Fondly remembering the late, great Bill of Rights

On this day in 1791 the Bill of Rights was ratified by three-fourths of the states, adding 10 amendments to  the new Constitution.

It has been downhill and out the door ever since.

They might more properly be called a Bill of Prohibitions, since they are not so much a delineation of rights as a list of things the federal government may not take away from individuals and the states and local governments.

Perhaps they should now be called the Bill of Vague Suggestions.

The First Amendment has been trampled repeatedly over the years as newspaper editors were locked up by Abraham Lincoln for questioning the Civil War — freedom of the press — and dissenters to the War to End All Wars were jailed by Woodrow Wilson — freedom of speech.

Freedom of religion is hardly extant when devoutly religious people must provide contraceptives in violation of their conscience.

Right to redress of grievances? You’ll be ignored, like the citizens of Nevada who voted 18 years ago to take over federal public land.

Free to assemble? Not if you wish to pass the hat and fund a political campaign without listing your home address to your government overlords.

Some may celebrate the Second Amendment today, but others have circulated a petition to require background checks before obtaining a firearm.

We celebrate the Fourth Amendment prohibition against unlawful search and seizure, despite the Hiibel case in which Larry Hiibel was arrested for not giving his name to a Humboldt County deputy.

There’s the Fifth’s protection against taking of property except for public purposes? That was bounced by the Kelo decision that let government take property for private development.

As for the Sixth’s right to speedy and public trial? Forget it. No explanation needed.

The right to trial by jury according to the Seventh? Try that in traffic court, buddy.

No cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth’s prohibition. Lifetime sentences for possession of pot belie that one, as well as execution of American citizens by drones.

The Ninth’s and 10th’s guarantees that rights not delineated are prohibited to feds? Let’s see the states try to set the drinking age or voting age or speed limits.

There’s still the Third’s prohibition against housing troops in private homes.

Oops, that one went South when the Henderson cops commandeered two homes to use as staging posts during an hours-long standoff with a domestic violence suspect holed up in a nearby home.

The resulting lawsuit claims a “deprivation of rights, privileges, and immunities secured to Plaintiffs under the Third, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution.”

So far as I can find the case is either still pending or was quietly settled and ignored by the media.


‘Identity’ politics keeps raising its ugly head

“All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.” — George Orwell

We just can’t seem to escape “identity” politics. It should be an oxymoron. Politics should be about ideas, not looking out for your kind, your group — whether gender, complexion of skin, social standing, youth, etc.

But no, it is the first rejoinder cast.

When the new Assembly Speaker-apparent John Hambrick summarily ousted Assemblywoman Michele Fiore and Assemblywoman Victoria Seaman from their posts as chair and vice chair of the Taxation Committee, respectively, the women promptly fired off a scathing email accusing Hambrick of engaging in a Republican war on women.

“It appears a few men in our party are not happy that we have Republican woman in key leadership roles in the legislature, and may look to Democrats for help in unraveling more leadership roles”, said Fiore.

“To replace the two women elected to the Taxation Committee with two men, sends a very dangerous message to Nevada women voters.  Women pay taxes too in Nevada,” Seaman added.

Hambrick — who gave no reason for the ouster — almost immediately reversed himself, again without explanation.

This broad brush (pun wasn’t intended but will stand, perhaps to my chagrin) painting of one group or other as victims is just as repugnant as showing favoritism. But we can’t seem to resist.

Who can forget Harry Reid’s exclamation:

“I don’t know how anyone of Hispanic heritage could be a Republican, OK. Do I need to say more?”

Blacks tend to vote Democratic, despite the fact minority economic well-being seems to suffer when the Democrat wins, even if that Democratic is half black.

We all are minorities of one. We are not lemmings. Are shouldn’t be.

Reason, logic and facts seem to go out the window when any demographic is singled out.

Apparently we can now add “identity” justice to “identity” politics.

Congressional staffers walked out onto the steps and raised their hands in that hands-up-don’t-shoot gesture, though a grand jury found that to be an utter fabrication.

Politics and justice should be based on facts and not us against them.

Ramirez cartoon

Speaking a couple of months ago at the Human Rights Campaign’s annual black tie dinner — which would exclude me right there — former President Bill Clinton said:

“I believe that in ways large and small, peaceful and sometimes violent, that the biggest threat to the future of our children and grandchildren is the poison of identity politics that preaches that our differences are far more important than our common humanity.”

He reminded in audience that “we’re 99 and a half percent the same.”

What is in our heads is far more important than the pigment of our skin or our biological plumbing.





There is plenty of money for Nevada lawmakers to spend and here are places to cut

You could hear the wailing and gnashing of teeth radiating out of Carson City all across the sagebrush-dotted terrain this past week when the Economic Forum forecast that the state would collect a paltry $6.33 billion in general fund revenues in the coming two years. State agencies had given the governor a list of expenditures they think they must have totaling $7.7 billion.

The governor immediately bemoaned the fact the state’s tax structure is inadequate to keep up with the demands of our changing economy and increasing population.

There were murmurs about the need for tax hikes from Democrats and tax reform from Republicans, both meaning more money taken from the citizens and given to the bureaucrats.

So, how bad is it? That $6.33 billion revenue forecast is up from the Economic Forum forecast of $5.8 billion in revenue two years ago. That is a 9 percent increase.

Nevada’s population grew by 2.5 percent from 2011 to 2013. Nationally, inflation has increased since 2012 by 3.4 percent. Social Security beneficiaries are getting only a 3.2 percent increase in monthly checks over this year and next. Thus, 9 percent is enough to cover both population growth and inflation.

It would also be helpful to note that the 2012 forecast was a bit of a lowball and the actual two-year revenue is closer to $6.27 billion. What’re the odds the same thing will happen with this forecast?

The Economic Forum was created by the Legislature in 1993 to keep the governor and lawmakers from making wildly optimistic revenue predictions and then having to scramble to amend for their excessive spending. These early December forecasts are used by the governor to prepare a budget — with or without tax hikes or extensions. On May 1 the Economic Forum will release its final official revenue estimate and that is what the Legislature must use to balance general fund revenues and expenditures for the next two years.

Gov. Brian Sandoval has already told the state agencies to pare back their budget requests.

Meanwhile, everyone is clamoring for more education funding because the state ranks 45th in the nation in K-12 spending.

Where can the state possibly find more money for education without raising taxes?

End the prevailing wage law that basically forces contractors on state and local government projects to pay what amounts to union scale. That’s $1 billion a year right there.

Stop the handouts by the Governor’s Office of Economic Development to attract new companies that just compete with existing firms.

Be less generous with tax breaks. The state allowed $3.7 billion in tax breaks in the past biennium, and that was before the $1.3 billion in tax giveaways for a proposed Tesla Motors battery plant were doled out.

Cut back on Medicaid expansion under ObamaCare. End binding arbitration for public employee unions. Reform overly generous public employee pensions. Slow the growth in public employee salaries, which exceed the national average. Toughen welfare qualification requirements. Cut the number of state occupational license boards. Acquire federal land for state and private use. The Nevada Public Land Management Task Force estimated acquiring 4 million acres of federal land would add $114 million to state coffers, and adding 48 million acres would add $1.5 billion.

But above all, enact regulatory and tax policies that encourage private economic investment and job growth, which will increase wealth, which will increase tax revenues, just as it did back in the boom days before the recession.

Newspaper column: Author of book on presidential power grabs should have enough material for a sequel or two

“The accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands, whether of one, a few, or many, and whether hereditary, selfappointed, or elective, may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny.”

     — James Madison, Federalist Papers

It is doubtful that when Fox News commentator Judge Andrew Napolitano began writing his newly published book, “Suicide Pact: The Radical Expansion of Presidential Powers and the Lethal Threat to American Liberty,” he suspected President Obama would be providing him enough material for several sequels.

Napolitano discussed the purpose and content of his book during a recent conference call with associates of Watchdog Wire, an online citizen journalism site.

He joked that Obama is helping him sell his book, which was written before the president decided to rewrite the laws on immigration. “The president has exempted so many people from the laws of immigration that no one … can claim he is enforcing them. In fact he is changing them and rewriting them. Those are profound violations of the Constitution,” he said.

As a Fox commentator, Napolitano explains that part of his job is to “monitor the government as it interferes with personal liberty, seizes private property and prevents economic opportunity.”

His job and the book start with the basic principles. “Under our constitutional form of government, the Congress writes the laws. The president enforces the laws. The courts interpret the laws,” the judge offered. “Madison, when he crafted the Constitution, intentionally built tension between and among the three branches of government. So that no one branch could seize power from either of the other two.”

The book is written in two parts. The first half of the book is a history of presidential law breaking and presidential law making. The second half looks at the powers claimed by George W. Bush and Barack Obama after and as a result of 9/11.

It goes from John Adams imprisoning his critics under the Alien and Sedition acts of 1798 to Abraham Lincoln — “the greatest violator of civil liberties in the history of the United States of America” — suspending the writ of habeas corpus and locking up 3,000 newspaper reporters, publishers and editors because he disagreed with their editorials to Woodrow Wilson having people arrested for reciting the Declaration of Independence outside of draft offices to Franklin Roosevelt stealing gold and Lyndon Johnson lying about the Gulf of Tonkin.

Then he gets to Bush allowing spying on Americans without a warrant and allowing torturing of terrorism suspects and Obama ordering Americans to be killed without any semblance of any Fifth Amendment guarantee against depriving “life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.”

Napolitano asked rhetorically: “Why should you care?”

He answered his own question by warning, “You should care, because if presidents become a law unto themselves, one of them one day is going say, ‘You know what? That limit that says my term is only four years and I can’t have more than a second term, I don’t think that’s good law any more and I’m not leaving.’”

During questioning, Napolitano said one way to restrain the power of the presidency would be to elect someone who truly believes in shrinking government, someone like Rand Paul, who wrote the foreword for his book, though the judge quickly added that was not an endorsement. But he did opine that all the other current potential candidates would tend to aggrandize power.

“Only when someone who really believes that the Constitution means what it says, who believes as (Thomas) Jefferson argued that the government should be chained down by the Constitution, only when a person like that is in the White House,” Napolitano said, “and there is substantial support in the Congress for that view, will we see constitutional government. Otherwise, things are going to get worse and worse and worse.”

Currently, he argued, both parties agree our rights come from government, not from our humanity, and both parties are in favor of perpetual war and perpetual debt.

“Until there is a president in the White House who breaks that mold,” Napolitano continued in an on-screen-worthy rant, “who recognizes our rights come from our humanity and cannot be taken away by a majority vote, that perpetual war is destructive and perpetual debt is destructive … Unless and until there is a president in the White House who’ll embrace these views, it can only get worse.”

Shortly after the interview, the national debt hit $18 trillion, having risen 70 percent under Obama, and the administration issued 3,415 new regulations – including 189 rules that cost more than $100 million apiece.

Enough material for a sequel, Mr. Napolitano?

A version of this column is available online at the Mesquite Local News, the Elko Daily Free Press and The Ely Times.

A road by any other name seems as sweet

Newly opened overpass on F Street. (R-J photo)

Historic Westside?

It seems like only yesterday, but it must have been nearly 20 years ago. We were sitting around a conference room at the Review-Journal with some gentlemen from the neighborhood discussing what that neighborhood should be called when mentioned in the newspaper.

The area — predominantly black and predominantly low-income — had over the years been referred to as the Westside, but these gentlemen, businessmen and politicians, felt the name had become a pejorative, a smear, a derogatory term — like referring to North Las Vegas as Northtown — and wanted it to be called something else.

There were a few arguments about sticking to tradition and what everyone understood at a glance, but if Hank decides he wants to be called Henry, so be it.

That was when the newspaper — located at 1111 West Bonanza Road — started referring to the neighborhood as West Las Vegas, usually accompanied by the unwieldy but obligatory explanation that it is the “historically black neighborhood bounded by Bonanza Road to the south, Carey Avenue to the north, Rancho Drive to the west and Interstate 15 to the east.”

So, when they unveiled the new overpass that allows the reopening of F Street into the historically black neighborhood bounded by Bonanza Road to the south, Carey Avenue to the north, Rancho Drive to the west and Interstate 15 to the east I was actually startled by the front page photo with the words “Historic Westside” indelibly attached to the concrete. I guess the stigma has been erased.

But what I couldn’t help noticing was that the story never used the term Westside excerpt in direct quotes from the mayor and a Transportation Department official at the end. Throughout it referred to West Las Vegas.

I guess you can use the word in concrete, but nothing is as hard and fast a newspaper’s stylebook.


Putting the news in its proper perspective

“What you see and hear depends a good deal on where you are standing …”

C.S. Lewis

Guests tour a water project in September. (R-J photo)

You really can’t tell what you are seeing until you determine where you are standing. In other words: What is your perspective?

Take the glowing report in today’s newspaper about the about-to-be completed “third straw” to tap Lake Mead water for Las Vegas.

“This is a big deal,” the Southern Nevada Water Authority’s director of engineering was quoted as saying. “It’s very exciting.”

Gov. Brian Sandoval said after touring the project, “If you ever had any doubt in the capability (and) the ingenuity of modern engineering, you won’t have any doubt any more if you (go) down there. … It really made an impression on me in terms of what has to be done and what is being done throughout the West to ensure a secure water supply in the future for Nevada.”

The project cost $817 million and has taken seven years to complete.

Hoover Dam itself took five years to complete and cost about $833 million in inflation-adjusted dollars.

But it’s very exciting, especially when you consider that the SNWA board just voted this morning to spend $650 million on a new pumping station that would keep the third intake working even if the lake level falls too low for the dam to release water downstream. That, of course, comes with a water rate hike.





More solar power pipe dreams?

The Interior Department is pushing ahead with plans to pave over the desert north of Las Vegas with more than 3,000 acres of solar panels, according to the Las Vegas newspaper.

Three companies are in the running to erect panels on federal public land in the Dry Lake Solar Energy Zone near Interstate 15 and Highway 93 — NV Energy on 660 acres with 150 megawatts, First Solar on 1,700 acres with 200 megawatts and Invenergy on 715 acres with 130 megawatts.

The story says the three projects could generate enough energy to power 120,000 homes. The question is: Where are those homes?

Interior official shows map of solar energy zone. (R-J photo)

Perhaps California needs more solar power to meet its renewable energy requirement of 33 percent of all power by 2020, but Nevada is on track to cover its legislatively dictated 25 percent by 2025. Those standards are completely artificial and ignore the demands of the market or the cost.

In fact, the PUC turned down NV Energy’s bid to build a 200-megawatt photovoltaic facility on the Moapa Indian reservation because it does need the power. The company only needs 54 megawatts and that can be much more cheaply acquired by building or buying standard combustion turbine technology at about a fifth of the cost of solar infrastructure.

If you build it, who will buy it? And at what price?

p.s. Speaking of clean energy, all the papers made a big deal of China cutting a deal with Obama to cut carbon emissions, but you won’t read much about China balking at actually allowing monitoring to see if they are living up to the deal. Told you so.