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We Are All Las Vegans Now

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Posted on Dec 19, 2008
Vegas strip

By David Sirota

There is something especially unsettling about visiting Las Vegas these days—and it is not the town’s lascivious culture. A voyage to Sin City in this moment of ecological and economic crisis is a journey to a giant concave mirror reflecting back the magnified—and ugly—truths about this epoch of cataclysmic consumption and hubristic hedonism.

Like most flights into Vegas, mine last week soared over a shrinking Lake Mead. Visually, the white strip around the man-made reservoir is beautiful—the bright chalk line separating the blue water from the red-brown desert evokes memories of a Bob Ross pastel painting minus “happy trees.” But it is a menacing harbinger of depletion. This water source for 22 million people is at its lowest level since the 1960s. Strained by the Southwest’s population explosion and by drought-accelerating climate change, the lake now stands a 50 percent chance of running dry by 2021, according to scientists.

As the plane descends, Vegas comes up on the horizon faster than ever. As one of the country’s quickest growing locales, it has become a massive blob suffocating a fragile ecosystem. Sans urban planning in the libertarian West, that unbridled growth encourages more roads, cars and smog.

At least McCarran Airport is only a short ride to the city’s core, but that is the most troubling area of all. Recently recast as a family-friendly Disneyland, downtown Vegas nonetheless retains its identity as the place where a recession-plagued country gambles away its dwindling paycheck.

Vegas’ colorful lights are supposed to be the “enjoyment” for those who inevitably lose at the slot machines. But with each twinkle the atmosphere warms. Despite advances in clean energy, electricity is still primarily produced from carbon-emitting sources that drive global warming. Indeed, the blinding Strip that prompts tourists’ drunken cheers is a monument to the same gluttony that helped make Nevada the fastest-growing emitter of carbon dioxide in the country.


Square, Site wide
Sure, Vegas boasts of renewable power investments and energy-saving light bulbs. But bragging about such efforts rather than simply shutting stuff off is as silly as Arnold Schwarzenegger trumpeting his supposed commitment to environmentalism by pledging to make one of his Hummers more fuel-efficient.

But that’s always been the American way, hasn’t it? We don’t stop driving Hummers around a warming planet, just as we don’t stop building population centers in deserts, just as we don’t stop gambling when wages drop, just as we don’t stop wasting energy on casino signs. Why? Because it’s fun to drive tanks, live in desert climates, double-down on 11 and gape at bright lights in the big city. And during the years of cheap energy, income growth and seemingly endless water supplies, fun always trumped pragmatism.

That period, of course, has been supplanted by the Age of the Finite. And to its (few) sober visitors, Vegas implicitly asks whether our whole society is genuinely ready for that new reality.

Whether hanging Christmas lights in Toledo, buying SUVs in Boulder, taking long showers in Atlanta, residing in sprawly suburbs near Chicago, or overspending anywhere, we are all Las Vegans now. And because we are now so environmentally and economically interconnected, what happens in our own Vegas no longer stays in our own Vegas—it affects everyone.

Knowing that, are we ready to turn off some lights in our homes? Is it possible for Americans to forfeit McMansion dreams, drive smaller cars, take public transit, embrace water restrictions or live in more sustainable geographies? Can we resist materialism, halt the bone-crushing stampedes to Wal-Mart, and stop needlessly spending beyond our means?

In other words, will we finally accept the public policy and lifestyle changes that the real world now requires? Or will “Viva Las Vegas” always be America’s motto?

David Sirota is the best-selling author of the books “Hostile Takeover” (2006) and “The Uprising” (2008). He is a fellow at the Campaign for America’s Future and a board member of the Progressive States Network, both nonpartisan organizations. E-mail him at

© 2008 Creators Syndicate Inc.

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By Leisure Suit Larry, January 9, 2009 at 8:02 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

NO, we’re NOT all Las Vegans. My house uses 4000 watts at peak. I dry my clothing on a line outback. I heat with wood which I cut off my own land, replanting every spring. I spend $50 a month on gasoline, and nothing on oil. I buy nothing made outside the USA unless it is from a yard sale (used)

My recreation involves a sleeping bag a fishing line, and lots of woods.

My entertainment is a good book, Listening to music, or dancing at the local VFW.

AND I’m not by any means the most ecological friendly person in my neighborhood… That would be Paul Lazure who lives beyond the electric company’s wires, has an outhouse and brings in his fresh water from a hand dug well, in an old oaken bucket!
He owns no car, pays no taxes, and will feed anyone who drops in.

Stereotyping is easy, incorrect, and counterproductive. A good point made with incorrect facts is easily dismissed.

There are lots of ‘vegans out there, most of them because they want to be… AND the argument above probably won’t affect them at all. They see (and consume) what they wish to see and consume. Someday they will turn on the tap for water, and will be truely suprised when there is none.

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By TAO Walker, December 23, 2008 at 4:31 pm Link to this comment

“Viva Las Vegas” might serve for the allamerican epitaph.  What a way to go, eh?


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By eggroll, December 22, 2008 at 9:00 pm Link to this comment

Putting the housing crisis behind us requires two realizations. First, housing is (and should be) an uneventful investment. The longest analyses of housing (out to say 300 years on Dutch and Danish housing stocks) show real estate is pretty much inflation neutral. Second, much of the US housing stock is poorly located in places that require considerable energy inputs. Years ago there was an exchange on tv with experts recapping US highlights of the 20th century. In the demographic segment, the interviewer asked what had been the greatest change. Ihe interviewee patiently explained that it was the shift of the US population to the south and the west. “How was this possible?” the interviewer asked.

The interviewee then stared quietly for at least ten seconds before apparently deciding the interviewer wasn’t pulling his leg. “Air conditioning, of course.”

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By BjornBeer, December 22, 2008 at 1:39 pm Link to this comment

David Sirota hit the nail on the head with this post.  Many people commenting against Sirota’s article are missing the larger point: we’re on a collision course with ecological reality. Sure, there are surely some good people who live in Vegas, but it represents a culture of unsustainability. 

For a similar analysis of how the Vegas mindset is similar to the greater economic mess we’re now in, take a look at my post on  , “Whatever Happens in Vegas?”

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By P. T., December 22, 2008 at 9:43 am Link to this comment

I remember, after it had already become apparent that lack of water was going to be a problem, developers were being allowed to put in man-made lakes in the western part of town, on the way toward Mount Charleston.  The Las Vegas elite is slow to face reality.

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By cyrena, December 22, 2008 at 5:30 am Link to this comment

geezer notes of Sirota:

“Your criticisms apply to the vast majority of the tourists coming here who, mostly, forget to check their intelligence and common sense in their luggage and behave as if they will never be able to have another drink of alcohol for the rest of their lives and foolishly think they can act like Al Pacino in “Scarface” and no one will give them a second look.”


This is GREAT geezer!! I fully identify, because it is the SAME damn thing that tourists do in New Orleans!! I swear, I’ve said it about a few jillion times of that very old and complex city; people go there to do stuff they wouldn’t DARE to at home!! (and it’s usually geezers). wink

Just kidding, but you know what I mean. I have worked (albeit briefly in these cases) in both airports, and it’s just a never ending circus. I long ago learned in visiting (or living in) places like Las Vegas or New Orleans, to stay away from the touristy spots. In New Orleans that’s more difficult to do, because so much of its beautiful history and spirit has either been washed away or otherwise incorporated into the touristy spots.


I’m not sure why you suggest that the desert was not intended to be inhabited by humans. Is that a God directed mandate or something?

Isn’t that pretty much a failure to acknowledge world (and US) history? People have been living in the desert since the beginning of time, albeit not without some problems. Still, think Middle East, think Mesopotamia (know Iraq, or what’s left of it). Think about the Native Americans that inhabited the entire US, INCLUDING the many thousands of miles of desert. They managed well enough until the Anglos came over and set them back a few centuries via brutal extinction. (Palestine on a much larger scale). Speaking of which, Palestine is the desert as well. People have been living there for eons.

The difference is that they managed to do it without totally destroying their own resources. They knew how to use them far more wisely, without tearing shit up in the process.

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By KDelphi, December 22, 2008 at 2:01 am Link to this comment

The studies I saw (just online—more than 30 of them) certainly dont indicate that Nevada “knows its limits”. The two lakes almost completely dried up (also due to drought); people were pulling up their lawns, and, planting cactus or painting it green or using artificial turf (good move, actually);many studies say thast the lakes will be dry by 2012; and, the Scripps study said that up to 90% of water use in Nevada is “decorational” or recreational.

I also got this report, from ProPublica, today.

“Energy Boom in West Could Threaten Drinking Water Supply for One in Twelve”

It has the richest natural gas fields in the country. And nuclear energy, viewed by some, as a key solution to the nation’s dependence on foreign energy, could use the uranium deposits held there.

But getting those resources would suck up vast quantities of the river’s water and could pollute what is left.

“The river is already so beleaguered by drought and climate change that one environmental study called it the nation’s “most endangered” waterway. Researchers from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography warn the river’s reservoirs could dry up in 13 years.”

In the eight years that Dubya has been in office, the Colorado River and its reservoirs, has seen more oil and gas drilling than at any time in the past 25 years. Uranium claims have reached a 10-year high. Last week the Dubya administration auctioned off an additional 359,000 acres of federal land for gas drilling projects outside Moab, Utah.

Critics of Bush’s energy policies said they favor business interests at a time when climate change demands a fundamental shift in the way the nation values water. They also complain that the administration doesn’t grasp the West’s looming water problem.

“When Lake Mead goes dry, you cut off supply to the fifth largest economy in the world,” said Patricia Mulroy, general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority, referring to the reservoir that sits behind the Hoover Dam and controls water flow to the Southwest’s cities.”

She points out that while some dispute the timing of Lake Mead’s demise, no one says it won’t happen

“We have other sources of power,” said Jeffrey Kightlinger, MWD’s General Manager. “We don’t have other sources of water”.

The 2005 Energy Policy Act exempted “hydraulic fracturing” from the Safe Drinking Water Act. Also exempted from federal control and water protection laws are the drilling industry’s construction activities, including the sediments and dust produced from thousands of miles of road building and the drilling itself, even though that debris often ends up in waterways.

Alot of this legislation could be reversed. But alot of the damage has been done over decades.

There were some linke posted (mine were from ProPublica, I think) on another thread, as to petitions you could sign to try to stop Dubya (surprise, it didnt work), and, others to encourage P Obama to reverse them if they were signed into legistlation. I wil have to look them up tomorrow…other people had even more links…

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By KDelphi, December 21, 2008 at 4:15 pm Link to this comment

The original is always best, but, from the same site—a little heavier on the horns? A little more saxaphone” A little sweet honey in the rock (feminine voice)?

here , enjjoy! Ray Charles is there, too, on the site…cool site

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By KDelphi, December 21, 2008 at 4:05 pm Link to this comment

Ham-Archy—Cool song! Les dad used to play jazz records all the time. He played sax in a band in Detroit for awhile..(not professionally).“compared to what”...people often forget to do that. Comparatively speaking…I’m listening to it now, so its loggin em off!! Beautiful!!!


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By Sepharad, December 21, 2008 at 3:22 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Taoseno—meaning that you live in Taos? Never been there but hear people who have says it’s very expensive, like Santa Fe, and if so probably attracts enough enviromentally conscious liberal boomers who are into desertlike landscaping in the desert. While visiting the Phoenix, AZ area a few years ago, went to a physical therapist who worked out of her house in Scottsdale. Her place, and most of the other houses in that residential area, had nearly zero green but a lot of artfully designed desert landscaping. Scottsdale like Taos is a high-rent type enclave. Phoenix is more variable. My cousin who lives there has, like her neighbors, one of the infinite variations of cactus and sand though elsewhere in the city saw a lot of postage-stamp-size lawn areas enlivened by cactus-flower borders.
Recently, calling around Las Cruces, New Mexico for a place to rent a couple months, a rental agent told me that though the area is in the Rio Grande River basin people generally pride themselves on desert landscaping but there are numerous greentrees that thrive on very little water. 

Possibly, the hotel you saw sprinkling mid-day was designed for high-bracket clientle expectations and not really typical. With the exception of Southern California, where water use is profligate, a lot of Southwesterners seem pretty well aware of their water limits. (Here in Northern California we should be more conscious than we are—not as bad as Southern California but not as good as AZ and NM. Where we live, off the public water grid and on a 20-foot-deep well that produces a gallon and a half per minute, most of the thousand+ trees my husband planted need drip irrigation during droughts for the first two years, then no longer require it.)

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By Ham-Archy, December 21, 2008 at 2:46 pm Link to this comment

Pablo wrote:
In a free market, with stable, honest, gold-based money…

YEAR   Gold: $/Oz.
1969   41.09
1970   35.94
1971   40.80
1972   58.16
1973   97.32
1974   159.26
1975   161.02
1976   124.84
1977   147.71
1978   193.22
1979   306.68
1980   612.56
1981   460.03
1982   375.67
1983   424.35
1984   360.48
1985   317.26
1986   367.66
1987   446.46
1988   436.94
1989   381.44
1990   383.51
1991   362.11
1992   343.82
1993   359.77
1994   384.00
1995   384.17
1996   387.77
1997   331.02
1998   294.24
1999   278.98
2000   279.11
2001   271.04
2002   309.73
2003   363.38
2004   409.72
2005   444.74
2006   603.46
2007   695.39
2008   837.49


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By KDelphi, December 21, 2008 at 12:37 pm Link to this comment

Paolo—I was answering some of your statements, and, then I saw two things: You go with the so-called libertarian , Ron Paul-based, Austrian style yoyo (youre on your own) economic “model”. I have checked out the Austrian economic sites you guys offer. Bullsh*t. Austria ia populated by an entirely differnt citizenry than the US. I have been there.

Not everyone who is in debt “over-consumed”. Resources on the planet are limited, and, no, I dont believe you have a right to drive around in a Hummer and build a huge McMansion that will take out huge numbers of trees, tha tdo not belong to you (I think resources belong to all of us) while polluting the air. YOu dont need it, and, unless you are wealthy, you wil not long have it, McMansions have destroyed the rural area I grew up in. The eocnomy , which will probably remain unregulated, will throw us into Third World status, and the rich will put more and more fences around the resoucrces. As Carlin said, its just a big place to “put your stuff”

geeazer—I was goin g to print a bunch of the results of studies here, but I think that Scripps Oceanagraphic is the most instructive. Actually, I had no idea that the area was THAT bad! No wonder the dessert states are talking about trying to import water from the Great Lakes! I see that you are having a conferecnce in January. You had better come up with something more honest than what you are doin g so far. The man made lakes are just storage areas for water, set up by the Hoover Dam. I didnt know it was in such bad shape lately. Sorry to hear it.

The planet wil revert back to its natural state, but, teh ways US citizens are living is just not sustanable . Unfortunately, we have now allowed multi-nationals to export our laissez faire brand of capitlism all over the world.

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By Paolo, December 21, 2008 at 11:16 am Link to this comment

David Sirota’s column is a good study in leftist thinking. Let’s take a libertarian view of some of his points.

Sirota says that Americans need to give up their dreams of “McMansions” and nice cars. He couples with an intonation against “spending beyond your means.” Who can argue that people should not buy more than they can afford? On the other hand, if you can be productive and can afford a McMansion or a nice car, nothing in a free society could or should prevent you from doing so.

This leaves open the question as to why people have spent beyond their means. I lay the whole mess at Washington’s door. Several decades of constant monetary expansion and loose credit policies have led to an inevitable bubble.

People stopped looking at their homes as simply places to live, and started looking at them as “investments,” buying the salesman’s (and government’s) line completely. Then, once they were in their homes, they saw them go up every year by fantastic amounts. In a free market, with stable, honest, gold-based money, people would naturally be suspicious of values that go up beyond reason.

But in an inflationary economy, in which the government has total control of the currency, the people think this ridiculous overvaluation is somehow normal. Then, with loose monetary policies in place, people started taking out low-interest loans against the value of their over-valued real estate.

Eventually, as always, the bubble had to burst.

If you want to learn more about economic bubbles and what actually causes them, study the Austrian School of Economics. Ron Paul’s website is also a good place to start.

The tendency of an inflationary government is to create inflation-related behaviors in the people at large. The US, having the world’s currency of choice, has been able to in effect “export” its inflation all around the world. Once foreign countries—especially China but also Japan and the nations of Europe—realize they’ve been played for a sucker, they will drop the dollar as the “reserve currency” of the world. Then, those McMansions will really, really go down in value.

The left tends to look at problems created by government meddling, and then say, “see, the free market failed! We’re all too greedy!” Sometimes this mistake is innocent, sometimes not.

I’ll leave aside addressing the points about the delusion of man-caused “global warming” for another day.

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By Ham-Archy, December 21, 2008 at 9:55 am Link to this comment

Individuals who would like to acquire sound knowledge in regards to water issues in the Southwest Deserts will find these resources helpful; 2007.pdf

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By geezer, December 21, 2008 at 5:36 am Link to this comment

K.Delphi, thank you for responding.  If I may make a couple of points..

Gaming is not the sole source of Las Vegas’ economy base.  The larger contributor is the federal government, i.e., 80% of Nevada land is owned by the fed.  Military bases, to include the Nevada Test Site (nuclear testing since the late 40’s, suspended since 1996, but soon to be re-started by the Department of Energy (DOE) because of Bush’s push). I think DOE might take offense at your description of exploitation for human greed. For sixty (60) years, everyone in my family has made an exceptional living here and no one has ever worked in the gaming industry.
If you think deserts were never meant for human habitation, you’d better get a fleet of movers to vacate every inhabited desert in this entire United States.
Las Vegas benefits from it’s own aquifers, rivers and lakes.  We DO NOT “ship in” water to live here.
“This water source for 22 million people is at its lowest level since the 1960s. Strained by the Southwest’s population explosion and by drought-accelerating climate change, the lake now stands a 50 percent chance of running dry by 2021, according to scientists.”
This quote from Sirota’s article leaves the impression that Lake Mead is the ONLY source of water here. IT’S NOT. Further, Sirota based this article on ONE story (Written February 13, 2008 by Tim Barnett and David Pierce, from the University of San Diego, Scripps, and whom are a research marine physicist and a climate scientologist, respectively.)whose facts are disputed in the following analysis.  The Sirota article is incomplete and misleading, as written.
Having performed research as a hydrologist and water resource engineer on the Colorado River for the past 15 years, I was disappointed to see that simplistic research was being presented as possible climate change scenarios in the Colorado River basin. (Study gives 50-50 odds Lake Mead will dry up by 2021.)

I agree that climate change will have dramatic effects in the Southwest. There is, however, a large amount of research that still highlights the large amount of uncertainty in the precipitation estimates for the Colorado River basin from climate change models. The notation that Lake Mead has a 50 percent chance of being dry by year 2021 is based on gross assumptions that are unlikely to occur in the next 15 years and assume that society will not adapt to climate change.

First, an assumption was made that no shortages would be declared on the Colorado River under low reservoir conditions. This is in opposition to the shortage criteria that the basin states recently established in the “Final Environmental Impact Statement: Colorado River Interim Guidelines for Lower Basin Shortages and Coordinated Operations for Lake Powell and Lake Mead.”

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, in conjunction with the basin states, developed detailed criteria that will prevent Lake Mead from being dry in the near future.

These criteria were ignored in the results that had Lake Mead dry in 2021.

Second, the complexity of how Lake Powell and Lake Mead are operated was ignored, and the two reservoirs were modeled as a single reservoir. There are coordinated operating rules between these two reservoirs that satisfy “Law of the River” requirements and optimal operation of the system.

We are all aware that water is a tremendous challenge for the Southwest and sustainable solutions will need to be developed. These solutions will be developed through cooperation among the stakeholders and the use of the latest scientific information that reflects the complexity of the Colorado River basin.

Thomas Piechota
Las Vegas
The writer is an Associate

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By Frank, December 20, 2008 at 4:38 pm Link to this comment

“this epoch of cataclysmic consumption and hubristic hedonism.”

...and abounding alliteration by jabbering journalists

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By KDelphi, December 20, 2008 at 1:42 pm Link to this comment

Sirota has “hit the nail on the head” again…

Las Vegas has always seemed to be a city that shouldnt exist, a desert of money. With it’s “mini-Egypt” and “mini-Paris”, it is the ultimate US consumerist, “Viva Viagra!” town…

geezer—I am sure that you, your family, and, the people in your community are very “nice, church-going folk”. That was not the point at all. Las Vegas simply uses up too many resources, as the desert was never designed for human habitataion..I suppose you could say that that was certainly true of Arizona, and, other desert states, with all of their use of water in agriculture.But, that at least, is producing something necessary for life. LV seems to exist, solely to exploit human greed. There can be no attempt to moderate usage in such an economy.

LV IS something of an enigma, at least the city proper…ALL those lights, fountains, 24/7, all based on gambling, is just a monument to human greed.

The towns around it, I do not know at all.But, the US MUST start making more judicious use of its resources—especially water.

I do not understand gambling, and, have never done it. As for living extravagently, nope..

If LV uses massive amounts of shipped in water, just to keep casinos and showhouses going—it is everyone’s business.

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By geezer, December 20, 2008 at 11:09 am Link to this comment

Mr. Sirota, on 99.999% of your efforts, I support you. On this article, I defend my home city (since 1949) and it’s Las Vegas, not “Vegas”.  You can take a cheap shot at any city in this country, just close your eyes and stick a pin in a map.  Your criticisms apply to the vast majority of the tourists coming here who, mostly, forget to check their intelligence and common sense in their luggage and behave as if they will never be able to have another drink of alcohol for the rest of their lives and foolishly think they can act like Al Pacino in “Scarface” and no one will give them a second look.  Surprise! They’ll do some very off-the-wall things, all of which get documented daily in the morning edition of the Review Journal and are a never-ending source of amazement to we locals.
I’ve gotten my degree here, married and raised three children here; all of whom also attended UNLV and work in professional positions.  Although Mom and Dad are now gone, I still have six brothers and sisters here who also raised all their kids here too.  Contrary to inferences such as contained in your piece,  Las Vegans have a wealth of “normalcy” in our day-to-day lives lives. There are grocery stores an award-winning, state-of-the-art library system all over the valley.  Cultural activities abound and we have a world-class Symphony Orchestra. Committed environmental efforts include bringing the wild mustang horses back from near-extinction, protection of the desert tortoise and development of one of the largest electricity generating wind-turbine “farms” in the country.
Like any metropolitan city (Population 2.5 million),  some mistakes have been made.  The white line you described around Lake Mead (we call it the “bathtub ring”) is the result of diversion of water to create Lake Las Vegas, a high-end master planned community six (6) miles east of Henderson. The multi-million dollar homes range in price to the mid-$50 million.
Las Vegas has more churches of every denomination, per capita, than any city in the country.
Doctors in every specialty, enjoy a nationwide reputation and attract patients from every surrounding state.  Clark County, in which Las Vegas is the county seat, has a total of eleven (11) hospitals to include every level of Trauma Center.

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By Ham-Archy, December 20, 2008 at 9:15 am Link to this comment

Taoseno [& cyrena];
RE. Salt River Project
The canals in the Scottsdale area are fed by the Salt River. The system was designed and built in 1883 to provide irrigation water for Maricopa County. The water supply comes from Reservoirs north of the Phoenix area. Had you been a bit more conscious you might have said, “Oh YUCK, you mean our water in the hotel comes from that canal?” In which case you would have gotten the answer, “No you idiot, irrigation water is not used for our drinking water!” And you might have asked, “How can you assume there is plenty of water?” And you would have gotten the answer “I am not assuming anything. One can see that the canal is full, which means there is plenty of water. If there is not plenty of water, the canal is dry. If we do not use this water it will simply evaporate.” Rather than comment on ‘the intelligence’ of watering in the middle of the day, you might have asked why it is done and you would have gotten the answer. “We water during the day because we want the evaporation of the water on the grounds to cool the area. It saves a great deal of energy by reducing the heat around the building.”  So, the only lack of consciousness that you are dealing with is your own. You were ignorant and arrogant to make such a comment to the people at the hotel.

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By P. T., December 20, 2008 at 9:11 am Link to this comment

“As far as immigrants coming here, we are all immigrants or descendants of immigrants - even the so-called “native Americans”.  Opponents will just have to get used to that.  In our Ship of State we can use as many rowers as we can get - everybody grab an oar and start paddling.”

That is a non sequitur—and absurd.

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By Purple Girl, December 20, 2008 at 8:16 am Link to this comment

You are not talking about Every american. You are talking about those in th etop brackets and those who are near enough to drool on them.
many of US have been scraping by for yrs. Did you miss the report that state we’ve lost about 7,500 bucks each over the last 8 yrs? do you realize that is an average. and for many people that was the amount they needed to jus tget by.
Granted I’ve been lucky than most,but certainly not to the level of the portrait you just painted. I’ve taken ONE No Family related vacation (as opposed to a Visit) in 18 yrs! I bought a ‘04 Ford Escape for about 10,000 about 2 yrs ago. Other than grocery shopping, I shop for clothes only about 3 times a year- and usually no more than 200.00 a ‘spree’. I have accumulated about 20,000 on credit cards, Not on vacations, or shopping sprees but on car repairs/maintenance, Gas, groceries, winter boots,Dog food, ....Ok a New Furnance…but I still need toput plastic over my windows in the winter because I can’t afford the interest rates to leverage out new windows!
And Friend I have a Bachelors (but can’t find a job) and my Husband is Union Carpenter who’s work has been more Off than On!
Well Bully for all You recent converts to Los Vegans, Some of US have been Michiganders the entire time. So count your lucky stars (for Now) you have merely fallen to ‘Las Vegas’ levels, You could have been down here with US Flinters. In fact You are in Denial, You’ve at least become a Michigander.
Sweat heart they haven’t just lost ‘mad Money’ investments, they’ve lost your 401K, your annuity, Your pension, your Kids college Fund, and Your Job is next.
But wait theres more, while your ‘savings’ is plummeting, Those ‘fun in the sun’ credit card interest rate charges just Doubled (good standing or not)- they not only want what you saved, they want what you will Make.
So Please don’t try to make their case for them that it has Been US who have caused this economic collapse. Hell if it weren’t for US buying the Economy would have collapse far sooner. these investors were claiming our economy was solid to foreign lenders but never mentioning that our spending was not backed by real Cash either.
They stagnated our wages, depleted our bennies, increased our taxes and interest rates, scammed US every chance they got and then sought more funding through foreign lenders.
so now I must be berated and maligned because I took one NOLA vacation which was cut short because Ivan rolled In….What a kick in the Teeth and gut while I’m already Down! Every ameircan citizen is to be held responsible when we HIRED people to Oversee such things…You Know that Organization called the Government!
Being Self Deprecating is a worthy attempt at self actualization, but when it only serves to deflect blame away from those Truely Responsible it has a tendency to be counterproductive in elevating real Insight. yes Americans are in Debt up to their necks, but who laid the branches over the quick sand to begin with…those who offered US More credit. Whos’ truely more in debt those of US or those who were supposed to be managing the Economy as our Collective Hired help?

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By cyrena, December 20, 2008 at 3:17 am Link to this comment

By Taoseno, December 19 at 8:29 am #
I was in Scottsdale a few months ago and the hotel was watering like crazy in the middle of the day. When I commented to someone at the hotel about the intelligence of watering grass in the middle of the day in the middle of the desert, he commented, “We have a canal right over there. We have plenty of water”. That’s the consciousness - or lack of it - that we’re dealing with.
This hits it on the head, which is why it isn’t about the desert, or Las Vegas specifically. It’s the mindset (or lack of it as Taoseno says) across the Country, of most Americans: I’ve got mine, - who cares where this stuff comes from, (water) - or how it gets there, (over there in the canal the hotel employee mentioned) or anything else of practical reality.

That is the LACK of CONSCIOUSNESS that permeates the US social-psychology. Or maybe it’s that the group consciousness has changed over time, (which is a theoretical ‘given’) in part because of technology and industrialization. I say that only because I’m musing out loud and considering that people in rural or otherwise isolated locations probably have an entirely different level of consciousness in this respect.

Here we’re talking about the “‘turn on the faucet’ and expect the water to be there endlessly crowd”, who’ve never given a thought to how that happens to be. This isn’t the crowd that has ever needed to ‘fetch’ or otherwise haul their water around from one location to the next, IF it was available for hauling. They aren’t the crowd that has ever been denied access to water, because the bill wasn’t paid, or because they were locked in an open-air prison in Gaza, while Israel cut off ALL access to ANY water. (which happens frequently)

As an aside, the right to water is a human right included in the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights.

But, I’m sure that hotel employee wasn’t ‘conscious’ of that either.

Nope, it’s not the US mindset here in the first decade of the 21st Century, but that’s gonna have to change. I believe that it already has, based on the efforts of activists like Sirota. There are many, many, many others like him, who have continued to encourage this much needed consciousness. It’s coming, but there’s a whole lot of ground to cover.

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By Sepharad, December 20, 2008 at 12:17 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I have never been to Las Vegas, but one winter while we were in Needles, California, we decided to see what an Indian casino looked like after accidentally riding smack into it exploring a dense, brushy stretch of the Colorado River. One minute thorn trees, next minute golf-course-like turf, palm trees and a godawful looking huge building. My mare Margareta immediately focused on that green grass, dashed across the road before I realized she was moving, and began chowing down when all the sprinklers that kept it so green suddenly turned on, spooking her back to the unfriendly riverside terrain.

Next morning we decided to have breakfast there and see what it was like. Walked into the smokiest air I’ve ever been in—after a few minutes started coughing and tied the scarf around my face and nose I use in the desert to keep out blowing sand. There were rows and rows of people with huge paper cups, one usually filled with cigarette butts and the other with nickels or quarters, some looked prosperous but most didn’t look like they could afford burning either the money they kept feeding into the maws of the machines or the cigarettes hanging from their lips. Most didn’t look like they were having a particularly good time, though there was some laughter and occasionally a big ka-ching with bells going off for a winner.

After coffee, changed our minds about eating there but walked around to see what else there was. A curvy corridor had some historic photos, opening onto gift shops and a movie theater, but we didn’t get much farther as the air was too bad. Stopped in a bathroom to splash water on my face and saw a row of machines, all occupied. Walked out of the bathroom, out of the building, never looked back and wondered what Edward Abbey would make of it all.

I know this wasn’t like posh places in Reno and Las Vegas, no showgirls or movie stars or famous singers, but at the core it was probably the same. Very sad, especially with that clean, astonishing desert and river and petroglyphs etc. outside, no money required. 

My one and only experience with a slot machine was at age 10, with my folks and uncle at Pere Marquette State Park Lodge on the Mississippi River, where there was one huge, brightly-colored slot machine. It looked mysterious, but seemed to make people happy so I asked my uncle if I could put a quarter in too. He said I could either put a quarter in and lose it, or buy a candy bar, or save it, and have something lasting. I put the quarter in (I knew what candy bars were like, “something lasting” was an abstraction, but the machine was a mystery) and hit the jackpot. My uncle and parents were so upset that I gave them the plastic bowl of money, but, sensing that I had some kind of leverage here, asked if they’d use some of that to get me a ride on the big horse outside. My uncle said I could have two rides if I’d let him put the rest in a bank account for me and never go near a “one-armed bandit” again. Being 10, I agreed and rushed to find the horse-ride man before my uncle changed his mind.

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By Sepharad, December 19, 2008 at 11:27 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Excellent article about issues that remain complex. Even flying to Vegas to write such an article contributes to the problem—commercial jets are terrible re carbon emissions. So, obviously, the realistic answer to Mr. Sirota’s questions is that 1)some of us will do everything we can to use less and protect the environment with no regard to our own desires, 2) many of us will do everything we can to minimize the impact of doing those things without which we wouldn’t feel as alive, and 3)some of us will go on doing whatever we damned well please with no thought of the consequences.

My guess is that a lot of us, like me and my husband, are in the 2) category. It took years before we found, 20 years ago, a place outside San Francisco where we could have horses, because of financial limitations, because we had to be sure our history magazine would support us and kids without needing city money moonlighting jobs, but also because my husband refused to move into any housing that was less than 50 years old and absolutely no developments. Luckily we found a dying apple orchard with a 900-sq.-foot apple packing shed. We made it livable but took not an inch more of space than the 900-sq.-feet, husband noted that apple trees are not like olives or oaks in terms of longevity, so he bought 1,000 seedlings at 5 cents each from Forestry Dept. and planted them—redwoods, oaks, pine. We use as little power as possible to heat house (put on sweeaters etc in winter, take off as much as possible summers)—but on the other hand our electrically-operated well and the computers we use daily are big energy-use items. We don’t commute to work, but on weekends and vacations, trailer our horses far and wide. (Tiny truck and vinyl trailer have halved our gas mileage, but that’s still, hauling two horses, only about 16mpg.) And riding is not something we’re willing to give up until we aren’t physically able to do so. We both hate shopping but go to San Francisco anyway a couple times a month(to people-watch, for good doctors, great used book stores, rep film houses). Don’t buy processed food or food out of season or food from far away (except for Israel imports). In January and February, taking two of our horses with us, we rent a space and work down in some desert so my lungs work better all year round without a rainy-winter assault setting them them back. (Rheumatoid arthritis and systemic lupus for 20 years cause all sorts of problems but there also many strategies to mitigate the damage and, selfishly, we take every single one of them that makes a difference.)

Don’t fly around much—only when we’ve saved enough for vacations abroad (five times), for family emergencies, and once to meet our son-in-law returning from deployment in Iraq. But even that little amount of flying is not something an environmental purist would do.

So are we doing everyhing we can? No. Everything we are willing to do? Yes. Never buy new cars but always little efficient ones and use them as seldom as possible. Compost. Conserve water. Fight local environmental battles (developers mostly win, though not all the time and we’ve certainly inconvenienced and irritated them—always satisfying). 

The real question: given those three consumption groups, will all of it average out to be good enough soon enough?

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By DarthMiffy, December 19, 2008 at 10:41 pm Link to this comment

Start using it. Please.

Then I will find out if you actually have something interesting to share.

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By prole, December 19, 2008 at 6:26 pm Link to this comment

This is it in a nutshell, what’s so irredeemablyly wrong with America and why it’s not worth defending ‘our way of life’ in the first place, even if we did know how to do it effectively. All empires corrupt and corrode from within and this one is no exception. In the immortal words of Pogo, ‘we have met the enemy and they are us’. Of course, it’s never going to change much, it’s too deeply ingrained in the American character. Americans enjoy books and essays and videos portraying their decadence and self-deceit in principle, but then smirk and go right on doing it in practice. Even the author of this incisive lament was flying into Vegas on a gas-guzzling, airborne pollution-machine while he was bemoaning it all. “Like most flights into Vegas” this one produced a few apropos reflections on how awful it really is, but not enough to cancel the reservation. This is why it will never change from within. Even when you know it’s all wrong, and are perceptive enough to dissect it, you still go ahead and do it anyway. And this is what the $700 billion emergency aid package is all about - to ‘rescue’ this kind of “cataclysmic consumption and hubristic hedonism”. Instead of being rescued from it. This is what Nancy Pelosi and Barney Frank and Obama Copacabana and their Republican ‘comrades’ labored long into the night to try and protect and preserve, artificially propping up a Disneyland culture that deserves to die.  And you have to be as nuts as a Democrat or a Washington Post editorialist to support a bailout of the auto industry which means not only “more roads, cars and smog” but the whole Fordism economic model that goes with it. But, “At least McCarran Airport is only a short ride to the city’s core” - short ride on a bicycle, or a motor vehicle that is “another carbon-emitting sources that drive global warming.”?  “Sure, Vegas” is ” reflecting back the magnified—and ugly—truths about this epoch of cataclysmic consumption and hubristic hedonism”. But complainng about such reflections rather than simply not using planes and cars and Vegas power and water “is as silly as Arnold Schwarzenegger trumpeting his supposed commitment to environmentalism by pledging to make one of his Hummers more fuel-efficient”. “But that’s always been the American way, hasn’t it? We don’t stop”... flying over Lake Mead or driving motor vehicles into “population centers in the desert” even as we condemn them.. “Why? because it’s fun to.. gape at bright lights in the big city.” “And during the years of cheap energy, income growth and seemingly endless water supplies”....we were repeatedly warned by more far-sighted prophets as far back as Thoreau, but stubbornly resisted to “resist materialism”. If you don’t resist such profligacy when you have a choice, you will not make a commitment to it when forced into it. You will always look to a predatory government and a lethal military-industrial complex to go on robbing the rest of the world of its resources to sustain an articificially bloated lifestyle. While most of the rest of the world’s population tries to survive on a few dollars or less a day, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton and Nancy Pelosi will be busy trying to keep Las Vegas brightly lighted and GM cranking out SUV’s. And most of the rest of humanity - and other species - will have to go on resisting Weatern “materialism, halt the bone-crushing” imperialist aggression and “stop needlessly” financing us “beyond our means”. That’s the real ‘clash of civilizations’.

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By Hulk2008, December 19, 2008 at 2:31 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Mr. Sirota proposes that ALL of us, by extension, are participating in the national pastime - extravagance.  By that same logic, we’ve all flown our private jets to the pleasure capitals of the world and feasted on all kinds of endangered species, availing ourselves of every kind of profligate behavior known to human kind.  By contrast, the vast millions of us in the majority tiptoe through life pushing nickles around from one pocket to another to get by without upsetting our economic applecart - just happy to survive.  I’ve not been to Vegas - part of me would sort of like to see it “just because it’s there”;  But you could put all my so-called gambling losses in a very small coin purse.  Where the real gambling has occured is in our employment.  Most of us have been forced to subject out meager wages to 401k plans - supplanting what our forebears saw as real pensions.  I guess we could have stuffed the money in a mattress instead - but the same “experts” that killed off pensions also created inflation and the recent bubble that destroyed the mattress along with its erstwhile contents. 
  As far as immigrants coming here, we are all immigrants or descendants of immigrants - even the so-called “native Americans”.  Opponents will just have to get used to that.  In our Ship of State we can use as many rowers as we can get - everybody grab an oar and start paddling.

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By P. T., December 19, 2008 at 1:04 pm Link to this comment

Some people still believe we can take in endless numbers of immigrants.

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By Emily, December 19, 2008 at 12:59 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I really appreciate this article. The scope is just right, neither lofty nor limited, and the tone has no hint of righteousness. It is a humble request to look at our actions as part of an expansive whole, an approach that I feel is the best way to bring environmentalism to the resistive masses. Thank you for writing.

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By nikto, December 19, 2008 at 11:15 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The American Way:

Vote right-wing, live in poverty, gamble-away your tiny paycheck, and dream of being rich, and
vote right-wing again.

Praying to Jesus to kill
the gays and Islamists are optional.

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By Anarcissie, December 19, 2008 at 10:03 am Link to this comment

“When the world is running down,
You take the best of what’s still around.”

Yes, exactly.  Waste, greed, aggression, conspicuous consumption, are all marks of scarcity and fear.  The more scarcity, the more fear, the more shoving and grabbing and showing off you’ll see.  As for Las Vegas, it’s a Sunday School picnic.

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By Libarchist, December 19, 2008 at 10:00 am Link to this comment

The American Dream = Buy a lottery ticket, and “hope”  to make a million $$$.

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By Ham-Archy, December 19, 2008 at 9:45 am Link to this comment

Visa Lost Wages!
Annual interest rate: 29.9%
Applies to most purchases.
The obligation to gratification.
Giving life in a rich country social significance.
Don’t be mistaken for the impoverished.
State your imposing pretense with a commitment to deceit.
Only you will know the secret of your success. Delusion!

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By Taoseno, December 19, 2008 at 9:29 am Link to this comment

I was in Scottsdale a few months ago and the hotel was watering like crazy in the middle of the day. When I commented to someone at the hotel about the intelligence of watering grass in the middle of the day in the middle of the desert, he commented, “We have a canal right over there. We have plenty of water”. That’s the consciousness - or lack of it - tht we’re dealing with.

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By magicwanz, December 19, 2008 at 8:56 am Link to this comment

Damage to the commons (i.e. planet earth) is perfectly acceptable as long my actions afford me an advantage over other apes.
“When the world is running down,
You take the best of what’s still around.”

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By G.Anderson, December 19, 2008 at 8:13 am Link to this comment

It’s my own perception, that many American’s, are dependent on their external props, to keep them functioning, and forever looking to the future as well as outside themselves, to avoid the truths that are here right now.

Maybe it’s just as well that we’re going to become a nation of loser’s, that our corporations, our banks our political leaders preyed on us, striping us of our dignity and our values, all the while rolling the dice with our money.

For many American’s the unreal hope that everything would be ok someday, because they would be rich,  has disapeared. Many more who have nothing, no values, no family, no future, will be angry about what has been done to them. This anger will have to go somewhere.

When you play the game by the rules, and one day you find out, that you’ve been played for a sucker, by the house that keeps winning, you may not be able to play that game anymore.

Now is a good time to look around at what’s really there, friends, family, service to others, community. The choice is yours.

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By Anna van Z, December 19, 2008 at 7:33 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

What Jackpine said.

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By jackpine savage, December 19, 2008 at 6:12 am Link to this comment

No, Mr. Sirota, we will not do any of the things that you closed your essay with…not until we’re forced to.  We won’t because we’re the most narcissistic, self-entitled people on the face of the planet.  We “need” and “deserve” all the trappings of the “good” life you suggest we should do without.  We’ve “earned” all that…somehow.

The common good is unrecognized in America, and “sacrifice” is the dirtiest word in the dictionary.

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By MBSS, December 19, 2008 at 2:21 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

sirota, i enjoy your work and especially enjoy seeing you on dkos where you get lambasted for letting those partisan hacks in on the sordid truths about their corporate party.

vegas disgusts me.  i think part of it is that i enjoy natural beauty and hate corporatism, and vegas is a disneyish blight on the desert landscape.  a modern marvel in the sense that we can actually manipulate the desert environment to be hospitable to people, but at what cost? 

the vegas mindset disgusts me.  get rich quick.  sin city.  what happens in vegas stays in vegas.  conspicuous consumption.  indulge your darkside.

we should legalize gambling, prostitution, drugs, and allow these liberties to infiltrate all aspects of our society in a open and healthy way, instead of shoving them all into the corners of our society.

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