Newspaper column: Trump appointees may hold key to Nevada’s economic future

Trump interviewed by Field & Stream

Trump interviewed by Field & Stream

What does a Donald Trump presidency forebode for Nevada?

It is hard to say, because Trump has never kept a firm grip on any political position for more than a few hours, seemingly changing stances depending on with whom he has spoken most recently.

On the topic of who should control the public lands in Nevada — where currently 87 percent of the state’s land mass is controlled by the various federal land agencies — President-elect Trump has straddled the fence so much he must have saddle sores.

In January during an interview with Field & Stream magazine in Las Vegas, candidate Trump was asked about the prospect of the federal government transferring some of those lands to the states if he were to be elected president.

Trump unequivocally replied, “I don’t like the idea because I want to keep the lands great, and you don’t know what the state is going to do. I mean, are they going to sell if they get into a little bit of trouble?

And I don’t think it’s something that should be sold. We have to be great stewards of this land. This is magnificent land. And we have to be great stewards of this land.”

Merely a week later in an op-ed piece printed in the Reno Gazette-Journal Trump did a 180-degree turn: “The BLM controls over 85 percent of the land in Nevada. In the rural areas, those who for decades have had access to public lands for ranching, mining, logging and energy development are forced to deal with arbitrary and capricious rules that are influenced by special interests that profit from the D.C. rule-making and who fill the campaign coffers of Washington politicians. Far removed from the beautiful wide open spaces of Nevada, bureaucrats bend to the influence that is closest to them. Honest, hardworking citizens who seek freedom and economic independence must beg for deference from a federal government that is more intent on power and control than it is in serving the citizens of the nation.”

He went on to bemoan the fact local governments have to beg the Washington bureaucracy for land for schools, roads, parks and other public uses and pay a premium price for it. During the Republican convention this past summer the party platform included a call for the federal government to divest itself of a certain portion of public lands.

“Congress shall immediately pass universal legislation providing for a timely and orderly mechanism requiring the federal government to convey certain federally controlled public lands to states …” the platform reads. “The residents of state and local communities know best how to protect the land where they work and live.”

But at the same time an aide to Trump told the Huffington Post that Trump did not oppose the platform plank, but did not really embrace it, saying, Trump “lives in Manhattan and he views the West as this giant federal wonderful ownership property.” The aide said Trump would prefer a middle ground, such as a federal-state management partnership.

In August, according to High Country News, Elko County Commissioner and Nevada Land Management Task Force Chairman Demar Dahl met privately with Trump at a fundraiser at Lake Tahoe and broached the subject of public lands being transferred to the states.

“He said, ‘I’m with you,’” recalls Dahl, an avowed advocate of granting Nevada greater control over public land. He spoke recently before a House subcommittee in favor of a bill that would do so.

Given Trump’s apparent fluidity on this matter, one might be advised to look to who Trump appoints to various cabinet posts in the coming weeks for hints for how Nevada and the West may fare. One good sign for Nevadans who would like to see federal land put to productive use is that Trump reportedly is seriously considering two oil company executives to be secretaries of Interior and/or Energy.

He also has the self-styled environmentalists in a tither over the possibility that he might appoint a so-called climate denier to head the Environmental Protection Agency, which has been pressing forward with its jobs strangling Clean Power Plan to restrict air emissions and its Waters of the U.S. proposal that would usurp control of every mud puddle west of the Rockies. The views of Trump’s appointees may be more important than the rhetoric out of the future president.

A version of this column appeared this week in many of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel and the Lincoln County Record — and the Elko Daily Free Press.

 

Trump still disparaging the very document he must swear to protect and defend

trumpflag

Quick, somebody get Donald Trump one of those pocketbook copies of the Constitution and Bill of Rights and read it to him aloud, slowly, starting with, “Congress shall make no law …”

On the campaign trail Trump has repeatedly disparaged the rights contained in the First Amendment and several others.

“We’re going to open up those libel laws,” Trump said in February. “So when The New York Times writes a hit piece which is a total disgrace … we can sue them and win money instead of having no chance of winning because they’re totally protected,” paying no heed to Supreme Court rulings such as Times v. Sullivan, which said public figures such as him had to show actual malice or reckless disregard for the truth to win damages.

He also suggested closing mosques because really bad things happen in them — another First Amendment diss.

Now, this week the president-elect took to his favorite forum, Twitter, to call for jailing and revoking citizenship for flag burners, paying no heed to 1989’s Supreme Court decision in Texas v. Johnson, which declared unconstitutional a Texas law making flag burning a crime or 1990’s U.S. v. Eichman, which did the same for a federal law passed after the Texas law was struck.

Justice William Brennan, who wrote for the majority in both cases, concluded in the Eichman ruling:

We are aware that desecration of the flag is deeply offensive to many. But the same might be said, for example, of virulent ethnic and religious epithets … vulgar repudiations of the draft  and scurrilous caricatures …

If there is a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment, it is that the Government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable.

Punishing desecration of the flag dilutes the very freedom that makes this emblem so revered, and worth revering.

Someone should read that to Trump, too, though it is more than 140 characters.

The oath of office also exceeds Twitter limits:

Before he enter on the Execution of his Office, he shall take the following Oath or Affirmation: — “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” — Article II, SectionN 1, Clause 8

 

 

 

 

Nevada joins in suit to challenge sweeping redefinition of ‘critical habitat’ under Endangered Species Act

Nevada has joined an 18-state coalition that has filed suit against various federal land agencies for rewriting the Endangered Species Act of 1973 (ESA) to in effect give themselves carte blanche over ever square foot of land in the country.

The new rules were published in the Federal Register in February and took effect in March. Though the ESA gives the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service authority to protect “critical habitat” occupied by endangered or threatened species on public and private land, the new rules sweepingly redefine “critical habitat” to include land currently unoccupied by those species and even to include land that just might someday, in someway, somehow later become “critical habitat” by way of global warming or some other possible change.

The new rules give federal agents the power to block or alter any activity — grazing, farming, construction, mining, recreation, roads, fences, oil and gas exploration — that might somehow adversely affect that potential habitat for certain protected rodents, minnows, bugs, birds, reptiles and beasts.

In a press release announcing the litigation, Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt noted that the rule change could allow the federal government to declare “desert land as critical habitat for a protected fish and then prevent the construction of a highway through the land, under the theory that it would prevent the future formation of a stream that might one day support the fish.” The line is lifted almost verbatim from the lawsuit.

The suit was filed Tuesday in federal court in Alabama. It names as defendants the U.S. Secretary of the Interior, the National Marine Fisheries Service, the U.S. Secretary of Commerce and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

“As we have seen countless times, this administration’s novel rules reach well beyond anything Congress could have ever intended and will have adverse effects on individual states, businesses and families,” said Laxalt in the press release. “In practice, these latest rules expand federal oversight to the point that the federal government could potentially designate an entire state or even multiple states as critical habitat for certain species. I will continue to protect our state from this type of unwarranted and burdensome federal overreach.”

The sweeping definition of habitat appears to fly in the face of the law’s requirement that “critical habitat shall not include the entire geographical area which can be occupied by the threatened or endangered species,” except in circumstance determined by the secretary of the Interior.

Alabama’s Attorney General Luther Strange said in a press release, “Washington bureaucrats have gone beyond common sense by seeking to expand their control to private property adjoining the habitat of an endangered species solely on the basis that these areas might one day be home to a threatened species.”

The suit states:

The Final Rules are an unlawful attempt to expand regulatory authority and control over State lands and waters and should be vacated and enjoined because they violate the ESA and the Administrative Procedure Act (“APA”).

The ESA carefully delineates how and when the Services may designate areas as critical habitat. The ESA provides that when a species is listed as endangered or threatened, the Services shall “designate any habitat of such species which is then considered to be critical habitat” and “may, from time-to-time thereafter as appropriate, revise such designation.”

The ESA defines critical habitat as “specific areas within the geographical area occupied by the species at the time it is listed … on which are found those physical or biological features (I) essential to the conservation of the species and (II) which may require special management considerations or protection.” Unoccupied areas trigger an additional requirement — the Services must determine that “such areas are essential for the conservation of the species.”

By employing two different definitions, “[t]he statute thus differentiates between ‘occupied’ and ‘unoccupied’ areas, imposing a more onerous procedure on the designation of unoccupied areas by requiring the [Services] to make a showing that unoccupied areas are essential for … conservation.” The Services have long recognized that they may designate unoccupied areas “only when a designation limited to its present range would be inadequate to ensure the conservation of the species.” (Citations omitted.)

The suit also takes issue with the aforementioned fact that the new rules “declare that essential features include not only the physical or biological aspects that actually support the species, but also items that might lead to the development of those species-supporting features sometime in the future.”

Arguments against the rules posted in the Federal Register note that this “constitutes an impermissible reliance upon hope and speculation.”

As well as a crystal ball or reading of tea leaves.

In addition to Nevada and Alabama, other suing states are Alaska, Arkansas, Arizona, Colorado, Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, South Carolina, Texas, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming.

To place the ESA in perspective: Only 1 percent of listed species have recovered sufficiently to be delisted, despite the immense impact on economic endeavors.

Every square foot covered in red tape.

Electoral College was intended to avoid ‘tumult and disorder,’ but some are stoking it

The 538 members of the Electoral College — one for each senator and representative from each state, plus the District of Columbia — are to convene on Dec. 19 to cast their ballots for the presidency.

Meanwhile, there are reports from across the country that those voters are being harassed and threatened with physical harm or death if they cast their votes for Donald Trump.

This does seem to belie one of the primary reasons the Founders chose to have the president selected by the Electoral College instead of by state legislatures or popular vote.

Alexander Hamilton put it this way in Federalist Paper No. 68:

It was also peculiarly desirable to afford as little opportunity as possible to tumult and disorder. This evil was not least to be dreaded in the election of a magistrate, who was to have so important an agency in the administration of the government as the President of the United States. But the precautions which have been so happily concerted in the system under consideration, promise an effectual security against this mischief. The choice of SEVERAL, to form an intermediate body of electors, will be much less apt to convulse the community with any extraordinary or violent movements, than the choice of ONE who was himself to be the final object of the public wishes. And as the electors, chosen in each State, are to assemble and vote in the State in which they are chosen, this detached and divided situation will expose them much less to heats and ferments, which might be communicated from them to the people, than if they were all to be convened at one time, in one place.

Nothing was more to be desired than that every practicable obstacle should be opposed to cabal, intrigue, and corruption.

It is interesting to read how the would-be disrupters cite a different passage from this same document to argue that electors should disavow the voters of their states:

The process of election affords a moral certainty, that the office of President will never fall to the lot of any man who is not in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications. Talents for low intrigue, and the little arts of popularity, may alone suffice to elevate a man to the first honors in a single State; but it will require other talents, and a different kind of merit, to establish him in the esteem and confidence of the whole Union, or of so considerable a portion of it as would be necessary to make him a successful candidate for the distinguished office of President of the United States.

In their judgment Trump’s talents lie in low intrigue and arts of popularity. They may the right, but that’s not how the system works. For electors to abandon their duty would be tantamount to coup.

A Vox writer says Trump “the first unquestioned demagogue to become a major-party nominee in our country’s history. On his quest to the general election, he stoked prejudices and passions to flout fundamental constitutional norms, such as our freedoms of the press, religion, and peaceful assembly.”

He then points out that Hillary Clinton won the popular vote now by over 2 million votes, which is irrelevant.

Now, who is stoking prejudices?

The online petition site Change.org has a petition that reads in part:

On December 19, the Electors of the Electoral College will cast their ballots. If they all vote the way their states voted, Donald Trump will win. However, in 14 of the states in Trump’s column, they can vote for Hillary Clinton without any legal penalty if they choose.

We are calling on the 149 Electors in those states to ignore their states’ votes and cast their ballots for Secretary Clinton. Why?

Mr. Trump is unfit to serve. His scapegoating of so many Americans, and his impulsivity, bullying, lying, admitted history of sexual assault, and utter lack of experience make him a danger to the Republic.

Secretary Clinton WON THE POPULAR VOTE and should be President.

Hillary won the popular vote. The only reason Trump “won” is because of the Electoral College.

But the Electoral College can actually give the White House to either candidate. So why not use this most undemocratic of our institutions to ensure a democratic result?

Use an undemocratic institution to impose a democratic result? Talk about twisted logic. If the shoe were were on the other foot, they’d be screaming bloody murder. These people are all about getting their way and the means be damned.

Besides, the U.S. is a republic, not a mobocracy.

 

Is a ‘Terminator’ future coming invasively instead of violently?

In the “Terminator” movies the machines via Skynet take over and try to exterminate the extraneous human race.

But what if the machines take over in a different way, and merely exterminate the need for some humans just as the automobile eliminated the jobs of buggy whip makers.

That is a premise being posited by The Daily Caller’s Christopher Bedford, who ticks off a number of jobs disappearing due to technology. The automobile assembly line is being automated — more cars rolling out with fewer workers. And more and more of those cars and trucks and buses will someday be self-driving. Uber and Tesla are working on it. McDonald’s plans to install automated ordering machines in all its outlets. Why not burgerbots?

In today’s Las Vegas newspaper a Bloomberg columnist says America can forget about Trump bringing those iPhone jobs to the U.S. After first citing the hundreds of thousands of “skilled” workers needed to manufacture iPhones and noting U.S. workers don’t have those skills, the writer concludes all those tedious, low-paid jobs are becoming increasingly obsolete as industrial robots improve.

Resistance is futile. It did not work for the Luddites. It will not work for the low-skilled workers, who, as Bedford notes, have not seen wages grow in decades.

Toyota assembly line

Toyota assembly line

Meanwhile, in a newsroom near you …

One of the advantages of growing older is that you can read the same book and watch the same movie several times and it’s new every time.

So, when I grabbed Miami Herald columnist Carl Hiaasen’s 2002 novel “Basket Case” off the shelf I figured I’d just read a couple of pages to refresh my memory. I’d recently given a grandson a copy of his book “Hoot,” which was written for a younger audience — I’d listened to it on audio while doing chores around the house and basically lollygagging — and wished to refresh my memory of his books for an older audience.

It is the story of a former investigative reporter demoted to the obituary page for tweaking the nose of the paper’s new owner in a public meeting. Firing him would have been bad PR and might’ve resulted in unseemly and tedious litigation, better to beat him down and humiliate him until he quit in frustration. The reporter is trying to unravel the mystery surrounding the death of former rocker Jimmy Stoma, the lead singer for band called the Slut Puppies. It takes place in South Florida, of course, and reminds me of those graveyard shifts for the afternoon newspaper atop One Herald Plaza overlooking Biscayne Bay and the mangroves.

I just finished reading or rereading it, whatever the case may be. There were several passages that I clearly recall reading somewhere sometime. Like the newspaper company executive spending millions in shareholder funds to move his company headquarters from the frozen north to San Diego so he could drive his fancy sports cars — or maybe that actually happened. Like the weekly diversity committee meetings — or maybe that actually happened. Like the double entendre in the headline on an obituary — or maybe … Hiaasen also calls the newspaper archive by its proper name: the morgue.

The O. Henryesque ending was a most satisfying way of wrapping things up, though it seems vaguely familiar.

But the opening of Chapter 22 is eerily evocative of many newsrooms today as newspapers change owners and slash their budgets to make the bottom line look more attractive for the next buyer. For my friends still drawing a meager newspaper paycheck, look around and see if you spot the people Hiaasen describes:

Good newspapers don’t die easily. After three years in the bone-cold grip of Race Maggad III, the Union-Register still shows sparks of fire. This, in  spite of being stripped and junk-heaped like a stolen car.

Only two types of journalists choose to stay at a paper that’s being gutted by Wall Street whorehoppers. One faction is comprised of editors and reporters whose skills are so marginal that they’re lucky to be employed, and they know it. Unencumbered by any sense of duty to the readers, they’re pleased to forgo the pursuit of actual news in order to cut expenses and score points with the suits. These fakers are easy to pick out in a bustling city newsroom — they’re at their best when arranging and attending pointless meetings, and at their skittish, indecisive worst under the heat of a looming deadline. Stylistically they strive for brevity and froth, shirking from stories that demand depth or deliberation, stories that might rattle a few cages and raise a little hell and ultimately change some poor citizen’s life for the better. This breed of editors and reporters is genetically unequipped to cope with the ranting phone call from the major, that wrath-of-God letter from the libel lawyer or that reproachful memo from the company bean counters. These are journalists who want peace and quiet and no surprises, thank you. They want their newsroom to be civil, smooth-humming and friendly as a bank lobby. They’re thrilled when the telephones don’t ring and their computers tell them they don’t have e-mail. The less there is to do, the slimmer the odds of them screwing up. And, like Race Maggad III, they dream of a day when the hard news is no longer allowed to interfere with putting out profitable newspapers.

The other journalists who remain at slow-strangling dailies such as the Union-Register are those too spiteful or stubborn to quit. Somehow their talent and resourcefulness continue to shine, no matter how desultory or beaten down they might appear. These are the canny, grind-it-out pros — Griffin is a good example — who give our deliquescing journal what pluck and dash it have left. They have no corporate ambitions, and hold a crusty, subversive loyalty to the notion that that newspapers exist to serve and inform, period.

Frankly, most of the latter have thrown in the towel and jumped ship. And isn’t “deliquescing” a most apropos term for the current state of many newspapers? It would make a good name for a rock band, as Dave Barry would say, the Deliquescing Ink-Stained Wretches.

In the morgue

In the morgue

 

 

 

Editorial: State agency playing fast and loose with tax incentives

Let’s make a deal. What’ll it take to get you to close the deal? A little wheeling? A little dealing? A little quid pro quo? Pay no attention to the price tag. That’s for the suckers.

After a meeting of the Governor’s Office of Economic Development (GOED) this past week, the agency put out a press release boasting that it had approved “the creation of thousands of new jobs in Nevada through the expansion of existing Nevada companies, and companies that are moving to the state.”

GOED Director Steve Hill positively crowed, “We continue to see extraordinary businesses show interest in Nevada for a myriad of reasons, including location, available incentives, business friendliness and the quality of life. These companies will add to the gaining strength of our economy by creating thousands of jobs for Nevadans and continuing the narrative that Nevada is a great state in which to do business.”

Nowhere in the press release did it ever state what those “incentives” were. The word “tax” was nowhere to be seen.

Yet, in one meeting alone the agency magnanimously doled out a total of more than $6 million in tax abatements over the next 10 years to six different companies — five in Clark County, one in Washoe and none anywhere else in the state.

Apparently based on a strict mathematical calculation commonly known as a whim, the companies had their sales taxes slashed to a mere 2 percent for two years — instead of nearer 8 percent for those not so privileged — and their property and modified business taxes are being cut by either 25 percent or 50 percent for several years — depending on how good a deal each could wrangle.

The biggest tax forgiveness packages went to the multi-billion-dollar Internet marketer Amazon — $1.8 million — and something called TH Foods — $2.2 million.

There seemed to be little rhyme nor reason for the size of the largess in comparison to the relative benefit to the state and those taxpayers still required to pay the going rate. You know, the sticker price.

The numbers crunchers claimed one company would generate more than $68 in additional tax revenue for the state for every dollar of abatement, but another would generate only $2.50 for each tax dollar forgiven. Of course, that is pure speculation and conjecture.

Even though one of the stated reasons in the law creating such tax abatement incentives is to create high-wage jobs, only two of the companies so favored last week said their average hourly wages would exceed the targeted statewide average of $21.35 an hour and two companies reported their wages would be less than $15 an hour — one of those Amazon.

This wheeling and dealing was done despite the fact the Nevada Constitution clearly states, “The Legislature shall provide by law for a uniform and equal rate of assessment and taxation …” It ain’t uniform or equal if a select few get breaks while others don’t.

And pay no never mind to that part of the Constitution known as the Gift Clause, which states, “The State shall not donate or loan money, or its credit, subscribe to or be, interested in the Stock of any company, association, or corporation, except corporations formed for educational or charitable purposes.”

Remember, that $6 million in tax breaks was from one single meeting of the ever so generous GEOD, which has already doled out billions of dollars in tax “incentives” to Apple, Tesla Motors, Faraday Future and countless other billionaires.

Hey, no peeking behind the curtain at the fact the 2015 Legislature just raised taxes by $1.5 billion on all of us who are too insignificant or too timid to cut special deals, nor at the fact the state is already running a budget deficit of $400 million.

For that $6 million in tax abatements this past week, the companies claimed they might create as many as 2,000 jobs.

In 2012 alone small businesses in Nevada created 15,000 jobs without asking for any tax abatements or credits. What does that make them? Rubes? Suckers?

A version of this editorial appeared this week in some of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel,  Sparks Tribune and the Lincoln County Record.

Amazon plans a warehouse in Nevada like this one in Phoenix. (AP file photo via R-J)

Amazon plans a warehouse in Nevada like this one in Phoenix. (AP file photo via R-J)