Faux volunteer firefighter cause trolls Las Vegas and nationally

The recent cold caller to the New To Las Vegas world headquarters used the name Shawn (or maybe Sean). He said he was soliciting a donation for something called National Committee for Volunteer Firefighters.

In my view, he made it sound like a charity and pressed real hard for me to commit to a specific dollar pledge before mailing me written materials. Shawn was also not a real person, but a voice generated by a computer, most likely with an actual human monitoring the conversation and hitting keys to provide canned responses.

All this is a common m.o. for what I call a faux charity–a purported cause that spends almost all the money raised on fundraising and overhead and virtually nothing on the stated cause, while implying it operates with charitable motives. They are hoping that would-be donors won’t ask up front about financial efficiencies or won’t know how to find the answers for themselves.

In this case NCVF, ostensibly based in Boston, is a political action committee. That’s not a charity at all, of course, but a so-called 527 organization–named after a provision of federal tax law–that says it takes contributions to support candidates for public office who will support its goals. Here, this presumably would have something to do with volunteer firefighters. 527 outfits are lightly regulated, to say the least.

I just dug up NCVF’s public record financial filings with the Internal Revenue Service from its creation last December 18 through June 30, just a few weeks ago. Some $241,027 was listed as donated from across the country, and $220,627 listed as spent. By my reckoning, here is how much of that $220,627 was spent supporting volunteer firefighters:

$0.

Here’s how much of that $220,627 was spent in fundraising and overhead expense:

$220,627.

The difference, $20,400–only 8% of the amount donated–isn’t going to help very many political candidates and is hardly commensurate with the amount contributed. And I imagine many donors would not be happy to know that 92% of their gifts have no chance of benefiting even a single volunteer firefighter. Continue reading

Hey, Nevada State Treasurer Zach Conine, proof-read your ad!

Since becoming New to Las Vegas four years ago this week, I have come to the conclusion that the Nevada state government is not a fountain of extreme competence.

For me, the latest example appeared today in a half-page advertisement placed in the Las Vegas Review-Journal by the office of Nevada State Treasurer Zach Conine. The ad in the state’s leading newspaper concerned changes to the state’s unclaimed property law. (Yes, I do read boring stuff like that.)

Here is the bottom of the ad. The annotated yellow arrow was added by yours truly.

Now I imagine that most everyone in that agency is working from home due to the coronavirus pandemic. That would include the grammatically challenged–as well as folks whose job it should be to proof-read material in its entirety before publication.

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Far from Las Vegas: How a 1980s management book explains Trump

As the November 2020 presidential election nears, we’ve all watched Donald J. Trump run the White House and the Federal Government for 3½ years. As he lurches from crisis to crisis, gaffe to gaffe, false statement to false statement and high-level firing to high-level firing, Trump has provided grist for a million pundits commenting on his, ah, unusual management style.

Or maybe not all that unusual.

For my money, the best analysis of Trump’s m.o. comes from a book I read in the 1980s–long before becoming New to Las Vegas–that doesn’t even mention him and isn’t really about politics.

I am referring to Unstable at the Top: Inside the Troubled Organization, by prominent international management consultants/academics Manfred F.R. Kets de Vries and Danny Miller. The pair combed through case histories of organizations both public and private run by clearly wacko leaders to define five varieties of neurotic, dysfunctional management: dramatic, suspicious, detached, depressive and compulsive.

Trump fits their description of the dramatic leader to a T, not unlike the delightfully off-balance letter on the cover, displayed nearby.

“The dramatic management style mixes aspects of two primary psychological orientations: the histrionic (theatrical, seductive, and showy) and the narcissistic (egotistical and grandiose),” Kets de Vries and Miller write. Continue reading

Sketchy police cause that doesn’t engage is back trolling in Las Vegas

Sketchy police cause Last week, amid the outcry over the police murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Andrew called me again at the New To Las Vegas world headquarters asking for a donation to his cause helping the families of officers “killed in the line of duty.” The conservation lasted less than a minute, but not because this is a hard time for police fundraising. When I politely asked how much has been spent in Nevada, Andrew abruptly hung up. This might be because the true answer is probably zero.

This was not the first time this year I’ve heard from Andrew. He called months before the Floyd killing making the same plea, using roughly the same language. Nor was this the first time this year he hung up on me after I asked something simple (the last time, to be connected with his supervisor).

Clearly, Andrew has deficient interpersonal skills. I can say this without fear of committing defamation because Andrew is not a person, but rather a computer monitored by a real human trying to use artificial intelligence to fund-raise. Artificial intelligence is definitely not the same as emotional intelligence.

Andrew raises money in the name of Police Officers Support Association. This is a trade name used by Law Enforcement for a Safer America PAC. Yes, PAC, as in political action committee, outfits that usually support candidates. Based on recent filings, the money raised doesn’t actually go to next of kin, as Andrew implied in our brief chat. In fact, almost all of it goes for fundraising, and very little of it to anything that might be construed as the stated mission, like supporting sympathetic candidates or aiding grieving police families. Continue reading

In Las Vegas, reopenings include pitch by faux autism charity

faux autism charityThe United States is slowly coming out of the coronavirus shutdown. Businesses are reopening–like casinos today here in Las Vegas–and folks are going back to work. But that swelling workforce apparently includes those who labor in that section of the cold-calling telemarketing industry pushing would-be charitable-minded donors to make contributions–very little of which will go to the stated mission.

After several months of silence–hey, one might catch COVID-19 in boiler-room call centers–the phones at the New To Las Vegas world headquarters have started ringing regularly again with such pitches.

Following a trend first noted here two years ago, the calls have been on behalf of political action committees, or PACs. These, of course, aren’t charities at all, but conduits for political contributions and sometimes lobbying. They masquerade as charities. No more than pennies on the dollar are spent on the seemingly laudable mission. For the often-shadowy figures behind these enterprises, a big benefit is extremely light scrutiny by one of the most toothless regulatory agencies we have, the Federal Election Commission, as well as virtually no scrutiny at all by state charity regulators and private charitable watchdogs. Continue reading

Post-pandemic, what will be left of the Las Vegas Strip?

Las Vegas StripUndoubtedly, the phrase of the year in 2020 across our planet is “social distancing.” This is also Las Vegas’s absolute worst nightmare. There probably is no other city in the U.S. whose economy is more completely tied to a lack of social distancing. “What Happens Here, Stays Here,” the cheeky former official slogan of Las Vegas image-makers, was premised on an extreme lack of social distancing, with folks normally thisclose all the time.

With the nation’s highest statewide unemployment rate at 28.2%, Nevada in general, and Las Vegas in particular, face a loooooong road back to any semblance of recovery. (The unemployment rate in the Las Vegas area in February was just 3.9%) How long? For starters, somewhat longer than it takes for folks to feel comfortable getting on airplanes and traveling long distances for the privilege of losing a lot of money gambling in casinos.

I’m thinking maybe sometime in 2022–and that’s if an effective coronavirus vaccine can be developed, mass produced and administered in record time. Otherwise, who knows? Continue reading

Far from Las Vegas, did Gannett claim Pulitzer Prize credit for papers it didn’t own?

GannettOn Monday, Columbia University announced the awarding of the prestigious Pulitzer Prizes for 2020. These haven’t been good times for print media, so the winners understandably were quick to proclaim their triumphs.

In barely an hour, USA Today, flagship of the Gannett chain, now the largest in the country by total circulation, put online a story about how a Gannett paper, The Courier-Journal in Louisville, won the breaking news Pulitzer for its coverage of questionable last-minute pardons issued by Kentucky’s governor.

All well and good. But the story contained this sentence: “Gannett … has won at least 56 Pulitzer Prizes.”

“At least?” In my half-century as a journalist starting long before becoming New To Las Vegas, I never have encountered a news organization that didn’t know exactly how many Pulitzers it has won. Something is up here. Continue reading

Carolyn Goodman isn’t the mayor of the Las Vegas Strip, or me

Carolyn Goodman

Carolyn Goodman and Anderson Cooper on CNN today

Several hours ago, three-term Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman made an absolute fool of herself on national TV by telling CNN’s Anderson Cooper the coronavirus shutdown of the economy should be ended, but she has no responsibility for any sickness or death that might result. She added she had offered her city as a”control group” to see how many residents would die, but was turned down by authorities.

I’ve been getting angry messages from people complaining about “your mayor.”

Listen up, folks. I live in unincorporated Clark County, part of the Las Vegas Valley, but not in the City of Las Vegas. So she’s not my mayor. In fact she’s not even the mayor of the Las Vegas Strip, which also sits in unincorporated Clark County.

But there’s some interesting history here–even involving the former bread-and-butter of Goodman’s now-retired mob lawyer husband, Oscar Goodman, who also served as Las Vegas mayor. I described the backstory in a 2017 post. I’m taking the liberty of re-purposing some of that material below. Continue reading

Watching the pandemic play out in Las Vegas–a century ago

pandemic play out in Las Vegas

Las Vegas Age, October 5, 1918

A sudden increase in illness cases around Las Vegas–and worse. A significant death rate. Closed schools. Instructions to stay apart and wear masks. Inadequate medical staffing levels. Months of fear.

Oh, I’m not describing the ongoing coronovirus pandemic in Las Vegas (and the world). Rather, what I’m writing about are events hereabouts concerning the famous “Spanish flu” influenza pandemic from 1918 to 1920, as reported in the pages of the leading local newspaper of the day, the Las Vegas Age.

But maybe some things don’t change much.

The worldwide 1918 influenza epidemic (the word pandemic was known but not widely used at the time) was a serious problem in the Las Vegas area for about three months during the fall of 1918, then apparently came back in a lesser way a year later in early 1920. All told, it appears there officially were about 40 deaths in Clark County, where Las Vegas is, attributed to the influenza epidemic. However, that likely was a significant undercount.

Still, Las Vegas and Clark County back then were backwaters with a total population of only about 7,000. So that worked out to one death for every 175 persons. This roughly tracked the estimated national mortality rate–675,000 deaths in a population of 107 million--of one death for every 160 persons.

There are now 2 million people in Clark County. Thus, that 1918 rate would produce more than 11,000 deaths. But so far, there have only been 100 deaths attributed to coronavirus, or one death for every 20,000 persons. While the pandemic is far from over, the death rate is not even 1% of what was experienced in 1918. Right now the U.S. death rate is significantly higher than Clark County’s–one for every 14,700 residents. Continue reading

From Las Vegas, thoughts on the pandemic recession and the election

pandemic recession

Larry Kudlow, Trump’s chief economic adviser (via Wikipedia)

Larry Kudlow, President Trump’s chief economic adviser, said yesterday the financial damage caused by the coronavirus pandemic would start receding within two months. (Last month, he said “weeks and months.”) Other Trump supporters have trotted out that old financial bromide, “This time is different.” They argue that the origins of this recession—and that appears to be what we’re in now—are so transitory that the financial distress will go away fast and with no lingering effect.

I beg to differ.

As a student of financial history long before becoming New To Las Vegas, what I’m seeing is the same old thing. The economic history of the United States consists of a simple repeating pattern: boom, bubble and bust. And the bust part is rarely over quickly. Continue reading

Only in Nevada (even if not in Las Vegas)

From Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak’s coronavirus order that nonessential businesses in the state must close for 30 days (emphasis added at the New To Las Vegas world headquarters):Only in Nevada In case you wonder, prostitution is legal in much of Nevada, although not in Clark County, where Las Vegas is; Washoe County, home of Reno; or Carson City, the capital, which is an independent city.

In 2018, voters in Nye County, immediately to the west of Clark County where prostitution is legal, elected Republican Dennis Hof to the State Assembly in a landslide. This was noteworthy for two reasons: (1) Hof, a TV personality who wrote an autobiography entitled The Art of the Pimp, was the owner of seven brothels in Nevada, which he said would be good experience for working with other lawmakers, and (2) he had died three weeks before the election, found deceased in his bed the morning after his 72d birthday party.

Nothing says Nevada quite like a dead pimp elected to the Legislature.

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

Social distancing Las Vegas-style

Social distancing Las Vegas-style

Las Vegas signage

A mandatory stop for many tourists to Las Vegas is the famous “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas” sign. Since 1959, it has sat in the median at the southern tip of the Las Vegas Strip next to the airport. In a normal 24-hour period, thousands of tourists line up at all hours of the day and night to have their photos taken in front of the icon, a free background offering absolute proof of a Vegas visit. Since becoming New to Las Vegas, I often have taken visiting guests over for a keepsake shot.

Of course, thanks to the coronavirus crisis, these are not normal times. Vegas is essentially shut down and likely will remain that way well into April at a minimum. With all casinos and many hotels with their fancy shows closed, tourism is down to a trickle.

This afternoon, I drove the 2½ miles between Flamingo Road and the sign, a stretch through the heart of the Strip that passes the famous Bellagio Fountains where folks like to gawk. Normally, there would be maybe 10,000 people on foot along both sides of the famous road.

Today, I counted exactly 49.

But not every tourist has disappeared, just 99.99% of them. So Clark County, which maintains the area around the Vegas sign (which is more than four miles outside the city limits of Las Vegas proper), has posted a small sign. It asks tourists to observe social distancing guidelines and stay six feet apart.

When I passed by today, there were tourists at the sign. As you can see by my nearby photo, the social distancing guidance was ignored.

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

Coronavirus crisis suggests Las Vegas economy remains a one-trick pony

Las Vegas economyEver since becoming New To Las Vegas in 2016, I’ve heard plenty of local claims the Las Vegas area is successfully diversifying its economy away from reliance on the sin stuff that long made the Strip famous (or infamous): gambling, entertainment and lodging. Building a knowledge-based, tech-driven economy for the 21st Century, local leaders proclaimed. It’s no longer like 2008, they said, when the Great Recession abruptly dried up tourism and all the sectors associated with it. The Las Vegas Valley was one of the country’s hardest-hit area, and recovery took a long time.

But to my mind, the coronavirus pandemic already is giving the lie to those economic diversification claims hereabouts.

The Las Vegas Valley is reeling and had been even before Gov. Steve Sisolak last night ordered a minimum 30-day statewide closure of all casinos, restaurants, bars and other non-essential businesses. World-famous Las Vegas Strip resorts–Encore, Wynn, Cosmopolitan, Venetian, Palazzo, all eight MGM properties–were already shutting down their operations. Famous entertainment acts–Cirque du Soleil, David Copperfield, Penn & Teller–went dark. Cascading layoffs are accelerating, although many of the casinos say they will keep workers on the payroll for varying lengths of time or at least cover health care premiums.

The Las Vegas Review-Journal announced it was suspending a number of sections, including its weekly entertainment guide. “With Vegas headliners going dark, resorts suspending operations, movie theaters closing, concerts canceling and social events being discouraged, there is not much left in this city to advertise or list,”  the paper wrote.

For days the Strip has looked like more of a ghost town than video I’ve seen of other famous tourist venues around the country like Times Square in New York, a city that has a lot of other industries. Leaders like Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman are blaming the distress on media publicity about coronavirus rather than the resulting illness itself. Her comments by themselves–she pushed strongly for casinos to stay open–might be evidence of non-diversification.

Continue reading

Far from Las Vegas, coronavirus and Thomas Paine legacy in New Rochelle

coronavirus and Thomas Paine

Thomas Paine Cottage Museum, New Rochelle, N.Y.

New Rochelle, N.Y., a leafy New York City suburb where I have relatives, is in the news as a U.S. hotspot for cornoavirus. The New York State National Guard today started enforcing a one-mile-in-radius “containment zone” around a synagogue on North Avenue where a member came down with the illness that then infected any number of contacts. Residents can come and go as they like, although large gatherings are prohibited.

As it happens, within that zone a few blocks down North Avenue sits one of the strangest and most bogus shrines to political action in America that I know of–strange and bogus mainly because nothing political ever happened there. Before becoming New To Las Vegas, I wrote about this for another blog in 2013, from which this account is drawn. Cornoavirus gives me a fresh hook to resurrect the curious tale.

I am referring to what is now called the Thomas Paine Cottage Museum. The structure is perhaps the last tangible vestige of Paine (1737-1809), the English philosopher and revolutionary who came to America in late 1774 and within 14 months published “Common Sense.” That was the best-selling manifesto for freedom so persuasive and fiery the Second Continental Congress borrowed large chunks of its logic when fashioning the Declaration of Independence just a few months later.

Why am I so down on this tribute to a man listed among the country’s Founding Fathers? Keep reading to see some reasons. Continue reading

Different names but same sketchy financials for Knoxville cancer charity trolling Las Vegas

Knoxville cancer charityKnoxville cancer charityAt the New to Las Vegas world headquarters recently, Mary Newton was on the line, cold-calling me and soliciting a cash donation for the American Breast Cancer Support Association. It was the usual pitch: Commit to a specific-dollar pledge before seeing any paperwork.

I asked where the charity is located. The voice on the other end said she was with a fundraiser named Innovative Teleservices in Port Huron, Mich. That’s fine, I said, but repeated, where is the charity located?

Mary–who wasn’t a real person but a computer-generated voice using artificial intelligence–eventually said she would get someone else on the line. That someone–a real person–said the charity was headquartered in Knoxville, Tenn. I pressed for the formal name of the charity rather than the trade name used in soliciting funds. United Cancer Support Foundation. I was told.

Now–especially if you’ve been writing about charities like I have for a long time–being asked for money by a cancer charity based in Knoxville sets off more alarms than the Great Chicago Fire, or an email plea from Nigeria. Especially this one. For as it turns out, I was personally solicited before by this very organization–a long time ago and under one of its previous names.

But what hasn’t changed very much is the m.o. By my reading of UCSF’s latest tax filing, maybe 4 cents of each donated dollar went to something I might call good works, like grants to individuals and organizations. The other 96 cents of each dollar was gobbled up by fundraising costs and overhead. These are truly dreadful financial efficiencies.

This data is not volunteered to would-be donors. Nor is the charity’s recent banning from soliciting in two states. But it all sort of makes a mockery of UCSF’s printed motto, “United we care, united we share.” Continue reading

New study ranks Las Vegas economy as very good but off a bit

Las Vegas economyA national study released today says the Las Vegas area economy remains one of the country’s best, but not quite as good as it used to be–and not even the best in Nevada.

The report from the Milken Institute, a California economic think tank that periodically evaluates regional economies, ranks the Las Vegas metropolitan area No. 44 among the country’s 200 largest metros. But in the last report, two years ago, Las Vegas ranked a lot higher–No. 23. The 21-click drop was the biggest among the 50 highest-ranked large metros.

The new report, “Best Performing Cities 2020,” ranks Las Vegas’s cross-state arch-rival, Reno, as No. 4, higher by a click, even, than Silicon Valley capital San Jose. In 2018, Reno ranked No 11.

And in a separate evaluation of the country’s 200 next largest metropolitan areas, Carson City ranks No. 21, also better than Las Vegas when measured against peers. Last year, the state capital ranked No. 63.

The main reason for the gap between Las Vegas and Reno is more rapid job and wage growth in Reno and the fact that technology there is a bigger chunk of the local economy. In the view of the Milken Institute report’s authors, knowledge-based industries are better, perhaps because they are more sustainable. Continue reading

Las Vegas Sun story claiming victory in Review-Journal litigation omits major point

On a day that Las Vegas was full of presidential caucus and debate excitement, as well as presence of President Trump, the Las Vegas Sun this morning stripped this all-caps headline across the top of the front page of the Las Vegas Review-Journal, obliged by a joint operating agreement to print: “R-J ORDERED TO PAY SUN FOR IMPROPER ACCOUNTING PRACTICES.”

The story in the Sun, which is distributed as a section inside the RJ, said that state District Judge Timothy C. Williams had upheld an arbitration ruling ordering the RJ to pay the Sun $1.9 million. The Sun had claimed, among other things, that the RJ, which collects all advertising and circulation revenue for the two papers, improperly included its own editorial expenses from 2015 to 2018 before calculating how much cash flow should go to the Sun under a formula in a JOA agreement revised in 2005. That agreement, a revision of one originally negotiated in 1989, runs until 2040.

For some reason, the RJ, owned since 2015 by conservative Republican billionaire casino magnate and Trump supporter Sheldon Adelson, did not publish a story about this. But if it had, the paper might have pointed out what to me when I looked at the court file today was a rather glaring omission in the account in the Sun, founded in 1950 by the liberal Democratic and anti-Trump Greenspun family. In his order, based on a January 28 filing, Williams also upheld a finding by the unnamed arbitrator that the RJ did not engage in bad faith or unfair dealings in its relationship with the Sun. Continue reading

Las Vegas billboards vie for attention with presidential caucuses

Las Vegas billboardsWith the New Hampshire Democratic presidential primary out of the way, attention is now turning in a big way to the next contest—Nevada’s own presidential caucuses on Saturday, February 22. Candidates, their handlers and the national media are pouring into the state and mainly Las Vegas, since almost all the state’s Democratic voters are here and it’s a lot more fun when on an expense account.

Here’s what they will see: giant billboards promoting excessive drinking, human sexuality (some in rather crude terms, to boot) and law firms making over-the-top claims.

Where else across the fruited plain can one experience a cityscape festooned with billboards openly lauding drunkenness, like the one displayed nearby from Lee’s Discount Liquor: “Booze is the answer. I don’t remember the question.”? Another from Lee’s reads, ” ‘Trust Me, You Look Great’–Alcohol.”

Las Vegas billboards"Or erectile dysfunction billboards loudly beseeching, “Don’t Let Your Meat Loaf.” Or a strip club billboard on a major freeway prominently displaying the image of a pussycat? Or giant ads promoting “The Love Store,” which sells sex toys?

Or billboards unjudiciously advertising “Guard Dog Law,” “Battleborn Injury Lawyers” “Powerhouse Injury Attorney,” “More Lawyer, Less Fee,” “Lowest Priced Lawyers,” and “Half Price Lawyers”? (The last two appear to be somewhat mutually exclusive.)

Yes, Las Vegas definitely is a different place. The city’s image makers clearly were on to a universal truth when they recently changed their famous marketing slogan to, “What Happens Here, Only Happens Here.” Continue reading

Las Vegas finally changes famous slogan, confirming role as bug light for mischief

famous sloganThe Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority finally has gotten rid of the catchy, wildly successful marketing slogan that made up in cheekiness what it lacked in truth. I am referring, of course, to “What Happens Here, Stays Here,” which the taxpayer-funded promotional agency rolled out in 2003 to emphasize, I suppose, the adult freedom found in Sin City.

In its place, formally unveiled last month and touted in a network ad before yesterday’s Super Bowl LIV, is a subtle modification: “What Happens Here, Only Happens Here.” Frankly, I don’t know if this will be as successful. But at least it will have the advantage of being more true.

However, that could be a double-edged sword. It might emphasize events occurring here that other places wouldn’t want at all, like Britney Spears’ 55-hour marriage in 2004. Or, tragically, the 2017 massacre along the Las Vegas Strip that killed 58 and injured more than 500–most of them tourists–the deadliest mass shooting by one person in U.S. history.

As visitors to this space know, I have been spoofing the former slogan for years since becoming New To Las Vegas. Under the running title, “It Didn’t Stay Here,” I recounted story after story of folks getting in trouble elsewhere for something that happened in Las Vegas. You can see a list elsewhere on this page. In my view Las Vegas is quite the bug light for mischief. Continue reading

New book paints namesake of Fremont Street in Las Vegas as the war criminal he was

namesake of Fremont Street

John C. Frémont

Readers of my blogs know well my view of John C. Frémont. He’s the 19th century military adventurer and politician for whom Fremont Street in Las Vegas is named, as well as a great number of other places around the country. Long before becoming New To Las Vegas, I considered him a rank war criminal, guilty of massacring Indians and Latinos in the run-up to the Mexican War to open the American West to greedy East Coast gringos.

The Nevada State Museum, Las Vegas, entirely left out that angle when in 2018 it mounted “Finding Frémont,” a detailed but feel-good exhibit of his life, which included being the Republican Party’s first presidential candidate in 1856. The museum’s curator of anthropology, Eugene M. Hattori, essentially confessed error when I challenged him on the omissions during a broadcast of a local public radio station’s daily public affairs show, “KNPR’s State of Nevada.”

Now we have a new book about the life of Frémont (1813-1890), the first in some years.  I’m pleased to report the facts contained therein amply reaffirm my view of his flawed character. The book is Imperfect Union: How Jessie and John Frémont Mapped the West, Invented Celebrity and Helped Create the Civil War. The author is Steve Inskeep, whose day job is a host on NPR’s “Morning Edition.” Continue reading