Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Sex, Lies, & City Hall: Local Scandal in Southern Nevada

As early voting continues in the Las Vegas Ward 6 Recall Election, lurid allegations ("Sex! Drugs! Extortion! Fraud! Harassment!") continue to fly in Henderson's Kathleen Vermillion/Steve Sisolak scandal, and North Las Vegas struggles to shed its not-far-in-the-past image of corruption, dysfunction, and failure, challenges continue to pile up for local governments in Southern Nevada. Trust in local authorities seems to continually hit rock bottom as of late, and the cities here are trying everything possible to regain that trust.

So how can they? And should we give it back to them?


Let's start in Henderson, the city where I live. Of all the cities in Southern Nevada, it's often said that Henderson is the best run of them all. And hey, who can justifiably dispute that after seeing that Henderson has found ways in the last 3 years to amicably settle contracts with city workers, keep all the city's parks and community centers open, and (again) recently rank as one of America's Safest Cities by Forbes (now up to #2!) and as one of America's 50 Best Cities by Bloomberg BusinessWeek (now at #38)? Considering all of Henderson's many accolades and glitzy awards, why does my hometown now look and feel like a politically charged remake of "sex, lies, and videotape"?

Let me try to explain. Since 2008, Vermillion's and Sisolak's relationship has been a factor in Henderson politics. Sisolak was elected County Commissioner in November 2008, and Vermillion (then known as Kathleen Boutin) was elected City Council Member in June 2009. They were to be "The Ultimate Power Couple". He was the "fiscally conservative watchdog taking on the firefighters" at the county level, while she was the beloved community leader in Henderson who was doing so much good for local teens in need. Everything seemed perfect...

But obviously behind the scenes, it wasn't. We've already been seeing the details behind the deterioration of their romantic relationship. However, that wasn't the end of it. Perhaps last year's jurisdiction battles and municipal elections were a sign of what's to come. Kathleen Vermillion voiced early support for the controversial plan to concretize part of Pittman Wash, while Steve Sisolak opposed it. And Sisolak backed the challengers to two of Vermillion's colleagues on the Henderson Council (Gerri Schroder in Ward 1, and Debra March in Ward 2) in last year's election. At one point, they were also endorsing opposing candidates in the Ward 4 election. (Vermillion endorsed Mike Mayberry early on before switching to "neutral" just before the runoff, while Sisolak endorsed Sam Bateman.) Honestly, I found it strange hearing him complain about the supposed "fiscal recklessness in Henderson" (which actually has the lowest city worker to resident ratio and the lowest property tax rate in the valley!) when his girlfriend was on the council.

But even now that Vermillion is off the council and the NPHY board, questions remain. How did Vermillion spend the money at her charity? How did Vermillion spend the city's tax dollars? Why is Clark County government now being dragged into this fiasco? Were city business and county affairs affected by Vermillion's and Sisolak's personal relationship? And perhaps most importantly, what can the City of Henderson do to ensure city government is not paralyzed by this kind of personal drama in the future?

As we had discussed last week, it's crucial for Henderson to move on from this hot mess and get back to governing. Without a doubt, the council members, and especially new Ward 3 Council Member John Marz, face a grueling challenge ahead in rebuilding trust with the community and assuring residents that the Vermillion-Sisolak scandal is one that isn't destined to be repeated in Henderson. How can they prevent this kind of personal drama from infecting all levels of local government in the future?


Of course, Henderson isn't the only city in Southern Nevada facing lurid scandal. In Las Vegas, voters are still casting ballots that may determine not only Steve Ross' political future, but also how effective issues surrounding conflict of interest will be in shaping future campaigns.

Steve Ross has repeatedly been accused of being involved in all sorts of conflict of interest and ethics violations. He obviously hasn't been a model for great public service, and many residents are honestly (and IMHO justifiably) irked by this. However, many of these same residents are also wondering why they're voting on this recall today. Why?

Enter Joe Scala. Apparently Scala is still fuming over being denied a license to keep his car dealership in Centennial Hills open, and he's blaming it on Ross. So now Ross is accusing Byron Goynes, the one candidate who qualified to run against him in this recall election, of being "a puppet for Scala"... And he's even trying to tie Goynes and Scala to Henderson's Vermillion-Sisolak scandal by pointing out the recall committee hiring the same PR strategist (Mark Fierro) who's taken on Kathleen Vermillion as a client! Oh my, and the plot thickens.

Honestly, I'm still trying to figure out the whole point of this. No, I've never really been Steve Ross' biggest fan. I still wonder why he sought to earn Homophobic-Bigot-in-Chief Richard Ziser's endorsement when he ran for Las Vegas Mayor last year, and his stunning lack of knowledge on the big issues facing our country still disgusts me. However, I still can't clearly see the reason for this recall. Has Ross committed a crime? Is he egregiously failing in his duty on the council? And have his obvious public policy shortcomings become such a matter of emergency that Las Vegas can't wait one more year to vote him out (when he will again be up for reelection in Ward 6)?

Is this a genuine effort to clean house on the Las Vegas City Council? Or is this just an angry car dealer's vendetta being carried out on the taxpayers' dime?


Well, at least Las Vegas doesn't have to worry about this. North Las Vegas was recently ranked as one of "The 10 Worst Run Cities in America". And considering the budget woes, the possibly continuing threat of state receivership and dissolution, the new city hall that many claim the city can't really afford, and the troubling thought that we may never know who really won in last year's disputed Ward 4 election, there's probably good justification for this finding.

"Nor'town" has continually tried for decades to shed its image as "the armpit of the valley". But now, Mayor Shari Buck claims all will finally be well... And that whoever disputes her sunny outlook is just out to steal North Las Vegas' land (and development potential). After all, 57% of Nor'town's land is still undeveloped. So perhaps there is some truth behind Buck's assertion that Las Vegas and Clark County are coveting Nor'town's available land?

Last June, I declared that there's something rotten in the state (really, city) of North Las Vegas. And despite (or maybe because of?) Shari Buck's efforts to turn all those frowns upside down, I still have to wonder where that stench is coming from (other than whatever's going on at that waste water treatment plant). Why is a new city hall open while parks and community centers have closed? What really needs to be done to change the city's image (other than glossing over the faults everyone else clearly notices)? And how can all that empty land be transformed into a vital part of the local economy?

Perhaps North Las Vegas' dilemma is the most basic and existential problem of them all. Really, how can North Las Vegas move forward?


Certainly this year, the bulk of the media's attention will be turned to the hot, "sexy", top-of-the-ticket elections. After all, with the G-O-TEA clowns coming to town, there will be plenty of fodder for local newscasts and national cable news shows alike. But after all the hoopla of the caucus and fighting over who really won what, these local problems will remain. And really, the government we most often deal with is the local variety. Whenever we have problems with rowdy neighbors or pesky potholes or dilapidated parks or dangerous sidewalks, we go first to city hall.

And so far in this first month of 2012, we've had plenty of food for thought as personal drama got out of hand in Henderson, a recall election unleashed plenty of chaos in Las Vegas, and still unanswered questions of the city's viability in the not-so-distant future linger in North Las Vegas. How does local government address scandal? How can local government try to prevent scandals from ruining its reputation? And how can local government heal rifts with the community after scandals come and go?

Local government theoretically should be the government that we trust the most and hesitate the least over engaging. Yet for some time, a combination of the public's misperceptions and genuine scandals has tarnished our cities' reputations and made folks ask what's really going on at city hall. Going forward, Henderson, Las Vegas, and North Las Vegas all have to face their own respective challenges in restoring trust and giving the people of Southern Nevada reason to believe that past sordid tales of corruption really are a thing of the past.

So Now We Matter?

I guess it's official now. Ralston says "we matter" again, so now we matter. But wait, we're not quite done with Florida yet!

And despite Florida's results starting to look and feel like a foregone conclusion, there may yet be intrigue ahead as all this election year madness comes to our own backyard. After all, Republican primary voters still don't like Mitt Romney. And as long as they don't like Romney and keep flirting with the other candidates, this process may yet stretch out for a while.

Here's Rachel Maddow explaining why she's actually excited about our G-O-TEA Caucus fast approaching.

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Now there are plenty of doubts that Newt Gingrich really has the kind of infrastructure he needs to keep his campaign going through this spring, but how much does that really matter? If Mittens keeps spending all his millions to continue "winning" with far less than 50% of the vote, then can he really wrap up the nomination soon?

And don't forget, there's another factor here. Ron Paul has been spending almost as much on TV ads as Romney, and he does have a strong organization here. This is part of his "Caucus Plan" to amass delegates in inexpensive caucus states (like ours) instead of trying to compete in big primary states (like Florida) with pricey media markets. Can Ron Paul actually win the Caucus this Saturday? Or at the very least, can he pull enough support to force Romney's campaign to spin another 30-40% finish as a "convincing victory!"?

Whatever the case, the media are declaring that "we matter" again. So I guess we should celebrate this circus coming back to town for the next 100 hours?

Monday, January 30, 2012

Has Southern Nevada Been Shortchanged?

Today, KNPR's "State of Nevada" touched the issues that are always on our minds... Even if it sometimes feels like they are never really part of our agenda:

- Are we really investing too little in public education?

- Just how over-dependent are we on tourism?

- What must we do to diversify our economy?

Oh yes, and...

- Considering Clark County pays for over 80% of the State of Nevada's budget and is home to over 70% of the state's population, do we really get our state tax dollars' worth?

Last November, UNLV Brookings Mountain West released this paper discussing the challenges that lie ahead for Nevada's economy. But as usual, after about 24 hours of pointing out its existence, this was quickly forgotten. It seemed like that was regularly the case throughout 2011, despite the growing mountain of evidence showing Nevada must change in order to survive in the 21st century. And already one month into 2012, the Nevada Cancer Institute is being swallowed up by a CALIFORNIA college, and hardly anyone raises an eyebrow.

How many more times must reality bite us in the ass before we realize our collective Nevadan ass is bleeding so profusely that our underwear is being dyed red?

In case you missed it last week, I want to show you what Desert Beacon wrote last week that explains Nevada's economic conundrum in a nutshell. We've been underfunding higher education for far too long, and this problem only continues to worsen as we continue to force UNLV and UNR to cut investment even more. Yet when we look at our most promising areas for economic growth, they're areas that require an educated workforce. We have plenty of growth potential in high tech (especially when it comes to green technology), as well as in biotech & medical research, but we're cutting the very programs at our institutions of higher learning that could give us a much needed leg up in these sectors.

Just last week, The Sun posted an article detailing how UNLV has lost both faculty and students in the last three years "thanks" to state budget cuts. How much more of this can we handle?

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: Tourism alone can no longer save us.

What makes this even worse is that over many years and many legislative sessions, "the powers that be" in this state have mostly looked the other way despite all the growing evidence pointing to these serious problems. "The Great 2000s Real Estate Bubble" was always doomed to burst, but hardly anyone in Carson City wanted to talk about how to get past it until it was too late. Of course, they probably didn't want to talk about it because the bulk of the state's budget was built upon the bubble, and that everything from fire stations in Tonopah to community centers in Eureka to freeway projects in and around Reno depended on tourist dollars from the Las Vegas Strip. And even as the state had been able to fund some public infrastructure in Central and Northern Nevada thanks to "bubble" money from the last decade, Clark County still lacks sufficient higher ed opportunities at UNLV, sufficient health care, and plenty other areas of infrastructure that are critical to a successful community. Strangely enough, money from the primary economic engine of Nevada (Clark County) hasn't been used to properly maintain that engine. And because that engine has been neglected, the entire vehicle (Nevada) is in trouble.

And this brings us back to Dr. Robert Lang's segment on KNPR's "State of Nevada" this morning. The typical "powers that be" in Carson City have failed the entire state, but especially Southern Nevada has been neglected, and that's ultimately been to the detriment of everyone in Nevada. As this election season heats up and we eventually hear candidates talk about what they want to do in Carson City next year, we need to make sure that they follow through on their promises once elected, and that they finally stop avoiding what has to be done to heal our state and let Las Vegas become more self-sufficient.

It's Time for Nevada's Mayors to Do the Right Thing

Recently, a huge, pan-partisan national coalition of mayors (of cities both big and small!) from all over the country joined with Freedom to Marry to launch Mayors for the Freedom to Marry and demand the end of marriage discrimination at all levels of government. But take a closer look at that list, and one notices a glaring omission. For some reason, no Mayor of any Nevada city is on this list.

Nevada Stonewall Democratic Caucus Chair Derek Washington penned an op-ed for QVegas over the weekend to specifically ask why the Mayor of Nevada's most famous and most populous city has so far refused to join the Mayors for the Freedom to Marry coalition. Considering the huge potential for increased tourism (and economic benefit) for Southern Nevada, why won't Carolyn Goodman even talk about this?

What makes this even weirder is that this shouldn't really be a "controversial" issue any more. Both of Carolyn Goodman's most recent predecessors as Las Vegas Mayor, Jan Laverty Jones (D) and Oscar Goodman (I) (who, by the way, is also Carolyn's husband), endorsed civil marriage equality during their respective tenures as Mayor. And statewide, Public Policy Polling found last August that a growing plurality of Nevadans support marriage equality. I'm sure support is even higher in the City of Las Vegas, so I'm quite perplexed that Carolyn Goodman still won't endorse civil marriage equality.

As we (and The Reno Gazette-Journal) have talked about before, domestic partnerships are better than nothing... But they are still no substitute for the real deal. There are over 1,100 federal rights, benefits, and responsibilities given to married couples that LGBTQ families can not access. In addition, there are still many aspects of Nevada law where LGBQT families must still be subjected to unequal treatment because of the Question 2 state marriage ban. Question 2 continues to harm local families who just want the same treatment everyone else expects, and it continues to harm efforts to bring in more domestic and international tourists because discrimination just doesn't fit in with the message of "freedom" we use when marketing to them.

Again, this really shouldn't be "controversial" any more. Supporting civil marriage equality is simply a good business decision for Nevada. And regardless of whether or not Carolyn Goodman finally realizes this, her inaction should not stop Nevada's other big city mayors from taking action. Andy Hafen (D-Henderson), Shari Buck (R-North Las Vegas), Bob Cashell (R-Reno), and Geno Martini (R-Sparks), we're all waiting for you to fill this void and fill it soon. If we really want to treat all our citizens equally and discover new business opportunities for our communities, we need to fix this error and make civil marriage equality a reality here in Nevada. And we need for our local mayors to seize this opportunity to speak up and make it happen.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Do We Really Bowl Alone?

17 years ago, Dr. Robert Putnam suggested that America was losing the key to our past greatness. Specifically, he felt that we were losing "social capital" as communities built upon in-person social intercourse were being replaced by human islands isolated from each other by "individualizing" technology, such as TV, video games, and the internet. He (in)famously argued this case in his 1995 essay, which later became a full book in 2000, Bowling Alone.

Sometimes, it seems like Putnam may be right. As we spend more and more of our time plugged in and online, it's easy to feel less connected to the world outside... Especially in regards to the neighborhood just beyond one's own back yard. And when one thinks about the consequences of this disconnect, it becomes quite a scary thought...

But what if this isn't true? Earlier this month, there was huge uproar over SOPA and PIPA that led several internet communities to "strike back" and essentially force Congress to drop the (supposed) anti-piracy legislation (at least for now). And in the wake of that, there was actually a very interesting discussion on MSNBC about the new forms of social capital started by Dr. Melissa Harris Perry.

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Perhaps Putnam is wrong, and social capital in America really isn't dead. After all, look at Facebook. Look at Twitter. Look at YouTube, and UStream, and social gaming sites. Look more closely at the internet, and notice the new home of social capital.

I can personally attest to the value of this new social capital. In the last week, I had a problem at home mushroom into a personal crisis. What had been a water heater that busted was quickly turning into a fiasco that put my very home and personal freedom in jeopardy. I was losing a whole lot of sleep this past week, and I was seriously nearing my wit's end.

So what was I to do? Sure, I made some calls. I contacted family members, and a couple of them offered help. But ultimately, it was when I reached out to "my family" on Facebook that I found an outpouring of concern, support, and ultimately critical help that diffused this personal life crisis. (Yes, you know who you are... And you're always more than welcome to take a bow and remind me why you light up my life.) ;-)

Some may look at web sites like Facebook and YouTube and see a bunch of silly people doing silly things, but I see more than just that. I see life lines. I see kids at risk of suicide whose lives are saved. I see folks who may otherwise feel isolated in "Rural America" find communities that they never knew existed. And I see new forms of social capital emerge to breathe new life into our fragile democracy.

As you know, it's not that often that I turn this much to personal issues, but I do have a point here that will take us back to the bigger picture. In the next 9 months, we'll probably hear from plenty of big media pundits about how new technology changes the dynamics of this upcoming election. The Nevada GOP finally did something right in agreeing to post caucus results on Twitter. Campaigns will be relying more on YouTube to release "viral videos" that allow for less expensive advertising. And volunteers will be corralled more via sophisticated social media venues, like the platform emerging at President Obama's web site, in a more effective manner than ever once just imaginable.

However, there's more. There's far more value to social media and the reemergence of social capital than most had originally thought. Perhaps instead of dividing and isolating us, new technology is allowing us to build new communities and rediscover the value of civic engagement. And perhaps instead of worrying about how the internet is making us lose what we liked about our country, we can use the power of the internet to make our country even better.

Friday, January 27, 2012

2012: The #Occupy Election?

Last fall, attention quickly turned to the Occupy Wall Street protest/encampment that (at least temporarily) radically reshaped civic life in Lower Manhattan... And then the thousands of supportive Occupy protests that arose all over the country. Soon, we were talking about "The American Autumn". And then, all of a sudden, by November they seemed to lose steam and close up shop (either due to inclement wintry weather or by police force). At the end of last year, I was wondering how #Occupy would reemerge in 2012.

Now, we have our answer.

Inequality. Fairness. Cracking down on CEOs. These could be hand-painted slogans on Occupy movement signs.

Or they could be the takeaways from President Obama’s latest State of the Union address and his subsequent tour across several swing states. In yet another sign that the Occupy movement’s call for a focus on the income gap has solidified Democratic messaging, the President’s first big political moment of 2012 has a decidedly Occupy Wall Street tinge. [...]

“I think you can empirically say that [Occupy] has brought the issue of income inequality and basic fairness into focus in a way nothing else had for a long time,” the strategist said. “But as for the President, he has been saying the same things about fairness and rules of the road that everyone has to follow, for a long time.”

Think about it. Especially since last fall, President Obama has been talking more about economic inequality. And this subject has become front and center on voters' minds. And progressives finally seems to have a common theme to rally around.

Oh yes, and it also helps that as Democrats have (re)discovered the message of the 99%, the G-O-TEA has embraced the "mystique" of the top 1%.

Furthermore, there’s an increasing focal point for these messages: Mitt Romney. True, the polls done on Newt Gingrich’s negatives are such that most Dems go to bed at night dreaming of running against the former House Speaker. However, in their heart of hearts most believe it’s just not going to happen, and that Romney will emerge as the nominee. Even a few months ago that thought caused some to tremble: after all, at that point Romney’s path to the nomination apparently ran through taking down Rick Perry and his tea partying talk on Social Security, then presenting himself to the public as the moderate who’d taken on the extremists within his party and won. As it panned out, Romney’s had to run increasingly to the right, and the fact that he tallies so perfectly with OWS’s messages about economic unfairness is the icing on the cake. Don’t expect to see Democratic bigwigs donning Guy Fawkes masks, but do expect to hear their rhetoric draw nearer to that of the protestors.

Remember this?

And remember: Mitt Romney said that while he was here in Nevada to pander to TEA-nut extremists.

And especially as 2012 has begun, Mittens keeps reminding us why he's "Mr. 1%". Even his fellow G-O-TEA contenders are using matters of economic justice to attack Mittens!

Perhaps Occupiers weren't able to convince the Reno City Council to pass their resolution rebuking Citizens United, but they may end up influencing something far bigger: this year's Presidential Election. Again, matters of economic justice are now at the forefront of national discussion. And especially here in Nevada, we need answers on these questions. And at least thanks in part to The 99% Movement pushing to redirect focus onto economic inequality and economic justice, we may finally get them.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Coming This Weekend...

- We'll be talking more about President Obama's energy plan and what it means for Nevada.

- We'll also turn back to local issues as we further examine the red-hot scandal that caused this week's Henderson Ward 3 appointment, as well as the Las Vegas Ward 6 recall election, where early voting is already underway.

- With the Occupy Reno camp site shutting down and the Reno City Council rejecting their anti-corporate-personhood resolution, what's next for "The 99% Movement" here in Nevada?

- And as news continues to break, we'll be on it. Happy weekend, everyone.

Obama's Back in Vegas

So the President is here. Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman (I) greeted him at McCarran Airport last night. And despite her husband not always giving President Obama a warm welcome, she obviously displayed far better manners than Arizona Governor Jan Brewer (R-WTF??!!).

Goodman briefly discussed housing with Obama last night after HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan came to town to discuss new relief efforts for distressed homeowners that the President announced in his State of the Union Address on Tuesday. Apparently, more details will be coming soon... And local officials can hardly wait for that.

Later today, President Obama will be pivoting to matters of energy security and efficiency when he visits UPS' Las Vegas hub near McCarran this afternoon.

The president’s energy plan, which he introduced in Tuesday night’s State of the Union address, has three core components: the safe and responsible development of oil and gas, the creation of clean-energy jobs in the U.S., and increasing energy efficiency, with a special focus on the industrial sector.

That begins at the UPS facility in Las Vegas. The company, in cooperation with local governments and the South Coast Air Quality Management District, won a $5.6 million cost-share investment through the stimulus bill to purchase a fleet of trucks that could run on liquefied natural gas (LNG is a cleaner-burning fuel than regular gas or diesel) and construct a publicly accessible LNG refueling station — the first of its kind in the country.

The natural gas-fueled corridor allows UPS to move merchandise through more energy-efficient engines from Long Beach, Calif., to Salt Lake City, according to senior White House advisers.

It’s a model the president wants to replicate in other areas of the country as well, primarily by upping the incentives to get the country’s transport vehicles off gasoline.

Natural gas has become a focus of this administration, as well as lawmakers and energy advocates of all political stripes, not only because it burns about 30 percent cleaner than petroleum products, but also because it’s far more plentiful than oil in the United States. And, it’s cheaper.

The president aims to begin raising consumption of natural gas by encouraging companies to invest in trucks that run on natural gas with a tax credit, equivalent to about 50 percent of the cost difference between trucks that have engines that run on natural gas versus the standard diesel engine. Implementing such tax credits, senior White House advisers admitted, would require an act of Congress.

As we discussed on Tuesday, natural gas offers opportunities for cheaper, cleaner, and more domestically sourced fuel. Again, natural gas isn't without its own set of problems. But considering its availability and it not being as dirty as traditional oil or coal, it can be useful as a "transition tool" while we're still finding more ways to use renewables.

And of course, there's the possibility of more job creation out of this. And along with housing, jobs is the other big issue Nevadans want to hear about. We'll have to see how Obama threads it all together in his speech this afternoon.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

#SOTU2012 in Las Vegas

Last night's State of the Union speech was quite the event... But Washington wasn't the only city where fireworks were flying. I was at the Clark County Democratic Party's and Nevada Stonewall Democrats' State of the Union watch party in Downtown Las Vegas. So was Fox 5.

And as you can tell, local Republicans here were upset. OK. What else is new?

Take a look at the photos here. The crowd Downtown clearly wasn't upset. Clearly, the folks inside were fired up and ready to go!

Actually, the excitement began on Saturday, when over 12,000 Democrats caucused. And considering this was technically uncontested (President Obama won over 98% of delegates available), it's quite impressive compared to both the Republican (which was also uncontested) AND Democratic (which WAS contested!) Caucuses of 2004. The base turned out, and the base is getting excited.

And plenty of local Democratic luminaries turned out for the festivities. NV-01 candidate Dina Titus, SD 11 candidate Aaron Ford, AD 21 candidate Steve Parke, Las Vegas Municipal Judge candidate Jerry Tao, and Nevada State Democratic Party Executive Director Zach Zaragoza were among the heavy hitters who joined Clark County Democratic leaders and Stonewall members for this special event. But again, look at the above video and photos. The room wasn't mostly full of politicians. The room was filled with everyday grassroots activists who truly breathe life into the party.

And that's what made last night extra special.

Taxing Times

He definitely went there last night.

Romney has raised eyebrows for opposing the auto-industry bailout. In his address, Obama chided, “[s]ome even said we should let it die.” This is largely true of many Republicans in Congress, who could not bring themselves to applaud a proposal to reverse tax incentives that encourage outsourcing and discourage repatriating jobs to the U.S.

Where Romney has called for allowing the foreclosure crisis to run its course, Obama said that “responsible homeowners shouldn’t have to sit and wait for the housing market to hit bottom to get some relief,” before introducing a mortgage modification plan to Congress that will give “every responsible homeowner the chance to save about $3,000 a year…by refinancing at historically low interest rates,” which was met with silence by the GOP.

Perhaps most famously, Romney has suggested that public appeals for addressing inequality and bringing equity to the tax code evince envy on the part of advocates who have pressed those issues into the national dialogue.

“When Americans talk about folks like me paying my fair share of taxes, it’s not because they envy the rich,” Obama retorted. “It’s because they understand that when I get tax breaks I don’t need and the country can’t afford, it either adds to the deficit, or somebody else has to make up the difference - like a senior on a fixed income; or a student trying to get through school; or a family trying to make ends meet.”

All in all, President Obama laid out an aggressive vision of progressive solutions for America. He wants to ensure the super-rich who earn over $1,000,000 a year pay at least 30% income tax. (Remember, Mitt Romney paid only 13.9% on his $21.6 million in 2010 income!) He also proposed eliminating tax breaks for shutting down US factories, renewing investment in clean energy, making mortgage refinancing more accessible to more distressed homeowners, making college more affordable to more students, and even more. And by reforming the broken tax code and ending the wars we've been mired in the last decade (Iraq is over, and hopefully Afghanistan will end soon), we can easily afford this.

Last night, the President made an important point. When the super-rich, like Mitt Romney, avoid paying the taxes they're supposed to be paying, they're essentially stealing from America. When Mitt Romney hides some of his money in Swiss bank accounts to avoid paying taxes, he's taking away from seniors trying to pay for their prescription drugs. When Mitt Romney throws some of his money into investment funds based in the Cayman Islands, he's taking away from college students trying to keep up with their tuition. And when Mitt Romney tries to hide behind capital gains tax rates that allow him and other super-rich folks to pay less in income taxes than struggling formerly middle class families, he's taking away from those families as they're doing everything possible to stay afloat.

Take another look at what the President said last night.

Tax reform should follow the Buffett rule: If you make more than $1 million a year, you should not pay less than 30 percent in taxes…Now, you can call this class warfare all you want. But asking a billionaire to pay at least as much as his secretary in taxes? Most Americans would call that common sense.

We don’t begrudge financial success in this country. We admire it. When Americans talk about folks like me paying my fair share of taxes, it’s not because they envy the rich. It’s because they understand that when I get tax breaks I don’t need and the country can’t afford, it either adds to the deficit, or somebody else has to make up the difference – like a senior on a fixed income; or a student trying to get through school; or a family trying to make ends meet. That’s not right. Americans know it’s not right.

It's not right... But it's not stopping the G-O-TEA from continuing to make excuses for it. Yet no matter how much Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich try to paper over their "legal" tax evasion, it's nonetheless tax evasion that takes away from what makes America great. It's about time we do something to fix this. We can't wait any more.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

#SOTU2012 Liveblog

Tonight, I'll be liveblogging President Obama's State of the Union speech, as well as all the G-O-TEA response(s) and all the media spin. And tonight, Obama will be drawing clear distinctions from the G-O-TEA religion of Milton Friedman laissez faire run amok.

"It's time to apply the same rules from top to bottom: No bailouts, no handouts, and no copouts. An America built to last insists on responsibility from everybody."

Obama will describe what he calls a blueprint for an American economy "that's built to last," based on four main themes: a focus on American manufacturing, American energy, skills for American workers, and what Obama calls a "return to American values – of fairness for all, and responsibility from all."

In a message tailored to his reelection pitch, he'll contrast that vision with a recent history in which he said the economy was "weakened by outsourcing, bad debt, and phony financial profits."

"We can either settle for a country where a shrinking number of people do really well, while a growing number of Americans barely get by. Or we can restore an economy where everyone gets a fair shot, everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same set of rules," he will say. "What's at stake are not Democratic values or Republican values, but American values. We have to reclaim them."

I'm really looking forward to this. Stay tuned for more to come.

5:15 PM-

Here's something that will help in drawing clear distinctions. While Obama "insists on responsibility from everybody", Mittens is actually trying to draw up sympathy for the big banks that caused the financial crisis and escalated The Great Recession. Is he for real? Well, he was the one who said this.

As we discussed back in October...

Are underwater homeowners to blame for deregulating Wall Street, allowing banks to create and advertise "No Down Payment! Interest Only! Record Low Rates! Buy Now!" adjustable rate mortgages, then repackage and sell this bad debt as "AAA gold standard mortgage backed securities!"? Are underwater homeowners to blame for the enormous lack of regulatory oversight of the financial sector that reached its horrifying climax in the 2008 economic collapse? So why are underwater homeowners expected by the likes of Mitt Romney to "SUCK IT UP!" when Wall Street "21st century robber barons" are the chief culprits behind this fiasco? [...]

If we follow Mitt Romney's advice to "let it run its course and hit the bottom", our economy will be in an even deeper hole that will be even more difficult to escape from. Housing has nearly always been the starting force in turning an economy from recession to recovery. So how do our communities benefit from empty homes? And yes, Romney's "do nothing and let the banks foreclose" policy prescription would lead to even more empty homes if implemented. And this leads to a "domino effect" of depressed home values, scared consumers, fewer home goods purchases, less construction, and fewer jobs. Properly addressing the home foreclosure crisis is not about "re-inflating the bubble", but rather restarting the economy.

Funny enough, President Obama will be announcing tonight the creation of a new Mortgage Crisis Unit that will investigate criminal misconduct that led to the financial crisis and housing collapse. Again, the contrast couldn't be any clearer.

6:15 PM-

I'm now at the Stonewall watch party. Big crowd here! I'll have more on that later.

But for now, I will talk about what Obama is saying. He started his speech by highlighting his foreign policy achievements. Amer
ica is now out of Iraq, Osama bin Laden is dead, al-Qaeda is weak, and the Middle East is transforming for the freer and better.

He's now pivoting to the economy. And yes, he's really hitting hard on the theme of restoring economic justice and working toward equality. He's noting his success in job creation, as well as his leading the way to rein in Wall Street's excesses.

Oh, and here's the "fight obstruction with action" line. It's getting HUGE applause in the room. He doesn't even have to call out John Boehner, Eric Cantor, Mitt Romney, or Newt Gingrich by name. He's slashing apart their G-O-TEA religion quite well right now. He's highlighting the resurrection of the US auto industry. And he's about to talk about renewable energy successes. He said that we bet on American workers, and that the bet is paying off.

So far, so great.

6:30 PM-

Hmmm... President Obama is now announcing a trade enforcement unit. Funny enough, this will please both unions concerned about unfair trade practices... As well as Hollywood studios who were pissed over the loss of SOPA & PIPA. And seriously, we can't just continue to let vulture capitalists run roughshod over us.

And speaking more on that, Obama also rolled out an aggressive plan to reform the corporate tax code. He wants to expand breaks to small businesses and high-tech firms that manufacture here while taking a harder line on "legal" tax cheats. Sorry, Mitt Romney. I guess that's why Joe Heck looked so angry when the camera cut to him?

He's now talking education. Obama is explaining how educational opportunities can lift students out of poverty. He also spoke up for teachers. He sounds ready to end the ridiculous failed experiment known as "No Child Left Behind". Yes! We need real teaching, not training for standardized tests.

6:40 PM-

Obama stressed the need to make college more affordable. He even threatened to cut funding to schools that are making their tuition too unaffordable! Wow.

He then brought up comprehensive immigration reform. Wow. He went there. He's really shaming Congress!

He's again bringing up the need to invest in innovation. We really can't continue to shortchange our future.We have to fund research.

Now Obama is talking energy. He mentioned his willingness to allow for more oil drilling in some areas, but then he pivoted to cleaner energy. Here's where natural gas comes in. Apparently he's willing to regulate fracking, but he definitely sounds open to more natural gas development.

And now, Obama is talking real renewable energy. He's now reminding America that renewable energy investments mean real job creation. He refuted the far right's Solyndra nonsense with real examples of real job creation. We've subsidized fossil fuel for far enough. If we want a real "free marketplace", then it's time to level the playing field for green energy.

Oh, and now he's announcing that both the Pentagon and public lands will be going all in on renewable development! Again, it's time to act.

6:55 PM-

And here's what we've been waiting all night for. Obama is now hitting hard on economic inequality... And on the tax code. He doesn't have to name Mitt Romney to point out his tax evasion. He's now explaining how Mitt Romney's 14% tax rate on his $21,000,000 annual income adds to the deficit and takes away from students struggling to stay in college, and from seniors trying to pay for their prescription drugs. Ha. Mittens won't get away with this any longer!

7:10 PM-

For a moment, we heard some of the Barack Obama we came to know in 2007. He talked again about the biting partisan tone of Washington. He asked Congress to stop fighting each other to death and start working together. That may really be harder said than done.

And now, Obama turns back to foreign policy. Libya. Egypt. Syria. "Tyranny is no match for liberty." The Arab Spring is here to stay. The world is finally reaching accord on what to do about Iran. Obama continues to remind us of how he's done a total 189 on foreign policy once he took over from Bush... And that America and the world are all the better for it.

7:20 PM-

HA! Obama just stated America is NOT in decline, and that our position on the world stage is better than ever. For all the Republican bluster of "America first", they now sound like the "America haters" they always accused progressives of. He just turned the patriotism argument on its head.

State of Our Union... In Motion

Tonight, we'll be watching what may be the most critical moment of 2012.

And then tomorrow, the President arrives here. And on Thursday, he'll be giving a speech on energy. However, don't expect another talk in front of a solar power plant.

A look at the president’s detailed travel schedule reveals a few clues about the specifics he might be getting into — at least enough for one good guess.

In Nevada, conversations about investing in energy usually revolve around geothermal power or solar panels. But Obama is not coming to Nevada to talk at a power plant in the desert.

Obama arrives in Las Vegas Wednesday evening. On Thursday morning, he is delivering public remarks at the United Parcel Service Las Vegas South facility.

Last year, UPS announced it had contracted with Clean Energy Fuels Corp. to roll out a fleet of 48 liquefied natural gas-fueled transport trucks at a new LNG [liquefied natural gas] fueling station. The initial contract, set for seven years, started in 2011.

So what is this about? Clean Energy Fuels started opening LNG fueling stations in Southern Nevada last year. Now there are four stations here in the valley. And last year, UPS began replacing its older diesel trucks with LNG powered trucks.

And while there are still clear environmental risks with LNG fuel, it is much cleaner than any other fossil fuel, it is more readily available domestically (so not as much need to import, unlike oil), and it may even be cheaper than traditional crude oil based gasoline. It may not be a good idea to declare natural gas a panacea, but it may be useful as a "transitional fuel" while research continues on more ways to harness renewable energy. And considering all the jobs that are being created as companies like UPS switch their vehicles from traditional gas or diesel to LNG, this can certainly provide a much needed boost to the economy.

So again, President Obama is looking ahead to future opportunities to create more American jobs while also doing something serious about climate change. We've recently regained the title of top global investor in clean energy, and there's plenty more economic benefit to investing in our future.

But of course, the G-O-TEA fools running against Obama just don't get it. What are their proposals to cut greenhouse gas emissions and create jobs? They don't have any. In fact, they'd rather conspire with lobbyists from foreign oil conglomerates to increase their profits than do something to help American workers looking for good American jobs!

Of course, we've seen for ourselves what the likes of API do to try to confuse us about climate change and smart energy solutions. So hopefully this week, Nevadans will be able to see for themselves who's looking forward to smart energy saving and economy boosting solutions... And who's just pitifully stuck in reverse.

Anatomy of an Appointment

Inside #Henderson #Nevada council chamber #nvpolitics #nvp2 #fb
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about 21 minutes ago
Inside #Henderson #Nevada council chamber #nvpolitics#nvp2 #fb

Last night, the Henderson City Council had a crucial decision to make. The Ward 3 seat had become vacant when incumbent Council Member Kathleen Vermillion (formerly Boutin) suddenly resigned. This news was first greeted by plenty of shock all over Henderson... Only for constituents to then be shocked by the torrent of salacious details of the romantic relationship between Vermillion and Clark County Commissioner Steve Sisolak (D-Henderson), then the accusations that Vermillion committed fraud and improperly used city and charity money for her own personal gain (she's the CEO of Nevada Partnership for Homeless Youth). And now, as Kathleen Vermillion is suing Steve Sisolak, he's firing back and presenting evidence that he says shows her law suit is baseless and frivolous... And he's now claiming she tried to extort a whopping $3.9 million from him.

And while the Vermillion scandal continued to deepen, the rest of the Henderson Council had to decide upon a replacement for Ward 3. Ward 4 Council Member Sam Bateman had proposed a special election, but the rest of the council ultimately decided to appoint a replacement. And from there, the City Clerk collected applications from 14 Henderson Ward 3 residents vying to fill this vacancy. And among the 14 candidates, two in particular caught plenty of attention: Sean Fellows, Vermillion's appointment to the Planning Commission, the Republican nominee who ran against now Nevada Assembly Member April Mastroluca (D-Henderson) in the 29th District in 2008, and someone with close ties to Nevada GOP power player Ryan Erwin; and Cathy Rosenfield, who had previously served on the Parks and Recreation Board for a decade and ran against Vermillion in the 2009 Ward 3 council election (and received over 7,000 votes). With the background of scandal and two local political heavyweights emerging to fill this position, a real battle royale was brewing here in Henderson.

Yet last night, a wild card emerged that shattered many observers' expectations of what was to ensue at the Henderson Council Meeting to fill the Ward 3 vacancy. Henderson Planning Commissioner John Marz was another of the 14 applicants, and he really distinguished himself during question time. Unlike most of the other applicants, Marz was able to explain in depth the problems Henderson, and specifically Ward 3, face. He spoke about retail vacancies, home foreclosures, the pending Science Center and Union Village developments near The Galleria, and how his business experience can help him build consensus on the council to solve the problems the bad economy showered upon Henderson.

Oh, and then Marz dropped a bombshell. He promised not to run for a full term in 2013. That immediately sparked a bad reaction from Ward 1 Council Member Gerri Schroder, who declared that the city needs a long-term commitment from the new Ward 3 pick, and that he or she should be ready to run for election. Sam Bateman, on the other hand, took it well and said that this solution is one that best preserves the voters' right to ultimately decide on a long-term replacement in 2013. Ward 2 Council Member Debra March mostly agreed with Bateman and found it noble that Marz was not trying to get a political lift with this. Mayor Andy Hafen sounded quite impressed with Marz, but also noted Schroder's concerns about the need for a long-term replacement.

Ultimately, Marz was a finalist, along with Cathy Rosenfield, Sean Fellows, and former CCSD principal Beverly Daly-Dix. And after another round of questions, the final round of voting was underway. The Clerk noted that a preference point system was about to be used to help determine where the council stands, and then the council can use that to narrow down further to a final decision. Gerri Schroder noted again that Cathy Rosenfield and Sean Fellows also had smart answers to her question on what specific problems face Ward 3, and that both of them are ready to make the long-term commitment she's looking for. Sam Bateman noted the personal relationships he has with some of the candidates, then led the entire council to make disclosures on that front (mostly donations from the realtors' PAC). And then, Mayor Hafen made a motion... And then, all of a sudden, John Marz won the appointment. The vote was 3-1 in favor (Hafen, March, and Bateman in favor; Schroder opposed).

#Henderson #Nevada decides on new council member #nvpolitics #nvp2 #fb
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about 14 minutes ago
#Henderson #Nevada decides on new council member#nvpolitics #nvp2 #fb

Once the meeting adjourned, Marz was sworn in. Inside the council chamber, the mood was quite congratulatory. Sam Bateman was glad to see the issue resolved and satisfied that voters will ultimately have the final say on Ward 3 next year. And though Gerri Schroder obviously had her doubts about this final decision, she displayed no hard feelings about it.

However outside the chamber, there was palpable anger. Some were confused as to why Fellows didn't get the final nod. Others were making accusations about campaign donations clouding the council's judgment. Certainly, not everyone was pleased about what just happened.

Still, I honestly think this was the best decision the council could have made other than allowing for a special election. Some of the candidates clearly were looking to use this as a political springboard for future elections. Others just wanted an "easy way in". But with John Marz joining the council, and hopefully with him fulfilling his promise to step down next year, there won't be questions over the council acting improperly to install "cronies" or reward insiders with plum jobs. If candidates like Fellows and Rosenfield are still interested in serving, they can run in next year's election for the full term. And as the council tries to put the Vermillion scandal behind the city and move forward on vital matters of economic development and recovery, like the Union Village medical complex, the new Cornerstone Park, and what to do about future growth, it's probably best to avoid potential new scandals and leave the final decision to "we the people".

Monday, January 23, 2012

Yes, We Really Do Matter.

Remember the run up to New Hampshire's primary? It may now seem like a million years ago, but it's really been just two weeks. Then, we learned that Sheldon Adelson planned to up the ante for his BFF Newt Gingrich. And regardless of what he says about what he supposedly knew (or not) about how Newt's Super PAC would nip at Mitt Romney's Achilles' Heel,

Well, apparently Adelson is about to go all in... And so is his wife! And since this week may be the most critical ever for Newt Gingrich and his political career, as well as Mitt Romney and his political career, the stakes couldn't be higher.

And yet again, there will be increased focus on Mittens' full embrace of his role as "Mr. 1%".

No really, think about it.

But Gingrich’s upset victory in South Carolina seems to show that potency of arguments that highlight the unfairness and inequality of our economic system. As Ruy Texeira writes, conservatives “should realize they’re attacking the opinions of most Americans who do, in fact, believe the system unfairly favors the wealthy“.

On CNN’s State of the Union yesterday, Gingrich took a bit of victory lap on the Bain attacks, acknowledging that they helped him win South Carolina because, he argued, they show voters where Romney is vulnerable against President Obama.

Indeed, after several weeks dominated by the controversy over Bain and Romney’s tax returns, the former governor risks losing his frontrunner status. Romney is down by double digits in Florida and is barely hanging onto a one point lead nationally, according to Gallup. For instance, one self-described “scorned woman” in South Carolina told TPM that she voted for Gingrich, even as lurid new revelations about his second wife were emerging, because of Romney’s waffling on his tax returns.

It’s worth remembering that in its early days, the Tea Party was nearly as anti-Wall Street as it was anti-government, galvanized by the Wall Street bailout. Much of that resentment likely remains, despite the best efforts of conservative elites to redirect that anger toward the government in order to white wash the distasteful record of companies like Bain.

Even though Sheldon Adelson is also "Mr. 1%" and he apparently wasn't all that into Newt's Bain attacks, his donation to Newt's Super-PAC just as it was about to release the "King of Bain" anti-Romney movie onto South Carolina airwaves nonetheless triggered this debate on economic inequality on the right. And what really makes this interesting is that despite all the efforts of the Nevada Republican Party to make its caucus totally irrelevant, Nevada and our biggest concerns may matter more in this election than we had ever imagined. And especially if Mittens plans to hit Newton on housing while Newton hits Mitten on Bain, perhaps Nevadans really will see more of a discussion on economic issues that we want answers on.

Of course, this probably won't be good for the G-O-TEA. Remember this?

Mittens doesn't want us to... But that's too bad. And funny enough, Sheldon Adelson is doing his part to help us remember.

So What Do We Have?

We have some big, existential questions to answer. Last year, the Nevada Cancer Institute filed for bankruptcy, laid off half its staff, and faced huge financial hurdles going forward. And now, it's confirmed that UCSD will buy the Institute for $18 million. Yes, you read me right. The University of CALIFORNIA San Diego Health System will take over the Nevada Cancer Institute.

UC Regent Charlene Zettel said all UC health systems need to look for ways to increase their patient base and optimize resources to stay competitive. She said the UC San Diego purchase accomplishes that.

“Patients coming from Nevada would mean better utilization of the state-of-the-art facility we have at UCSD Moores Cancer Center,” Zettel said. “It also would be a boost for the San Diego economy because patients and families would be staying here. Most importantly, though, patients would get excellent care from some of the best doctors in California.”

Dr. Thomas McAfee, interim chief executive for the UC San Diego Health System, said buying the 142,000-square-foot, four-story building and its medical practice fits into the long-term growth plan. By broadening its circle of patients, the university can expand its research and clinical trials and boost its education programs, he said.

Certainly, this is good news for cancer patients that rely on the Institute for crucial treatment, and there may be some benefits down the road if UCSD is interested in continuing, or possibly even expanding, research and treatment programs here in Nevada. But still, this has to be a major blow to our civic pride. I mean, come on, we couldn't even save our own Cancer Institute? Even if UCSD continues some sort of research and treatment programs here, the primary mission will be to funnel more patients to UCSD's Moores Cancer Center in La Jolla.

But then again, we probably shouldn't be surprised. After all, listen to Nevada's own "home grown Presidential Candidate".

Does art imitate life, or does life imitate art?

We can keep laughing off our failure to invest in our future, or we can finally change it. Why couldn't UNR step in to save the Nevada Cancer Institute? Why do patients in need of procedures like bone marrow transplants have to travel out of state for treatment? When will Nevada be known for more than just big casinos, legal prostitution, and an addiction to the "growth begets growth, and growth pays for growth" idea that's now failing us?

We can't keep expecting casinos and tourism to prop us up. As we've had to learn the hard way, tourists don't spend as much on vacations during times of economic turmoil. You know, two weeks of tech geeks and porn stars do not make a complete and balanced economy. Yes, we obviously still need and appreciate tourism, but we also need to diversify and build the kind of infrastructure that will allow for a healthier economy to flourish here in Nevada.

I guess it's good that the Nevada Cancer Institute will be able to continue as something here in the future, but it's nonetheless saddening that Nevada couldn't even save this crucial piece of its own medical infrastructure.