Newspaper column: Too many willing to forgo First Amendment rights

Here is proof positive that ignorance is hazardous to freedom.

The Freedom Forum’s 2018 First Amendment survey, conducted in May and June, asked 1,009 Americans to name the five freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment. Only one person could name all five. One out of more than 1,000.

But perhaps the most telling aspect of the survey was when knowledge of the First Amendment was compared to a willingness to have the government censor social media online. Fully 63 percent of those who could name not a single First Amendment right agreed the government should censor speech, while 87 percent of those who could name four freedoms disagreed.

The more rights one could name, the more those people balked at government censorship. The curve of ignorance runs counter to the curve of freedom.

Knowledge is power and ignorance is hazardous.

Even more scary is the fact that ignorance is rampant. Fully 76 percent of those surveyed could name none or only one First Amendment right — meaning that if such a censorship scheme were put to a vote it just might win.

As for political party affiliation, 54 percent of Democrats agreed with government censorship compared with 47 percent of Republicans.

For the record, the First Amendment states: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

We’ve been writing about this annual survey with considerable angst for two decades and things have gone downhill since. In 1997, the first year of the survey, 2 percent of those questioned could name all five rights.

Somewhat ironically, considering the considerable willingness to renege on it, the one First Amendment right a simple majority, 56 percent, could name was freedom of speech. Only 15 percent could recall freedom of religion. A mere 13 percent could think of freedom of the press, while right of assembly garnered only 12 percent and right of petition a paltry 2 percent. Fully 9 percent thought the Second Amendment right to bear arms was in the First.

Another disturbing finding in the survey is the willingness of Americans to silence someone merely because someone might be offended. When asked whether public universities should be able to retract invitations to controversial speakers if their remarks would offend some groups or even individuals, 42 percent agreed. If the appearance might provoke protests, 51 percent would withdraw the invitation. And if it might incite violence, 70 would cancel — the hooligan’s veto.

“It’s a little disquieting that 4 in 10 believe that public universities should be able to cancel a speaker if he or she might offend ‘individuals.’ In these polarized times, it’s difficult to conceive of anyone speaking on any topic without offending someone,” commented Ken Paulson, president of the Freedom Forum Institute’s First Amendment Center and dean of the College of Media and Entertainment at Middle Tennessee State University.

“That finding — along with majority support for cancelling speakers if a protest is likely — suggests there is significant public support for keeping controversial ideas off college campuses,” Paulson continues. “This begs the question: If a public institution dedicated to the sharing of knowledge and ideas is the wrong place for controversial thoughts, what is the appropriate venue?”

On a more positive note, 74 percent of survey respondents agreed that it is important that the news media act as a watchdog on the government, up from only 68 percent in 2017.

David L. Hudson, Jr. — author, co-author or co-editor of more than 40 books, including “First Amendment: Freedom of Speech” — noted that politicians have long extolled and excoriated the role of the press.

Though President Obama praised “a tough and vibrant media,” President Trump has called some members of the press “enemies of the people” and purveyors of “fake news.”

“The most encouraging part of the 2018 State of the First Amendment survey is the public’s embrace of the ideal of the media serving as the watchdog of a free society,” Hudson writes. “The American public recognizes the essential importance of a vibrant and free press to serve the interests of the public as a check against government.”

But for how long?

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.

Citing the Founders as champions of the press may not hold up under scrutiny

The Las Vegas Sun joined with an estimated 200 other newspapers today to collude in an attack on President Trump for attacking the press with an editorial under the headline: “Take it from the Founding Fathers: Journalists are Public Ally No. 1.”

The editorialist pontificates: “For Trump to suggest these professionals are un-American is highly offensive. These are individuals who believe passionately that well-informed citizens are the lifeblood of our democracy and that the media’s role is to provide the information those citizens need. You also won’t find a group that is more committed to protecting First Amendment freedoms and other liberties.”

There are several references to the Founders.

I wonder what the paper would say about someone who said: “I deplore … the putrid state into which our newspapers have passed and the malignity, the vulgarity, and mendacious spirit of those who write for them …”

Or: “Nothing can now be believed which is seen in a newspaper. Truth itself becomes suspicious by being put into that polluted vehicle. The real extent of this state of misinformation is known only to those who are in situations to confront facts within their knowledge with the lies of the day.”

Or: “As for what is not true, you will always find abundance in the newspapers.”

Those are the words of Founder Thomas Jefferson.

And don’t forget that newspaper editors were arrested during the John Adams administration for sedition.

And pay no heed to the fact Thomas Paine, who once praised George Washington, at the end of his presidency wrote: “Monopolies of every kind marked your administration almost in the moment of its commencement. The lands obtained by the revolution were lavished upon partisans; the interests of the disbanded soldier was sold to the speculator; injustice was acted under the pretence of faith; and the chief of the army became the patron of the fraud.”

More reality on this topic can be found in the book “Infamous Scribblers” by Eric Burns.

Convention authority plays Robin Hood in reverse


The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority Board voted 13-1 Tuesday to give retiring CEO Rossi Ralenkotter a lovely parting gift worth $455,000, according to the morning newspaper. Talk about robbing the poor to give to the rich. Ralenkotter, 71, made $860,000 a year in pay and benefits and will get a taxpayer-funded public employee pension of at least $350,000 a year for the rest of his life.

How any of this lucrative cash out is of any benefit whatsoever to the taxpayers, no one bothered to even try to explain as they manned the shovels and scooped out money.

This was after Ralenkotter spent tax money like a drunken sailor — no offense to drunken sailors — to lavish gifts on unknown persons for unknown reasons, used $17,000 in airline gift cards purchased nefariously by the agency for personal trips and left $50,000 in airline gift cards unaccounted for. Yes, he reimbursed the agency for the gift cards after he was caught red-handed by an audit. The vote came during an hours-long meeting at which Ralenkotter was praised to the rafters for his sterling leadership and accomplishments, all while police officers reportedly investigating his possible misdeeds sat in the back row.


Not that Metro police will ever deign to file charges against the retiring CEO for, you know, taking public funds for personal use, what some might dare to call stealing but not us or Metro, nay, nay, but now there are 13 members of the authority board who might be described as accessories after the fact, complicit, aiding and abetting, turning a blind eye, fiduciarily irresponsible, shirking their duties, flipping off the taxpayers.


Of course, the morning paper is owned by someone who owns a competing convention center, as was dutifully noted in an italic disclaimer at the end of the story. While this might provide motive and explain why this topic has been a banner story for weeks and there have been a few critical editorial — including one today that called the board vote “a shameless disdain for the fiscal standards and practices necessary to maintain the public’s trust” — the facts have yet to be actually, you know, contested.

Errol Flynn would not play this role.








Sun swallows hook, line and sinker

Who didn’t know the Sun would bite for this two-day-old story from The New York Times?

The piece reports “the economy is following the upward trajectory begun under President Barack Obama” — even though the U.S. GDP shrunk in the third and fourth quarters of 2016, dropping from 0.57 in the second quarter to 0.48 in the third and 0.44 in the fourth.

In fact, Investor’s Business Daily points out the same NY Times predicted in January 2017, after the government reported that GDP growth for all 2016 was a mere 1.6 percent, that “President Trump’s target for economic growth just got a little more distant.”

That story further stated:

But however solid, the recovery under President Barack Obama never reached exuberance. It is the second longest recovery in American history but the first in the postwar era in which growth for a full year did not hit 3 percent. …

Upward trajectory, indeed.
The Times was a wet blanket then, but now finds it can — apparently with a straight face — credit Obama for the economic recovery. And the Sun fell for it like a smitten suitor.

Editorial: Modifications to Endangered Species Act overdue

Canadian lynx (USFWS pix via PERC)

It is about time.

A few weeks ago the Interior Department announced proposals to modify the way it enforces the Endangered Species Act of 1973 to make the law a bit less onerous for private businesses and land owners. The agency is currently accepting comments on its proposals.

One of the proposals is to remove the phrase “without reference to possible economic or other impacts of such determination.” Listings of species as endangered or threatened would still be made “solely on the basis of the best scientific and commercial data available.” The change simply allows the public to be informed of potential impacts on the economy.

“Since 1982, Congress has consistently expressed support for informing the public as to the impacts of regulations in subsequent amendments to statutes and executive orders governing the rulemaking process,” the proposal states.

The law currently defines a “threatened species” as “any species which is likely to become endangered within the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of its range.” The proposal is to more specifically define what the “foreseeable future” is on a case-by-case basis. Self-styled environmentalists would define the “foreseeable future” as any remote risk at any time in the future.

The proposal seeks to better define “critical habitat.” In the past the federal land agencies have sought to block such things as farming, grazing, logging, recreational uses and mineral exploration on land deemed “critical habitat” for the dusky gopher frog in Louisiana and the Canadian lynx in Colorado, though neither species had been spied in those areas for decades.

The agency further proposes to better define when, why and how a species might be delisted.

The Property and Environment Research Center, which refers to itself as the home of free market environmentalism, reports that currently 1,623 species are listed under the act, but only 39 species have been determined to be recovered since the law passed, while 11 have become extinct.

The environmentalists rage against the modest changes claiming the law has successfully kept 98 percent of listed species from going extinct, while others focus on the fact only 2 percent have been recovered, largely due to the fact enforcement in the past has only been aimed at blocking human endeavors and little or nothing has been done to actually increase the population.

According to an article in PERC’s magazine, Colorado wildlife agencies took it on their own to reintroduce several endangered fish and the Canadian lynx, both successfully.

“The federal government threatened to sue to stop the state’s recovery efforts, claiming that even possession of endangered species — much less raising them in captivity and reintroducing them into the wild — was prohibited without federal permits,” the magazine reported. “And the government did not want to permit our hatchery or any restocking program.”

When the state threatened to hold press conferences exposing opposition to species recovery efforts, the agency backed down rather than be shown to be hypocritical about “protecting” species.

Republican Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming has a draft bill that would require species recovery plans and give states more leeway in conservation efforts. Democrats are almost universally opposed, apparently preferring to allow nature to take its course, even if that means 98 percent of species remain listed and economic endeavors are blocked in perpetuity.

We support the modest Interior Department changes to the regulatory language, as well as Barrasso’s bill to actually do something about species recovery.

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.


One of these things is not like the other

Two banner stories. Same topic. Different conclusions.

The morning newspaper and its insert both bannered accounts of a police investigation into spending at the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.

The morning paper quoted a letter delivered to the authority by the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police: “At this time, there is insufficient facts to support a criminal case against Mr. Ralenkotter.” It also noted that LVCVA Chairman Lawrence Weekly told board members that police had found “insufficient evidence” to charge CEO Rossi Ralenkotter, but he failed to mention the letter’s “at this time” qualifier.

The insert flatly stated that Ralenkotter was cleared and quoted Weekly as saying, “This afternoon I received word from the Las Vegas Metro Police Department that they have found insufficient evidence to proceed with any criminal charges against Mr. Ralenkotter. As you know, this reaffirms the findings from our auditors and legal counsel, as reported in the April 2018 board meeting, that Mr. Ralenkotter demonstrated no criminal intent or criminal wrongdoing.”

Nine paragraphs into the morning paper’s story readers are told: “But the police investigation into the mishandling of $90,000 worth of Southwest Airlines gift cards secretly bought by the agency is just beginning. Police have done little beyond picking up records from the convention authority on June 28, the Review-Journal has learned.”

The “has learned” is not attributed to any source.

Ralenkotter reportedly used $17,000 worth of those airline gift cards for personal travel and reimbursed the authority. The audit found $50,000 in gift cards unaccounted for. Ralenkotter has said he thought the cards were given to the LVCVA as part of a promotion.

The morning paper’s story goes on to quote three different lawyers commenting on events as if the investigation is ongoing.

So, has Ralenkotter been cleared or is the investigation ongoing? Stay tuned.

Anyone want to lay odds on whether Metro will ever charge anyone with anything?








Newspaper column: Could Nevada benefit from plans for Hoover Dam electricity?

What’s in it for us?

A recent New York Times story outlines a proposal by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power to use Hoover Dam and Colorado River water to smooth out its flow of electricity. The utility has so much intermittent solar and wind power that sometimes it must pay others to take it off its hands lest it overload the grid and result in blackouts.

The plan is to build a $3 billion system of pipes and pump stations by 2028 that would use that excess solar and wind electricity to pump water from downstream of the dam back into Lake Mead. When the utility needs power — when the sun doesn’t shine or the wind doesn’t blow — water would be released through the dam’s turbines to generate power.

Turbines inside Hoover Dam (NYT pix)

The Times article compared the scheme to using the dam as a sort of storage battery, noting that utility-scale lithium-ion batteries cost 26 cents a kilowatt-hour, compared with 15 cents for a pumped-storage hydroelectric project.

The utility already operates a hydroelectric plant at Pyramid Lake, northwest of Los Angeles, that uses the electric grid to spin a turbine backward to pump water back into the lake.

“I think we have to look at this as a once-in-a-century moment,” the newspaper quoted Los Angeles Mayor Eric M. Garcetti as saying. “So far, it looks really possible. It looks sustainable, and it looks clean.”

Of course, the scheme is rife with potential problems. How would it affect water availability downstream? What would be the environmental impact in general and specifically for the herds of bighorn sheep? How would it impact recreational uses?

The concept is not new, though the scale of this proposition is rather audacious. The technology has been around since the late 19th century and there are several working pumped storage facilities around the world. Back in 2011 a proposal was floated to build what is called a pumped storage project in Eldorado Valley south of Las Vegas.

Though it sounded vaguely like a perpetual motion machine, it was based on the principle of supply and demand. Like in the stock or currency market — buy low, sell high.

Eldorado Pumped Storage filed an application for permission to study the feasibility of building a closed-loop hydropower facility. The idea was to build a 10,000 acre-foot reservoir at an elevation of 3,570 feet and another at 1,500 feet. During the day, when power is expensive, the water would flow through turbines and the electricity could be sold on the grid. At night, when power is cheaper, the water would be pumped back to the top of the hill.

A similar plan was once proposed for the gypsum mining property across from Blue Diamond.

Nothing has been heard since about either proposal.

As for the Hoover Dam proposal, what’s in it for Nevada? Nevada would bear the brunt of the impact of disturbances to build pipelines and pump stations. Nevada recreational uses of Lake Mohave and the Colorado River near Laughlin could be hurt by lower water levels.

Nevada gets only a quarter of the power generated by Hoover Dam, while Arizona gets less than 20 percent and the rest flows to California.

As for Lake Mead water, California gets 4.4 million acre-feet a year, Arizona 2.8 million acre-feet and Nevada a mere 300,000 acre-feet.

At the end of the lengthy Times report, Nevada state Sen. Joe Hardy of Boulder City is quoted as suggesting that Nevada would be willing to negotiate.

“The hurdles are minimal and the negotiations simple, as long as everybody agrees with Nevada,” Hardy told the newspaper. “It would be nice if there was a table that they would come to. I’ll provide the table.”

Perhaps Nevada could bargain for a greater share of water and further delay plans for that $15 billion dollar scheme to siphon groundwater from Lincoln and Nye counties.

Additionally, Nevada might bargain for more power for rural electric cooperatives.

What’s in it for Nevada?

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.

Hoover Dam (NYT video)