What will it profit a man if the whole sun disappears?

All of the hubbub over the impending and, apparently potentially cataclysmic, solar eclipse is, frankly, beginning to wear a tad bit thin.

So, it is the moon and not a cloud that will briefly obscure a portion of the sun at midmorning. What possible use can that knowledge be? But it seems we mere mortals are such dolts that the newspapers, broadcasters and assorted social media must repeatedly warn us in ALL CAPITAL LETTERS with exclamation points that glancing up to see what is going on could result in permanent blindness and addlepated apoplexy. We are assured the eclipse will not cripple the power grid which incorporates a modest percent of solar power. The only difference between an eclipse and a cloud is that the cloud is less predictable.

The solar eclipse viewing glasses are sold out. The passage to and hotels along the path of totality are booked. There is no way in which to put the knowledge to profitable use.

Knowledge can be a valuable thing. Mark Twain liked to put his knowledge to good use, even if it meant stretching his grasp of that knowledge and the fortuity of the proximity of certain events to convenient circumstances beyond credulity. Stretching serves to underscore the reality and make it memorable.

How else to explain how a gentleman, if we may stretch the definition of the term to cover the rascally Hank Morgan, from 1879 who inexplicably finds himself stranded in the year 528 A.D. in the middle of June could possibly possess the astronomical charts and prodigious power of recall to precisely conclude that a total eclipse of the sun would occur minutes after noon two days hence?

As in some of the most improbable cliffhangers ever concocted, Twain’s protagonist in “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court” pulls it off. Somehow Morgan managed to get himself in trouble with local authorities and was about to dearly pay the consequences.

Here are the pertinent passages:

As the soldiers assisted me across the court the stillness was so profound that if I had been blindfold I should have supposed I was in a solitude instead of walled in by four thousand people. There was not a movement perceptible in those masses of humanity; they were as rigid as stone images, and as pale; and dread sat upon every countenance.  This hush continued while I was being chained to the stake; it still continued while the fagots were carefully and tediously piled about my ankles, my knees, my thighs, my body.  Then there was a pause, and a deeper hush, if possible, and a man knelt down at my feet with a blazing torch; the multitude strained forward, gazing, and parting slightly from their seats without knowing it; the monk raised his hands above my head, and his eyes toward the blue sky, and began some words in Latin; in this attitude he droned on and on, a little while, and then stopped. I waited two or three moments; then looked up; he was standing there petrified.  With a common impulse the multitude rose slowly up and stared into the sky.  I followed their eyes, as sure as guns, there was my eclipse beginning!  The life went boiling through my veins; I was a new man!  The rim of black spread slowly into the sun’s disk, my heart beat higher and higher, and still the assemblage and the priest stared into the sky, motionless.  I knew that this gaze would be turned upon me, next.  When it was, I was ready.  I was in one of the most grand attitudes I ever struck, with my arm stretched up pointing to the sun.  It was a noble effect.  You could see the shudder sweep the mass like a wave. Two shouts rang out, one close upon the heels of the other:

“Apply the torch!”

“I forbid it!”

The one was from Merlin, the other from the king.  Merlin started from his place — to apply the torch himself, I judged.  I said:

“Stay where you are.  If any man moves — even the king — before I give him leave, I will blast him with thunder, I will consume him with lightnings!”

The multitude sank meekly into their seats, and I was just expecting they would.  Merlin hesitated a moment or two, and I was on pins and needles during that little while.  Then he sat down, and I took a good breath; for I knew I was master of the situation now. The king said:

“Be merciful, fair sir, and essay no further in this perilous matter, lest disaster follow.  It was reported to us that your powers could not attain unto their full strength until the morrow; but —”

“Your Majesty thinks the report may have been a lie?  It was a lie.”

That made an immense effect; up went appealing hands everywhere, and the king was assailed with a storm of supplications that I might be bought off at any price, and the calamity stayed. The king was eager to comply. He said:

“Name any terms, reverend sir, even to the halving of my kingdom; but banish this calamity, spare the sun!”

My fortune was made.  I would have taken him up in a minute, but I couldn’t stop an eclipse; the thing was out of the question.  So I asked time to consider.  The king said:

“How long — ah, how long, good sir?  Be merciful; look, it groweth darker, moment by moment.  Prithee how long?”

“Not long.  Half an hour — maybe an hour.”

There were a thousand pathetic protests, but I couldn’t shorten up any, for I couldn’t remember how long a total eclipse lasts. [Someone who remembered the time and date of a sixth century solar eclipse does not know how long one lasts?]  I was in a puzzled condition, anyway, and wanted to think.  Something was wrong about that eclipse, and the fact was very unsettling. If this wasn’t the one I was after, how was I to tell whether this was the sixth century, or nothing but a dream?  Dear me, if I could only prove it was the latter!  Here was a glad new hope.  If the boy was right about the date, and this was surely the 20th, it wasn’t the sixth century.  I reached for the monk’s sleeve, in considerable excitement, and asked him what day of the month it was.

Hang him, he said it was the twenty-first !  It made me turn cold to hear him.  I begged him not to make any mistake about it; but he was sure; he knew it was the 21st.  So, that feather-headed boy had botched things again!  The time of the day was right for the eclipse; I had seen that for myself, in the beginning, by the dial that was near by.  Yes, I was in King Arthur’s court, and I might as well make the most out of it I could.

The darkness was steadily growing, the people becoming more and more distressed.  I now said:

“I have reflected, Sir King.  For a lesson, I will let this darkness proceed, and spread night in the world; but whether I blot out the sun for good, or restore it, shall rest with you.  These are the terms, to wit:  You shall remain king over all your dominions, and receive all the glories and honors that belong to the kingship; but you shall appoint me your perpetual minister and executive, and give me for my services one per cent of such actual increase of revenue over and above its present amount as I may succeed in creating for the state.  If I can’t live on that, I sha’n’t ask anybody to give me a lift.  Is it satisfactory?”

There was a prodigious roar of applause, and out of the midst of it the king’s voice rose, saying:

“Away with his bonds, and set him free! and do him homage, high and low, rich and poor, for he is become the king’s right hand, is clothed with power and authority, and his seat is upon the highest step of the throne!  Now sweep away this creeping night, and bring the light and cheer again, that all the world may bless thee.”

But I said:

“That a common man should be shamed before the world, is nothing; but it were dishonor to the king if any that saw his minister naked should not also see him delivered from his shame.  If I might ask that my clothes be brought again —”

“They are not meet,” the king broke in.  “Fetch raiment of another sort; clothe him like a prince!”

My idea worked.

Twain already used that plot twist. What is left? How to make a buck off this thing? By selling newspapers? Freedom of the press belongs to those who own one. Flinging blogs into the ether doesn’t quite have the same return on investment. Though perhaps these days the margins are considerably narrower.

Editorial: Congress needs to delay or repeal health insurance tax

You might not have said anything when they announced that ObamaCare-compliant health insurance premiums are going up nearly 40 percent next year, because you get your insurance elsewhere.

You might not have said anything when they announced there will be no ObamaCare-compliant health insurance policies available in 14 Nevada counties, because you get your insurance elsewhere.

You may have just shrugged about the tax on so-called Cadillac health insurance, because that is not your insurance.

You may not have spoken out when Congress failed to pass the “skinny repeal” that would have dropped the penalties for those who don’t buy health insurance, including 90,000 Nevadans, because you have health insurance.

Now they are coming for you.

If Congress fails to act soon, everyone who pays for health insurance will get hammered with a new tax in 2018. In 2015 Congress declared a one-year moratorium on the ObamaCare provision that imposes a health insurance tax of almost 3 percent — dubbed appropriately enough with the acronym HIT — in 2017, but that expires at the end of the year.

In 2016 the HIT tax cost insured Americans $11.3 billion, but that is to increase by 26 percent if reimposed in 2018.

If not delayed or repealed, HIT is expected to tap American wallets for $14.3 billion next year, and the hardest hit will be average Americans. One analysis of the tax estimates that fully half the tax will be paid by those earning between $10,000 and $50,000 a year.

A study by Oliver Wyman broke down the cost by state and found that in Nevada those with small group family insurance would pay $453 in HIT tax. Those with large group family policies would pay $519. Even Medicare Advantage users would have to pony up an additional $271, and Medicaid users would also be hit with $120 in taxes.

Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, has noted, “The health insurance tax directly impacts as many as 1.7 million small businesses, 11 million households that purchase through the individual insurance market, and 23 million households covered through their jobs. The National Federation of Independent Business estimates the tax could cost up to 286,000 in new jobs and cost small businesses $33 billion in lost sales by 2023.”

This is in addition to a tax on employer provided care, a tax on innovative medicines and treatments, a tax for failing to buy insurance, a tax on medical devices and taxes on health savings accounts, Norquist says.

“The trillion dollars in higher taxes have restricted health care choice, increased costs, made saving more difficult, and granted government more control over care at the expense of individual control,” the tax reform guru argues. “The passage of these taxes also broke President Obama’s promise not to increase any form of tax on any middle class family.”

Additionally, the higher cost is expected to result in people dropping their health insurance, resulting in an increase in the uninsured.

President Obama promised that his healthcare law would decrease premiums by $2,500 a year. Instead, it increased premiums by nearly $5,000. Still Congress has not been able to repeal it.

So, the very least Congress can do is repeal or delay the costly tax on health insurance premiums. And we do mean the least.

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.

Hate speech or free speech?

minority — a racial, ethnic, religious, or social subdivision of a society that is subordinate to the dominant group in political, financial, or socialpower without regard to the size of these groups

I do believe a certain letter writer — whose opinion was published today in the Las Vegas newspaper under the headline: “It’s time for the United States to ban hate speech” — has achieved the remarkable accomplishment of penning the near-perfect self-contradictory argument.

The letter concludes:

In my mind, there is something morally wrong in treating all views as equally protected by the First Amendment. Any speech that is logically inimical to the rights of the minority should not have such protection.

Thus, a minority group that speaks ill of another minority group’s rights should be denied their First Amendment rights. Got it? And which minority group will police such hate speech?

 

 

Newspaper column: Court ruling puts state water rights in jeopardy

Nevada is taking the lead in challenging a recent 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals opinion that has the potential to obliterate more than a century of state water rights law.

The office of Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt this past week filed an amicus brief with the U.S. Supreme Court, in conjunction with nine other states, asking the court to hear the case on appeal.

The 9th Circuit ruling granted groundwater rights to the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, whose reservation is in California’s arid Coachella Valley, though the local water district had held those rights for years and sold water to the reservation and other communities. The court held that state water rights are preempted by federal reserved rights, implying that water under any federally controlled land could be wrested from existing water rights holders.

Agua Caliente reservation

“As the driest state in the nation, Nevada has a paramount interest in the rules governing the management and allocation of the scarce water resources within its borders,” the 19-page amicus brief notes. “Nevada has the highest percentage in the nation of land under federal ownership or control, with a large portion of that land subject to possible claims of federal reserved water rights.”

The other states signing onto the legal action are Arizona, Arkansas, Idaho, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Texas, Wisconsin and Wyoming.

Among other things the brief argues that under the Tenth Amendment states retain substantial sovereign powers with which Congress may not easily interfere. In fact, the Supreme Court itself has stated that if Congress attempts to preempt a traditional and essential power exercised by a state that “it must make its intention to do so ‘unmistakably clear in the language of the statute.’”

Laxalt was quoted in a press release as saying, “By filing this brief, my office encourages the Supreme Court to take the necessary steps to clarify the States’ groundwater rights and to ensure Nevada’s best interests are being protected from unnecessary and unwarranted federal interference. As I have consistently demonstrated throughout my tenure as Nevada’s attorney general, my office stands ready to defend our state from unlawful federal overreach regardless of the source.”

Compounding the problem created by the 9th Circuit water usurpation is the fact that in Nevada, as in other Western states, many of the groundwater aquifers are already fully appropriated and have been for nearly 100 years. Any new claim for water under federal land would result in an overallocation, possibly requiring the relinquishing of long-held water rights used by ranches, farms, manufacturing, mining and communities — in some cases depriving families of their livelihoods.

“Current rights holders may see their investment backed decisions evaporate,” the court document relates.

Another argument is that groundwater rights could not have been assumed to be part and parcel of any federal land holding since at the time of its acquisition the technology to economically access groundwater was virtually nonexistent.

But somehow the 9th Circuit judges managed to contort a 1908 Supreme Court ruling that barred the damming of a river that flowed through a Montana Indian reservation as also bestowing groundwater rights. The judges asked whether the water was “envisioned as necessary for the reservation’s purpose at the time the reservation was created,” and answered with a totally implausible affirmative.

The Agua Caliente case has already been wielded in federal court as an argument against Nevada’s longstanding practice of allocating groundwater through the state engineer’s office.

During a hearing a couple of weeks ago on lawsuits over the Southern Nevada Water Authority’s attempt to tap groundwater in valleys in White Pine, Lincoln and Nye counties, an attorney representing various Shosone tribes cited the 9th Circuit ruling as giving the reservations priority groundwater rights despite the state engineer’s granting of water rights to SNWA.

The states’ amicus brief challenging the presumptive federal water rights argument concludes: “Courts cannot simply presume that Congress considered, let alone intended, to displace the States’ traditional authority over groundwater when (1) not only is the enabling act creating the reservation silent about water rights, but also (2) it was not even feasible, much less contemplated, that groundwater would be used.”

Much is at stake in this case, especially here in Nevada, where the federal government already controls 85 percent of the land and also would control much of the water underneath that land if this ruling is not reversed.

The lives and livelihoods of thousands of Nevadans, especially rural Nevadans, could be in jeopardy.

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.

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)