Editorial: Nevada senators back amendment abridging free speech

Nevada Democratic Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto, left, and Jacky Rosen. (R-J file pix)

This past week every Democratic member of the U.S. Senate — including Nevada Democratic Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto and Jacky Rosen — signed on as sponsors of a proposed constitutional amendment that would rip the heart from the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution — the part that says, “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech …”

The Democracy for All Amendment, as it is wrongly called, would overturn the Supreme Court’s 2010 ruling in Citizens United v. FEC. That 5-4 ruling overturned a portion of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law under which the Federal Election Commission barred the airing of a movie produced by Citizens United that was critical of Hillary Clinton during the 2008 Democratic primary.

The court said the First Amendment was written to protect speech, no matter who the speaker may be, whether an individual or a group, such as a corporation or a union.

The proposed amendment would allow Congress and the states to “distinguish between natural persons and corporations or other artificial entities created by law, including by prohibiting such entities from spending money to influence elections.”

Sen. Cortez Masto put out a press release saying the amendment is intended to get big money out of politics. “Citizens United opened the floodgates for big money in politics by wrongly allowing corporations and special interests to buy undue influence in American elections,” Nevada’s senior senator wrote. “It’s time the effects of this disastrous ruling were reversed. A constitutional amendment putting the democratic process back in the hands of voters will help ensure that our government represents the will of Americans, not just the wealthy few.”

Sen. Rosen has long been a proponent of overturning Citizens United. During her campaign against Sen. Dean Heller, she declared, “Washington hasn’t been listening to the needs of Nevadans because billionaires and special interests are drowning out the voices of real people in our communities. If we’re going to make real progress on issues like climate change, gun violence and health care, then we need to bring some transparency and accountability to our broken campaign finance system. Unlike Senator Heller, I will stand up for Nevadans by speaking out for real reform and a reversal of this catastrophic Supreme Court decision.”

Ironically, the amendment concludes by stating, “Nothing in this article shall be construed to grant Congress or the States the power to abridge the freedom of the press.’’

Who do they think owns the “press” in the United States? Billionaires and corporations, such as Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, who owns The Washington Post, and casino owner Sheldon Adelson, who owns the largest newspaper in Nevada. A handful of giant corporations own the vast majority of news media outlets in this country. In order to get around this amendment, all a billionaire or corporation has to do is buy a “press.”

In fact, Justice Anthony Kennedy, who wrote the majority opinion in Citizens United, singled out the media exemption that was written into McCain-Feingold. Kennedy wrote, “The media exemption discloses further difficulties with the law now under consideration. There is no precedent supporting laws that attempt to distinguish between corporations which are deemed to be exempt as media corporations and those which are not. ‘We have consistently rejected the proposition that the institutional press has any constitutional privilege beyond that of other speakers.’ … And the exemption results in a further, separate reason for finding this law invalid: Again by its own terms, the law exempts some corporations but covers others, even though both have the need or the motive to communicate their views.”

Aren’t political parties themselves tantamount to corporations — groups of individuals uniting their voices and money in furtherance of a political agenda. Should political parties be silenced?

As Justice Kennedy concluded, “The First Amendment confirms the freedom to think for ourselves.”

Congress should not deem itself the arbiter of who gets to speak and who must be gagged. Cortez Masto and Rosen should reverse course.

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.

For our grandchildren: Taxation without representation

The Senate has now passed the so-called budget deal previously approved by the House and President Trump is expected to sign it.

According to The Wall Street Journal, the measure avoids a government shutdown in the fall by suspending the debt ceiling until after the 2020 election and provides more than $2.7 trillion in discretionary spending over the next two years, which means the deficit will grow by $1 trillion a year for the foreseeable future.

Who will pay for today’s spending tomorrow? Our grandchildren, who have no say in the matter. That’s what was called taxation without representation at the time of the Revolution.

Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul said the deal marks the death of the Tea Party movement, according to Fox News.

“Both parties have deserted – have absolutely and utterly deserted – America and show no care and no understanding and no sympathy for the burden of debt they are leaving the taxpayers, the young, the next generation and the future of our country,” Paul said on the Senate floor. “The very underpinnings of our country are being eroded and threatened by this debt.”

Apparently, Republican Rep. Mark Amodei was the only Nevada delegate to vote against this atrocity.

In 2016 Trump promised to wipe out the national debt in eight years.

At least a drunken sailor will sober up eventually.

Newspaper column: House $15 minimum wage bill would kill jobs

The House this past week passed a bill that would increase the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2025 and phase out the sub-minimum wage currently allowed for tip earners. The vote was 231-199, largely along party lines.

While all three of Nevada’s Democratic representatives put out statements bragging about voting for the Raise the Wage Act and citing how many people in their districts would be eligible for pay hikes under the law, Republican Mark Amodei, who represents Northern Nevada, warned of the many problems that the bill could create and said the only good thing about it is that it is unlikely to pass in the Senate.

“It makes a good campaign ad in certain neighborhoods, I guess,” Amodei said during a conference call on Friday. He said the bill, while it may raise hourly wages for some by 107 percent, others will lose their jobs entirely or have their hours cut. In fact, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimated that somewhere between 1.3 million and 3.7 million would lose their jobs.

Amodei said the bill is especially problematic for Nevada because a third of the workforce is tipped workers. “In a state that has 45 million-plus people a year who come here for the resort industry … they tip people in the housekeeping industry, they tip people in restaurants, they tip people in casinos,” the congressman noted, adding that the current federal minimum wage for tipped workers is $2.13 an hour and the increase to $15 an hour would constitute a 600 percent increase.

“When you say everybody is going to make 15 bucks an hour you’re picking winners and losers,” Amodei said. “Because what do business people do in response to that? They take a look at, first of all they’re going to raise prices, which by the way is kind of that vicious circle — the good news is you’re making more money, the bad news is it costs you more on everything this impacts.”

A Cato Institute analysis in 2012 found that a 10 percent increase in the U.S. minimum wage raises food prices by up to 4 percent. Imagine what 107 percent would do.

Amodei also noted that the National Restaurant Association reports that almost two-thirds of restaurant owners, when faced with higher minimum wage requirements, reduce hours for workers, half eliminated jobs and all raised prices. “So the good news is you’re getting 15 bucks and hour, the bad news is you’re not going to work as many hours,” he said.

Newspaper column: Energy Department catches possible error, then catches hell

Umbrage has been duly taken.

On the afternoon of July 3 Energy Department Deputy Secretary Daniel Brouillette called Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak to let him know the department may have been mistakenly shipping unstable nuclear material to the Nevada National Security Site (NNSS) monthly for a dozen years.

Mixed low-level radioactive waste — which must be protected from moisture when disposed — may have been mislabeled as merely low-level radioactive waste, which includes such things as rags, papers, filters, equipment, discarded protective clothing and construction debris and need not be protected from moisture. Further, the governor was told the waste might include “reactive” material, which could explode or release toxic fumes if exposed to water.

In a subsequent briefing this past week, Sisolak was told the department had not yet confirmed any of the waste was indeed reactive and the mislabeled shipments from the agency’s Y-12 facility in Oak Ridge, Tenn., had only been coming to Nevada since 2013 and involved only 32 containers.

Though Energy Secretary Rick Perry did not take office until his 2017 appointment by Republican President Donald Trump and his agency caught the apparent error, suspended further shipments and informed Nevada public officials of the possible error, Nevada Democratic office holders unleashed a fusillade of fury, including Democratic Rep. Steven Horsford calling for Perry to resign.

“I am outraged and shocked to hear about the Department of Energy’s repeated transgressions on the people of Nevada,” Horsford said in a statement. “Today we found out that, against the will and consent of Nevadans, the Department of Energy has been covertly shipping dangerous radioactive waste into our state.”

He concluded, “Secretary Perry must resign immediately.”

Democratic Rep. Dina Titus blustered, “The level of incompetence at the Department of Energy is only matched by its dishonesty. For decades, the DOE has been an untrustworthy partner and this latest round of illegal shipments is truly a new low. I’m grateful that Governor Sisolak continues to stand up for Nevada and refuses to let this violation of the law go unchallenged.”

Democratic Rep. Susie Lee fulminated, “The continued carelessness with our safety is exactly the concern of every Nevadan who is told that we should welcome the storage of nuclear waste in our own backyard. But let me be clear: we’re not just Nevadans, we are Americans, and it’s clear that the Department of Energy does not take Americans’ health, safety, or security into consideration before making decisions.”

In a joint statement Democratic Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto and Jacky Rosen decried, “Last week, we were contacted by the Department of Energy and made aware of the situation. As a result, along with Governor Sisolak we’ve taken immediate action and sent a letter demanding answers from Secretary Perry, and scheduled an immediate classified briefing to ensure there is accountability and oversight on behalf of the State of Nevada. Yet again, the DOE has violated its mission, broken Nevadans’ trust and failed to follow its own compliance procedures.”

Gov. Sisolak released a statement after this past week’s briefing by Energy officials  saying, “I was beyond disappointed to learn of problems related to shipments of low-level radioactive waste from the DOE’s Y-12 facility to Nevada. … While we appreciate the courtesy of the in-person briefing, we will continue to do everything in the state’s power to hold them accountable, ensure there is a plan to fix this problem and prevent it from occurring again, and above all else, protect the health and safety of Nevadans.”

The errors apparently occurred for four years of the Obama administration without anyone catching it, but the agency that caught the error and reported it is dishonest, careless, incompetent and to blame.

The Energy Department released a statement to the media saying, “The components that were shipped pose no risk to the safety and health of the general public or workers at the facility at NNSS. The Department’s National Nuclear Security Administration has launched an internal investigation to determine how this went undetected for a six-year period.” Three of those years were during the previous Democratic administration, by the way.

Umbrage always seems to be taken only when the offended ones are of a different political party and, especially when the information can be used to bludgeon attempts to dispose of nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain.

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.

NNSS Area 5 storage area (file pix)

 

Umbrage will be taken when the blame can be placed on the other political party

Let me get this straight.

The Energy Department may have been mistakenly shipping unstable nuclear material to the Nevada National Security Site since 2013, but the guy who took office in 2017 and whose agency caught the apparent error, suspended further shipments and informed Nevada public officials of the possible error is to blame and should resign.

The morning newspaper quotes Democratic Rep. Steven Horsford calling for Energy Secretary Rick Perry to resign and Democratic Rep. Dina Titus blustering, “The level of incompetence at the Department of Energy is only matched by its dishonesty.”

Let’s see, the errors apparently occurred for four years of the Obama administration without anyone catching it, but the agency that caught the error and reported it is dishonest and to blame.

The paper quotes a Horsford statement as saying, “Secretary Perry has repeatedly disrespected the people of Nevada and eroded the public trust in his ability to abide by established rules for waste disposal. His failure to disclose these actions amount to their lying to a federal judge, our Nevada congressional delegation and our state’s governor repeatedly about his agency’s activities in our state. Secretary Perry must resign immediately.”

The Energy Department was supposed to only ship low-level radioactive waste from Oak Ridge, Tenn., to N2S2, but nine shipments may have included unstable “reactive” nuclear material mislabeled as low-level waste.

The newspaper further quotes a letter fired off to the Energy secretary by Gov. Steve Sisolak and Nevada Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto and Jacky Rosen, all Democrats, saying, “These egregious acts — whether acts of negligence or indicative of something else — are unconscionable and have potentially put the health and safety of Nevadans and our environment at unacceptable risk, including the employees of NNSS and the communities in Nevada and along the transportation routes of this material to NNSS.”

But an Energy Deparment statement was quoted as saying, “The components that were shipped pose no risk to the safety and health of the general public or workers at the facility at NNSS. The Department’s National Nuclear Security Administration has launched an internal investigation to determine how this went undetected for a six-year period.” Four of those years during the previous Democratic administration, by the way.

Umbrage always seems to be taken only when the offended ones are of a different political party.

R-J graphic

Newspaper column: Nevada gets short shrift on PILT checks

The checks are in the mail.

Nevada’s U.S. senators both sent out press releases a couple of weeks ago boasting about all the money Nevada counties will be getting from the federal government to help cover the expense of having so much non-taxable federal public land within their borders — called Payment in Lieu of Taxes. This year’s checks for Nevada counties amount to $27.25 million, an increase of about $250,000 from the previous year.

“I applaud the Department of Interior for providing these payments to the state of Nevada,” said Jacky Rosen’s press release. “These funds will be used to support essential services — especially in our rural communities — such as law enforcement, education, emergency services, health care, and road maintenance.”

Catherine Cortez Masto’s press release states, “The Department of the Interior’s PILT program is a vital resource for Nevada’s local governments and helps fund the public safety, housing, transportation and outdoor recreation projects that Nevada’s rural counties need to thrive. I’ll continue to support the long-term stabilization of the PILT program so that local leaders and innovators can invest in development projects right here in our communities in Nevada, and plan for the future with certainty that federal support will be there for them.”

Neither makes any mention of the fact the PILT handout nationally was cut by 7 percent from the previous year. Nor do they mention that the $500 million being doled out to all the states this year is a paltry fraction of the $11.9 billion in revenue that federal land generates annually from oil and gas leasing, livestock grazing, timber harvesting, etc.

If the states controlled the land they could collect that $11.9 billion instead of the pitiful $500 million — which amounts to a parsimonious 4 percent of the revenue the land generates. Pennies in an alms cup.

Nor do our Democratic senators note the impenetrable formula used to calculate the checks, which is based on the number of acres of federal land within each county and the population of that county.

While 85 percent of Nevada land is federally controlled, its total PILT checks equal 48 cents per acre of federal land, about the same as the prior year, while every other Western state, except Alaska, gets at least double that amount, even though their acreage percentage is far less and their populations not that dissimilar, except for California.

This year, Utah is getting $1.24 per acre of federal land; Arizona, $1.38; Idaho, 99 cents; California, $1.19; Washington, $1.92; Oregon, $1.19; Wyoming, $1.01; New Mexico, $1.80; Montana, $1.80; and Colorado, $1.68.

And the checks within Nevada vary wildly. For example, Esmeralda County gets 7 cents an acre, while Douglas gets $2.74; Eureka, 17 cents; Washoe, $1.25; Clark, 75 cents; White Pine, 25 cents; Nye, 39 cents; Elko, 46 cents; Lincoln, 15 cents; Mineral, 39 cents.

Perhaps our senators should ask the Interior Department for a clearer explanation of just how the checks are calculated, because the acreage and population explanation doesn’t really pencil out.

While Nevada counties get checks totaling more than $27 million for having almost 57 million acres of non-taxable federal land covered by the PILT charity, neighboring Utah counties are getting checks totaling almost $41 million for less than 33 million acres, even though its population is only 200,000 greater than Nevada’s 3 million.

Idaho counties are getting checks totaling more than $32 million, though it has only 32 million acres of federal public lands and a population of only 1.8 million. New Mexico counties are getting $40 million though the state has less than half the public land as Nevada and only 2 million population. Montana’s checks total $34 million though it also has half the acreage of public land as Nevada and only 1 million population.

A report from the legislatively created Nevada Public Land Management Task Force noted a couple of years ago that, while the Bureau of Land Management loses 91 cents an acre, the average income for the four states that have public trust land was $28.59 per acre. The task force estimated Nevada could net $114 million a year by taking over just 10 percent of Bureau of Land Management lands.

So, senators, stop bragging about those niggardly PILT checks and do something about giving Nevada a fair share of the revenue from its public lands.

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.

PILT payments land with a thud

Nevada’s U.S. senators both sent out press releases boasting about all the money Nevada counties will be getting from the feds to help cover the expense of having so much non-taxable federal public land within their borders — called Payment in Lieu of Taxes. This year’s payment Nevada checks amount to $27.25 million, an increase of about $250,000 from the previous year.

“I applaud the Department of Interior for providing these payments to the state of Nevada,” said Jacky Rosen’s press release.  “These funds will be used to support essential services — especially in our rural communities — such as law enforcement, education, emergency services, health care, and road maintenance.”

Catherine Cortez Masto’s press release states, ““The Department of the Interior’s PILT program is a vital resource for Nevada’s local governments and helps fund the public safety, housing, transportation and outdoor recreation projects that Nevada’s rural counties need to thrive. I’ll continue to support the long-term stabilization of the PILT program so that local leaders and innovators can invest in development projects right here in our communities in Nevada, and plan for the future with certainty that federal support will be there for them.”

Neither makes any mention of the fact the PILT handout nationally was cut by 7 percent from the previous year. Nor do they mention that the $500 million being doled out this year is a paltry fraction of the $11.9 billion in revenue that federal land generates annually from oil and gas leasing, livestock grazing, timber harvesting, etc.

Nor do they note the impenetrable formula used to calculate the checks, which is based on the number of acres of federal land within each county and on the population of that county.

While 85 percent of Nevada land is federally controlled, its total PILT checks equal 48 cents per acre of federal land, about the same as the prior year, while every other Western state gets at least double that amount, even though their acreage percentage is far less and their populations not that dissimilar, except for California.

And the checks within the Nevada vary wildly. For example, Esmeralda County gets 7 cents an acre, while Douglas gets $2.74; Eureka, 17 cents; Washoe, $1.25; Clark, 75 cents; White Pine, 25 cents; Nye, 39 cents; Elko, 46 cents; Lincoln, 15 cents; Mineral, 39 cents.

Here are this year’s PILT payments per acre for the Western states: