A little difference of opinions over covering the news

On his contribution-financed news website, The Nevada Independent, editor Jon Ralston posted a commentary, under the headline “Cutting off The Indy spites the public we serve,” this week complaining about public officials refusing to talk to his reporters — specifically state Senate Minority Leader Michael Roberson, Attorney General Adam Laxalt and U.S. Sen. Dean Heller.

The piece quoted a Roberson aide as texting a reporter: “Senator Roberson only provides commentary to reputable news outlets. He does not consider The Nevada Independent as such.”

At one point Ralston suggested that elected officials refusing to talk to certain reporters was tantamount to violating public records laws.

He proclaimed:

“This is not about me or our team of journalists whining about access. This is about public officials, staffers, and agencies depriving the public of important information, context and nuance. They are not hurting me or The Indy. They are sullying the civic fabric by preventing access to information that drives essential public dialogue.

“Finally, a word on a laughable claim. Roberson, Laxalt and Heller have whispered that I am a Democratic partisan. Not only is that not so, but it is low to insinuate and patently false to say that any of our news stories have a partisan slant. Indeed, anyone who knows any of our reporters knows none of them would stand for me trying to inject my bias into their stories, even if I tried, which I never have and never would.”

 

In the online-no-love-lost-between-rivals there came a couple of rejoinders.

Victor Joecks, a conservative Review-Journal columnist, responded on Twitter with this critique: “Free advice: Conflating a govt official not responding to a reporter’s request for comment with a govt official not answering a public information request is one of the reasons folks think you’re a hack and just out to smear them.”

But conservative blogger Chuck Muth unleashed a 1,200-word diatribe that had to leave a welt.

Muth pointed that two days earlier Ralston had penned a screed in which he outlined the standards The Nevada Independent would use to cover elections. Ralston said that “there is no public benefit in covering candidates who have clearly demonstrated they are unfit for public office or who have zero chance of getting elected no matter what coverage they get.”

To which Muth replied, “In short, Blogger Jon will subjectively decide who is a credible candidate worthy of attention and who isn’t.”

Muth twisted the knife:

It seems a number of candidates and elected officials don’t consider the Ralston Rag to be a credible news organization and have been refusing to give his newsblog the time of day.

Indeed, Senate Minority Leader Michael Roberson is quoted as saying he only “provides commentary to reputable news outlets” and “does not consider The Nevada Independent as such.”

In other words, Roberson is treating Ralston the exact same way Ralston, just two days earlier, announced he’ll be treating certain candidates based on credibility.  Shoe on the other foot.  Sauce for the goose.

Ralston went on to spew forth his venom at Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt and U.S. Sen. Dean Heller for also blowing off interview requests from the Ralston Rag, whining that such blacklisting “is not just puerile (Jon loves to use fancy words to appear smarter than everyone else); it’s unethical and unconscionable.”

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Newspaper column: Police should not seize property without a conviction

President Trump’s Attorney General Jeff Sessions has a reputation as a law-and-order guy, but the plan he announced this past week to step up civil asset forfeiture efforts skirts the law and jeopardizes order.

The plan is to reverse an Obama administration policy that restricted how often federal agencies would accept property — cash, vehicles, homes, airplanes — seized by local police agencies under suspicion it was used to perpetrate a crime such as drug dealing. That seized property is sold and the local police get 80 percent of the profits to spend as they see fit. This is called “equitable sharing.”

Sessions rationalized his policy change by saying “civil asset forfeiture is a key tool that helps law enforcement defund organized crime, take back ill-gotten gains, and prevent new crimes from being committed, and it weakens the criminals and the cartels. Even more importantly, it helps return property to the victims of crime. Civil asset forfeiture takes the material support of the criminals and instead makes it the material support of law enforcement, funding priorities like new vehicles, bulletproof vests, opioid overdose reversal kits, and better training.”

Often property is seized and no one is ever convicted of an actual crime. The owner of the cash or property essentially must prove themselves innocent in a civil court.

In a 2010 report called “Policing for Profit: The Abuse of Civil Asset Forfeiture,” the Institute for Justice (IJ) noted that the practice provides an incentive for local police to seize property to boost their budgets.

Humboldt County deputy seized cash.

Sessions’ revised seizure policy allows local agencies to skirt state laws that restrict civil asset forfeitures. In 2014, the Justice Department reported $4.5 billion in asset forfeiture revenue.

In this past session of the Nevada Legislature Sen. Don Gustavson of Sparks filed a bill that would have required proof of a criminal conviction, a plea agreement or an agreement by the parties concerned before property could be forfeited. The bill died without a vote.

“Nevada forfeiture law provides paltry protection for property owners from wrongful forfeitures,” the IJ reports. “The government may seize your property and keep it upon a showing of clear and convincing evidence, a higher standard than many states but still lower than the criminal standard of beyond a reasonable doubt. But the burden falls on you to prove that you are an innocent owner by showing that the act giving rise to the forfeiture was done without your knowledge, consent or willful blindness. Further, law enforcement keeps 100 percent of the revenue raised from the sale of forfeited property.”

Still, Nevada local law enforcement often engages in “equitable sharing” with federal agencies, according to IJ, which resulted in $21 million accruing to the local agencies over a decade.

There have been a number of instances in Nevada in which property was seized without anyone ever being charged with a crime.

In January 2013 police seized $167,000 from a man driving a motor home westbound along Interstate 80 in Elko County. A judge just recently ordered the money returned.

Over a two-year period Humboldt County deputies seized $180,000 in cash from motorists. One deputy was caught on tape telling a tourist, “You’ll burn it up in attorney fees before we give it back to you.”

The U.S. attorney’s office in Las Vegas demanded a local woman forfeit the $76,667 in salary she earned while running an office for her brother, who was later convicted of mortgage fraud. The sister was never charged. A federal judge called the forfeiture effort “the most egregious miscarriage of justice I have experienced in more than twenty years on the bench.”

This happened though the Fifth Amendment provides: “No person shall be … deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law …”

In his policy announcement Sessions admitted there can be problems with asset forfeitures, but he promised to “protect the rights of the people we serve. Law-abiding people whose property is used without their knowledge or without their consent should not be punished because of crimes that others have committed.”

That promise hardly constitutes “due process of law.”

Congress should rein in this abuse-prone practice.

In fact, Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Rep. Tim Walberg of Michigan have reintroduced the Fifth Amendment Integrity Restoration (FAIR) Act.

“The FAIR Act will ensure that government agencies no longer profit from taking the property of U.S. citizens without due process,” Paul said, “while maintaining the ability of courts to order the surrender of proceeds of crime.”

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.

Newspaper column: Bundy case judge trying to prevent jury nullification

The retrial of four defendants in the 2014 Bunkerville standoff at the Bundy ranch got underway this past week in Las Vegas, and this time the prosecution and the judge seem determined to avoid another mistrial due to a hung jury by eviscerating defense arguments.

Federal Judge Gloria Navarro granted a prosecution motion to bar presentation of evidence “supporting jury nullification.”

In April, the first of three scheduled trials for the 17 Bunkerville defendants — charged with obstruction of justice, conspiracy, extortion, assault and impeding federal officers — ended in a mistrial. The jury found only two of six people on trial guilty of some charges but deadlocked on the others.

The standoff occurred after heavily armed Bureau of Land Management agents attempted to confiscate Bundy’s cattle after he had refused for 20 years to pay grazing fees. Faced with armed protesters the agents eventually released the cattle.

Two more trials are pending, with Cliven Bundy and his four sons scheduled to be the last. Most defendants have been jailed without bail for a year and half.

In mid-June the prosecution filed a motion asking the judge to bar the jurors in the retrial from hearing certain so-called state of mind arguments — arguments that the defendants felt justified to show up and protest because of “perceived government misconduct” due to excessive use of force by law enforcement and that they were simply exercising their First and Second Amendment rights.

The defense will not be allowed to mention the tasering by law enforcement of one of Bundy’s sons and the wrestling to the ground of one of his sisters.

The judge said the reasons the defendants went to Bunkerville are not relevant to the charge, but she will allow prosecutors to introduce testimony about the four men’s associations with militia groups.

“The Court also rejected Defendants’ proposed instructions on the First and Second Amendment because they are not legally cognizable defenses, or in other words, the law does not recognize these Amendments as legal defenses to the crimes charged,” Navarro wrote, though the Bill of Rights were added to the Constitution to spell out natural rights that Congress must not trammel with its laws.

The First Amendment bars Congress from making laws abridging free speech and peaceful assembly, while the Second states the right to keep and bear arms may not be infringed.

But apparently those are not defenses against laws prohibiting behavior that causes federal officers to feel threatened.

Navarro concluded, “The Court will not permit argument, evidence, or testimony regarding Defendants’ beliefs about the constitution as such beliefs are irrelevant and a possible jury nullification attempt.”

The judge quoted a 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling, “Jury nullification occurs when a jury acquits a defendant, even though the government proved guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.” And you thought jurors made that determination.

The concept of jury nullification dates to colonial days and is widely taught in journalism schools, because it involved printer John Peter Zinger who was indicted for criminal libel against the colonial governor and tried in 1735. His attorney Andrew Hamilton offered as a defense that what was printed was true, even though under the law truth was not a defense but rather a confirmation of guilt.

The judge at Zenger’s trial ruled that Hamilton could not present evidence as to the truth of the printed statements.

In his closing argument Hamilton declared, “It is the cause of liberty … and by an impartial and uncorrupt verdict have laid a noble foundation for securing to ourselves, our posterity, and our neighbors, that to which nature and the laws of our country have given us a right to liberty of both exposing and opposing arbitrary power (in these parts of the world at least) by speaking and writing truth.”

The jury quickly returned with a verdict of not guilty.

In 1794, Chief Justice John Jay said to jurors in a rare Supreme Court jury trial, “It may not be amiss, here, Gentlemen, to remind you of the good old rule, that on questions of fact, it is the province of the jury, on questions of law, it is the province of the court to decide. But it must be observed that by the same law, which recognizes this reasonable distribution of jurisdiction, you have nevertheless a right to take upon yourselves to judge of both, and to determine the law as well as the fact in controversy.”

Did jurors in the first trial nullify the law or merely find the law was misapplied?

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.

Protests outside courthouse. (R-J pix)

Newspaper column: BLM sage grouse guidelines will bury land users in paperwork

The Bureau of Land Management this past week issued eight guideline memos instructing federal land managers in 11 Western states as to how they are to carry out policies intended to protect greater sage grouse — a move that threatens to bury ranchers, miners, oil and gas explorers and construction companies under a mountain of paperwork and impose lengthy delays, while doing little to actually protect the birds.

The move comes a year after the Interior Department declined to list sage grouse under the Endangered Species Act but instead issued reams of land use restrictions meant to protect the grouse, even though the number of male grouse counted in leks across the West had increased by 63 percent between 2013 and 2015, according to the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies.

Restrictions are being imposed even though sage grouse are legally hunted in many Western states, including Nevada.

Like the record of decision on sage grouse management issued this past September, the memos largely ignore one of the biggest threats to the colorfully plumed, ground-dwelling grouse — predators, primarily ravens and coyotes — and address almost entirely human economic endeavors. The 90-page record of decision used the word predator only once.

The memos, signed by BLM Deputy Director Steven Ellis, open with statements of purpose that say they are to provide guidance for analyzing and establishing thresholds for land use, with separate memos addressing grazing permits and general surface disturbances.

Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources, immediately fired off a statement denouncing the guidelines as a ploy by the Obama administration to block oil and gas development.

“These plans, written as if the sage grouse were listed, are proof it was an underhanded, de facto listing scheme that further oppresses Western states,” Bishop said in a written statement provided to The Associated Press.

Republican Congressman Joe Heck, who is running to replace Harry Reid in the Senate, commented, “With these new guidelines, the administration continues to disregard the input of state and local stakeholders, like our ranching and mining families, whose livelihoods depend on being good stewards of the land. Unfortunately, the guidelines have more to do with avoiding costly lawsuits from special interests, like my opponent Catherine Cortez Masto’s biggest campaign donor, the League of Conservation Voters, than they do with actual conservation. And Nevada’s economy will pay the price.”

If there is a bright spot in any of this micromanaging from Washington, D.C., bureaucrats, it is that two days prior to the memos being sent out the Interior Department inked a deal with Newmont Mining and its ranching subsidiary to jointly manage sage grouse habitat so the company can continue mining operations and exploration, as well as grazing, in Nevada. Wildlife and natural resource agencies of the state helped broker the deal.

A statement from Gov. Brian Sandoval’s office called the agreement a first of its kind in scope and scale. It was not mentioned that Newmont was under considerable duress to cut a deal with federal land agencies, which held all the cards, though Sandoval called the deal a good-faith, public-private partnership.

“Through this historic agreement, Newmont has committed to implementing a wide-ranging, landscape-level conservation plan that includes voluntarily managing certain areas of its private rangelands and ranches in Nevada to achieve net conservation gains for sagebrush species,” Sandoval said in a press release.

Though the BLM guideline memos envision grazing restrictions to protect grouse, the Newmont deal specifically notes that one of the first pilot projects to be implemented under the agreement will use targeted grazing to reduce cheatgrass, an invasive species that contributes to the frequency and intensity of wildfires.

The Newmont deal also makes a vague reference to implementing “practices to reduce human-induced advantages for predators of greater sage-grouse” — presumably fewer fence posts and power line poles from which ravens can scout for nests with eggs.

The BLM’s handling of the sage grouse issue remains in active litigation in federal court, where the agency is being sued by Nevada, nine rural counties, two mining companies and a ranch, with Attorney General Adam Laxalt taking the lead, despite Sandoval’s reluctance.

Laxalt has stated that the BLM’s grouse efforts blatantly disregard the input of Nevada experts and stakeholders in violation of federal law.

The BLM’s own economist has estimated that the grouse habitat conservation efforts will cost Nevada $31 million and 493 jobs annually.

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.

Greater sage grouse (Forest Service photo)

Greater sage grouse (Forest Service photo)

Newspaper column: Which Senate candidate is correct on handling Social Security?

Heck and Cortez Masto

The race to replace Harry Reid in the Senate is one of the most closely watched and highly contested elections in the nation this year. The most recent poll has Republican Rep. Joe Heck leading Reid’s hand-picked Democratic opponent, former state Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto, by 3 points — 38 percent to 35 percent with the substantial remainder undecided.

More than $11 million dollars has been spent by outside organizations on this race, the fourth highest in the nation, according to OpenSecrets.org.

On almost every issue the two candidates take opposing stances, but perhaps the most contentious is what to do about Social Security.

Cortez Masto has latched onto a comment then-freshman Congressman Heck made during a meeting with constituents five years ago in which he called Social Security a “pyramid scheme” in which “the people after you are paying for your benefits.”

She has accused Heck of wanting to privatize Social Security to benefit big banks and Wall Street.

“Congressman Heck’s Washington handlers did more contortions than an Olympic gymnast in trying to defend his record of putting Wall Street and the Big Banks ahead of Nevada families,” Zach Hudson, spokesperson for the Cortez Masto campaign said in a recent press release. “First Congressman Heck’s handlers falsely say he does not support the privatization of Social Security — then they immediately say he does support putting the retirement security of Nevada seniors in the hands of Wall Street.”

What Heck has suggested is allowing younger workers to have the option of privately investing some portion of the money that currently is deducted from their paychecks for Social Security.

Heck’s campaign argues that he is “the only candidate in the race for U.S. Senate who is willing to heed the warnings being issued by the Medicare and Social Security trustees. Those warnings are clear: Medicare and Social Security, upon which thousands of Nevada seniors rely, are not on sound financial footing and need to be strengthened if they are to provide the health and income security our seniors deserve. Ignoring those challenges, which would be Ms. Cortez Masto’s approach, will result in benefit cuts and uncertainty for those near retirement age.”

A Democratic super PAC recently spent $900,000 on commercials attacking Heck’s stance on Social Security.

In the middle of this contretemps, Reid himself put out a press release a week ago on the 81st anniversary of the creation of Social Security praising the program for “providing millions with the economic security they have earned and deserve.”

Reid fulminated, “Unfortunately, despite decades of success, many Republicans continue to threaten the future of Social Security. Republican leaders routinely exaggerate the financial challenges facing the program in an effort to create a false sense of crisis. … I have spent my career fending off attacks against Social Security.”

This is the same Reid who earlier in his career took to the floor of the Senate on Oct. 9, 1990, standing next to a sign emblazoned in red letters with the word “embezzlement.”

“It is time for Congress, I think, to take its hands — and I add the president in on that — off the Social Security surpluses. Stop hiding the horrible truth of the fiscal irresponsibility that we have talked about here the past two weeks. It is time to return those dollars to the hands of those who earned them — the Social Security beneficiaries and future beneficiaries. …” Reid ranted. “I think that is a very good illustration of what I was talking about, embezzlement, thievery.”

Nothing has changed in the past 26 years except Reid’s politics.

In fact, the Social Security Board of Trustees in its 2016 annual report states that Social Security reserves will be depleted in 2034, after which there will be sufficient funds to pay only three-quarters of scheduled benefits.

As for the argument that private investments are too risky, Cato Institute’s Michael Tanner notes that if workers who retired in 2011 had been allowed to invest just half of their payroll tax deductions they would have retired with more income than they are getting under Social Security and, even under the worst-case scenario,  their benefits would equal traditional Social Security payouts.

“With Social Security already running a cashflow deficit today — and facing a $21 trillion shortfall in the future that will make it impossible to pay promised benefits — private investment and personal accounts should be part of any discussion about reforming the troubled system,” Tanner advocates.

Sounds like what Heck proposes.

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.

Newspaper column: Efforts to save endangered species can be counterproductive

Deseret tortoise (R-J file photo)

They say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different outcome.

In 1973, Congress passed the Endangered Species Act (ESA), intending to protect the likes of eagles and grizzlies and bison. Instead it has been used by federal bureaucrats to label as endangered or threatened all manner of bugs, weeds, reptiles and minnows — jeopardizing economic activity from fishing to logging to mining to livestock grazing.

Since 1973, 2,000 species have been listed under the ESA as endangered or threatened. Of those, only 20 species — 1 percent — have sufficiently recovered to warrant delisting.

Meanwhile, federal and state government spending on protecting listed species has approached $2 billion a year in recent years.

The Interior Department continues to list species under the ESA and issue land use restrictions that it claims will prevent the need for future listings of such species as greater sage grouse and other species, despite the department’s spectacular and expensive failure to conserve species already on its extensive list.

Perhaps the most telling example of the department’s actions not only failing to accomplish its goals but likely to have harmed a species is the desert tortoise, listed as threatened in 1990.

Even though desert tortoises thrived in the new housing and business developments in Southern Nevada, where tender grasses and water were suddenly more abundant, developers were charged a mitigation fee of $550 per acre so a Desert Tortoise Conservation Center could be created. The center was closed in 2014 due to a budget shortfall.

According to a Clark County spokesman, that county alone has collected almost $43 million in tortoise mitigation fees since 2001. During that same timeframe almost $130 million has been spent on conserving the 78 species covered in the county’s Multiple Species Habitat Conservation Plan.

Ruby Valley rancher Cliff Gardner has been studying the way the federal land agencies have been handling the desert tortoise conservation effort and has found several flaws, including the presumption that human development is leading to a decline in the beasts’ habitat and therefore their total population.

Gardner notes that scholars who have pored over the diaries and letters of explorers of Nevada and the region — such as Francisco Garces, Jedadiah Smith, Kit Carson, Peter Skeen Ogden, Antonio Armijo and John C. Fremont — found almost no mention of edible game such as grouse or tortoises. It was not until the settlers started grazing livestock and improving water sources and shooting predators that these began to flourish.

Cattle graze in the Gold Butte area (R-J photo)

Range ecologist and former Forest Service employee Vernon Bostick, one of the experts cited by Gardner, has been quoted for decades in newspapers and magazines as arguing that the very practices advocated by the federal land bureaucracy is actually causing any perceived decline in tortoise population.

Writing in Rangelands magazine in 1990, Bostick noted, “The Taylor Grazing Act of 1934 ended the free-for-all, get-all-you-can-while-you-can, uncontrolled grazing which had destroyed the range resource on the public domain. Every decade since the original reduction of roughly 50 percent in grazing use, the Bureau of Land Management has made reductions in the amount of livestock use permitted.

Permitted use today is only about ten percent of the livestock use that occurred during the free range days. If the conservative grazing management that is being practiced today has such a detrimental impact on desert tortoise populations, how could the species have survived through all those years of uncontrolled livestock grazing?”

But BLM managers argue cattle are a danger to tortoises, especially in the spring when hatchlings emerge, and have denied grazing permits during that time when cattle can gain the most weight.

In another essay, Bostick observed that cattle grazing crops foliage closer to the ground and causes new shoots to appear for the low-to-the-ground toothless, gizzardless tortoise to eat.

“A favorite food of desert tortoises is fresh cow dung …” Bostick adds. “The more cows on the range, the more watering places there will be for tortoises, and the more likely it will be that a tortoise will find a life sustaining cow-pie …” Dung also contains nutrients. Fewer tortoises are found where grazing has been prohibited, such as the Nevada Test Site.

Gardner also notes that in the 1950s predator control bounties were ended and the use of poisons prohibited. This led to a boom in the population of ravens, fox, skunks, badgers and coyotes — all of which feed on tortoises. Dozens of hollow tortoise shells are often found beneath perches of ravens.

The feds never seem to learn from their failures.

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.

Newspaper column: Nevada officials blast VA secretary’s callous remarks

Two years ago the secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs resigned in disgrace after it was revealed that veterans were being subjected to exceedingly long waiting periods to obtain health care and benefits and department officials were manipulating records to hide this fact.

Two years later the problem remains but the current secretary is callously dismissive of the problem.

“When you go to Disney, do they measure the number of hours you wait in line? Or what’s important? What’s important is, what’s your satisfaction with the experience?” Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald said during a newspaper interview this past week. “And what I would like to move to, eventually, is that kind of measure.”

Waiting to board an amusement park ride is a bit different from waiting for pain-relieving or even life-saving medical care. You can’t ask the deceased what their level of satisfaction was — that skews the survey a bit.

Nevada’s junior Sen. Dean Heller was among the first to lambaste McDonald for his obtuse remark. Heller wrote in a letter to the secretary, “Not only am I concerned about the flippant nature of your comparison but also the fact that you said that your agency should not use wait times as a measure of success because Disney does not either. As a member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, I believe it is my responsibility to follow up with you on the gravity of this issue as it is critical to ensure that Veterans across my state are receiving the care they were promised in an expedient manner.”

Heller noted that statistics for Nevada alone show nearly 10,000 VA appointments are still being scheduled more than 30 days beyond the requested appointment date.

“Time and time again, I have called for accountability at your agency, and I strongly believe that it should start with the top,” Heller fumed.

A year ago The Associated Press reported the number of veterans waiting more than 90 days for non-emergency care has nearly doubled. This was nearly a year after Congress doled out $16 billion to solve the problem of lengthy waiting lists.

In March of this year the Government Accountability Office reported that it studied 180 veterans newly enrolled in the VA health system. Sixty of that 180 had not yet seen a health provider and “nearly half were unable to access primary care because VA medical center staff did not schedule appointments …”

As for McDonald’s Disney comparison, Disney spent more than $1 billion on something called the Disney MagicBand to reduce long lines. The only magic McDonald produces with $16 billion is sleight of hand.

Nevada’s gaffe-prone senior Sen. Harry Reid defended McDonald. “I support Secretary McDonald all the way. …” Reid said. “I’m an expert on poor choice of words. … I’m sure he would be the first to tell you, following my example, saying the wrong things is not the best way to go.”

Republican Congressman Joe Heck, who is running for Reid’s Senate seat, used the McDonald crass remark to call for passage of the VA Accountability Act, which is stalled in the Senate.

“Secretary McDonald’s double down on his callous remarks invoking Disneyland is alarming because it suggests the defensive culture among management at the VA, which lead to the falsification of wait-time reports in the first place, persists under his leadership,” said Heck, a brigadier general in the Army Reserve medical corps and a veteran of the Iraq conflict. “The remedy to the VA’s culture of excuses is a needed dose of accountability.”

Former Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto, who is running for Reid’s seat from the Democratic side, for once parted company with shrugging Reid. “Even for Washington, the tone deafness of these comments is stunning,” she said. “The VA needs to address the wait times at its facilities so our veterans get the care they need in a timely manner, not offer up false analogies and excuses. It’s long past time for the VA to get its act together.”

Congressman Cresent Hardy also called McDonald to task. “Veterans are not waiting in line for a temporary thrill ride; in many cases, they are waiting for critically important and life-saving procedures,” he said. “To suggest that wait time matters so little reveals a disturbing lack of understanding at the highest levels of those responsible for caring for our veterans – or, worse, a disturbing attempt to cover up their own failures.”

Congressman Mark Amodei tersely stated, “This administration’s record of utter failure with respect to senior management at the VA remains undisputed.”

A version of this column appears 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.