Sunday, Feb. 13, 2011 | 2 a.m.
Hosni Mubarak is gone.
After 30 years as president of Egypt and three decades as a friend and reliable ally of the United States, and after one-third of a century of maintaining peace with Israel and, therefore, a modicum of stability in the volatile Middle East, Mubarak is gone. It is an end of an era.
The question now is what will define the next era? Thousands of cheering and excited Egyptians who filled the streets for 17 days got what they — and, presumably, most Egyptians — wanted. They wanted change, they wanted something different, they wanted Mubarak gone. Under the headline of “Be careful what you ask for,” the Egyptian people — and, for certain, the rest of the Middle East and the world — will have to live with the consequences of the decision Mubarak made to step aside and allow Egypt to chart a course without him. It was a decision that even he finally had to admit was the only reasonable and responsible answer to the challenges that plagued his presidency.
That is often the lesson learned in life. We get to a point at which we know what we are doing is wrong. We know it ain’t working. And we know we can do better. We realize we must change even in the face of some very strong forces arrayed against that change. Those would be the people invested in the status quo. They don’t want change because life is good for them.
There are plenty of others, of course, who aren’t getting what the privileged few are enjoying. They are among the folks in the streets. They want better lives for themselves, for their children and for their children’s children. And they are willing to risk the unknown to get that chance for something better.
That is what we watched on our television sets the past three weeks, and their spontaneous jubilation Friday morning was the culmination of their immediate dreams. We have to keep watching, of course, to see what they — and the world — actually get with this change of mind by Egypt’s leadership.
To keep the whole thing in perspective, the last time Egypt changed presidents, it was the result of an assassin’s bullet. The man who could have transformed Egypt and the Middle East, Anwar Sadat, was gunned down by the forces of the status quo. People who thought war and violence in the Middle East were the only way to preserve a future cut Sadat down at the beginning of his efforts to transform the way his people and Arabs in general did business in the region.
This transition, by comparison, has been peaceful. And that is a major piece of business for Egypt and other Arab countries whose people may yearn for less autocratic regimes.
Is there a lesson in this historic change that the people of Nevada can take to heart? I think so.
It is no secret that our state has been the hardest hit during this depressing recession we have been living through the past three years. We lead the country in foreclosures, unemployment and bankruptcies. Our population decline the past couple of years is nothing short of dramatic. Pick any economic indicator and Nevada is either dead last or too close to the bottom for any kind of comfort.
It is also no secret that in a state that needs jobs, jobs and more jobs, we have done nothing to advance the prospects that the thousands and thousands of people who are still here looking for work will ever get a job. To do that, we have to have businesses that grow or new businesses that will come here. Neither is happening.
In the face of all this (let’s call it the status quo like in Egypt), what is our leadership doing? I wanted to say nothing, but that is not quite true. Our governor, Brian Sandoval, is trying to do something to advance Nevada toward a goal of creating more jobs and a more stable economy. But the way he is doing it is much like Mubarak’s pronouncements to his people who were clamoring for freedom.
Our governor is talking around the edges of the discussion without giving the people the kind of change they really need. Clearly, Egyptians had real issues with their leadership. They wanted freedoms like speech, assembly and press. Simple things. What the people of Nevada want are jobs.
Giving the people of Egypt what they wanted was so much harder for Mubarak than it is for Sandoval to give the people of Nevada what they want. For starters, Mubarak had to give up power and step down as president. That’s a lot to ask! But he did it because, in the end, he knew there were no other reasonable choices.
In Nevada, Sandoval thinks there are reasonable choices when it comes to creating jobs and a better quality of life for Nevadans. But the choice he is opting for is the status quo. That means we will be able to tell people that Nevada is one of the lowest-taxed states in the country. We have held that distinction for decades. Where has it gotten us?
We are at or near the bottom of every list that quantifies the quality of life for our citizens. I don’t care how much people say they don’t want to pay more taxes, they don’t want to be at the bottom of those lists, either.
But let’s stay practical, just like the folks on Cairo’s streets who stayed focused on what they wanted. We want jobs.
It is beyond question that getting more jobs, diversifying our economy to bring those jobs and training our workforce to be able to perform those jobs should be Job One in Nevada. It is also beyond question that education is the single best solution to each of those goals. In the face of that truth, what is our good governor proposing? To cut education at all levels to the point that Nevada will be forever on the bottom rung of any ladder toward the advancement of its people.
Egyptians marching in the street would not accept Mubarak’s efforts to give them lip service while maintaining the status quo. That meant he stayed in power with his hand on all the levers, which meant that nothing would change. Nevadans should not accept the status quo, either. Being the lowest-taxed state means being consigned to last place when we should be among the best this country has to offer.
I realize Nevadans are not going to take to the streets, and I am not suggesting we do so. But I am urging every parent of a child for whom they want the best, every person who wants to have a business, and every young person who likes Nevada but doesn’t like the idea that there is no future here for him or her, to get proactive. Tell your legislators and your governor that the status quo is no good anymore. That lowest taxes equate to lowest levels in all areas of achievement and success. That we can do better.
So here is just one tidbit to consider when you are thinking about how important education is to our economy and our job creation. Although the money spent on education is not the only determinant of how good that education is and, therefore, the prospects for better jobs and a better life, it does provide some indication of the value a state places on it.
Mississippi, Arkansas, Kansas, Utah, New Mexico and Nevada each have populations of 2 million to 3 million people. Think about those states and the quality of their universities in relation to one another. Now look at what each state spends for their higher education.
Mississippi — $1 billion; New Mexico — $931 million; Arkansas — $882 million; Kansas — $753 million; Utah — $687 million; and Nevada — drum roll please — $397 million.
Is it any wonder why we lag way behind practically every other state when it comes to the education of our people? Is it any wonder why so many of our best and brightest citizens leave Nevada for other states for their education and don’t return? Is it any wonder why companies consider our low-tax status and still refuse to move here? The questions go on and on, but the answer stays the same.
We don’t value those things that bring value to Nevadans. Egyptians changed 30 years of autocracy by demanding a better life. And they were willing to take the chance that is what they will get. Why can’t Nevadans garner a fraction of that courage and demand that our leadership change the way we value education in this state?
Brian Greenspun is publisher and editor of the Las Vegas Sun.