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April 20, 2014

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BRIAN GREENSPUN: WHERE I STAND:

On Obama and Mideast peace, and other thoughts

Let’s be fair to the president of UNLV; what state needs is not another tax study

I have a few random thoughts. And I can remember them!

Here’s the first one.

I have heard from many people who think I was too soft on President Barack Obama for the speech he gave in Cairo recently. I have also heard from others who claim I was too harsh on the man who is “just trying to do what is right.” Those folks ask me to overlook the obvious, which was that he gave the speech in an Arab country — not in the United States or Israel, where people may view the facts a little differently.

Because both credible sides think I am wrong, maybe I was closer to right, and maybe we should give the president the opportunity to pursue a peace effort the way he thinks he should. Heaven knows, nothing else has worked for the past 60 years, despite some herculean efforts by the United States.

However, he has to know that you can only hammer the Israelis so much. In the end, they must rely only on themselves for their survival and they will not cede that responsibility to any other country. The history of the Jewish people forbids them from following any other course.

And that brings us to the part of the president’s speech that didn’t get enough attention: Iran. Neither Israel nor any other sane country is going to let those wackos get their hands on nuclear weapons. Even allowing them civilian use of nuclear power is a credibility stretch that no one interested in long-term survival can risk. At least not with the current ruling class in that country.

There was a time when Iran was our friend. A friendly Iran would be a good result. Iran as our enemy with a nuclear weapon is not a good result. Let’s not lose sight of that fact. And to put a neat bow around the whole idea, there are dozens of Arab countries that are just as concerned about an “atom-bomb, armed-to-the-hilt Iran” as is Israel. And there is the opportunity.

The big guys in the Middle East are more afraid of Iran than they are of Israel. That means the window for peace is wide open. Let’s hope the usual doesn’t happen, which would be either, both or all parties slamming that window shut on the only chance that part of the world has for long-term survival.

•••

Number two.

A little closer to home, in the middle of this wonderful place we call home, those who can’t stand success are at it again.

UNLV has long struggled to find a place near the top of the higher education pile only to be rolled back down the hill more times than it can count.

The single biggest obstacle today to the pursuit of greatness, of course, is our governor, who continues to believe that cutting the university budgets to the point of mediocrity is the way to a successful future. The Legislature backed him down and rolled over him but that was only a Band-Aid on a large and festering sore. It will not heal on its own.

But, a back-to-the-’80s governor (that would be the 1880s) doesn’t seem to be enough of a handicap. And here is where the university system bears the burden. You cannot have a world-class city without a world class education system that includes — must include — a proper system of higher education.

And you cannot have a growing and enviable university system without proper leadership.

I don’t know whether Dr. David Ashley, the UNLV president who has been targeted for extinction by the Board of Regents and the chancellor, deserves that kind of treatment or not. What I do know is that he has barely been here long enough to prove his mettle.

Let me revise that. He has managed to lead UNLV during the toughest of times — those would be the times of Gibbons the Hun and his meat-cleaver approach to education. Ashley and his team should get a medal for keeping the university afloat during the carnage.

My involvement with Ashley has been rather limited. But what I have seen is a man who takes the time, provides the energy and pursues the necessary course to advance the cause of UNLV. It can’t always be the president of the university whose head must roll. Sometimes there are others at fault in our system of governance.

Does he have weaknesses? Sure. But grown-ups should be able to work through the problems that seem to have placed the bull’s-eye on his back, some of which he is responsible for himself.

We are all struggling to make it through this financial crisis. The regents, the chancellor and the president have not been spared their share of challenges. I would think, though, that cooler heads can prevail here.

Whatever the outcome — and remember, the whole world is watching not only what we do but the way we do it — there need not be the kind of rush to judgment that seems to be driving this issue. There is an entire community whose future is inextricably connected to the growth of UNLV. Its success will be our success and its failure — well, we have all had a taste of that recently.

A little bit of calm mixed with rationality seems to be what UNLV needs right now.

•••

Number three takes us back to the Legislature.

Those folks — most of them — stood up to the governor and bravo for them. But there were no great acts of heroism as far as I can tell. There were some glimmers of leadership and some reasons for hope that Nevada’s future will be in more enlightened hands in the coming years.

There was at least one exception. That was the leadership capitulation on yet another tax study. I know it was the price to pay to get the job done, but part of that price is the expectation by voters in this state that something good will come of the study.

As someone who was involved in the last study and as someone who has read most, if not all, of the previous studies done in Nevada to fix our tax structure, all I can say is: What a waste of time and money.

The answers are right there — in the drawer where all the studies have gone to languish. There are no secrets. Nevada’s tax structure — reliance on tourists to pay our sales tax, our gaming tax and our room tax — no longer is sufficient. What was good for a few hundred thousand people no longer works for a state growing toward 4 million.

I was frightened for a brief moment when I heard that the governor vetoed the bill that provided money for the study. I thought he was thinking like me. Fortunately I was wrong — about his thinking, that is. Without money, the study probably won’t be done. But his veto was just his usual, reflexive action.

Instead of a tax study, the Legislature should have authorized a study on how voters can elect qualified leaders, bold leaders, courageous leaders and leaders honest enough with themselves to tell us all the truth.

And that truth is that we all have a role to play in paying for that which we demand from government. It ain’t that hard. Some of us need to pay more, some less. Whatever the amount, we all need to be involved.

Common sense doesn’t demand much study.

Brian Greenspun is editor of the Las Vegas Sun.