As an old newsie–four and a half decades as a journalist, much of that in newspapers–I especially have found the decline of the traditional print media to be a sad thing to watch. The outlets generally have fewer staffers, especially on things like copy desks, so quality is one of the first noticeable things to fade.
New To Las Vegas, I read the Las Vegas Review-Journal–Nevada’s largest newspaper–very closely. But I didn’t have to read the paper very closely this morning to see this in a staff-written story on the front page (the highlighting is mine):
At this posting the same error appears online on the RJ website and hasn’t been fixed.
As the RJ might put it, we are all a lot more pour for this.
After on-duty police officer Chad Parque in North Las Vegas was killed earlier this month by a wrong-way driver, officials said tax-deductible contributions for the grieving family could go to the Injured Police Officers Fund. The 35-year-old home-grown Clark County nonprofit was even profiled on local TV, albeit with absolutely no detail about the organization’s finances.
Those who have followed my writings over the years know I have found much to criticize about nonprofits that purport to raise money to help injured or deceased folks in uniform such as soldiers and cops. In the nonprofits I have examined, almost all the funds raised have gone for fundraising, overhead and unrelated purposes–everything but for the stated good-works purpose. I regard some of these outfits–and yes, I mean you, National Police and Troopers Association, an arm of the International Union of Police Associations, AFL-CIO–as skanks.
So, still New To Las Vegas, I obtained the latest tax filing of the IPOF. I am happy to report–for a change, really–that the organization is legitimate, its charitable purpose worthy and its means appropriate. But I do have a serious concern about one element of its financial efficiency, along with its transparency. Continue reading →
Las Vegas is Spanish for “The Meadows.” The place already had that name when the future war criminal, U.S. military man John C. Frémont, first explored the largely unpopulated Mojave Desert area, then part of Mexico, on May 3, 1844. Writing that the spring water was too warm for drinking but wonderful for bathing, he later put Las Vegas on a government-issued map that eventually helped guide thousands of–yes, gringo settlers–to the West.
Fremont Street today is a major thoroughfare in Las Vegas. But the person who really put Las Vegas on the map is William A. Clark, for whom the county Las Vegas lies in is named. He has a fascinating background for someone whose name adorns a governmental subdivision. A tycoon who made his big fortune in copper mines, he was elected to the U.S. Senate in another state through big-money bribery, which, when exposed, cost him the seat. “I never bought a man who wasn’t for sale,” he is reported to have protested. Continue reading →
Part of the mystique surrounding Las Vegas stems from the role starting in the 1940s of organized crime figures from other places. They developed the casino scene along the Strip with hidden interests to further their skimming of gambling proceeds.The conventional wisdom is that over time legitimate corporate interests, most notably Howard Hughes, bought out the mobsters and with the help of law enforcement drove them all away from the Silver State. (The 1995 Martin Scorsese film Casino captures in fiction some of this history.)
I think that perception is the reason a nervous buzz went through the Las Vegas Valley earlier this month. There was news that a reputed capo of the mob family which helped inspire the TV show “The Sopranos” lived in the Las Vegas suburb of Henderson and had pleaded guilty for ordering someone be whacked and also for violating terms of a supervised release. You’re not supposed to order that someone be whacked while on supervised release.
According to court documents, the murder was never carried out because (1) the fellows the capo now admits he dealt with to order the deed were undercover FBI agents, and (2) the feds wiretapped the hell out of the caper. Continue reading →
I’ve had it up to here with the International Union of Police Associations, AFL-CIO. Using the trade name National Police and Troopers Association, its telemarketers raise money by calling folks, falsely implying it is a charity and flat-out lying that the money is to fund death benefits for families of fallen officers.
In fact, only 1/10 of 1% of the funds given over the past four years, and nothing in some years, has gone for death benefits. Far more–maybe 80 times more–has gone to defray costs of negotiating higher pay and benefits for IUPA’s law-enforcement members.
That money is spent this way is not especially surprising, since the IUPA/NPTA, is simply a police union, albeit one masquerading as a charity. Still, it isn’t a charity, which is why contributions to IUPA/NPTA are not tax-deductible. Of course, callers are not advised of that fact, nor that NPTA is raising money for collective bargaining, before they are asked to make a legally enforceable pledge of money.
But even the 8% or so of donations going to some kind of police-related purpose is dwarfed by the 90-plus percent going to the paid fundraiser, an outfit with the wonderfully deceptive name (at least when working for this union) of Charity Appeal, based in Carson City, Nev.
Why am I so steamed up about this? At the New To Las Vegas world headquarters I recently got yet another call from these flim-flam artists. They and others retained by IUPA/NPTA have been calling me for years even though I’ve written up the deplorable m.o. here and on an earlier blog, NewToSeattle.com. That I keep getting called asking for money despite my public criticisms is why the organization is a candidate for my list, posted in the left column, of America’s Stupidest Charities.
But this time I was told directly by an actual human being–to whom I was referred when the computer-operated artificial intelligence voice using the name Jackson Kimbrell couldn’t answer one of my questions–that 10% of the money raised–100 times the true cut–goes to the families of fallen officers.
“Ten percent goes for death benefits?” I repeated incredulously but to the point. “Correct,” she replied in a pleasant Southern accent.
Even Burger King double whoppers aren’t this big. Don’t think so, I replied. She hung up. Continue reading →
A dozen or so times most days around Las Vegas, I hear a siren. Or rather, sirens, since there often are multiple vehicles simultaneously emitting the grating sound. When I have no line of sight, like when I’m at home, I can’t tell if the faint-louder-faint pattern comes from police cars or firetrucks or ambulances or some combination thereof.
Even in the middle of the night, when there is far less traffic to warn and flashing lights presumably could do the trick, I hear (from bed) sirens demanding the right-of-way. Often every couple hours.
Still New to Las Vegas, I have never lived in a place with more frequent emergency response activity. That includes Albuquerque, my home for 12 years, where I lived within a mile of four hospitals with emergency rooms and local police led the nation in SWAT team incidents ending in a fatal shooting. And New York City and Seattle, where I resided within a few hundred yards of busy fire houses.
In Las Vegas the wailing tones are an ever-present–and unsettling–background theme to local life. Something bad is going down. Seemingly, nearly all the time. Continue reading →
With one exception, everywhere I’ve lived–and that’s 16 places across the country in the past 46 years–I’ve had the option on Election Day to write in the name of a candidate if I didn’t like the printed choices. Even for president of the United States.
I discovered the exception after becoming New To Las Vegas this summer. As I learned recently when voting early, Nevada ballots by law do not provide a space in which to enter a name of my choosing on a statewide race should I be so inclined. But in their infinite wisdom, Nevada lawmakers decades ago provided a bit of an out. On all such races, there is an option to vote “None of These Candidates.” Continue reading →
The caller to the New To Las Vegas World Headquarters said he was from the Foundation for American Veterans. He was hopeful I would make even a small pledge to help former soldiers.
OK, I said, where are you located?
“West Bloomfield, Michigan,” he cheerily replied.
How long have you been around, I asked.
That’s right. The caller hung up on me without uttering another word. Or rather, the paid outside fundraiser controlling the computer doing its best to imitate a person decided I already was asking too many questions and wanted to move onto someone who might not be quite as inquisitive.
After doing some research, I can see why the call came to such an abrupt end. A better name for this charity would be Foundation for American Fundraising.
By my reading of FAV’s latest financial available statements, no more than 9% of the cash raised from solicitations like the one I received likely went toward the stated mission, listed on its website, “to step in and assist veterans.” Most of the cash went to a fundraiser with a checkered past currently in bankruptcy.
Reputable charities put their latest financial statements on their websites for easy review. Not surprisingly, it did not appear that FAV, which has been around since 1994 (the answer to my unanswered question on the phone), so posted its own data. And the Nevada state government, I sadly have come to learn, is largely useless when it comes to helping donors.
Fortunately, FAV’s stuff can be downloaded from this page on the website of the New York State Attorney General in far-away Albany, N.Y. I invite you to do so and read along. It won’t be boring. Continue reading →
The 2016 presidential debate circus has now departed Las Vegas, but not before Republican nominee Donald J. Trump repeated his claim during the debate at UNLV that the election would be “rigged” in favor of Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. At various times he and various surrogates have suggested that rigging would come in the form of massive numbers of ineligible voters–non-citizens and dead persons–casting votes for her. At the debate he even said he might not accept the outcome.
Now, I think evidence-free Trump is full of B.S. on rigging this time around. But as someone New To Las Vegas, I have been carefully studying the history of Las Vegas and Nevada. And I find it utterly fascinating that in the Silver State he continued his jihad against election rigging.
Why? Because Nevada actually became a state to rig an election for Abraham Lincoln.
The 35th edition of the legendary Forbes 400 list is out today, and the estimated net worth of the nine entrants from the Las Vegas area adds up to a cool $50 billion.
The Vegas Nine, for want of a better label, saw their collective stash rise $6 billion, or 13%, in a year. That’s more than double the 6% rise in the Dow Jones Industrial Average during that same period. But hey, there’s some reason why they’re on the list and we’re not. Continue reading →
The telephone call came into the New to Las Vegas world headquarters. A fellow with the first name of Jackson said he was with the fundraising company Charity Appeal. He said he was soliciting money for the National Police and Troopers Association to fund “death benefits” for families of fallen officers. Jackson was hopeful I could be counted upon for a donation.
Gee, I said, that sounds interesting. How much of the money given by donors in the past couple years went for death benefits?
“That’s a great question,” Jackson said in his slight Southern twang. “But I’m relatively new here. I’ll transfer this over to my supervisor.”
The phone line promptly went dead.
Here are possible reasons the call was disconnected so abruptly: Almost none of the money raised goes to death benefits–in some years not even a dime. More than 90% of the funds raised went to outside fundraisers. Virtually all of what was left went to a labor union that owns the NPTA name to help negotiate collective bargaining agreements for its members and lower their dues.
The NPTA is not a charity at all–contributions are not tax-deductible–but falsely portrays itself as a charity. That makes its use of a fundraiser with the name Charity Appeal–based, as it turns out, in the Nevada state capital of Carson City–even more misleading and deceptive.
It’s bad enough the NPTA is part of a police union–International Union of Police Associations, AFL-CIO–whose members allegedly are sworn to uphold the law and do the right thing. But to me, what’s even worse is that this flim-flam has been going on for years and charity regulators haven’t done anything about it. Maybe they’re afraid of police retaliation. Continue reading →
One of the main reasons I put a current weather box at the top of this blog is that, since becoming New To Las Vegas this summer, I get asked all the time by friends, colleagues and relatives around the country how hot it is here at that particular moment. I suppose people living in Phoenix get the same queries. But hey, I’m not New To Phoenix, so I don’t get asked that.
From what I can tell, Las Vegas’ grip on the public imagination of the world is based on four things: (1) gambling, (2) entertainment, (3) history of the mob and (4) God-awful heat. Now, over the decades I’ve lived in some pretty toasty places: Cairo, Houston, Albuquerque and an inland valley in the Los Angeles area two mountain ranges from the cooling marine layer of the Pacific Ocean. I almost never was asked by far-away folks about the local temperature (although living in coolish Seattle, I fielded constant inquiries about rain).
Las Vegas is just one of those towns that people like to make fun of, so I suspect asking me about the heat is a gentle way of needling. But now I have a response. Nearby is a table showing the historic average monthly temps in Las Vegas. The high–the only data series that seems to draw any notice–is 100 or more during June, July and August. But only those months.
The mercury starts to fall noticeably around Labor Day–today–and by the middle of September the daily high is usually out of the 90s. Indeed, the predicted high for today is down to 93 degrees. We might have one or two more 100 degree days, but that should be it.
What will follow is upwards of eight months of generally terrific weather. No excessive heat, lots of sun, low humidity (often 1%), no ice or snow, and little precipitation of any kind.
Remember that, residents of snowy Boston in January, rainy Houston in November, frigid New York in February, and hurricane-threatened Florida any time in the fall. Many parts of the country are lucky to get four months a year of good weather. Continue reading →
Before becoming New To Las Vegas in July, I lived for five years in Seattle, where I also had a blog, NewToSeattle.com. I wrote about the culture and controversies of Seattle. But, having covered charities at Forbes for a long time, I also described the many dodgy nonprofits from around the country that called the New To Seattle World Headquarters asking for money. They generally were dodgy because their regulatory filings revealed that almost none of the money donated went to a legitimate charitable purpose.
Over time I managed to expose many such organizations. The ones that called again asking for money after they were profiled, I nominated for a list I created of America’s Stupidest Charities. I mean, what can be dumber than trying to get a gift from a known critic who has a public platform? You can see that list nearby in the left rail.
But with only a few exceptions, no matter how dodgy the nonprofit, charity regulators allowed it to stay in operation. It was a sad commentary on our government.
But now we have a rare event. One of the charities on my list that I first went after in early 2014 is shutting down on its own. It is the Alexandria, Va.-based National Vietnam Veterans Foundation, which in recent years solicited money under the trade name American Veterans Support Foundation.
According to CNN, which sometimes eats my dust in reporting on such matters, the operation just closed in the wake of an earlier CNN report in May that the long-time head of the dubious charity, J. Thomas Burch Jr., is actually a highly paid lawyer at the Department of Veterans Affairs. The VA is supposed to champion the rights of ex-soldiers but has been having more than a few problems of its own. Continue reading →
Before the Las Vegas Strip, there was Fremont Street. The east-west artery cutting through downtown Las Vegas was the heart of gambling after the State of Nevada legalized casinos in 1931. The state’s very first gaming license went to the Northern Club at 15 E. Fremont St. Even as the casino action eventually migrated southward to grander facilities along S. Las Vegas Blvd.–the Strip–Fremont Street held its own. It was on Fremont Street that Buddy Binion’s Horseshoe Casino in 1970 started the World Series of Poker, now the world’s largest such tournament.
John C. Frémont
Today, there’s the Fremont Street Experience, a five-block-long pedestrian mall festooned with neon, much of it under a 90-foot-high canopy. After the Strip, Fremont Street is undoubtedly Las Vegas’s best-known street.
And, in my judgment, one with a most distasteful provenance. For Fremont is named for a war criminal, who despite that background became the very first presidential candidate of the Republican Party a long time ago. And you thought Donald J. Trump carried some baggage in the GOP.
The street is named for John C. Frémont (1813-1890), whose accent acute today is frequently omitted. In the middle of the 19th century Frémont carved out quite the national and even international reputation in a variety of realms–military, politics and business.
It’s easily one of the world’s most famous signs. “W E L C O M E TO Fabulous LAS VEGASNEVADA” proclaims the 25-foot-tall, diamond-shaped neon landmark that sits at 5200 S Las Vegas Blvd.in the median at the southern end of the Las Vegas Strip next to McCarran International Airport. (You can see the sign at the top of this blog.) It’s lit up at night.
Every day, thousands of tourists traipse to the site to have their pictures taken in front of the sign while posing, hugging, jumping, pointing or otherwise just being themselves. At 8 a.m. on a recent weekday, I saw mugging for a camera a group of eight young women all wearing tank-tops reading “Vegas Before Vows.”
Nearby is my photo of the already substantial waiting line at that early hour, many folks sipping from beer containers. (To watch a surprisingly interesting around-the-clock live feed of the action around the sign, click here, wait for the ad, and zoom in.)
The garish sign, erected in 1959, is actually on the National Registry of Historic Places. The structure definitely says something about the Las Vegas culture, and not just because it sits four miles outside the city limits and thus really isn’t accurate in its placement. But for me, New To Las Vegas, the greater truth is found in two signs festooning the adjoining parking lot. Here’s one:
One thing that has struck me during my first few weeks as a Las Vegas resident is the great suspicion that a large number of clerks and cashiers have about the bona fides of $20 bills. Perceiving a trend, as an experiment I started paying for every purchase I could using twenties and observing a la Margaret Mead.
Time and time again I watched as someone at a cash register looked at the Andrew Jackson I tendered, held it up to a light, ran a finger over its presidential image, folded the bill once or twice and otherwise scrutinized it.
In the past 45 years I’ve moved 16 times into the four continental time zones, and abroad. I’ve been in all 50 states. Excluding gold bugs like Ron Paul, I’ve never seen such widespread paranoia about paper money as what I’m witnessing in Vegas.
What’s going on, I asked one Wal-Mart clerk after she gave my $20 bill yet another third degree. She actually had an answer.
Who hasn’t heard the saying about Las Vegas, “What Happens Here, Stays Here”? It conjures up all kinds of local illicit and unfaithful pursuits, a bug light for those so inclined. In the process of relocating from Seattle to Las Vegas for family reasons (honest!), I thought the slogan was of historically long standing. You know, along the lines of “The City That Never Sleeps” for New York City or “First in War, First In Peace, Last in the American League” for Washington, D.C.
How wrong I was. It turns out the slogan was flat-out made up 13 years by a Las Vegas ad agency hired to devise a new marketing campaign for the city. I guess the presence of world-class entertainment, 40,000-plus slot machines and nearby legal prostitution wasn’t enough. Continue reading →