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Sen. Harry Reid, left, with Jacob Snow at the dedication of the Las Vegas Monorail.
Photo by NEWT BRIGGS


The Lon Bronson All-Star Band

Thursday, February 26, 2004
Copyright © Las Vegas Mercury

Quick and Dirty: a notebook of news and politics

Suicide machine

As of this moment, Nevada death row inmate Lawrence Colwell Jr. is on the fast track to be executed by lethal injection sometime between March 15 and 21 for the 1994 murder of Florida tourist Frank Rosenstock at the Tropicana. If the execution goes as planned, Colwell--who has waived his right to appeal--will be the 10th prisoner to be executed in Nevada since the punishment was revived in 1977. What troubles Assistant Federal Public Defender Tim Gabrielsen, though, is that Colwell will be the ninth of those 10 to voluntarily go to his death.

"It's very difficult to be executed in Nevada if you don't want to be," Gabrielsen said at a Feb. 21 meeting of the Nevada Coalition Against the Death Penalty. "We've been concerned for a while that not only the isolation of the Ely State Prison but also the physical environment of confinement has caused us to have a disproportionately high number of prisoners volunteering to be executed rather than following through on appeals."

Although Gabrielsen did not offer specific numbers to support his claim, he did observe that while he worked in Illinois--a state which has since abolished the death penalty--only two of 10 inmates volunteered for execution.

Gabrielsen also expressed concern that correctional facility employees are intentionally making living conditions unduly unpleasant for prisoners. "It seems to me that some of them have been emboldened to maintain some very draconian conditions with regard to visitors and services on death row," Gabrielsen said. "We also have a problem with at least one member of the clergy up there who has been counseling inmates not to seek protection of their lives."

After the meeting, Gabrielsen's charge was reinforced by David and Mary Deitrich, whose 43-year-old son Rodney has been on death row since 1988. "This prison system will take advantage of every opportunity it has to make life unbearable for the inmates," David said. "They'll do everything they can to make you give up."--NB

A sweet deal

Nevada Sen. Harry Reid may seem like a serious, sober gentleman, but he's not above enjoying a scoop of ice cream--particularly when that scoop represents $20 million in federal tax dollars.

The ice cream--Breyer's french vanilla--was presented to Reid at the Feb. 20 dedication of the first phase of the Las Vegas Monorail by Jacob Snow, general manager of the Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada. Said Snow, the double-decker frozen treat was intended to symbolize how Reid's "double dipping" in the Senate Appropriations and Environment and Public Works Committees helped Las Vegas secure much-needed funding for the $650 million monorail project.

According to Snow, the monorail--which currently covers the 3.9 miles between the MGM Grand and the Sahara--will increase tourist spending along the Strip and will help boost the utility and efficiency of local public transit. Slated to open sometime in March, the monorail will charge $3 for one-way trips, $5.50 for round-trips and $10 for all-day passes with operating hours from 6 a.m. to 2 a.m.

During a brief speech, Reid called the monorail a "sweet deal for everybody who lives and works here" and also noted some of the monorail's potential transportation and environmental benefits. "It will eliminate 4.4 million auto trips from the resort corridor, and it will reduce 135 tons of carbon monoxide from the air."

Of course, such forecasts hinge on the monorail meeting its rider projection--20 million riders in the first year of operation. Although no precedent exists in Las Vegas for this kind of transportation venture, Snow is cautiously optimistic that the monorail will meet its goals. "We've had a lot of investors and advertisers that have come in and decided that this is a good risk," Snow said. "Let me put it in this perspective: The manufacturer that installed the cable-drawn system that connects the Mandalay Bay, the Luxor and the Excalibur says that system carries 21 million people per year. Granted, that's free, but it only connects three properties. Our system links the whole Strip together."

If the first phase does indeed prove a success, the next phase of the monorail will be a downtown extension--a project which, with Reid's help, the RTC expects to complete by the end of 2007.--NB

Seeing All-Stars

The Lon Bronson All-Star Band aren't exactly old-school Vegas, but, hell, after 13 years, maybe they deserve honorary status. Then again, there's little traditional about this 12-piece band; think Tower of Power splashed with several buckets of cheap mescal. Led by madman Lon Bronson, the group could (and often did) swoop from jazz standards to punk classics at the drop of an acid tab. The result: a jazz-freaked free-for-all that drew crowds mostly by word of mouth.

Now, ironically, the modern lounge act is getting pushed out of the Riv by some all-too-modern realities. The Lon Bronson All-Star Band plays its final show at 1:15 a.m. show Saturday, Feb. 28 (technically Sunday morning) after which their time slot will be "four-walled." Four-walling is industry-speak for casinos renting out their lounges to either bands or independent promoters, a steady way to bring in money when lounge bands can draw fluctuating crowds. In short, bands pay to play. No thanks, says Bronson.

"We're like a dinosaur, a bona fide union house band, the last vestige of that whole Rat Pack vibe," he says, "when you'd come in for two drinks, see a slammin' horn band and whatever other entertainers or celebs were in town that week. When you four-wall, you charge a ticket price, you kill that instantly. It's the last thing we want to do."

Riv spokesman John Neeland says it's just a reality of casino culture. "During the past 10 years, casinos have been four-walling lounges. It's worked out very fine for us." But that doesn't spell the end of the All-Star Band. Bronson says he's very close to landing a new home for his brand of music and mayhem.--AK

Diploma mill shut down

Maxine Asher, the Henderson woman who runs a highly criticized college accrediting association, has been forced to shut down her Hawaii operation. A Hawaii circuit court has ordered the World University of Iowa to cease operations, refund all student tuition and pay $240,000 in penalties. Asher has been accused of accrediting mail drops and diploma mill operations in the United States and overseas. She has denied the charges.

Jeffrey Brunton, an attorney for the Hawaii Office for Consumer Protection, says the university virtually did not exist in his state.

"She did not have an office. In addition, our law requires at least one employee and 25 students to be here. She didn't have that," he says. "We asked her to turn over her books and records. She ignored our request." The court order also bars a related institution, the World University, from doing business in Hawaii.

Brunton says the actual number of people who paid tuition is not known, since she refused to hand over school documents. "I'm sure she's got students." And he's doubtful if his agency can collect the penalties since Asher may no longer be operating in Hawaii. In documents Asher earlier provided to a Mercury reporter, she is listed as president of American World University of Iowa, but the headquarters is in Pascagoula, Miss.

The attorney says the summary judgment against Asher's school is part of a wider assault on phony colleges. "We have filed 40 or 50 lawsuits against those schools," Brunton says. Hawaii's crackdown on unaccredited schools came after a stateside crackdown brought of number of operators to Hawaii, which until 1999 had weak enforcement.

"When other states cracked down, they moved to Hawaii," Brunton says. "It became such an embarrassment that legitimate universities became concerned that it would devalue their degrees. Now we get e-mails, calls and letters on a daily basis from people around the world inquiring about the legitimacy of schools in Hawaii."

Asher's World Association of Universities and Colleges lists 47 schools as members or accredited institutions worldwide. Brunton says that monitoring the schools is tough, since accreditation is a matter for individual states. "I have never seen a list of diploma mills." His office has even enlisted the assistance of American embassies to track such operations outside the United States. "Many of these schools primarily operate overseas," he says. Asher was not available for comment.--LW

Forcing the issue

The Metropolitan Police Department is in search of a few good men and women. Not for police work, mind you, but to police the police's work. Metro's 13-year-old Use of Force Board is looking for some citizen volunteers to serve on the seven-member panel. The group convenes to review incidents when a person is injured or killed by a police officer; prospective citizen members have to live with Metro's jurisdiction and can't be affiliated with the police department. Three of the slots are filled by Metro officers; the other four are reserved for citizens. Metro would like a pool of about 25 citizen members to draw from when the board needs to meet--a necessity in a growing and evolving police force, says Greg McCurdy, Metro's deputy chief of investigative services.

"The Use of Force Board has helped address policy failures and identify areas in need of training," he says. "In some cases we've identified how tactics used by officers could have been different. That's not to say that if the tactics had been different they wouldn't have got in a [use of force] situation, but we want to be as safe as possible." Citizens interested in serving can call 229-3511.--AK

Recharged

12 Volt Sex--the Vegas pop sensation that never quite was--has regrouped and plays the Huntridge Theater Saturday, Feb. 28. What's the big deal? Well, the rock band was one Vegas' great pop hopes in the 1990s, signing a major label deal with RCA only to see the thing fizzle out in a fit of mismanagement, naivete and bad timing. Now, each battle scar representing a lesson learned, the band wants a second chance. What would they do differently if they had a second chance at a label deal?

"I think we'd go with the flow more," says singer Matt Chernoff. "We'd stay open to different ideas. That's what I would suggest to bands playing the major label game: be malleable. We were pretty resistant."

But have they passed their prime? Chernoff points to older bands such as Nickelback, which have landed deals despite their creaking bones. "Plus, I've been going to the gym religiously to become 17 years old again," Chernoff says. "But I haven't found the machine that does that yet."--AK


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