Around Las Vegas, Veterans of America is elusive

Veterans of AmericaIn the past week or so I’ve received several calls at the New To Las Vegas world headquarters asking if I would like to donate my car–or real estate or even time share–to an outfit called Veterans of America and take a tax deduction. The calls consisted of a tape-recorded message inviting me to either call an 800 number or hit a button on my phone to speak with someone.

Since I never had heard of that organization, I did call or hit the button, several times. But when I asked whoever came on the line for the specific office address or the tax ID number–which would be needed for a valid tax deduction–that person abruptly hung up.

A legitimate nonprofit concerned about its reputation likely would not do that. Continue reading

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Far from Las Vegas, an amusing Trump hack of Google Maps

The federal indictment released today in Washington, D.C., against against ex-Trump campaign manager Paul J. Manafort Jr. alleges among other things he used laundered untaxed money presumably generated by his pro-Russian activities to buy a nice brownstone house in the trendy Carroll Gardens section of Brooklyn, N.Y.

Now, decades before becoming New To Las Vegas, I lived in Park Slope, the very next neighborhood to the east of Carroll Gardens. I know the area well but wanted to see exactly how far away that was from my former abode. So I went to Google Maps and punched in the address listed in the indictment, 377 Union Street. Here’s the screenshot I got:

Trump hack of Google MapsThat’s right, folks. Someone today hacked Google Maps to insert a picture of President Donald J. Trump in the Oval Office in the spot where an image of Manafort’s house normally would appear.

If you take a very close look at the map. you’ll see there’s marker for “Persons of Interest” on the same block as the property. I think that is the name of a barber shop. But what a coincidence.

While I don’t especially approve of computer hacking, this is tooooooooo funny. Continue reading

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Wealth of Las Vegas richest folks rises less than stock market

See update at end of post

I don’t know how your last 12 months have gone. But the nine richest people around Las Vegas collectively are more than $5 billion richer than they were a year ago.
The 36th edition of the Forbes 400 list came out today, and the estimated net worth of the nine entrants from the Las Vegas area totals $55.6 billion. That’s up from $50.1 billion.

Normally, a 11% jump in one year would be nothing to laugh at. But this year it actually is. That’s because the S&P 500 index rose 16.2% in that same period. As a group, the Vegas Nine would have done better by throwing it all in a big Vanguard mutual fund and spending the year on a beach. Hell, you might have done better than they did in your own IRA or 401(k).

Sheldon Adelson, the 84-year-old casino tycoon whose family also owns the Las Vegas Review-Journal, the state’s largest newspaper, retains by far the title of richest man in Las Vegas (and Nevada). He remains No. 14 on the Forbes list, with a net worth of $35.4 billion, up $3.6 billion from last year.

Here are the others:

Continue reading

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Las Vegas massacre brings out worst of blogosphere

Las Vegas massacre

Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino (via Wikipedia)

Within a few hours of last night’s horrendous Las Vegas Strip massacre, various outlets on the blogosphere had identified the killer. In my New To Las Vegas home just a few miles from the crime scene, I watched on the Internet overnight as they displayed his name, his picture, his hometown–Reno–his age. There was no confirmation of any of this from Las Vegas authorities.

The blogosphere outlets, generally of a conservative persuasion, especially had this–the murderer was a supporter of the liberal MSNBC pundit Rachel Maddow and other progressive causes. I presume this connection was intended to diffuse the certain-to-come allegations that right-wing objections to gun control laws had fostered the carnage.

Small problem here: The outlets identified the wrong person. Completely and totally.

Later in the early hours of today, Clark County Sheriff Joseph Lombardo identified the sole shooter firing across the Strip from the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino at the Route 91 Harvest Festival as Stephen Paddock, 64, of Mesquite, Nev. That’s a growing retirement community on the Arizona state line 85 miles northeast of Las Vegas.

Since then, some of the posts have come down, and others have been updated. But I haven’t seen many apologies. That’s something purveyors of fake news aren’t very good at, even when they’re so conclusively exposed. Continue reading

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Far from Las Vegas, the racism of the National Anthem

racism of the National Anthem

Francis Scott Key (portrait attributed to Joseph Wood)

All of America is talking today about NFL player conduct yesterday during the playing of the National Anthem. President Donald J. Trump called the sit-down protests a lack a patriotism rather than, say, a reaction to police brutality like what Seattle Seahawks player Michael Bennett recently alleged against Las Vegas police.

I would like to suggest folks focus on some of the words in “The Star-Spangled Banner” and the character of its lyricist, Francis Scott Key. In my judgment both are racist beyond belief.

Don’t believe me?

Let’s first take a look at the National Anthem’s rarely sung third stanza. The passage explicitly envisions and welcome the killing of fleeing slaves even as it extols “the land of the free and the home of the brave:”

And where is that band who so vauntingly swore
That the havoc of war and the battle’s confusion,
A home and a country should leave us no more!
Their blood has washed out their foul footsteps’ pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave:
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!  

The reference to refuge of the slave refers to the fact that British ships in Baltimore Harbor during the War of 1812 were offering to take away runaway slaves, something that Key fought during his professional life. Oddly, that is somewhat the conceit behind Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation a half-century later. Indeed, the slaves who fled to the Brits represented the largest emancipation of blacks until Lincoln. Continue reading

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One Las Vegas official should watch what she wishes for

See update at end of post

In today’s Sunday edition of the Las Vegas Review-Journal, Clark County Treasurer Laura B. Fitzpatrick ran a big ad saying that quarterly property taxes were due in a week, on October 2. Folks were advised that they could see what they owed by going to the Treasurer’s web site.

Oops! Here’s what taxpayers saw for hours all day long when they tried to access the tax info:

Las Vegas official

I assume the part of the Treasurer’s site with this information crashed under the weight of inquiries from many of Clark County’s 2 million residents. (I tried using different computers and browsers, all with the same result.)

To me, there are several noteworthy points here:

  • An IT tech should be put on overtime any non-business day a government agency runs an ad with the headline, “Reminder of Property Taxes Due.”
  • Government officials should be prepared for the possibility their efforts will succeed.
  • The Clark County Treasurer is an elected position, next facing the voters in 2018.

Meanwhile, still New To Las Vegas, I’ll try again on Monday after the IT staff gets in.

  Follow William P. Barrett’s work on Twitter by clicking here.

———-

Updated on Monday, September 25, 2017, at 9:00 am

A full 24 hours after I first started looking online for my quarterly property tax bill at the written invitation of Clark County Treasurer Laura B. Fitzpatrick, things aren’t any better:

Las Vegas official

Notwithstanding the language here, I should point out that the Clark County Website is fine. It’s just the property tax bill inquiry page that isn’t working.

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Charity solicitation regulation in Nevada and Las Vegas is elusive

Charity regulation in NevadaIn 2013 Nevada passed a law bolstering its regulation of most charities soliciting for donations, especially over the telephone. Among other things, the law required such charities to file with the Nevada Secretary of State’s Office a financial report such as an IRS Form 990, which the agency “shall … post” on its website. A would-be donor contacted by a cold-calling telemarketer could determine if this was one of the many that spend only 10% or less of donations on its professed charitable cause.

But four years later, the secretary of state’s office still doesn’t post the required financial reports or 990s on its website. Nor does that agency or the Nevada Attorney General’s Office do much to make sure that charities asking Nevadans for their hard-earned dollars are on the up and up or to provided all the needed information. It doesn’t appear, for example, that either of the agencies, which by law share jurisdiction over charities, has even a single staffer devoted exclusively to charitable regulation. The secretary of state’s office is so sloppy that, until I pointed it out, the website listed citations to state law repealed several years ago.

Civil penalties? Cease and desist orders? Revocation of solicitation permissions? Not in Nevada.

I’ve only been New To Las Vegas for barely a year. But as as many of you know, I’ve been writing about charities for decades. To me it’s clear that as it’s being implemented, the Nevada system for overseeing charities is exceedingly weak and an open invitation for sharpies. I put that very observation in writing to flaks for both the SOS and AG–they are elected officials–asking for a response, and got none.

To gain a wider local audience, I’ve written a long essay about the shortcomings I see for The Nevada Independent. This is an donor-funded online news site recently founded by the well-known Nevada journalist Jon Ralston focusing on policy and politics in the Silver State.

Some of the material will be familiar to visitors to this blog, but there’s lots of new stuff. I invite you to read the article by clicking here.

And if you live in Nevada, weep.

Follow William P. Barrett’s work on Twitter by clicking here.

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It Didn’t Stay Here: Las Vegas trip by alleged Michigan embezzler

It Didn't Stay Here

Michelle Schneider (courtesy Grand Traverse County, Mich.)

The bug light known as Las Vegas glows far and wide. To remote corners of the country. Places like, say, Traverse City, Mich. That’s a remote, cultured scenic burg of 15,000 on an inlet off the eastern shore of Lake Michigan near the northern tip of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula. (Just before becoming New To Las Vegas, I put Traverse City on a Forbes retirement list.) The town is 2,000 miles from Las Vegas.

If the Traverse City authorities are to be believed, Michelle Schneider saw the glow. They say she embezzled funds from the Traverse City community college where she had worked as a technology specialist for four years to fund a number of personal expenses, including at least one trip to Las Vegas.

Schneider, 46, of suburban Grawn (yep, that’s the name of a place), faces one count of embezzlement for using a credit card issued by Northwestern Michigan College to charge up more than $9,000 in unauthorized expenses. She pleaded not guilty earlier this month in Michigan’s state court system and awaits further proceedings.

That’s enough to earn a nomination to my list It Didn’t Stay Here. The roster highlights folks in difficulties elsewhere for something that happened in Vegas. It’s a mildly satirical refutation of the incredibly well-known marketing pitch of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, “What Happens Here, Stays Here.” The full list sits elsewhere on this page. Continue reading

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Unregistered charity with high overhead trolls for Las Vegas money

For once,Unregistered charity the cold caller to the New To Las Vegas world headquarters was a real person, as opposed to a computer using voice recognition technology. That made it a little easier to have a meaningful back and forth as she asked for a charitable contribution.

The cause, she said, was something called Veterans Trauma Support Network. I asked for its address, and she said it was based in Orlando, Fla. She described the organization as nationwide in scope, contributions to which would be tax-deductible. I listened patiently to her pitch that the money would help vets cope with PTSD and other ailments.

She said she worked for an outside paid fundraiser named Charitable Resource Foundation. Finally, I asked how much of donations would go to the stated cause as opposed to fundraising expense. Twelve percent, she said somewhat matter of factly.

Oh, I said. So 88% of all the money raised goes to the fundraiser like you?

The caller said coolly she wasn’t going to discuss the terms of her own compensation. As you might imagine, the call ended soon thereafter.

Quick research by me showed that Veterans Trauma Support Network isn’t its own charity at all but a fundraising trade name used by another charity called Crisis Relief Network. According to official websites, CRN’s fundraisers solicit for money under all kinds of evocative, wallet-tugging names. Besides Veterans Trauma Relief Network, they have included Child Watch of North America, Childhood Abuse and Trauma Foundation, Children’s Cancer Relief Foundation and Breast Cancer Relief Network. (The Child Watch department got some bad press in the San Francisco area last year for using pictures of missing children in its fundraising efforts without parental permission.)

That’s an awful lot of causes for a parent organization that according to the first page of its latest tax return had just one paid employee. Nor was that the only surprise. Continue reading

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Nevada mountain north of Las Vegas still named for Confederate leader

Jeff Davis Peak (via Wikipedia)

From what I see, folks in Nevada–which became a no-slave state on the Union side in 1864, during the Civil War–are feeling smug about all the Confederate memorials and statues being taken down across the South. Not to mention buildings and institutions named after slave-owning politicians being renamed, especially in the North and elsewhere. The Nevada attitude: nothing to see here.

But maybe not so fast. The state’s third highest point is Jeff Davis Peak. That’s right. It’s named for the same Jefferson Finis Davis of Mississippi who was the slave-owning president of the Confederate States of America during the four-year-long conflict from 1861 to 1865.

The 12,677-foot-high Snake Range summit is 300 miles due north of Las Vegas, southeast of the small city of Ely, off U.S. 6 near the Utah border in the scenic Great Basin National Park. That makes its owner the Federal Government, for those interested in seriously complaining about the name. Continue reading

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