Newspaper column: An immodest proposal for a 28th Amendment

The horrific shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., that left 17 dead and more than a dozen wounded at the hands of a 19-year-old armed with a semi-automatic rifle has again set off a flurry of rational and emotional debates over gun control, mental health and school security measures.

Worthy topics all, but the event has also fostered an ancillary discussion about what we used to call the age of majority.

Two law professors are hanging their mortar boards on the emotional demands of frightened students that something be done to suggest that the voting age be reduced from 18 to 16.

Joshua Douglas, a law professor at the University of Kentucky College of Law, declared in a column posted online by CNN, “The real adults in the room are the youth from Parkland, Florida, who are speaking out about the need for meaningful gun control laws. They are proving that civic engagement among young people can make a difference. The ironic part? They can’t even vote yet.”

Douglas argues that the mostly 16- and 17-year-olds at the Florida school are the ones most forcefully demanding change by planning a national protest and school walkout, calling out President Donald Trump and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio for failing to support gun control laws, conducting rallies, engaging the media, keeping national attention on the issue. Therefore, he says, they should be allowed to be heard at the ballot box.

Harvard Law School professor Laurence Tribe tweeted out this erudite proposition: “Teens between 14 and 18 have far better BS detectors, on average, than ‘adults’ 18 and older. Wouldn’t it be great if the voting age were lowered to 16? Just a pipe dream, I know, but … #Children’sCrusade?” (Pay no heed to what happened during the previous Children’s Crusade.)

Since the shooter was a 19-year-old, President Trump had his own twitter suggestion about altering an age threshold, “I will be strongly pushing Comprehensive Background Checks with an emphasis on Mental Health. Raise age to 21 and end sale of Bump Stocks! Congress is in a mood to finally do something on this issue — I hope!”

Never mind that a 17-year-old, with parental consent, may join the military and be required to handle semi-automatic weapons.People forget the legal voting age was 21 not so long ago. The 26th Amendment lowered it to 18 in 1971 during the Vietnam War, when the slogan was: “Old enough to fight, old enough to vote.”

That slogan apparently doesn’t hold water, or alcohol, when it comes to drinking. In 1984, President Ronald Reagan signed the National Minimum Drinking Age Act, requiring all states to raise the legal drinking age to 21 or forgo federal highway funds.

We seem a bit arbitrary in drawing the age of majority line.

Science tells us the human brain in most people does not reach full maturity in its decision-making capacity until the age of 25. For instance, Sandra Aamodt, a neuroscientist and co-author of the book “Welcome to Your Child’s Brain,” told National Public Radio a few years ago that a 20-year-old is 50 percent more likely to do something risky if two friends are watching than if he’s alone. Perhaps that is why rental car companies charge a higher rate for drivers under 25.

Aamodt suggested there might be different age thresholds for different functions. “Obviously some 18 year olds are competent to go out into the world and handle things by themselves and some of them aren’t,” she was quoted as saying. “It would be nice if we had a little more flexibility to distinguish the two in the legal system.”

Our Constitution also recognizes that certain functions must be reserved till later in life. You can’t serve in the House of Representative until age 25, in the Senate until age 30 or as president until age 35.

Perhaps someone should proffer a 28th Amendment. One that raises the legal voting, drinking and gun purchasing age to 25. Do I hear 35?

As Jonathan Swift once said, “I profess, in the sincerity of my heart, that I have not the least personal interest in endeavouring to promote this necessary work, having no other motive than the publick good of my country …”

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.

Florida students demand gun control. (AP pix)


Due process comes first, Mr. President

Trump’s grasp of the Constitution is slippery at best.

“I like taking the guns early, like in this crazy man’s case that just took place in Florida … to go to court would have taken a long time,” The Hill quoted Trump as saying during a meeting with lawmakers on school safety and gun violence Wednesday. “Take the guns first, go through due process second.”

The Hill said Trump was responding to comments from Vice President Pence that there should be more tools for reporting potentially dangerous individuals with weapons — though those “tools” apparently failed about 45 times in the case of the Broward County high school shooter.

“Or, Mike, take the firearms first, and then go to court,” Trump reportedly responded.

I’ve always said Pence should have been on top of the ticket.

Due process is twice mentioned in the Constitution. The Fifth Amendment says the federal government may not deprive anyone of “life, liberty or property without due process of law.” While the Fourteenth Amendment, ratified after the Civil War, adds that the states also may not “deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law …”

These principals as relates to gun ownership were upheld by the Supreme Court in both D.C. v. Heller and McDonald v. Chicago.

Newspaper column: Neighbors hope Little Ash Springs remains closed

There are two sides to every story.

Four years ago the Bureau of Land Management locked the gate to Little Ash Springs north of Alamo for what was described as a couple of weeks due to a crumbling wall on a manmade pool. It remains closed.

Recently, the Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke told the Las Vegas newspaper, “This is exactly why the federal government needs to clean up our act. I’m not in the business of locking the public out.”

He added, “We need to work with local communities and be better neighbors …”

Speaking of neighbors, Joe and Andrea Barker own the 13-acre tract adjacent to and downstream from the 1-acre BLM-controlled Little Ash Springs. Their property is known as Big Ash Springs and has 50 springs feeding 94-degree water into meandering shallow rivulets that are home to two endangered species — the White River springfish and the Pahranagat roundtail chub, found only in the Ash Springs system.

During a recent interview in their home atop a rocky outcropping overlooking the springs, Joe Barker said, “We thought that we might be able to manage some opening of this Little Ash Springs, but I think as time has gone on we, I guess, we’d prefer that it stay closed. And I think our view is that it is the headwaters of the protected species and the government should be the one protecting them.”

He said it seems unfair that private property owners, owning the vast majority of those springs, are really the ones protecting the endangered species.

The couple recalled that one Memorial Day there were 300 people at the site, though there are only two vault toilets. He said after such use the area would be strewn with trash — including bottles, beer cans, diapers, tampons and more. Andrea Barker added, “We’ve actually watched the water go from crystal clear to murky by 10 o’clock in the morning.”

The couple said the BLM told them the agency were not in the business of running recreational facilities.

Joe Barker, an aerospace industry retiree who bought Big Ash Springs 13 years ago, said when he bought the property he had contemplated opening a cafe with the springs as a visual and recreational amenity. At one time he said he and his wife presented the BLM with a plan that included Little Ash Springs and the BLM officials discussed letting them run Little Ash as a part of their venue, but shortly after a meeting the plan was withdrawn without explanation.

A group calling itself Friends of Pahranagat Valley has called for construction on the Little Ash Springs site of four manmade “soak” pools, boardwalks and bridges, a toll booth for an entry fee, additional parking, pavilions, volleyball pit and basketball court, expanded toilet facilities and hiring two or more employees to monitor the site. The group’s website suggested that federal grants and fundraising in the community could pay for the additions, though the Interior Department is actually tightening its budget.

Joe Barker said it would be best if the water from pools where people soak could be purified of bacteria and viruses before being released downstream, but the BLM told him the agency has no water rights and thus can’t legally divert the water.

He said there is still a possibility he might try to develop some kind of recreational facility on his property but he would probably need to treat the water coming in and going out for safety safe and to make it easier to obtain liability insurance.

But there is still the hurdle of how to deal with the endangered species. “The question was, What’s good enough (protection)? And they can’t answer that question. … You get different answers at different times,” Joe Barker complained, while noting fish count has recovered since the BLM closed Little Ash Springs.

Andrea Barker said the problem in the past was that it was not properly managed. “It was overused. Sometimes you would have several hundred people up there and two vault toilets,” she said. “People understand that the water is overused and would come and pour an entire gallon of bleach in it before they go swimming.”

Additionally, there were gangs who painted graffiti on nearby buildings, blaring music, religious services with blaring horns and even voodoo rituals, after which one woman told the Barkers there were more headless chickens than she could count.

Joe Barker said the site had become so dangerous locals stopped going there.

As Zinke said, perhaps the BLM needs to be better neighbors.

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.

Little Ash Springs as seen through the wrought iron fence from neighboring private property. (Mitchell pix)

Raise the age for voting and buying guns to 25

Teen hold ‘lie in’ at White House to press for gun control. (AP pix)

An online columnist is using the student reaction to the shooting at the Florida high school to raise the question of whether the voting age should be lowered from 18 to 16.

Harvard law professor Laurence Tribe is using the “#Children’sCrusade” that resulted from the shooting to also argue for lowering the voting age to 16.

But President Trump says perhaps the age at which one is allowed to purchase assault weapons should be raised to 21, even though 17-year-olds may enlist in the military and be required to shoot assault weapons. The Florida high school shooter is 19.

On the other hand, scientists say the brain is not fully mature until age 25.

You can’t serve in the House of Representative until age 25, in the Senate until age 30 and serve as president until 35.

When the 26th Amendment lowering the voting age to 18 was passed in 1971 during the Vietnam War, when 18-year-olds were being drafted, the slogan was: “Old enough to fight, old enough to vote.”

So here we are arguing again about when people are mature enough to do certain things. If the brain is not mature until 25 and one can’t serve in Congress until 25, perhaps we should raise the voting age and the right to buy guns to 25, right?




Is the U.S. nuclear arsenal still a deterrence?

WSJ graphic

The editorialists at the Las Vegas Sun are living in a mad, MAD world. You know: Mutually Assured Destruction. Never mind that some of the people with their fingers on nuclear triggers may well be suicidal seekers of the apocalypse.

But let’s dispel a factual error first. “There are nearly 7,000 warheads in the U.S. nuclear arsenal, deliverable across the globe at a moment’s notice by missile, aircraft and submarine,” today’s Sun editorial proclaims.

Well, not quite. According to the Federation of American Scientists, the U.S. has a total of about 6,600 nuclear weapons, but 2,600 are retired and awaiting dismantling. Another 2,200 are in stockpile and about 1,800 are deployed. Russia has similar numbers, they say. Enough to make the rubble bounce, as we used to say?

The Sun quotes a Time article that hysterically declares President Trump has put the Nevada National Security Site on notice to be ready to renew testing of nuclear weapons solely for the purpose of scaring potential enemies into backing down. The Sun declares that testing is totally unneeded. (The editorial did note that Gov. Brian Sandoval says he has been assured no nuke testing will take place in Nevada.)

The Sun says the mere idea of renewed nuke tests “demonstrates an astonishing lack of understanding about the nation’s military and the world’s perception of the U.S. More than anything, it proves that Trump’s feelings of inadequacy and inferiority know no bounds.”

But is our nuclear deterrence still a deterrence?

According to a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed, our ancient B-52 bombers and outdated cruise missiles are vulnerable to Russian and Chinese air defenses and we have only 20 penetrating B-2 bombers located at a few insufficiently hardened bases.

While we once had 41 ballistic-missile submarines, SSBNs, we are down to 14, the article notes, and those, too, are vulnerable.

“American ballistic-missile defense is severely underdeveloped due to ideological opposition and the misunderstanding of its purpose, which is to protect population and infrastructure as much as possible but, because many warheads will get through, primarily to shield retaliatory capacity so as to make a successful enemy first strike impossible — thus increasing stability rather than decreasing it, as its critics wrongly believe,” the writer, Mark Helprin, explains. “Starved of money and innovation, missile defense has been confined to midcourse interception, when boost-phase and terminal intercept are also needed. Merely intending this without sufficient funding is useless. As for national resilience, the U.S. long ago gave up any form of civil defense, while Russia and China have not. This reinforces their ideas of nuclear utility, weakens our deterrence, and makes the nuclear calculus that much more unstable.”

Helprin disputes the federation of scientists stats and states the Russians have 2,600 currently deployed strategic warheads compared to the U.S.’s 1,590.

Another WSJ writer points out that the U.S. has no tactical nukes, which means if confronted by another nation’s use of smaller nukes on the battlefield, the U.S.’s only ability to counter is with a full-scale nuclear exchange and a global holocaust — or to back down and lose all credibility for defense commitments.

Perhaps we should not be so fast in declaring there is no need for continued nuclear weapon development and testing. It is a mad, mad world after all.

Federation of American Scientists graphic




Editorial: Head of EPA bemoans ‘weaponization’ of his agency

EPA head Scott Pruitt tours a Nevada mine. (Elko Daily Free Press pix)

Under the Constitution the duty of the executive branch of the federal government is to enforce the laws enacted by Congress. Somewhere along the way some presidents and many of their appointed administrators of the various executive branches have lost sight of this distinction and usurped powers not accorded them.

Fortunately this trend appears to be on the decline. Take for example the recent words of Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt.

“We are housed in the Executive Branch, and your job is to enforce the law — the only authority I have is from Congress — largely what has happened with the past administration, they made it up,” Pruitt said in a recent press interview. “The fact that Congress is dysfunctional and is not updating the Clean Air Act or the Clean Water Act or all of these statutes that we administer, the fact that Congress isn’t doing that doesn’t mean EPA can say, ‘We’re going to do it in your place.’”

He went on to say his agency in the past had “weaponized” its rule making authority to pick and choose winners in the economy. “Weaponized in the sense of saying we are going to favor certain outcomes in the market with respect to energy and the environment — that’s not the role of a regulator,” Pruitt said.

A few days later the head of the EPA visited mining sites in Nevada and continued his rant about the weaponization of rules to prohibit economic activity rather than meet the congressional mandate to keep the air and water clean.

“The agency that I’ve been selected to lead, the last several years has been weaponized. It’s been weaponized against certain sectors of our economy, and yours was one of them,” the Elko newspaper quoted Pruitt as telling 300 miners during a visit to Coeur Mining’s Rochester mine near Lovelock. “Think about that for a second. An agency in Washington, D.C., weaponized against its own sectors of the economy across this country. That’s not the way it should work.”

He said his agency needs to get back to stewardship of the environment rather than issuing prohibitions against certain activity.

Pruitt went on say that his agency would be cooperative with the states in taking commonsense approaches that give the state leeway in making cost-effective decisions — a refreshing return to the concept of federalism.

“We recognized that you in Nevada recognize that you care about the air that you breath, the water you drink and how you take care of your land in the state,” the Elko paper quoted Pruitt as saying. “Having a rule that was punitive, weaponized against the mining sector, was not a reason to have the rule, so we stopped the rule.”

Pruitt’s approach to looking at the facts and the law instead of vague presumptions based on unproven theories is sending the climate change acolytes into paroxysms of apoplexy.

In that earlier interview, he was quoted as saying, “There are things we know and things we don’t know. I think it’s pretty arrogant for people in 2018 to say, ‘We know what the ideal surface temperature should be in the year 2100,’” adding that the debate about proper carbon dioxide levels is important but not the most pressing matter in the near future.

We appreciate and applaud the commonsense and constitutional approach enunciated by this member of the executive branch. It is good for the economy, the environment and the country.

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.

Newspaper column: Move the headquarters of federal land agencies West

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke rides a horse in the new Bears Ears National Monument in Utah a year ago. (AP pix)

Head ’em up, move ’em out.

There has been a lot of talk since the Trump administration has taken over about where to locate the national headquarters of some of the nation’s federal land agencies. One land agency, the Bureau of Land Management, controls 11 percent of the nation’s lands, but 99 percent of that land is in the West.

Fully 85 percent of the land in Nevada is controlled by those federal land agencies, the highest percentage of any state, with 66 percent of the state lying under the purview of the BLM, while the rest of the public land is controlled by agencies such as the Forest Service, National Park Service, Fish and Wildlife Service, the Department of Defense and the Bureau of Reclamation.

According to several news accounts, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, a native of Montana, is open to moving the headquarters of some of the agencies under his command out of the District of Colombia and into the West, specifically the BLM, the Fish and Wildlife Service and the Bureau of Reclamation.

Colorado Republican Sen. Cory Gardner has a bill pending in Congress that would require moving the BLM HQ to Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington or Wyoming.

The bill states: “Not later than 180 days after the date of enactment of this Act, the Secretary shall submit to the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources of the Senate and the Committee on Natural Resources of the House of Representatives a strategy for relocating the headquarters of the Bureau of Land Management from Washington, DC, to a western State in a manner that will save the maximum amount of taxpayer money practicable.”

“You’re dealing with an agency that basically has no business in Washington, D.C.,” Gardner was quoted as saying by The Associated Press.

The same story quoted northern Nevada’s Republican Rep. Mark Amodei as saying, “I’m excited about the fact that they’re looking at it,” though he stopped short of endorsing the bill at this time. The AP story went on to note that Amodei said he had spoken with bureau officials in Washington who know so little about Nevada they thought the land under a highway interchange was wildlife habitat.A similar bill to Gardner’s has been introduced in the House by Colorado Republican Rep. Scott Tipton.

“Moving BLM’s headquarters West is a commonsense solution that Coloradans from across the political spectrum support,” Sen. Gardner said in a statement. “Ninety-nine percent of the nearly 250 million acres of land managed by BLM is West of the Mississippi River, and having the decision-makers present in the communities they impact will lead to better policy. Coloradans want more Colorado common sense from Washington and this proposal accomplishes that goal.”

Federal bureaucrats sheltered inside the Beltway have little appreciation of what lies in the vast open spaces of the West besides the beasts, bugs, birds and weeds that self-styled environmentalist claim need protection from devastation by ranchers, farmers, miners, lumberjacks and oil and gas explorers, who depend for their livelihoods on access to the land.

According to employee notes of a meeting between Zinke and executives of the U.S. Geological Survey this past summer in Denver that were leaked to Energy & Environment News, the Interior secretary reportedly said Denver “will probably” become headquarters to some of his land agencies by as early as 2019.

Another advantage of moving federal land bureaucrats out West is that it would require them to live in states and communities unable to assess property taxes on those federal lands in order to build schools, roads and hospitals and pay for police and fire protection.

Perhaps they would come to realize how paltry those Payment in Lieu of Taxes checks really are. Perhaps their neighbors can tell them how those PILT checks amount to only 5 percent of the $8.8 billion the Interior Department collects each year from commercial activities, such as oil and gas leases, livestock grazing and timber harvesting on federal lands that is sent to Washington.

When your own ox is being gored it gets your attention.

Head ’em up, move ’em out.

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.