Newspaper column: New senator wants to shred First Amendment

Nevada’s newly elected U.S. senator, Catherine Cortez Masto, has already taken up the cudgel against the First Amendment previously wielded by her predecessor, Harry Reid.

She put out a press release recently announcing that she has joined with other congressional Democrats to reintroduce a constitutional amendment that would overturn Supreme Court rulings that have held that it is a violation of the First Amendment to restrict the amount of money corporations, nonprofits, unions and other groups may spend on political campaigns and when they may spend it.

In its current incarnation it is being called the Democracy for All Amendment. In previous years it bore the unwieldy acronym DISCLOSE Act — Democracy Is Strengthened by Casting Light on Spending in Elections. Reid frequently took to the floor of the Senate to pound the table for the amendment and disparage the Koch brothers’ political spending as the embodiment of evil.

“The U.S. Constitution puts democratic power in the hands of the American people — not corporations or private companies,” the press release quotes Cortez Masto as saying“Since the Citizens United decision, big corporations have gained unprecedented influence over elections and our country’s political process. I am proud to be a cosponsor of this legislation; it’s critical that we end unlimited corporate contributions if we are going to have a democratic process and government that will truly work for all Americans.”

In the 2010 Citizens United decision, a 5-4 Supreme Court struck down the part of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law that prohibited organizations such as Citizens United, a political action committee, from expending funds for electioneering immediately prior to an election. In this case the Federal Election Commission blocked the 2008 broadcast of “Hillary: The Movie,” which was critical of Hillary Clinton’s presidential bid.

During the arguments in the case, the Justice Department attorney defending the law admitted the law also would censor books critical of candidates, though newspapers and other media, most owned by large corporations, were exempted from the law and may criticize, editorialize and endorse or oppose candidates freely. Some corporations are more equal than others.

Cortez Masto’s statement concluded, “The Democracy for All Amendment returns the right to regulate elections to the people by clarifying that Congress and the states can set reasonable regulations on campaign finance and distinguish between individuals and corporations in the law.”

The problem is that free speech is not free if the incumbent government satrapy can curtail its dissemination.

Justice Anthony Kennedy explained this in his majority opinion in Citizens United v. FEC: “As a ‘restriction on the amount of money a person or group can spend on political communication during a campaign,’ that statute ‘necessarily reduces the quantity of expression by restricting the number of issues discussed, the depth of their exploration, and the size of the audience reached.’ … Were the Court to uphold these restrictions, the Government could repress speech by silencing certain voices at any of the various points in the speech process. (Government could repress speech by ‘attacking all levels of the production and dissemination of ideas,’ for ‘effective public communication requires the speaker to make use of the services of others’).”

The fact the expenditure is coming from a group instead of an individual does not negate the First Amendment guarantee of the “freedom of expression by prohibiting Congress from restricting the press or the rights of individuals to speak freely,” because it “also guarantees the right of citizens to assemble peaceably and to petition their government.”

An assembly is not just a crowd of people on the street, it is also an organization.

Reid in one of his many diatribes on the subject said: “But the flood of special interest money into our American democracy is one of the greatest threats our system of government has ever faced. Let’s keep our elections from becoming speculative ventures for the wealthy and put a stop to the hostile takeover of our democratic system by a couple of billionaire oil barons. It is time that we revive our constituents’ faith in the electoral system, and let them know that their voices are being heard.”

This implies the voters are too stupid to hear an open and free-wheeling debate and not be influenced by the volume or frequency of the message.

Lest we forget, in the 2016 presidential election, Donald Trump was outspent by Hillary Clinton by two-to-one — $600 million to $1.2 billion.

Censorship is unAmerican and unnecessary. Cortez Masto should abandon this assault on free speech.

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: Bundy case remains shrouded in secrecy

Cliven Bundy, center, holds his grandson. (AP photo by John Locher)

Cliven Bundy, center, holds his grandson. (AP file photo by John Locher)

In order to maintain public confidence in a civil society, not only must justice be done, it must also be seen to be done.

This past week Nevada’s Chief U.S. District Judge Gloria Navarro upheld a sweeping protective order by a federal magistrate that seals documents and gags participants in the pending trial of Cliven Bundy, four of his sons and a dozen co-defendants on charges resulting from the April 2014 standoff at Bundy’s Bunkerville ranch, because that information might be used to intimidate witnesses. (navarroruling)

The protective order was challenged by the Las Vegas Review-Journal, this newspaper and The Associated Press, which argued the order was overly broad and would prevent public scrutiny of a high-profile and significant case.

In upholding the secrecy, Navarro noted that case law dictates, “The district judge ‘may not simply substitute its judgment’ for that of the magistrate judge.”

But she later declared in the 10-page ruling, “The Intervenors proffer nothing but assumptions and conjecture about whether true threats were made as opposed to idle threats. This speculation does not refute (U.S. Magistrate) Judge (Peggy) Leen’s finding of good cause, let alone demonstrate clear error,” though the original order was based largely on assumptions and conjecture about largely anonymous Internet rants.

Navarro also dismissed as inefficient and impractical suggestions that certain information could be selectively redacted, instead of everything being sealed in its entirety as soon as it is filed, due to the fact the case involves 1.4 terabytes of digital information.

Freeing court personnel from a little paperwork trumps the unfettered ability of the defendants to have the public spot flaws in the documents and testimony that will determine whether they are to be incarcerated or freed?

Leen wrote in her order this past summer, “All materials produced by the government in discovery in this case, including, but not limited to: grand jury transcripts, agency reports, witness statements, memoranda of interviews, and any documents and tangible objects produced by the government shall be treated as confidential documents.”

The judge warned that defense attorneys may not even share notes relating to the contents of discovery with anyone not employed to assist the defense, and anything filed in court relating to the discovery must be filed under seal.

Leen reasoned that victims and witnesses could be vulnerable to “cyberbullying, threatening communications, and intimidation from Bundy supporters,” which could have a chilling effect on witnesses. She determined this even though almost all of the 22 allegations of intimidation are more than two years old and nothing substantive has come of any of them.

The defendants face felony charges that include conspiracy, obstruction, extortion and assault, which carry penalties of up to 50 years in prison. The standoff occurred after armed Bureau of Land Management law enforcement agents attempted to roundup Bundy’s cattle after he had refused for 20 years to pay grazing fees in the Gold Butte area. The BLM said he owed $1 million in fees and penalties.

Faced with armed protesters the BLM agents eventually released the cattle and left to avoid potential bloodshed.

Attorney Maggie McLetchie, who represents the media in this case, had argued to the court, “One of the most critical aspects of news reporting is to inform the public of justice being carried out in the courts. In this regard, the press is vital to the health of a democracy. … This right is anchored in the value of keeping ‘a watchful eye on the workings of public agencies,’ and in publishing ‘information concerning the operation of government.’ … ‘In short, justice must not only be done, it must be seen to be done.’”

McLetchie told the Las Vegas newspaper after the recent ruling, “We are disappointed because an overly broad protective order limits how much access the media, and therefore the public, has to information about this high-profile case. … As the case progresses, it will be a challenge to litigate matters in open court when so much is hidden from the public. The order can also have a chill on litigants’ willingness to speak to the press because, with such a broad order, it is hard to know if you can say anything.”

The lack of public scrutiny means that any extenuating or mitigating circumstances that the public might shed light on will not come until the time of trial, when it might be too late.

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.

News update: Family members say Cliven Bundy and his wife Carol were injured in accidents recently. He due to a fall in prison and she in a rollover car accident near Mesquite.

 

Media object to sweeping Bundy secrecy order

Bundy standoff. (Reuters photo)

Three media organizations have filed an objection to a federal judge’s order to veil in sweeping secrecy documents and evidence in the Bundy case. Intervenor objects

Earlier, U.S. Magistrate Judge Peggy Leen ordered all materials produced by the government in discovery in the case — grand jury transcripts, agency reports, witness statements, memoranda of interviews, documents and objects produced by the government — are to be confidential and anything filed court relating to these are to be automatically filed under seal.

She said this was being done to protect witnesses, victims, law enforcement, prosecutors and other government officials from being intimidated — mostly based on vague 2-year-old Internet postings that suggested certain people might come to harm.

Attorney Maggie McLetchie — who represents the Las Vegas Review-Journal newspaper, The Associated Press and Battle Born Media, which publishes a half dozen weekly newspapers across the state — on Friday filed the 22-page objection, saying the secrecy order is excessive and unnecessary.

The Bundy case grows out of the April 2014 standoff between Bureau of Land Management law enforcement and armed supporters of Bunkerville rancher Cliven Bundy. Bundy had failed to pay grazing fees for 20 years and the BLM was attempting to roundup his cattle. The 19 defendants face felony charges that include conspiracy, obstruction, extortion and assault, which carry penalties of up to 50 years in prison.

The BLM eventually released the cattle rather than risk bloodshed.

McLetchie argues (specific cites omitted):

The Magistrate Judge noted that public access to discovery materials is more limited than to court proceedings. … However, in allowing the materials deemed “Confidential” to be automatically filed under seal, the Court’s Protective Order essentially misapplied the lesser standard for access to criminal discovery to judicial filing. The law of this circuit and the common law “start with a strong presumption in favor of access to court records.” … Given this presumption of public access, the Ninth Circuit “requires a party to make a particularized showing of good cause for each document it seeks to file under seal.”

McLetchie notes that the rambling and ranting social media postings cited by the government as a rationale for secrecy are free speech, protected expression of frustration and not actual threats.

These included: “EVERYONE PLEASE CALL … They need to know that they are doing is NOT right and that we notices [sic] it and we are a shamed [sic] of them!” and “Sounds like to solve the problem a lqnd [sic] owner will, have to take out an AR 10 and put a bullet in -head to save the other land owners to stop this, if I had land. i will now, kniw [sic] who to shoot first….”

Rather than close off everything, the attorney suggests identifying information could be redacted.

McLetchie concludes:

Indeed, the magistrate judge’s protective order subverts longstanding presumptions that (1) court records are presumptively public, and (2) depriving the public of access to public records requires a careful balancing of the private and public interests at stake. Instead, with little in the way of good cause to support a protective order, the magistrate judge has mandated that all confidential documents attached to motions and pleadings must be filed under seal without requiring the filing party to show why sealing is necessary. This runs contrary to the Ninth Circuit and this Court’s law, and should not be the standard for filing documents and supporting discovery in this case. Instead, this Court should follow the guidance of the Ninth Circuit and require parties to establish that submitting discovery documents in a public filing will result in a specific, particularized harm. In addition, the party seeking to file discovery documents under seal should be required to demonstrate that alternatives to sealing such as redacting identifying information would not suffice to address the government and the magistrate judge’s concerns.

She also notes that in a recent Nevada case Magistrate Judge George Foley recently ruled that the party seeking a protective order in a criminal case must bear the burden of showing good cause and a showing of specific harm.

The public has a right to see whether justice is done from now until and through the trial scheduled for next February. Meanwhile, all the defendants are being held without bail.

Newspaper column: Resignation offers a glimpse into the state of newspapering in Nevada

The newspaper community in Nevada is a rather small clique of writers and editors, competing against each other for the hot news scoops and heart-tugging feature stories and precious pearls of political punditry. It is the competition that makes all the papers just a little better than they otherwise would be.

Writers and readers are a little poorer when one of the stars of the journalism craft in the state feels he must walk away in order to maintain his integrity and creditability.

A month ago, John L. Smith, who has written a general interest column four or five days a week for more than 30 years at the Las Vegas Review-Journal, resigned.

The situation offers readers a rare glimpse inside the nuanced world of Nevada newspaper journalism, which seldom gets any coverage and where credibility is often a matter of perspective, motives are suspect and excuses can replace sound judgment and diligent editing.

Smith was among a handful of writers at the Las Vegas newspaper who unearthed the identity of the paper’s new ownership in December — Sheldon Adelson, the billionaire casino owner and generous donor to Republican political candidates. All have since left the paper.

In a December column, Smith commented that Adelson is “precisely the wrong person to own this or any newspaper.”

John L. Smith doing commentary at KNPR.

In January, shortly after Adelson named a new publisher for the newspaper, Smith was told he could no longer write about Adelson because the casino owner had once unsuccessfully sued Smith over a couple of sentences in a book about casino executives called “Sharks in the Desert.” Smith protested but reluctantly followed orders, though he had written often about Adelson over the years since the suit was thrown out in 2008 as baseless.

Then a month ago, the newly ensconced editor of the paper, Keith Moyer, appeared at a weekend meeting of the local chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists to talk about the future of the paper. According to Twitter feeds posted during the meeting, Moyer publicly declared, “I personally think it was a conflict for John to write about Sheldon,” and, “As long as I’m editor, John won’t write about Sheldon Adelson.”

Smith replied with a Tweet: “Wasn’t I also sued by Wynn?” referring to a lawsuit by casino executive Steve Wynn over an ad for a book about Wynn called “Running Scared” that was dismissed by the Nevada Supreme Court in 2001.

The following Monday, Moyer told Smith he could not write about Wynn either. The next day Smith resigned, leaving a letter on desks in the newsroom saying in part: “I learned many years ago about the importance of not punching down in weight class. You don’t hit ‘little people’ in this craft, you defend them. In Las Vegas, a quintessential company town, it’s the blowhard billionaires and their political toadies who are worth punching. And if you don’t have the freedom to call the community’s heavyweights to account, then that ‘commentary’ tag isn’t worth the paper on which it’s printed. … If a Las Vegas columnist is considered ‘conflicted’ because he’s been unsuccessfully sued by two of the most powerful and outspoken players in the gaming industry, then it’s time to move on.”

One man’s conflict is another man’s job well done.

Adelson’s suit said “Sharks” made false implications that he “was associated with unsavory characters and unsavory activities.”

Adelson asked that the case be dismissed when Smith’s attorney, Don Campbell, obtained confidential Gaming Control Board records. “In short, Adelson’s claims were about to be exposed for what they were … false and vindictive,” Campbell said at the time.

Wynn sued when an ad for “Running Scared,” an ad Smith did not write, said the book ”details why a confidential Scotland Yard report calls Wynn a front man for the Genovese crime family.”

The book itself reported that the New Scotland Yard report was “not entirely accurate” and was politically motivated and largely based on investigative efforts of U.S. authorities who did not reach the same conclusion.

I’ve always lectured reporters that every story should have a WSIGAD — why should I give a damn.

You may have never read the Las Vegas newspaper and never heard of John L. Smith, but all the journalists in the state know of his plight, and, when they contemplate covering the rich and powerful, there will be a hitch in their gait that will affect the news you get. That’s why you should give a damn.

Disclosure: I edited Smith’s columns for more than 20 years.

A version of this column appears this week 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: Obama has the nerve to lecture journalists

President Obama lecturing journalists on how to do their jobs is like Goldfinger lecturing James Bond.

This past week Obama presented a journalism award along with a 30-minute speech at the Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University. In it he bemoaned the vulgar rhetoric and circus atmosphere of the current political campaign and talked about how important it is for professional journalists to do their jobs.

“Part of the independence of the Fourth Estate is that it is not government-controlled, and media companies thereby have an obligation to pursue profits on behalf of their shareholders, their owners, and also has an obligation to invest a good chunk of that profit back into news and back into public affairs, and to maintain certain standards and to not dumb down the news, and to have higher aspirations for what effective news can do,” Obama said. “Because a well-informed electorate depends on you. And our democracy depends on a well-informed

Obama lectures journalists

electorate.”

This is from a man, who as a candidate promised the most transparent administration in the history of the world, but, according to a recent Associated Press analysis, has delivered the most secretive and stonewalling administration on record.

The AP reports the Obama administration has set a record for rejecting Freedom of Information Act requests.

The story recounts that in more than one in six requests, or 129,825 times, FOIA requests resulted in federal searchers finding not a single page of records. “People who asked for records under the law received censored files or nothing in 77 percent of requests, also a record,” the AP report states.

The FBI couldn’t find any records in 39 percent of requests. U.S. Customs and Border Protection couldn’t find any records 34 percent of the time.

The administration rarely provides any detailed description of just how diligent their search efforts are.

Obama seldom holds press conferences and frequently refuses to answer questions or equivocates.

But in his admonition to reporters at the Syracuse award ceremony, Obama declared, “Good reporters like the ones in this room all too frequently find yourselves caught between competing forces, I’m aware of that. You believe in the importance of a well-informed electorate. You’ve staked your careers on it. Our democracy needs you more than ever.”

But his administration has blocked access to the information that would keep the electorate informed.

Not only has the Obama administration blocked access, it has blatantly gone after journalists’ sources and prosecuted people for daring to talk to reporters.

In 2013 it was revealed that the Justice Department secretly obtained two months’ worth of cellular, office and home telephone records of AP reporters and editors in Washington, New York and Connecticut, as well as the number for AP reporters covering Congress.

“The aggressive investigation into the possible disclosure of classified information to the AP is part of a pattern in which the Obama administration has pursued current and former government officials suspected of releasing secret material,” the Washington Post reported at the time. “Six officials have been prosecuted, more than under all previous administrations combined.” Charges against leaker Edward Snowden brought that to seven. Prior to that there had been only three indictments for leaks under the World War I Espionage Act.

AP’s president and chief executive, Gary Pruitt, wrote in a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder, “There can be no possible justification for such an overbroad collection of the telephone communications of The Associated Press and its reporters.These records potentially reveal communications with confidential sources across all of the newsgathering activities undertaken by the AP during a two-month period, provide a road map to AP’s newsgathering operations, and disclose information about AP’s activities and operations that the government has no conceivable right to know.”

Before relenting in 2014, the administration for years threatened to jail New York Times reporter James Risen for refusing to reveal a confidential news source.

“As I believe that that for all the sideshows of the political season, Americans are still hungry for truth, it’s just hard to find,” Obama lectured.

Why is it hard to find, Mr. President?

A version of this editorial appeared this past week in many 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. It ran as a column in the Elko Daily Free Press.

How do you solve a problem like Scalia? … redux

Justice Antonin Scalia (Getty Images via WSJ)

The death of Justice Antonin Scalia has ignited a political firestorm over how and when and who should be appointed to replace this irreplaceable conservative legal scholar. There has also been a torrent of articles about the man’s legacy. The Wall Street Journal alone has a dozen pieces recounting his effluence on the law and his “greatest hits.”

The one thing he should most be remembered for, perhaps, is his ardent defense of the First Amendment.

In July 2002 I wrote a column for the Las Vegas newspaper under the headline: “How do you solve a problem like Scalia?” It has long since disappeared from the ether.

The headline was lifted from a lyric by a liberal/satirical Washington, D.C.-based singing and dancing group who called themselves the Capitol Steps. It, of course, is a parody of the “Sound of Music” song about Maria.

The ditty includes these lines:

How do you solve a problem like Scalia?
How do you fix the mess Scalia made?
How do you find a legal panacea?
If he doesn’t go, we’ll overturn Roe v. Wade

Oh, maybe now Bush owes Antonin a favor
Maybe our reputation isn’t sound
Remember when they’d report
The president picks the court
It’s gotten to be the other way around

My column’s solution to the problem was: cloning, because there aren’t enough like him on the court.

The specific topic was the court’s ruling and Scalia’s 5-4 majority opinion in the case of Republican Party of Minnesota v. White, which had been handed down a couple of weeks earlier.

It upheld the free speech rights of state judicial candidates. A number of states, including Nevada, had laws on the books that basically gagged elected judges from speaking out about matters they might someday have to rule on.

Nevada had fined two judges for answering a radio host’s question about their political party affiliation.

The American Bar Association had a conniption fit over the ruling, saying it would turn judicial elections into unseemly free-for-alls. Of course, the Bar didn’t and doesn’t think voters are smart enough to elect judges.

Scalia quoted an earlier dissent by Justice Thurgood Marshall: “[T]he greater power to dispense with elections altogether does not include the lesser power to conduct elections under conditions of state-imposed voter ignorance. If the State chooses to tap the energy and the legitimizing power of the democratic process, it must accord the participants in that process … the First Amendment rights that attach to their roles.”

Scalia went on to reason: “Moreover, the notion that the special context of electioneering justifies an abridgment of the right to speak out on disputed issues sets our First Amendment jurisprudence on its head. ‘[D]ebate on the qualifications of candidates’ is ‘at the core of our electoral process and of the First Amendment freedoms,’  not at the edges. … ‘The role that elected officials play in our society makes it all the more imperative that they be allowed freely to express themselves on matters of current public importance.’ … ‘It is simply not the function of government to select which issues are worth discussing or debating in the course of a political campaign.’  … We have never allowed the government to prohibit candidates from communicating relevant information to voters during an election.”

Of course, such matters are never truly settled and judges find ways to dance around those “edges.”

Just a couple of weeks ago the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sitting en banc managed to uphold an Arizona law that limits judges’ right to free speech about judicial elections.

One of the judges supporting this free speech restriction was Nevada’s own Johnnie B. Rawlinson, who was appointed to the court by Bill Clinton at the urging of Sen. Harry Reid.

A story in today’s Review-Journal quotes a law professor as saying Reid had once touted Rawlinson as a potential candidate for the Supreme Court.

Not exactly someone who could fill Scalia’s shoes.

scalia

Reflecting on the strangeness and futility of 2015 in news and blogging

Everybody does their top 10 stories of the year — or bottom 10 in the case of one columnist I know — as a way to fill otherwise empty space during a slow news period between Christmas and New Year. I think I started the practice at the Las Vegas newspaper 15 or 20 years ago, but it has been going on so long it seems as if it were always a year-ending feature.

In that fine tradition, I thought I would reflect on some of the strange events perpetrated by strange people over the past year as recounted in this patch of the ether.

January: Speaking of superlatives, Nevada started 2015 by having its governor named the worst Republican governor in the nation by the business newspaper Investor’s Business Daily.

“Wasn’t this supposed to be the year Republican governors showcase innovative, pro-growth economic reforms?” IBD asked. “Brian Sandoval apparently didn’t get the memo.”

Brian Sandoval (R-J photo)

The paper pointed out this will be the third time Sandoval has raised taxes, after repeated promises to not do so.

IBD also pointed out that Sandoval is the same governor who handed billionaire Elon Musk a 20-year, $1.25 billion corporate welfare subsidy for his Tesla battery plant. “We wondered then who would pay for this golden handshake. Now we know,” the editorial commented.

IBD also said Sandoval can now be struck from any list for potential national office.

February: The Nevada Supreme Court further strangled free speech in Nevada by making the right decision but for the wrong reason.

In the case of Citizen Outreach vs. State, the court ruled 5-2 that the organization did not violate a 1997 law requiring those who engage in express advocacy to file paperwork with the secretary of state’s office revealing donors and expenditures.

Nevada Supreme Court (R-J photo)

The ruling states, “Because it is undisputed that Citizen Outreach’s flyers do not contain magic words of express advocacy, the flyers were not subject to regulation under Nevada’s campaign practices statutes that were effective in 2010.”

The problem is that in 2011 the Legislature rewrote the law so that it now states that express advocacy “means that a communication, taken as a whole, is susceptible to no other reasonable interpretation other than as an appeal to vote for or against a clearly identified candidate.”

Both the 1997 and the 2011 laws blatantly violate both the First Amendment and the Nevada Constitution because they are not “content neutral” and address no “compelling government interest.”

Article 1, Section 9 of the Nevada Constitution states: “Every citizen may freely speak, write and publish his sentiments on all subjects being responsible for the abuse of that right; and no law shall be passed to restrain or abridge the liberty of speech or of the press.”

This law clearly restrains and abridges.

March: Being Harry Reid means never having to say you are sorry.

Reid not only is calling the whistleblowers who complained to the inspector general of the Department of Homeland Security about his meddling in decisions about whether to expedite visas to foreign investors in a Las Vegas hotel casino whiners but bragged that he would do it all over again.

“One of the problems we have with government … is people take too long to make decisions,” Reid is quoted as saying.

Harry Reid (Screen grab from YouTube)

In this case, the decision had been made, and it was: No, the visas would not be expedited and the urgency was one created by the hotel-casino, not by the government, according to the IG report. The Washington Times reported at the time that Homeland Security had denied visas for some of those investors from Asia because of “suspicious financial activity.” That decision was ineligible for appeal.

Reid personally called Alejandro Mayorkas, the head of immigration services at the time, and demanded the visas be expedited and that his staff be given a weekly update. Mayorkas did so. He since has been promoted to the No. 2 post at Homeland Security, even though his nomination did not get the 60 votes that would have been needed before Harry nuked the filibuster.

Reid neglects to mention that at the time of his intersession his son Rory’s law firm was representing the company in question, SLS, formerly the Sahara.

The U.S. Senate Code of Official Conduct permits members to assist people with executive branch agencies, but it also says:

“The decision to provide assistance to petitioners may not be made on the basis of contributions or services, or promises of contributions or services, to the Member’s political campaigns or to other organizations in which the Member has a political, personal, or financial interest.”

April: One of the most overused phrases in the English language is: There ought to be a law.

There ought to be common sense, but these days that seems entirely uncommon.

Perhaps that is why Assemblywoman Vicki Dooling believed it necessary to introduce Assembly Bill 375, which would have enacted into state law the dictate that public school facilities — such as restrooms, locker rooms and showers — designed for gender segregation be used only by persons of the designated biological gender.

The bill was being pushed by Karen England, executive director of Capitol Resource Family Alliance, who said she discovered that two Nevada school districts — Clark and Washoe — had been contemplating adopting school policies that were basically cut and pasted from an online model policy by the National Center for Transgender Equality.

The model policy states: “Students shall have access to all restrooms that correspond to their gender identity consistently asserted at school.”

AB375 was killed. Instead the lawmakers later passed Senate Bill 504 under the guise of it being an anti-bullying law. This law prohibits “blocking access” to “any property or facility of a school” on the basis of sex, gender identity or expression. That includes gender segregated restrooms and locker rooms.

The law has already created a problem in Elko.

May: The battle between NV Energy and solar panel installers that ended recently in a Public Utilities Commission ruling that has the potential to end the business rooftop solar installing was foreseen in May.

Have you ever watched pigs nudging each other out of the way attempting to see which one can get its snout deepest into the slop trough?

We saw in May a sort of pork scrum at the Legislature in Carson City between the state’s biggest monopoly electric utility and those who install rooftop solar panels that are only profitable due to ratepayer subsidies and tax breaks and government handouts.

The taxpayers get left holding the bag no matter who wins.

Two years ago taxpayers shelled out $1.2 million to entice billionaire Elon Musk to open an office for his SolarCity company in Nevada. SolarCity is one of those firms that installs rooftop solar panels.

Residences and businesses that install solar panels contract with billionaire Warren Buffett’s NV Energy under a net metering program. Any excess power they generate goes onto the grid and each kilowatt-hour uploaded is deducted from that month’s bill at the retail rate — or was.

NV Energy, which in the previous Legislature convinced lawmakers to require the closure of all its coal-fired plants and foist all of the cost for doing so and building new renewable and gas-fired generation onto ratepayers, doesn’t like paying retail for power.

After paying SolarCity to open here, will it have to close? It recently announced it will.

June: You’ve got to love a good newspaper spat, especially one that goes back decades.

One day in June the Las Vegas Review-Journal had a story about how a few teenagers in 1967 hoaxed the Las Vegas Sun with a Polaroid “UFO” photo that was actually a hubcap tossed into the air.

The June R-J story also noted that it was the R-J that corrected the hoax the next day:

On June 14, 1967, a mere 24 hours after the hoax had gone as viral as something could go in the ’60s, the Las Vegas Review-Journal ended it.

“The mysterious flying ship ‘scouting’ Las Vegas Monday night turned out to be a hubcap, sources close to the ‘ship’ revealed Tuesday afternoon,” the lede read.

But over in the Sun section, Brian Greenspun reprinted the second of three columns from the era of the hoax by his father Hank Greenspun. The intro by Brian includes this dig at the R-J:

The first two columns talk about the building of the MGM Hotel (now Bally’s) and the third discusses allegations of mob association that existed only in the small minds of some hoodlums and on the pages of the other newspaper in Las Vegas.

I wondered at the time whether the third installment would mention that in 1947 Greenspun was hired by mobster Bugsy Siegel as publicist for his Flamingo Hotel or that  Greenspun wrote a column called “Flamingo Chatter” for the R-J?

Of course, I must plead guilty to having tweaked the upturned Greenspun nose a time or two myself.

July: What do you call a country in which one person has the power to dictate to local elected officials how land within their jurisdiction may be used or not used?

Dictatorship?

With the proverbial stroke of his oft-bragged-about pen one day in July President Obama singlehandedly created a 700,000-acre Basin and Range National Monument in the Coal and Garden valleys in Lincoln and Nye counties, even though most local officials oppose it.

Basin and Range National Monument

Congressman Cresent Hardy, whose district includes the new monument, complained about the arbitrary decision made as a sop to lame duck Nevada Sen. Harry Reid.

“We need to be sure local communities don’t have their concerns ignored by politicians eager to leave a legacy or pull favors for their friends by setting aside huge tracts of land,” Hardy said in a statement. “Nevada’s rural county economies are particularly sensitive, and any decisions that affect ranching, recreation or other types of land use activities should have as much local input as possible … but at the moment, they do not. Legacy building in the twilight of one’s career shouldn’t be the driver of our nation’s public land management.”

Congressman Mark Amodei, who represents northern rural Nevada, said in an interview, “One of the paybacks for Senator Reid being one of the administration’s backstops for six of their eight years is the monument thing. … Why the hell can’t you go through the public process?”

Sources confirmed Reid’s role to the Washington Post: “It is only due to Harry Reid that this is getting done.” When told it was controversial in Nevada, Obama replied, “I don’t care. I want this done.”

“President Obama often says ‘we are stronger as a nation when we work together.’ Apparently that rule does not apply to public lands issues when it involves his political allies,” said Southern Nevada Rep. Joe Heck. “The Basin and Range Monument designation goes well beyond the intention of the Antiquities Act which limits parcels reserved by the President to the ‘smallest area compatible with the proper care and management of the objects to be protected.’ It is beyond belief that an area larger than the state of Rhode Island is the smallest area compatible with proper care and management of this land.”

August: Many of the news stories in August about the ACLU suing to block implementation of Nevada’s education savings accounts (ESAs) mentioned that such accounts were declared unconstitutional in Colorado. Like Nevada, Colorado’s state constitution includes a Blaine Amendment prohibiting the use of tax money for secular purposes.

Few stories bothered to mention that Arizona also has a Blaine Amendment in its constitution, but the Arizona Court of Appeals upheld Arizona’s ESAs two years ago.

That court found that ESAs were neutral toward religion by leaving spending decisions to parents, not the state:

The ESA does not result in an appropriation of public money to encourage the preference of one religion over another, or religion per se over no religion. Any aid to religious schools would be a result of the genuine and independent private choices of the parents. The parents are given numerous ways in which they can educate their children suited to the needs of each child with no preference given to religious or nonreligious schools or programs.

Yet the morning Las Vegas newspaper quotes Tod Story, executive director for the ACLU of Nevada, as saying, “The education savings account law passed this last legislative session tears down the wall separating church and state erected in Nevada’s constitution.”

Patricia Levesque, CEO of the Foundation for Excellence in Education, said of the ACLU suit, “It is ironic that the ACLU pledges itself to ‘defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person. … Yet today the ACLU opposes giving every parent in Nevada the right to decide where his or her child goes to school. There is no more fundamental right in this country than trying to create a better life for your child.”

September: Who could have seen this coming?

NV Energy, the monopoly power company that serves most of Nevada, in September proposed to end a contract to buy electricity from an independent generating company that provided peak power with gas-fired plants and instead build its own gas-fired plant.

NV Energy is allowed to pass through costs of power it purchases, but it gets a rate of return on equity — the plants and power lines it owns — of about 10 percent.

Mark Garrett, an energy consultant working with MGM Resorts, said of the proposal, “It should be looking for ways to lower rates, not raise them.” He estimated the new plant could increase ratepayer costs $70 million per year.

NV Energy gas-fired power plant.

Back in 2013 when the Legislature passed a bill to close all NV Energy coal-fired plants, 4TH ST8 quoted Dan Jacobsen of the attorney general’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, which represents ratepayer interests at the Public Utilities Commission, as saying, “In addition to replacing about 1,000 megawatts of coal capacity, the bill also would be replacing a very large amount of power purchase agreements right now that ratepayers don’t have to provide a return on.”

Precisely what was happening in September.

“There are power purchase agreements that are pretty helpful in covering peak load but not having to be purchased at times when there isn’t a peak load,” Jacobsen noted in 2013. “That’s a pretty good mix at times for Nevada with extreme heat in the summer that doesn’t last more than about three months.”

Then Jacobsen addressed the most glaring flaw in the bill: Its decades-long, Soviet-style central planning. “I hope you have an appreciation for the difficult, long-range  decision you are being asked to make in this bill,” Jacobsen said. “Step back and think about it for a minute, you’re being asked right now, based on information you have right now, to make a decision that, for example, in the year 2025 the right thing to do is to build a 500-megawatt natural gas plant.

“That’s 12 years from now. Technology can change a lot in 12 years. The demand projection can change a lot. The wholesale market can change a lot. Efficiency options can change a lot. But this bill says to you: Please mandate the right thing to do 12 years from now is to build a 500-megawatt natural gas plant. That’s quite a challenge for you as a policy makers to make.”

The previous time the power company was given carte blanche to build power plants and begin to recover costs immediately, even before any review by state regulators, was in the 1980s. That was because the company needed new power supplies — from coal-fired plants.

October: Whatever befalls you, sue.

According to a Courthouse News account in October, Harry Reid is suing the maker of the elastic exercise band he was using when he had an accident in the bathroom of his Henderson home on New Year’s Day. The accident left him blind in his right eye.

Reid injured

The suit was filed in state court in Clark County by James M. Morgan of Lanzone Morgan, a firm that specializes in cases of elder abuse. Reid, D-Tort Bar, is 75.

The suit, get this, says, “The TheraBand was mounted to a sturdy object in his bathroom. While in use, the TheraBand broke or slipped out of Mr. Reid’s hand, causing him to spin around and strike his face on a cabinet.” Which is it? Broke or slipped? If it broke, surely there would be two pieces, right?

The Nevada senator and Senate minority leader at first told reporters the band broke but later changed his story, saying the band slipped.

“Reid says he suffered severe pain and injuries as a result of the mishap, including broken ribs and orbital bones, severe disfigurement, facial lacerations and bruising, a concussion, scarring and loss of vision in his right eye,” the story recounts. It goes on to say that Reid said the maker of the band did not include warnings that the band might break or to use a safer design.

Reid announced earlier this year he will not be seeking re-election in 2016. He has a net worth of $10 million.

Reid’s suit accuses the elastic band maker of failing “to warn consumers and learned intermediaries of the danger of the bands’ likelihood of breaking and of causing injuries to the elderly …”

The company will probably settle in secret and pay Reid and his lawyers some undisclosed settlement payment, but it would be nice to see some company have the brass to fight such suits claiming product users were not warned of potential mishaps that any rational person could have anticipated.

November: The Las Vegas newspaper on a Wednesday afternoon in November reported online that Gov. Brian Sandoval had announced that Nevada counties will receive a combined $1.9 million (actually $1.98 million) more in payment in lieu of taxes or PILT. This would bring this year’s total to about $25 million.

“PILT payments provide local governments with the necessary funds to pay for critical infrastructure needs in cities and towns across Nevada,” the paper quoted Sandoval’s statement as saying. “Additionally it allows local leaders to prepare to meet the demands of our growing communities.”

Brian Sandoval (R-J photo)

Sandoval’s statement is also posted online.

Neither the governor’s statement, nor the newspaper account bothered to point out that even with the additional money — approved in the recent budget talks — the PILT payments are still less than was doled out in 2014, when the state got $25.4 million in PILT. With the added funds Nevada will get a total of $25.24 million this year.

“I would like to thank the members of our Congressional delegation for their hard work in securing this additional money. I would also like to recognize the Department of the Interior for fulfilling its obligation to compensate local communities for the land owned by the federal government in Nevada,” Sandoval’s online statement says.

Yes, thanks a lot. Before the additional $2 million, Nevada’s powerful minority leader of the Senate brought home the bacon for Nevada counties by providing 41 cents per acre in PILT, while California raked in 96 cents per acre, Arizona got $1.13, New Mexico fetched $1.54 and Utah’s share was $1.05.

And pay no attention to the fact the Interior Department collects about $14 billion in revenue annually from commercial activities on federal lands, such as oil and gas leasing, livestock grazing and timber harvesting, before sending the states a paltry $439 million.

Never let the facts get in the way of a good pat on the back.

December: We are definitely inside the rabbit hole now.

Both Las Vegas “newspapers” one day in December reported that the man who announced the sale of the Las Vegas Review-Journal to a new company called News + Media may be the pseudonymous writer of a lengthy article in a small Connecticut newspaper that criticized a Clark County judge who is handling a civil case involving casino owner Sheldon Adelson, the once secret money behind the newspaper purchase.

I said it was a rabbit hole. The swirl of ethical mishops is enough to boggle the mind.

Michael Schroeder, AKA Edward Clarkin? (R-J photo)

The R-J reported Michael E. Schroeder, the man described as manager of News + Media Capital Group when the purchase was announced, is probably the person behind the Edward Clarkin byline on the aforementioned article.

The brief story reported that Schroeder’s middle name is Edward, and California marriage records show his father, Clarence J. Schroeder, married Karen A. Clarkin in 1957. Schroeder was born in the following year, the paper says.

Meanwhile, back in the Las Vegas Sun insert, a lengthy story on this topic recounts that “there is compelling circumstantial evidence that ‘Edward Clarkin’ is a pseudonym used by Schroeder. The publisher’s middle name is Edward, and his Facebook page at one time identified his mother as Karen Clarkin Carey. That reference was removed from the page, but the Facebook page for Karen Clarkin Carey contained a photo of Carey with Schroeder.”

What makes the Clarkin tale doubly dubious is that weeks before the R-J was purchased three of its reporters were assigned to shadow three judges for two weeks and report on their activity. One of those judges was Elizabeth Gonzalez, who is presiding over an Adelson lawsuit and who has fined his company failing to disclose evidence.

No story was ever published and no one in the newsroom was told who picked Gonzalez for scrutiny or why.

The Sun reports, “Mark Fabiani, a San Diego attorney retained by the new owners in the days after the sale, said Wednesday that Schroeder would not have a management role. He was retained as an adviser during the purchase and helped conduct due diligence, Fabiani said.”

Then on Wednesday the R-J published a front-page missive under the hed “A message from the new owners about the future of the Las Vegas Review-Journal,” which pledged to publish “a newspaper that is fair, unbiased and accurate.”

There was a short sidebar announcing that editor Michael Hengel had accepted a buyout that said, “Hengel described his decision to leave as ‘mutual’ and said he did not believe he was forced out.”

However, the Los Angeles Times reported in a lengthy article on the shenanigans at the R-J that in an interview Hengel told them he first learned of his acceptance of the buyout when someone from the paper read the aforementioned front-page editorial to him over the telephone.

Fair, unbiased and accurate?

Well, at least it keeps the strangeness factor going into 2016.

———————

This blog in 2015: There were about 470 postings on this blog garnering 110,000 views and more than 7,000 comments — the most frequent commenters were Rincon, HFB, Patrick, Winston Smith and Barbara. The most commented on posting, more than 160 comments, was “The problem is that we think we can solve every problem with a government program.”

More than 10 percent of the postings were copies of freelance newspaper columns and editorials printed in several rural Nevada papers.

More than 1,400 views came on the day I wrote about the fourth anniversary of being summarily canned from a 40-plus-year career as a newspaper editor — without explanation, without rationale, without apology, apparently on a whim — torn like a page from a reporter’s notebook, crumpled and tossed in the trash. That’s ephemera for you.

Small solace: There have been a lot of whims since. Apparently a lot of people empathized or dreaded the whim themselves.

Who wants yesterday’s papers, Mick? Nobody in the world.

I’m living a life of constant change
Every day means the turn of a page
Yesterdays papers are such bad news
Same thing applies to me and you