Welcome to ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’ … again and again and again

In 1983, while working as the city editor of the Shreveport Journal, I penned a soft feature tied to the 35th anniversary of the original publication of George Orwell’s classic dystopian novel “Nineteen Eighty-Four.”

I observed in that piece that Orwell’s book was about a totalitarian dystopia in which BIG BROTHER WAS WATCHING YOU, suggesting this was like the infrared camera equipped drones or huge network of cybersnooping computers, long before the NSA revelations. 

The book made the terms “Newspeak” and “doublethink” a part of the political lexicon — long before Fort Hood was merely workplace violence. Name your own examples.

“George Orwell respected language and railed against its abuse,” I wrote in 1983. “He was particularly offended by the propaganda — some of which he helped to write for the BBC in World War II. He saw firsthand the way the press was tricked and subverted for political purposes in the Spanish Civil War. Battles that never happened. Heroes who became traitors.”

In another piece posted here in 2013, I asked whether Orwell was a satirist or a prophet.

Walter Cronkite in a foreword to the 1983 paperback edition of “Nineteen Eighty-Four,” have claimed the book has failed as prophecy only because it has served so well as a warning — a warning against manipulation and power grabbing and the loss of privacy in the name of state security.

And Cronkite couldn’t resist adding: “1984 may not arrive on time, but there’s always 1985.”

Orwell himself called his book a satire and took pains to correct those who saw it merely as a denunciation of socialism.

In a letter written shortly after the publication of the book, Orwell wrote, “My novel ‘Nineteen Eighty-four’ is not intended as an attack on socialism, or on the British Labour party, but as a show-up of the perversions to which a centralized economy is liable, and which have already been partly realized in Communism and fascism.

“I do not believe that the kind of society I describe will arrive, but I believe (allowing, of course, for the fact that the book is a satire) that something resembling it could arrive. I believe also that totalitarian ideas have taken root in the minds of intellectuals everywhere, and I have tried to draw these ideas out to their logical consequences. The scene of the book is laid in Britain in order to emphasize that the English speaking races are not innately better than anyone else and that totalitarianism, if not fought against, could triumph anywhere.”

Here is an except that might have a hint about current events:

Sometimes he talked to her of the Records Department and the impudent
forgeries that he committed there. Such things did not appear to horrify
her. She did not feel the abyss opening beneath her feet at the thought
of lies becoming truths. He told her the story of Jones, Aaronson, and
Rutherford and the momentous slip of paper which he had once held between
his fingers. It did not make much impression on her. At first, indeed, she
failed to grasp the point of the story.

‘Were they friends of yours?’ she said.

‘No, I never knew them. They were Inner Party members. Besides, they were
far older men than I was. They belonged to the old days, before the
Revolution. I barely knew them by sight.’

‘Then what was there to worry about? People are being killed off all the
time, aren’t they?’

He tried to make her understand. ‘This was an exceptional case. It wasn’t
just a question of somebody being killed. Do you realize that the past,
starting from yesterday, has been actually abolished? If it survives
anywhere, it’s in a few solid objects with no words attached to them, like
that lump of glass there. Already we know almost literally nothing about
the Revolution and the years before the Revolution. Every record has been
destroyed or falsified, every book has been rewritten, every picture has
been repainted, every statue and street and building has been renamed,
every date has been altered. And that process is continuing day by day and
minute by minute. History has stopped. Nothing exists except an endless
present in which the Party is always right. I know, of course, that the
past is falsified, but it would never be possible for me to prove it, even
when I did the falsification myself. After the thing is done, no evidence
ever remains. The only evidence is inside my own mind, and I don’t know
with any certainty that any other human being shares my memories. Just in
that one instance, in my whole life, I did possess actual concrete evidence
after the event — years after it.’

‘And what good was that?’

‘It was no good, because I threw it away a few minutes later. But if the
same thing happened today, I should keep it.’

‘Well, I wouldn’t!’ said Julia. ‘I’m quite ready to take risks, but only
for something worth while, not for bits of old newspaper. What could you
have done with it even if you had kept it?’

‘Not much, perhaps. But it was evidence. It might have planted a few doubts
here and there, supposing that I’d dared to show it to anybody. I don’t
imagine that we can alter anything in our own lifetime. But one can imagine
little knots of resistance springing up here and there — small groups of
people banding themselves together, and gradually growing, and even leaving
a few records behind, so that the next generations can carry on where we
leave off.’

 

Trump notes some were protesting the removal of a Robert E. Lee statue and asks: Whose statue is next?

Intolerance will not be tolerated.

President Trump took heat for at first saying many sides were responsible for the violence in Charlottesville, Va., but coming out the next day and condemning Nazis and white supremacists did nothing to placate his critics. Today he was back to blaming both sides.

“I think there is blame on both sides,” Trump said today during a press conference that sounded more like a shouting match with reporters.
“What about the ‘alt-left’ that came charging at, as you say, the ‘alt-right,’ do they have any semblance of guilt?” Trump asked, according to CNN Politics. “What about the fact they came charging with clubs in hands, swinging clubs, do they have any problem? I think they do.”
He added: “You had a group on one side that was bad and you had a group on the other side that was also very violent. nobody wants to say it, but I will say it right now.”
He also noted that many of the protesters were not racists but were simply protesting the planned removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee — though the media consistently and indiscriminately labeled them all as white nationalists. He then asked whose statues would be removed next, suggesting those of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson might be targeted because they were both slave owners.
Identity politics — which assumes that everyone with a similar complexion, gender, gender identity, genetic composition and age all think alike — continues to divide Americans, when instead we should be recognizing that everyone is an individual with a wide spectrum of beliefs and ideas. Everyone must be shoved into a pigeon hole. No diversity of thought allowed. No heresy may be uttered.

A person described as a counter protester throws a newspaper rack at a person described as a white nationalist, though how those identities were determined is not stated. (AP pix)

Newspaper throws stones at liberal East Coast media

The Las Vegas Vegas newspaper carried a front page story in its Sunday edition that criticized The New York Times and The Washington Post for largely ignoring the story of five Pakistani-born congressional informational technology employees suspected by Capitol Police of violating security policies.

“Unlike the Trump Russian scandal, however, The Washington Post and The New York Times have barely reported on the story, which has conservatives observing — with President Donald Trump’s Twitter account concurring — that the mainstream media have a double standard,” the story, which carries a slug calling it an analysis, reports.

 

Up until Sunday, the local paper had itself carried only two mentions in print of the main character in the story, Imran Awan. One was a Washington Post story about Trump’s twitter posts that mentioned a Trump tweet about Awan. Another was a brief that reported Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the former Democratic National Committee chairwoman, had finally fired Awan after his arrest at Dulles Airport as he was about to board a flight to Pakistan after wiring nearly $300,000 there. Some of that money was suspected of being the proceeds of bank fraud.

In the past month alone the paper appears to have carried a dozen accounts that contain the words Russia, Trump and collusion.

After reporting that the five suspects — four members of the same family and a friend of the family — had been paid $4 million over the past dozen years, “three times higher than the norm for a government contractor,” the analysis scolded:

“There is enough smoke to this story to merit intense news coverage. Yet, The Washington Post, the federal government’s hometown paper, had published only two stories on the Awan saga as of Tuesday, when the Post ran an explainer that looked at the story through two lenses — one conservative, one liberal.”

The analysis concludes with this observation: “It is impossible not to see a double standard. The Democrats’ IT guys enjoy the presumption of innocence. And that would be OK, if big beltway media showed the president the same courtesy.”

Those who live in glass houses …

Debbie Wassermann Schultz (AP pix via WSJ)

 

Editorial: Here’s another chance to repeal the Commerce Tax

In 2014 Nevada voters rejected by 79 percent to 21 percent a proposed margins tax, effectively an income tax on state businesses. Despite this unequivocal rejection at the ballot box, lawmakers a few short months later passed a similar, though currently somewhat smaller, tax called the Commerce Tax.

The Commerce Tax passed with a two-thirds majority in the Republican-controlled Assembly and Senate and was signed by a Republican governor.

In 2016 a group called RIP Commerce Tax filed an initiative petition to place repeal of the Commerce Tax on the 2016 ballot, but the effort stalled when, with only a month left until the deadline for gathering signatures, the courts ruled the wording of the petition failed to sufficiently warn voters that a tax repeal would unbalance the state budget — like that would come as a startling development to anyone.

This past week the same group, this time with a new moniker, Repeal the Commerce Tax, filed another petition, fixing the wording to satisfy the courts, and plans to begin gathering signatures.

The group is still headed by state Controller Ron Knecht, as president, and former Las Vegas City Councilman and state Sen. Bob Beers, as secretary-treasurer.

Knecht noted the group has started its petition drive earlier in order to allow for expected legal challenges. He said their lawyers advised them to use exactly the language the courts told them to use the last time.

“Essentially, we are saying here’s what the Legislature passed, do you all agree?” Knecht said in a recent interview. “Do you want to vote for it or against it. If you vote for it, you get the Commerce Tax. You vote against it, you repeal the Commerce Tax. You have the final word.”

The petition includes the entire text of the Commerce Tax law as well as a 200-word description of effect that mirrors the courts instruction to explain the impact repeal would have on the state budget. “They said use exactly what the two courts said and that’s what we did,” Knecht said. “That should make the description of effect pretty much bullet proof.”

By the time the Nevada Supreme Court ruled in 2015, the RIP Commerce Tax had already gathered 20,000 signatures of the 55,000 needed, but they had only a month left to gather signatures, and those 20,000 were ruled invalid.

Knecht said this time the group has joined with Americans for Prosperity for assistance in gathering signatures.

“It is true we have to gather twice as many signatures this time due to turnout in the two elections,” he noted. Petitioners must collect signatures equal to 10 percent of the total votes cast in the most recent general election in each of the state’s four Congressional Districts.

Because the 2016 election was a presidential one and twice as many votes were cast than in 2014, Knecht said the group must gather 112,000 signatures — 28,000 in each Congressional District — but they plan to gather 160,000 signatures to allow for signers who might not be qualified.

“Once the thing gets onto the ballot, the issue is going to be real simple: One, this is about jobs,” Knecht said. “The Commerce Tax is a job destroyer. Repealing it will be a real help. And, secondly, for all those people who think, oh, this is just about corporate taxes and fleecing the millionaires and billionaires, et cetera. Well, you’re wrong. As economists have proven many times over, business doesn’t pay tax, it collects it from its customers. This is about jobs and the burden on Nevada families and businesses.”

According to the petition’s new description of effect, the Commerce Tax is expected to generate about $102 million in the coming fiscal year, which Knecht noted is only about 1 percent of the state’s total revenues. The description notes that such a shortfall can be offset by cutting spending, drawing down the state rainy day fund, raising other taxes or some combination. Somehow the state managed to survive when the recession axed the state revenues by $536 million from 2008 to 2009.

The Commerce Tax imposes a gross receipts tax on all businesses grossing more than $4 million a year. It has different tax tables for 27 different industries — ranging from a low of 0.056 percent for mining to a high of 0.362 percent for rail transportation in 67 different levels of revenue. Those rates could easily be increased.

We urge Nevadans to sign the petition and to vote to repeal this end run on the state’s constitutional ban on an income tax.

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.

Controller Ron Knecht, left, talks to attorney Craig Mueller during a 2016 court hearing on an effort to repeal the Commerce Tax. (R-J pix)

Bunkerville defendant kicked off the witness stand by judge for, well, defending himself

First Amendment area cordoned off by BLM.

The judge in the trial of four defendants in the 2014 Bunkerville standoff with BLM agents attempting to confiscate rancher Cliven Bundy’s cattle has made it clear she will not allow a defense based on First or Second Amendment rights or claims that BLM misbehavior provoked the protest.

On Thursday she cut short the testimony of defendant Eric Parker after he tried to mention in his defense testimony a “First Amendment area” the BLM had set up to isolate protesters — an area that Gov. Brian Sandoval said “tramples upon Nevadans’ fundamental rights under the U.S. Constitution” — and attempted to mention where a BLM sniper was positioned.

BLM snipers?

The judge told Parker to step down without completing his testimony.  Reportedly there will be no cross examination and no jury questions.

Now, if Parker can’t even mention the First or Second Amendment, can he mention the Sixth?

You know, the one that guarantees the right to a speedy and public trial, rather than one that takes place a year and a half after an arrest; the one that guarantees an impartial jury, rather than one stacked by the prosecution to remove anyone who has ever even heard the phrase “jury nullification”; the one that guarantees the right to obtain witnesses in his favor, rather than having witnesses testify without the jury present, as happened earlier in the week.

This is the text of the Sixth Amendment:

In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense.

No need to mention the Eighth’s prohibition against excessive bail and cruel and unusual punishment, nor the Fifth’s double jeopardy clause since the first trial ended in a hung jury, probably due to all that nonsense about constitutional rights to free speech, assembly and bearing arms that this jury will not hear.

Protesters outside courthouse. (R-J pix)

 

 

Newspaper column: Rural groundwater grab gets federal court hearing

If whiskey is for drinking and water is for fighting, this fight has gone on for 28 years and the combatants are still flailing madly.

In 1989 the agency that is now the Southern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA) filed paperwork with the state engineer to lay claim to 589,000 acre-feet of groundwater in central Nevada — primarily White Pine, Lincoln and Nye counties — that would be tapped with a 300-mile, $1.5 billion pipeline from near Ely to Las Vegas.

The litigation and hearings and debates began immediately. Since then the amount of water sought has been trimmed to 84,000 acre-feet while the price tag on the pipeline has grown to an estimated $15 billion.

Three years ago several counties and groups filed lawsuits in federal court seeking to block the water grab, claiming the federal land agencies had failed to properly evaluate the environmental damage and follow the law. The lawsuits claimed the Interior Department and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) violated the National Environmental Policy Act and the Federal Land Policy and Management Act in approving the groundwater project.

This past week in a Las Vegas courtroom federal Judge Andrew Gordon heard nearly two hours of oral arguments from both sides seeking summary judgment.

“The proposed pumping would amount to a devastating groundwater mining project, under which the groundwater system would not even begin to approach equilibrium for thousands of years, with the potential of never reaching equilibrium,” the original suit by the counties claimed.

Judge Gordon noted that in the three years since then the two sides have have filed thousands of pages of briefs.

Attorney Simeon Herskovits, representing the counties, the Great Basin Water Network and other parties, argued that the federal agencies had failed to consider the impact of the whole project on the environment and the aquifer, but had taken a tiered approach, looking at the impact of each well as it comes online. He noted the objective is for the recharge of the aquifer to equal the draw down by the SNWA wells, but he argued that is not possible.

Herskovits argued that the wells would drop the water table to the point that wetlands and springs would dry up and affect several endangered species that depend on them.

At times the arguments seemed to parallel those that have already taken place in state court: Is it even possible to predict the wells’ effects and mitigate those effects at some future point?

In 2013 state Senior Judge Robert Estes ruled that State Engineer Jason King had the authority to approve the transfer of water from Spring, Cave, Dry Lake and Delarmar valleys to Las Vegas, but had failed to establish objective criteria for just when mitigation — such as halting pumping — would have to be initiated.

But in this past week’s federal suit an attorney representing the BLM, Luther Hajek, noted the job of the BLM is to issue the permit for the pipeline across public lands, while it is up to the state engineer to decide if the water is available.

Judge Gordon questioned the attorney about the BLM’s duty to assess potential degradation and asked whether the BLM had buried that question in paperwork without really analyzing.

SNWA’s attorney, Hadassah Reimer, argued that the plaintiffs were second guessing Southern Nevada officials who had determined a need to diversify Clark County’s water portfolio, because it draws 90 percent of its water from a dwindling Lake Mead.

The state engineer has scheduled hearings for the end of September on the court-ordered review of mitigation standards. Judge Gordon said he will rule on the motions for summary judgment before then.

Buoying the plaintiffs’ arguments is a 2014 study by the U.S. Geological Survey.

Because of the magnitude of the project and the interconnected nature of groundwater basins in the region, there have been concerns that new pumping will threaten the wetlands and ranches that rely upon them, said Melissa Masbruch, USGS scientist and lead author of the study.

The study calculated all the current groundwater recharge from various sources, including precipitation, unconsumed irrigation and inflow from other aquifers and found that the valley groundwater receives about 175,000 acre-feet. But when all of the current outflow is added up — wells, springs, streams and outflow to other aquifers— it is almost precisely the same amount of water — equilibrium.

More wells would upset the balance.

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.

Protesters oppose Clark County taking rural Nevada groundwater.

‘Just give me the warm power of the sun …’ it’s all the same

Generic pix accompanying story about new solar power plant.

If all else fails, read the instructions.

The morning paper carried a story today about a proposal to build a solar powered electrical generation facility near Tonopah. The online version carries a generic pix of solar panels, though the story says the plant will have “eight solar towers.”

The story does not say the plant will be a solar thermal plant, using molten salt like the Crescent Dunes plant.

But an online posting about the new Sandstone Solar Energy facility carries a rendering.

Rendering of proposed Sandstone Solar Energy plant.