Our day that will live in infamy

Where were you on September 11, 2001?

I wrote on the Sunday following that day of infamy:

“I sat down at my computer at about 6 a.m., unfolded the newspaper and switched on the television. There was smoke pouring from the top of one of the unmistakable landmarks of New York City, the World Trade Center. Well, I thought, there’s a story and photo for tomorrow’s front page, and started into the morning’s routine.

“Minutes later a fireball blossomed from the other tower, and it began to dawn on the commentators and me that this was no ordinary accident and Sept. 11 would be no ordinary day.”

I started making phone calls. Reporters and photographers were dispatched to Hoover Dam, McCarran International, City Hall, Nellis Air Force Base, the Strip and elsewhere. Editors huddled. The publisher called in and said we should add 24 pages to the Wednesday newspaper. All plans were scrapped and we started from scratch, hoping to help our readers make sense of a senseless act.

Every section of the paper kicked in its resources.

The press crew rolled the presses early and cranked out thousands of extra copies.

Then I wrote that Sunday:

“I was proud of what we all had accomplished, of the concerted effort and professionalism, as I drove home at 1 a.m. … until I heard the callers on the radio. People were saying they would gladly give up some freedoms for the sake of safety.”

I wanted to reach into the radio and slap some sense into the callers.

The column proceeded to tick off some of the rights spelled out in the Bill of Rights and I wondered aloud which people would willingly sacrifice. The First’s right of assembly, lest there be a bomb, and no freedom of speech and religion, especially that one? The Second’s right to bear arms? The Fourth’s prohibition against warrantless search and seizure? The Fifth’s right to due process? The Sixth’s right to a public trial?

I concluded:

“If this is the consensus of the nation, the bastards have already won, destroying our will and our principles as well as planes, buildings and lives.

“We will have surrendered without firing a shot in the first war of the 21st century.”

The column appeared sandwiched between a Jim Day cartoon and a Vin Suprynowicz column with the headline: “The passengers were all disarmed.”

In a comment to a local magazine on an anniversary of 9/11 I called it “our Pearl Harbor.”

A version of this was posted on this day in 2017.

 

School system fails to learn from experience

You’re supposed to learn from experience.

Recently the Clark County school system announced it was instituting a new policy aimed at reducing the school-to-prison pipeline, according to the morning newspaper.

The new policy encourages schools to keep certain minor criminal acts from being referred to the courts. The “minor” crimes include trespassing, possession of drug paraphernalia, possession of less than one ounce of THC, obstruction, disturbing the peace, resisting a public officer, petty larceny, damage to school property and truancy. The thinking is that once in the court system young people spiral into ever more serious criminal behavior.

Today the morning paper’s lede editorial politely points out how well such reasoning has been working.

Five years ago, the editorial notes, facing pressure from the Obama administration, the district set out to eliminate perceived racial disparities in school disciplinary procedures. Expulsions since have fallen 69 percent, the commentary relates, while violence against students is up about 50 percent.

Cause and effect?

Perhaps schools should teach students that criminal behavior has consequences instead of leaving students exposed to danger by coddling those who misbehave.

 

Proposed CCSD teacher contract gives union a lock on future funds

Screen shot from video explaining teacher union contract will give teachers 70 percent of any future funding that exceeds the minimum necessary to fund the Clark County School District.

It’s not a contract. It’s surrender.

The morning newspaper reported a week ago that the Clark County School District and its teachers union had agreed on a three-year contract that includes $51 million salary increases and health insurance contributions recently awarded in arbitration. The teachers are to vote on the contract Thursday.

Today, the paper’s political columnist reported on a little detail about the contract not previously mentioned. If in the future the state Legislature provides funding that is greater than the school district’s minimum needs, 70 percent of that additional money must go to compensate teachers — not hire more teachers, but pay more for the existing ones.

Columnist Victor Joecks remarked, “So (Superintendent Jesus) Jara’s plan to improve education is to pay the same people doing the same job more money. Talk about another example of how you can’t fix a broken system by pouring more money into it.”

Joecks also linked to a video posted online by Union Executive Director John Vellardita explaining the contract. The key portion starts at about the 3-minute mark:

 

Joecks concludes, “Nevada’s collective bargaining laws already severely limit Jara’s authority. You don’t solve that problem by handing what little control you do have to the teachers union.”

 

 

 

 

 

Paper can’t resist one more dig at departing CEO

This just might be the definition of beating a dead horse.

After numerous banner stories about lavish spending at the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, the use of taxpayer purchased airline gift cards for personal travel and the golden parachute for retiring CEO Rossi Ralenkottter, the morning newspaper manages to lob one more dart in the form of a banner story.

This piece quotes Ralenkotter as saying at a board meeting this past week about the hotel room tax that funds the operation, “It’s not a tax that’s on the people who live here, and we need to continue that messaging.”

The next paragraph begs to differ, noting that, while the vast majority of the hotel room tax is paid by tourists, state residents pay “tens of millions of dollars” in room taxes. The story then goes on to regale with accounts of poor people living in hotels, people from other counties coming to Clark County for business or pleasure and locals on so-called staycations. The story reports that a government survey of the homeless found about 2 percent typically stay at a hotel or motel at night, which costs an extra 13 to 14 percent due to the room tax.

The headline on an emailed alert about this story sent out Monday evening really rubbed it in: “Clark County room tax hauls in millions from poor Nevadans.”

Not until the last leg of the jump is it reported that the LVCVA itself estimates that 5 percent of the room tax is paid by state residents — or $36.9 million out of $738 million.

One last dig at the departing Ralenkotter? We doubt it.

This account did not end with the obligatory italicized disclaimer stating that the paper is owned by the family of Las Vegas Sands Corp. Chairman and CEO Sheldon Adelson and that company operates a convention center that competes with the LVCVA. An oversight surely.

Convention authority plays Robin Hood in reverse

Brazen.

The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority Board voted 13-1 Tuesday to give retiring CEO Rossi Ralenkotter a lovely parting gift worth $455,000, according to the morning newspaper. Talk about robbing the poor to give to the rich. Ralenkotter, 71, made $860,000 a year in pay and benefits and will get a taxpayer-funded public employee pension of at least $350,000 a year for the rest of his life.

How any of this lucrative cash out is of any benefit whatsoever to the taxpayers, no one bothered to even try to explain as they manned the shovels and scooped out money.

This was after Ralenkotter spent tax money like a drunken sailor — no offense to drunken sailors — to lavish gifts on unknown persons for unknown reasons, used $17,000 in airline gift cards purchased nefariously by the agency for personal trips and left $50,000 in airline gift cards unaccounted for. Yes, he reimbursed the agency for the gift cards after he was caught red-handed by an audit. The vote came during an hours-long meeting at which Ralenkotter was praised to the rafters for his sterling leadership and accomplishments, all while police officers reportedly investigating his possible misdeeds sat in the back row.

Brazen.

Not that Metro police will ever deign to file charges against the retiring CEO for, you know, taking public funds for personal use, what some might dare to call stealing but not us or Metro, nay, nay, but now there are 13 members of the authority board who might be described as accessories after the fact, complicit, aiding and abetting, turning a blind eye, fiduciarily irresponsible, shirking their duties, flipping off the taxpayers.

Brazen.

Of course, the morning paper is owned by someone who owns a competing convention center, as was dutifully noted in an italic disclaimer at the end of the story. While this might provide motive and explain why this topic has been a banner story for weeks and there have been a few critical editorial — including one today that called the board vote “a shameless disdain for the fiscal standards and practices necessary to maintain the public’s trust” — the facts have yet to be actually, you know, contested.

Errol Flynn would not play this role.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One of these things is not like the other

Two banner stories. Same topic. Different conclusions.

The morning newspaper and its insert both bannered accounts of a police investigation into spending at the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.

The morning paper quoted a letter delivered to the authority by the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police: “At this time, there is insufficient facts to support a criminal case against Mr. Ralenkotter.” It also noted that LVCVA Chairman Lawrence Weekly told board members that police had found “insufficient evidence” to charge CEO Rossi Ralenkotter, but he failed to mention the letter’s “at this time” qualifier.

The insert flatly stated that Ralenkotter was cleared and quoted Weekly as saying, “This afternoon I received word from the Las Vegas Metro Police Department that they have found insufficient evidence to proceed with any criminal charges against Mr. Ralenkotter. As you know, this reaffirms the findings from our auditors and legal counsel, as reported in the April 2018 board meeting, that Mr. Ralenkotter demonstrated no criminal intent or criminal wrongdoing.”

Nine paragraphs into the morning paper’s story readers are told: “But the police investigation into the mishandling of $90,000 worth of Southwest Airlines gift cards secretly bought by the agency is just beginning. Police have done little beyond picking up records from the convention authority on June 28, the Review-Journal has learned.”

The “has learned” is not attributed to any source.

Ralenkotter reportedly used $17,000 worth of those airline gift cards for personal travel and reimbursed the authority. The audit found $50,000 in gift cards unaccounted for. Ralenkotter has said he thought the cards were given to the LVCVA as part of a promotion.

The morning paper’s story goes on to quote three different lawyers commenting on events as if the investigation is ongoing.

So, has Ralenkotter been cleared or is the investigation ongoing? Stay tuned.

Anyone want to lay odds on whether Metro will ever charge anyone with anything?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Front page coverage for futile and senseless gesture?

Admittedly Mondays are slow news days, but why would the morning newspaper give front page coverage to a ballot initiative that has netted only 10 percent of the needed signatures with only three months to go?

Perhaps it is what editors call a brite — an amusing though unimportant or trivial matter. The story even says the chances for the petition being successful are “looking bleak.”

The ballot initiative — The Greater Choice-Greater Voice Statutory Initiative — would end party primary elections altogether and have voters at the General Election in the fall rank their top three candidates. Thus far it has been largely ignored by the media since it was first filed with the Secretary of State in September 2017. Backers — Nevadans for Election Reform PAC — did not get around filing the actual petition until April.

Don’t bother looking for the story on the paper’s website today. That’s because it was inexplicably posted this past Friday afternoon.

The story reports that the initiative is being pushed by a 69-year-old man who switched from being a Republican after three decades to nonpartisan and is now miffed that he can’t vote in either major party primary — duh.

Perhaps one reason signatures are hard to come by is that the petition is 25 pages long.

Also, it ignores the fact that anyone who wishes to actually, you know, vote in a primary election can easily change party affiliation online shortly before the election and then change it again after the primary. That’s practically the same as having open primaries.

Reportedly the measure would save the taxpayers money by eliminating the primary election, but one can only imagine the bewildering  number of names that would subsequently appear on the fall ballot and then having the task of having to rank three different candidates in every race from president to dogcatcher.

By the way, the 600-plus-word newspaper account contained not a single negative comment about this hare-brained initiative.

Here is a cliche-ridden, logic-distorting video posted by the group: