Nebraska approves Keystone pipeline route

Nebraska’s Public Service Commission today, on a 3-2 vote, approved the construction of the Keystone oil pipeline across the state, though it ruled the pipeline must be routed east of the company’s preferred route in order to skirt the Sandhills region.

In 2015, President Obama shut down the $8 billion, 1,200-mile pipeline construction project intended to carry Canadian shale oil to refineries on the Texas coast, saying, “America is now a global leader when it comes to taking serious action to fight climate change. And, frankly, approving this project would have undercut that global leadership.”

President Trump reversed that decision but Nebraska still had to approve a route.

The oil industry has claimed the project will be an economic boon, saying it will create 20,000 well-paying jobs during construction and increase personal income by $6.5 billion over the lifetime of the project. It also would generate $138.4 million a year in property tax revenue. They also claim it will create 473 jobs in Nevada by 2020.

Of course, there is likely to be litigation that will further delay the project.

 

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Editorial: VA health system continues to need bandaging

A month ago USA Today published the results of a months-long investigation of the Department of Veterans Affairs that found the agency covered up mistakes and misdeeds by doctors, nurses and staffers, often by cutting secret severance agreements and then writing large severance checks.

“In some cases, agency managers do not report troubled practitioners to the National Practitioner Data Bank, making it easier for them to keep working with patients elsewhere,” the newspaper reported. “The agency also failed to ensure VA hospitals reported disciplined providers to state licensing boards.”

This past week Nevada senior Sen. Dean Heller, a Republican, joined with Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat, to introduce a bill that prohibits such behavior by requiring the VA to report major adverse actions to the National Practitioner Data Bank and state licensing boards within 30 days. It would also prohibit the VA from signing settlements with fired or dismissed VA employees that allow the VA to conceal serious medical errors or purge negative records from personnel files.

“The investigation’s findings are downright shameful, and we need action immediately to ensure that the VA does not hide medical mistakes or inadequate care,” Heller, a senior member of the U.S. Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, was quoted as saying in a press release announcing the bill. “That’s why Senator Manchin and I introduced legislation that demands transparency and accountability from the VA and puts a stop to concealing serious medical errors through settlements with fired or dismissed VA employees. It is our responsibility to stand up for those who put their lives on the line for this country and provide them with the world class medical care they expect and deserve. The VA lists integrity as its first core value, and VA employees make the promise to act with high moral principle and adhere to the highest professional standards. Our legislation will make sure of it by holding the VA’s feet to the fire so that the veterans the agency exists to serve have trust in their caretakers.”

Heller noted that the nation has 21 million veterans and 300,000 of those live in Nevada. He noted that the VA’s mission statement reads: “To care for him who shall have borne the battle.” But in recent years, the senator noted, the VA hasn’t always lived up to that mission statement.

In 2014 VA Secretary Eric Shinseki resigned as a result of the scandal over veterans dying while waiting to receive treatment at a Phoenix VA hospital. The inspector general report called the VA’s problems “systemic.”

The inspector general found that the Phoenix VA hospital staff lied about its waiting list, claiming veterans waited on average 24 days for their first primary care appointment, when the average was 115 days. There were 1,400 vets on the official waiting list, but another 1,700 had been excluded from the list.

A subsequent audit issued on the day Shinseki resigned revealed that 64 percent of 216 VA facilities reviewed had tampered with waiting lists.

This latest scandalous revelation is nothing new to the VA. In 1945 the head of the VA hospital system resigned after a series of news reports about shoddy treatment. In 1976 an investigation of a Denver VA hospital found some veterans’ surgical dressings were rarely changed. In 1986 the inspector general found 93 VA physicians had sanctions against their medical licenses, including suspensions and revocations. In 2007 a commission reported “delays and gaps in treatment and services.”

In 2012 the VA opened a new hospital in North Las Vegas. It cost $1 billion, four times the original budget, and took six years to build. The emergency room was too small and had to be doubled in size a year and half later. The hospital is many hours away for rural Nevada veterans.

While Heller’s bill is needed to stanch the latest hemorrhage, perhaps it is past time  for Congress to disband the VA health care system and just give veterans vouchers for the doctors and hospitals of their choice.

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.

Newspaper column: Constitution stretched to the breaking point

A Utah prairie dog peeks out of an artificial burrow after arriving at a remote site in the desert, some 25 miles away from Cedar City, Utah. (AP pix via WSJ)

If words can mean anything anyone says they mean, then words are meaningless. That is what the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has done with the Commerce Clause of the Constitution.

The appellate court overturned a federal judge who found that the Commerce Clause does not give Congress the power under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) to regulate a species that exists only within the boundaries of one state and has no commercial value whatsoever — specifically the Utah prairie dog.

Nevada has joined with Utah and 21 other states to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to strike the circuit court ruling, saying that if the ruling stands “then Congress has virtually limitless authority, and the Tenth Amendment is a dead letter,” as well as the concept of federalism. (prairiedogamicusbrief)

If Nevada is to have any control over any economic activity within its borders, which include numerous endangered and threatened species, it is vital that the high court reverse this Constitution-rendering exercise in legerdemain.

The circuit court judges stretched the meaning of the Commerce Clause — which gives Congress the power to regulate interstate commerce in order to promote commerce by preventing interstate tariffs — to include anything Congress could imagine in its wildest flights of fantasy.

“We conclude that Congress had a rational basis to believe that regulation of the take of the Utah prairie dog on nonfederal land is an essential part of the ESA’s broader regulatory scheme which, in the aggregate, substantially affects interstate commerce,” the circuit court ruled, without any hint as whether that conclusion was at all rational rather than delusional sophistry.

The judges dived further into base speculation by stating, “‘ESA’s drafters were concerned by the “incalculable” value of the genetic heritage that might be lost absent regulation,’ as well as observing that the majority of takes of species ‘result from economic activity …’” Might that incalculable value be zero? Species became extinct before mankind arrived on the scene.

The amicus brief filed by the attorneys general of 23 states paraphrased the 10th Amendment in the Bill of Rights by stating, “The Framers correctly concluded that both restraints – separation of powers and federalism – are necessary to preserve individual liberty and avoid tyranny. So powers not given to the federal government are reserved for the States and the people. But federalism serves its purposes only if the federal-state interplay remains properly balanced. That means courts must ensure that the federal government operates only within its enumerated powers so the States can function within their proper spheres.”

Adding insult to constitutional injury is the fact the state of Utah was actually doing a better job of protecting the prairie dog population than the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The Fish and Wildlife rules made it a federal crime to “take” the Utah prairie dog — which means to harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture or collect — without first obtaining time-consuming and expensive federal permits. Meanwhile, the burrowing prairie dogs were damaging parks, sports fields, airports and cemeteries and preventing the construction of homes and businesses. Especially hard hit is the small college town Cedar City.

During the time after the federal judge blocked the Fish and Wildlife rules the state of Utah spent a considerable amount of money to move the prairie dogs from population centers to remote and safer conservation areas, allowing the population to boom from a low of 24,000 in 1984 to an estimated 80,000 today.

The original lawsuit was brought by 200 private property owners calling themselves People for the Ethical Treatment of Property Owners. They were represented by the Pacific Legal Foundation (PLF), which litigates on behalf of personal liberty and property rights.

“For decades, the federal government’s harmful Utah prairie dog regulation has prohibited residents of Cedar City from doing things that most of us take for granted in our own communities,” PLF attorney Jonathan Wood is quoted as saying in a press release. “They have been blocked from building homes, starting small businesses, even protecting playgrounds, an airport, and the local cemetery from the disruptive, tunneling rodent.

“The Commerce Clause has long been a source of federal mischief, but the Supreme Court has never allowed it to be stretched this far,” Wood noted. “With their prairie dog regulation, federal bureaucrats have asserted control over local activities that are not interstate commerce, do not affect interstate commerce, and are not necessary to any federal regulation of interstate commerce.”

If the words of the Constitution are so malleable, it has no meaning and Congress is our dictator.

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 impeachment articles missing any actual criminal act

Six House Democrats have filed articles of impeachment against President Trump, spelling out the reasons he should be removed from office.

They say he obstructed justice by firing FBI Director James Comey, who was looking into collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. Collusion may be unseemly, but it is not a crime.

They also say Trump violated the emoluments clauses, which prohibits officials from taking gifts, apparently because his hotels profit from renting rooms.

They added that Trump has undermined the courts and the press and this threatens democracy. We thought democracy was strengthened by arduous debate about its institutions, including the gridlocked Congress.

Rep. Steve Cohen, Tennessee Democrat who sponsored the articles of impeachment was quoted as saying, “Given the magnitude of the constitutional crisis, there’s no reason for delay.”

Bill Clinton was impeached by the House but failed to be convicted by the Senate. At least he was accused of something that was actually a crime.

Sun ‘newspaper’ flips off print subscribers again

Just as it did Monday, the Sun print edition inserted in the morning newspaper was mostly wire service copy. There was a report by a retired Reno political journalist about what was said on a television show last week about the Bunkerville standoff. That story appeared on the Sun’s website three days ago.

There also was a repeat of the full page graphic by the Sun staff telling people how to sign up for ObabaCare.

None of the original Sun staff stories that appeared on the Sun website Monday made it into print. Nor did the Sun staff stories that appear online today — about gun violence in Las Vegas since the Oct. 1 Mandalay Bay massacre, about a Golden Knights coach, about the Raiders breaking ground for a new stadium, about an art project in the median of a street, about a House of Blues performer and the arrest of a former public school teaching assistant.

The Sun exists as a print insert only because of a 1989 joint operating agreement with the Review-Journal under an exemption to anti-monopoly law, called the Newspaper Preservation Act. That law was intended to preserve media “voices” and journalistic competition in communities because so many newspaper were going out of business. The Sun is holding up its end of the deal, a deal that does not sunset until 2040.

But it has Dilbert:

 

Sun ‘newspaper’ editor waves middle finger at print subscribers

What an in-your-face insult to the people who pay the bills!

As per usual the third section of the morning newspaper today is the Las Vegas Sun. As per usual for a weekday it is eight pages of mostly New York Times wire service copy. The front page has three such stories and there are several more inside, including an editorial. There are three letters to the editor from Nevadans and the back page is a graphic informing people how to sign up for ObamaCare, putatively created by the Sun “staff.”

The Sun has been in a joint operating agreement with the Review-Journal since 1989 under the Newspaper Preservation Act, which was intended to allow newspapers to combine expensive and duplicative business function yet maintain competitive news “voices.” The agreement, which has been subject to litigation over the years, does not expire until 2040. The Sun gets paid to provide the morning paper readers with that “competitive” news and opinion content.

Today the paid print subscribers got an infographic from the Sun that really had no local content.

Online, for free, however, the Sun website carries a Sun staff-generated editorial about gun control, a couple of local sports stories, a local entertainment piece about Celine Dion, a story about layoffs at the Mandalay Bay since the Oct. 1 shooting, a story about tattoos commemorating that shooting and a tale about a local restaurant. None appear in print for the paying reader.

Doesn’t sound like the editor of the Sun is putting any effort into making that joint operating agreement profitable, but rather is using the other paper’s resources to compete for online clicks.

The Nevada Press Association lists the circulation of the Review-Journal — and by default the Sun — as 175,841 daily. The only problem is that figure is from 2009, and that was somewhat inflated. According to a Fox News account that year, the Las Vegas newspaper grew in circulation from the previous year by 11,000 copies because the circulation auditing firm changed the rules to allow electronic online replica copies to count as paid circulation.

The weekday sales of print copies actually fell by 12,000 copies. At the time the paper subscription renewals included the electronic version in the price with an opt-out in fine print.

Who knows what the actual print circulation is eight years later.

 

A Veterans Day recollection

“At a time in their lives when their days and nights should have been filled with innocent adventure, love, and the lessons of the workaday world, they were fighting in the most primitive conditions possible across the bloodied landscape of France, Belgium, Italy, Austria, and the coral islands of the Pacific. They answered the call to save the world from the two most powerful and ruthless military machines ever assembled, instruments of conquest in the hands of fascist maniacs. They faced great odds and a late start, but they did not protest. They succeeded on every front. They won the war; they saved the world.”    — Tom Brokaw in “The Greatest Generation

H.A. Mitchell, decorated hero of the Pacific campaign in World War II

My father joined the Army when he was 16. He lied about his age.

He knew what was coming and was there when it came. He was in Pearl City that Sunday morning in 1941 when World War II began.

He spent the rest of the war hopping from island to island with his artillery unit. He said he chose artillery because he wanted to make a lot of noise.

I know he was in the Philippines about the time the survivors of the Death March of Bataan were rescued. The rest is a blur in my memory, though I recall him telling about how they censored letters home lest they fall into enemy hands and give away troop locations — you couldn’t write that the food was “good enough,” because the ship was at Goodenough Island.

He was a decorated hero, but said he refused to wear the Purple Heart so he wouldn’t have to explain exactly where the wound was located.

When he and his war buddies got together they seldom talked about the fighting, only the antics, like climbing on the hood of a truck and stealing eggs out of the back of another truck as it slowly climbed a steep hill.

But one of his friends once let slip that Dad, a bulldozer operator, actually used a bulldozer blade to deflect bullets while rescuing pinned down soldiers.

To hear him and his friends talk, it seemed like they spilled more beer than blood, but somehow still managed to win the war and save the world.

They are the ones Veterans Day is for.

A version of this was first posted in 2012.