Well-funded scientific research, not price controls, is needed now and in the future

By Jack Finn

The coronavirus pandemic has upended life as we know it, and no one is immune to its impact. America is adjusting to life with social distancing and self-quarantining, essentially isolating ourselves from each other. Most people surely feel like it’s been the longest few days of their lives — but people like me have an even higher cause for concern during this worldwide global health crisis. Now more than ever, Americans realize the crucial impact that the biopharmaceutical industry has on our daily lives. I know I have. 

In June of last year, during a routine consultation with my doctor, he discovered a tumor on my tonsil. Following an on-the-spot biopsy, he grimly told me that he was pretty certain the tumor was cancerous. His diagnosis was confirmed a few days later. Surgery followed, then five weeks of daily radiation treatments. The care I’ve received has been excellent, my prognosis is good. My team of doctors is pleased with my progress so far.  

Like most every other aspect of my life, however, my recovery has been complicated by the coronavirus outbreak. My oncologist has asked that all routine, follow-up appointments be rescheduled — but I had to venture to his office recently and mingle with the other patients in order to get important test results that cannot be delivered over the phone. 

This small anecdote speaks to a larger issue. Currently, our health care system is being consumed by the COVID-19 pandemic, and for good reason. But this poses serious issues for recovering patients like me, and many in far worse situations, or patients currently in need of treatment. 

I remain optimistic, though, not only in terms of my own recovery but also for our collective recovery. We’ve already seen significant progress in the industry’s journey to treat and cure COVID-19, and I’m proud to live in America with the greatest minds working on this deadly disease. While the fate of our country’s well-being hangs in the balance, this fact gives me hope; America will overcome this obstacle. 

However, our country’s ability to do so is greatly dependent on scientists’ ability to find and produce a cure. With the looming threat of government price controls, that ability is severely hindered. Price controls deprive biopharmaceutical companies of the financial backing they need to continue investing in their work, limiting outcomes and access, and increasing wait times. 

That isn’t something our population can afford at this time; especially not immuno-compromised folks like me. Placing limits on innovation for the sake of lower costs in the meantime is a risk we as a country should not take. We need our lawmakers to abandon policies that will place price controls on medicine that could cause an irreversible ripple effect in the innovation space, putting more time between the present crisis and a future cure. 

Jack Finn is the national communications director for Marsy’s Law for All. He has worked in media and politics in Nevada for more than 20 years.

Nevadans, don’t let the coronavirus deter you from participating in the 2020 Census

By U.S. Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto and Jacky Rosen

As your U.S. Senators, we are doing everything we can to protect the health of Nevadans in the face of the coronavirus public health emergency. We must all do our part to protect our communities by practicing social distancing and maintaining high standards of hygiene. But there is another thing you can do to help our state: participate in the census. 

As you already know, the census is conducted every 10 years and the results not only determine the size of our state and federal legislature, but also the distribution of billions of dollars in federal funds for schools, hospitals, highways and other essential services. In 2015 alone, the federal government used 2010 Census data to funnel $675 billion to states through dozens of federal programs. This includes programs that will help us prepare for a public health threat like the one we are experiencing. 

Each person counted in the census will help Nevada receive federal funds for Medicare, Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), and other government programs critical to public health preparedness. 

State officials estimate that Nevada could lose nearly $ 170 million in federal funding for health care and child welfare programs over the next decade if only 1 percent of Nevadans do not participate in the 2020 census.

It is truly important to participate in the 2020 census because if we are not counted, it is as if we did not exist and that would have grave consequences for our communities, our schools and our families.

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to evolve, we want Nevadans to know that they can participate in the census online, by phone, or by mail. That is why we urge all of our Hispanic communities in Nevada to participate remotely in the 2020 census as soon as possible.

We want all Nevadans, especially our Hispanic and immigrant communities, to know that in the Senate we have worked to ensure that the information provided by families and individuals to the census is safe and will not be used against you.

It is the responsibility of each of us to ensure that our Hispanic communities are accurately counted in the 2020 Census and that our state receives the necessary funds to protect our health. For more information, or to participate in the 2020 Census online, visit the website: 2020Census.gov.

Musings on liberty in the face of crises

Nevada landscape under blue skies

By Rebecca Singer

Growing up in the wide open expanses of Northern Nevada’s basin and range, my early life was characterized by freedom and in many ways, solitude. Freedom to explore the natural world and the solitude that can only be felt in sparsely populated regions. After moving to Europe when I was 16 for a foreign exchange program, I’ve spent the majority of the last six years here, and I am currently completing my bachelor’s degree in Italy. Although Europe has become home to me in many ways, I still feel a yearning for the jet black skies of Nevada painted with brilliant constellations, the smell of desert after a rain, and most of all, the emptiness. Being able to walk for miles and miles and not see another soul is the positive side of solitude. In this way, no matter where I am, part of Nevada will always be home for me.

The last few months have proven to be difficult ones for all of us, and many of us are facing a new type of solitude, one of social distancing. As COVID-19 swept across the world ignoring national borders, many people have had to give up liberties we assume to be unquestionable. We have seen drastic changes to our lives, and live with the uncertainty of what the future holds both in regards to the virus, the economy and geopolitical relations. Many have seen their jobs disappear before their eyes, while some (health care workers, supermarket employees and others) have begun to feel increasing pressure. In Italy, the entire country has been in a state of lockdown since March 9th, with increasingly strict regulations on everyday life. As of now, the economy here has all but shut down, except for necessary food and drugstores, and we are only allowed to leave our homes for shopping, caring for family members or work. These restrictions are now being implemented across the world in the attempt to slow the spread of the virus so that hospitals are not swamped as they have been in ​northern Italy​ and can continue to offer the necessary care for all those in need.

These actions mark a critical and pivotal moment in the story of Western democracy, specifically in the interconnected world of the 21st century. Never before has my generation—a generation that has grown up in the so-called globalized world of “time and space compression” (a term coined by David Harvey in his 1989 work ​The Condition of Postmodernity​ that implies a shrinking of the world due to technological progress) in which everything has become within our grasp—faced a situation where our individual liberties were curtailed for the good of the many. I speak, of course, only for those of my generation who have grown up as I have: privileged by my race, class and passport, to reap only the benefits and none of the shortcomings of a globalized world.

That is to say, finding myself suddenly in the situation where I am forbidden to move beyond the four walls that surround me, I have had to face for the first time the question of how highly I value the good of the many compared to my individual liberty. Not only is travel forbidden, but everything has closed. In the rare moments I leave my flat for food shopping I see deserted streets and piazzas, and the usually jovial Italians keep a wary distance from one another. The one meter safety distance between people in those shops that remain open is enforced (including for myself and my roommate, despite the irony that, sharing a living space with her, if either one of us contracts the virus, we both will).

As much as the restrictions may chafe—especially for a famously cavalier and rule-bending people as the Italians — most individuals around me seem to have understood the gravity of the situation. Whether this is from an understanding that these measures are meant for the good of all, or because of fear (I would like to believe the former especially amongst people my age who worry less about contracting the disease for their own sake than about spreading it to those who are more likely to be harmed by it), people are gracefully giving up their individual liberty for the interest of the nation. The University of Bologna has done an impressive job of setting up online classes for something around 95 percent of their entire program up until now with plans to be 100 percent active online by the 17th, and, with a few exceptions, actual studies are little disrupted. Of course, the inconvenience for those who are graduating is increased by the fact that all gatherings have been indefinitely postponed. More generally, people are finding ways to show their solidarity within one another. Across Italy, the streets come alive at night as people ​sing from their balconies, eliciting a feeling of unity at the same time that social distancing takes its toll on the psyches of 60 million Italians.

As a student of a liberal arts university, questions dealing with individual vs general liberty, ethics of means or ends, and civic responsibility, are ones we deal with on a regular basis, and I am happy to admit to being a staunch supporter of the belief that individual liberties should play second fiddle to the good of the community, nation, and planet—in theory. I am thinking particularly of the “harm principle” as articulated by John Stuart Mill in ​On Liberty​. In the first chapter, Mill describes how democratic self rule does not imply that each person rules themselves, but that each person rules all others: “The ‘self-government’ spoken of is not the government of each by himself, but of each by all the rest.” (Mill was not the most inclusive or forward-thinking of people, and so went with “man” not “person” but for sake of my argument I have been more general.)

This implies mutual responsibility in the actions of each person over all others and brings Mill to the harm principle, which roughly can be boiled down to the idea that the suspension of the liberty of any person can only be justly done to prevent harm to others: “…the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not a sufficient warrant…”  To end the chapter Mill speaks of the three essential liberties that must be present for a society to be free: the first liberty is that of the liberty of the individual in his thoughts and beliefs, the second is in his actions ​as long as they do not harm others,​ and third is the liberty of assemblage of different persons and their combined actions ​as long as they do not harm others​. Taken as a whole, Mill makes a case here which I think stands up well in our current circumstances. Although free movement is seen as one of our most fundamental liberties, it has begun to present harm to others and should thus be curtailed. Mill offers us a way to view this infringement of our individual liberty in a different light; one which shows that it is our responsibility to change our habits for the good of all.

However, it has been a long time since any remotely similar curtailment of rights was asked of us in Western democracies. These moral arguments become much harder to swallow in the face of actual curtailment of rights, and I will readily admit that my first, and indeed second instincts, were to flee from such measures, even while faced with the understanding that it is the wrong thing to do in such a situation, both because of the potential for spreading the disease and also because such an act would undermine the civic duty which has been asked of us. It becomes not only a practical question of the containment of the pathogen, but a question of ethics and responsibility. As Italian Prime Minister Conte rightly put it, “​We all must give something up for the good of Italy.​” But this is not something my generation has any real experience with. Too young to remember 9/11 properly, too naive in the ways of the world to understand the full ramifications of the Financial Crisis of 2008, we have grown up with the world at our fingertips and no real checks on the belief that we can do as we please, when we please.

We all, and I speak now of the wider world, have also grown blind to the ​fragilities of our interconnected system​. Just-in-time productiona system meant to increase efficiency by decreasing on hand inventory and instead relying on the supply chain to deliver necessary materials at exactly the needed moment — only works when people are not in quarantine, the stock market only functions with a reasonable amount of faith in the system, citizens only remain safe when their governments act responsibly. 

COVID-19 provides us with an immediate threat to our way of life and our individual liberty on such a globalized scale; however, it does not represent anything wholly new. The crises brought on by global climate change pose the same existential threat but have somehow not managed to spark our concern even as their long term effects are likely to devastate our ways of life more than any single pandemic. This is in no way to mitigate the effects of the virus, only to bring to light that COVID-19 is eliciting actions in us that need to be considered more widely. Mr. Conte has gone farther than any other democratic leader to call his nation to heel—albeit at a point where the situation was already likely ​out of control​—a move which I believe was made rightly and which required a type of resolve which is likely to become more necessary in the years to come. Other countries are beginning to follow suit, but the questions remain; ​will it be enough​? And will people heed the call to action?

Too long have we, the privileged, taken for granted, and in some cases abused, the rights which have been granted to us. As terrible as it is, COVID-19 may be a wakeup call for those of us who have never had to experience “giving up something” for the good of our nation or our planet. It is time for us to face the reality of individual rights versus the good of our community. Because even after COVID-19, there are likely to be more such events—viruses, natural disasters and wars—which will mean blissful ignorance and the belief that all will be well with no modifications to our behavior, can no longer stand. ​And so from here in Siena, Italy I ask you all, my fellow Nevadans, to please Stay Home for Nevada.

Rebecca Singer was born in Reno and grew up at the edge of the desert near Yerington.  She is a junior at Bard College Berlin and is studying this semester at University of Bologna in Italy.

How to talk to your children during a pandemic

By Lisa Durette

The kids are home, and many of us are too. Some of us are tightening family budgets to fit unemployed life, while others are working electronically from home for the first time with our kids as new coworkers. (If anyone has found the secrets to making this a peaceful transition, please share them with us all.) One thing’s for sure: our children are at home. All. The. Time. And they have questions whether they are asking them or not.

And we are answering some of those questions whether we realize it or not. Children learn by watching us, and now, more than ever, is a critical time to remind ourselves that our actions set an example for them. Kids pick up on not only the words we say but how we say it. They notice when we talk in hushed voices, and they take note of how we’re adapting to social distancing and this strange new word. It’s hard to know what message they receive, so it is on us, as the adults, to be aware of the messages we’re sending and how we set the family tone.

How we communicate with kids is extremely important in times of stress. The COVID-19 crisis is now part of the fabric of their lives that they’ll talk about to their kids a generation from now. Included in that narrative will be their description of how their parents ‘told me about it.’ So what should we say to our kids about this unprecedented time, and how should we say it?

As a child and adolescent psychiatrist, friends and family have been asking me these questions repeatedly over the past weeks. I tell them there’s no ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution. The recommendations I give are gleaned from lessons within past research on traumatic events and applied to today’s situation. To put it simply, the research says this situation is already hard enough, and it’s impossible for it not to affect our children at all. We shouldn’t aim to be perfect parents or pretend like they aren’t noticing and being affected by this trauma. The research does say we can influence how children experience and adapt to trauma, and we can reduce the chances it results in a long-term psychiatric issue on the back end.

Here’s how.

This is a time to create the space for your children to be able to come to you and ask questions at their pace. When your kids ask questions, calmness and honesty set a solid foundation for trust to grow in your relationship. Being the bearer of bad news is never fun, but pretending everything is normal by shielding them from the truth could break down the trust needed for them to continue to confide in you in the future. It is clear today’s world is not our normal, and if they don’t believe they’re getting honest answers from you, they’ll get them somewhere else, including their imagination. When you don’t know the answer, you can foster honest communication by saying the three most important words—I DON’T KNOW. Follow that up by seeking the answers with them together from vetted, reputable sources like the World Health Organization (who.int) and the Centers for Disease Control (cdc.gov).

You know your children best, so put that knowledge to use. A good place to start is to keep in mind your child’s level of maturity. Younger children in pre-school and early elementary school can only absorb simple explanations and are usually only worried about how things directly affect their day-to-day lives. Teenagers are more focused on their relationships and freedom. Think about where your child is along those lines, and share information with them in a way that builds trust and a sense of safety. Listen to their fears and explain your plan for overcoming those obstacles. If you don’t have a plan, connect with people you trust and reputable sources to help you develop one. Kids may repeat the same questions as a way of telling you they need your support and reassurance. Repeat that to yourself when they ask you when school starts for the 29th time.  

Our job as parents is to protect our kids and help them cope the best we can in this unusual environment. Creating predictable routines will help you and your family cope. You can build trust, confidence, and a sense of safety by proactively sharing your safety plan in a family meeting. Struggling with food and shelter? Contact the Nevada 2-1-1 program for resources at https://www.nevada211.org/. Concerned about your safety or sanity? The Disaster Distress Helpline is a 24/7, 365-day-a-year, national hotline dedicated to providing immediate crisis counseling for people who are experiencing emotional distress related to any natural or human-caused disaster. People with deafness or hearing loss can use their preferred relay service to call 1-800-985-5990. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA’s) Disaster Distress Hotline: 1-800-985-5990 or text TalkWithUs to 66746. Crisis Support is also available at Nevada 1-800-273-8255, or text CARE to 839863.

Making sure you take care of yourself and that your family’s plan covers these bases will help you be the best you can be when being there for your children. Children are resilient and may simply want to play, read, talk to friends, and just do what kids do. If you notice signs your child needs additional help—difficulty sleeping, worries that won’t go away, fears of illness or death, excessive clinginess or sudden changes in mood or behaviors—reach out to the resources above, and seek professional help. Many insurance plans are covering therapy or psychiatry by phone or videoconferencing (called telehealth), and some licensed agencies are beginning to offer these services. Telehealth is the best way to get help while still Staying Home For Nevada.

Although we’re socially distancing, that is not the same as socially isolating. Stay in contact with friends and acquaintances and even make new ones via online chats, phone calls, texting, and other platforms. One thing we all have in common with our children is the need for open, honest communication to help us weather this storm. When making your schedule, carve out time to read, play, learn, and socialize, and you’ll be well on your way toward setting a great example for your children. If the article made you feel like you’re coming up short, give yourself some grace. I certainly don’t have all the answers, and no one is perfect. We just need to find the courage and inspiration to take the first step, and what better inspiration than our kids.

Stay healthy.

Dr Lisa Durette is board certified in both general psychiatry and child & adolescent psychiatry.  She is the program director of the child & adolescent psychiatry fellowship at UNLV School of Medicine, and serves as president of the Nevada Council of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry.  Most importantly, Lisa is the mom to an 11 year old.

In City Hall ‘Vegas World,’ pandemic no reason to cancel the picnic

I’m glad Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman is feeling better after her breast cancer battle.

Those who might not have known of her recovery were reminded at Wednesday’s City Council meeting when she once again downplayed the seriousness of the novel coronavirus pandemic. In calling on Gov. Steve Sisolak to shorten his order to close nonessential businesses for one month to combat the spread of the virus, Goodman used her own current condition to make her argument.

“As an example of the elderly, I am that person,” she said. “I’m 80 years old and, beyond that, have a compromised health system,” but added that she has “more energy than a pack of wolves.”

For the record, Goodman didn’t flex her biceps or reel off 50 pushups while saying that. It only seemed so.

Nor did she actually kick sand in Sisolak’s face with her request to shorten the mass closure of casinos, bars and restaurants to eight to 10 days. It only seemed so coming, as it did, less than 24 hours after his public announcement.

By again expressing overriding concern for the local economy ahead of public health, the mayor doubled, tripled – or was it quadrupled? – down on earlier comments that made the COVID-19 seem more like a common cold than a worldwide killer. While her winning prognosis is laudable, it means nothing to the many thousands of Nevadans with precarious medical conditions and aren’t feeling as strong as a wolf pack. While Goodman’s health may be fine, she remains absolutely tone deaf on this issue. And that’s a shame.

Everyone with a scintilla of compassion is concerned about the economy, both the current crash and the shutdown’s long-term impact. Nevadans are hurt by the closures. The state’s Department of Employment, Training & Rehabilitation is overwhelmed with jobless benefits applications despite working 12-hour days and six days a week.

That same compassion extends to first responders, firefighter paramedics and front-line hospital personnel. Their selfless efforts remind us every day of the best spirit of the nation. They know this isn’t a super-sized common cold. They know it’s deadly, and they don’t want to catch it or spread it to family, friends, strangers and patients. It’s why the national shortage of PPE (personal protective equipment) such as masks, gloves and gowns is such an abomination.

But by now everyone should know that.

Leaders of states and communities are following the directions of the nation’s medical experts. In Nevada, Reno Mayor Hillary Schieve directed city businesses to close temporarily. Even the Trump administration sycophants at “Fox News” have stopped prevaricating about the dangers of the pandemic. It’s not a hoax or a Democratic Party political strategy.

We’ve been instructed to make difficult changes, some of which are being made at a terrible cost to working families and businesses. It’s understandable that Goodman would want to express her support for those families and companies. But by offering a medical opinion about the incubation period of the virus as she argues for an early return to business-as-usual, she’s placing her credibility on life-support. There’s something more than a little nutty about imploring the governor to allow people to make their own choices and “create and follow their own destinies” in the middle of a state of emergency. The same mayor who was so concerned about the germs of the homeless that she pushed to ban camping on the sidewalk has also pushed to continue City Council meetings during a viral pandemic.

That makes sense, but only in Vegas World.

It’s no wonder Goodman’s council colleagues Brian Knudsen and Cedric Crear have put six feet of political distance from her rhetoric and the odd comments of City Attorney Brad Jerbic. Goodman may have the strength of 100 wolves, but her mixed up priorities make one suspect she’s no tree full of owls.

She did, however, receive the support of Mayor Pro-Tem Michele Fiore, the conservative firebrand councilwoman who fills in for Goodman when she can’t make the meeting. This is the same former Nevada assemblywoman who made national headlines in 2015 after using her Las Vegas radio show to express the opinion that cancer was a fungus curable with a treatment of saltwater and sodium carbonate.

Doctor Fiore makes Goodman sound like Jonas Salk. But that’s Vegas World these days.

Stay well, Mayor. Please stay well.

John L. Smith is an author and longtime columnist. He was born in Henderson and his family’s Nevada roots go back to 1881. His stories have appeared in Time, Readers Digest, The Daily Beast, Reuters, Ruralite and Desert Companion, among others. He also offers weekly commentary on Nevada Public Radio station KNPR. His newest book—a biography of iconic Nevada civil rights and political leader, Joe Neal— “Westside Slugger: Joe Neal’s Lifelong Fight for Social Justice” is published by University of Nevada Press and is available at Amazon.com. Contact him at jlnevadasmith@gmail.com. On Twitter: @jlnevadasmith

Government power in the temporary apocalypse

I have a confession. I think this might be all my fault. A few months ago, I bit off a little more than I could chew, taking on a few more cases than, strictly speaking, I had time to deal with during regular working hours. I was working a lot of nights and weekends to keep up, and in frustration I would say, “[Gosh!] – if only the world could just pause for a couple of weeks so I could catch up.”

Apparently, I have a little too much pull with Cthulhu, or whomever is pulling on some of these strings. Sorry about that, and from now on, I promise only to use this power for good. 

But I am getting marvelously caught up on things, as least for now. Our collective situation sucks, but there are silver linings aplenty to be found as we adjust to this situation with no historical precedent to guide us. Among those are opportunities to better understand – and clean up – our own governments’ various practices, both during and after this crisis.

***

My particular profession gives me a front-row seat to some of the challenges of a vibrant society trying to shut itself down. No, that’s not right – I’m not in the audience, I’m on stage in the production. Right now, I have cases in six counties and 11 distinct courts, and all of them are dealing with the shutdown in their own ways. I have clients in four different county jails and five different prisons – visitations are cancelled and most of them are not being transported to court. This is a new and stark twist to the ever-present challenge in finding the balance between public safety and individual liberty. 

For the most part, the courts have risen to the challenge. The Supreme Court has been assisting the district courts in crafting individual administrative orders tailored to their own unique geographies and circumstances – Lyon County is dealing with things differently than Washoe County, for example, and given the numbers of people likely to be in their respective courthouses, this makes all the sense in the world. 

This is one of many illustrations of why the temptation to centralize power in a crisis should be avoided. The age and physical layout of every courthouse is different, creating unique problems to solve with respect to crowd spacing, security, telephonic/video capabilities, prisoner transportation, etc. Different courts have different functions – even just logistically, violent felons cannot be dealt with in the same way as the kid in custody for a DUI. Probate matters must be afforded urgency and flexibility that other ordinary civil cases lack. Some deadlines are more critical than others. As with so much else, one size rarely fits all.

***

Our school systems provide another perfect example of this. My kids’ public charter school, Doral Academy of Northern Nevada, knew that school closures were very likely coming, and so started planning weeks ago to move to online lessons if it became necessary. Prior to the governor’s order to close schools, DANN made the decision to shut down, beginning the week prior to spring break. Over the weekend, with last Monday to tweak things, the staff worked their collective butts off to prepare pre-recorded video lessons, a complete online curriculum, methods of checking attendance and collecting homework, and schedules for live-chats if students (or parents) had any questions. School-owned laptops were made available for checkout if needed, and Charter offered free internet during this crisis to families who didn’t have it at home. To keep things light, each day had a theme – Bring your Pet to School day, “Spirit Wear” Day, Pajamas Day – that sort of thing. There were hitches, but they were minor. Sitting with my kids and watching the first week roll out so successfully made me so, so proud of my kids’ school.

The bigger the jurisdiction, the more turgid their responses. Washoe has been on spring break since the closure announcement was made, but up until the day of the announcement from Governor Sisolak, was defiantly insisting that they would simply stay open (a lamentable failure to read some pretty obvious tea leaves). The same was true of Clark County. Education solutions so far have been to post a few links to external education resources on their websites, and telling us they’re planning. The state superintendent announced that some online learning ought to start by March 23. WCSD “plans” for “student learning to restart” on April 1. Washoe is lucky in how spring break fell, giving them extra time to plan, but the “we’re planning our plans” press releases are not as reassuring as they should be.

I know that my kids’ school is extraordinarily well-led and well-staffed. But I also know that there are thousands of other bright, motivated, and creative teachers and principals throughout the state who, given both the freedom and flexibility to implement solutions for their own students, wouldn’t be waiting weeks to get off the ground. It is bureaucracy that holds us up in these times when we need it the least, and when all this is over, we should understand that there is no reason to keep those obstacles in place. (It’s also a good time to observe how much leadership potential lies latent in our own local schools, and what a waste of time and money national headhunting firms are when we need to hire a new superintendent.) 

These important lessons aren’t limited to schools, either. At all levels, government is streamlining application processes, flexing deadlines, and coming up with ways to accommodate the hundreds of unique situations citizens find themselves in. I have personally observed a few of these bureaucrats clinging to their petty power and making life more difficult than it needs to be during a challenging time, but they are in a small minority. But again, when all this was over, we should remember all the regulations we learned we didn’t need after all, and keep them in the dustbins. 

***

This is not to say there is no place for more muscular, swift action which only a chief executive can take. State and local governments have long been understood to have broad powers with respect to quarantines and isolations to prevent disease, although those actions are subject to challenge, must be factually justified, and cannot be arbitrary or capricious. The federal government has other, more limited but still significant powers to act. 

But such power must be exercised correctly and wisely. I personally like Reno Mayor Hillary Schieve, but her terribly botched attempt to issue an order closing non-essential businesses in the city was a perfect example of how not to do things. Governor Sisolak’s efforts earlier this week was better, but still left much to be desired in terms of clarity and enforceability. And I am far less comfortable with his Friday “order” to shut businesses down.

Any such sweeping pronouncements or orders must, first and foremost, be specific in their instructions and firmly grounded in legal authority. For example, no one questions the governor’s legal right to shutter casinos, owing to the broad powers our statutes give to regulate gaming. But if you “order” any other business to close, or to conduct themselves in a certain way, you had damned well better be able to back that order up with a specific authorization in the law, which was not done initially. Failure to do so undercuts people’s faith in the legitimacy of that action, and by extension, other more legitimate actions. In a crisis, cutting the legs out from underneath your credibility makes it pretty tough to lead.

You also must communicate effectively. On Friday, the governor held a “I really mean it!” finger wagging press conference – politicians would do well to remember they aren’t our parents, and shouldn’t try to act like it. The press release came out before the accompanying executive order was available, which led to a great deal of confusion.

As an example, it is literally my job to know when someone has broken the law and when they haven’t. But based on the governor’s legally and factually unclear announcements, I had no idea if my law office would be “essential” for purposes of potential criminal penalties. I have clients who are literally in cages, whose cases are settled and will get out just as soon as I make a court appearance already deemed “essential” by various courts’ administrative orders. I think that makes me essential, but what if some overeager police office thinks otherwise? What about this very publication? What about the other lawyers in my office drafting wills in a time where risk of death is higher than normal? What about the thousands of other businesses the governor is otherwise unfamiliar with, which don’t fit tidily in his definitional boxes?

To make it worse, the State Bar sent out a poorly worded “guidance” email an hour or so later, suggesting that law offices did, in fact, need to shutter as a result of the governor’s order (this guidance also seemed at odds with various court administrative orders, too). A few hours after that, on a Friday evening, no less, emergency regulations were finally promulgated confirming that my firm and a multitude of other businesses (including the press) could remain open, but we also know additional regs could drop at any time. 

And we have been inundated with calls from all sorts of other businesses for whom those regulations remain unclear who want to do the right thing, but also want to stay in business if they can. Forcing people into tremendous uncertainty about criminal penalties when they are already hugely anxious about a pandemic is a major blunder that will undercut the government’s credibility. It smelled of panic and chaos when we need to know state leaders are calm and on top of it. Next time, release the laws, and then hold a presser to explain the laws.

Regardless of legal authority, any order of this type must have broad buy-in. Personally, I am convinced of the importance of cloistering ourselves as much as reasonably possible. But the more extraordinary and robust the government response, the more clear and convincing the evidence of the necessity of that action must be. There are not enough cops in Nevada to go door-to-door checking to make sure commerce has been shut down, and knowing as many law enforcement officers as I do, I can tell you a good hunk of them wouldn’t comply with orders to put on the jackboots unless the necessity was beyond any doubt. 

And this is a good thing. There is only so long Americans will tolerate such a heavy hand, and such orders must have, if not a definitive end date, at least a light at the end of the tunnel and clear benchmarks for when things go back to normal. That is missing a bit from our current pronouncements, I think, and without a well-publicized endgame, people will start to increasingly ignore sound isolation advice – Las Vegas Mayor Goodman will remain an outlier for only so long. And it is what would make a state-wide “shelter in place” (an inappropriate and inflammatory way to describe asking people to stay home, in my view) along the lines of California’s a bridge too far for Nevada. 

***

In general, I believe this plague has revealed that we are still Americans, willing to sacrifice to vanquish a collective threat while still insisting our individual liberties be respected. The wisdom of decentralized government and separation of powers is more evident than ever. We are cooperating with civil authority’s recommendations and temporary laws, while still appropriately pushing back and reasonably questioning government’s actions. The press – both in the traditional sense and in individuals’ rights to gripe on social media – remains in its crucial independent watchdog role* (there is no better example than the pushback against UNR after they tried to kick students out of their dorms early without refunds). 

Things could change, which is why I have a safe full of guns and a pantry full of canned produce from last year’s garden (and why you should, too). But I don’t think so. The silver linings and lessons to come out of this better than ever are everywhere, and I am confident that our free spirits as Americans and Nevadans will remain intact.

*To be great, the press must be free – but great journalism isn’t. I believe most government officials, even ones I disagree with, want to do the right thing and don’t have plans to intentionally abuse their power. But in a crisis, some of them inevitably will. Now more than ever, organizations like The Nevada Independent count on an engaged populace who understand that timely, accurate, and objective reporting is life and liberty saving. I am so proud to be part of this publication and so grateful as a Nevadan that we have it. From my little corner of the Indy, I sincerely thank you in advance for reading, sharing, and lending your financial support where you can.

Orrin Johnson has been writing and commenting on Nevada and national politics since 2007. He started with an independent blog, First Principles, and was a regular columnist for the Reno Gazette-Journal from 2015-2016. By day, he is a criminal defense attorney in Reno. Follow him on Twitter @orrinjohnson, or contact him at orrin@orrinjohnson.com.

COVID-19 infected Nevada with an identity crisis

What do you do when the way you provide value to those around you no longer provides value? What do you do when the way you provide value to yourself suddenly loses all value? 

These are questions that strike at the very root of the concept of self, of identity, of what it means to be. A big part of identifying who you are revolves around how you fit into the lives of those around you. A big part of identifying how you fit into the lives of those around you is by identifying the things you do that they value. Do you entertain them? If not, it’s highly unlikely you’ll add “being entertaining” to your concept of self, to your identity, to what it means for you to be in this world. But what if you were entertaining and, quite suddenly through forces outside of your control, you were not? 

For both Nevada and Nevadans, these are not philosophical questions. 

For the moment, Nevada has much less of a reason to exist in the lives of the rest of the world than usual. The casinos are closed. Hotels are closed. Bars are closed. Strip clubs, if they’re not closed, are trying their best to compete against OnlyFans and Pornhub through drive-thru service. Restaurants are either closed or offering only curbside service. Even the brothels are closed.

Zooming in, each of those businesses had employees and contractors, and those employees and contractors just got a lot less valuable, fiscally speaking. In other words, they lost their jobs. Those fortunate enough to work for large, successful casinos that can afford to float them for a couple of months are still getting paid, at least at some level, but there aren’t anywhere near enough of them. Since most restaurants are barely profitable under the best of times – over half of all restaurants fail within three years – waitstaff are particularly hard hit, especially since you don’t need a waitress for take-out. As for contractors (think bartenders, cosmetologists and sex workers) they, like any other small business, don’t get paid time off. They either get paid for the work they do or they stop getting paid. Since it’s now functionally illegal for them to work, they’re not getting paid anymore.

There’s a reason DETR – the state agency responsible for processing unemployment claims – is exempt from the state government’s hiring freeze.

Each of those individuals, just like the state as a whole, woke up one day and learned that they are a lot less valuable, at least for the moment, than they were 24 hours ago. Each of those individuals, however, still have bills. Most of them have rent to pay; most of the rest have mortgages instead. It has not escaped some people’s attention that it’s illegal for them to work, at least in the fields they were working in a week or two ago, but not illegal for their banks and landlords to demand payment. 

Of course, many of their landlords are also out of work. For a lot of landlords, being a landlord is a side gig while they do whatever job it is that gave them the means to buy a second home (or, a lot of the time, pay off part of their first home, which they’re renting out now so they can afford two mortgage payments). They’re looking at their two (or more) mortgage payments and both theirs and their renters’ sudden loss of income and concluding that somebody’s going to evict someone. But is it going to be them evicting their non-paying renters, or is it going to be their bank evicting everyone, themselves included? 

That’s just the fiscal impact. 

Emotionally and psychologically, even those Nevadans with the means to pay their bills for the next couple of months (either through savings, a generous employer, or a still-active job) are looking to the future with existential dread. Will we still be of value to society three months from now? Or six? Or 12? Will we still have work, food, and shelter? Will we still be able to do the work that gives us our current standards of living, or will we all have to adjust our expectations downward? Heinlein wrote more than a few references about professors sweeping floors during the Great Depression; is that where our fates will take us? Did we all spend our lives preparing for one line of work, only to have that taken from us by a tiny strand of RNA?

Being intrinsically valuable by virtue of being a person is great and all, but most of us derive both our sense of identity and our ability to sustain ourselves by being a bit more valuable than that. To paraphrase a popular cartoon movie, saying everyone is valuable is another way of saying nobody is. If Nevada isn’t where people gamble, drink, party or fornicate, what makes Nevada different from Nebraska? Is it that, due to our drier climate and fractured geology, we can’t support as much agriculture? Is it that, due to our drier climate and fractured geology, we’re a slightly more convenient place than most to pollute with mining waste or bomb to kingdom come? 

Nevada used to be that kind of “valuable”. A lot of us thought we mostly outgrew that.

Identity crises and existential dread produce a variety of responses. For some, there’s hope – hope that the crisis will pass, that we will recover, that all will be well if we just hang tight. This, more or less, is the response West Wendover, which is dependent on tourism in a way that Clark County only thinks it is, is adopting out of necessity. For others, it might not be much of a crisis at all – for Reno, losing all of its tourists is simply the natural conclusion of a process that started over two decades ago, so why get hot and bothered over an already dying service industry instead of the infectious disease? 

For others, of course, there’s denial.

For those denying the seriousness of COVID-19, I hope for everyone’s sake that they’re right. If they’re not, a lot of people are going to remember that, when faced with a lethal pandemic, Las Vegas decided that its casinos were more important than everybody’s lives. Those people aren’t going to care about which parts of “Las Vegas” are actually part of municipal Las Vegas and which are technically in Paradise or Winchester or some other arbitrarily-named township in Clark County. What they’ll know is that, when the chips are down and the germs are flying, they should not, under any circumstances, trust their health nor the health of their loved ones in Las Vegas. 

If you were running a business, whether it was tourist-facing or not, would you base it in a city that views your employees as disposable as long as some money keeps flowing? If you’re a customer, do you do business with a company based in a city that not only flatly refuses to keep your merchandise from getting covered in some infectious disease, but fights to keep smearing its citizens’ mucus and fevered sweat all over your supply chain? 

That loss of trust isn’t just going to get people killed, it’s going to kill the economic engine supporting over 70 percent of Nevada’s population and the vast majority of the State of Nevada’s budget.

Like I said, I hope for everyone’s sake that Carolyn Goodman and her enablers are right. If she’s not, Nevada’s going to once again be valuable to the rest of the country as a place full of desert and people that can be treated with abuse and disdain. This time, however, America’s going to think we deserve it. 

David Colborne has been active in the Libertarian Party for two decades. During that time, he has blogged intermittently on his personal blog, as well as the Libertarian Party of Nevada blog, and ran for office twice as a Libertarian candidate. He serves on the Executive Committee for both his state and county Libertarian Party chapters. He is the father of two sons and an IT professional. You can follow him on Twitter @DavidColborne or email him at david.colborne@lpnevada.org.

Can a pandemic help settle and heal our politics?

When most people think of lawyers, their imagination goes to the dramatic trial in a courtroom that has been a staple of pop culture since ol’ Bill wrote about Portia saving Antonio from Shylock with some clever legal and biological technicalities. Trial work is still an important part of any litigator’s business, of course. But most cases, criminal or civil, end in negotiated settlements. While some people decry the fact that we should go to trial more often than we do lest our supposedly adversarial system of justice become too stultified, it is usually in everyone’s interests to come to a mutually agreeable resolution.

I’ve heard lawyers I respect say that having to go to trial is an admission of failure – that either they or their colleague on the other side didn’t understand their case or couldn’t make a stubborn client see reason. I don’t agree with that – people can reasonably disagree on things, and there are times when no available plea bargain would result in justice (think the truly innocent, or the most heinous killers or rapists). 

But I have definitely seen cases go to trial, costing litigants and/or taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars better spent elsewhere, that absolutely should have settled. Tribalism is in our DNA – all of us have at one time or another set reason aside, and dug in with Our Side, right or wrong, ready to win or go down swinging. Lawyers are supposed to be able to help mitigate that impulse, but (contrary to popular belief), we too are human beings who get stubborn.

One of the tools to help break those types of logjams is a judicial settlement conference, where a judge other than the assigned trial judge gets together with the parties to help them mediate a resolution. In civil cases, judges can and often do order parties to attend these conferences to see if they are able to work things out before the time and expense of trial. A few years ago, the Nevada Supreme Court changed the rules to allow for settlement conferences in criminal cases as well. Settlement cannot be forced – either the State or the defendant can back out any time. But one can never have too many options when it comes to pursuing just and fair outcomes.

This week, the Second Judicial District Court in Washoe County held its very first settlement conference in a criminal case, which I was lucky enough to be a participant in. It was a tough case (actually several cases) with some major problems for the prosecutors, but with tremendous risk to my client if the DAs could overcome those issues. The settlement conference broke an all-or-nothing standoff which would have drug the case through years and years of trials and appeals (regardless of which side won certain arguments), with an outcome that made tremendous sense under the circumstances. I hope to see more of these conferences in appropriate cases.

Having an adversarial system is a great thing – it forms a crucible where evidence can be tested and truth can be revealed. It is not perfect, but it is the least imperfect system of justice ever yet developed by a human society. But there are times when some outside pressure is needed to remind adversaries that they need not be enemies to look out for the interests of their clients, and help everyone find a win-win solution to mutual problem.

~~~

In the world of politics, there is no settlement judge and no mediator. Citizens who show up to vote have that responsibility, and as our politics get more tribal, we get worse and worse at doing that collective job. As a result, our politicians profit from division, and we always get more of what people profit from.

But that doesn’t mean there aren’t outside forces that can pressure us out of our trenches, and remind us all that our domestic political opponents are rarely our actual enemies, and that Americans of all stripes truly have more in common with each other than various tribalists would want us to remember. 9/11 may have been the last major incident we’ve seen of that type, until now.

The COVID-19 pandemic may ultimately prove to be overestimated social media hype from an easily panicked populace – I very much doubt it, but then I certainly don’t claim to be an infectious disease expert. But here’s what is clear to me. Decision makers around the country, including elected officials from a very, very broad swath of political persuasions, are all grappling with impossible choices and reaching similar conclusions about the necessity of some radical steps not seen in this country in most peoples’ living memory. 

Politicians not known for their seriousness are buckling down and taking sober steps that will cause a lot of short-term pain to a lot of registered voters, for the long term good of everyone. Donald Trump and Nancy Pelosi are getting legislation out of the door, and extremely liberal governors like California’s Gavin Newsom and New York’s Andrew Cuomo are praising the Trump administration for its help. And the real kicker of it is that if they succeed, we will never know for sure whether their actions were actually successful, or if the lack of clogged hospitals, mass graves, or a zombie apocalypse are all “proof” that we were overreacting in the first place.

There are some who just can’t let the tribalism go – if you simultaneously bash Trump for closing borders while blasting him for “not doing enough,” you are a fool. The president, our governor, and various other agents are without a doubt making many mistakes in their responses, just as everyone involved in this crisis prevention no doubt is – there is not a lot of experience to draw upon, thankfully. But if that translates to your mind as “proof” of your political foe’s “evil,” well, get a mirror, pal. 

~~~

By any historical measure, our nation is almost absurdly wealthy, peaceful, successful, and yes, even healthy. Human beings who evolved hunting, gathering, and evading predators on the savannah aren’t wired to handle that relative lack of stress, and so we have an unfortunate cultural tendency to inflate minor controversies or problems to be outraged or panicked about, and make things up when we struggle to find those.

Now we have something legitimate to stress about, and except for the idiots hoarding toilet paper, we have a lot to be proud of. The political sniping has quieted significantly in social media, replaced by offers to help neighbors and hilarious memes (never underestimate the serious unifying and perspective-providing importance of comedy). We’re taking school closures and canceled sports in stride. It’s not the same as the wartime solidarity post-9/11, but maybe in the shared sacrifice for our more vulnerable citizens this unity will be longer lasting.

For the moment, at least, the novel coronavirus has dislodged our politics from the entrenched tribal positions. When this crisis passes, and it will, we should recognize and take advantage of that silver lining to settle our politics back down, enjoying the win-win outcomes that can be had when we all step back a bit and look at the larger picture of who we are.

Orrin Johnson has been writing and commenting on Nevada and national politics since 2007. He started with an independent blog, First Principles, and was a regular columnist for the Reno Gazette-Journal from 2015-2016. By day, he is a criminal defense attorney in Reno. Follow him on Twitter @orrinjohnson, or contact him at orrin@orrinjohnson.com.

The federal government (not) to the rescue

Having survived a pandemic of canvassers, Nevada finds itself beset by yet another round of unwanted visitors knocking upon our doors. 

Unfortunately, our newest visitors aren’t young, eager volunteers hoping to talk us into spending a morning caucusing in a gymnasium or classroom somewhere. Instead, they’re rather ferocious viruses in the same family as certain variants of the common cold, in much the same way that Lee Harvey Oswald was in the same family as some undoubtedly very nice people. Naturally, Americans are responding to this threat the only way we know how – by defecating our pants, blaming every foreign country we can name, and getting hopelessly lost in our own inflexible bureaucracies.

In other words, we’re at the “exhausting all other possibilities” part of Winston Churchill’s apocryphal aphorism

Unfortunately, one of the recurring issues our nation reexperiences over and over again is that the United States is fundamentally an ungovernable country full of ungovernable people that don’t particularly get along well with each other. Cats and dogs can be trained to live together, no matter how massively hysterical such a notion might seem, but Republicans and Democrats? Californians and Texans? Boomers and Zoomers? The Yankees and the Red Sox? Star Wars and Star Trek? Give us liberty from our enemies or give them death!

Another one of the recurring issues our nation reexperiences over and over again is that institutions are not physical laws. You get what you put into them. Put enough garbage in and, sooner or later, you’ll get garbage out. 

Put the two lessons together and, sooner or later, tragedy strikes. 

What can be said for the United States can also be said for Nevada. Neither Las Vegas nor Reno are particularly interested in being governed by the other, and as for rural Nevada, it’s probably been populated by proudly obstinate people of some sort or another since Beringia was a twinkle in some Altaic nomad’s eye. Since each population fears what any of the other populations would do with a strong, effective state government if given half a chance, Nevada has never experienced one. 

Instead of a strong, effective state government, Nevada has usually muddled through with some unusually strong county governments (Clark County is the first and so far only county in the country to build an interstate freeway using primarily its own money) and a series of statutes that selectively apply to, say, counties whose population is 100,000 or more but less than 700,000 (in other words, Washoe County). Where those don’t quite get the job done, whatever industry it is that happens to own whatever Nevada locality it operates out of chips in to fill the gaps – Elko’s parks get built by local mining companies, Lyon County’s library gets books from the brothels, Las Vegas’ casinos build monorails, and Reno gets the formula backwards because Reno enjoys being frustratingly contrarian sometimes. 

Under normal conditions, this works well… well enough most of the time. Everybody more or less self-governs, nobody has to do what they’re told, and, most importantly, nobody is actually held directly responsible because nobody knows who to blame for what. 

Then something like the Great Recession or COVID-19 happens. 

Next thing we know, we find ourselves facing a problem that actually affects all Nevadans (instead of, say, Nevadans living in counties whose population is 700,000 or more) and actually have to do something about it. Together. As a state. It takes a while for everyone, our state government included, to remember how to do that. 

Over the past week, the United States has been facing the rarest of rare events – a problem that actually affects all Americans. Our federal institutions have responded by either doing nothing lest they upset someone somewhere, or by stubbornly insisting on doing the worst things imaginable, frequently simultaneously. This, to put things mildly, has been incredibly frustrating and unhelpful.

On the other hand, our nation’s state, local, and private institutions have largely stepped up. Universities and hospitals around the country are frantically ramping up testing. The Folding@home project is encouraging users to sequence COVID-19 at home. Paper manufacturers are manufacturing toilet paper and facial tissues as fast as they can. Recipes for homemade hand sanitizer are being posted. Amazon and the Gates Foundation are working together to get test kits into people’s homes. Mutual aid groups are working together to deliver groceries and other services to those old enough to be at higher risk of serious infection.

In other words, the institutions Americans regularly count on in our day-to-day lives are doing what they’re supposed to do. The federal government just isn’t one of those institutions.

So what do we do? How will we combat COVID-19?

After the Great Recession, Nevadans of all political stripes demanded considerably more competence from its state government and its representatives. Endless fractious special sessions were out. Making a point of collegially finishing legislative sessions on time was in. Affairs with campaign aides and hush money payments to their husbands was out. Quiet moderation was in. 

This, after the immediate crisis is over, is an example America would do well to reflect upon.

In the meantime, we don’t get to fight COVID-19 with the institutions we want. Instead, we will combat it, for better or worse, with the institutions we have. What we have in this country are some of the best minds on the planet, many of them directly supplied and funded by some of the richest people in the world. We have state and local governments that are accustomed to working directly and accustomed to being disciplined by the results of their work in every election. We have businesses that focus laserlike on the bottom line and need society to function to stay in the black. Unfortunately, we also have a federal government that thinks it’s in charge because it has the power, but not the competence, to be in charge.

Let’s work together, voluntarily and cooperatively, to defeat COVID-19. Then, let’s work together, voluntarily and cooperatively, to defeat those that got in our way.

David Colborne has been active in the Libertarian Party for two decades. During that time, he has blogged intermittently on his personal blog, as well as the Libertarian Party of Nevada blog, and ran for office twice as a Libertarian candidate. He serves on the Executive Committee for both his state and county Libertarian Party chapters. He is the father of two sons and an IT professional. You can follow him on Twitter @DavidColborne or email him at david.colborne@lpnevada.org.

Wide-open Las Vegas takes a withering hit from coronavirus pandemic; Goodman’s comments weren’t helpful

Judging by the stinging reaction on social media, some people were shocked at learning that Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman said the media was “destroying us” by overhyping the seriousness of the coronavirus pandemic.

They shouldn’t have been.

Goodman’s comments were tone deaf and distracting, but they were pretty predictable coming from the great Las Vegas cheerleader. Her comments came at a Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority meeting, where she serves as a board member and enjoys the perquisites that go with her status as the thrice-elected official face of the City of Las Vegas. And in fairness, she also talked about taking appropriate precautions such as hand washing. But then she couldn’t help herself. Perhaps it’s the nature of that cheerleading job.

“This is not a time for fear to consume everything,” she said, according to the Las Vegas Sun. “The media is absolutely destroying us. I have yet to see a doctor who espouses the voice of social media and what the media is doing here.”

For good measure Goodman added, “When you turn on the TV or whatever podcast, it’s not about our great hockey team or that we’re going to have the NFL Draft. This is not a time for us to be wimps; it’s a time for us to be proud.”

Yes, it’s true that the Las Vegas press has let a worldwide pandemic interrupt its endless gushing over a hockey team, a football draft, or the latest PR snapshot from the Raiders stadium construction. Guilty as charged.

Her comments drew some barbs from the press and social media, the most entertaining of which came from those who compared her to Larry Vaughn, the mayor of Amity in “Jaws.” As stinging rebukes go, it was pretty tame stuff.

In short, Goodman vilified a group that, in the main, didn’t deserve it, offered an unqualified medical opinion that contradicted credible experts, and gave a pep talk to a group that shouldn’t have needed one. At the risk of being labeled one of those wimps, I don’t think her comments were helpful.

I may lose my “born-and-raised” card for saying it, but I think you can be proud and still use Purell, try to avoid crowds, listen to medical authorities and, yes, even skip the company trade show in Vegas. For some that’s multi-tasking in the real world, for others it’s sacrilege.

But, really, what did anyone expect from the mayor of Las Vegas?

It’s an out-sized ribbon-cutting role that grows and shrinks with the personality of the officeholder. And if there’s one thing Carolyn Goodman and her husband and predecessor Oscar Goodman have is personality in abundance. That’s good when giving over-the-top “happiest mayor” speeches to conventioneers, but it often doesn’t translate when the issues are more serious.

What would have been refreshing to hear is an elected city official raise the issue of whether Las Vegas, which prides itself as America’s great 24-hour open city, is ahead of the curve when it comes to potential viral outbreaks. We invite the world to visit and tell them that just about anything goes. Doesn’t it make sense to implore the gaming and tourism industry to more proactive?

But as with most industries, it takes an emergency — an MGM Grand fire, a 1 October mass shooting — to force change in a place that does a remarkable job of housing, feeding, and entertaining millions of visitors a month. This is a withering time for the Las Vegas economy and its working people, but it also provides a learning moment our flashy factory town.

Fortunately, some officials have gotten it right early. Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak, for example, on Thursday evening declared a state of emergency in an effort to open up additional resources to combat COVID-19 and its complex economic side effects. Corporations and the Culinary Union have ramped up changes in policies and employee protections. There will be painful days ahead, but this crisis can have a unifying effect if the right leaders step up.

And the press also has a role to play. I had to smile after hearing Goodman’s comments and watching some of the images depicted by the local television news stations, with their graphics that make the coronavirus look like asteroids threatening the planet. But that’s nothing compared to the laconic and misleading response that’s spewed from the White House in defiance of medical science.

President Trump has gotten a lot of mileage out of blaming the media for daring to question his tragicomic and downright dangerous lack of veracity. In the midst of a pandemic, he’s still shaking hands and sending a message the rules don’t apply to him.

The truth is, in the halls of power vilifying reporters rarely goes out of style – and some deserve it. In select local political circles these days, scapegoating the press as the enemy out to destroy us has become positively de rigueur.

John L. Smith is an author and longtime columnist. He was born in Henderson and his family’s Nevada roots go back to 1881. His stories have appeared in Time, Readers Digest, The Daily Beast, Reuters, Ruralite and Desert Companion, among others. He also offers weekly commentary on Nevada Public Radio station KNPR. His newest book—a biography of iconic Nevada civil rights and political leader, Joe Neal— “Westside Slugger: Joe Neal’s Lifelong Fight for Social Justice” is published by University of Nevada Press and is available at Amazon.com. Contact him at jlnevadasmith@gmail.com. On Twitter: @jlnevadasmith