Reflecting on the strangeness and futility of 2015 in news and blogging

Everybody does their top 10 stories of the year — or bottom 10 in the case of one columnist I know — as a way to fill otherwise empty space during a slow news period between Christmas and New Year. I think I started the practice at the Las Vegas newspaper 15 or 20 years ago, but it has been going on so long it seems as if it were always a year-ending feature.

In that fine tradition, I thought I would reflect on some of the strange events perpetrated by strange people over the past year as recounted in this patch of the ether.

January: Speaking of superlatives, Nevada started 2015 by having its governor named the worst Republican governor in the nation by the business newspaper Investor’s Business Daily.

“Wasn’t this supposed to be the year Republican governors showcase innovative, pro-growth economic reforms?” IBD asked. “Brian Sandoval apparently didn’t get the memo.”

Brian Sandoval (R-J photo)

The paper pointed out this will be the third time Sandoval has raised taxes, after repeated promises to not do so.

IBD also pointed out that Sandoval is the same governor who handed billionaire Elon Musk a 20-year, $1.25 billion corporate welfare subsidy for his Tesla battery plant. “We wondered then who would pay for this golden handshake. Now we know,” the editorial commented.

IBD also said Sandoval can now be struck from any list for potential national office.

February: The Nevada Supreme Court further strangled free speech in Nevada by making the right decision but for the wrong reason.

In the case of Citizen Outreach vs. State, the court ruled 5-2 that the organization did not violate a 1997 law requiring those who engage in express advocacy to file paperwork with the secretary of state’s office revealing donors and expenditures.

Nevada Supreme Court (R-J photo)

The ruling states, “Because it is undisputed that Citizen Outreach’s flyers do not contain magic words of express advocacy, the flyers were not subject to regulation under Nevada’s campaign practices statutes that were effective in 2010.”

The problem is that in 2011 the Legislature rewrote the law so that it now states that express advocacy “means that a communication, taken as a whole, is susceptible to no other reasonable interpretation other than as an appeal to vote for or against a clearly identified candidate.”

Both the 1997 and the 2011 laws blatantly violate both the First Amendment and the Nevada Constitution because they are not “content neutral” and address no “compelling government interest.”

Article 1, Section 9 of the Nevada Constitution states: “Every citizen may freely speak, write and publish his sentiments on all subjects being responsible for the abuse of that right; and no law shall be passed to restrain or abridge the liberty of speech or of the press.”

This law clearly restrains and abridges.

March: Being Harry Reid means never having to say you are sorry.

Reid not only is calling the whistleblowers who complained to the inspector general of the Department of Homeland Security about his meddling in decisions about whether to expedite visas to foreign investors in a Las Vegas hotel casino whiners but bragged that he would do it all over again.

“One of the problems we have with government … is people take too long to make decisions,” Reid is quoted as saying.

Harry Reid (Screen grab from YouTube)

In this case, the decision had been made, and it was: No, the visas would not be expedited and the urgency was one created by the hotel-casino, not by the government, according to the IG report. The Washington Times reported at the time that Homeland Security had denied visas for some of those investors from Asia because of “suspicious financial activity.” That decision was ineligible for appeal.

Reid personally called Alejandro Mayorkas, the head of immigration services at the time, and demanded the visas be expedited and that his staff be given a weekly update. Mayorkas did so. He since has been promoted to the No. 2 post at Homeland Security, even though his nomination did not get the 60 votes that would have been needed before Harry nuked the filibuster.

Reid neglects to mention that at the time of his intersession his son Rory’s law firm was representing the company in question, SLS, formerly the Sahara.

The U.S. Senate Code of Official Conduct permits members to assist people with executive branch agencies, but it also says:

“The decision to provide assistance to petitioners may not be made on the basis of contributions or services, or promises of contributions or services, to the Member’s political campaigns or to other organizations in which the Member has a political, personal, or financial interest.”

April: One of the most overused phrases in the English language is: There ought to be a law.

There ought to be common sense, but these days that seems entirely uncommon.

Perhaps that is why Assemblywoman Vicki Dooling believed it necessary to introduce Assembly Bill 375, which would have enacted into state law the dictate that public school facilities — such as restrooms, locker rooms and showers — designed for gender segregation be used only by persons of the designated biological gender.

The bill was being pushed by Karen England, executive director of Capitol Resource Family Alliance, who said she discovered that two Nevada school districts — Clark and Washoe — had been contemplating adopting school policies that were basically cut and pasted from an online model policy by the National Center for Transgender Equality.

The model policy states: “Students shall have access to all restrooms that correspond to their gender identity consistently asserted at school.”

AB375 was killed. Instead the lawmakers later passed Senate Bill 504 under the guise of it being an anti-bullying law. This law prohibits “blocking access” to “any property or facility of a school” on the basis of sex, gender identity or expression. That includes gender segregated restrooms and locker rooms.

The law has already created a problem in Elko.

May: The battle between NV Energy and solar panel installers that ended recently in a Public Utilities Commission ruling that has the potential to end the business rooftop solar installing was foreseen in May.

Have you ever watched pigs nudging each other out of the way attempting to see which one can get its snout deepest into the slop trough?

We saw in May a sort of pork scrum at the Legislature in Carson City between the state’s biggest monopoly electric utility and those who install rooftop solar panels that are only profitable due to ratepayer subsidies and tax breaks and government handouts.

The taxpayers get left holding the bag no matter who wins.

Two years ago taxpayers shelled out $1.2 million to entice billionaire Elon Musk to open an office for his SolarCity company in Nevada. SolarCity is one of those firms that installs rooftop solar panels.

Residences and businesses that install solar panels contract with billionaire Warren Buffett’s NV Energy under a net metering program. Any excess power they generate goes onto the grid and each kilowatt-hour uploaded is deducted from that month’s bill at the retail rate — or was.

NV Energy, which in the previous Legislature convinced lawmakers to require the closure of all its coal-fired plants and foist all of the cost for doing so and building new renewable and gas-fired generation onto ratepayers, doesn’t like paying retail for power.

After paying SolarCity to open here, will it have to close? It recently announced it will.

June: You’ve got to love a good newspaper spat, especially one that goes back decades.

One day in June the Las Vegas Review-Journal had a story about how a few teenagers in 1967 hoaxed the Las Vegas Sun with a Polaroid “UFO” photo that was actually a hubcap tossed into the air.

The June R-J story also noted that it was the R-J that corrected the hoax the next day:

On June 14, 1967, a mere 24 hours after the hoax had gone as viral as something could go in the ’60s, the Las Vegas Review-Journal ended it.

“The mysterious flying ship ‘scouting’ Las Vegas Monday night turned out to be a hubcap, sources close to the ‘ship’ revealed Tuesday afternoon,” the lede read.

But over in the Sun section, Brian Greenspun reprinted the second of three columns from the era of the hoax by his father Hank Greenspun. The intro by Brian includes this dig at the R-J:

The first two columns talk about the building of the MGM Hotel (now Bally’s) and the third discusses allegations of mob association that existed only in the small minds of some hoodlums and on the pages of the other newspaper in Las Vegas.

I wondered at the time whether the third installment would mention that in 1947 Greenspun was hired by mobster Bugsy Siegel as publicist for his Flamingo Hotel or that  Greenspun wrote a column called “Flamingo Chatter” for the R-J?

Of course, I must plead guilty to having tweaked the upturned Greenspun nose a time or two myself.

July: What do you call a country in which one person has the power to dictate to local elected officials how land within their jurisdiction may be used or not used?

Dictatorship?

With the proverbial stroke of his oft-bragged-about pen one day in July President Obama singlehandedly created a 700,000-acre Basin and Range National Monument in the Coal and Garden valleys in Lincoln and Nye counties, even though most local officials oppose it.

Basin and Range National Monument

Congressman Cresent Hardy, whose district includes the new monument, complained about the arbitrary decision made as a sop to lame duck Nevada Sen. Harry Reid.

“We need to be sure local communities don’t have their concerns ignored by politicians eager to leave a legacy or pull favors for their friends by setting aside huge tracts of land,” Hardy said in a statement. “Nevada’s rural county economies are particularly sensitive, and any decisions that affect ranching, recreation or other types of land use activities should have as much local input as possible … but at the moment, they do not. Legacy building in the twilight of one’s career shouldn’t be the driver of our nation’s public land management.”

Congressman Mark Amodei, who represents northern rural Nevada, said in an interview, “One of the paybacks for Senator Reid being one of the administration’s backstops for six of their eight years is the monument thing. … Why the hell can’t you go through the public process?”

Sources confirmed Reid’s role to the Washington Post: “It is only due to Harry Reid that this is getting done.” When told it was controversial in Nevada, Obama replied, “I don’t care. I want this done.”

“President Obama often says ‘we are stronger as a nation when we work together.’ Apparently that rule does not apply to public lands issues when it involves his political allies,” said Southern Nevada Rep. Joe Heck. “The Basin and Range Monument designation goes well beyond the intention of the Antiquities Act which limits parcels reserved by the President to the ‘smallest area compatible with the proper care and management of the objects to be protected.’ It is beyond belief that an area larger than the state of Rhode Island is the smallest area compatible with proper care and management of this land.”

August: Many of the news stories in August about the ACLU suing to block implementation of Nevada’s education savings accounts (ESAs) mentioned that such accounts were declared unconstitutional in Colorado. Like Nevada, Colorado’s state constitution includes a Blaine Amendment prohibiting the use of tax money for secular purposes.

Few stories bothered to mention that Arizona also has a Blaine Amendment in its constitution, but the Arizona Court of Appeals upheld Arizona’s ESAs two years ago.

That court found that ESAs were neutral toward religion by leaving spending decisions to parents, not the state:

The ESA does not result in an appropriation of public money to encourage the preference of one religion over another, or religion per se over no religion. Any aid to religious schools would be a result of the genuine and independent private choices of the parents. The parents are given numerous ways in which they can educate their children suited to the needs of each child with no preference given to religious or nonreligious schools or programs.

Yet the morning Las Vegas newspaper quotes Tod Story, executive director for the ACLU of Nevada, as saying, “The education savings account law passed this last legislative session tears down the wall separating church and state erected in Nevada’s constitution.”

Patricia Levesque, CEO of the Foundation for Excellence in Education, said of the ACLU suit, “It is ironic that the ACLU pledges itself to ‘defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person. … Yet today the ACLU opposes giving every parent in Nevada the right to decide where his or her child goes to school. There is no more fundamental right in this country than trying to create a better life for your child.”

September: Who could have seen this coming?

NV Energy, the monopoly power company that serves most of Nevada, in September proposed to end a contract to buy electricity from an independent generating company that provided peak power with gas-fired plants and instead build its own gas-fired plant.

NV Energy is allowed to pass through costs of power it purchases, but it gets a rate of return on equity — the plants and power lines it owns — of about 10 percent.

Mark Garrett, an energy consultant working with MGM Resorts, said of the proposal, “It should be looking for ways to lower rates, not raise them.” He estimated the new plant could increase ratepayer costs $70 million per year.

NV Energy gas-fired power plant.

Back in 2013 when the Legislature passed a bill to close all NV Energy coal-fired plants, 4TH ST8 quoted Dan Jacobsen of the attorney general’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, which represents ratepayer interests at the Public Utilities Commission, as saying, “In addition to replacing about 1,000 megawatts of coal capacity, the bill also would be replacing a very large amount of power purchase agreements right now that ratepayers don’t have to provide a return on.”

Precisely what was happening in September.

“There are power purchase agreements that are pretty helpful in covering peak load but not having to be purchased at times when there isn’t a peak load,” Jacobsen noted in 2013. “That’s a pretty good mix at times for Nevada with extreme heat in the summer that doesn’t last more than about three months.”

Then Jacobsen addressed the most glaring flaw in the bill: Its decades-long, Soviet-style central planning. “I hope you have an appreciation for the difficult, long-range  decision you are being asked to make in this bill,” Jacobsen said. “Step back and think about it for a minute, you’re being asked right now, based on information you have right now, to make a decision that, for example, in the year 2025 the right thing to do is to build a 500-megawatt natural gas plant.

“That’s 12 years from now. Technology can change a lot in 12 years. The demand projection can change a lot. The wholesale market can change a lot. Efficiency options can change a lot. But this bill says to you: Please mandate the right thing to do 12 years from now is to build a 500-megawatt natural gas plant. That’s quite a challenge for you as a policy makers to make.”

The previous time the power company was given carte blanche to build power plants and begin to recover costs immediately, even before any review by state regulators, was in the 1980s. That was because the company needed new power supplies — from coal-fired plants.

October: Whatever befalls you, sue.

According to a Courthouse News account in October, Harry Reid is suing the maker of the elastic exercise band he was using when he had an accident in the bathroom of his Henderson home on New Year’s Day. The accident left him blind in his right eye.

Reid injured

The suit was filed in state court in Clark County by James M. Morgan of Lanzone Morgan, a firm that specializes in cases of elder abuse. Reid, D-Tort Bar, is 75.

The suit, get this, says, “The TheraBand was mounted to a sturdy object in his bathroom. While in use, the TheraBand broke or slipped out of Mr. Reid’s hand, causing him to spin around and strike his face on a cabinet.” Which is it? Broke or slipped? If it broke, surely there would be two pieces, right?

The Nevada senator and Senate minority leader at first told reporters the band broke but later changed his story, saying the band slipped.

“Reid says he suffered severe pain and injuries as a result of the mishap, including broken ribs and orbital bones, severe disfigurement, facial lacerations and bruising, a concussion, scarring and loss of vision in his right eye,” the story recounts. It goes on to say that Reid said the maker of the band did not include warnings that the band might break or to use a safer design.

Reid announced earlier this year he will not be seeking re-election in 2016. He has a net worth of $10 million.

Reid’s suit accuses the elastic band maker of failing “to warn consumers and learned intermediaries of the danger of the bands’ likelihood of breaking and of causing injuries to the elderly …”

The company will probably settle in secret and pay Reid and his lawyers some undisclosed settlement payment, but it would be nice to see some company have the brass to fight such suits claiming product users were not warned of potential mishaps that any rational person could have anticipated.

November: The Las Vegas newspaper on a Wednesday afternoon in November reported online that Gov. Brian Sandoval had announced that Nevada counties will receive a combined $1.9 million (actually $1.98 million) more in payment in lieu of taxes or PILT. This would bring this year’s total to about $25 million.

“PILT payments provide local governments with the necessary funds to pay for critical infrastructure needs in cities and towns across Nevada,” the paper quoted Sandoval’s statement as saying. “Additionally it allows local leaders to prepare to meet the demands of our growing communities.”

Brian Sandoval (R-J photo)

Sandoval’s statement is also posted online.

Neither the governor’s statement, nor the newspaper account bothered to point out that even with the additional money — approved in the recent budget talks — the PILT payments are still less than was doled out in 2014, when the state got $25.4 million in PILT. With the added funds Nevada will get a total of $25.24 million this year.

“I would like to thank the members of our Congressional delegation for their hard work in securing this additional money. I would also like to recognize the Department of the Interior for fulfilling its obligation to compensate local communities for the land owned by the federal government in Nevada,” Sandoval’s online statement says.

Yes, thanks a lot. Before the additional $2 million, Nevada’s powerful minority leader of the Senate brought home the bacon for Nevada counties by providing 41 cents per acre in PILT, while California raked in 96 cents per acre, Arizona got $1.13, New Mexico fetched $1.54 and Utah’s share was $1.05.

And pay no attention to the fact the Interior Department collects about $14 billion in revenue annually from commercial activities on federal lands, such as oil and gas leasing, livestock grazing and timber harvesting, before sending the states a paltry $439 million.

Never let the facts get in the way of a good pat on the back.

December: We are definitely inside the rabbit hole now.

Both Las Vegas “newspapers” one day in December reported that the man who announced the sale of the Las Vegas Review-Journal to a new company called News + Media may be the pseudonymous writer of a lengthy article in a small Connecticut newspaper that criticized a Clark County judge who is handling a civil case involving casino owner Sheldon Adelson, the once secret money behind the newspaper purchase.

I said it was a rabbit hole. The swirl of ethical mishops is enough to boggle the mind.

Michael Schroeder, AKA Edward Clarkin? (R-J photo)

The R-J reported Michael E. Schroeder, the man described as manager of News + Media Capital Group when the purchase was announced, is probably the person behind the Edward Clarkin byline on the aforementioned article.

The brief story reported that Schroeder’s middle name is Edward, and California marriage records show his father, Clarence J. Schroeder, married Karen A. Clarkin in 1957. Schroeder was born in the following year, the paper says.

Meanwhile, back in the Las Vegas Sun insert, a lengthy story on this topic recounts that “there is compelling circumstantial evidence that ‘Edward Clarkin’ is a pseudonym used by Schroeder. The publisher’s middle name is Edward, and his Facebook page at one time identified his mother as Karen Clarkin Carey. That reference was removed from the page, but the Facebook page for Karen Clarkin Carey contained a photo of Carey with Schroeder.”

What makes the Clarkin tale doubly dubious is that weeks before the R-J was purchased three of its reporters were assigned to shadow three judges for two weeks and report on their activity. One of those judges was Elizabeth Gonzalez, who is presiding over an Adelson lawsuit and who has fined his company failing to disclose evidence.

No story was ever published and no one in the newsroom was told who picked Gonzalez for scrutiny or why.

The Sun reports, “Mark Fabiani, a San Diego attorney retained by the new owners in the days after the sale, said Wednesday that Schroeder would not have a management role. He was retained as an adviser during the purchase and helped conduct due diligence, Fabiani said.”

Then on Wednesday the R-J published a front-page missive under the hed “A message from the new owners about the future of the Las Vegas Review-Journal,” which pledged to publish “a newspaper that is fair, unbiased and accurate.”

There was a short sidebar announcing that editor Michael Hengel had accepted a buyout that said, “Hengel described his decision to leave as ‘mutual’ and said he did not believe he was forced out.”

However, the Los Angeles Times reported in a lengthy article on the shenanigans at the R-J that in an interview Hengel told them he first learned of his acceptance of the buyout when someone from the paper read the aforementioned front-page editorial to him over the telephone.

Fair, unbiased and accurate?

Well, at least it keeps the strangeness factor going into 2016.

———————

This blog in 2015: There were about 470 postings on this blog garnering 110,000 views and more than 7,000 comments — the most frequent commenters were Rincon, HFB, Patrick, Winston Smith and Barbara. The most commented on posting, more than 160 comments, was “The problem is that we think we can solve every problem with a government program.”

More than 10 percent of the postings were copies of freelance newspaper columns and editorials printed in several rural Nevada papers.

More than 1,400 views came on the day I wrote about the fourth anniversary of being summarily canned from a 40-plus-year career as a newspaper editor — without explanation, without rationale, without apology, apparently on a whim — torn like a page from a reporter’s notebook, crumpled and tossed in the trash. That’s ephemera for you.

Small solace: There have been a lot of whims since. Apparently a lot of people empathized or dreaded the whim themselves.

Who wants yesterday’s papers, Mick? Nobody in the world.

I’m living a life of constant change
Every day means the turn of a page
Yesterdays papers are such bad news
Same thing applies to me and you

 

Advertisements

10 comments on “Reflecting on the strangeness and futility of 2015 in news and blogging

  1. Connie Foust says:

    A great synopsis of the year, missing Faraday however. I always enjoy your posts, don’t comment often but usually agree. Have a Happy New Year.

  2. Happy New Year, y’all.

  3. Steve says:

    2015….
    Well, at least we didn’t have to hear about Honey Boo Boo over and over and over and over and over…..

    Wishing all a good 2016….good riddance, 2015.

  4. That’s what Dave Barry said.

  5. Steve says:

    I was thinking about it, when the wife was watching Dr. Phil the other day. Then I read the Dave Barry piece…couldn’t say it any better.

  6. Nyp and Steve missed that list?

  7. Hard to believe. I’m going by the wordpress stats.

  8. Winston Smith says:

    Tom, thanks for giving us a place to hang out and philosophize, or at least cross friendly swords with a few who disagree with you.

    BTW, I’m surprised DARPA didn’t make the top 5 🙂

    Happy New Year everybody!

  9. Barbara says:

    I also am surprised I made the list over Nyp and Steve. I have sorely missed the editorials and reporting of the old RJ. Looking forward to 2016 and the election of a new President. Happy New Year everyone!

  10. iShrug says:

    We have had a busy 2015 here in Nevada! Thanks for chronicling the events and summarizing by the month. I much enjoy reading your posts, and look forward to your take in 2016.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s