Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Again, I Told You So... So When Will Someone Tell Brian?

Thought my rant yesterday was "crazy talk"? Read this and weep.

Before the recession, in measurements analyzing 1993 through 2007, Las Vegas ranked No. 14 in the world among 150 metropolitan areas studied by the Brookings Institution and London School of Economics.

Las Vegas fell to 128th in the rankings during the recession in 2008 and 2009, and since the recovery has begun, its ranking has fallen to 146th. That’s better than only Dublin, Ireland (150); Dubai (149); Barcelona, Spain (148); and Thessaloniki, Greece (147).

The report said the patchy recovery that took hold in most U.S. cities in 2009 and 2010 didn’t happen in Las Vegas. The city’s income levels declined 1.2 percent despite an increase nationally, and the employment rate dipped 3 percent, much greater than the national decline of 0.7 percent.

The report also cited Las Vegas’ foreclosure problem with the second highest share of bank-owned homes in the country and more than two-thirds of residential mortgage holders owing more than their homes are worth.

OK, so our economy still sucks. What else is new? Well, we now know we're barely performing better than Dubai, Dublin, and Barcelona, three cities in debt wrecked countries... Countries that engaged in much of the same debt and speculation fueled "growth" that we did, by the way.

So how do we get out of this hot mess? Come on, this should sound familiar.

“The economy that Las Vegas had before the recession is not a recipe for growth in the new economy,” [Alan Berube, senior fellow and research director at Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program,] said. “There has been talk about the need to diversify and find new sources of economic growth, and that is imperative in the long run.”

The strongest growth during the recovery has taken place in more highly educated regions such as Washington, D.C.; Minneapolis; Austin, Texas; and San Francisco, Berube said. Highly educated people tend to work in industries that aren’t as affected, and if they get displaced they have an easier time shifting to a new job than someone who’s less skilled and educated, he said.

The report cited the importance of existing public and private centers of innovation such as the Solar Solutions and Advanced Clinical Training and Research centers at UNLV. Las Vegas is “out of the starting gate, but it has a lot of work to do” to take advantage of its opportunities and build from its strengths, Berube said.

The report mentioned that raising Las Vegas’ low rate of college degrees from 22 percent of adults would be crucial in helping diversify the economy.

“It’s going to be a tougher transition for your economy,” Berube said. “It’s the chicken and the egg (scenario). You need the education to build a workforce, but you have to make investments to attract those workers.”

Now isn't this what we've been talking about throughout this year? We NEED a more highly educated workforce if we want a truly sustainable and healthy economy!

Yet again, we're hit hard by reality. We can't solely rely upon "conspicuous consumption" any more. And as Americans are holding onto their money more tightly and more afraid of ramping up personal debt again, lessons from The Great Recession that aren't being forgotten just yet, Nevada can no longer rely upon a whole bunch of middle class tourists taking additional mortgages on their homes and running up their credit card debt just to "live it up in Vegas" for a few days. And as Europe is still jittery over the Greek and Irish meltdowns and Asia is nervous about the recent Korean flare up, we also can't just depend on foreign tourism to get us out of this mess.

We need a new economy. We need a more balanced economy. We need an economy that doesn't solely rely upon the casinos, and the only way we'll get there is if we fully invest in our public infrastructure, and that includes investing in our schools.

But what are we hearing out of soon-to-be-Governor Sandoval? More of the same old s--t.

Echoing Republican governors across the country, Sandoval has emerged as the state’s unlikely premier anti-tax warrior, even though his past reflects a more moderate approach to governing.

Sandoval has remained firm in the face of protests that cuts to balance the state’s $3 billion deficit in funding needed to maintain existing services will harm education, health and human services and the long-term well-being of the state.

So what does Brian Sandoval want to do? Placate his new teabagger friends by starving the state to death? Or listen to actual knowledgeable people who are urging us to finally make that down payment on diversifying our economy and creating a better Nevada?

Monday, November 29, 2010

What's Next for Nevada? And for Vegas? (Part 2)

Last week, I described the situation we're presently in. Our economy is slowly recovering, but questions remain as to what our economy will look like in the future. Will we forever be hobbled by a gaming industry that may never again reach the gangbuster heights of 2005?

Will we?

Or is another Nevada possible?

Remember what I said back in March?

I have to point out that we are lagging behind. We're especially lagging behind metro areas that have better PreK-16 education systems and more stable employment sources. Salt Lake City and Ogden, Utah, both have GMP (gross metro product) growth rates exceeding the national average and unemployment below the national average. Same goes for Denver, Boulder, and Colorado Springs, Colorado. So why is this? All of these areas boast a highly educated workforce employed in stable sectors like high-tech and biotech, and none were as dependent on the housing bubble and artificial "construction for the sake of construction" as Southwest areas, like Las Vegas and Phoenix (which is also lagging behind in economic growth).

So again and again, we come back to this dilemma. As long as our education system is broken and as long as we continue to make ourselves overdependent on the casinos and casino-fueled development, Las Vegas will continue to suffer under this radical boom and bust cycle that lives and dies on discretionary consumer spending. Sorry, but this is not how a major metropolitan area with 2 million residents and a state with over 2.7 million residents can survive!

Oh, yes. It's one of those reality checks yet again!

We really need to get serious about investing in our infrastructure, including our schools. Why? Well, remember this embarrassing news from July, when Nevada was scored by CNBC as the fourth WORST business climate in the nation?

But wait, I thought we were a "shoo-in" to win this one. I mean, we do have the second lowest tax burden in the nation and the cheapest state government in the nation per capita (and, I might add, being far cheaper for the super-rich and big corporations than all the rest of us "unwashed masses"). So what caused this?

Oh yeah, that's right... WE HAVE NO REAL INFRASTRUCTURE! Our schools are constantly the butt of jokes. Our "transportation system" is always in a state of incomplete. Our "health care" system may actually be quite deadly. Basically, we're not the kind of place people feel comfortable living in and regularly doing business in.

And look at the places where people do feel comfortable living and working. Massachusetts and Minnesota have great schools. Virginia and Colorado have invested in the kind of infrastructure that has lured tech and biotech companies to their state. Even Texas, which scored #1 this year, invests far more in its state than Nevada!

The whole "no taxes" mantra has failed us. Yep, that's right. It's getting us nowhere.

While other states with more stable tax bases can invest in their schools and cultivate the kind of workforce that high-paying industries actually want, we're stuck navel gazing amid all the rubble and debris left over from the "(artificial) growth begets (speculation fueled) growth" era.

It's time we finally recognize that the casinos can't solely provide our bread and butter any more. There are many opportunities that lie ahead, especially with renewable energy and green collar jobs. However, we'll never realize our full potential until we have the kind of local, Nevada based workforce that can take advantage of all these green collar jobs.

And at the same time, we also need functional roads. And we need a decent health care system. And we need parks and trails and other community amenities that help to build communities and attract people (and businesses!) to come to Nevada.

This is clearly NOT the time to skimp back on this. And this is not the time to continue putting important decisions on the future direction of our state on the back burner while legislators put together yet another band-aid loaded "quick fix budget" that doesn't really solve any of our problems. We can't avoid the future any longer. It's coming, and we have to decide whether we want our state to have a real future.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Looking Ahead: What's Next for Nevada? And for Vegas? (Part 1)

2010 has definitely been a wild ride... But what might 2011 possibly have in store for us?

Soon-to-be-Governor Sandoval is already loading up his future staff. Education activists are already threatening law suits if Governor Sandoval and/or The Legislature try to cut too much. And speaking of that budget, it will be quite brutal and internal GOP strife may cause a number of additional headaches and/or opportunities.

Nevada's unemployment rate is finally dropping... But that doesn't mean happy days will be here again so soon. Sheldon Adelson may be feeling bullish about the future, but that's largely because he's now investing in Asia... Only 15% of Las Vegas Sands' revenue actually comes from Vegas, and word has it the numbers at Wynn Resorts look awfully similar. Harrah's Entertainment will soon become Caesars Entertainment, but that still doesn't answer the question of when Harrah's/Caesars will finally finish the Octavius Tower at Caesars Palace, along with that "entertainment district" near Harrah's that they've promised for some time. Apparently MGM Resorts' bookings are up and Wall Street is feeling more bullish about MGM and Vegas these days, so things are looking better. Just don't expect a return to the mythical "glory days" any time soon.

So where am I going with all my wild and crazy ramblings? Come on. I laid it all out for you in March.

[T]he casinos can no longer be counted upon as a "free ride". We can't just expect new casino construction to prop up demand for construction jobs, which props up demand for new housing, which props up demand for housing construction, which props up the rest of Southern Nevada's economy. We may have lucked out in seeing this model work from 1989 to 2007, but all it really did was hide the weaknesses in this shaky economic model that ended up being exposed when "The Great Recession" hit and all the artificial demand for new casinos, new homes, new whatever fell like a row of dominoes.

The Cosmopolitan will be opening next month, but once that opens we probably won't be seeing any new Strip casino-resorts opening for at least five years. We've really learned the hard way that we can no longer rely upon an unsustainable "growth begets growth" model of construction being fueled by artificially inflated "demand" fueled by real estate speculation. Those days ended three years ago, and it makes absolutely no sense to even try to return to that model. Even though the gaming industry will most certainly improve, that and the "growth industry" that has come with it can no longer be our sole source of sustenance.

Nevada needs to change, that much is clear. We need to change dramatically. We need to change our priorities. We need to change the way we think of our economy. We need to go beyond our "comfort zone" of relying upon the casinos for everything, slapping together "quick fix budgets" loaded with "legislative band-aids and duct tape", continuing to delay the building the kind of infrastructure our state needs to move forward, and putting so much effort into making today's "quick fix" that we forget about the challenges facing us tomorrow.

So how do we change? Later, I'll be talking about where I think we need to go.

Friday, November 19, 2010

DADT: Wherein I Give Thanks for Harry Reid... AND John Ensign??!!

In case you missed it on my Twitter yesterday, I got a bomb dropped on me... In a good way! I'll get to that a little later, but first I want to give some background on what's been happening.

(Disclosure: I sit on the board of the Stonewall Democratic Club of Southern Nevada, as well as the Nevada Stonewall Democratic Caucus.)

A group of us from various local LGBTQ advocacy organizations, including Stonewall and PLAN, went to Senator Harry Reid's office to thank him for his commitment to repeal Don't Ask Don't Tell and discuss next steps in making it happen. Reid will be working his hardest within The Senate chambers to gather the votes, negotiate with Republicans on the amendment process, and get it done from the inside.



Meanwhile, it's our duty as equality activists to work from outside on reaching out to those Senators still on the fence and educate them on why most Americans want to see this done, why most soldiers want to see this done, and why this must be done by the end of this year so that this policy can come to an end and our military can stop letting go of good soldiers just because of who they are. While I was thinking about those Senators in other states that local activists there need to talk with, someone else in our group had an idea on one more office we needed to visit.


State Senator David Parks (D-Las Vegas), Nevada's first out state legislator and an Air Force veteran himself, was among our group yesterday. And after we finished meeting with Harry Reid's Las Vegas staff, he suggested we go across the hall and meet with Senator John Ensign's staff.

Yep, you heard me right. He said it was worth a try for us, so we all just did it.

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

When Rachel Maddow mentioned The Washington Blade report...

Laura Martin, communications director for the club, said she and other activists on Thursday met with Margot Allen, Ensign’s regional representative on military issues, who informed the group of Ensign’s opposition to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and intention to vote for the fiscal year 2011 defense authorization bill, which contains repeal language.

“The first question was about ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ and his staffer said he supports repeal,” Martin said. “We asked her to clarify three times and she said he will vote in the affirmative on the defense authorization with ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ repeal in it.”

Martin said the question they asked was based on the condition that the vote would come up in December after the Pentagon working group completes its report on implementing repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

“We said after Dec. 1, when that report is out, and the defense authorization act is up for a vote with the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ will the senator vote in the affirmative to pass it?” Martin said. “And she said, ‘He will.’ And we asked her to clarify that two more times and she said, ‘Yes, he wants it repealed.’”

She mentioned Laura Martin, Stonewall's Communications Director. She was there with us, and we both broke the news on Twitter yesterday as our jaws were dropping and we were wondering if we were dreaming.

Basically, we went into the office. We were then greeted by the receptionist at the front desk, who told us someone would be out shortly when we asked about scheduling an appointment to talk with them about Don't Ask Don't Tell repeal. We weren't even expecting to have a meeting that day, but all of a sudden Margot Allen stepped out, greeted us, and told us that Ensign wants to read through the official Pentagon report as soon as it's released... But once it's released and he looks through it, he intends to vote for the defense authorization bill with the Don't Ask Don't Tell repeal provision included.

Again, we were all floored. But as Allen was explaining how Ensign is approaching this, we caught it again and realized our ears weren't playing a trick on us. Yes, it's happening. Yes, Ensign will support DADT repeal. And yes, we citizens can still make a difference.

Frankly, this is what we need more of. Despite what you may have heard, our members of Congress still have to pay attention to those letters we write them, those calls we make to their offices, and the office visits we make. Citizen lobbying matters. And right now, as we're looking to firm up support from Senators like Ensign and Lisa Murkowski who are all of a sudden very open to DADT repeal, we need to keep those lines of conversation open and keep encouraging them to listen to us, listen to the troops, and listen to their consciences.

We're closer to getting at least 60 Senate votes to repeal DADT than ever before. Call Ensign's office at (202) 224-6244, email him here, and thank him for supporting DADT repeal while encouraging him to follow through on it. And of course, call Reid's office at (202) 224-3542, email him here, and thank him for all the work he's done to make this all happen. All this personal contact we've been making is really making a difference. It is here in Nevada, and it can across the country.

Despite all the Beltway chatter you may have heard over the last few weeks, local community activists kept talking with Harry Reid and his staffers about DADT repeal. And despite premature notices of its "death", Reid is following through on his promise to us to keep pursuing it until DADT gets repealed. And now, we may end up with Ensign on board as well. That's the power of our voices.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Thank You, Senator Reid.

Do the right thing. Let the consequences follow.

Republicans may not like it, but Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Wednesday he’s going to go ahead with bills to repeal a ban on gays serving openly in the military and provide undocumented college students and military recruits a chance to become American citizens.

In September, Reid attempted to use the annual defense authorization bill as a vehicle to pass both a repeal of the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy that prevents gays from serving openly in the military, and the DREAM Act, which puts qualifying young undocumented adults who were brought to the country as children on a pathway to citizenship.

The must-pass measure to fund the military will serve once again as the backbone piece of legislation for the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell repeal, while the DREAM Act will be presented on its own for an up-or-down vote.

It's long past time for action on repealing DADT and passing the DREAM Act.

This isn't about "cronies" or "illegals", unless one considers brave military soldiers who happen to be gay "cronies" and kids who had no say in where they'd end up "illegals". This is about HUMAN BEINGS. This is about kids being unfairly shut out of jobs and colleges because they can't "go through the process like everyone else", as well as soldiers getting the fair treatment they deserve for fighting so hard for our country.

Under current law, soldiers are still being discharged from the military simply because of who they are. It doesn't matter that they're good soldiers. It doesn't matter that they are so patriotic that they enlisted to fight for our country. It doesn't matter that they have lived up to our military's standards of honor, courage, and service. All that matters under DADT is that they may be gay or transgender, so they can't serve. It's ridiculous, and needed to end yesterday.

And under current law, children who were brought into this country undocumented (by their parents, or perhaps by someone else) can't go through any sort of process because they're undocumented. But because they grew up here in America, learning English and going to American K-12 schools, it makes no sense to tear them away from their families and deport them. All the DREAM Act would do is give them the chance to "go through the process like everyone else", and give them a chance to get a job and/or get college education precisely so that they can become independent adults with no need for any sort of "special treatment" or "welfare".

It's long past time for these two measures to get done, and I'm glad to see Harry Reid working to get them done. Thank you, Harry Reid, for your courage and your resolve to get DADT repealed and get the DREAM Act passed! Thank you, Senator Reid. This is why I voted for you.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Remember Johnny Casino? He's a Hypocrite.

He did this...

Over the summer, Ensign sent a letter to Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius requesting grant money authorized by the law for the University of Nevada School of Medicine for "Primary Care Residency Expansion." This grant program is one of many included in the health law to increase the number of doctors in America. In the letter, Ensign explained that "Nevada continues to have an extremely low number of physicians per capita," and that the grant would help alleviate the "growing challenges Nevada continues to face with providing access to much-needed health care."

Even as he was saying this...

In late 2009, Ensign expressed grave concern that "the Democrats' health reform bill violates the Constitution of the United States of America." He also sharply criticized the bill's individual mandate, saying, "I don't believe Congress has the legal or moral authority to force this mandate on its citizens." Still, the Silver State senator admitted that Guantanamo Bay detainees "get better health care than the average American citizen does." [...]

Despite doing his own fair share of earmarking, Ensign recently joined Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) and other Republican senators in an effort to enact a ban on the federal carve-outs.

Earlier in November, Ensign elaborated on his wavering stance against earmarks. "Nevada gets shortchanged when it comes to federal dollars returning to our state," Ensign said. "But we are facing very difficult economic times that require difficult decisions to be made back in Washington. Reducing government spending across the board is one of the difficult things that has to be done, and this includes earmark requests."

As usual, Johnny Casino wants to have it both ways. Nevada gets shortchanged, but we still don't deserve to have more of our tax dollars brought home if Jim DeMint doesn't like it.

And after all his whining and crying and huffing and puffing over how supposedly horrible health care reform is, he still used it to get more funding for UNR's School of Medicine... As he SHOULD! However, it's completely hypocritical for John Ensign to deride and berate health care reform as he is simultaneously taking advantage of the new law to get more funding for UNR!

So now that Jim DeMint is on a crusade to "purify" the Republican Caucus and make them follow his true teabagger ways, Johnny Casino thinks he can suddenly go down this road, curry favor with the same tea-nuts who made Sharron Angle's campaign happen (then crash and burn), and somehow still make us think he's looking out for us. Sorry, but I'm not buying it. Johnny can't have his "tea" and make us drink his kool-aid, too.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Roots Camp, State of Our State, & Nevada's Challenges in 2011

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Last weekend, I had the joy of doing Roots Camp with many of the great progressive friends I've met along the campaign trail over the last six months.

And in these last few days, I've been able to think some more about what to do moving forward. In the next few days I'll be writing more about federal legislation, but tonight I want to talk about the state of our state.

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So how is the state of our state?

Do you really need me to tell you?

That's what I thought.

Now I won't candy coat things. We're facing as much as a $3 billion deficit, and many corporate "powers that be" in this state are already telling lawmakers that the solution lies in more cuts. Yes, you heard me correctly. Even more devastating budget cuts are on the table.

Have you faced extraordinarily long lines at the DMV? Have your classes at UNLV and/or CSN been cut? Are your neighborhood parks in complete disrepair... Or even worse, closed? And are your neighborhood's roads in shambles?

This is our community here. This is our state. This is our life. This is our future.

Right now, Nevada is at a crossroads. For far too long, our Legislature has postponed so many critical decisions regarding the badly needed infrastructure our state needs and how to fund the basic services we all rely upon.

And yes, we all rely upon such essentials as schools, roads, and parks. And I'm sure you have your own horror stories of what's happened to them thanks to all the state and local budget cuts... Or perhaps these stories have happy endings, thanks to the much needed funds from the Recovery Act coming to our rescue.

So do I. And so do many of the people I talked to on Saturday. And in the coming days, I'll be talking more about the stories we all need to share. Since the corporate right will be speaking up plenty in the next few months about how such profit making clients like Wal-Mart and Kroger simply can't afford to simply pay their fair share of taxes like all the rest of us do, we need to respond by raising our voices.

We need to speak up if we want to save our state.

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Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Roots 2 Roots: What Went Right, What Went Wrong, & How to Move Forward

OK, so I've had more time to process what happened. And I had a chance to talk with my old Cali friends at Netroots California last Saturday. And I came out surprisingly hopeful about our future.

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While we did have some rough losses in Nevada, overall the picture here was much brighter than the rest of the country. Come on, all the incumbent statewide elected Democrats are reelected while Harry Reid won by over 5.6%! Reid outperformed almost all the public polls. What happened? How come "The Great Red Tide" that destroyed many Dems in many states east of The Rockies was barely a ripple here?

Basically, it comes down to what Harry Reid and Nevada Democrats did right. They invested in getting out the vote. They made our progressive message clear and concise AND accessible to regular voters. And they reached out to minority communities and actually IMPROVED Latin@ turnout over 2006 AND 2008!

It really comes down to this. Even in "wave elections", "the wave" doesn't have to be a monstrous tsunami. Good campaigns still matter. Good field still matters. And good messaging still matters. Harry Reid made all this happen and more.

Ralston explained this on Sunday.

The Reid organization’s Terminator-like single-mindedness, relentlessness and discipline turned preparation into the most satisfying victory of Reid’s career, a resurrection unthinkable most of the year by the Beltway cognoscenti. Combined with an Angle campaign that was thoroughly unprepared for the post-primary onslaught — think of a Little League batter facing Roy Halladay — that by the time the GOP nominee brought in some D.C. pros, the damage was insurmountable.

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Interestingly, a similar dynamic appeared in California last Tuesday. More Latin@ voters turned out than ever before. And while Jerry Brown's campaign (for CA Governor) didn't exactly "strike while the iron was hot" on delivering his message or attacking Meg Whitman's record, California unions did. And they delivered, big time!

And Barbara Boxer followed a very similar strategy to Reid's in defining Carly Fiorina early as quite the unacceptable choice, delivering a progressive message in a practical way to attract voters (Hint: Make it real. Make it tangible. Make it about one's pocketbook/wallet/purse.), and turning out Dem voters like crazy.

Again, it comes down to whether Democrats can field good candidates, deliver a good message, and turn out as many allied voters as possible. It worked in California and Nevada... But because the national Democratic groups failed in these categories and many other state parties were in turmoil, that's why the results were so bad elsewhere.

Why didn't other Senate candidates try to turn health care reform and good climate policy into winning arguments? Why didn't other state parties invest more in good GOTV infrastructure? Why didn't the DCCC and DSCC take a closer look at the winning arguments being made by Reid and Boxer?

That's the challenge moving forward. President Obama needs to rethink his messaging. Democrats need to work harder on showing how good progressive policy means more and better jobs. And Democrats nationally need to look at places like Nevada and California to learn how to rebuild good, strong GOTV infrastructure. And if Obama can turn his numbers around and offer a strong and appealing progressive message that reveals the crap the GOP is truly offering and explains how to truly get our nation back on track, he can win handily again and Democrats can soon retake the House and keep the Senate.

It really comes down to that. Oh, and I had a great time in SF... ;-)

But I'm hoping we have an even better time back in Vegas this weekend!

Monday, November 8, 2010

One Week Later: The Good, The Bad, & The Challenge

Yay, we won!

No, we lost!

Huh? What?

That's how I felt Wednesday morning. We lost a few good legislators. And we lost Dina Titus...

But we won Harry Reid. And we kept control of the Legislature.

Hey, we won some and we lost some. So what can we interpret from last Tuesday's results? Basically, we still have a hell of a lot of work to do in this state.

Without a doubt, Nevada voters appreciate sanity. And they appreciate someone who works as hard and fights for working families as much as Harry Reid. Hey, he got over 50% when hardly any of the DC pundits even expected him to win!

However, I'm still scratching my head as to what voters were thinking when they were picking state legislators... And Governor, for that matter. What did Brian Sandoval offer other than empty platitudes? And once the Legislature is done with the infighting over who's in charge of what, what can we expect to happen?

Without a doubt, there are plenty of challenges lying ahead for us. And there are some opportunities. I'll be talking more about them in the coming week. And I hope we can talk some more at Roots Camp on Saturday! (Hint: You'll want to join us.) ;-)

Friday, November 5, 2010

Sorry for the Silence...

I've just had a hell of a lot to think about in the last 72 hours. I promise to have some insight on what happened later this weekend.

Now please excuse me while I enjoy my weekend off. And thanks for your patience. ;-)