Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Duck Duck Goose

So it's back. And oh, we can hear that quack. The G-O-TEA Culture Warriors have declared victory in their latest battle for "moral value$.

Yet even as the 21st Century Know Nothings celebrate the return of their beloved "Dynasty", they fail to notice they're still losing the overall Culture War. Keep in mind that they're now having to play defense in Utah and Ohio! Never mind their supposed triumphant quacks, it's increasingly looking like the religious right is trying to duck inevitable defeat.

We've even seen these winds of change blow into Nevada in recent years. Just look at the remarkable journey of SJR 13 in Carson City this past spring.

After many years of dismissing the possibility of marriage equality ever coming to Nevada any time in the near future, politicians and pundits had to finally face the Nevada of the 21st Century... Along with the rest of 21st Century America. In case the remarkable progress of SJR 13 in Carson City wasn't surprising enough, the US Supreme Court then upped the ante with a groundbreaking ruling.

Edie Windsor was stuck with a $300,000 tax bill after her wife passed away. She and her lawyer decided to do something about it.

And as a result, not only does Edie Windsor not have to worry about that $300,000 tax bill, but she's also just set incredible legal precedent for LGBTQ equality going forward. [...]

Going forward, any and all laws challenged as discriminatory against LGBTQ Americans will face strict scrutiny in federal courts. And yes, this is a big f**king deal. Even though SCOTUS didn't enact nationwide marriage equality today, the days of marriage discrimination in America are likely numbered.

Because "The Supremes" decided to make a broad anti-discrimination statement in striking down much of DOMA while also letting stand the trailblazing Prop 8 trial court ruling (overturning California's marriage ban), the future is looking bright for Nevada's own marriage equality law suit. (This is now working it's way through federal courts while SJR 13 is awaiting a second round of passage at the state legislature.) And not only that, but the SCOTUS decisions also set good precedent for the Utah and Ohio cases. It's no longer a question of if nationwide civil marriage equality becomes a reality, but when.

This is why the TEA fueled religious right is now scrambling. And this is why it's making last ditch efforts to halt progress on LGBTQ civil rights by picking fights over transgender students, meeting space for H8 groups, LGBTQ workers' rights, and duck hunting reality TV stars. This year, even some G-O-TEA "leaders" acknowledged their days of "winning the Culture War" are over.

And really, this is something to quack about.

Monday, December 23, 2013

The Disappointment... & The Solution

Let's dig a little deeper today. Last week, we discussed the deadly consequences of ignoring our tattered and torn social safety net. But now, we must recap why it's become so tattered and torn. Here's a hint: We've forgotten the basics of civilization for far too long.

Why is it that we always hear that "we can't afford" proper mental health care, decent schools, and repaired roads, yet our Governor and Legislature always seem to be able to afford corporate welfare to shower upon multinational corporations like Apple that neither need the help nor deserve it? Think about that as well. How on earth does this lead to a stable economy for our state? And how on earth does neglecting the most vulnerable in our society lead to a healthy economy? 

It doesn't. That's precisely the problem. Our "leaders" in Carson City keep chasing after mythical economic unicorns while failing to provide the most fundamental building blocks of a sound economy. 

Sure, luring Hollywood to Las Vegas sounds sexy. But ultimately, that won't mean shit for economic development if our schools keep bursting at the seams, our hospitals keep stuffing patients onto Greyhound buses heading out of state, and our roads are clogged with commuters while paved with just as many potholes. We seriously need to pay attention to the rude awakening we're now receiving. We must get back to basics, and we must do so before it's too late.

This past Spring, Carson City was buzzing over visions of Hollywood glamour, Wall Street power, and Silicon Valley splendor. Yet while Governor Magic Man (R-Denial) and certain legislators were falling over each other to bask in the glory of the "razzle dazzle" of it all, they were also agreeing to yet another round of status quo.

[... T]he Legislature finally succumbed to Governor Sandoval's request for underfunded schools and inadequate public infrastructure. They may not be quite as underfunded as they were in previous sessions. Yet even Governor Sandoval's own President of the State Board of Education, Ms. Elaine Wynn herself, has described Nevada public schools as "grossly underfunded". This poorly kept secret is becoming increasingly difficult to deny.

So now, someone has to deal with it. Someone has to start fixing this structural problem. And since we saw no solutions from "leaders" in Carson City this spring, We the People must provide leadership and get it done in the fall of next year.

Wait, so what's the deal with that last sentence? What must We the People do? Here's a hint: T. E. I.

As usual, Ralston mourns the policy failures that have grown out of the dysfunctional politics of this state. And in quite a few aspects, he's right on the money. But now, we have a chance to move beyond mourning over what can't be done. We finally have a chance to seize what can be done.

So what can be done? Remember these three letters: T. E. I. 

We've had it with the overcrowded schools, overburdened teachers, and underfunded public infrastructure. And yes, we've had it with the usual hand-wringing and empty rhetoric. We now have The Education Initiative on next year's general election ballot, and we know it can (and must!) be done. 

If we want Nevada to succeed in building a better economy and a brighter future, we have to look beyond what hasn't been done and realize what must be done. Then, we have to recognize that it can be done. And of course, we then have to just do it already.

Some things just don't change. In his column on his 10 biggest Nevada political stories of 2013, Jon Ralston lamented the Nevada Legislature's failure to pass tax reform. Of course, he also screamed over "disastrous leadership" and took one more pot shot at The Education Initiative. But this time, not even he could muster enough outrage to scream all that much about the ills of "ballot box budgeting".

Sure, "ballot box budgeting" isn't ideal. But really, are underfunded schools, busted health care infrastructure, and broken transportation systems acceptable at all? Something must change. And yes, We the People must provide that change next year.

When it came to economic justice in Nevada, 2013 offered plenty of disappointment. However, there was a twist this year. 2013 also offered a chance to start changing that disappointment into solutions.

How many times have we grumbled over Carson City's failure to reach meaningful, thoughtful, and truly helpful solutions for "The T Word"? Yet in 2014, all it will take is passage of three letters (hint: T. E. I.) to move past the disappointment and finally start reaching solutions.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Healing, Not Killing

Yesterday, I had to go inside a hospital. My father received a call from my aunt. Her husband, who was already suffering from cancer, had just taken a sharp turn for the worse.

After consulting with doctors and deliberating, the family decided to let the tube be released. My uncle would have required even more extensive surgery, and that would have guaranteed nothing but perhaps a few more weeks of suffering. It was time.

Fortunately, the hospital staff were able to provide plenty of support. They ensured a safe and comforting environment for my family. While my uncle's passing was certainly saddening, we at least had a safe space to grieve last night.

This is what hospitals are supposed to do. And of course, they're supposed to provide a safe place to heal for those who are not terminally ill. Hospitals are supposed to aid in healing life, not provide a backdrop for violent death.

Sadly, violent death occurred in Renown Medical Center in Reno yesterday. The shooter opened fire and killed a victim before committing suicide. Two other victims are in critical condition.

How could this happen? And why? Again, hospitals are supposed to be healing environments. They're not supposed to be killing fields.

Apparently, I wasn't the only one appalled by this ghastly event. Assembly Member Teresa Benitez-Thompson (D-Reno) tweeted a statement yesterday that cut to the heart of the gruesome reality behind yesterday's shooting.

"So sad. Our community is still hurting from the last shooting. Soon, tweets about condolences become white noise, and more has to be done."

Just two months ago, a student opened fire and sparked a murder-suicide at Sparks Middle School. Meanwhile down south, we witnessed another deadly Las Vegas Strip shooting. As we discussed earlier this week, gun violence has seeped into nearly every nook and cranny of our everyday lives. Yet what has been done to curb this dangerous trend?

Perhaps this is what Assembly Member Benitez-Thompson was mentioning in her tweet. Governor Brian Sandoval (R-NRA) tweeted condolences shortly after the Sparks Middle School shooting, yet said nothing in the wake of another Las Vegas Strip shooting. Rep.
Mark Amodei (R-NRA) delivered a flowery speech on the House floor. And Senator Dean Heller had a flag lowered. Yet when all of them had the chance to do something about this senseless gun violence, they all decided to cut and run.

I'm sure they've already begun tweeting condolences. Maybe we'll get another flowery floor speech. Perhaps another flag will even be lowered. But when will we see action taken to stop this bloody insanity?

Hospitals are for healing, not killing. When did we forget this?

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The Year of Manufactured Crises

After all the huffing and puffing and strutting and screaming, it happened. A deal was struck. The votes were rounded up. And after weeks of mindless speculation, Congress' latest and greatest manufactured crisis finally came to an end.

How many times have we had to talk about it here? Frankly, I lost count some time in March. However, I remember that our very first conversation of 2013 was about "The Fiscal Cliff"... And what the end of that manufactured crisis revealed to us about how Congress would (not) work in 2013.

Even while "The Fiscal Cliff" has been averted, this is still just a temporary solution. G-O-TEA extremists will be demanding whole pounds of "fiscal flesh" when the debt ceiling is taken hostage yet again again up for debate. So there will be another round of insanity to witness in the new Congress this spring.

Yet even with that being said, it may just end up being a bunch of meaningless Sturm und Drang. Why, you ask? Remember that for most of the past decade-plus in Congress (that is, when Republicans have controlled the House), Republicans have operated under the "Hastert Rule" of only bringing legislation to the House floor if it has the support of most of the Republican caucus. However, that did not happen last night. Instead, this bill passed despite most House Republicans opposing it. And in letting this happen, Boehner implicitly admitted that budget solutions can now be reached by actually reaching across the aisle for a change and bringing in Democratic votes (as opposed to simply grinding Congress to a halt just so he can engage in "tea party circle jerks").

This may be the key to unlocking the potential for better productivity in the new Congress. Both President Obama and Harry Reid see it. We'll just have to see how long House Republicans try denying this "new rule"... And how long we will have to endure the next round of meaningless "tea party circle jerks" before something (else) is actually accomplished.

Actually, it is the key... But it's yet to be used to solve anything other than manufactured crises. Instead, we've seen Congress stuck in epic gridlock thanks to endless G-O-TEA intransigence.

Comprehensive immigration reform (CIR)? Oh, no. They can't do that. It's too "big and complicated" for one bill (despite the fact that the Senate passed one in June).

Farm bill? Oh, no. They can't do that. They'd rather let American consumers suffer unnecessary higher food prices than let the working poor eat.

ENDA? Oh, no. They can't do that. They still refuse to accept that LGBTQ Americans exist, let alone contribute to the American Economy. [...]

Time and time again, Republican "leaders" have chosen cheap and crass political games over real governance. It's why major policy goals, such as CIR & ENDA, are about to be left unmet. And it's why we doubt this Congress can even "succeed" at such basic tasks as passing longer term budgets.

After all, some Republican politicians are now bragging about their vision of "government that does less". Why would they want to abandon that vision to allow for a government that actually functions properly?

Never mind that we actually have real crises to solve. Because Congressional Republican "leaders" long ago lost control of their Crazy Caucus, they've manufactured crises, such as "The Fiscal Cliff", the Shutdown Shitfest, and a slew of near default debacles, in a desperate attempt to mollify them. It hasn't worked. Instead, it's revealed just how reckless and feckless the G-O-TEA has become.

We've said it before, but we must say it again today. Sharron Angle likely has more control over the Nevada Republican Party than anyone who's actually supposed to be a "leader" in Carson City or DC. As much as Brian Sandoval would like to deny it and John Boehner would like to hide it, that's the awful and crazy truth that we saw unfold over the course of this year. 

Never mind that Sharron Angle currently holds no elected office and has no official position with the Nevada Republican Party. She and her "TEA Party, Inc." BFFs have provided the ideology that's now the heart and soul of today's Republican Party. And as a result, many Republicans are still defending their crazy actions. [...]

It doesn't matter that this whole Shutdown Shitfest made for absolutely awful economics. And it doesn't matter that it ultimately made for crappy politics. For today's G-O-TEA, all that matters is that crazy is in charge. And that's what caused this whole crazy fiasco in the first place.

Ultimately, this and the other manufactured crises came to an end. Senator Harry Reid (D-The Boss) was able to find just enough not-so-crazy Republicans to force "leadership" to stand down at the 11th hour of each and every manufactured crisis of 2013. Yet with that being said, this string of crises has taken its toll on the nation. America has been forced into an era of austerity, and people are suffering as a result of this series of budget cuts. Even now, even more American families are about to become victims of the next round of austerity madness.

And speaking of austerity madness, the big 2014-15 Ryan-Murray Budget Deal is on track to pass the Senate today. It easily overcame a G-O-TEA led filibuster on a 67-33 vote. For the record, Senator Reid voted for cloture while Senator Dean Heller (R) voted to sustain the filibuster.

Even though this budget deal offers plenty of austerity, a number of Republicans (including Heller & Rep. Joe Heck) still oppose it. Why? It doesn't have enough austerity to please the Crazy Caucus, so expect another round of battles in the ongoing G-O-TEA Civil War as 2013 comes to a close.

And what about the new year? Believe it or not, 2014 may begin with (drumroll, please) yet another manufactured crisis over the debt ceiling thanks to continuing teabagger angst over the Ryan-Murray Sequester Remix. So this shitfest over manufactured crises built upon voodoo economics and political hogwash may not actually be completely over just yet. Happy Holidays!

Monday, December 16, 2013

The Price of Inaction

Over the weekend, the nation commemorated a tragic anniversary. It's now been a year since the Newtown Massacre. Communities across the nation came together to mark the saddening anniversary, and to pledge to continue working for a better future for our children.

There was even a vigil in Southern Nevada. It was a chance for the local community to reflect on what's happened in the past year.

Licensed family therapist and retired teacher Linda Cavazos says she sees more fear and generalized anxiety disorder in younger children. Some of them are fearful of violence in their schools, she says, so parents need to talk to their kids often to assess their physical and emotional needs.

"The danger signals are there. They're calling out for help, but sometimes people stick heads in the sand," Cavazos said. She added that parents know their kids best and should encourage them to seek mental health treatment if necessary.

"I find if you do not answer their questions (about violence in schools), they (the children) become more fearful because they don't know what's going on. Explain it to them as simply as you can," said Cavazos.

Imagine hearing gunshots at your school. Wouldn't that be frightening? It certainly was for the students at Sandy Hook Elementary School... And for the students at Sparks Middle School.

Keep in mind that gun violence is not some faraway concern. It regularly occurs here, too. It happened in Sparks. It's happened several times this year on the Las Vegas Strip. And it continues to endanger communities across this state.

Yet when Senator Dean Heller (R-NRA) had the opportunity to do something to protect Nevada's kids, he just ran away. And when Rep. Joe Heck (R-NRA) had the opportunity to take steps to keep dangerous weapons away from dangerous criminals, he made excuses. And when the Nevada Legislature passed S 221 in an attempt to compensate somewhat for Congress' failure to pass the most basic gun safety measures, Governor Brian Sandoval (R-NRA) vetoed it and attempted to cover it up with legalese mumbo jumbo. They all had the chance to do something, but they chose to do nothing instead.

And now, we're all paying the price of inaction. And we all must relive the memories of horrific incidents of gun violence. And we all must continue to bury those who passed "before their time". The price of inaction is turning out to be quite steep.

Deadly Consequences

They're at it again. And Governor Brian Sandoval (R-Denial) must again confront an issue he keeps trying to sweep under the rug in the Governor's Mansion. Oh, yes. That's right. We're talking about the mental health patient dumping scandal. And the Sacramento Bee released another explosive article yesterday chronicling even more victims of this horrifying scandal.

This year, Rawson-Neal Psychiatric Hospital has been embroiled in scandal over a growing dossier of incidents where the hospital had mental health patients bused out of state without accounting for the patients' continuing treatment needs. It's led two major California cities (Los Angeles & San Francisco) to draft law suits against the State of Nevada, and it prodded the federal government to review both accreditation and funding for Southern Nevada's largest public mental health treatment facility. And on top of all that, it's renewed investigations into incredibly long waiting lists and inadequate treatment at Lake's Crossing Psychiatric Hospital in Sparks.

Clearly, Nevada has a patient dumping problem. The state was looking for a "cheap way out", but it's instead leading to very costly consequences. Those consequences have especially been costly for the victims profiled in the Sacramento Bee article on Rawson-Neal patients bused out of state... Only to fall (back) into a life of crime.

Consider the case of Mark Hesselgrave. He was convicted of second degree murder in 1993 for strangling his wife in Arizona. Shortly after being released from prison in October 2012, he moved to Southern Nevada. And after attempting suicide, he landed at Rawson-Neal. Here's what followed.

On Feb. 2, two days after he was admitted, Rawson-Neal deemed Hesselgrave fit for bus travel, the records state, and discharged him with a bus ticket, psychiatric medications for the ride and a recommendation to seek out Narcotics Anonymous meetings in Phoenix. After a bus ride that he described as “crazy,” Hesselgrave said he arrived at the Phoenix terminal with no one waiting for him. Without money or a place to live, he said, he ended up walking about 20 miles to a friend’s house in the suburbs.

From Arizona, Hesselgrave migrated to North Dakota to pursue a job in the oil fields. He quickly found work. Things were going pretty well, he said, until May 12, when he stabbed his roommate repeatedly. Eddie Bergeson survived, but suffered stab wounds in his face, stomach and back, according to a police affidavit.

“I hope he’s dead, I think he’s dead, I’m glad he’s dead,” Hesselgrave said as he stood over Bergeson, according to the affidavit.

Hesselgrave remains jailed in North Dakota, awaiting trial on charges of attempted murder. Police say he planned the attack; Hesselgrave contends they were drinking and got in a fight. He said he wonders whether things would have turned out differently had he received more treatment after his release from prison.

Rawson-Neal “didn’t try to treat me or nothing,” he said. “They could have kept me for 21 days. They could have ... got my depression in check.”

Mark Hesselgrave is just one of several stories of patients who needed help, but couldn't find it at Rawson-Neal. Instead, they were sent elsewhere. And others were ultimately harmed. At least one was killed. And a patient may have succeeded in committing suicide.

Of course, Governor Brian Sandoval('s spokesperson) said he was "appalled" by this report. However, it remains to be seen what (if anything) will be done about it.

Again, this is what happens when we try to provide health care "on the cheap". We ultimately haven't saved money. And we certainly haven't saved lives. Something must change.

Over the course of this year, we've been witnessing the consequences of neglecting people in serious need of treatment. We've been learning the hard way that providing proper mental health care is not just "bleeding heart liberalism", but also the most efficient way to save lives. How many more lives must be harmed and/or lost before we finally learn this lesson and end this deadly scandal?

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Pipelines & Pipe Dreams

Last night, we encountered a fascinating surprise. It's another twist in the rather twisted plot of Southern Nevada Water Authority's (SNWA) proposed pipeline to pump water from Snake Valley (and Western Utah) to Clark County. SNWA "Water Czar" Pat Mulroy has claimed Southern Nevada needs to prepare for a future without much Colorado River water, but the coalition of rural farmers and urban environmentalists fighting "The Water Grab" have pointed to water conservation programs (including many that SNWA itself once championed!) as less disruptive and less expensive alternatives to the proposed pipeline.

Over the years, SNWA has been able to line up needed state and federal approval to build the Snake Valley Pipeline. But yesterday, a critical element of that equation was taken away. Nevada State Engineer Jason King approved the Snake Valley Pipeline in 2011, but a district court invalidated a key part of that approval yesterday.

[...] Senior District Judge Robert Estes said this "is likely the largest interbasin transfer of water in U.S. history" and that parts of King's decision were "arbitrary and capricious" and ordered him to re-evaluate the amount of water available in the four basins and take another look at the potential environmental damage.

Estes said King approved an excess of 9,780 acre feet of water being drawn from Spring Valley, and the judge ordered King to recalculate the amount of available water to assure there is "an equal amount of discharge and recharge in a reasonable time." King must also reconsider how piping water from Spring Valley will impact the groundwater resources in Millard and Juab counties in Utah. [...]

Rob Mrowka, senior scientist for the Center for Biological Diversity called the decision a "huge blow to the water authority's plan to suck massive amounts of water out of the Nevada-Utah desert to feed urban sprawl in and around Las Vegas." He continued, calling this a "historic ruling and a great victory for wildlife in Nevada and Utah, rural communities and families, and for the citizens of Las Vegas." He said the water authority now has the opportunity to explore other alternatives to serve the growing needs of Southern Nevada.

While Mr. Mrowka is correct that SNWA now has the opportunity to explore alternatives, it remains to be seen how much more time and money SNWA will spend before considering those alternatives. For several years, Pat Mulroy has made the Snake Valley Pipeline her greatest cause. It was once meant to give life to Harvey Whittemore's latest and greatest exurban masterpiece, Coyote Springs. But now that Harvey Whittemore is claiming residence in a federal prison cell and Coyote Springs has become an electrified ghost town (with a lovely golf course), Mulroy no longer has a shiny new real estate boondoggle development to direct Snake Valley water to. Yet despite the legal and financial collapse of Whittemore's juiced up empire, Mulroy refuses to give up on the pipeline that was meant to fuel his last great pipe dream.

And the drama doesn't end there. Once upon a time, Pat Mulroy was considered Nevada's most powerful unelected leader. But in a shocking reversal of fortune, the Nevada Legislature considered a bill early this year to require more oversight of SNWA on the heels of public backlash over recent water rate increases and accusations of workers' rights abuses. While the bill itself was later shelved, SNWA is no longer perceived to be a political "sacred cow" that's never to be challenged.

What was once meant to be the final regal feather in the cap of Pat Mulroy's illustrious reign as Southern Nevada's Water Czar is instead beginning to resemble a rope (tied to an anvil) that's been leading Mulroy's SNWA into an embarrassing string of scandals and setbacks. Even if SNWA can score a victory in the Nevada Supreme Court (and that's far from certain, considering that court ruled against SNWA in 2010), it likely won't be the end of the legal battles over the Snake Valley Pipeline. And with continuing anger in the Las Vegas Valley over recent water rate hikes (meant to fund construction of the pipeline), SNWA no longer has a strong base of support at home for the pipeline.

We can only wonder when the halls of power atop SNWA headquarters will hear this question being asked aloud: Is it worth it? Is the Snake Valley Pipeline truly worth all this time and money? And is it worth all the political capital SNWA has lost in recent years? Oh, and is it worth the risk it presents to a wide swath of Rural Nevada that depends on Snake Valley water? And is it worth the risk of allowing for exurban sprawl that could later cause logistical woes for Clark County?

Here's another question for all of us to consider: Is it finally time for us to drop the crack pipe that's given us pipe dreams of a pipeline that can magically make the horrors of drought and climate change go away? As of now, this pipe dream is looking like a massive nightmare.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Season of the Scrooge

It's here! It's here. And it's arrived just in time for the holiday season.

Senator Patty Murray (D-Washington) and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) reached a budget deal yesterday. And so far, Congressional Republican "leaders" are signaling their approval. So are we free and clear for a 2014 (& 2015!) budget?

Not so fast. Already, G-O-TEA "movement leaders" like Senator Rand Paul (R-Kentucky), Senator Tom Coburn (R-Oklahoma), and the usual "Tea Party, Inc." agitators have been arguing against the nascent budget compromise. Why? It's a compromise! It would ever so slightly raise federal investment in the economy above Sequester levels. They still want more economy-busting austerity, not less.

Oh, and it's not just the radical right railing against the Ryan-Murray deal. Progressives aren't happy with this budget proposal, either. While it would raise 2014 federal investment from a severely austere $967 billion to a somewhat less austere $1.012 trillion (and $1.014 trillion in 2015), it would do so while screwing over public servants and kicking the long-term unemployed where it really hurts. So even as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D) has signaled his tentative approval, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-California) might as well have held her nose when she gave her statement on the tentative budget deal. And grassroots outrage is building over the possible end to the last lifeline available to those hit hardest by The Great Recession.

So both the activist right and the activist left are protesting the budget compromise. And while no top Democrats on Capitol Hill have threatened to blow it up, some Republicans are already starting to go there. While it's far from inevitable, a Shutdown S**tfest Sequel also isn't out of the equation just yet.

Unfortunately, what's starting to look probable is that at least some hard working Americans are about to get scrooged. And Congress has the gall to channel the spirit of Scrooge during the holiday season. What makes this even worse is that we're not even shocked any more.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Long Walk to Freedom

Last week, the world lost a great civil rights and human rights leader. Former South African President Nelson Mandela passed away last Thursday. The memorial service was earlier today. And the world will probably still be discussing Mandela's legacy in the coming days.

President Obama delivered a speech at today's memorial service, along with current South African President Jacob Zuma and other world leaders. They remembered Nelson Mandela's journey from anti-apartheid activist to political prisoner to South Africa's first black President to perhaps the world's most cherished civil rights icon. And they celebrated Mandiba's contribution to the struggle for racial equality, women's rights, LGBTQ equality, and more.

We can't help but reflect on how far South Africa has come since Mandela began raising hell... And how far he's encouraged us to come as well. After years of struggles and occasional setbacks, we've come a long way in guaranteeing liberty & justice for all. Of course, we still have a long way to go before we arrive there. Nonetheless, we're closer now than we've ever been before.

While Nelson Mandela's long walk to freedom may be over, ours is still in progress. We still have further to walk. We still have more work to do to achieve full freedom.

Mandiba didn't always have it easy. After all, he spent 27 years incarcerated. Much of that time, he was locked in a remote prison cell. Most of us can't relate to that.

However, we can relate to his overall efforts to make a better South Africa and a better world. We can't forget his legacy. Instead, we should build on it.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Happy Holiday Announcement

We hope you're enjoying the holiday season. We have been here... But now, it's time to go. We hate to say it, but we have to go.

We're leaving Las Vegas, and this time it's for... The rest of the month.

Don't worry. We'll still check in here from time to time. We'll be on the case in the event of any critical breaking news. And we'll soon roll out a recap of the 10 most remarkable stories of 2013.

But in the mean time, go ahead and celebrate the winter holiday season with your loved ones. That's what we'll be trying to do.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Unsustainable Status Quo

Last week, we couldn't help but notice some green shoots. And really, we needed to notice them. Amid all the troubling news on climate change, it can be easy to fall into a mental trap of nihilism and despair.

Fortunately, we have another green shoot to examine this week. Remember when President Obama agreed to take executive action on climate change back in June? We will soon begin seeing the results of that as the ENDA regulatory agenda for 2014 is rolled out.

Between now and September 2014 the EPA aims to finalize its rules for capping greenhouse gas emissions from existing natural gas and coal-fired plants, which together produce a whopping 40 percent of the United States' carbon emissions and one-third of its heat-trapping gases. Controlling smokestacks emissions is critical to addressing climate change, but carbon legislation is a non-starter, even in the Democratically controlled Senate. The EPA rules are bound to be challenged in court and they'll invariably fuel allegations that Obama—and his vulnerable Democratic allies on Capitol Hill—are waging a war on coal. But, presuming they survive, they could be historic.

While the caps for existing plants have yet to take shape, the White House recently called for limiting new coal-fired plants to 1,100 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt hour—60 percent less than the average coal-powered plant releases—and gas-power plants to 1,000 pounds.

We can only hope this is the beginning. After all, it must be. We face disastrous consequences if we don't get serious about lowering our greenhouse gas emissions. And really, we're already starting to see the consequences materialize now.

Unfortunately, this is when we must pivot back to the bad news. While the new EPA rules represent progress, we still need to do much more just to avert total annihilation.

Yet when we look to Capitol Hill, we see Republican "leaders" calling for hearings on aliens while dismissing proven science. And we see them wasting even more time hunting down the perfect "OBAMA SCANDAL!!!" And while they're holding hearings on UFOs and other conspiracy theories, they're failing to perform even the most basic tasks of governance. So we can't really set our hopes too high for this Congress to take serious action on climate change.

But again, this is unsustainable. The status quo is unsustainable. We need to invest in our future. We can't afford to keep longing for a past that will never return.

Something's Got to Give.

Yesterday, we went through the list of tasks that need to be completed by the 113th Congress... But probably won't. After all, Congressional Republican "leaders" are too busy making up shit about "investigating" Obamacare. Oh, and they're now trying to find a way to please the 21st Century Know Nothings who are (once again) demanding "The I Word".

How can anything (of value) be accomplished in this Congress? Republican "leaders" would rather indulge the wild fantasies of their fringe members than do anything productive. This is why the 113th Congress is now approaching 112th Congress levels of sloth.

Yet for some reason, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D) doesn't want to give up. He still believes comprehensive immigration reform (CIR) can and must be finished by this Congress. And he still refuses to give up on this goal.

Activists in Nevada have been lobbying Rep. Joe Heck, R-Nev., to take action on immigration reform. But Reid said it will be the demographics of the United States that will ultimately persuade the House to pass an immigration bill.

“We have a lot of these congressional districts, they don’t care because they don’t have people of color in their congressional districts,” Reid said. “They don’t care. But there are a number of them who do care. If the Republicans ever want to elect a Republican president again, they’re going to have to get right with the Hispanic and Asian community who by more than 70 percent voted for [President Barack] Obama last time. [...]

“This is an issue that isn’t going to go away,” he said. “It’s here. We have 11 million people here who are not going to be sent back to their country of origin. They can’t do that. They can’t do it fiscally. They can’t do it physically. It’s nearly impossible.”

Last month, Rep. Joe Heck (R-Henderson) made a big deal of his occasional pro-reform rhetoric. However, he's yet to match his rhetoric with action. If he and a few more House Republicans were to finally do so, CIR finally can pass the House.

This is what Senator Reid is hinting at. We all see the demographic trends, and we notice how America's demographic changes have been changing the nation's political landscape. However, Republican "leaders" have been trying to sweep this whole matter under the rug to avoid prolonging the G-O-TEA Civil War.

But sooner or later, something's got to give. We can't afford to continue incarcerating people for the "crime" of lacking certain papers and breaking up millions of American families. And we certainly can't afford to deport 11,000,000 people en masse.

And really, the Republican Party can't afford to continue denying America's demographic future. At some point, something's got to give. The status quo can't be sustained for too much longer, not even for the sake of Republicans trying to escape the inevitable.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Less Isn't More

This morning, we cut past the BS and looked at the reality behind the "Obamacare SCANDAL!!!" hype. Surprise, surprise, there's really "no there there". And what's making matters even worse is that Congressional Republican "leaders" are using this as an excuse to ditch basic governance in a last ditch effort to score more political points going into the 2014 Election Cycle.

Don't believe us? Believe the Republicans boasting of their own record of failure!

“I ran on a government that did less,” said Representative Reid Ribble, Republican of Wisconsin. “I felt the government was overreaching, and the citizens that sent me didn’t want me to be overaggressive in writing new laws. The Affordable Care Act launch is actually demonstrating the ineptitude of the federal government in handling these big programs.”

The 113th Congress has passed all of 55 laws so far this year, seven fewer at this point than the 112th Congress — the least productive Congress ever. House and Senate negotiators will meet on Wednesday to try to come to terms on a farm bill, but they remain far apart, especially on food-stamp cuts that the House is demanding. The leaders of the House and Senate budget committees will also meet this week, and they appear to be closing in on a modest deal that would set spending levels for the next two years while relieving some of the pain from the across-the-board spending cuts known as sequestration. [...]

“Republicans are using their political attacks on the Affordable Care Act as cover to do nothing else,” said Representative Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, the senior Democrat on the House Budget Committee.

Comprehensive immigration reform (CIR)? Oh, no. They can't do that. It's too "big and complicated" for one bill (despite the fact that the Senate passed one in June).

Farm bill? Oh, no. They can't do that. They'd rather let American consumers suffer unnecessary higher food prices than let the working poor eat.

ENDA? Oh, no. They can't do that. They still refuse to accept that LGBTQ Americans exist, let alone contribute to the American Economy.

Ending the nonsensical austerity regime that's only served as a solution (or more accurately, a problem) looking for a problem? Oh... Maybe?! Capitol Hill is buzzing today over talk of a possible budget deal. While it still wouldn't completely end the austerity madness that's gripped Capitol Hill (and hurt the rest of the nation), it would ease the pain a little. And frankly, even this represents major progress for this Congress.

So is it possible that the 113th Congress can finally pass a longer term budget and drop the austerity laced crack pipe? Perhaps, but let's not get our hopes too high. After all, we're still talking about the 113th Congress, the Congress that's now on track to beat the record of "Least Productive Session of Congress Ever" (set by the 112th Congress last year). And as Salon's Joan Walsh reminds us, Congressional Republican "leaders" will face intense pressure from their 21st Century Know Nothing base to put up a(nother) fight rather than compromise over anything. They'd rather force America into a Shutdown S**tfest Sequel than admit defeat.

So this is what we're facing as 2013 comes to a close. Time and time again, Republican "leaders" have chosen cheap and crass political games over real governance. It's why major policy goals, such as CIR & ENDA, are about to be left unmet. And it's why we doubt this Congress can even "succeed" at such basic tasks as passing longer term budgets.

After all, some Republican politicians are now bragging about their vision of "government that does less". Why would they want to abandon that vision to allow for a government that actually functions properly?

So much for that old saying, "Less is more"...

The Real Scandal

ZOMG!!! It's the biggest scandal ever! It's THE SCANDAL of 2013!!!! And ZOMG... It's working?!

Much has been said in recent weeks about Obamacare (aka the Affordable Care Act, or ACA) and its many (alleged) blunders. Here's what hasn't been bludgeoned to death in the media: The federal ACA Web site has improved dramatically since its initial glitchy debut on October 1. Oh, and 100,000 Americans were able to sign up for health insurance last month on that federal ACA web site. And we now know that the ACA's costs going forward will be even less than originally projected.

So how did a law that only became a law less than 4 years ago and was largely based on conservative health care policy proposals become the hallmark of "failed liberalism" and "Obama's failed presidency"? Think about it. As Desert Beacon noted yesterday, the bulk of the ACA's features have rolled out smoothly and are now much appreciated. Even the features (cough- the federal web site- cough) that didn't initially roll out smoothly are working better now. And the vast majority of Americans are still using private health insurance. So it's preposterous to call the ACA "failed" today, and it's quite a stretch to declare it "BIG GUV'MINT SOE'SHUL'IZM!!!"

While the usual G-O-TEA politicians and their favorite media pundits have been screaming about the latest and greatest haute faux scandal of the past month, they've been skillfully avoiding what's perhaps the real scandal of today. While Republican "leaders" have been complaining about a law that was passed during the 111th Congress, they've tried to avoid their own record of failure. The 112th Congress is now on record as the least productive session of Congress ever, and so far the 113th Congress is on track to match that record of FAIL. They even tried to (mis)use Obamacare as an excuse to shut down the government and threaten national default!

And now we're supposed to believe G-O-TEA politicians when they say they just want to "clean house"? They can't even agree on an alternative to a law that's based on what was originally their own alternative to "Hillarycare"! This makes absolutely no sense. They keep grinding government to a screeching halt, they fail to accomplish even the most basic tasks of governing, and they can't even come up with their own health care ideas (beyond empty platitudes that led us into trouble in the first place)... But now we're supposed to acknowledge they're "right about Obamacare"?

No, they're not. And really, all this "much ado about nothing" that's defined the 112th & 113th Sessions of Congress is the real scandal that we need to address.

Monday, December 2, 2013

The Cost of Silence

Today marks a major milestone. And no, we're not talking about Cyber Monday.

Today marks 25 years of the world commemorating World AIDS Day. And yes, this also means we can celebrate 25 years of progress. Since the early days of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, more people have been surviving as detection and treatment have improved.

However, today is also a day to note what still must be done to save more lives. Just here in the US, over 1.1 million people are living with HIV... And 18% of them don't even know it. And while the plurality of these people are gay and bisexual men, women, communities of color, and even heterosexuals are far from immune from HIV. And to make matters worse, infection rates are rising rapidly among Americans aged 13-24.

So what can we do about this? Clearly, we can't forget that AIDS is still around... And still hurting people. In recent years, far too many of us have been lulled into a false sense of complacency. After all, "it's not a big deal any more" since "it can be treated".

Yes, it can be treated... If it's detected early enough. And even then, life as one knows it forever changes upon contracting HIV. We can't forget that more people have been able to survive HIV contraction due to the "cocktail" drugs now available. And let's just say that those "cocktails" are neither cheap nor easy.

That won't be changing any time soon. Sadly, the current austerity regime has forced budget cuts upon federal HIV/AIDS assistance & prevention programs. This has only led to further pressure on private AIDS charities that were already being greatly pressured by the aftermath of the Great Recession.

We have seen progress in the last 25 years, but that progress only materialized after we as a society realized we could no longer allow our family, friends, neighbors, and co-workers to suffer in silence. We can't afford to let people fall back into that trap of silence 25 years later. We can't afford to undo the past 25 years of progress simply because it's "too inconvenient" and/or "too expensive" to save lives.

Today, we need to think about the cost of silence. And then, we need to speak up and take action. Oh, and we need to educate. The last thing we need now is silence.

Take This Seriously.

Just when we thought we could enjoy the Thanksgiving Holiday last week, the Nevada G-O-TEA Circus of Batsh*t Crazy had to interrupt our plans. Oh, yes. That's right. They went there... Again!

So what happened this time? Oh, Assembly Member Michelle Fiore (R-Las Vegas) just decided to "spice up" a local "talk radio" show with veiled threats of violence. After all, she just loves her weapons... And her NRA Seal of Approval.

So what exactly happened? Assembly Member Fiore was a guest on a KNXT show on Tuesday. So were Culinary 226's Yvanna Cancela and ProgressNow's Annette Magnus. When Fiore confronted Cancela over Culinary's aggressive organizing, she dropped this verbal bomb.

"The behavior that you did in front of the Cosmo would get you a bullet in your head in Brooklyn, because that is not the behavior that we want here in Nevada."

While many (even some on the left) have disagreed with Culinary's more controversial battle plans in its ongoing war against anti-union casinos, no one can say Culinary organizers aren't protected by the First Amendment. And no one can say they deserve "Second Amendment Remedies" for exercising their First Amendment rights.

Of course, the usual G-O-TEA spin doctors tried to change the subject as soon as this news hit Twitter. AFP Nevada even tried to start a flame war over Assembly Member Fiore's Twitter handle! But of course, it didn't work.

Instead, we were reminded of what happens when such violent rhetoric is injected into our political dialogue. When does this ever demonstrate "responsible behavior"? (Hint: Never.) And really, elected officials should know better.

Haven't we experienced more than enough bloodshed this year? Hell, we've even seen gun violence hit awfully close to home here in Nevada. Seriously, this isn't something to blithely dismiss and/or ignore.

So why aren't we taking this seriously? Why are some of our elected "leaders" threatening bullets in others' heads? What will it take for us to finally learn? Gun violence needs to be taken seriously.