It's time to remember who we are as Americans

"Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn't pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children's children what it was once like in the United States where men were free."

— Ronald Reagan

The best decade in American history was the 1980s, hands down.  It was economically prosperous, we had cartoonish bad guys even more evil than Nazis to defeat (which we of course did), the music kicked ass, and the world was introduced to Optimus Prime. But the best part was that it was a decade of unabashed patriotism, where no expression of love for our country was too cheesy (Hulk Hogan and Apollo Creed, I’m looking at you, you magnificent bastards). 

It was the last time when kids were expected to free range.  Who had time to helicopter parent, and even if they did, the abuse you’d get from your buddies from being clad in virtual bubble wrap would quickly make you yearn for adulthood. There was a toughness to the country still that we’ve lost in the decades since. The grandparents of the ‘80s had won World War II, and the living memory of what we were capable of was embedded in the culture in a way that we have since forgotten.

I spent the decade in public school in a conservative state, and learned to love the study of history, and through that, to love my country.  And the history wasn’t whitewashed — I’m baffled by people who act like no one was ever taught that many of founders of the country owned slaves, or that the Confederacy weren’t the bad guys. We were taught – correctly, in my view – that ending racism meant not giving a damn about people’s color in the end, and that those who would divide us up or judge people based on their race were on the wrong side of history, even if the dividers claimed their race consciousness was benevolent. Learning history correctly means perspective, which means inevitably concluding that the ongoing experiment in self-government that is our Republic has truly resulted in the greatest nation in history.  

The America of the 1980s was audacious, ambitious, and optimistic. We let our flag fly – Democrats and Republicans alike – and believed we were invincible, and could do anything.  That sort of attitude is contagious, and self-fulfilling. We sorely need it again.

***

I’m trying to imagine this pandemic happening in an America that confident, understanding of its history, and united in its culture and understanding of itself.  

Without the internet, working from home wouldn’t have been an option for most people. On the other hand, without the internet, we wouldn’t suffer from the artificial virus that is social media.  

There would have been far more trust in public health and government officials, not least because such people were more serious and trustworthy then.  

If you had put the question to the 75 year-olds of that time, “We can probably keep you from getting a disease that might be deadly to you – but you need to agree to put tens of millions of Americans out of work, keep tens of millions of kids home from school (contrary to expert scientific recommendation, ‘natch), and oh, by the way, you need to stay totally isolated from human contact,” you would not have a lot of buy-in from that generation, especially when you told them these restrictions would be indefinite. 

I imagine further the disdain these veterans of wars against the tyranny of Nazi Germany, Imperial Japan, and Soviet Russia (and her many communist proxy slave states) would have, had you suggested to them that we should give state governors interminable “emergency” powers with little or no legislative input, or if churches should be restricted more heavily than restaurants, or that those governors should have “snitch lines” for citizens to tattle on each other for not following gubernatorial whims after a fatigued public stops listening to a government which has lost its credibility. No, it wouldn’t have flown at all – Americans then knew freedom was worth fighting for – even when that meant putting lives on the line. 

Certainly, no American city of the 1980s – no matter which party controlled its government – would have allowed or even hinted at justifying, excusing, or encouraging violent and destructive riots in their cities. Seattle’s failed and deadly experiment in anti-capitalist utopia would never have occurred, or would have lasted hours rather than weeks.  

We face far more – and greater – risks than a single disease.  And it’s worth noting that even as cases spike, death rates continue to fall nation-wide, our hospitals are not overwhelmed (we haven’t even dipped into the extra beds prepped at Renown). It is hard to justify this ongoing sacrifice when there is STILL not any sort of articulated end game – how long do we wear masks, cancel all of our local cultural touchstones, hobble the operations of countless businesses, keeps schools shuttered (or limited), offend justice by keeping trials on hold (we functionally have suspended habeas corpus at this point, if you dare challenge charges against you), and live under the Rule of Emergency Order? We’ll never be 100 percent safe from this or any other virus – are we really going to live this isolated zombie half-life and stunted economy until we discover an elixir of immortality?

We’re made of sterner stuff than this. At least I certainly hope we still are.

***

“Great” and even “greatest” is not synonymous with “perfect,” of course, even in the 1980s USA.  But you have to wonder, now that we are so woke and willing to divide ourselves up by race again because some college know-it-all-hippies understand neither our own history nor the history of humanity generally, are we better off now?  Is this who we want to be?  Is there any nation or people, now or in all of history, who could live up to whatever standards Cancel Culture has announced we must all bow to this week?

This Fourth of July weekend, the President of the United States flew to western South Dakota to rah rah his nation on its birthday in front of one its most audacious monuments to itself. In saner times, this would simply be cool, and Americans could all just enjoy the pageantry together, whether or not they voted for that president. Now, the tribalism has gotten so stupid that Mt. Rushmore itself is filling the fantasies of the statue topplers, and the DNC’s official Twitter account suggested that celebrating Independence Day is tantamount to white supremacy. 

Enough.  

People were willing to risk spreading COVID-19 several weeks ago because they felt that issues of race and police brutality were worth risking lives to gather together and protest. I disagree with many of the allegations of the protesters with respect to the scope or systemic nature of the problem, but I respect that some of them want a more just society (others simply want to be the oppressors, as is so often the case with self-styled revolutionaries).

But the framework of laws and rights the United States of America has so uniquely developed over its history – the very idea that is America – is worth standing up and speaking up for, too. The concepts of individual liberty and freedom are worthy, and the men who gave us the tools at our founding to see them fully realized are heroic for those efforts, regardless of how far they themselves fell short of their own stated ideals.  

The world would be a darker and far less free place without the United States. This Independence Day weekend, may we rekindle the pride we deserve to have for this great country, and the principles of its founding documents that we have too long taken for granted and are now too close to losing. And may we rediscover who we are, and who we can be – a confident, courageous people who understand freedom is worth the risk and cost it takes to keep it.  

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.

When celebrating the Fourth of July, try not to burn down the house

Some of the best moments of my Henderson childhood happened on the Fourth of July. Also some of the most dangerous, but when I was a kid that was considered sort of a bonus.

I never remember calling it Independence Day, which to me has always brought to mind washer and dryer sales. It was the Fourth of July.

I knew the Fourth of July had something to do with George Washington being the father of the country and liking sparklers. It wasn’t my favorite holiday, mostly because there was no potential for presents and you couldn’t get a day off from school. But it featured hot dogs, watermelon and a parental nod to play with fire. That put it in the top five on my calendar.

It felt like the longest day of the year because nothing great happened until after sunset. Childhood anxiety battled the stifling July heat to a standstill as the sun slowly made its way across the sky.

I passed the hours leading up to sparkler time by playing catch with anyone available, riding one of the homemade bicycles my dad had wrenched together, dog-paddling around in our Doughboy pool or drinking water out of the garden hose.

I don’t think I drank water out of a glass until I was in college. Why? The reason was simple. As children, we weren’t allowed in the house. The withering temperature notwithstanding, our access to the inside and its swamp-cooled environs was extremely limited in those days. The rule of thumb was, if you aren’t running a fever or it isn’t time for dinner, stay out until your name is called. And so we did.

That made the Fourth of July all the more delicious. It was a day spent in anticipation of sparklers and showering fountains of safe-and-sane fireworks, and of course whatever cache of illegal firecrackers and roman candles that my brother Jim had secured on the local juvenile delinquent black market. How we got to adulthood with all our fingers is a wonder.

By the time nightfall finally arrived, someone had already scorched a barefoot sole on a sparkler’s ember. You didn’t dare complain in my house, for fear of being sidelined for whining. And no one wanted to be sidelined when the fun was finally starting.

My dad never was big on ceremony and not given to windy, patriotic speeches. He was born poor and didn’t know it, served in the Navy in the Pacific in World War II and had the jungle rot to prove it. He was a proud union painter. He drank Schlitz, tended to the hot dogs and bought the fireworks, igniting the most dangerous-looking ones with the red glow of his Viceroy.

Mostly, he let us figure out the Fourth of July for ourselves — and kept the garden hose handy in case we got carried away. I reveled in the chaos and the colorful phosphorescent lights, the acrid smoke and even the stench of those weird snakes in a box that stained the sidewalk for months afterward.

Some of our best efforts could have blinded a pet or burned down a neighbor’s house, but you took your fun where you found it in those days before belt-and-suspenders parenting. It was grand as only simple childhood pleasures can be.

In addition to everything my father taught me, I learned something important from him about the Fourth of July. It was one of the rare times a year he flew the flag of our country. The flag meant a lot to him, but he disliked seeing people wave it around as if patriotism was a competition. 

If you’ve read this far, you probably realize I haven’t written a word about the deadly pandemic, the heartbreakingly high unemployment, the waking nightmare of systemic racism, or even the president, as lowly as he is.

For that, I do not apologize. I just needed a day off and thought you might need one, too. I’m taking mine around 1968, on the Fourth of July, but feel free to pick your own year.

The beer and watermelon are cold, and the hot dogs are on the grill. There are plenty of sparklers to go around. Try not to burn yourself.

But if you do, remember to have the good sense not to whine about it. You don’t want to get sidelined. All the fun is just getting started.

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

What, to a Nevadan, is the Fourth of July?

Last year, Andy Craig, a prominent activist within the Libertarian Party, wrote a brief article for the Cato Institute that asked what, to an American, is the Fourth of July? His conclusion was a common one. The Fourth of July is a time for both celebration and humble self-reflection. It’s a time to recognize the originality of the United States, the modern world’s first nation founded ostensibly as an ideological project instead of on ethnicity or religion, while also reflecting how seldom we actually live up to our nation’s advertising copy. 

For example, when we say, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,” do we include Black men, many of whom were slaves when those words were written? Do we include the indigenous Native Americans who were living here before European colonists arrived? Do we include all men, even if they aren’t American citizens? What about women? What about transmen and transwomen? What about those who don’t identify as men or women at all? 

Put more succinctly, in America, are all humans created equal? If not, what are we willing to do about it? 

What it means to be a Nevadan, on the other hand, usually produces less navel gazing. That’s curious since, for at least 80 percent of us, being a Nevadan is a choice. Most of us weren’t born here. Many Nevadans didn’t even go to school here. Something drew us here. Something keeps us here. If we’ve moved once, surely we can move again — given that Nevada is currently experiencing the highest recorded statewide unemployment rate in national history and residential evictions are coming back, many of us soon might not have much of a choice.

So why haven’t we? 

A common story we tell ourselves is that Nevada is the fulfillment of the American project. Sure, America calls itself the land of the free, but are most Americans free to buy alcohol on Sundays? To drink in a bar until sunrise? To gamble? To pay for sex with money? To marry or divorce upon a moment’s notice? To party in the desert for a week with tens of thousands of your closest friends? To start building a lithium manufacturing plant in less than a month?

There’s some truth to that story.

Take immigration, for example. It’s one thing to allow people to peacefully move, live and work somewhere. It’s something else entirely to let migrants run the place. That, after all, is why presidents are constitutionally required to be natural born citizens of the United States. Right?

Please. Nevada laughs — laughs — at such nativist xenophobia.

None of Nevada’s first 12 governors were born here. Three of those twelve — Frank Bell, John Edward Jones, and Reinhold Sadler — weren’t even born in this country. In fact, it took over 50 years for Nevada to elect a Nevada-born governor. Lest you think this was some peculiar quirk of mining-era Nevada, consider this: Nevada has only elected one Nevada-born governor since the turn of the century. Jim Gibbons was both the first and the last Nevada-born governor since Paul Laxalt’s term ended 40 years prior to Gibbons’ election. 

The historical record is clear — Nevadans don’t care if you’re born in Milwaukee, Redding, or Prussia. We’ll elect you to the Governor’s Mansion as long as you were born at least 200 miles away from Las Vegas.

No, seriously, if you were born in Nevada south of Carson City, forget about it. Nevada has elected a governor from Gold Hill, two from Virginia City, one from Elko, one from just outside of Jiggs, one from Lovelock, one from Reno, and one from Sparks, but has never elected a Nevada-born governor born south of our state capital. The closest any governor has come to being born in Nevada’s most populous metropolitan area was Robert List, who was born in Visalia, California — roughly 230 miles away. 

Enough about that. Let’s go through the Bill of Rights. 

Start with freedom of speech and freedom of assembly. Think of another state where Burning Man would be possible. Or Electric Daisy Carnival. I’ll wait. The truth of Nevada’s tolerance to such things is, as our forefathers might say, self-evident. 

What about the right to bear arms? Well, if you have at least $2000 and are at least 11-years-old, you can take a four day course and learn how to shoot an M-16 with parental supervision in Pahrump. 

All right, what if you’re #3AGANG and don’t want to quarter troops? *mumbles incoherently* 

Okay, maybe you want to avoid unreasonable searches and seizures? *mumbles even more incoherently* 

Perhaps you need to protect your right to avoid self-incrimination? *pokes fingers in ears and starts screaming

Are there any subsequent amendments in the Constitution? Don’t ask me — ask this complimentary drink! On the house! Have two! Have 10! Bottom’s up!

Though we like to style ourselves as a live-and-let-live sort of place, the truth is we’re every bit as uneven about living up to that standard as the United States is itself. We took our time legalizing marijuana (and still haven’t legalized consuming it outside of our homes) and even now still feign concern for more restrictive neighboring states when our one-trick border towns, like Wendover and Jackpot, try in desperation to add a second trick to their portfolio, never mind our longstanding lack of scruples about interstate alcohol sales.

Meanwhile, a state ban on same-sex marriages was passed by referendum in 2002 and is still on the books, though Obergefell v. Hodges made it as binding as the racial covenants that were still attached to some of Nevada’s property deeds until a bit over a year ago. Our last Nevada-born governor even tried to veto same-sex domestic partnerships (which are also still on the books and available to all consenting adult couples, same-sex or otherwise); the Legislature ultimately overrode him. 

Not that same-sex marriage is or was a vice, to be clear. Sadly, nobody knew how to convince more than a third of Nevada’s voters otherwise 18 years ago. 

Even if we were a bit more consistent about our principles and scruples, or our seeming lack of them, one thing we’ll never be free of is reality. The reality is, this Independence Day, we’re living through a pandemic that is ripping through our casino and hospitality industries like a neutron bomb and has cancelled our Independence Day celebrations. We’re not helping ourselves, to be clear, but even if we were somehow behaving ourselves for once, it wouldn’t change the reality that we live in a country that, for whatever reason, has collectively and institutionally decided it’ll be easier to just ride this thing out than to actually keep people out of the ICU.

We can reject this reality and substitute our own. Doing so, however, is going to take work.

For starters, we can compare and contrast how the economic dislocation caused by COVID-19 has affected different parts of the state. Tourism abandoned Reno and Sparks over a decade ago. That’s proven to be a blessing — while Clark County still suffers a nearly 30 percent unemployment rate, Washoe County’s is only (for a cruel definition of the word) a bit over half of that, though that still means it’s experiencing the second-highest unemployment rate in the state. 

The path forward is obvious and inevitable. Either Clark County diversifies or Clark County depopulates. A third of Clark County’s workforce can’t and won’t collect unemployment indefinitely. People will move to where jobs are and will move away from where jobs aren’t. Just as importantly, there’s simply no way for the 30 percent of the state’s population that lives outside of Clark County to support 70 percent of the state’s population every time there’s a major economic downturn. Don’t get me wrong, it’s nice having casino money subsidizing the state’s coffers during the good times so the rest of us can pay lower taxes, but we need to start treating gaming taxes more like dessert and less like potatoes. 

In the meantime, Nevada does not have to be the most infectious state in the country, which we were last week. Forget masks for a minute — you don’t get the nation’s highest effective reproduction number (or the nation’s highest unemployment rate for that matter) by only doing one thing wrong. Tourists get to escape reality here because they get to go home. We don’t. This is our home. We’re the ones that have to wake up and face whatever tomorrow brings. 

It’s well past time we start acting like 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.

Trump campaign operative's letter to RNC illuminates GOP's problem in Nevada

President Donald Trump speaks during a Hope For Prisoners special graduation ceremony at the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department headquarters in Las Vegas

On March 31, a regional field director for the Trump campaign in Nevada penned a letter to Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel. Right from the start, he did not mince words:

“In 2016, Donald Trump lost Nevada by a narrow margin,” Joshua Skaggs wrote. “In the 2018 midterm elections, Republicans lost ground on the democrats (sic). Based on my observations so far in the 2020 election cycle, I am concerned that President Trump and other Republicans on the ballot will not prevail in Nevada in November.”

The main thrust of the letter is Skaggs asserting to McDaniel that registration numbers here “are being falsely inflated” to give a rosier picture of Nevada’s viability for the GOP. “We both want to see President Trump reelected in 2020 so I urge your timely attention to this matter,” Skaggs wrote. (I would post the letter, which I obtained, but it contains some sensitive, personal information, too.)

Skaggs, who did not respond to email requests for comment, clearly was trying to sound a warning bell to GOP Central before it was too late. But with four months until the election, and no evidence of any surge of competence or effectiveness in the amalgam that is the Trump campaign and the state GOP, Skaggs’ pleading missive was a likely beacon to the future.

What Skaggs, who is obviously a true believer in the effort to re-elect the president, was trying to alert McDaniel to is the insularity and incompetence at the highest levels of Team Trump here. And he was trying to get it fixed before it was too late. Beyond the ritualistic bragging to reporters and on social media about a million voter contacts made and hundreds of volunteers acquired is the ineluctable truth that the Republicans here are no match - nay, not even in the same league - as the Democrats.

I have believed since the 2018 election that Nevada is a blue state, and Skaggs’ clarion call indicates that he was worried that may be so. Trump’s seemingly narrow loss here in 2016 – 2.5 percent, 27,000 votes out of 1.1 million cast – is deceiving because the race was over by the end of early voting. (The GOP merely cut the margin on Election Day.)

I wouldn’t be surprised if the GOP leaders here in the state party and Trump campaign have tried to paint a rosy scenario for DC. Even though most national analysts have Nevada painted as light or dark blue – and rarely is the Silver State discussed as mattering in the 2020 calculus (sniff) – Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale and others have tried to push the narrative that Nevada is still swingy.

Let’s put it this way: Considering the state of play here four months out, the Democrats would really have to bollix this not to have the third straight cycle of dominating a GOP that from top to bottom has eschewed political skills for blind Trumplove.

The Republican Party here, once led by smart operatives and true statesmen, has devolved into an organization led by crass fringe types and advised by second- or third-tier consultants. This as the state Democratic Party has been as disciplined and well-oiled as any in the country, leading to two successive cycles of utter domination that not only reversed 2014 losses but left the GOP with only one member of the congressional delegation, one statewide official (Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske) and near superminorities in both houses of the Legislature.

The only good news for the Republicans here this cycle – with apologies to Bob – is that if you ain’t got nothing, you got nothing to lose. And the bad news for Democrats, considering the GOP leadership (a true oxymoron) here, is if they lose the state to Trump and lose even a little ground in the Legislature, they will have been defeated by the worst gaggle of sleazy grifters the state has ever seen.

Before I explain why, let me tell you what happened when I started asking questions about Skaggs’ earnest letter to McDaniel: Crickets.

I’m not shocked Skaggs didn’t respond – the letter clearly says it was meant to be confidential. But the two top officials here with Team Trump, Jeremy Hughes and Joe Weaver, did not provide a comment, nor did the RNC (I tried two different ways.) I assure you they all know about the letter, but they are all invested – literally – in not conceding what is really going on in Nevada.

I am flummoxed, though, at their silence because they are all honorable men. But they are invisible now, no secrets left to conceal. (Sorry, again, Bob.)

After they learned I had the letter, I am told, they fired Skaggs, believing (incorrectly) that he had given me the missive. They have staff sign NDAs and by all accounts treat them like serfs. I’m surprised they are not doing better here.

Speaking of which….

When Skaggs wrote his letter three months ago, the Republicans were trailing the Democrats in Nevada by 95,000 voters statewide. That is far ahead of where the Democrats were at the same juncture in 2018 (66,000) and 2016 (70,000) when the Republicans were essentially wiped out. Only because the pandemic shut down everything has the GOP been able to keep the deficit at the same level for three months.

The real voter registration issue for Republicans – and I know the smart ones get it – is the so-called Clark County firewall. The deficit there is now approaching 155,000, a record number that probably will get bigger by November.

The math just doesn’t work for the GOP, even though nonpartisan registration has surged in recent years to almost a quarter of the registered voters in Southern Nevada. (Republican registration in Clark actually has fallen behind indies and third parties.) That is, because Clark has 70 percent of the registered voters in Nevada, statewide Democratic candidates come out of the South with an insurmountable lead, no matter what happens in rural Nevada. That’s how I knew Hillary Clinton had already won Nevada before Election Day — because of the early votes banked by the Democrats.

And with Washoe County now leaning Democrat – Clinton won the former GOP stronghold and so did Gov. Steve Sisolak and Sen. Jacky Rosen – the path to victory for Donald Trump is almost nonexistent. Now, that is.

I concede all the 120-days-to-go caveats, but Skaggs was correct to inform RNC Central of his concerns, even if he was pitching for a walking dead man. He knew the score; the only difference between him and his superiors and the only reason he lost his job is because he was honest.

The picture is actually bleaker than it looks on paper for the GOP.

Even though both Democratic congressional incumbents in putative swing districts – Steven Horsford and Susie Lee – have recently acquired some baggage, the Republican primaries attracted a gaggle of nobodies and they nominated two nonentities – or worse. In the Legislature, where they hoped to close the gap in both houses, their primaries produced some far-right contenders who stand little chance in a general election. Sure, legislative races can still defy demographics by better retail campaigns. But that is more difficult during a pandemic.

It’s hard to believe the GOP could lose more than it already has – I think Rep. Mark Amodei is safe – but they sure are trying hard. Add in that the state’s Republican Party chairman, Michael McDonald, is like the living embodiment of PigPen with an ethical cloud following him everywhere, and the GOP national committeewoman, Michele Fiore, is always one verbal effusion away from disqualification from public life. And Republican legislative leaders here, echoing the Trump/Nevada GOP chorus, have spent the pandemic attacking Gov. Steve Sisolak, politicizing mask-wearing and prioritizing rank politics over public health.

No wonder the Democrats are salivating and would have to perform as badly as 2014 to not execute another sweep. And no wonder Skaggs sent that letter.

“I believe that without your intervention, Nevada’s Trump Victory RNC campaign’s state of operations will continue to decline,” Skaggs wrote three months ago. The intervention appears not to have occurred.

By November, Skaggs is likely to be seen as the canary in the coal mine while the rest of this gang will be seen as cowardly chickens posing as strutting peacocks.

Jon Ralston is the founder and editor of The Nevada Independent. He began covering Nevada politics in 1986.

Fireworks that aren’t worth celebrating

By Farah Rahman

“Do you hear that?” My mother has been hearing fireworks for the past week. As I glide my stethoscope on bare skin, I nod with hesitation. These are not celebratory Fourth of July fireworks, these are the clinical manifestations of COVID-19—her alveoli are collapsing. The x-rays show bilateral ground-glass pneumonia. The medical student in me is giddy that I can deduce the meaning of those words. The daughter in me fears what will come next for my mom.

I was born to two physicians who excelled in their medical training in India and landed coveted residency positions in New York City. Sleepless nights, multitasking, prioritizing—my parents were doing their due diligence to chase the American dream. Adjusting to this new medical journey in a foreign country meant sacrificing personal pleasures for their professional development. The lost time in our parent-child relationship was collateral damage of medical residency in America. Hours of separation, frequent moves and microwaveable noodles became staples of life.

Fast forward 20 years, and my family is at the forefront of a global pandemic. 2020 has not been kind to anyone, but it has been especially hard on front line workers. The official count of COVID cases has passed 10.5 million worldwide. On the provider side, a two week old statistic says the disease has taken the lives of more than 939 health care workers in the United States alone. Nurses, physician assistants, respiratory therapists, hospital staff and physicians are all counted among the fallen.

In the wake of the pandemic, I moved back home to Las Vegas. My family and I listened in horror as cases continued to skyrocket. While safety measures were implemented, I maintained a level of cognitive separation between what was happening on TV and my parents’ livelihood. Day after day, my parents continued to honor their duty to their patients despite the risks and lack of proper protective gear. Finally, after 12 weeks of precautions, both of my parents tested positive. 

The last two weeks have been full of darkness. A year of medical school prepared me to understand physiology, anatomy and molecular biology, but it was not until now that I understood real empathy in times of crisis. These days I wake up hopeful for improvement, but I close my eyes feeling defeated. I watch as my parents deteriorate before my eyes. My father with uncontrollable Type 2 diabetes, body aches and chills. My mother with extreme shortness of breath and hypoxia. When I have a moment to myself, I scroll social media to remind myself of the normalcy of the outside world. There, I see friends and colleagues at restaurants, bars and beaches. They have no idea what my family, and countless other families across the country, are going through.

Today, as I sat with my mother in the emergency room for six hours, I watched rallies and testimonies of Americans protesting against wearing masks and public health precautions. I witnessed health care workers pushing extra shifts to cover their ill coworkers. I got a notification from my father’s glucometer that his sugar had reached a record high of 479 mg/dl. I came home to my brother alarmed at a rising fever. I cried uncontrollably in the shower while scrubbing the virus off of my skin. 

Farah Rahman with her parents.

I am reminded that medicine is a field in which there is no limit to how much you can give. As medical students, we are drilled to evoke compassion, empathy and understanding. But my first year did not teach me how to cope with loss. Loss of self, loss of a family member’s health, loss of hope in society. Health care workers go through years of training, work through hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt, but at the end of the day are left unsupported—by the health care system and by the public. As a child, I sat at home as my parents spent much of their time in the hospital—often sacrificing being present for many of my childhood milestones in the process. As a young adult, my parents continue to give not only their time, but also their health. At the end of this, they will go back into the very hospitals from which they contracted the virus and give some more of themselves. There is no limit. That is the nature of our profession.

This holiday weekend and in the days to come, I beg you to think of others before you indulge in social plans. If not for your grandparents or your immunocompromised neighbors, think of your childhood pediatrician, family practice doctor and the thousands of healthcare workers who risk their lives every day for the greater good. Celebrate your freedom, but do not do so at the cost of the lives of medical professionals. They have families, too.

Farah Rahman is a Las Vegas native, a rising second-year medical student at Loyola Stritch School of Medicine. Her parents, Dr. Syed Rahman and Dr. Naiyera Parween, are long-time physicians in the Las Vegas Valley.

School district testing and tracing program needs funding

By Michael Skolnik

We are in the middle of a severe global pandemic that has seen more than 2.7 million Americans become afflicted with COVID-19 and has resulted in more than 130,000 deaths across the nation. Locally, our communities in Nevada have thankfully been below the national trend with approximately 18,000 cases, 11,000 recoveries (so far) and 500 deaths — until recently when case counts have again begun to rise. This past weekend in Clark County alone we experienced just more than 1,900 new cases, which represents a dramatic and worrisome increase. At the same time, Clark County is having a COVID-19 related economic meltdown that is creating financial catastrophes for many.

Unemployment rates have reached more than 33 percent, up from approximately 4.8 percent this same time last year. Central to bringing some normalcy back to our community and stability back to our economy will be reopening the 360 schools across Clark County so our children don’t fall behind on their education and parents can return to work. The challenges associated with reopening schools are many and very complex but start with protecting the health and safety of our roughly 40,000 teachers, administrators and staff who will be placing themselves at considerable risk and represent the most vulnerable within the Clark County School District (CCSD).   

While the federal government has misjudged the severity and impact of the virus and largely pushed responsibility for managing the COVID-19 crisis to the states without providing sufficient resources, our local officials have scrambled to establish strategies and infrastructure sufficient to address critical needs. Dr. Jesus Jara, superintendent of CCSD, has outlined a thoughtful school reopening plan that will creatively align teachers, students and technology to support both distance learning and classroom-based education, enforcing social distance norms and other protocols to limit the potential of creating COVID-19 “hot-spots” in our schools.  

Additionally, the governor and Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) have put together a substantial contact tracing program. They have already employed more than 300 tracers to support community efforts to curtail the spread of the virus once it has been detected. These steps are vital but don’t go far enough. Missing in the plans so far are a comprehensive testing and risk mitigation strategy for the teachers, administrators and staff who will be in our schools interacting with our students and helping to manage the safety of our classrooms each day.        

Testing and monitoring are important tools in slowing the spread of COVID-19. When performed at scale in advance of school opening, they will help protect schools, build confidence among teachers and staff and establish an educational environment that prioritizes safety.  Ongoing screening and monitoring programs will allow us to quickly identify gaps in our COVID-19 programs, including when and where there are insufficient supplies or a potential outbreak so we can apply critical resources where they are needed most.  

COVID-19 is called a novel coronavirus for a reason. We need more data, not less. The ability to respond quickly when there are issues is paramount for keeping our schools open, and our teachers are the critical piece of the puzzle that can help us monitor what is happening on a daily or even hourly basis within our schools. We must do our best to protect them and give them the tools they need to help us manage this crisis. 

To effectively support the reopening of the schools and enable the economy to reopen in Clark County, the teachers health plan, school district, local hospitals/doctors, business leaders and infectious disease experts have formed a task force and developed a program for teacher, administrator and staff testing, risk management, education and support. The program developed, known as TIES (Taskforce Initiative for Educators Safety and Screening), will work in concert with regional health providers to develop a testing approach designed to support the needs of the Clark County teachers, staff and administrators. 

The program is prepared to deploy easy-to-use mobile software to help teachers and staff communicate with local and state COVID-19 response leaders, monitor their condition and manage their health risk. However, although there appears to be near-universal support for this program, we need funding. The pieces are all there. They are aligned and ready to go, but we’re stuck at the starting line with the clock running. The public needs to be aware that a plan has been developed, and that helps us all as we reach out to state officials to fund TIES. There are many priorities that state health leadership needs to focus on, but nothing could be more important than this initiative that will help to get our schools open again. 

We must do everything we can to help protect the health of our teachers, administrators, staff and students if we are to get our economy moving forward while avoiding a catastrophic surge in COVID-19 in Clark County. 

Michael Skolnik is CEO of the Teachers Health Trust, the dedicated not-for-profit health plan serving more than 40,000 Clark County teachers and their dependents. Michael has in the past worked with a range of health industry clients including Alameda Health System, Canopy Health, CareMore and many mid-sized self-funded health plans, employer groups and Medical Groups/IPAs. He has a Master of Science degree in Health Care and Business Administration from Trinity University.

The Clark County School District reopening plan is not adequate

By Aviva Y. Gordon

My parents were born in the early 1930s – the end of the Greatest Generation. My children were born in the early 2000s – in what I fear will be known as a Lost Generation. The losses to our children now are exacerbated by the deficiencies in the current Clark County School District plan for the academic year of 2020-2021.  It appears that the district took a considerable amount of time to achieve the worst of all possible responses. The proposed plan endangers our children, adversely will affect our economy and will lead to a further disparity of educational success.

Under the current proposal, students will have face-to-face instruction two days each week and will learn online through the balance of the week. Regardless of the age or ability of the child, educational achievement will suffer. For younger children, the ability to grasp the fundamental concepts, or reading, writing and math (not even taking into consideration the other expectations in those years, simply cannot be achieved in such a limited fashion. Furthermore, younger children do not have the maturity or skills to be able to learn these fundamental skills in front of a screen without constant supervision. For children of differing learning abilities or where English is not their first language, there is simply no way for their needs to be met. Not only does the plan fail to address their unique needs, it also violates federal law concerning educational access.  

Education is our greatest weapon to combat income and opportunity inequality. The most certain way to ensure the health of our community and the health of our economy is to provide consistent educational opportunities. The children who rely on education the most are the ones who will suffer the greatest damage under the current plan. Even if the school district can fulfill the technological needs of enough Chromebooks and WiFi, how is a single parent, who must work in order to enable the survival of his or her family, going to adapt to having children home for sixty percent of the week? In such families, the effects of unemployment have already had a disproportionate effect. We are now placing a further burden, which will have generational impacts. 

Similarly, those children who suffer with food insecurity, and for whom schools provide a primary source of nutrition, will need to eat more than two days a week.  Although there will be nutritional centers still available, it does not meaningfully address the problem of ensuring healthy children to achieve healthy education.  

Finally, in review of the anticipated costs, a mere $3 million of $84.6 million will go to Professional Learning for the educators upon whom we will rely to deliver comprehensive education within two different platforms among two different cohorts.  Even if the funding were appropriate, the timing is not.  Under the current proposal, the return date for teachers is Aug. 5, and classes begin on Aug. 24. This gives 13 days for teachers to fundamentally adapt a unique method of teaching on a dual platform.  While I truly believe that teachers are remarkable, I do not believe that this scant amount of time (particularly while many teachers are attempting to navigate their own child care challenges) is remotely adequate.

CCSD has had since the middle of March (not a mere 13 days, as it expects from its teachers) to get this right. The current proposal misses on all marks — and the harm to our children, community and economy will be long-lasting and, for many children, irreparable.

Aviva Y. Gordon is a business lawyer and the Managing Member of Gordon Law.  She has devoted time to community organizations and advocated on behalf of business organizations before the Nevada Legislature.  Most importantly, she is the mother of three children – two of whom are current CCSD students.

‘Hey Reb!’ is history, but what do we do about Carson City?

In the end, “Hey Reb!” was a pushover.

The statue of UNLV’s mascot, which looked more like a cousin of Yosemite Sam than a cursed Confederate holdout, was removed from campus earlier this month at a time of national demonstration over systemic racial injustice following the violent death in police custody of African American George Floyd.

I won’t re-litigate the decision to soften the obvious Confederate imagery inherent in a university nickname that includes the word “Rebels.” Nor will I remind UNLV alumni that there was a time the mascot looked more like an oddball from a Civil War reenactment than a playful caricature.

My rule on this is pretty simple: It’s never the right time to celebrate the side of the Civil War that defended slavery. Outside a museum or historic graveyard, there’s no place in the public square to honor what John Adams called “an evil of colossal magnitude.”

Hey Reb is gone, and good riddance. UNLV should have changed its mascot a generation ago – I can hear the laments of the booster club now – and acting President Marta Meana did the right thing by yanking the offending statue.

But Reb is mere child’s play compared to the Confederate monuments recently toppled in Louisville and Frankfort, Kentucky; Nashville; Decatur, Georgia; Charleston; Jacksonville; Birmingham, Mobile and Montgomery, Alabama; Alexandria, Norfolk, Portsmouth and Richmond, Virginia; Raleigh; and Washington, DC. Many of those cities have defended their historical connection to the Confederacy so well over the years that visitors would be forgiven for wondering which side won the war. Some cities are so caught up in the past that they’ve moved to enact statutes to protect the statues.

If life’s difficult for bronze Confederate generals these days, it’s no picnic for town square Spanish conquistadors, either. In New Mexico, two statues of Juan de Onate, who established the colony of New Mexico for Spain and became its first governor in 1598, were toppled. His men slaughtered 800 indigenous people at Acoma pueblo, and he was so cruel he was eventually exiled for his behavior. He was known for cutting off the feet and hands of the stubborn.

Statues honoring his role in New Mexico history have been controversial for decades, and a June 16 protest that precipitated the removal of an Onate statue in Albuquerque was punctuated by the shooting of a demonstrator. About 100 miles north in the town of Alcalde, an Onate statue managed to bite the dust without gunfire. That statue’s history includes the notable midnight amputation of Onate’s right foot by a protester with a taste for the ironic.

And don’t get me started about the future of Christopher Columbus monuments in America. Let’s just say that if you bought stock in them, it might be time to sell.

But enough of my road trip. At a time when images of conquering colonizers and Confederate ghosts are disappearing from public view, we have a genuine conundrum on our hands right here in Nevada. His name is Christopher Houston Carson, known to his friends as “Kit.” The iconic American frontiersman and wilderness guide helped John C. Fremont map much of what became Nevada and by any measure played an important role in the state’s history.

We didn’t name the state capital after a lightweight. Drive around the state and you’ll find no shortage of natural and manmade wonders named in his honor. Artist Buckeye Blake’s truly impressive statue of Carson on horseback stands outside the Capitol complex.

But he didn’t become a legend by knitting sweaters. He was a warrior for much of his life, and that includes leading violent “pacification” campaigns against the Navajo, Mescalero Apache, Kiowa and Comanche tribes. He is properly vilified for his relentless march of the Navajo to the Bosque Redondo, where people suffered greatly and many died. He also married an Indian woman and spoke several native dialects.

Carson’s story is as complex as our history of conquest and colonization, but his glorified presence in Nevada at a time of national introspection poses a tougher political question.

Hey Reb was easy. Tell me, Nevada, are we ready to quit Kit?

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

The danger of the widening gap between the public and private sectors

Photo of the front of the Nevada Legislature building.

When I first met my wife, she had just started law school, and I was still in the Navy. I planned on going to law school when I got out, so it was fun to have a bit of a preview. Somehow, in spite of her best efforts, watching her go through didn’t dissuade me from my own legal career.

But I remember her saying in her first year that her favorite class was Contracts. I didn’t get it – my interest was in criminal law, and the idea that learning how to draft a contract could be philosophically interesting made absolutely no sense to me. 

Boy was I wrong.

Contracts wound up being one of my favorite classes, too. I had a great professor, which helped. But the ability to get together with another private citizen and craft your own rules to your own relationship – and then have courts available to you to enforce those private rules – is a fascinating concept. We tend not to think of the freedom to contract as a civil right, but it absolutely is, on par with criminal due process, free speech, and race-neutral equal protection under the law. Without robust, universally understood, and enforceable rules regarding contracts, we could never trust our interactions with anyone else, and none of us could live up to our economic potentials. It’s what Jefferson meant by the phrase, “pursuit of happyness” as an unalienable human right. Contracts are specifically protected from state interference in the Constitution (although not as protected as they should be, because of some shameful Supreme Court rulings upholding failed and misguided efforts to stave off the Great Depression). 

Think about it – why would you work if you couldn’t count on getting paid? If people could skip out on work after getting paid up front, who would do the paying? Who would build apartment buildings if you couldn’t count on collecting rent? Who would build cellular phone infrastructure if users couldn’t be compelled to pay for the service plan they agreed to? You don’t personally sign a contract every day, but you benefit from a contract you or someone else signed hundreds of times every day.

It is therefore a very, very dangerous road for governments to go down when they suddenly wave a wand and announce that certain contracts won’t or can’t be enforced. The economic devastation that it can cause isn’t only – or even primarily – about the lost income from whatever individual transaction that was interfered with. The real damage comes in the loss of trust that future contracts can be relied upon, and deeper loss of trust in the government itself.

We’re seeing that writ large now. The COVID-19 shutdowns were and still are a massive government disruption of contracts. People had employment contracts, but the government mandates made them impossible to fulfill. Construction wasn’t officially stopped, but if you lost your business, you aren’t building a place for customers to come. Weddings and thousands of other events were canceled, and so was the income the photographers, caterers, DJs, tux rental places, party planners, and venues were counting on, so they in turn could pay other people for services they needed or wanted. 

One of the most visible examples of this in Nevada is our current moratorium on evictions. I’m sympathetic to the intent of the policy, but if there’s a better example of road-to-Hell-paving good intentions, I don’t know what it is. The economic ripples of that misguided, extra-legal policy will be felt for years. Why enter leases at all if the government can abrogate them at will?  Why build more commercial space? Why build more multi-family dwellings or other residential units designed for renters (which are desperately needed in northern Nevada)? And if you do, better charge the highest rents possible, now, because who knows when some politician is going to cut off your income stream.

Part of the problem is the way this was all done. Governments have historically had the ability to interfere with contracts for public purposes, mostly in the seizure and condemnation of private property for public use via eminent domain. But there’s a process, both in the Constitution and in various statutes, that is supposed to protect property owners from arbitrary and capricious seizures. And what’s more, the government is then obligated to reimburse you for your losses. 

Even if you believe the COVID lockdowns were necessary (and in retrospect, the data suggests they were terrible and counter-productive overkill), they still constituted a seizure for which the property owners ought to be compensated. It would certainly restore faith that the government will treat people fairly, and would incentivize future governments to not be quite so knee-jerk with their economy-destroying actions in the future.

It’s almost as if “emergency” orders entered weeks and months after the initial crisis became apparent without any input from lawmakers is not only legally dubious, but is a really terrible way to run a state.

***

You might think, then, that I would be sympathetic to AFSCME, the state government employee’s union that is now suing the governor because he waved that same “emergency powers” wand he used to unemploy half a million Nevadans to (gasp) make them take a furlough day once a month.

(I don’t mean to be unfair to Gov. Sisolak – because we didn’t know then what we know now, his initial shutdown orders were a reasonable reaction to the limited information available at the time, and matched what the rest of the country (and world) was doing. His handling after – most especially his refusal to call the Legislature into session, and his poor communication – is far less defensible, but even then I have no thought that his actions have ever been malicious, even if they were poorly considered.)

But public employee union contracts are unique in that they aren’t actually contracting with the affected party, and so, frankly, they have a real legitimacy problem. Typically, an employee contracts with an employer, whereby money is exchanged for services. Both sides have input in that transaction, and presumably both sides feel they benefit from the agreement. But in the case of public employees represented by a union, their true employers – the people – are designedly cut off from either the hiring/firing decisions, but also from decisions about pay, benefits, etc. 

As a result, public employees have become totally separate from and unaccountable to the people whom they are supposed to serve. Nothing illustrates that better than the totally oblivious and entitled temper tantrum now being thrown by AFSCME.

If AFSCME cared about process and fairness in their own contracts, the time to speak up was months ago. It’s the same thing as with any civil liberty – if you don’t defend free speech for people you don’t care about or even actively dislike, don’t count on that freedom still existing when you yourself want to use it. 

(This, by the way, is a lesson my friends on the left desperately need to re-learn about all sorts of civil rights, in this brave new world of cancel culture, redefining “racism” once a week and naked double standards surrounding presumptions of innocence whenever it suits a political agenda.)

And if AFSCME cared about the public it purports to serve, they’d take a look around and understand how lucky they are, how reasonable the governor’s proposals regarding them are, and the differences in sacrifices they’re being asked to make versus their privately employed counterparts. At the very least, they could pay some lip service to the idea that in order to meet their demands, taxes would have to be raised on people who either don’t have jobs or who took massive economic hits over the last few months. Is the smallest expression of gratitude that they aren’t on the interminable DETR wait lists too much to ask?

And of all the contracts abrogated by executive order these past few months, theirs are the most legally malleable in tough economic times, as the law expressly allows the state to ignore them if necessary in order to balance the state budget.

Once again, there is no better advocate for eliminating public employee unions than public employee unions themselves. All government workers, from police to electricians, should be at-will employees, and ultimately accountable to someone we can vote for or against.  Otherwise we cannot be said to have a government of, for, or by the people in actual practice.

***

AFSCME’s political muscle is a big part of the reason Gov. Sisolak is in office today, and their short-sighted protest is a naked demand for their quid pro quo. But bowing to their demands would only widen the gap between ordinary Nevadans and their government. 

The many missteps during this crisis on every level – from the feds on down to the city level – have badly eroded already tenuous trust between citizens and their governments. From the conflicting guidance on masks to the failure to quell riots (or even seeming tacit approval of them), it’s no wonder government officials are having such a hard time convincing their citizens to follow their ever-shifting suggestions (which, by the way, still lack any well-defined end-game or clear, coherent, identified purpose). 

Every day Nevadans know that one man can simply issue a decree and destroy years of planning and investment in their business is a day that trust falls further. Every day government employees are treated in a radically different way from their private sector counterparts, it sinks even lower.

It is good that our Legislature is finally going to go into session. Their mission is to get Nevada on track to recovery. They must understand that they cannot complete that task without first restoring faith in and among our state’s job creators, businesses, and entrepreneurs that the fruits of their labors will be respected and protected in the months and years to come.

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.

Governor Sisolak wants you to wear a mask. Wear one anyway.

Gov. Sisolak is running out of both patience and time.

That was the impression I got after watching the press conference on Wednesday in which, among other things, he announced that we are now legally required to wear masks in public — but only on paper! Let’s not issue fines or arrest anyone! This is just some paperwork we’re filling out so casino workers can tell tourists to wear a mask! We’re not even going to obligate law enforcement to wear masks, lest they opine in the governor’s direction once again!

(Surprise — they opined anyway.)

What Gov. Sisolak wants is pretty straightforward — he wants casinos to remain open so the state won’t actually have to cut a quarter of its annual budget. What he doesn’t want to do is communicate with Republicans in the Legislature, state employee unions or anyone else about budget cuts. Instead, he wants the need for budget cuts to disappear. That’s why both Sen. Kieckhefer and AFSCME, who ordinarily refuse to agree with each other about the wetness of water and which way is up, have both complained for months about the lack of communication and collaboration from the governor’s office regarding the state’s budgeting process. 

In order for Nevada’s budget woes to disappear, or at least shrink into a somewhat more manageable size, casinos need to remain open. In order for casinos to remain open, people need to trust they won’t get deathly ill if they visit one. Unfortunately, positive cases are going up, both in Nevada and across the rest of the country, which is causing tourists to stay home. Though COVID-19 isn’t as virulently lethal as the Black Death, the Columbian exchange, or even the Spanish Flu, it’s already killed nearly as many Americans in four months as Alzheimer’s normally kills in a year, which means it’s likely to be the United States’ sixth-leading cause of death within the next few weeks and the third-leading cause within the next few months. Understandably, most people don’t want to catch the third- or sixth-leading cause of death if they can generally avoid it. 

Worse yet, many states are once again issuing tit-for-tat quarantines and travel bans. The last thing Nevada needs is to find itself in the same 14-day quarantine bucket New York, New Jersey and Connecticut placed Arizona and Utah, two of our five neighboring states, into. 

The good news is Nevada could be doing a lot worse. It’s not very often that Nevada earns a pat on the back for institutional success, but Nevada’s medical system is doing consistently competent work at a time when other, larger states are failing. Yes, our case count is growing faster than ever, but hospitalization, ventilator, and ICU utilization rates are still well under their early April peaks and our overall death rate is still declining. This is consistent with COVID-19 infecting younger, healthier populations, as well as our medical infrastructure getting better at treating a decreasingly novel virus. As the Governor’s Office of Economic Development puts together its latest slide deck selling businesses on Nevada, it might be worth pointing out that, unlike Texas and Florida, two ostensibly business-friendly locations that also don’t have personal income taxes, Nevada’s hospitals aren’t full.

As good as that news might be, however, Nevada’s population isn’t just Nevadans. 

Ordinarily, more than 56 million people visit Nevada each year — or roughly the population of California if California had another 16 million people in it. Those 56 million people and change (or however many might show up these days) eventually go home once they’re done doing whatever it is visitors do here. If they want to be welcomed back home without sheltering-in-place for a couple of weeks when they return, though, their home states and countries need to know that what happens in Vegas isn’t contagious. It’s great that our medical system is holding up just fine, but if tourists overwhelm the medical systems at home within a week or two of visiting a Nevada casino, guess what tourists won’t be allowed to do anymore? 

Thankfully, Nevadans are recognizing our responsibility towards our visitors and guests and are encouraging each other to… oh, who am I kidding, we’re banning masks in our stores

Okay, that’s not entirely fair — one internet troll-run motorsports company in the industrial part of Sparks isn’t representative of every business in Nevada. Many Nevada businesses, including our casinos, have been encouraging, if not outright bribing, patrons into wearing masks for a while now. Granted, it wasn’t working very well, which is why the Culinary Union is lawyering up and why there’s now a statewide mandate on the books (it’s a lot easier to tell customers to do what you want them to do when you can say “it’s the law” while you’re doing it). But, for the most part, they’ve been trying. 

However, that local motorsports company does nicely demonstrate a reflexive oppositional defiance that does Nevada as much harm as good sometimes. 

On the one hand, I’m honestly thankful that several county sheriffs, including Washoe County’s, are refusing to apply civil or criminal penalties to those caught without a mask on (and educating people that it’s not, in fact, illegal to wear a mask and concealed carry). Even Gov. Sisolak doesn’t want them, though whether he’s saying that because he really means it or because he knows that nobody would listen if he said otherwise is open to discussion. Regardless of his motivations, the Drug War has nicely demonstrated that enforcement of routinely violated laws falls disproportionately against the poor and people of color and it’s nice to see Nevada’s law enforcement refusing to push its luck. Fines are just taxes paid by the unlucky and we need fewer people in prisons, especially during a pandemic.

On the other hand, the War on Drugs is over because drugs won. That’s fine when we’re talking about self-administered recreational substances, but, outside of a very small number of contrarian misanthropic nihilists, nobody actually wants to catch COVID-19. COVID-19 is a virus, not a joint. It does not require consent before entering your body or your family. It does not respond to peer pressure. It does not care if you keep your nose clean. COVID-19 does not entertain, bring euphoria, or alter your perception of your place in the universe. At its best, it inconveniences. At its worst, it debilitates, destroys, and even murders. 

We don’t want COVID-19 to win the War on COVID-19. More importantly, we don’t have to lose. If we wear masks and socially distance — not because the governor says we must but because it’s the right thing to do — we can follow the same trajectory Europe and East Asia are experiencing. Europeans and East Asians aren’t dying of mask-triggered asthma attacks, headaches, pneumonia, fungal infections, or anything else of the sort. Granted, you might get sick if you’re using a cloth mask and don’t wash it in hot water and detergent between uses, but the same could be said for your underwear.

Wash your underwear. 

I don’t like being told what to do, either. However, I like getting sick even less and I really don’t like visiting friends and family members in hospitals. Hospitals are depressing, the parking is too expensive, and the food is terrible. So, if you can wear a mask, please wear a mask. 

Don’t do it for me. Don’t do it for Gov. Sisolak. Don’t do it for the casinos. Do it for everyone else that wouldn’t dare to ask you to. Do it for you.

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.