Newspaper column: Two different approaches to Internet access

When boiled down to its essence, the key difference between the two major political parties is this: Democrats believe government is the solution. Republicans believe government is the problem.
This difference is on display with bills being pushed by two Nevada senatorial candidates — incumbent Republican Dean Heller and challenger Jacky Rosen, currently a freshman congresswoman.
Rosen recently introduced legislation that would reinstate the Obama administration’s 2015 net neutrality rule, which gave the Federal Communications Commission sweeping powers to micromanage the internet. The FCC recently voted 3-2 to remove that rule, saying itwas stifling internet innovation.
“This administration’s reckless decision to repeal net neutrality gives internet service providers the ability to stack the deck against Nevada’s hardworking families and small businesses who could be forced to pay more to connect to an internet with slower speeds,” Rosen said in a press release following the introduction of her bill. “This resolution would reverse the FCC’s misguided ruling, which places large corporate profits ahead of people, and restore access to a free and open internet for Nevadans.”

Fiber optic cables. (AP pix)

Actually, according to The Wall Street Journal, the rule created uncertainty about what the FCC would allow and thus throttled investment in new technology, because it prohibited “paid prioritization,” under which bandwidth hogs, such as video streaming companies, could have opted out of heavy traffic and switched to a toll road, just as occurs on congested highways. The newspaper said both content providers and consumers would benefit from increased investment in faster wireless and fiber technology in the free market.
The Journal noted that the new FCC rules “would require that broadband providers disclose discriminatory practices. Thus cable companies would have to be transparent if they throttle content when users reach a data cap or if they speed up live sports programming. Consumers can choose broadband providers and plans accordingly.” Additionally, the Federal Trade Commission would still have authority to police predatory and monopolistic practices as it had prior to the net neutrality power grab.
In an opinion article penned for the online news service The Nevada Independent, Rosen made the specious argument, “Nevada families should not be forced to pay more for slower Internet because big telecommunications corporations want to increase their profits,” showing the customary Democratic disdain for profits. She also claimed, “Without net neutrality, rural communities, who are often limited to only one Internet service provider, could find themselves at the mercy of a single provider,” ignoring the fact that curbing profits ensures the continuation of such monopolies.
As for rural communities, Heller has offered a bill that would help cut through the thicket of government bureaucracy to actually speed up private internet investment, innovation and construction. Noting 85 percent of the land in Nevada is controlled by various federal land agencies, Heller’s bill would create a 270-day clock for the Interior Department and the Forest Service to approve or deny applications for easements or rights-of-way across federal land for broadband infrastructure projects. If the federal agencies miss the deadline, the application is deemed approved. If the application is denied, the agency must explain the reason for denial.
The bill further requires the federal agencies to establish regulations within one year that reflect a streamlined, consistent, and standardized process for application review.
“Access to high-speed broadband is a pillar of economic growth in the U.S., yet Nevada’s rural communities continue to lag behind because bureaucratic red tape prevents expansion of broadband infrastructure,” Heller said in a press release. “Given that nearly 85 percent of Nevada is owned by the federal government, many applications to deploy broadband on federal lands remain stalled in a lengthy interagency approval process. From Ely to Pahrump, I continue to hear that this bureaucratic hurdle is stifling innovation and job creation in our rural communities.”
Asked via email for comment on this topic, Heller’s Republican primary challenger Danny Tarkanian replied, “Overall, I believe in the most freedom-centered version of the internet possible. Technology, on the whole and more specifically the internet, are a boon to democracy and have done more to lend a voice to the people than just about any modern invention. Keeping the internet as an instrument of free-communication as well as of commerce are essential to the cause of liberty.”
Tarkanian added that he opposes any regulation that allows carriers to restrict access or create false tiers with which to charge customers increased rates for service.
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.

Case law did not create a public records balancing test for bureaucrats

The morning newspaper today began a series of articles marking Sunshine Week, which was created to shine a light on the need for governmental transparency.

That is a laudatory endeavor. The lede story quotes  attorney Maggie McLetchie, who has represented the paper in a number of lawsuits seeking public records, as saying, “We could file one of these lawsuits everyday (sic) … But, fundamentally, you shouldn’t have to pay a lawyer to get access to records of taxpayer-funded agencies. The whole point is that the government works for us, the people, and we should be able to evaluate the work of the government.”

Or as I wrote in this past week’s newspaper column: “The point is that for the public to be able to perform its democratic role in voting into or out of office the most suitable personages, they must be kept informed as to how well or ill the current office holders and their minions are doing their jobs.”

But today’s story contained a fundamental misstatement of case law.

It said the case of Donrey v. Bradshaw “allowed governments to withhold records not deemed confidential if officials decide secrecy is in the best interest of the public.”

No, as I wrote in 2013, Donrey v. Bradshaw was a victory for the media.

A Reno television station, which was then owned by the same company that owned the Las Vegas newspaper, requested a police investigative report on brothel owner Joe Conforte. The Reno city attorney had dismissed charges of contributing to the delinquency of a minor against Conforte even though police opposed the dismissal. Such reports are by law confidential.

The Nevada Supreme Court applied a balancing test and found that “weighing the absence of any privacy or law enforcement policy justifications for nondisclosure against the general policy in favor of open government” that the scales tipped in favor of release of the records.

But, ever since then local governments have been applying the balancing test to argue that records clearly public should be confidential, even though there is no specific law saying so. That argument has been used to deny access to everything from employee evaluations and salaries to cell phone records of county commissioners.

Judges, not  bureaucrats with vested interests, should be the only ones who may apply a balancing test to determine whether a record is open for inspection.

The case of Donrey v. Bradshaw did not allow government bureaucrats to do so. The courts or lawmakers should make this clear, though we suspect lawmakers would opt for less transparency.

Let the sun shine in.




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)

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.

Newspaper column: Public has a right to see justice done

Steve Kelly cartoon

Currently playing in theaters across the country is a movie called “The Post,” about  how in 1971 The New York Times and The Washington Post both brazenly defied the law of the land and published excerpts of a highly classified document that has since been dubbed the Pentagon Papers, which outlined how a succession of presidents lied to and concealed information from the American public about events and strategy in the Vietnam War.

The public had a right to know, both papers argued.

There was nothing in the Papers that would have jeopardized American security or troops, just the confidence of the American people in the belief that their leaders would tell them the unvarnished truth.

Today, both of those papers are being less than enthusiastic about the public’s right to know what is in a declassified memo from the House Intelligence Committee that states there are “concerns with the legitimacy and legality” of how law enforcement obtained court approval to wiretap a then volunteer political adviser to  now-President Donald Trump, Carter Page, in an investigation into whether the Trump campaign “colluded” with officials of the Russian government.

The memo indicates Justice and FBI officials were less than forthcoming with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court about the material used to support the request for permission to surveil an American citizen, despite the Fourth Amendment guarantee that citizens are to be secure against unreasonable searches and seizures. The memo specifically addresses the fact the Christopher Steele “dossier” was bought and paid for by the Democratic National Committee and the Hillary Clinton campaign and that the credibility of Steele himself was doubtful after he was quoted as saying he “was desperate that Donald Trump not get elected and was passionate about him not being president.”

Never mind that then-FBI Director James Comey testified that the dossier was “salacious and unverified.”

The Post editorialized that the Intelligence Committee under Republican Devin Nunes of California “has become another front in Mr. Trump’s assault on the law enforcement institutions investigating the president and his associates. House Republicans are poisoning the committee’s relationship with the intelligence community and distracting from real issues demanding attention.”

Poisoning? Distracting?

The editorialists at the Times opened with the dismissive line, “Seriously? That’s all they’ve got?” From there the paper derisively chided the House Republicans for what it seemed to believe is a newly discovered reverence for transparency.

“Since the Republicans are now on board with greater transparency, they will no doubt push President Trump to release his tax returns, as every other major-party presidential nominee has done for the past four decades, won’t they?” the Times taunted.

There was nothing in the memo that in any way jeopardizes national security, but the Democrats on the Intelligence Committee fired off a memo declaring, “The Republican document mischaracterizes highly sensitive classified information …” adding, “The sole purpose of the Republican document is to circle the wagons around the White House and insulate the President.”

Nevada’s Democrats, of course, joined the hooting chorus of naysaying.

Freshman Rep. Jacky Rosen, who is running against Sen. Dean Heller this year, said, “Declassifying this memo, filled with innuendo to support unsubstantiated claims, is a blatant attempt to discredit Robert Mueller’s investigation for political gain. This was all done despite the objections of the FBI, and these attacks undermine the integrity of our federal law enforcement officers.”

Nevada Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto released a statement declaring, “This partisan memo is nothing more than an attempt to distract from the very real issue: Did a presidential candidate’s campaign work with a foreign government to influence our election process? I support the dedicated professionals at the Federal Bureau of Investigation. It is clear that to some Republicans in Congress, it’s more important to play politics than to support law enforcement. No one should ever be above the law.

Including those in law enforcement?

Rep. Dina Titus fired off this retort, “Republicans are willing to jeopardize our national security by attacking and undermining an FBI investigation of one of Trump’s advisers in a memo that has material omissions of fact, distortions, and ulterior motives. … Something doesn’t add up. Trump has something to hide.”

And what is the purpose of classifying a document, but to hide? While declassifying reveals.

For justice to be done, it must the seen, and not cloaked under a veil of secrecy.

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: Democrats display disrespectful distraction

Nevada Democrats have taken identity politics to a whole new level. They have not just lowered the bar, they have buried it.

Recently they held a press conference to announce the state party’s mascot for the 2018 election season – Mitch McTurtle. Apparently without a hint of embarrassment state Democratic Party Chairman William McCurdy unveiled the mascot. It was someone dressed in a turtle costume and holding a faux bag of cash, displaying a name tag reading “Mitch” and standing in front of a sign saying “shelling out millions for Dean Heller since 2011.”

The mascot looked like a parody of a Mutant Ninja Turtle, moviedom’s parody of super heroes, making it a parody of a parody. Is a parody of a parody a double negative and thus a positive?

The character apparently is meant to ridicule Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, not because he moves legislation through the muck and mire of the swamp on the Potomac at the pace of a turtle, but because of his appearance, of all things.

It seems some editorial cartoonists think the older white man McConnell’s thick neck and pointy head protruding from the shell of a suit and tie resemble a turtle. Imagine the hue and cry and pitch forks and torches that would be brought out if some Republican ridiculed someone, anyone because of their appearance, skin pigmentation, gender, sexual orientation or gender identity.

We presume the costumed character is the 2018 version of the person in the chicken suit who hung around Republican events in 2010 to ridicule Republican senate candidate Sue Lowden for her nostalgic comment about the old days in rural Nevada when doctors did house calls and were paid in chickens instead of government welfare subsidies.

Some Democrats, without a hint of shame, discomfort or awkwardness, even posed with the green-bedecked character for photos that were posted online.

In this election year there are so many real issues that need to be addressed. All the representative seats are on the ballot. Two will be open seats, as Congressional District 4 Rep. Democrat Ruben Kihuen, under a cloud of sexual harassment allegations, will not be seeking re-election, and Congressional District 3 Democrat Rep. Jacky Rosen has announced she will oppose Republican Sen. Dean Heller, the designated target of the turtle mascot.

But first Heller must face Republican Danny Tarkanian in a primary, presumably sans turtle mascot in tow.

There is also a wide open race for governor since Gov. Brian Sandoval is term limited.

On the Republican side Attorney General Adam Laxalt is leading Treasurer Dan Schwartz in the polls.

On the Democrat side the current front runners appear to be Clark County Commissioners Chris Giunchigliani and Steve Sisolak.

The real issues nationally include the current hot buttons of immigration, border security, the budget, deficit and debt reduction, entitlement reform, earmarks, restoration of military might, trade agreements and tariffs, energy independence, health care and health insurance and so much more.

At the state level the issues will include taxation, Yucca Mountain, minimum wage, prevailing wages, voter ID, mental health, Medicaid eligibility, aid for veterans, tax abatements and more.

We wonder how many people have any clue as to just who Mitch McConnell is or that he took over the mantle of majority leader from Sen. Harry Reid.

This ignoble mascot endeavor by Nevada Democrats to ridicule a person’s physical appearance deserves a hearty horse laugh and a heaping ration of mockery, scorn, scoffing, taunts, jeers, lampooning and jibes. Let them begin and continue apace.

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.

%d bloggers like this: