-style theocracy and government largesse only benefitting their big corporate buddies, is simply laughable.

And just like the NY-23 special election, it still seems they're more interested in imploding the Republican Party from the inside than making any real change in the real world. That's what it seems is happening with the Raggio recall attempt. If they want to take out the Republican Senate leader and one of the few respected Republicans left in Nevada, go for it. They'll only be hurting GOP attempts to look "mainstream" and acceptable for 2010. And if "moderate Republicans" like Brian Sandoval and Joe Heck keep trying to have it both ways and court the "teabagger vote" while trying to dupe Nevadans into thinking they're "moderates", they'll look awfully ridiculous standing by the very same people who are even trying to throw traditional conservative Republicans like Bill Raggio out of office.

Democrats still have work to do to survive 2010, but at least Republicans are making things easier by turning up the infighting to even more insanely laughable levels.

Friday, November 27, 2009

MGM Mirage Sez Dubai Debt Crisis Won't Hit City Center

After being closed yesterday, US stocks fell in reaction to the Dubai debt crisis (catching up with the rest of the world's jitters over the Dubai World's request for a six month reprieve from debt repayments). Still, analysts and MidEast financial experts aren't too freaked out.

This has sent shockwaves through the markets, even though the problems in Dubai have been known about for two years,” Emil Wolter, a Hong Kong-based strategist the Royal Bank of Scotland, said. “But it is not the trigger for a brand-new crisis. Yes, the magnitude of the situation is dramatic for Dubai. But Dubai is not America — and a property crisis in Dubai will not cause the same global crisis as a property crisis in the States.”

Traders were also reacting to what might be, analysts said, given that the actual exposure of banks to the Duba debt is still unknown.

“Dubai is really a symptom, a legacy, from the previous boom, rather than symptomatic of a start of a whole new set of issues that are going to create a systemic crisis in emerging markets,” Kevin Grice, senior international economist at Capital Economics in London, said. “Markets assume the worst-case scenario.”

The uncertainty in Dubai did not suggest a coming collapse of the global real estate market, Mr. Grice said. [...]

Paul Schulte, head of multi-strategy research at Nomura in Hong Kong, commented in a note on Friday: “Dubai was a carbon copy of Thailand’s disastrous foray as an ‘international financial center’ in the 1990s. Happily, the U.A.E. has oil. Thailand did not.”

Like many Western consumers during the good times, Dubai gorged on debt and borrowed too much to finance a building boom that has gone bust in the downturn.

When credit markets froze last year, Dubai, like Iceland, found itself overextended. But Dubai, which has little oil, was backed by its Arab emirate neighbors, especially oil-rich Abu Dhabi — or so investors had assumed.

“Dubai was fairly much the worst example of overextension. It had the worst debt per capita in the world by far,” Christopher Davidson, an expert in Gulf politics at Durham University in Britain, said Thursday. “I would like to put it down as a really enormous white elephant that doesn’t have much in common with the regular economy of a regular state.”

But what about Las Vegas? Remember, after all, that City Center is 50% owned by Dubai World. However so far City Center's other 50% owner, MGM Mirage, is reassuring investors that the newest resort to grace The Las Vegas Strip will still open on schedule and won't be affected by Dubai World's massive debt.

Casino operator MGM Mirage said Friday that its CityCenter joint venture with Dubai World, the investment arm of the Dubai government, is not affected by Dubai World's request to delay repaying billions in debt and will still open on time.

Dubai World, which has about $60 billion in debt, said Wednesday it asked creditors if it could postpone forthcoming payments until at least May.

The news revived worries about bad debt and sparked concerns of a ripple effect around the global financial system. World markets dropped on Thursday when Wall Street was closed for the Thanksgiving holiday.

MGM representative Yvette Monet said in a statement that the joint venture is unaffected by Dubai World's announcement.

"CityCenter is fully funded, on schedule and ready to begin welcoming guests starting next week," Monet said.

CityCenter is an $8.5 billion casino complex in Las Vegas that is half-owned by Dubai World. The 67-acre development of plush resorts, condominiums, a retail mall and one casino on the Las Vegas Strip will start opening in phases on Tuesday.

Overall, I'm not too scared. As big as Dubai has become, this isn't the equivalent of our economy nearly crashing and burning last fall. The global economy will survive this.

However since City Center is directly affected by this, it may be a little rockier here. I still think all the City Center resorts will open on time, but I won't be too surprised if Dubai World soon looks to sell its 50% stake, or at least declines to invest any more in this project. It's too bad MGM Mirage can't buy the other 50% of City Center, since they themselves are still over-leveraged with way too much debt.

Again, I'm cautiously optimistic that City Center will open and survive this storm. I just have a feeling that this may be the last time we see investors go in way over their heads in debt to finance massive construction projects.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving!

I know that times are tough right now for many of our fellow Nevadans, but so many of us still have plenty to be thankful for. I have a roof over my head (actually two, considering I'll have a condo to return to when I'm back in Vegas), a full belly (one that I'm still working on flattening and toning), and closets full of clothes (yes, I mean it... I still have loads of outfits here in Cali to bring back!).

So anyway, I hope you have a great Thanksgiving holiday and I'll talk with y'all later. In the mean time, if you really need to waste some time on my blog, check this out. :-D

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Be Thankful for Pro-Equality Leaders in Congress

(Also at Stonewall)

While we have to sometimes deal with some lousy ConservaDems who don't always stand up for equality, let's be thankful this week for those brave progressives in Congress who do. Just FYI...

Stonewall Democrats
Dear Andrew,

There's been a lot of frustration about the pace of progress over the last few months.

Sign the thank you card!Here at Stonewall, we definitely share that frustration. When it comes to equal rights, there's no excuse for delay, and we have high expectations for this Congress. With strong Democratic majorities in both Houses of Congress and a President ready and willing to sign pro-equality legislation, this is a moment that must not be squandered.

It's important to hold our elected officials accountable -- we need to continue to push, continue to pressure -- but it's also important to express our appreciation.

During this Thanksgiving holiday, we're grateful for the pro-equality Democrats that have taken a strong lead in Congress to get things done for our community.

Can you take a minute to sign our Thanksgiving Card to the pro-equality leaders in Congress?

Democrats like Representative Patrick Murphy, who has taken a stand to fight for the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," and Representative John Conyers, who led the charge for passage of the Matthew Shepard Act, deserve our thanks.

Click here to sign our Thanksgiving Card to express your appreciation to Representatives Murphy, Conyers, and many more.

The more support we show for these Members of Congress, the easier it will be for other Members to join them in their support for our community, our families, our equal rights.

Have a wonderful holiday.


Michael Mitchell

P.S. Thanksgiving is a time for expressing our appreciation. But not everyone's worthy of our thanks. Check out our Thanksgiving "Turkeys" -- the Republicans who have worked hardest against our equality in recent weeks -- at

Contribute today!

Far-right Catholic Fundamentalist Hypocrisy Theocracy

It seems the hard-right Catholic Bishops will do anything, ANYTHING!!!!!!!!!, to stoke a holy war in this country. Take a look at they're doing to defame a Colorado Congresswoman who dares to call them out on their bullsh*t.

Congresswoman [Diana] DeGette's comments - “I gotta tell you, last I heard we had separation of church and state. I don’t think the Catholic bishops are in charge of writing our healthcare bill. I think that they are one of many groups that we should listen to, but in the end they should be concerned that 36 million more people in this country will get healthcare. Many of them are their parishioners.”

[Family Research Council]'s version of her comments - “religiously-affiliated groups…should be shut out of the process” in the health care debate because of their support for the Stupak/Pitts amendment. She told The Hill, “Last I heard, we had separation of church and state in this country,” she said. “I’ve got to say that I think the Catholic bishops and all of the other groups shouldn’t have input.”

So they literally put words in Diana DeGette's mouth that she didn't even say! And why would they do that, especially knowing that their imaginary friend Goddy McGod doesn't like lies? Oh, they just want more control over women's bodies and over women's health care decisions.

I guess since they let Johnny Casino off the hook for lying, cheating, and money laundering, what's a few lies to ban reproductive medicine and save the zygotes?

But wait, it gets even more ridiculous. They're already denying communion again to any and all politicians that support people's civil rights, but they may now take it even further.

It was a narrowing of Catholic theology to strip issues like poverty and social justice from the forefront of the Church, and replace them with opposing abortion, gay marriage, and stem cell research. It was also a call to Catholic politicians: oppose abortion and gay marriage at all costs, or risk the threat of the Church denying you Communion and publicly tarring and feathering you as a sinner.

Bishop Tobin's action toward Rep. Patrick Kennedy doesn't have anything to do with gay marriage on its surface (Rhode Island doesn't allow gay marriage, and Rep. Kennedy has kept a relatively low profile on the issue). Rather, Rep. Kennedy's sin in the eyes of the church was voting against the Stupak amendment to the U.S. House's health care bill, and siding with reproductive rights activists.

But the question is that if the Church is now ready to do this on the issue of abortion, are they also ready to do this on the issue of gay marriage, an issue the Church says that they view with as much disgust? Do Massachusetts politicians who support gay marriage or abortion rights now have to wonder whether they'll be denied Communion at weekly mass? What about Catholics in Vermont, Iowa, Connecticut or New Hampshire?

Time will tell. But we've already seen bishops with the Catholic Church threaten to stop caring for the poor in Washington, D.C. over the issue of gay marriage. There's no reason to think that Church leaders won't head to even deeper depths, politicizing one of their oldest traditions in Communion to simply toe a line on gay marriage that is increasingly out of step with public opinion.

So they're actually willing to toss overboard the entire social gospel that Jesus actually wanted them to care about... To save the zygotes and prevent gay couples from being happily married? How does this make sense? Oh yeah, that's right. It doesn't have to any more.

After all, we still haven't heard any bishops here in Nevada condemn their religious right buddy Johnny Casino for committing adultery, lying about his adultery, lying about his parents funneling a cool $96,000 to the Hampton family, and violating federal campaign and tax laws in funneling that "hush money". Shouldn't our local Catholic wannabe political dealmakers "leaders" be saying something about these real moral crimes instead of going along with this effort to tear down what's left of separation of church and state?

I'm not holding my breath on this...

Golden Nugget's New Rush Tower Opens

The first new hotel tower built in Downtown Las Vegas in two decades is now open for business.

The hotel-casino had a grand opening celebration for its Rush Tower, the first new hotel tower to be added to the downtown area since Golden Nugget’s Carson Tower opened in 1989.

Mayor Oscar Goodman and Tilman Fertitta, president, chairman and chief executive of the Golden Nugget’s parent company, Landry’s Restaurants Inc., cut the ribbon in the Rush Tower lobby at a ceremony Monday evening while welcoming the news media, VIPs and Las Vegas notables.

Goodman praised Fertitta for investing in downtown Las Vegas and for his commitment to finishing the project, even through the economic downturn.

“When Tilman came to town, the two of us met and he said, ‘Mayor, I’m going to do for you what I’ve done for other parts of the country where we have our businesses and that is help you revitalize your downtown.’” Goodman said. “A lot of folks come see me in city hall and make promises and, unfortunately, many of them are unkept, but not his promise.”

The Golden Nugget officially welcomed its first guests to the $150 million Rush Tower on Friday. The 25-story, 500-room tower includes four penthouses, 70 junior corner suites and standard rooms that are 20 percent larger than the property’s other standard rooms. Guest rooms range from 439 square feet to one-bedroom parlor suites at 1,326 square feet.

Let's see if this pays off for Fertitta and Goodman. Landry's now needs to fill the Rush Tower with tourists. Las Vegas badly needs the extra tax revenue. Downtown needs a shot of new energy in its arm.

The Golden Nugget has always been the classiest joint Downtown, and this just elevates their reputation some more. And especially at the price point they're hitting, Landry's shouldn't have a hard time filling up Rush Tower. The rooms there start as low as $69 per night, which is mind blowing since 4-star hotels rarely go for this low on The Strip.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Utah Taxes Strip Clubs... While Ours Sell More Vices & Hit the Streets!

I'm telling you, we have something special here in Nevada. What other state in the union has such important debates on significant issues like whether or not "Stripper-mobiles" can offer "live entertainment" on the road!

Well, Utah won't be joining the party any time soon. In fact, their (state) Supreme Court just upheld a recently levied tax on all nude strip clubs.

In 2004, the Utah Legislature became one of the first in the country to enact a 10 percent tax on sexually explicit businesses in an effort to pay for sex offender treatment. The tax covered everything a sexually explicitly business sold -- admission, T-shirts and hamburgers included.

A group of escort agencies and strip clubs challenged the constitutionality of the law, saying it was overbroad and violated their First Amendment rights. Meanwhile, a host of other states held off on passing their own sexually explicit business taxes while the case made its way through Utah's court system.

The Utah Supreme Court ruled that the Sexually Explicit Business and Escort Services tax is not a violation of First Amendment rights but that it is unreasonably vague when it comes to escort services.

"The Tax fails to provide adequate information for a person of ordinary intelligence to distinguish between those types of compensated companionship that the Legislature intended would trigger application of the Tax and those that it intended would not," the court wrote.

I'm a little torn on this one. I guess it's laudable that Utah found such a "creative" way to pay for sex offender rehab. Nonetheless, this also smacks of yet another "sin tax" that Utah's "Mormon moral majority" throws on every "sinful" business (alcohol, tobacco, sex, etc.) that they don't like. And in this case, they may be unfairly targeting the strip clubs just because of the content.

And if the clubs prove that it's all about the content, they may have a chance of overturning the "Utah stripper tax" in the US Supreme Court.

Andrew McCullough, an attorney who represented the coalition of adult businesses, said if he can get his clients to agree, he will try to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

"The implication is that the Supreme Court said that they're not taxing dancing, they're taxing nudity. Frankly, that's just preposterous. They are taxing artistic expression and it's just wrong," he said.

McCullough acknowledged that getting the U.S. Supreme Court to hear any case is difficult, but he believes this one has merit.

"I think honestly, this one is going to be accepted because it's a very important, very unique and very new question and because there are in fact at least 12 other states out there who are going to be doing this soon based on the tenor of the decision here in Utah," he said.

Well, at least Nevada isn't one of those 12 states. Nope, instead our strip clubs are looking for liquor licenses so they can make more money off our vices! In fact, rumor has it that Deja Vu & Little Darlings voluntarily agreed to take the now famous "Stripper-mobile" off Las Vegas Blvd. in order to curry favor with the Clark County Commission so that Deja Vu can get a liquor license (even if it means Deja Vu can't be "totally nude" any more).

Still, there's a good chance someone else will revive the "Stripper-mobile" and put it back on Las Vegas Blvd. where it belongs [IMHO ;-) ]. Rumor has it another strip club may want to cash in on all the "earned media" from the "rolling bachelor party on wheels" that doubled business at Deja Vu and Little Darlings.

So there you have it. Utah wants to tax the sin out of their state... While we keep reveling in all the naughty goodness of the "Stripper-mobile" controversy. I just don't know how those Utahns can cope with all that clean living. :-p

Carl Icahn Starts Bidding War for F-bleau

Oh, this may start to get fun...

Investor Carl Icahn today offered $141 million to buy Fontainebleau Las Vegas, outbidding Penn National Gaming.

Penn National has not yet disclosed whether it will offer a higher bid.

Icahn's bid was presented to Fontainebleau's bankruptcy judge today, and a hearing on the issue was under way in the afternoon Miami time.

Penn National last week offered $101.5 million -- $50 million in cash and a loan of $51.5 million.

An attorney for Fontainebleau, Scott Baena, told Bankruptcy Judge A. Jay Cristol today that Icahn initially offered a bid last week exceeding Penn's bid by $25 million. He said Penn National then matched that higher bid.

Icahn then offered another $10 million today, bringing his bid to $136 million, Baena said.

During today's hearing, an attorney for Penn National left and called his client, returning with a bid $500,000 higher than Icahn's and sweetening the deal with other provisions. An attorney for Icahn then countered by boosting Icahn's bid by $5 million to $141 million.

Yep, the legendary Wall Street investor/takeover expert now wants in on the action at F-bleau. At the very least, that should make the bankruptcy proceedings that much more interesting.

And don't be surprised if Icahn actually gets it. Remember that just last year he sold his interest in The Stratosphere, Arizona Charlie's (both locations), and The Aquarius in Laughlin. He's no stranger to casino gaming, so it will be fascinating to watch him open F-bleau should his bid succeed.

I guess if anyone can turn a profit on The Fontainebleau, Carl Icahn can. Let's see if Penn National steps up its game and offers more to finish what's fast becoming the most ridiculous boondoggle ever seen on the Las Vegas Strip.

Culinary 226 Goes After Station Casinos in Bankruptcy Court

Oh, my! And the plot thickens...

The Culinary Union heightened the drama in its fight with Station Casinos last week, blaming a management-led buyout for the company’s bankruptcy filing and aligning itself with the company’s creditors.

The union issued a detailed report on the company’s financial woes, arguing that Station could have avoided bankruptcy had it not pursued a $5.7 billion deal to take the company private in 2007. It concluded with a call for creditors to demand that Station’s owners reinvest a significant part of the profits from the deal to help the company recover.

The move is the latest chapter in the Culinary’s ongoing battle to organize the 13,000 workers of the nonunion casino giant, and piggybacks on a lawsuit filed by a group of aggrieved creditors that claim the company relied on unrealistic, rosy financial assumptions. [...]

Among the union’s findings: Company insiders, led by the Fertitta family, nearly tripled Station’s long-term debt from 2005 to 2007, borrowing money to buy back 14 million shares and complete the buyout. Forty percent of the proceeds — more than $660 million — went to company insiders. The Fertittas alone received $495 million.

“Clearly, the owner-managers and other insiders were more interested in extracting wealth from the company for themselves than ensuring its and its employees’ future,” said D. Taylor, Culinary secretary-treasurer. “Now it’s time for them to give back.”

Well, the Fertittas had it coming. They negotiated that generous (to them) buyout loaded with stock options and other goodies. They kept taking on more and more debt, even though they must have known at some point that they couldn't afford any more debt.

But now they say they have to fire employees? And for the workers staying at Station, they'll have less pay and fewer benefits? Oh, and the workers still aren't allowed to organize?


The Fertittas brought this upon themselves. It's their fault they're in bankruptcy court now, not Culinary's. Maybe if they had run better this company they inherited from their father, they wouldn't be at risk of losing it all in court today.

So Debate Opens on Health Care in the Senate...

What next? I think Mike Lux explains well at Open Left what may come next on the Senate side. I just hope Harry Reid stays strong and doesn't accept some lame@ss compromise that's doomed to fail.

I have hope Reid will emerge with a good deal, a decent public option, and the 51 or 60 votes needed (hopefully 60, but reconciliation and "the nuclear option" aren't off the table just yet) for passage. :-)

Friday, November 20, 2009

New PCCC Robo-call FOR Harry Reid? Oh, Yes!

Got one of these yet? You just might. As long as Harry Reid fights for us, we'll fight for him.

Nevada Jobless Rate DOWN to 13% in October

Yes, you heard me right, it's DOWN this month!

Nevada’s unemployment rate leveled out a bit in October, at 13 percent.

The state Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation said Friday that a dip in the state jobless rate from September’s record high of 13.3 percent was the first month-to-month decline since November 2005.

Given, it's still incredibly high. People still need jobs. But fortunately, it now looks like we may have survived the worst of The Great Recession. Oh, and Clark County is also seeing the relief.

Unemployment dropped from 13.9 percent in September to 13 percent in October with 129,700 persons out of work in Clark County. In September there were 141,000 jobless.

By comparison, the jobless rate in October 2008 was 7.5 percent with 76,400 jobless.

The state Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation reported that the Nevada rate dropped from 13.3 percent in September to 13 percent in October with 175,300 out of work.

Department economist Bill Anderson said the last time the state saw a month-to-month decline in the unemployment rate was in November 2005.

“As we head into the holiday season, this is welcome news,” said Anderson. “However it is not a reason to be overly optimistic. The state’s well-chronicled economic difficulties are far from over.”

Again, don't expect things to suddenly return to 2005/2006 highs so soon. The pain isn't completely gone yet.

And let's not forget this.

[He] said consumer spending both by residents and tourists will be a key to any recovery in the state.

“Consumers have been hard-hit by this downturn and may continue to exercise caution in the early stages of a recovery,” Anderson said. “As a result, Nevada may lag the national rebound, given the relatively important role that consumer spending, especially discretionary spending, plays in our economy.”

Let's hope we get more tourists coming back soon as we await more federal stimulus funds. Still, any kind of good news is welcome in Nevada right now.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Health Care: Reid Expanding Medicaid Aid, Including Aid for Katrina Victims, & Making Rethuglicans Look Ridiculous

Hehe. I told you our Harry knows how to legislate.

Separately, however, the bill includes $100 million for hurricane-hit Louisiana — an extra Republicans pounced on Thursday as special treatment for Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu, whom Reid has been courting as one of the final votes needed to advance the bill during Saturday’s vote.

Actually, as ABC News first reported, the $100 million goes for “certain states recovering from a major disaster” in the past seven years, noting that only one state fits that description.

In the halls this afternoon, the provision was being called the “Louisiana purchase.” [...]

Reid’s office dismissed the criticism, saying the Republican campaign arm is trying to have it both ways — criticizing Reid when he secured the deal, and again now for delivering full funding for all states, including hard-hit Louisiana.

“As a result of his work for Nevada, he was able to help the entire country,” [Reid spokesguy Jon] Summers said.

Oh, wow! I just want to see the Republicans whine and bitch and moan and complain about aid for Hurricane Katrina victims in Louisiana. What, are we supposed to forget how Dumbya Bush f*cked up the response to Katrina? Or that it's taken the federal government so damned long to deliver the aid promised to revive New Orleans?

I'm sure that will kill off whatever remaining appeal the Republican Party has to anyone with any sort of capacity for compassion.

Oh, and don't worry, the other states aren't being left out, either.

The increased Medicaid funding Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid initially scored for Nevada is now being proposed for all 50 states in his new health care bill.

The bill also includes a separate, $100 million bonus for hurricane-stricken Louisiana, the state whose senator is one of the Democratic holdouts on advancing the legislation.

Reid came under fire earlier from Republicans for having secured the special Nevada deal last month. But the majority leader proudly defended the move saying repeatedly he made “no apologies” for helping his home state with full Medicaid funding. Reid helped Nevada and three others suffering from high unemployment. [...]

Now, in the bill unveiled this week, Reid is offering 100-percent funding for Medicaid expansion in all states for the first three years of the program.

“As he worked on this issue for Nevada, he saw other states needed help as well,” said Reid spokesman Jon Summers. “The fact that he took action for Nevada and was able to extend it to other states is significant.”

Of course, known Nevada hater John "McBush" McCain whined and bitched and moaned and complained about the Medicaid funds for Nevada. So guess what? Arizona will be getting help, too! What say "Mr. Faux Maverick" now? Will he oppose help for his own state again like he did when he voted against the stimulus earlier this year?

I just can't wait for Rethuglicans to try to turn this into "corruption!" or somehow twist this into "ACORN!" Considering how Reid's designed this bill, the GOoPers look likely to self-destruct over trash-talking something that their very own states (especially Louisiana) so desperately need.

Transgender Day of Remembrance Tomorrow

If you're in Reno, please join this vigil tomorrow. If you're in Vegas, join the vigil at MCC Las Vegas tomorrow night at 7:00 PM. Otherwise, please take some time out of your busy day tomorrow to remember the many painful losses this year... And remember to take action and demand equality for all of our families and all in our community.

KKKhris Buttars Is Keeping It Klassy in Utah

Even when he considers supporting some LGBT civil rights, he still has to spit in LGBT Utahns' faces. Disgusting.

I guess it's better for us to have Buttars' support on some things than for him to oppose everything, but it's still bone-chilling for him to spew out such bile. It's even worse to see H8-mongers like the Eagle Forum creeps trash-talk like this.

Yep, our queer friends and family next door in Utah are still being brutally discriminated against and it doesn't look likely yet that they'll even get what we have now in Nevada. Sad. I guess this is what our state would look like if it were actually run by Richard Ziser.

Reno Facing Massive Deficits This Year & Next


Reno has a $3.5 million shortfall in the current $180 million general fund budget and can expect another gap of at least $9.35 million in the budget for the year that starts July 1, the city council learned Wednesday.

After getting the bad news, Mayor Bob Cashell asked for one or two council members to be involved in building the budget rather than the council getting a report few days ahead of a meeting.

“This next year is going to be ugly,” Cashell said.

The anticipated 2010-11 shortfall would include a property tax revenue decline of about $2½ million, with the rest from revenue sources used in 2009-10 that won’t be available again.

“The funds just won’t be there,” Jill Olsen, interim finance director, said of money in risk management, contingency, health insurance and workers compensation accounts.

Now already, the working people have had to forego such "luxuries" as a small cost of living increase...

This year, Reno Police Protective Association members agreed not to take a cost-of-living raise in 2010-11, and other employees gave up raises or other benefits equal to their 4.2 percent raises this year.

Of the $3.5 million shortfall in 2009-10, $1.5 million is expected to be needed to pay retiring firefighters. Under their contract, they are paid for up to 79 days of unused vacation.

More than 57 firefighters have more than 25 years service. Tim Alameda, interim fire chief, said many may retire soon.

To erase part of the $3.5 million shortfall, Olsen said she will use $600,000 from the parks department and $600,000 set aside some years ago for a Reno emergency command center.

Already, hard working public servants have to pay. But what about the big developers always snatching taxpayer funded subsidies? What about the elected officials always rewarding themselves, even when they haven't done much of anything? And what about the state stopping its policy of raiding Clark and Washoe County funds when the state wants to artifically "close the deficit"?

Again, this is the result of Nevada promoting further economic injustice by raiding local governments and failing to invest in its infrastructure while continuing to line the pockets of the ultra-rich. Again, when will we learn from California's failures? And when will we stop ourselves from becoming the next California-style economic catastrophe?

It may be Reno now, but wait until crises like this spread all over the state... Oh wait, it's already happening.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Nevada's Tax Structure 8th Most Regressive in the Nation

Whoo-hoo? We made another "Top 10 List".

Nevada’s tax system hits hardest at low and middle-income wage earners and gives the rich a break, according to a new tax study.

Nevada’s tax system is the nation’s eighth most regressive, the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy said in the study released today. [...]

Bob Fulkerson, executive director of the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada, says the study by the institute shows Nevada’s tax structure “soaks the worker and coddles the wealthy.” He said the multi-millionaires or multi-national corporations, such as big-box discounters and gold mining companies pay less in taxes and ship their profits out of state.”

The progressive leadership alliance has strongly pushed for improving services to the poor and lower income citizens in Nevada.

The study says that those who make less than $21,000 a year pay 8.9 percent of their income in state and local taxes in such levies as sales, gas, cigarettes, alcohol and property taxes. Compared to those who earn $574,000 or more, the tax burden is 1.6 percent of their income.

Middle income earners in the $34,000 to $53,000 category shell out 6.4 percent of their income in taxes.

I can't argue with this at all. In many ways, Nevada is on its way to becoming another failed state a la California. We've known for a while that we don't properly invest in our infrastructure, but now we can finally get to the root of the problem. We allow for a "reverse Robin Hood" policy of stealing from the middle class and working poor to line the pockets of the super-rich!

Frankly, this needs to end ASAP. We need to stop treating our working families like crap. Hopefully this will be a wake-up call for Nevada to actually start valuing its working families.

Health Care: Reid Unveils $849 Billion Senate Bill

It's here!

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has convened a late-evening meeting tonight of the Democratic caucus to present to fellow senators the $849 billion health care reform bill he has been crafting behind closed doors for weeks.

After an intense day of talks, including a huddle with Vice President Joseph Biden, Reid emerged from the east doors of the Senate chamber at 5 p.m. for the short walk across the hall to the room where senators were assembling. A giant monitor was set for Reid's power-point presentation.

An aide said the $849 billion bill Reid had crafted would reduce the federal deficit by $127 billion in 10 years, and would ensure 94 percent of Americans would be covered by insurance at that time. The bill's price tag is less than the nearly $1.1 trillion bill passed by the House earlier this month.

So far, not too many surprises. Yes, the public option (with state opt-out but NO TRIGGERS) is still there. Yes, the deficit will be reduced. Yes, the tax on workers' health care benefits will be rolled back and replaced with a Medicare surtax on those earning $250,000+ per year.

Oh, and here's some extra good news. While the ConservaDems are pushing to kill the public option, progressives are now pushing back to save it.

Another Democrat, Oregon Senator Ron Wyden, said his support for proceeding is in doubt unless the government-run insurance program, or public option, is included in the plan.

“I’m not going to support a bill that’s a competition-free zone,” Wyden told reporters yesterday.

Good on Wyden for joining Roland Burris (D-Illinois) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) in the "Progressive Block"! Hopefully they'll be three more reasons for Harry Reid to keep the bill as strong as possible.

BREAKING: Dina Titus to Cosponsor ENDA!

I guess it didn't take us too long to get an answer from my Congresswoman. THOMAS isn't yet noting it (it usually takes a while for the info to get on the web site), but Dina Titus' DC office has assured me that Dina is now a cosponsor of ENDA.

If this proves to be true, this is a major step forward for equality at work. As I said yesterday:

... [I]n order for this bill to break through the delays and gain enough momentum for final passage, HR 3017 needs more cosponsors.

And today, it looks like ENDA will be getting one more cosponsor. As soon as this shows up on THOMAS, let's start thanking Dina for doing the right thing and make sure that we flood the phone lines instead of the H8ful bigots.

Why Don't Our Local Media Actually Cover Our Major Food Events?

So The New York Times got an interview with Pierre Gagnaire, the top notch French Chef set to make his US debut at Twist at Mandarin Oriental (at City Center) next month. John Curtas actually beat them to the punch in getting the first interview with him, so at least someone in our local media is noticing. So why aren't The Sun & The R-J?

No really, why aren't they? The R-J has a big story on the new Hard Rock Cafe on The Strip, but not on one of the biggest culinary events yet to happen in Vegas? At least The Sun recently did a story on Emeril and his Carnivale du Vin charity event last weekend, but it seems they're also not keeping up with all the food events in town.

Why is this? No really, why? Is this a holdover from the bad ol' days when "$4.99 prime rib" deals ruled the roost and food was an afterthought for the casinos? Las Vegas is now one of the top food towns... But one wouldn't know with the talk of the town consisting of this $6.95 "steak dinner", that $12.95 "prime rib special", or whatever other "cheapo" deal out there.

So then, I wonder what the problem really is. Is it that our media don't care about our local food scene? Or does it run deeper? Is it that we the people just don't care about our local food scene?

I know it's a recession and most people are looking to save money these days. Still, I don't see why we shouldn't boost our local economy. And doesn't it make more sense to spend our hard-earned cash somewhere where our money will stay? There are deals out there for those that know where to look.

Las Vegas won't really get the respect it deserves as a "foodie destination" until the locals here actually show some for our own food. I hope this happens soon. It's a shame that so many tourists enjoy so much of our amazing food while so many of us suffer the same ol' cheap crap.

Lambda Legal Sues to Reinstate DP Benefits for Arizona State Employees

Check out what's happening across the Colorado from us.

Lambda Legal filed a federal lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Tucson today to block a move to strip gay and lesbian state employees of domestic partner benefits.

"This is an issue of equal pay for equal work," said Tara Borelli, staff attorney for Lambda Legal. "By stripping away these vital benefits from loyal state employees, the state isn't just paying them less for the same work than their heterosexual colleagues - it's pulling away a vital lifeline that all workers need. This is simply cruel and saves the state next to nothing."

Lambda Legal represents 10 state employees - including from the Arizona Highway Patrol, the State Department of Game and Fish and state universities - who rely on health benefits from their employers to keep their families safe.

Arizona's domestic partner benefits for gay and lesbian public employees were adopted in the fall of 2008 under the leadership of former Governor Janet Napolitano, who left in January 2009 to become Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. This summer Arizona legislators approved a budget bill with a provision revoking the benefits while retaining the comparable health benefits for heterosexual public workers. Current Arizona Governor Jan Brewer signed it.

If Lambda is taking this up, then there's a good chance that "Brouhaha Brewer" and the GOoPers in the AZ Legislature violated the law by throwing LGBT public employees under the bus and stripping away their DP benefits while leaving hetero marriage benefits in place. Let's hope Collins v. Brewer succeeds in federal court and sets a much-needed historic precedent in protecting DP benefits at work.

Richard Bryan on Nevada's Future

So Richard Bryan has reemerged to offer us some sage advice on moving forward.

The most important advice is to stay in touch. People are frightened. None of us here in Nevada have experienced such a challenging economy. Next year is going to be every bit as challenging as 2009.

Elected officials need to be very candid with the public, say, ‘Look, there is no quick fix here. There is no magic elixir that will immediately transform us from a difficult recession to an overnight recovery.’

Some of this is going to take time. Some of the things the Congress has done make some sense, like extending unemployment benefits. If there’s a silver lining to this, hopefully some lessons may be learned.

Well, we can't argue with that... Or this, for that matter.

I still think that the fact we are so dependent on tourism as an industry, strong as the industry is here, continues to make the point that we’ve got to diversify and broaden our base. That’s not new, but it comes back: Our economy really is more vulnerable to an economic cycle because we’re so dependent on tourism.

The revenue structure has got to be revised. It’s got to be broadened with a broad-based business tax. It may not be politically doable, but it’s got to be done.

OK, I have to disagree with the last part. It IS doable, since a plurality of Nevadans support tax reforms over further spending cuts and a majority want some kind of progressive tax reform. It's just that not enough Dems in Carson City have the cojones to just go for it. And of course, "Luv-Guv" Gibbons hates the idea of a functioning government and would make it as difficult as possible even if Democratic leaders were to pursue progressive tax reform.

And finally, I must include this.

Are you optimistic for the future of your grandchildren in Nevada?

I am optimistic. There’s an entrepreneurial side that runs through the state’s history, from mining to easy divorces to casino gaming. Now it could be energy.

What do you think of Sen. Harry Reid’s reelection chances?

He has a very difficult race, but never count him out. My prediction is that he wins in a hard-fought contest.

Agreed on both counts! Harry Reid won't be going away any time soon, especially with a bunch of buffoons running on the Republican side. There's still a chance Reid will have to sweat it out and fight like hell to win, but the more the GOP shows its FAIL in Nevada, the more confident I'm becoming about Harry Reid's chances in 2010.

Oh yes, and renewable energy is definitely part of Nevada's future! We have so much potential for solar, wind, and geothermal that it'd be ridiculous for us not to pursue it. And hopefully with more renewable energy and more high-tech development in Nevada, we can finally diversify our economy and stop being overdependent on the casinos.

All in all, Richard Bryan still knows Nevada well. I hope more folks pay attention to the advice he offers on our future.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Even the Forced Birthers Think Ziser Has Gone Too Far This Time

No really, even the big anti-choice groups are opposing Richard Ziser's "give the zygotes personhood" initiative!

Four groups that for more than 30 years have fought for anti-abortion legislation say they are opposed to a proposed constitutional amendment aimed at banning abortions.

Janine Hansen, president of Nevada Eagle Forum, says that while the backers of the initiative petition have good intentions it will not stop abortions.

The Forum, the Independent American Party, Nevada Families and Nevada Life issued a statement opposing the “Personhood” initiative petition, saying the proposed constitution amendment “is so vague and general that it may not even apply to abortion at all.”

They said, “This amendment will harm the Pro-Life movement by giving pro-abortion courts more power to decide all matters relations to abortion, such as parental notification, informed consent and taxpayer funding of abortion.”

Richard Ziser, a spokesman for the “Personhood” plan, said that's another opinion and "everybody has their own.” He said those who drew up the initiative petition believe it is clear.

Ziser said this was a peoples’ amendment, not the courts.

Of course, they oppose it because they know it will be thrown out in state & federal court even if passed. And since Nevada's known for its civil libertarian ways (including passing a constitutional amendment affirming a woman's right to choose in 1990), it's doubtful this will even pass. And since even much of the anti-choice far right is opposing it, Richard Ziser may finally be forced to call it quits.

And now the women, the queers, and all the other oppressed minorities who have been hurt by one or another of Richard Ziser's mean-spirited initiatives can soon rejoice! :-D

NV-03: Dina Needs to Speak Up on ENDA

Yesterday, news broke that the House Education & Labor Committee has postponed mark-up of ENDA. This means December will be the earliest time we'll see a House floor vote on ENDA, and there's a chance it may not even be until February.

So why should we care so much about ENDA?

For starters, let's talk about our Silver State. While Nevada prohibits workplace discrimination by sexual orientation, our state offers no protections for transgender workers. So if you're trans, you're always at risk of being fired just for being who you are.

And even worse, 29 states offer no anti-discrimination protection on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. And yes, our next-door neighbors Idaho, Utah, and Arizona happen to be 3 of those 29 states.

This is why we should care so much about ENDA... And this is why Rep. Dina Titus (D-Henderson) needs to care as well. She's promised before to vote for it, but she hasn't yet signed on as a cosponsor. And in order for this bill to break through the delays and gain enough momentum for final passage, HR 3017 needs more cosponsors.

This is why Dina needs to hear from us. Please send her an email, call her office, and/or write to her. If you'll be attending Stonewall's Write-in on December 7, we'll have everything ready for you to write Dina and we'll deliver the letter to her district office for you.

Way too many people live at risk every day of losing their job, losing their livelihood, becoming societal outcasts just for being who they are. We can't allow any more of it, and we have the power to get ENDA passed.

Penn National DOES Want F-bleau, After All

I guess this is good news?

Penn National Gaming Inc. on Monday made a $50 million "stalking horse" bid to buy the stalled Fontainebleau casino-resort in Las Vegas, with plans to spend another $1.46 billion to complete the project.

Penn's offer, filed in Miami's bankruptcy court, sets in place an auction process in which other investors will have an opportunity to bid for the property.

Fontainebleau also said in a court motion Monday that Penn National and unnamed lenders have agreed to provide $51.5 million in debtor-in-possession financing to cover its costs since filing for bankruptcy and to keep the company afloat during the sales process.

Court papers indicated Penn National has committed $50 million to buy the project, less unspecified "remediation costs" and costs to cure defaults on leases and contracts it would inherit.

The Penn affiliate offering to buy the project is Nevada Gaming Ventures Inc. Penn for some time has been looking at opportunities to enter the Las Vegas gambling market, the nation's largest.

Now $50 million seems like small change for such a massive Strip resort... But let's remember just how all of this got started. This place has been one hot mess for quite a while, and Penn will still need to settle at least $350 million in debt and spend another $1.46 billion just to finish this resort.

But attorneys for Fontainebleau said they're hopeful Monday's bid is not the only offer for the project, which was developed by affiliates of Miami-based Turnberry Associates. Turnberry is known in Las Vegas for developing high-rise luxury condominiums and the Town Square Shopping Center.

"The debtors are both hopeful and optimistic that finalizing the purchase agreement marks the beginning of a competitive sale process that will drive substantial incremental value to the debtors' estates and their creditors over and above the purchase price offered by Nevada Gaming Ventures," Fontainebleau attorneys said in Monday's court filing.

Once valued at $2.9 billion, $1.675 billion has been borrowed against the 3,815-room Fontainebleau, where construction shut down this summer after Bank of America and other big banks canceled a loan agreement because of cost overruns and other problems.

This may be the end of the line for Turnberry's Las Vegas operations. At the very least, I'm not expecting any more Turnberry projects on or near The Strip any time soon.

But hopefully, this will be a much needed turn of the page for F-bleau. It needs to be finished ASAP to start making money. And if Penn succeeds in gobbling it up in bankruptcy court, then Penn will be getting it in a real steal of a deal! I hope they'll finish F-bleau soon enough so that it won't be just another North Strip "abandoned construction" eyesore. Hopefully by late 2010 and early 2011, the economy will have recovered enough to absorb the new rooms online.

Health Care: Reid Considers More Progressive Funding Solutions for Senate Bill

When the now infamous "Baucus Caucus Bill" was released, one thing that progressives pounced upon was the lack of any sort of public option... And they were totally right to do so. However, another fatal flaw in that bill that remains in the merged Senate bill is the 40% excise tax on insurance companies that offer "Cadillac plans" that cost more than $8,000 for individuals. Senate ConservaDems claim that this will lower costs for everyone, but a number of unions are balking that this will hurt middle-class families who depend on comprehensive health benefits that their unions worked hard to negotiate. After all, remember that a number of these workers had to forego pay raises (and in some cases, accept pay cuts) just to get these so-called "Cadillac plans"... And the Senate wants to punish these workers with an extra tax?

Well, leave it to our good Senator to fight back and offer better solutions.

Pressing to begin the Senate's landmark floor debate on healthcare legislation this week -- and to finish by the end of the year -- Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is considering new ways to fund the bill by raising the payroll taxes that upper-income workers pay for Medicare.

Reid is studying the idea, senior Democratic aides say, because of criticism of a plan approved by the Senate Finance Committee that would impose new taxes on insurance companies that offer expensive healthcare plans. [...]

Labor unions and other critics say the Cadillac tax would hit too many middle-income consumers whose health premiums are high because they live in high-cost areas, not because the plans offer luxury benefits.

Reid, who is facing a tough reelection campaign with the strong backing of organized labor, is exploring ways to scale back the Cadillac tax. He is considering the Medicare payroll tax hike to make up for the revenue that would be lost if the Cadillac tax applied to fewer plans.

Under the current system of financing the Medicare hospital insurance trust fund, employers and employees pay a tax of 1.45% on wages.

Reid is reportedly considering increasing the rate about half a percentage point for workers earning more than $250,000 a year.

Some Democrats and analysts see the proposals as a way to offset the cost of the healthcare bill, shore up the Medicare trust fund -- and keep the burden of both efforts on upper- income people.

Another approach under consideration would expand the tax to cover unearned income, such as capital gains, not just wages.

I would happily support either the Medicare payroll tax hike only for the super-rich earning over $500,000 a year (somewhat like the House's version, just better understood) and/or increasing the capital gains tax on those super-rich Wall Street traders. Why should Nevada's working families be hit with higher taxes just for negotiating better health insurance? Shouldn't we instead lessen the burden on the working class by focusing on those who have gotten away with so much, including the recent TARP bailouts, but have paid so little?

I applaud Harry Reid for looking at more progressive funding solutions for the Senate health care bill. I just hope that, like the public option, he'll be able to design the funding in a way to get the votes necessary for passage.

NV-Gov: Sandoval = Gibbons 2.0

If you hear anyone, especially someone who claims not to be a far-right teabagger, talk about how great Brian Sandoval is, remind that person why he's still tying himself to the Republican Party.

Jon Ralston explains.

Sandoval, who has been seen as a moderate vulnerable to Mike Montandon and Jim Gibbons on the right, is being feted by some very conservative folks, including at least two members of the Reno Tea Party (George and Jo Ritter). The event is hosted by Washoe Commissioner Bonnie Weber of the well-known conservative Weber family and ex-GOP Chairwoman Earlene Forsythe (Incestuous NV note: Her son-in-law, Steve Wark, is Montandon's chief political adviser.) at the Forsythe's Reno home. The list also includes Mendy Elliott, an ex-Gibbonsite just forced from her second state job.

Not sure this event isn't more about showing he can appeal to the right than raise a lot of cash (donations are suggested at $250).

And the quote on the invite from Sandoval gives me a reason to believe again: "These are trying times that require unique leadership, a roll up your sleeves and fight to get Nevada working again type mentality. That's why I'm running for governor."

I'm all lachrymose here.

Now remember that these were the same people backing "Luv-Guv" Jim Gibbons in 2006... And look at how the "wisdom" of Nevada's radical right has worked out for our state. So when anyone is gushing about how Sandoval's supposedly "different", remind that someone that Sandoval really is just another Republican offering no real solutions for this state.

Monday, November 16, 2009

David Parks for County Commission? The R-J Says It's Happening.

Well, I guess I shouldn't be too surprised.

State Sen. David Parks, D-Las Vegas, said today he is taking a run at the Clark County Commission seat that Rory Reid is vacating.

Parks, 65, said he hopes to use his four decades of government experience to tackle the county’s pressing budget problems.

Parks is the third to declare candidacy for the District G seat. Former Clark County School Board member Mary Beth Scow and Greg Esposito, a planning commissioner, entered the race last month.

Reid is running for governor.

This has been the rumor going around town for some time, so it isn't really shocking. I just wonder why he'd give up his gig in Carson City just when he was getting started. After all, doesn't it still feel like SB 283 happened just yesterday?

Still, I'm sure he knows how to get Clark County moving again... So maybe we need someone as effective as he on the Commission? I guess we'll see.

So How's the Foreclosure Mediation Program Doing? And Will California Soon Follow Our Lead?

So how's Nevada doing? Foreclosures are still high, but are off their record highs and thankfully on the decline.

Nevada had 13,842 foreclosure filings, which was a 26 percent decline from September. Filings fell 4.4 percent from October 2008.

The firm reported one filing for every 80 households in October. Nationwide, foreclosure filings fell 3 percent from September, but were up 19 percent compared with October 2008.

In Nevada, notices of default on home payments dropped 10 percent from October 2008 and scheduled foreclosure auctions were down 6 percent. Bank repossession, however, rose 8 percent in October.

RealtyTrac spokesman Daren Bloomquist said a new state mediation program implemented July 1 may have caused the declines in Nevada because it slowed the flow into the foreclosure pipeline. Under the program, homeowners have the option of going through mediation with lenders.

Wait, so what's RealtyTrac talking about? They're talking about AB 149, the new law passed by the Legislature earlier this year that actually requires the banks to go into court-sponsored mediation to work out a home loan modification. And if this mediation doesn't work out due to the bank's refusal to agree in good faith, the distressed homeowner can persue a remedy in state court.

But why should we have faith that this program will work in the long run? Don't the banks always win? Maybe not, according to these famous local lawyers.

Recently, the non-profit National Consumer Law Center released a report saying that none of the foreclosure mediation programs they reviewed (a list which does not include Nevada) are providing significant benefits to homeowners. [...]

Why? Because the existing programs routinely fail to impose significant obligations on mortgage servicers, according to the article.

In contrast, Nevada's Foreclosure Mediation Program gives homeowners facing foreclosure the option to request a mandatory foreclosure mediation session. This means someone from the mortgage company with authority to negotiate must attend the foreclosure mediation session. Additionally, Nevada has now trained a number of professional foreclosure mediators who also sit in on and participate in the foreclosure mediation session.

It would be great if the other states could create laws with similar teeth in them. And it would be even better if Congress or the Treasury could come up with uniform protections and solutions for homeowners. However, the mortgage industry's lobby is strong. And according to the NCLC report:

"It is unfortunate that the [mortgage] industry has so far prevailed in blocking Congressional action on court-ordered loan modifications, the one step that would level the playing field for consumers and ensure the necessary accountability from all parties....With the industry's encouragement, crucial elements of accountability have been omitted from the Treasury Department's Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP). Now, over six months after its inception, this new federal initiative serves only a small percentage of eligible homeowners."

The important takeaway, for now, is that Nevada homeowners have some unique tools at their disposal.

While the federal home loan modification program is a good start and has provided some relief to distressed homeowners, it unfortunately falls short of providing the kinds of protections and remedies to homeowners that Nevada's program does. That's why the states are now passing stronger foreclosure mediation laws, but so far few, if any, states' programs come close to the strength of Nevada's program.

However, this may soon change.

Nevada Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley testified today before the [California Assembly Banking & Finance Committee], stating that she believes Californians can benefit from a program similar to the one she sponsored in Nevada. “No matter where we live, it is critical that we do all we can to help reduce the number of foreclosures and help people stay in their homes. Our program in Nevada has shown initial success in stemming foreclosures. While I understand the obstacles California faces as a non-judicial foreclosure state, I look forward to working with the California Legislature to find ways that a similar program could be implemented, said Speaker Buckley.”

Over the next several weeks, Assemblymember [Pedro] Nava [D-Santa Barbara] will analyze the testimony given at the hearings regarding loan mediation programs and work with stakeholders to determine how to best move forward to address the current crisis and lessen the detrimental impact on California families.

“I am honored to have Nevada Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley at the State Capitol today to testify on her successful foreclosure mediation program. I look forward to working with her as we make progress with California’s own monitored mortgage workout program,” said Nava.

California is now considering AB 1588, introduced by Nava, Assm. Ted Lieu (D-Torrance), and California Assembly Speaker Karen Bass (D-Los Angeles), and strongly supported by LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa (D), as a possible solution to its own foreclosure crisis. Nevada's foreclosure rate may still be the worst, but California is now a close second and the crisis there may actually be worsening again.

The banks have proven to be predators in enticing people (if not outright forcing them) into risky home loans that they ultimately couldn't afford. And now with these very people defaulting on their loans, the banks just toss them out of their homes with no chance of resolving the defaulted loans. Even though these very banks benefitted greatly from the TARP bailouts, they still refuse to fulfill their promises and use those funds as originally intended.

This is why Nevada needed AB 149... And why California needs AB 1588. While California's program would work differently by implementing a "Monitored Mortgage Workout Program" operated by the California Housing Finance Authority (CHFA) (as opposed to Nevada's system being operated by the state judiciary), it would otherwise be similar in requiring the banks to undergo mediation if a distressed homeowner requests one. Again, this will be a major help in preventing a number of foreclosures by giving homeowners a real chance to modify the home loan before it defaults.

So thankfully, Nevada's program is making a difference in preventing the foreclosure crisis from worsening even further here. And hopefully soon, California and other states will follow our lead.

The Strip Making a Comeback?

We have some good news in today's Sun... Or is it?

Yes, it really is.

Executives with MGM Mirage and Las Vegas Sands have recently said their companies are booking more rooms in 2010 for convention groups on the heels of a record bad year for convention business. The convention business could return to pre-recession levels by the second half of 2010 or 2011, which would allow MGM Mirage to significantly boost room rates and company profits, the company said. [...]

Industry consultant Bill Lerner of Union Gaming Group has a similarly bullish outlook based on an expected 5 percent increase in visitors to Las Vegas atop a 4 percent increase in available hotel rooms — an estimate that assumes that certain rooms won’t be available for rent until later in the year. In that category he includes the under-construction Cosmopolitan and Vdara, a condo-hotel at CityCenter where buyers may be reluctant or unable to close escrow.

“You’re seeing stabilization in the business and that’s underscored by the end of meaningful declines in visitation, smaller declines in gaming revenue and hotel rate declines that aren’t worse than previous quarters,” Lerner said.

So is it still rough? Obviously, yes.

MGM Mirage’s Las Vegas properties were among the most highly occupied on the Strip in the third quarter, though at lower rates than some of their competitors at the high end. Overall, the company’s hotel occupancy was 95 percent, same as the year-ago quarter, but at rates that were $31 less, on average.

By comparison, Wynn and Encore combined were 84 percent full compared with 96 percent last year, and at rates that were $62 less, on average. Venetian and Palazzo combined were 88 percent full compared with 93 percent last year, and rates were $46 less, on average. It’s a sign of how far the Strip’s megaresorts have fallen since the boom years, when hotels abandoned the age-old strategy of practically giving away rooms to lure gamblers and embraced a new business model of companywide profit centers.

But is recovery nonetheless on the way? So far, it looks like it.

The third quarter contains two of the slowest business months of the year for Las Vegas, when the summer heat keeps visitors away and prices low. A smaller year-over-year decline in Strip gaming revenue in September than previous months, and a 5 percent increase in Las Vegas visitors in September, are positive signs that the bottom could be near.

As we've talked about before, there really is good reason to hope. While unemployment is still high and a number of other economic indicators have yet to turn around, it does look like the worst is over. After all, 2010 room bookings are so far looking better than 2008 and 2009. Convention business is really looking up. And with City Center opening, people will have new reason to come and see Las Vegas in all its new glory.

So don't worry too much. Hard times may not be gone yet, but they're starting to look a little easier. Hopefully with visitors coming back, Vegas will survive once again.