Smart. Sharp. Funny. Fearless.

Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

It’s Back To Denali, But Some McKinley Supporters May Be In Denial

By John M. Glionna, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

He was a president for another century, another era of American political infighting.

William McKinley spent a little more than four years in the White House before his assassination in 1901 in Buffalo, N.Y. He also is remembered as a mediocre chief executive, controlled by his cronies and pressured into war with Spain by imperialistic newspapers of his day.

Supporters say McKinley’s subtle brilliance is in the details; a Republican president who faced tough decisions in his policy toward China and declared war with Spain over Cuban independence, who brought the U.S. into a new generation as an emerging world power.

Now the former president lies in the middle of a controversy over a mountain in a far-away Western state he never visited. On Monday, President Barack Obama officially re-designated Alaska’s Mount McKinley as Denali, the original Native American-inspired name for the tallest mountain in North America.

The name-change has inspired some to cry foul, especially those politicians representing Ohio, McKinley’s birth state, with most saying the name-swipe has disrespected America’s 25th president.

Starting late Sunday and continuing well into Monday, high-ranking Republicans led by House Speaker John Boehner and Ohio Gov. and presidential candidate John Kasich, voiced their disapproval.

“McKinley served our country with distinction during the Civil War as a member of the Army,” said a statement released by Boehner, who has represented the Cincinnati area for more than two decades. The statement detailed McKinley’s resume, including serving as governor of Ohio.

“I’m deeply disappointed in this decision,” Boehner’s statement read.

Denali is a native Koyukon Athabaskan word for “the Great One” or “the High One.” The mountain sits in Denali National Park, so named in 1975.

Lisa Murkowski, the GOP senator for Alaska who campaigned for the name change, tweeted Monday that she was “honored” to recognize the mountain as Denali.

For others, the move was tantamount to robbing Gen. George Washington of his obelisk-shaped monument in the nation’s capital, or having workers with drills and sandblasters scaling Mount Rushmore to efface the memory of one of the four great men memorialized there.

Rep. Bob Gibbs, another Ohio Republican, said of McKinley’s mountain namesake: “This landmark is a testament to his countless years of service to our country.”

The outcry even breached party lines, with Ohio Democratic Rep. Tim Ryan, whose district includes McKinley’s hometown of Niles, insisting that: “We must retain this national landmark’s name to honor the legacy of this great president and patriot.”

On social media, the reaction was a bit more mixed, with many users posting that they don’t care what the mountain is called. “Does it matter what it’s called,” wrote one on the Denali National Park and Preserve’s Facebook page, “just as long as it’s protected and not exploited.”

Added another: “I wonder how many Ohioans have even seen Denali.” And another: “This took too long. I was in grad school when this started and now I’m one year away from getting Medicare.”

Alaska has attempted to change the name to Denali for decades, an effort that had been blocked on a federal level by a stubborn and vigilant contingent from Ohio.

On Monday, Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, a Republican, urged Obama to find another way to preserve McKinley’s legacy in the national park where Denali sits.

McKinley scholars feel caught in the middle.

Kim Kenney, curator of the McKinley Museum and Presidential Library in Canton, Ohio, said the man is bigger than any debate about the name of a mountain.

McKinley does not get enough credit for his time in office. “He’s very overshadowed by Teddy Roosevelt, who is larger than life,” Kinney said.

On some lists of great American presidents, McKinley ranks in the middle.

“He was responsible, through the Spanish-American War, for transforming America’s view of foreign policy from that of isolationism to becoming a legitimate world power.”

She acknowledged, however, that McKinley never set foot in Alaska during his lifetime and that the then-territory did not factor in his presidency.

“His legacy stands no matter what the mountain is called,” Kinney said. “The silver lining in all of this is that people are talking about William McKinley today. He doesn’t get discussed very often — not these days.”

Photo: William McKinley, America’s 25th president, was the namesake of the tallest mountain in North America, at least by official standards. But the man, who was assassinated in office in 1901, never actually visited the mountain, let alone the state (then not even an organized American territory). Wikimedia

What Grows After Natural Disasters? U.S. Plants New Idea To Restore Landscapes

By John M. Glionna, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

LAS VEGAS — Peggy Olwell has seen her share of forest fires, hurricanes and other natural disasters. She knows all too well what errant Mother Nature can do.

The career botanist has watched Western wildfires scorch the earth and scary-high winds wipe coastal landscapes clean. She also has seen what happens to native plants.

And when it’s time to replant, there are rarely enough native seeds on hand. Conservationists introduce nonnative species in hopes of jump-starting damaged ecosystems.

“These are complex systems that differ region to region,” said Olwell, plant conservation program manager for the federal Bureau of Land Management. “You can’t interchange parts of it and think it’s going to function the same way.”

On Monday, the U.S. government is announcing a new approach to ecosystem maintenance. The National Seed Strategy for Rehabilitation and Restoration brings together a dozen federal agencies to restore landscapes altered by natural disasters, human development, even global warming, by creating regional seed banks.

Steve Ellis, the BLM’s deputy director of operations, will introduce the plan in Boise, Idaho. The site was chosen because of the nearby Soda fire, which had charred 284,000 acres as of Sunday — burned ground that soon will require replanting.

“Success on a national scale will be achieved through a network of native seed collectors, a network of farmers and growers working to develop seed, a network of nurseries and seed storage facilities to supply adequate quantities of appropriate seeds, and a network of restoration ecologists who know how to put the right seed in the right place at the right time,” the BLM said in a news release.

The goal is to replant as soon as possible with the right species.

“We need to get past scrambling to do this only after a big fire or disaster — that’s a reactionary position,” said Mike Tupper, a BLM deputy assistant director for resources and planning. The agency hopes states, Native American tribes and nongovernmental organizations will join the effort.

“The piece now missing is a close coordination with private industry,” Tupper said. “If we can tell the entire seed-growing industry where we’re going, we can work together. They’ll have the seeds grown and ready when we need them.”

The enhanced federal program comes at a tense time, with some Western states accusing Washington of overbearing land management. The BLM and other agencies have reached out to governors and other officials in an effort to get them to support the plant effort.

“There’s a certain segment of society that wants less government, and for them, anything we do is going to be seen as that — more big-government intervention,” Tupper said. “But our job is to continue doing what we think is best for the American public. This is one of those programs.”

Officials cited the staggering damage wildfires inflict. In 2014, 63,000 U.S. wildfires burned 3.6 million acres of land, an average of 57 acres per fire.

Replanting native seeds may be subtle but it’s crucial to the continued health of any ecosystem, Olwell said.

“Most Americans are plant blind,” she said. “They see plants as a backdrop; still, they’re upset if they go away. They’re not recreating in parking lots of America. They want that beauty, but they don’t really understand the nuance of native plant communities.”

An introduced plant species might look pretty but won’t necessarily be eaten by local wildlife, she said. Invasive cheat grass, which grows on many burn sites, is considered a prime fire starter — planting the seeds for another conflagration.

Plants give us a sense of place, Olwell said — the saguaro cactus in the Southwest, sagebrush across the Western prairie, maple trees in New England, redwoods along the California coast.

“Science shows that local is best,” she said. “If it evolved there, we know it does best there.”

Photo: Wildfires do a lot of damage. (Randall Benton/Sacramento Bee/MCT)

Nevada Brothel Lobbyist Put Friendly Face On Often-Reviled Industry

By John M. Glionna, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

CARSON CITY, Nev. — Most lawmakers in this state capital simply call him “Georgie,” a soft-spoken old opinion-swayer with a cane who revels in his political incorrectness.

For half a century, George Flint held court in the hallways of the Legislature here, most lately in the first-floor coffee shop, at the round table nearest the elevators, so he didn’t have to walk too far on his gimpy left leg and two replaced hips.

Flint is Carson City’s oldest working political advocate, toiling on behalf of the world’s oldest profession — the lone brothel lobbyist in the only state to sanction legal prostitution.

Even at 81, he had intended to keep working, but a heart attack hit him last month. So now he’s calling it quits to a career of using a folksy, lean-over-the-fence style to advocate the legal pleasures of the flesh.

The subject makes some lawmakers queasy, so it came as a surprise when the speaker of the House visited Flint’s hospital bed with some news.

Forty-one of 53 legislators had signed a proclamation declaring April 12 as “George Flint Day” at the capital, marking his “outstanding and valuable contributions as Nevada’s longest-standing senior lobbyist.” Flint keeps the document by his convalescent hospital bed, where he can continue to absorb the power of the gesture.

“George should be a scholar on how to be a lobbyist,” said Democratic Sen. Mark Manendo, who helped organize the decree. “People just love him, especially the old-timers.”

Most admit that Flint isn’t what you’d expect. He’s a doting great-grandfather who — unlike cigar-chomping Joe Conforte, one of his brothel-owner bosses — never sashayed around town in a $2,000 suit with several slinky women hanging on his arm.

Flint is savvier than that. He collects art, is an amateur expert on Napoleon and has traveled much of the world. But for decades he represented the interests of the 300-odd legal prostitutes working in the state’s 17 brothels, shady hideaways with names like the Love Ranch, Angel’s Ladies and the Cherry Patch II.

Oh, and there’s another thing: Flint is also the son of two preachers, an ordained Pentecostal minister who runs Chapel of the Bells, a quickie wedding salon in downtown Reno. He can lecture on the history of adultery and paraphrases Scripture discussing politicians who avoid him: “In the latter days, men’s hearts will fail them for fear.”

He’s also a keeper of secrets: In the old days, lawmakers who fought him in public later discreetly sought freebie coupons at a brothel just 10 minutes from the Legislature. Flint has also challenged the holy-rollers, insisting Jesus’ best friend was a so-called fallen woman — Mary Magdalene. If a prostitute was good enough for Christ, he reasons, she ought to be good enough for the fine people of Nevada.

At times, it’s also been good enough for Flint: Decades ago, he occasionally visited brothels — not as a lobbyist, but as a client: “I’ve never hidden the fact I’ve tasted that merchandise.”

Mostly, however, Flint was just a good lobbyist. With a well-timed slap on the back, he put a friendly face on an industry many found repulsive. Years ago, the famed Mustang Ranch threw a steak and lobster party for legislators. Three showed up.

He’s also cagey, jokingly advocating a tax on all bedroom sex because, of course, everyone would over report.

Born in San Pedro, Calif., Flint spent his youth in Wyoming, where brothels were illegal but accepted. A sportswriter in high school, he later studied theology at the College of the Open Bible in Des Moines.

In 1963, he was a married father of four running a wedding chapel in Reno when he heard about proposed legislation against the wedding industry. He drove to Carson City and persuaded lawmakers to retract the bill. “I made a note: Georgie, you better get involved,” he said. “It was my baptism into lobbying.”

In 1985, some 14 years after prostitution became legal here, he began representing an industry threatened by AIDS, speaking out in support of laws designed to protect sex workers and their clients.

Many members of the Nevada Brothel Association attribute their longevity to Flint. “George would challenge commissioners who often didn’t know what they were talking about,” said Joe Richards, who once owned three brothels. “When George is gone, the industry’s going to be history.”

These days, Flint knows that troubled times lie ahead: Thanks to Craigslist and burgeoning sex-for-sale websites, legal prostitution is imperiled in Nevada.

Of the state’s remaining brothels, only a handful make a profit, he said. His budget for political contributions has dropped from $100,000 annually to $20,000.

And he senses a shift in public attitudes too. This year, 17 freshman lawmakers bring a new generation with modern ideas. Sighed Flint: “Another anti-brothel movement can’t be far off.”

But the one-man brothel lobby has a successor in mind: his own daughter, Margaret, who currently advocates for animal rights. Trouble is, she doesn’t want the job. “I don’t have a passion for brothel workers,” she said. “That’s my dad.”

Flint will miss the fine art of brothel opinion-swaying: “My heart is there. It’s hard to give up.”

(c)2015 Los Angeles Times, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: At age 81, George Flint is a minister, wedding chapel owner and lobbyist for the world’s oldest profession: legal prostitutes at brothels in Nevada. Here he sits in his office at the Chapel of the Bells in March 2015 in downtown Reno, Nev. (John M. Glionna/ Los Angeles Times)

Newspaper Where Mark Twain Made His Name Is Back In Business

By John M. Glionna, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

VIRGINIA CITY, Nev. — One wonders what Mark Twain himself would make of the news: The Gold Rush-era newspaper for which he once penned stories and witticisms on frontier life as a fledgling journalist is once again in print after a decadeslong hiatus.

Following numerous attempts at solvency, the Territorial Enterprise, once the region’s premier recorder of gossip, scandal, satire, and irreverent tall tales — before Nevada was even a state — is back, this time as a traditional glossy monthly magazine and online edition, territorialenterprise.com.

Would Twain use Twitter to bemoan the deplorable state of the press, as he once did by pen? “If you don’t read the newspaper, you’re uninformed. If you do read the newspaper, you’re misinformed.”

Or gnash his teeth at media leadership? “I am not the editor of a newspaper and shall always try to do the right thing and be good so that God will not make me one.”

Even the Enterprise‘s new editor, Elizabeth Thompson, guesses that Samuel Clemens would have a field day.

“I don’t think he could resist with some witticism about the many attempts to resurrect the paper over the years,” she said. “He’d have something to say. He’d get a kick out of it.”

With a daily circulation of 15,000 at its peak in the 1860s, the Enterprise was Nevada’s first newspaper and the largest west of the Mississippi, as it chronicled the frenzy and financial fallout of the Comstock Lode of silver ore discovered on the eastern slope of Mount Davidson.

After the mining boom died, the paper continued to tell the story of a rough town where unwashed men settled scores with six-shooters. The original Enterprise ceased publication in 1893, along with an economy of words in its epitaph: “For sufficient reasons we stop.”

Since then, the paper has been revived numerous times, mostly notably by railroad historian Lucius Beebe, who sold it in 1961. Behind the present incarnation is Scott Faughn, also publisher of the Missouri Times, which focuses on politics and policy.

In its heyday, the Enterprise not only covered the news, it made news.

As editors recently wrote, “Reporters William ‘Dan De Quille’ Wright, James ‘Lying James’ Townsend, and Samuel ‘Mark Twain’ Clemens perfected the art of the Western tall tale with articles that became legendary for their wit.”

Thompson said the paper aims to carry on that legacy.

The maiden edition, published in March, includes, along with sundry news and an interview with Gov. Brian Sandoval, a modern reprise of the so-called “sagebrush humor” Twain helped make famous before he became America’s favorite man of letters.

The piece is a tall tale of the Comstock Mine and references famed mining engineer Philipp Deidesheimer. It begins:

“I have returned from an expedition into the most hidden and harrowing nooks and crannies of Mount Davidson with sore feet, bruised knees, ragged clothes, and a tale about our storied past that will surely rattle Mr. Deidesheimer’s old timbers — and yours, if you have them — to their very foundations.”

Legend has it that Twain’s first-ever piece for the newspaper began: “A thunderstorm made Beranger a poet, a mother’s kiss made Benjamin West a painter and a salary of $15 a week makes us a journalist.”

Clemens had traveled west from Missouri with his brother, Orion Clemens, who became secretary of the Nevada Territory before the area achieved statehood in 1864. Historians say Clemens first used the pen name “Mark Twain” while at the Enterprise.

In three years, he went on to write stories about territory politicians, shoot-’em-ups, and the stock market — some of which were reprinted in his 1872 book “Roughing It.”

A story on the Pony Express included this description: “No matter whether it was winter or summer, raining, snowing, hailing, or sleeting, or whether his ‘beat’ was a level straight road or a crazy trail over mountain crags and precipices, or whether it led through peaceful regions or regions that swarmed with hostile Indians, he must be always ready to leap into the saddle and be off like the wind!”

Of an Enterprise business reporter who filed a report drunk, he wrote:

“Owing to the fact that our stock reporter attended a wedding last evening, our report of transactions in that branch of robbery and speculation is not quite as complete and satisfactory as usual this morning. About 11 o’clock last night the aforesaid remarker pulled himself up stairs by the banisters, and stumbling over the stove, deposited the following notes on our table, with the remark, ‘S(hic)am, just ‘laberate this, w(hic)ill, yer?’ We said we would, but we couldn’t. If any of our readers think they can, we shall be pleased to see the translation.”

When Twain fabricated a murder, competitors responded with outrage. “The man who could pen such a story, with all its horrors depicted in such infernal detail, and which to our knowledge sent a pang of terror to the hearts of many persons, as a joke, in fun, can have but a very indefinite idea of the elements of a joke,” wrote the Virginia Evening Bulletin, a competitor.

The Enterprise printed a retraction: “I take it all back. Mark Twain.”

In Virginia City, reaction to the rebirth of the Enterprise has been positive.

“I’m excited about it; it tickles me,” said Sandi Sweetwater, who manages a gift shop and offers impromptu tours of the newspaper’s original offices a floor below.

She pointed to Twain’s original desk, an in-office toilet, a spittoon — even an original bottle of Perry Davis’ Pain Killer, from which Twain supposedly took occasional nips.

Across the street at the Mark Twain Saloon, owner John Schafer said that even the pen name Mark Twain might have Nevada roots. While historians believe the name comes from Clemens’ Mississippi riverboat days — a river man’s phrase for water two fathoms deep — the bar owner says there’s another theory.

“There’s talk Clemens got the name Mark Twain in Virginia City saloons,” he said. “The phrase comes from ordering two drinks at once and asking that they be served on credit.”

Thompson has high hopes for the paper, which began with a 2,500 circulation. She has spent recent months researching Twain and the period and is ready to try and match, if not precisely the wit, then at least the spirit.

“I think he’d be pleased at our effort to rejuvenate this paper yet again,” she said. “We hope he’s smiling upon this venture from either above or below.”

(c)2015 Los Angeles Times, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

Photo: The Territorial Enterprise newspaper, that published Mark Twain as a young journalist in the 1860’s, is being published again after a 30-year absence. A colorful statue looks out over desk at the newspaper’s museum in downtown Virginia City, Nev., where Twain once labored. (John Glionna/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

Somali-American Fights Militant Islamist Recruiters In U.S. Heartland

MINNEAPOLIS — For seven years, youth leader Abdirizak Bihi has waged a personal battle against an elusive foe: religious extremists using sophisticated online tactics to lure young Somali Americans abroad as militant foot soldiers and suicide bombers.
Many of those idealistic volunteers are dead now, including Bihi’s nephew.
Burhan Hassan was 17 in 2008, when he was lured by a recruiter he met in a Minneapolis mosque to go to Somalia to join the militant Islamist group al-Shabab. The skinny teenager, who had planned to apply to Harvard, was killed under mysterious circumstances as his family made a desperate attempt to bring him home.
Bihi suspects that Burhan was killed by his al-Shabab allies because he wanted to leave Somalia. But he will never know for sure.
Burhan is one of more than two dozen Somalis between the ages of 17 and 35 who abandoned their lives in the Twin Cities to join Islamic radicals across the Middle East and North Africa. The latest is a St. Paul teenager who left her family in August for Syria to assist the Islamic State.
For thousands of Somali parents here, all of this has created a pervasive and escalating fear of government, law enforcement, the media, and especially of losing their sons and daughters to outsiders bent on waging holy war.
For Bihi, the blow of losing his close relative to this troubling trend has hardened his resolve to combat the presence of distant Islamist battles in the heart of the American Plains.
“He was just a good kid,” Bihi said. “He wanted to be a doctor like many of his cousins. He was our future.”
At 49, the slender, bespectacled father of five is used to a good fight. He fled Somalia as a young man with his father, a businessman and political activist who became a government target. “He had a big mouth and so do I,” he said. “We speak our minds.”
Bihi works from a cramped cinder-block office in a community center that serves the needs of a Somali neighborhood called Cedar-Riverside — where working-class families pack into crowded high-rises, where women in bright African prints and colorful scarves shop at the many Somali-owned businesses, and rent the latest movies from Mogadishu.
His homegrown mission against militant Islam centers on helping young people play sports as a way to resist savvy recruiters whose appeals have become sophisticated. They flood Twitter and smartphone apps that take conversations offline. “The concept is to create a positive alternative to these extremists,” Bihi said. “I’m in competition with these recruiters. They want my kids.”
The task isn’t easy: The region’s 50,000-member Somali community faces high unemployment, with few after-school programs. Bihi says that his neighborhood center has one after-class program for a community of 7,500 Somalis — with more refugees arriving every day.

Local Somali activist Omar Jamal says few outsiders have paid attention to the growing exodus of young Somalis, leaving the community to tend to its own emotional wounds. “People were in denial about our crisis,” said the director of the American Friends of Somalia. “It seemed so farfetched that kids would drop their schoolbooks to go fight for extremists abroad. But nobody is denying the problem now.”
Bihi says the government’s help is long overdue.
Since 2007, Bihi has gone door to door for donations to buy used equipment and uniforms, and to rent soccer fields and basketball courts, often without success. “For years, I’ve told these kids that help will come, but they say, ‘You’re a good guy, but people don’t care about us. We’re just a bunch of poor Somali kids.'”
He and a few other center organizers work without pay. Bihi, who is two months behind on his rent, does translation work to help support his family. But most of his time is spent in his tiny office, dreaming up ways to help vulnerable Somali youths here.
Every week, he says, he has to prevent one of the coaches he works with from quitting because of a lack of resources. Pointing to a punctured soccer ball on the floor, Bihi tells of how he even went online last month to appeal for funds. His response was met with just over $500, money he has already spent.
His neighborhood’s plight demonstrates the cultural challenges as officials try to protect often-isolated ethnic communities like Minnesota’s Somalis. Experts say that officials face challenges in connecting with Somali residents who fled their unstable homeland, carrying with them the emotional scars of war.

Some Somalis here, as distrustful of government as they are of the media, see conflicting signals from U.S. officials. While agencies promote dialogue with the community, a bill proposed by Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn. seeks to revoke passports and reentry privileges of Americans suspected of fighting overseas for Islamic militants.
Somali families fear that such a law would mean they might never again see their missing children. And many are reluctant to report disappearances to the FBI, fearing that they themselves would become the subjects of criminal investigations.
As the FBI investigates the recruitment pipeline, several Somalis — including parents of missing teenagers — have been subpoenaed to appear before a federal grand jury, activists say.
“Parents live in fear of that scenario,” said Bob Fletcher, a former Ramsey County sheriff who fosters youth mentoring and parent coaching in the Somali community. “If a child disappears, the last people they want to call are the FBI.”
Kyle Loven, a chief division counsel for the FBI in Minneapolis, said the bureau had worked hard to foster relations with Somalis. “There are always going to be trust issues,” he said.

Bihi has been approached by numerous Somali mothers who are petrified about their children’s welfare. “Their kids have dropped out of sports and changed their behavior,” he said, responding to a cellphone that won’t stop ringing. “The parents don’t know who to trust.”
Even mosques are suspect. Several Somalis who fled Minnesota for the Middle East or North Africa attended a Bloomington mosque, which in June banned a man who had preached extremism. In a statement, the Al Farooq Youth and Family Center said it “vigorously opposes the recruitment of any persons to participate in violent or extremist activities.”
On Nov. 4, 2008, Bihi’s sister, a single mother of four, called to say that her third-eldest son was missing. Hours later, Bihi’s phone rang again. “This time my sister said, ‘He’s gone,'” he said. The nephew, who didn’t speak Somali and had showed little interest in politics since arriving in the U.S. at the age of 4, had taken his passport and computer.

MCT Photo/John M. Glionna

Interested in more national and political news? Sign up for our daily email newsletter.

Ebola Case In Dallas Signals Health System Lapse

By John Glionna, Tina Susman and Robyn Dixon, Los Angeles Times

DALLAS — A man infected with the Ebola virus slipped through the cracks of a system designed to stop the disease from spreading, health officials conceded Wednesday as they isolated five schoolchildren who may have had contact with the ill man and rushed to identify others who spent time with him.

The patient, a Liberian named Thomas Eric Duncan, was listed in serious condition at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas after being taken there by ambulance Sunday morning, two days after his first visit to the hospital’s ER ended with doctors sending him away with antibiotics.

The children, who had been in the apartment where he was staying, were pulled from school, and a team of federal, state and local officials warned others who had spent time with Duncan to be on alert for fevers, body aches and other symptoms of Ebola.

At a news conference, Texas Gov. Rick Perry joined health experts in trying to reassure the public that Ebola, which has killed more than 3,000 people in West Africa, did not pose a danger to this nation.

“Rest assured, our system is working as it should,” Perry said.

“This is not West Africa. This is a very sophisticated city, a very sophisticated hospital,” said Dr. David Lakey, commissioner of the Texas Department of State Health Services. “The chances of it being spread are very, very small.”

But the failure of a system created specifically to deal with a possible Ebola case was a frightening reminder of the ease with which viruses once confined to remote corners of the globe can leap from continent to continent if the simple steps in place to control them are not followed.

“This has meant that nowhere in the entire world is safe; now it’s started to be a global pandemic,” Liberia’s assistant health minister, Tolbert Nyenswah, said in an interview in Monrovia, the nation’s capital.

As officials grappled with the breakdown in their system, a specially trained team fanned out through a Dallas neighborhood in search of anyone who had contact with Duncan, who had come to visit his fiancee.

The team faced a daunting task: navigating through apartment buildings where scores of different languages are spoken. They tried to alert residents to the potential danger without spreading panic.

The few people known to have had close contact with Duncan were told to remain at home, away from other people, and to monitor their temperatures. They included Duncan’s fiancee, who was said to be staying indoors and doing well.

Dr. Christopher Perkins, the Dallas County Health and Human Services medical director, said 12 to 18 contacts were being monitored for now. Their home isolation was expected to last three weeks, the incubation period for Ebola.

In addition, two paramedics and one paramedic intern who responded to the call Sunday to transport Duncan by ambulance were taken off duty and isolated for three weeks at home. None has tested positive for Ebola.

Residents of the Ivy Apartments, where Duncan stayed, were fearful. The neighborhood is dubbed the “Ellis Island of Dallas” for its large refugee population. Some said they were afraid to go near Texas Health Presbyterian, a mile away. Others said they planned to leave the apartment complex.

None of the children who were in contact with Duncan had showed signs of illness, so there were no plans to isolate any of their classmates, but extra health officials would be deployed in the public schools to allay fears, said district Superintendent Mike Miles.

Dr. Joseph McCormick, a viral disease expert at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston and a former CDC lab director who has traced contacts for patients of Ebola and Lassa virus in Africa, said the tracing process varied depending on a patient’s condition.

In his experiences in Africa, health care workers often found themselves “in a pickle” when stricken patients were too ill to speak, he said.

“It happens a lot. They’re so sick they can’t give you any information. They’re moribund,” he said. In such cases, medical workers have to piece together potential contacts via interviews with a patient’s relatives or friends.

The lapse in hospital procedure that allowed Duncan to return home occurred Friday when he showed up at the hospital’s emergency room with a fever and abdominal pains. He had been in the United States since Sept. 20.

A nurse asked whether he had been in Africa, and he confirmed he had.

“Regretfully, that information was not fully communicated” to other medical workers, said Dr. Mark Lester, a hospital official. “As the team assessed him, they thought clinically it was a low-grade common viral disease.”

The man went back to the Ivy Apartments residence where he was staying. By Sunday morning, he was so sick he needed an ambulance to return to the hospital. He was put in isolation, tested for Ebola, and was confirmed to have the disease.

When paramedics arrived at the apartment Sunday, he told them he had been in Africa.

The three medical workers wore protective equipment while dealing with him.

The hospital sought to defend its handling of the case, saying it had no reason to suspect Duncan had Ebola when he first arrived.

“His condition did not warrant admission. He also was not exhibiting symptoms specific to Ebola,” it said in a statement released Wednesday.

Health officials said Duncan’s lack of symptoms also ensured he was able to board his flight out of West Africa, and to be allowed to enter the United States, where airport and airline officials have been warned to be on the lookout for people with Ebola-like ailments.

Because the man was not showing symptoms during his journey to Dallas, health experts say none of the hundreds of fellow passengers on his flights or people he came in contact with at the airport would be in danger.

Ebola is only spread via contact with the bodily fluids of an infected and symptomatic person.

United Airlines issued a statement Wednesday saying Duncan came to the U.S. on Sept. 20 aboard Flight 951 from Brussels to Washington’s Dulles International Airport, and from Washington to Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport aboard Flight 822.

“This was not a failure of the screening processes at the airport. It’s a reality of the epidemic that we face,” Tom Kenyon, director of the CDC Center for Global Health, said in Liberia.

Photo: G.J. McCarthy/Dallas Morning News/MCT

Las Vegas Police Release Disturbing Video Of Cop Killers’ Last Moments

By John M. Glionna, Los Angeles Times

LAS VEGAS — Las Vegas police on Wednesday released a video of Jerad and Amanda Miller in the final moments of their lives, as they lay barricaded on the floor of a Wal-Mart store Sunday, with Jerad apparently in the throes of death and his wife about to put her gun to her head and pull the trigger.

The grainy video, taken from a store security camera, shows Amanda with her long hair cut Mohawk-style, lying on her side with her husband before her, lying on his stomach. Various store objects surround them.

The video shows Amanda pointing her gun at Jerad and apparently pulling the trigger. Then the footage stops as officers monitoring the situation in the store office say “she is about to 405,” code for someone taking their own life. “The female just shot herself in the head.”

Police say that Amanda did not, however, shoot her husband. Jerad was fatally wounded by a bullet from a police rifle.

Clark County Sheriff Doug Gillespie said the short video clip is part of the mountain of evidence in the case, in which the pair shot and killed two Las Vegas police officers as they ate lunch at a nearby pizzeria and then stormed the Wal-Mart, killing Joseph Wilcox, an armed Good Samaritan. During the rampage the couple reportedly shouted messages of anti-government revolution.

Assistant Sheriff Kevin McMahill said much of the video is violent and shows just how “cold-blooded” the pair of killers were.

He said the motives of the pair remain a mystery and that detectives had not yet determined whether they were part of an organized domestic terrorism group or acted on their own.

He detailed three contacts Las Vegas police had with the couple prior to Sunday’s shooting, but said that each time the couple did not appear hostile. They described the contacts as “normal.”

In one police went to the couple’s downtown apartment in April after receiving reports that Jerad Miller had made threats to the Indiana Department of Motor Vehicles. Miller was angry because he had been stopped by Boulder City, Nev., police, who found that his license had been suspended.

McMahill said Miller “was very angry and very frustrated over removal of his driver’s license.” Miller apparently could not get answers from Indiana authorities about why his license had been revoked. After learning that Miller had threatened to kill anyone who came to arrest him for driving without a license, Las Vegas police went to his apartment.

Officers said they found him cooperative and Miller denied making threats, McMahill said.

“Because a person may espouse anti-police or anti-government opinions on the Internet doesn’t make them a murderer,” McMahill said. “What made this pair turn to murder, we are working on that. We are working to find out how they went from ideology to action and move on to killing police officers. That’s something we need to find out.”

Police said the pair used three weapons in the assault, not including those they took from the two downed officers, Alyn Beck and Igor Soldo. The weapons were a Smith & Wesson 9-mm pistol, a .38-caliber revolver and a 12-gauge shotgun with a pistol grip. None of the weapons had been stolen, police said.

Gillespie said police were also investigating a box of documents the pair left with a neighbor. They would not speculate on reports that the papers suggested the two planned to take over a court building in the near future.

“We’re looking at all the material to determine their thought processes,” he said.

AFP Photo/Ethan Miller

Shooters In Las Vegas Ambush Were Unhappy With Police, Neighbors Say

By John M. Glionna and Michael Muskal, Los Angeles Times

LAS VEGAS — Neighbors of the young couple believed responsible for gunning down two police officers, killing a Walmart shopper, then shooting themselves to death, said the pair owned a variety of guns and talked of being disillusioned with government and police.

A neighbor at the Oak Tree Apartments, where the couple lived, said they recently moved to Las Vegas from a small town in Indiana. When they learned of the standoff between the federal Bureau of Land Management and cattle rancher Cliven Bundy, an incident that became a lightning rod for armed libertarians, the couple traveled to the site, the neighbor said.

“At first he was OK, then the Bundy Ranch thing happened and things changed,” said Larry Burnette, a neighbor of the couple. “Him and his wife went out there carrying guns. I tried to tell them not to go, but they were so against the police. They wanted the cops to go away and leave the Bundys alone.”

“The couple were only gone a day or so,” according to Burnette, who said the visit seemed to cement their views. “By then they had really turned against the government.”

A senior federal law enforcement official in Washington said that the Las Vegas shooters told at least one neighbor in their apartment complex that they had been to the Cliven Bundy ranch area to show their support but that the Bundy family “kicked them off or kicked them away” and that they were not allowed to join the protests.

“We’re still running all that down,” the source said. “If true, that’s an avenue we want to know about.”

Bundy said Monday that he did not know the shooters.

“I certainly did not know them by name, but I haven’t seen the pictures yet, to be able to identify them,” he said. “At this point, I don’t know who they are.

“I don’t know of any conflicts,” Bundy said. “I never ran anyone off my ranch, and neither did my family. I don’t know how long they stayed here, if they ever came, but we never run ’em off.”

Bundy said he has not been contacted by either the FBI or Las Vegas Metropolitan police, but said he would cooperate with authorities.

The federal law enforcement source, speaking anonymously because the investigation is still underway, added that the FBI and Las Vegas Metro police have executed two search warrants for the couple’s home and vehicle and were still sorting through any evidence found there. The official did not know whether the couple was married, but added that “the lady did all the shooting.”

Police on Monday were continuing their investigation into the shooting that began when two officers were shot eating lunch at a local pizza shop. Police say the couple entered CiCi’s Pizza restaurant and killed officers Alyn Beck, 41, and Igor Soldo, 31, who are both husbands and fathers.

The law-enforcement source said the woman approached the first officer from behind after he had stepped up to get a refill on his soda at the restaurant and shot him in the back of the head. The second officer fired off a shot in return, the source said, but the woman shot and killed him too.

The couple then went to the Walmart where shots were reported five minutes later and a person was gunned down just inside the front door. The couple exchanged gunfire with police before killing themselves, police said. The female suspect shot the male suspect before killing herself.

One of the shooters yelled, “The revolution is about to start,” according to a witness at the store.

“It’s a tragic day,” Sheriff Doug Gillespie said. “But we still have a community to police, and we still have a community to protect. We will be out there doing it with our heads held high, but with an emptiness in our hearts.”

Police have not released the identity of the shooters.

The Oak Tree Apartments are in a busy, rundown part of town, about two miles east of the downtown area. It houses mainly transients but there are some longtime dwellers like Burnette, who said he has lived there for 22 years.

“They were from some little hick town in Indiana whose name I forget,” Burnette told the Los Angeles Times on Monday.

The woman “was an nice young kid. I would never guess she would do anything like this,” he said. He described her as about 22 and the man as about 31. They had a lot of guns in their apartment, including a 12-gauge shotgun and 9mm handguns.

The woman, who was originally blond, then went dark-haired, worked in a toy store, Burnette said.

He said he didn’t know what the man did, but the couple would often dress up in costumes and go to have their pictures taken with tourists for money. The couple said they were planning on going back to Indiana, Burnette said.

AFP Photo/Ethan Miller

South Dakota’s Gay Marriage Ban Challenged; North Dakota Stands Alone

By John M. Glionna, Los Angeles Times

As South Dakota’s gay-marriage ban was challenged in court Thursday, North Dakota became the only state with such a law that has not faced a lawsuit.

Six South Dakota couples filed suit in U.S. District Court in Sioux Falls, challenging a 1996 law passed by the Legislature and a 2006 voter-approved constitutional amendment. They also want South Dakota to recognize same-sex marriages performed in states where it is legal.

Five of the couples had already married in Iowa, Connecticut and Minnesota. The sixth tried to get a South Dakota marriage license Thursday but were denied.

Gay couples can marry in 19 states and the District of Columbia. Oregon and Pennsylvania joined the list this week after federal courts struck down their state bans. In both cases, state officials decided not to appeal.

South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley has said he’s obligated by law to defend both the state Constitution and state statutes.

The lawsuit petitions the court “to hold that the State of South Dakota cannot discriminate against same-sex couples who seek the right to marry; and, they ask this Court to hold that South Dakota cannot discriminate against same-sex marriages in choosing whether or not to recognize marriages performed out of state.”

Since the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated parts of the U.S. Defense of Marriage Act last June, state bans have been declared unconstitutional every time they have been challenged in federal court. Some states, including Utah, Idaho, Virginia and Oklahoma, have appealed; the issue seems destined for the Supreme Court to resolve.

North Dakota voters overwhelmingly passed a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage in 2004.

Photo: Liveintent via Flickr

At Scene Of Nevada Ranch Standoff, ‘Citizen Soldiers’ Are On Guard

By John M. Glionna and Richard Simon, Los Angeles Times

BUNKERVILLE, Nev. — The first thing you see on the drive to Cliven Bundy’s ranch are the American flags _ tied to roadside guardrails, flapping in a hard desert wind.

At a bend in state Route 170 sits the so-called Patriot Checkpoint, evidence of the tense power play raging between the rebellious 67-year-old cattleman and the federal government.

Then there are the guns. Scores of grim citizen militiamen in combat fatigues — semiautomatic weapons slung over their shoulders, ammunition magazines at their belts — patrol from a base they call Camp Tripwire.

“State sovereignty is what we’re fighting for,” reads a sign strung to a fence. And another: “The West has now been won!”

Bundy’s private war, a decades-long court battle with the Bureau of Land Management over his cattle grazing on public land, recently took a decidedly populist turn: When armed federal agents moved to oversee the roundup of hundreds of Bundy’s cattle across half a million acres managed by the BLM, some Americans sat up wide-eyed before their televisions and computer screens.

The government says that Bundy owes $1 million in fees for letting his cattle graze in the Gold Butte area. Still, the get-tough tactic became a clarion call for those who see the federal government as arrogant and bloated. Suddenly, truck drivers, pizza deliverymen and ex-cops from as far away as New Hampshire and Georgia converged upon this unincorporated ranching town.

The self-described “citizen soldiers” arrived venting a smoldering anger and wielding AR-15 and AK-47 rifles. Days later, the government called off the roundup and released 350 of Bundy’s cattle back onto public land.

Two weeks later, some Bundy supporters remain bivouacked here, celebrating what they call the Battle of Bunkerville. They’re gritty, unshaven men, some with their wives, who refer to themselves as “we the people,” voicing gripes about Obamacare and lax federal immigration policy.

Bundy has his critics, but to supporters, his case is a symbol of everything wrong with America. Never mind that other ranchers pay the fees Bundy says he can avoid because his ancestors settled the area before the federal government stepped in.

The face-off is reminiscent of civil disobedience popularized during the 1970s Sagebrush Rebellion, a movement that sought greater local control in 12 Western states where the federal government administers 60 percent of the land. In Nevada, the BLM manages 87 percent of the land.

At Camp Tripwire, the militia members talk of deadly antigovernment clashes at Idaho’s Ruby Ridge and at Waco, Texas. “We showed up so there’s no slaughter like Ruby Ridge,” said a man who called himself Mark, a 60-year-old from New Mexico dressed in fatigues, with a handgun strapped to his leg.

“A blind chimp can see this is a bad situation. But we’re not wackos. We’re here as defenders, trying to do what’s right in our hearts,” he said.

Two weeks ago, he arrived at a scene that he said brought tears to his eyes: “Americans, refusing to cow to the federal government, blindly, like cattle. They were taking a stand.”

In Washington, the standoff has divided lawmakers along party lines.

Harry Reid, Nevada’s senior senator and the Senate majority leader, branded Bundy’s militia “domestic terrorists,” while the state’s other senator, Republican Dean Heller, called them “patriots.”

Other Republicans say Bundy highlights what they regard as federal overreach, such as presidents designating public land for national monuments without consulting local officials.

“Remember, the federal government works for the people. It doesn’t feel like that out West,” said Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), a member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. “It’s not just about Mr. Bundy. A lot of people can relate to what is happening, even though they probably disagree with somebody who wants to run cattle on public land without a permit.”

He says many Western ranchers think Washington doesn’t understand or care about them: “It isn’t long before shots will be fired.”

Bob Abbey, a former BLM director, said public angst goes beyond Bundy. “I do think there is a segment of our population in the United States that feels disenfranchised,” he said.

But, he added, “Mr. Bundy is not a victim by any means.”

Bundy’s public image fell this week after his pointed comments about blacks and social welfare, suggesting that “the Negro” was made dependent by government programs. He told The New York Times that “I’ve often wondered, are they better off as slaves, picking cotton and having a family life and doing things, or are they better off under government subsidy? They didn’t get no more freedom. They got less freedom.”

The denunciations were immediate. Heller “completely disagrees with Bundy’s appalling and racist statements and condemns them in the most strenuous way,” his office said. Reid calls Bundy a hateful racist.

Bundy’s wife, Carol, on Thursday defended her husband. “What he was saying is that there are lots of different forms of slavery. Welfare is one kind. It’s just another way to suppress people.”

The citizen cowboys protecting Bundy’s ranch remain undeterred. “His statements were not a criticism of blacks. They criticized the federal government,” said Brandon Rapolla, a concrete mixer from Oregon who spent eight days at the ranch. “I’ve met the Bundys, and that’s not who they are.”

In Nevada, the prolonged standoff has alienated many, including the Nevada Cattlemen’s Association, which says the matter is between Bundy and the courts. That’s the advice of Patrick Shea, a former BLM director. The government, he said, should be patient, put a lien on Bundy’s cattle and not “create these made-for-television dramas.”

Ray Schmalz, a Colorado visitor, says Bundy is simply selfish. The roundup threatened to close a public area where Schmalz rides his all-terrain vehicle. “If he owes grazing fees, he needs to pay them. He’s raping the system. And that militia with him are just rebels, showing off with their guns,” he said.

Historians say Bundy’s followers will eventually find a new rallying cause.

“The tea party and everyone else is tapping into the anger of people (who) feel like outsiders to a federal government they do not control,” said Michael Green, a historian at the College of Southern Nevada. “After Cliven Bundy, someone else will come along. With the Internet and 24/7 news channels, there will always be something new to rally people.”

The Camp Tripwire sentry covered his eyes from a wind-whipped blast of sand. A rotund man from Arizona in full military field regalia, he carried several weapons and a walkie-talkie. “Post to base,” he said. “There’s a visitor who wants to enter.”

Given the approval, he barked: “OK. Over and out.”

He turned, snapping: “Go directly to the blue tent. Do not stop to talk to anyone.” Asked about his rifle propped against a chair, he softened: “The Bundys don’t want us carrying them around. But I’m not supposed to tell anybody that. I’ll get in trouble.”

Camp commander Jerry DeLemus, who drove 41 hours from New Hampshire with a yellow “Don’t Tread on Me” flag, had his hands full — directing armed sentries, storing supplies, leading a morning prayer session. At 59, he’s an ex-Marine, self-employed contractor, born-again Christian, Harley-Davidson motorcyclist and National Rifle Association member.

“All of us out here, we’re Americans,” he said, a .45-caliber handgun at his side. “Just like you.”

He explained the post’s name — Camp Tripwire. “If anyone comes here to do anything bad, they’re going to trip on us,” he said. “It doesn’t mean we’re going to stop them, but we’ll slow them down.”

Who knows how long he’ll stay. “My wife asks the same question,” he said. “People have lost jobs. But I still can’t pry ’em out of here.”

Nearby, at the Bundy ranch, the mood was less accommodating. “Hey, where you going?” men in fatigues shouted when a visitor tried to enter the Bundy house. “Nobody just walks in here.”

Inside, Carol Bundy looked on sheepishly, later sending an apologetic text message: “We have just had an overwhelming amount of media here and the militia is getting protective.”

Later, Cliven Bundy sat with supporters under a mesquite tree at the Patriot Checkpoint, with a box of pocket-sized Constitutions on a nearby table.

He spoke softly, like a leader at a prayer meeting. Since the roundup ended, he said he has refused to even open five certified letters from the BLM. “I’ve challenged the federal government’s authority,” he said. “That’s why they want to kill Cliven Bundy.”

Surrounded daily by guards, he admitted his rancher’s life had become a fishbowl existence. “I’d hate to have this militia here for the rest of my life,” he said. “But I sure do want them here today.”

Photo: John M. Glionna/Los Angeles Times/MCT

Cliven Bundy’s ‘Better Off As Slaves’ Remark About Blacks Draws Fire

By John M. Glionna, Los Angeles Times

LAS VEGAS — Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy’s battle against the federal government over land rights took an unexpected detour after a newspaper quoted the 67-year-old grandfather suggesting African-Americans were “better off as slaves” because slavery taught work skills and enhanced family life.

Bundy, who has waged a standoff with the Bureau of Land Management, insisting he has a right to graze hundreds of head of cattle on public lands without paying fees, has been surrounded by citizen militias that have converged on his ranch in rural Bunkerville after armed federal officials moved in to remove Bundy’s cattle.

The BLM called off the roundup and released the cattle, but says the matter is not over. Bundy and his supporters are awaiting the government’s next move.

Over the weekend, Bundy spoke to supporters about general issues involved in the standoff. Suddenly, he took a turn and began discoursing on African-Americans and public welfare.

“I want to tell you one more thing I know about the Negro,” he said in comments quoted by the New York Times. He recalled driving past a public-housing project in North Las Vegas, “and in front of that government house the door was usually open and the older people and the kids — and there is always at least a half a dozen people sitting on the porch — they didn’t have nothing to do. They didn’t have nothing for their kids to do. They didn’t have nothing for their young girls to do.”

He added: “And because they were basically on government subsidy, so now what do they do?” he asked. “They abort their young children, they put their young men in jail, because they never learned how to pick cotton. And I’ve often wondered, are they better off as slaves, picking cotton and having a family life and doing things, or are they better off under government subsidy? They didn’t get no more freedom. They got less freedom.”

Conservative lawmakers in Washington, who have so far supported Bundy, have blasted his remarks, including Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV), who had previously referred to the gray-haired rancher as a patriot.

Heller “completely disagrees with Bundy’s appalling and racist statements and condemns them in the most strenuous way,” his office said.

But some Bundy supporters remained undeterred.

“His statements were not a criticism of blacks. They criticized the federal government,” said Brandon Rapolla, a concrete mixer from Oregon who spent eight days at the ranch. “I’ve met the Bundys, and that’s not who they are.”

Rapolla said he has posted Bundy’s remarks on social media. If people read them, he said, they will understand his point.

“It’s not racism,” he said. “People are trying to divide us on this issue. This is about the federal government, not anything else.”

Nevada’s other senator, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who has called Bundy’s supporters “domestic terrorists,” denounced Bundy’s remarks.

“I used to live in North Las Vegas and it is home to some of the hardest-working people I have ever met — men and women who embody the American dream by working hard every day to build a better life for themselves and their families,” Reid, a Democrat, said in a statement.

“By contrast, Cliven Bundy has spent decades profiting off government land while refusing to pay the same fair use fees as his fellow ranchers. Today, Bundy revealed himself to be a hateful racist. But by denigrating people who work hard and play by the rules while he mooches off public land he also revealed himself to be a hypocrite.”

Screenshot: YouTube

Vegas’ Water Drying Up

By John M. Glionna, Los Angeles Times

LAS VEGAS — Deep beneath Lake Mead, a 23-foot-tall tunnel-boring machine grinds through stubborn bedrock in a billion-dollar effort to make sure water continues flowing to this thirsty resort city.

For six years, the Southern Nevada Water Authority has been building an intake straw below the reservoir’s two existing pipes. Due for completion in fall 2015, critics say it may not provide a long-term solution.

An ongoing drought and the Colorado River’s stunted flow have shrunk Lake Mead to its lowest level in generations. The reservoir, which supplies 90 percent of Las Vegas’ water, is ebbing as though a plug had been pulled from a bathtub drain. By mid-April, Lake Mead’s water level measured just 48 feet above the system’s topmost intake straw.

Future droughts and a warming climate change could spell trouble for the city’s two million residents — and its 40 million annual visitors. Those people “better hope nothing goes wrong with the last intake,” said water authority spokesman J.C. Davis.

“But if something does go wrong,” he added, “we’re in the business of making contingency plans.”

For officials here, the scenario signifies a formidable job: providing water for the nation’s driest city. Las Vegas uses more water per capita than most communities in America — 219 gallons of water per person every day — and charges less for it than many communities.

Summer temperatures top 115 degrees in a scorched environment that in a banner year receives a paltry 4 inches of rain. The inhospitable conditions have pushed officials to develop water conservation programs considered models worldwide.

Although this spring’s snowmelt could temporarily replenish Lake Mead, the city’s future still looks drier than ever, a prospect that has prompted the water authority to eye such long-term plans as a desalinization plant in California and a $15 billion pipeline to move water here from other parts of the state.

Environmentalists blast the proposed pipeline from central Nevada as irresponsible, calling it a resource grab comparable to William Mulholland’s move that created an aqueduct to transport water south from California’s Owens Valley to help expand Los Angeles a century ago.

They say the city has been cavalier about looming water shortages, pointing to projects such as Lake Las Vegas, a 320-acre artificial oasis built with man-made rivers and waterfalls amid the high-end homes and luxury resorts.

But water use — and how to curtail it — poses a complex puzzle, officials say. Take the casinos.

John Entsminger, the water authority’s new general manager, says such seemingly careless spectacles as the elaborate fountains at the Bellagio resort feature recycled water. “The Strip uses only 3 percent of the region’s water but supplies 70 percent of its economy,” he said. “That’s not a bad bargain.”

Officials say they have prepared for myriad possible scenarios, including an emergency slashing of Las Vegas’ annual water allotment. “It’s important to remember that this would happen over a period of years, not months and not weeks,” Davis said of such a cutback. “You don’t wake up one morning and ask, ‘Where did all the water go?’ ”

Still, water officials here acknowledge that their challenge is to keep Las Vegas livable while reining in several older neighborhoods that have resisted taking out lawns and other conservation measures. The authority has already achieved a remarkable feat: In recent years, Las Vegas and its suburbs have cut water use by one-third while adding 400,000 residents.

It was done in part with a $200 million fund to provide rebates for replacing grass with desert landscapes. Las Vegas also recycles all water that goes down the drain from dishwashers, sinks, showers and even toilets, and after reprocessing, it is pumped back into Lake Mead. With each gallon returned to the reservoir, the city gets to take another out.

The water authority plans to cut per-capita water use even further to 199 gallons a day by 2035, a rate still higher than California’s present average of 182 gallons.

The Colorado River provides water for 40 million people across the Southwest — the majority of them in cities such as Las Vegas. The region’s population is expected to almost double by 2060. In that time, Las Vegas will gain one million residents, forecasters say.

Many water experts say Las Vegas needs to immediately take a series of no-nonsense steps to help control its water shortage: Cut indoor as well as outdoor use; charge much more for water and punish abusers with precipitously higher rates; and start disclosing the rate of a neighbor’s water use in residential bills to create more social pressure to conserve.

“At some point, you have to live within your means, but that doesn’t fit with the image of Las Vegas,” said Steve Erickson, Utah coordinator for the Great Basin Water Network, an advocacy group. “These people need to remember that it’s a city built upon an inhospitable desert. What were they thinking?”

When it comes to water, this city has long been at a disadvantage: A 1922 Colorado River water-sharing agreement among seven Western states — one still in effect nearly a century later — gives Southern Nevada the smallest allotment of all: just 300,000 acre-feet a year. An acre-foot can supply two average homes for one year.

Worse, unlike such cities as Phoenix and Los Angeles, Las Vegas has just one major water source — Lake Mead — putting it most at risk during a prolonged drought and dwindling lake water reserves. The city receives a scant 10 percent of its water from underground local aquifers.

Officials say Las Vegas uses only 80 percent of its Colorado River allotment and is banking the rest for the future. But critics say that even if the city taps all of its entitled water, that amount would still not be enough to meet its needs in a prolonged drought. And after years of recession, building is starting to come back here, leaving many to ask: Where are all these new residents going to get their water?

“How foolish can you be? It’s the same fatal error being repeated all over the Southwest — there is no new water,” said Tim Barnett, a marine physicist at the University of California, San Diego’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography and co-author of two reports about dwindling Western water resources. His research concluded that without massive cutbacks in water use, Lake Mead had a 50 percent chance of deteriorating to “dead pool” by 2036. That’s the level at which the reservoir’s surface drops beneath Las Vegas’ lowest water intake.

Yet casinos and developers continue to push growth, and critics say lawmakers often seem to lack the willpower to draw the line. “Will Las Vegas remain a boom town in the 21st century? The city wants to appear confident but it’s a place built on illusion and luck,” said Emily Green, an environmental journalist who writes about water issues on her blog, Chance of Rain.

“When it comes to water,” she added, “those aren’t very good guiding principles.”

The real water hog is not people, many say, but grass: About 70 percent of Las Vegas water goes to lawns, public parks and golf courses. A rebate program has already ripped out 168 million square feet of grass, enough to lay an 18-inch-wide roll of sod about 85 percent of the way around the Earth.

But is Las Vegas ready to ban grass entirely? “Well, at that point you’re seriously impacting quality of life. We’re not being complacent. We’re just not ready for draconian cuts,” said Davis, the spokesman for the water authority.

Barnett argues that’s precisely the wake-up call people need. “All these people assume this water thing will just work itself out. Well, suppose we’re looking at a change in our basic climate, where scarce water is only going to get more scarce. That’s the alternative you need to plan for — and no one’s doing it.”

Many ask why Las Vegas continues to allow projects such as Lake Las Vegas. The lake is filled with 3 billion gallons of Colorado River water, enough to supply 18,000 residences for a year. And 1.4 billion gallons must be added annually to stop the lake from receding.

Davis said the project was conceived well before the current water crisis. “Would we build another man-made lake today? Clearly not. But stop supplying water there and values will plummet. How many lawsuits do you want to wade through regarding people’s quality of life?”

The water authority is pushing forward with a plan for a 300-mile pipeline to import water from the state’s agricultural heartland. The project has touched off such old Nevada grudges as north versus south and claims about urbanites enriching themselves as the expense of rural dwellers.

Environmentalists are challenging in court the right-of-way permits already secured by the water authority, and are promising a long legal battle.

Entsminger, the head of the water authority, believes the American Southwest must fight its water crisis together. He said the seven states drawing water from the Colorado River collectively form the world’s fifth-largest economy — just behind Germany but ahead of France and Britain.

Southern Nevada, he insists, will do its part. And a big part of that, he said, will mean turning off the lawn sprinklers. He acknowledged he’s a culprit.

His front yard features a small patch of ornamental grass planted by the previous homeowners. “I know I should take it out,” the water czar said with a grimace. “It’s on my list.”

Michael Robinson Chavez/Los Angeles Times/MCT

Kansas City Remains On Edge Amid Spate Of Freeway Shootings

By John M. Glionna, Los Angeles Times

KANSAS CITY, MO — Since the bullets began to fly on freeways here, Taylor Stevens has stuck to the back roads. Rikki Rohret keeps her eyes on the overpasses. Behind the wheel, Joe Miller tries not to think about being an anonymous gunman’s next victim.

Somebody has been firing at vehicles, a serial triggerman who police warned seemed to be randomly targeting motorists, declaring his own misguided war against his fellow drivers.

Since the shootings began in March, police have linked at least a dozen incidents along the network of freeways that connect this Midwestern city, which sees itself as a gentle cousin of Rome for its fountains, or Paris for its boulevards, not as some hulking U.S. city where an armed man could run amok.

Several people have been struck by gunfire, but so far no one has been killed, authorities say. Law enforcement officials have stepped up patrols, while news reports suggest that the total number of shootings may have surpassed 20.

The rain of bullets has put people on edge. On the freeways, many admit to becoming a bit paranoid when another vehicle pulls up alongside, thinking, “Is the driver looking my way? Does he have a gun?”

“This whole thing scares me,” Miller said as he pumped gas at a QuickStop station. “I don’t carry a gun — freeways are just too emotional a place. But now even I’m thinking of packing something for protection. Though from what, or who, really, I don’t know.”

On Thursday evening, police announced they had made an arrest in the shootings. Kansas City Police Chief Darryl Forte told reporters the suspect is male but declined to release his name or age or say whether he was the only suspect. Forte promised more details Friday.

The announcement marked the most significant development yet in a case that has left the city anxious for weeks.

Home to 1.7 million residents, the Kansas City metropolitan area is the eastern gateway to the nation’s prairies, with a fistful of freeways twirling off in all directions. Most of the shootings have taken place along stretches of Interstates 435 and 470 on the Missouri side of the city — either on weekday evenings or daytime Saturday — but a few have been reported in suburban cities on both sides of the Missouri-Kansas state line.

Police have fielded reports of shots fired for days at a time, and then the gunman would suddenly become inactive. In many incidents, the shots were fired from a moving vehicle that then veered onto an exit.

On Monday, a female motorist reported that a man in another car pointed a gun at her minivan as she drove through an area known as the Three Trails Crossing, where many of the incidents have taken place. No shots were fired, and the man sped off, but not before he looked at her and mouthed a word, either “pow” or “boom,” she told police.

On April 10, police were investigating yet another possible incident after someone shot out the rear passenger window of a minivan containing four people stopped at a traffic light in Kansas City. Many reports have come from an area called the Grandview Triangle, where U.S. 71 and Interstates 435 and 470 converge. Some motorists refer to the area as the “Bermuda Triangle” and try to avoid it.

One victim told police he heard two bangs and thought he had run over something on the highway. He had been shot in the calf and later found three bullet holes in a door of his car.

The shootings have become this city’s unwanted urban mystery, attracting state troopers and federal agents. Kansas City Police Chief Darryl Forte won’t say which shootings investigators have linked or what criteria are being used to tie them together.

Authorities had offered a $10,000 reward for information that leads to an arrest.

“We’ve been blessed so far, but it’s a matter of bullet placement where it goes from minor injury to death,” Forte said recently. “We’re just asking this community, when you have a crime that occurs, step up and help reduce the chance of injury to someone else.”

The attacks are haunting the city’s psyche. The Kansas City Star recently ran a front-page story with a freeway map marked by bullet holes. The headline read: “Driving Scared.” Other stories have quoted former FBI experts drawing up a possible profile of the gunman. “This is fun behavior for this guy,” one said. “It makes him feel powerful. It makes the rest of his life tolerable.”

Photo: Rob Bixby via Flickr.com

In Utah, Many Want Zion Curtain Drinking Laws Drawn Aside

By John M. Glionna, Los Angeles Times

SALT LAKE CITY — The art of bartending, Matthew Pfohl says, is all about the performance, the subtle dance of bottle and glass.

Over his career this virtuoso of the high-end pour has dazzled customers, effortlessly grabbing a top-shelf gin, say Bombay Sapphire, and making a delicate decant to create another liquid masterpiece.

But in Utah, his act takes place backstage. He mixes drinks out of view in the kitchen, one result of strict regulations governing alcohol and backed by the politically powerful Mormon Church.

Throughout the state, home to some of the nation’s most restrictive drinking laws, restaurants opened after 2009 cannot legally mix cocktails or snap open bottles of beer in front of diners. Such adult fare, the strategy goes, should be kept from the view of impressionable children who might be eating with their parents.

The Salt Lake City-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints says Utah’s laws reflect local mores and notes that some states have dry counties that ban alcohol entirely.

But now some people here want the so-called Zion Curtain torn down.

A bill introduced this year would permit restaurants with bars to prepare alcoholic drinks in public view, and allow customers to order a cocktail without first declaring their intention to eat. Critics insist such laws stymie Salt Lake City’s otherwise flourishing culinary scene and slow the growth of the state’s $7.4 billion tourism industry.

“Customers want to see you mix their drink,” said Pfohl, 28, beverage manager at Pallet, an intimate downtown eatery. “How do they know I’m not replacing their favorite alcohol with an inferior brand?”

Byzantine alcohol laws enacted at the end of Prohibition, critics say, give the Beehive State a reputation as a swarm of out-of-touch fuddy-duddies.

The laws limit the alcohol content in beer to 3.2 percent — less than the typical 5 percent — and require restaurants to derive only 30 percent of their sales from alcohol. Stiff drinks are also verboten here, with bars and restaurants required to use meters to avoid over-pours.

State law once forbade bars as well as restaurants from dispensing alcohol in the same area where it was stored. Bartenders dashed behind a barrier to prepare a drink. The requirement was dropped for bars in 2009 but still applies to restaurants opened since then.

At Pallet, set in the historic loading dock area of the city’s first creamery, Pfohl and other bartenders must mix drinks at a tiny makeshift counter inside the cramped kitchen, negotiating swinging doors to serve a drink and resume broken-off chats with customers.

State Rep. Kraig Powell, who co-authored the Zion Curtain bill, represents the ski resort town of Park City, site of the annual Sundance Film Festival, where many filmmakers view the state’s drinking laws as something akin to a covered wagon parked in a lot full of Maseratis.

Opponents are already rallying against Powell’s legislation. The LDS church recently posted on its website a lengthy multimedia policy statement, complete with videos and graphs, urging lawmakers to uphold the current alcohol restrictions, with a high-ranking church official stressing that the laws are “closely tied to the moral culture of the state.”

His tone grandfatherly, D. Todd Christofferson, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, the second-highest governing body in the church, says: “It’s very important that we avoid an alcohol culture.”

The church’s statement was timed to the recent start of Utah’s 45-day legislative session. The church bans alcohol use among its faithful; those who do drink are forbidden to worship in temples.

In an interview at the church’s downtown headquarters, Michael Purdy quietly folded his hands and said that liberalizing the liquor laws was simply not good for Utah.

The director for government and strategic relations said stricter laws cut down on teenage drinking and drunk driving. The church’s website shows that in 2012, Utah had the nation’s lowest number of alcohol-related traffic deaths per capita.

“The evidence supports our claim that things are working just fine the way they are,” Purdy said. “We want restaurants to stay restaurants and bars to stay bars. We don’t want the two to morph into one.”

The church wanted to make sure its stance on alcohol was clear, he said. “There are a lot of members of our faith in Utah and so our voice carries influence,” Purdy said. “That makes us doubly sensitive as to when we speak up on an issue.”

Mormons form a majority of Utah’s Legislature (some estimates say 85 percent) and three-fourths of the state’s nearly 3 million residents. But some Mormon lawmakers, along with LDS restaurant owners, want the laws loosened.

“We’re here in the worldwide headquarters of the Mormon faith, questioning its edicts,” said Ryan Wilcox, a 36-year-old state representative and member of the LDS church _ a cellphone salesman with an easygoing style who calls his political intern “dude.” “I have an allegiance to my faith, but my job is to act on what I think is right.”

Photo: Margaret Bourne via Flickr