Happy birthday, Eric Blair — the dystopian world you conjured is still here year after year

I don’t know about you, but I’ve taken to placing a little sticky note over the camera atop by desktop computer. If former FBI Director James Comey and Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg do it, so will I. Big and Little Brothers may be watching.

Happy birthday, Eric Blair.

On this day in 1903, Eric Blair was born in India.

But the year for which he is most noted is 1984, even though he died in 1950.

Under the pen name George Orwell, Blair penned the novels “Nineteen Eighty-four” and “Animal Farm,” as well as several other semi-autobiographical books and numerous essays.

Eric Blair as six weeks old

When Orwell wrote “Nineteen Eighty-four” he wasn’t forecasting a particular date, he simply transposed the last two digits in 1948, when he wrote much of the book. Though a life-long socialist he despised the totalitarian and despotic nature of communism, fascism and Nazism.

He added to the lexicon: Big Brother, thoughtcrime, newspeak, doublethink, Room 101, as well as the painted slogans WAR IS PEACE, FREEDOM IS SLAVERY, and IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH.

In “Nineteen Eighty-four” the warring nations kept changing enemies, sort of like today.

If you don’t think freedom is slavery, consider the “Life of Julia” — the Obama campaign video that showed a woman relying on government handouts from cradle to retirement. Julia, by the way, was Winston Smith’s girlfriend.

Ignorance is definitely strength, not for us but for politicians who the ignorant keep electing.

As for newspeak and doublethink, consider the language of both Obama and Trump. Obama said we were not fighting a war against terrorists but trying to prevent man-caused disasters. His Defense Department (They don’t call it the War Department anymore.) sent out a memo saying: “this administration prefers to avoid using the term ‘Long War’ or ‘Global War on Terror’ [GWOT.] Please use ‘Overseas Contingency Operation.’” And a man standing on a table, firing a gun, shouting Allahu Akbar is merely workplace violence.

Trump was going to attack Iran for downing our drone, then the called it off. He was going to have ICE round-up immigrants who had been ordered deported, then he delayed it. He was going to impose tariffs, then he did not. During the election campaign he took 141 policy positions on 23 issues over the course of 510 days. He changed stances on immigration, ObamaCare, entitlement programs, gay rights, the Middle East and so much more.

How can there be any thoughtcrime if we are not allowed to use certain words. People aren’t in the country illegally, they are merely undocumented. And this too changes over time. Once the word negro was the preferred and the politically correct term, but now it is a slur.

“Don’t you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought?” Orwell wrote in “Nineteen Eighty-four.” “In the end we shall make thoughtcrime literally impossible, because there will be no words in which to express it.”

Back in 1975, David Goodman wrote in The Futurist magazine that 100 of 137 Orwell predictions in “Nineteen Eighty-four” had come true. With the advance of computer surveillance and drones, how many more have come true?

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 Orwell’s “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. 

“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,” 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.”

A Newsweek article in 2018 asked the question: “Is Trump nudging America toward corrupt authoritarianism?” Isn’t corrupt authoritarianism redundant?

Back in 2008, when the Las Vegas Review-Journal launched its blogging section online, I engaged in a bit of self-indulgent navel gazing in a column trying to explain why. I leaned on Orwell like a crutch.

I explained that I and other newspaper scriveners were joining the lowing herds browsing the ether — otherwise known as bloggers, those free-range creatures who mostly chew up the intellectual property of others and spit out their cuds online.

In an effort to find a rationale for this otherwise irrational exercise I grabbed Orwell’s “Why I Write” essay from 1946, in which he lists various reasons for writing.

First is sheer egoism: “Desire to seem clever, to be talked about, to be remembered after death, to get your own back on the grown-ups who snubbed you in childhood, etc., etc.,” Orwell explains. “It is humbug to pretend this is not a motive, and a strong one. Writers share this characteristic with scientists, artists, politicians, lawyers, soldiers, successful businessmen — in short, with the whole top crust of humanity. … Serious writers, I should say, are on the whole more vain and self-centered than journalists, though less interested in money.”

I think that was both a salute and a sully to the profession of journalism.

The second rationale, according to Orwell, is aesthetic enthusiasm: “Perception of beauty in the external world, or, on the other hand, in words and their right arrangement. Pleasure in the impact of one sound on another, in the firmness of good prose or the rhythm of a good story. …” Orwell explains. “Above the level of a railway guide, no book is quite free from aesthetic considerations.”

Third is historical impulse: “Desire to see things as they are, to find out true facts and store them up for the use of posterity.”

Finally, and probably most importantly, political purpose: “Using the word ‘political’ in the widest possible sense. Desire to push the world in a certain direction, to alter other peoples’ idea of the kind of society that they should strive after. Once again, no book is genuinely free from political bias. The opinion that art should have nothing to do with politics is itself a political attitude.”

Orwell wrote this shortly after he penned “Animal Farm,” but two years before “1984.” He said “Animal Farm” was his first conscious effort “to fuse political purpose and artistic purpose into one whole.”

Orwell wrote against totalitarianism and for democratic socialism.

Ayn Rand wrote for free-market capitalism.

Robert A. Heinlein wrote for libertarianism.

Others espouse various “isms” and objective journalism attempts to eschew them, not always successfully.

So, what moves one to write?

As our master Orwell said, “All writers are vain, selfish, and lazy, and at the very bottom of their motives there lies a mystery.”

Everybody loves to unravel a good mystery, right?

Happy birthday, Eric Blair.

Video first posted in 2013.

Newspaper column: Book offers historic perspective on the press

The premise of conservative commentator Mark Levin’s new book, “Unfreedom of the Press,” is that modern journalism has devolved into an opinionated, group-think pack of politically partisan propagandists who oppose President Trump at every turn and think he is a danger to freedom of the press.

While we don’t think that conclusion is totally valid, the book does offer a worthy historic perspective on the behaviors of the press and our presidents.

Levin notes that for more than a century the American press was unabashedly partisan, often surviving on printing contracts from the party in power when the newspapers were able to put them there. He seems to accept the notion that sometime early in the 19th Century journalists altruistically embraced the concept of objectivity.

Actually the conversion was mostly profit-motivated. It was borne of the penny press.

The newspaper business model changed from being dependent on government printing contracts and political party handouts to one of being supported by advertisers, whose customers paid the same for a pair of shoes no matter which party they embraced. So why alienate half of your potential customers with partisanship? The newspaper that delivered the highest readership fetched the highest advertising dollar.

Levin’s book does point out correctly that Trump’s often repeated and tweeted animus for the press is benign compared to past presidents.

With the ink still damp on the First Amendment President John Adams pushed through the Federal Congress a series of Alien and Sedition Acts in 1798. These acts made it a crime to “write, print, utter or publish … any false, scandalous and malicious writing or writings against the government of the United States, or either house of the Congress of the United States, or the President of the United States, with intent to defame the said government, or either house of the said Congress, or the said President, or to bring them, or either of them, into contempt or disrepute …” The penalty was a fine or imprisonment for up to two years.

Under those laws more than 20 Republican newspaper editors were arrested and some were imprisoned. Among those was newspaperman James Callender who called Adams a “hideous hermaphroditical character, which has neither the force of a man, nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman.” These details are not in the book, by the way.

Levin notes Abraham Lincoln enforced censorship during the Civil War and jailed several reporters, editors and publishers.

Newspaper column: Free speech is not violence

The leftists have yet to learn that the proper response to speech they don’t like is to counter with more speech, reasoned speech. No, their first and constant response is: Shut up!

This is what happened after President Trump criticized a maladroit comment made by Rep. Ilhan Omar, a Minnesota Democrat and Muslim, in a speech before the Council on American-Islamic Relations. She said, “CAIR was founded after 9/11 because they recognized that some people did something and that all of us were starting to lose access to our civil liberties.”

Trump tweeted a video splicing together Omar’s tone-deaf “some people did something” with footage of the World Trade Towers collapsing. It was captioned, “WE WILL NEVER FORGET.”

A number of Democrats immediately demanded that the video be taken down because it might incite violence against Omar, and Omar herself said she had been subjected to numerous death threats. Never mind that CAIR has been accused of supporting terrorist organizations such as Hamas or that it actually was founded in 1994.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi tweeted, “It is wrong for the President, as Commander-in-Chief, to fan the flames to make anyone less safe.”

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren wrote on Twitter, “The President is inciting violence against a sitting Congresswoman — and an entire group of Americans based on their religion. It’s disgusting. It’s shameful. And any elected leader who refuses to condemn it shares responsibility for it.”

Sen. Bernie Sanders, another Democratic presidential candidate, joined in by tweeting, “Ilhan Omar is a leader with strength and courage. She won’t back down to Trump’s racism and hate, and neither will we. The disgusting and dangerous attacks against her must end.”

Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke, another Democratic presidential contender, criticized Trump during a speech, saying, “This is an incitement of violence against Congresswoman Omar — against our fellow Americans who happened to be Muslim.”

The always outspoken and equally maladroit New York Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez called the video an “outright, dangerous targeting of a member of Congress.”

Fellow Democrat and Muslim Rep. Rashida Tlaib tweeted that Trump took “Ilhan’s words out of context to incite violence toward her …”

Inciting violence?

We don’t seem to recall Sanders being chastised thusly after a supporter of his candidacy shot up a Republican baseball practice, seriously wounding Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana. Nor do we recall anguish over the many political and media attacks against Trump, despite the number of threats the Secret Service fields.

As for the legal definition of inciting violence, the Supreme Court nailed that in the 1969 case of Brandenburg v. Ohio when it struck down an Ohio law making it illegal to advocate violence. The court held, “Freedoms of speech and press do not permit a State to forbid advocacy of the use of force or of law violation except where such advocacy is directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action and is likely to incite or produce such action.”

Of course some Democrats are hand wringing over the possibility that some crazy person might be incentivized to act out violently due to Trump’s remarks, which clearly did not advocate violence of any kind.. If the crazy person standard is all it takes to silence criticism, then no speech is safe.

As for condoning violence, it was Rep. Omar who wrote a letter to a judge in 2016 asking for leniency for nine men charged with planning to join ISIS.

“A long-term prison sentence for one who chose violence to combat direct marginalization is a statement that our justice system misunderstands the guilty. A restorative approach to justice assesses the lure of criminality and addresses it,” Omar wrote.

“The desire to commit violence is not inherent to people — it is the consequences of systematic alienation; people seek violent solutions when the process established for enacting change is inaccessible to them.”

The answer to solving social and political issues is open and free discussion resulting in actions to combat wrongs, not violence. Using the specter of violence to gag free speech is fundamentally against everything this country was founded on and stands for.

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.

It is all politics all the time and principles be damned

Oh, please, don’t even pretend this is about principles. It is politics, pure and simple.

Nevada’s Democratic Attorney General Aaron Ford has joined the Democratic AGs in 15 other states to sue the Trump administration over his decision to declare an emergency to fund the building of more than 200 miles of border barrier after Congress refused to do so.

“President Trump cannot sidestep our Constitution for a political ploy,” Ford was quoted as saying by the Las Vegas newspaper. “The Trump Administration’s proposed diversion of funds would waste billions of dollars that is dedicated to supporting our military and law enforcement agencies. I am proud to join this lawsuit to defend our Constitution, our state’s military bases, and Nevada’s law enforcement agencies.”

Does anyone think any of these politicians would have sued after Obama issued an executive order creating the DACA program for illegal immigrants brought into the country as children after Congress repeatedly refused to authorize it?

Of course, Republican Attorney General Adam Laxalt did join other states in suing the Obama administration over DACA. He said in a press release at the time, “Our immigration system is broken and clearly needs to be fixed. But just as clearly, the solution is not for the president to act unilaterally disregarding the U.S. Constitution and laws. The solution must be a permanent, legal result that includes, not ignores, the other branches of government and their constitutional roles. Anything less is a false hope undermining the rule of law that injures millions of people in America, including many in Nevada.”

At least Trump has the National Emergencies Act of 1976 to hang his constitutional hat on. That act by Congress — probably unconstitutionally allows Congress to shirk its duties to hold the nation’s purse strings — grants the president the power to declare emergencies to cover the expense.

There are no principles any more. It is all about politics.

A woman walks near the border fence on the ocean between Tijuana and San Diego. (AP pix)

 

Oh, the misplaced agony and outrage over smaller IRS refund checks!

For a while this morning the lede news story on Yahoo!’s opening page was a HuffPost piece about people being angry that they are getting smaller refunds due to the Trump tax cuts.

The story reports on the chagrin thusly:

“The average refund check paid out so far has been $1,865, down from $2,035 at the same point in 2018, according to IRS data. Low-income taxpayers often file early to pocket the money as soon as possible. Many taxpayers count on the refunds to make important payments, or spend the money on things like home repairs, a vacation or a car.”

The story does at one point in passing note that the tax code changes meant that in some cases not enough money was withheld by employers. But nowhere in it does it note that in the vast majority of these cases the total tax bill for 2018 is less than the prior year. People just got to kept it with each paycheck and did not make interest-free loans to the federal government.

At the least the USA Today version of this story does mention the overall lower tax bill, but not until the last paragraph, which reads:

“Getting a smaller refund doesn’t mean you’re paying more in total in taxes. In many cases, much of your tax savings showed up in each paycheck, which could result in a smaller refund.”

As Bugs Bunny would say: What a bunch of maroons. Chalk this up as fake news.

USA Today photo illustration

 

Newspaper column: Nevada still has a role to play in nuclear deterrence

After learning this past week that the Department of Energy had secretly shipped a thousand pounds of weapons-grade plutonium to the Nevada National Security Site in Nye County before the state had filed a federal lawsuit in November seeking to block such shipments, Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak and the state’s entire Democratic delegation to D.C. flew into paroxysms of apoplexy, accusing the Trump administration of deception and dealing unfairly with the state.

Sisolak put out a statement declaring, “I am beyond outraged by this completely unacceptable deception from the U.S. Department of Energy. The Department led the State of Nevada to believe that they were engaging in good-faith negotiations with us regarding a potential shipment of weapons-grade plutonium, only to reveal that those negotiations were a sham all along. They lied to the State of Nevada, misled a federal court, and jeopardized the safety of Nevada’s families and environment.”

Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto was similarly indignant, charging that the Energy Department had “negotiated in bad faith, hiding the timing of their shipment and refused to share crucial information with Members of Congress who had the security clearance to know.”

Rep. Dina Titus said, “Time and again, we have seen Trump Administration officials treat Nevada as the dumping ground for the nation’s nuclear waste.”

Sen. Jacky Rosen called the shipment “deceitful and unethical” and said “the lack of transparency from the Department of Energy is absolutely unacceptable.”

Rep. Susie Lee decried, “Nevada officials were deceived by sham ‘negotiations’ while the safety of millions was jeopardized, as was the environment and economy of dozens of states. Nevada is not the nation’s nuclear dumping ground. Period.”

Rep. Steven Horsford, whose district includes what most Nevadans still call the Test Site, also bemoaned, “Our state is not a dumping ground for the nation’s hazardous waste, and we have no intention of letting it become one.”

The Energy Department responded with its own statement, saying it was inaccurate to state that the Nevada delegation was not informed and the agency made efforts to ensure members of Congress and state officials representing the states involved were notified as early as August 2018.

The agency also said, “It is also inaccurate to characterize this material as ‘waste’. This material is essential for maintenance of the U.S. weapons stockpile, and is handled with the highest standards for safety and security. NNSA routinely ships this type of material between its sites as part of our national security missions and has done so safely and securely for decades.”

Of course the shipment was secret. No one wants to give potential terrorists an itinerary. As for deceiving the court, the shipment had already been sent when the state’s suit was filed and the court was told this past week when the information was declassified.

What does anyone think the test site is used for in the first place? Since the Cold War it literally has been ground zero for nuclear tests and development of our nuclear deterrence. It is remote and secure.

Speaking of deterrence, the ruckus over the plutonium shipment came mere days before Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that the U.S. is pulling out of a nuclear arms control pact with Russia because of its ongoing and flagrant violations.

“When an agreement is so brazenly disregarded and our security is so openly threatened, we must respond,” Pompeo said. “Russia has jeopardized the United States’ security interests and we can no longer be restricted by the treaty while Russia shamelessly violates it.”

This means the U.S. will need to catch up with its potential adversaries, Russia and China, both of which have deployed long-range, nuclear-tipped missiles. That means maintaining and, yes, even adding to our nuclear arsenal.

The very reason the plutonium was shipped to Nevada was because a federal court had ordered it removed from the Savannah River facility in South Carolina because the government had failed to build a facility to convert the plutonium into nuclear reactor fuel. It is being stored here until it can be shipped to Los Alamos, N.M., where it can be processed for weapons with which to defend our country.

That is the role the test site has fulfilled for decades and needs to continue to do, despite the histrionics from Democratic politicians.

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.

Editorial: Harry-the-pot calls Donald-the-kettle black

Former Nevada Democratic Sen. and Senate majority leader Harry Reid appears to be on what one might suspect is a farewell media tour. Though he never was too cozy with the media, Reid has in recent weeks, while being treated for pancreatic cancer, granted lengthy interviews with The New York Times Magazine, the Las Vegas public radio station and the editor of the contribution-funded news and commentary website The Nevada Independent.

While most of the buzz has been about his harsh criticism of President Trump, calling him amoral, he also has been downright unrepentant about his own deeds over the years that pushed the boundaries of propriety.

In the Times article he was quoted as saying, “Trump is an interesting person. He is not immoral but is amoral. Amoral is when you shoot someone in the head, it doesn’t make a difference. No conscience.”

Reid went on to say, “I think he is without question the worst president we’ve ever had. … We’ve had some bad ones, and there’s not even a close second to him. … He’ll lie. He’ll cheat. You can’t reason with him.”

Harry Reid (NYT pix)

In the radio interview he doubled down, saying, “What amoral means is this: immoral is you do things and you feel bad about it. … If you are amoral, you have no conscience,” adding, “I didn’t use the word as a throwaway word. I used the word because I meant it.”

The Nevada Indy editor described Reid as seeming “positively giddy that his use of the word ‘amoral’ to describe Trump … had generated so many Google searches for the definition — 4,300, he beamed.”

Without a hint of irony the magazine story recounted how Reid in 2012, with no proof to back it up, falsely claimed Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney had not paid any income taxes in a decade. He later told CNN by way of justification, “I don’t regret it at all. Romney didn’t win, did he?”

The Indy even quotes Reid as being boastful about using the power of his office to badger bankers into lending money for MGM Resorts to finish its stalled City Center project and intimidating hedge fund managers into pulling out of financing coal-fired power plants near Ely that cost hundreds of jobs.

“No one in their right mind would have done what I did ….” the 79-year-old Reid said. “No one would have done that … but it paid off.”

This was the same Reid who twisted arms at Immigration and Customs Enforcement to reverse a decision that was blocking visas for Chinese investors in a Las Vegas casino with ties to Reid’s son Rory.

And yes, the same Reid who in 1998 invested $400,000 in a parcel of land in Las Vegas, but transferred the land to another party three years later for the purchase price, according to records. Yet, when the land sold in 2004 he pocketed $1.1 million. Reid aides dismissed the earlier deal as a “technical” transfer.

Sometimes his efforts fell short. After Reid acquired 160 acres in Bullhead City, Ariz., the land was expected to increase in value after Reid passed a bill to spend $20 million to build a bridge over the Colorado River nearby, but the bridge was never built.

No need to mention one of Reid’s backers went to prison for illegally bundling contributions to Reid.

On the radio Reid also boasted about getting millions in funding to research unidentified flying objects.

“I think it is something we can’t ignore. I personally don’t know if there exist little green men places. I kind of doubt that, but I do believe the information we have indicates we should do a lot more study,” he said, without deigning to mention that much of the secret “research” money went to a Las Vegas crony and campaign contributor.

Reid has a well-earned reputation for being truculent, belligerent, rude, viciously vindictive, antagonistic and downright Machiavellian. His own former press aide once told a reporter Reid looks at a person’s vulnerabilities to “disarm, to endear, to threaten, but most of all to instill fear.”

Perhaps we can file this under the category: It takes one to know one.

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.