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: Will collaboration on sage grouse finally happen?

Nevada has every reason to feel like a slighted wallflower. We keep getting invited to the big sage grouse dance, but never get asked to dance.

Gov. Brian Sandoval and Attorney Adam Laxalt and others have complained bitterly that state and local input on how to protect the sage grouse population and still conduct economically productive endeavors on the land the birds occupy have been roundly and almost universally ignored by the federal land agencies.

A lawsuit filed by Laxalt on behalf of the state, several counties, a couple of mining firms and the owners of a ranch against the Interior Department, the Bureau of Land Management and others used a variant of the word “ignore” 22 times to describe how state and local objections to land use plans were received. In fact a motion filed by the state in that suit points out that after dismissing local input three top Interior Department officials met privately, after the public comment period was closed, with environmental groups to obtain their “buy-in” on a land use plan.

Sage grouse workshop session.

Sage grouse workshop session.

So, pardon us if we scoff at the cheery BLM press release from this past week under the headline: “Collaboration the key to Sage Grouse success.”

The press release announced the creation of Nevada-based working groups comprised of federal and state agencies and key stakeholders “to identify regulatory flexibility and improve communication and outreach between themselves and the public.”

The working groups resulted from a two-and-a-half day workshop in Reno in early December.

“A key part of the workshop was the emphasis on establishing and improving relationships between the agencies and stakeholders, “ said John Ruhs, state director for the BLM in Nevada. “We also spent time getting to know people as individuals as opposed to just identifying them by their interest or agency.”

He was further quoted as saying, “In the case of the amendments for the Greater sage grouse plans in Nevada, a collaborative network of local, state and federal partners is essential for protecting the sagebrush ecosystem while ensuring multiple uses.”

Though Ruhs has a reputation for being a straight shooter — he brokered a deal that allowed Battle Mountain district ranchers to temporarily continue grazing after permits had been denied — he does answer to the federal land bosses in Washington, from whence just two weeks ago came a proposal to ban mining on 10 million acres in the West — a quarter of that in Nevada alone and most of that in Elko County — to protect sage grouse.

Sandoval fired off a retort saying, “Today’s announcement does nothing to protect the greater sage-grouse, but does cripple the mining and exploration industry. It is an unfortunate end to our collaborative efforts with this administration. I am hopeful the new administration will consider the limited ecological benefits of this withdrawal.”

Now senior Nevada U.S. Sen. Dean Heller called the ban an 11th-hour attack on the West by a lame duck president.

“Federal land grabs are never popular in Nevada and the latest one by the BLM is no different. A mining ban does little to help sage grouse and will devastate northern Nevada’s future economic competitiveness,” Heller said in a press release. “I will partner with the next administration to reverse this decision and to ensure the BLM focuses on the real threats to sage grouse, like wildfires, instead of locking up Nevadans’ public lands. Those are the types of efforts, rather than these harmful mining bans, that will benefit our environment while also allowing our economy to grow,” Nevadans can only hope that with the changes coming in Washington these working groups might actually be listened to.

National BLM Director Neil Kornze — a former aide to Nevada Sen. Harry “Lock Up the Land and Throw Away the Key” Reid — has announced he is stepping down on Jan. 20, the day Donald Trump is inaugurated president.

Trump, meanwhile, has nominated Montana Rep. Ryan Zinke, who grew up in a logging town, to head the Interior Department.

That BLM press release announcing the working groups quotes JJ Goicoechea, chairman of the Nevada Sagebrush Ecosystem Council, as saying, “While this process was just the beginning, there was a collective recognition of key issues to address and an overall feeling that if we don’t collaboratively work toward solutions, we will fail individually.”

Perhaps, with a different band in Washington playing a different tune, Nevada will finally get to dance.

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.

The hoax that keeps on spinning and spinning and spinning

“The hanging of Remus Reid.”

Sometimes all the dithering and cogitation about fake news and spinning the news seems like one really long mobius strip. No matter how you turn it, it has only one side, and that side keeps coming back to the beginning. Or is it the end? But there is no end.

Take the contemplative piece out of The Herald-Sun in Durham, N.C., this weekend. A guest columnist illustrates the art of news spin by recounting a tale about Nevada’s lovable ex-Sen. Harry Reid’s gene pool.

According to the columnist, who credits a North Carolinian blogger for the tale, a genealogist discovered that the former Senate majority leader had a great-great-uncle by the name of Remus Reid, who in the 1800s was hanged as a horse thief. (Sorry, the full story disappeared behind a pay wall this morning.)

But the writer makes the point that the same set of facts can be told in different ways to reach a different conclusion — saying that, when asked about the infamous uncle, Reid’s office replied with something like this:

“Remus Reid was a famous cowboy in the Montana Territory. His business empire grew to include acquisition of valuable equestrian assets and intimate dealings with the Montana railroad. Beginning in 1883, he devoted several years of his life to government service, finally taking leave to resume his dealings with the railroad. In 1887, he was a key player in a vital investigation run by the renowned Pinkerton Detective Agency. In 1889, Remus passed away during an important civic function held in his honor when the platform upon which he was standing collapsed.”

I say the quote is like this, because I refuse to pay the dollar to see the story again, but the above quote is from a 2009 blog post from the Las Vegas newspaper, and numerous other sources from that time period.

While this current iteration makes a nice point about spinning the facts, it is all the more telling, because it is based on a total fabrication — a hoax, a humbug, a canard.

As I recounted in a follow-up blog:

When the e-mail claiming some genealogist had discovered Nevada Sen. Harry Reid had a great-uncle named Remus who was hanged in Montana in 1889 as a horse thief and train robber came in over the electronic transom on Monday, I checked it out on the usual hoax-busting Web sites, fired off what I hoped was a humorous blog posting, and went back to my day job of saving mankind from its customary predilection to gullibility and assorted tomfoolery.

The same photo was used to claim the hanged man was a relative of numerous other politicians, including Hillary Clinton, Al Gore and the George Bushes. But who’d you rather have fall from the family tree? A horse thief or a politician?

These things never seem to die. They just keep spinning and spinning and spinning.

Shouldn’t the name Uncle Remus be a hint?





Newspaper column: Congress or Trump could undo Gold Butte monument designation

There is a word for what President Obama did this past week in declaring Gold Butte a national monument: dictatorial.

In just more than a year Obama has unilaterally declared off-limits to productive economic uses 1 million acres of Nevada land — first the 700,000-acre Basin and Range National Monument straddling the border between Lincoln and Nye counties and now the 300,000-acre Gold Butte National Monument in rural northeast Clark County.

This brings Obama’s total protected acreage to 550 million — more than any predecessor and twice that set aside by Teddy Roosevelt under the Antiquities Act of 1906 — though much of Obama’s designations are underwater.

Obama’s designation of both Nevada national monuments completely ignored local elected officials and nearby residents, even though the Federal Land Policy Act of 1976 (flippantly know by the acronym Flip Ma) and the National Environment Policy Act (NEPA) require environmental reviews and public comments.

Gold butte

Gold butte

Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt called Obama’s action a unilateral land grab.  “Although I am not surprised by the president’s actions, I am deeply disappointed at his last minute attempt to cement his environmental legacy by undermining local control of Nevada’s communities, and damaging our jobs and economy,” Laxalt stated in a press release.

Sen. Dean Heller said he was terribly disappointed by Obama’s action, saying such action should be conducted in an open public process with congressional input.

Retiring Sen. Harry Reid urged Obama to declare Gold Butte a monument before leaving office no matter what the local residents thought, and his hand-picked successor, Catherine Cortez Masto, sent out a tweet about Obama’s action saying, “We have an obligation to protect places like Gold Butte. I’m grateful for President Obama’s dedication to preserving our public lands.

The area’s newly elected Democratic Rep. Ruben Kihuen was all for the designation. “As a Nevadan I couldn’t be more thrilled that President Obama decided recently to give Gold Butte, Nevada’s piece of the Grand Canyon, the full protection it deserves,” Kihuen said in a statement. “This newest national monument designation in Nevada means that we now have the tools to properly safeguard Gold Butte’s thousands of awe-inspiring rock formations, ancient petroglyphs, and rare wildlife for all Nevadans to enjoy.”

Though resigned to the probability of the Gold Butte designation, Gov. Brian Sandoval said he worked to assure the local communities would continue to have access to water resources. He said he met with the White House and his staff held follow-up meetings.

“We also worked with the White House and Department of Interior to ensure Nevada water law is adhered to and that the Virgin Valley Water District would have access to its water infrastructure for continued development and maintenance,” the governor related.

In the official presidential declaration there is language referring to “existing” water rights, meaning that it is unlikely any new water resources could be developed for future needs since “no new rights-of-way shall be authorized within the monument.”

Additionally, the proclamation says no grazing rights have been permitted on the land since 1998 and no grazing permits will be allowed within the monument.

Sandoval tried to be hopeful, ““My priority was to mitigate any disruption a potential designation may cause the surrounding private land owners, communities and recreationists. We all share a common goal of enacting smart conservation measures which help preserve our lands for the use and enjoyment of all Nevadans. My strong preference is for a more collaborative process when making such an important designation. I firmly believe our ranchers, environmentalists, and community stakeholders are the best experts in ensuring Nevada’s lands are preserved, protected and accessible. I also believe that with this designation comes duties, responsibilities and an expectation that the BLM will properly manage the area and commit the funds necessary to do so.”

Though the White House blatantly declared that President-elect Donald Trump cannot undo the creation of this and other monuments, the Congressional Review Act allows a simple majority of each house of Congress to revoke such decisions. It has rarely been successfully used since the president who issued the decision can veto an act of Congress and that takes two-thirds to override. The difference this time is that Trump takes office on Jan. 20.

Also Trump could simply rescind the monument designation, but he has been waffling on whether locals should have more say on federal land issues.

Also, the Nevada Washington delegation is now two-thirds Democrats, who are beholding only to urban Las Vegas.

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: Why we have a federalism system, not a democracy

Someone buy these folks a civics textbook and maybe a Cliff Notes version of the Federalist Papers.

Yes, Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by about 3 million more votes than Donald Trump, but she lost the Electoral College vote by 304 to 227. That is because the Electoral College is made up of 538 members — one for each senator and representative from each state, plus the District of Columbia. (Look at it another way. Clinton won California by 4 million votes, but Trump won the combined popular vote in the 49 other states.)

This has prompted a number of people to call, again, for the abolishment of the Electoral College, which gives smaller states like Nevada, Wyoming, Montana, the Dakotas and the like a disproportionate say in the presidential election, just as James Madison and the other Founders intended. They were looking for a compromise between the unitary government of England, in which all decisions flowed from the central government, and the Articles of Confederation that dispersed nearly all decisions to the states, weakening interstate commerce and a strong national defense posture.

They settled on a federalist system that granted enumerated powers to the people and the sovereign state governments, as well as the federal government.

Alexander Hamilton put it this way in Federalist Paper No. 68: “It was also peculiarly desirable to afford as little opportunity as possible to tumult and disorder. This evil was not least to be dreaded in the election of a magistrate, who was to have so important an agency in the administration of the government as the President of the United States. But the precautions which have been so happily concerted in the system under consideration, promise an effectual security against this mischief. The choice of SEVERAL, to form an intermediate body of electors, will be much less apt to convulse the community with any extraordinary or violent movements, than the choice of ONE who was himself to be the final object of the public wishes. And as the electors, chosen in each State, are to assemble and vote in the State in which they are chosen, this detached and divided situation will expose them much less to heats and ferments, which might be communicated from them to the people, than if they were all to be convened at one time, in one place. Nothing was more to be desired than that every practicable obstacle should be opposed to cabal, intrigue, and corruption.”

Despite this precaution, the electors were in fact subject to a flood of phone calls, emails and social media diatribes.

Joining this cacophony of voices wailing and moaning about the undemocratic nature of the Electoral College was Nevada’s own senior Sen. Harry Reid, who is retiring in less than a month after three decades representing tiny Nevada in the U.S. Senate and more than a decade as Senate Democratic leader.

Perhaps, someone should remind Sen. Reid that the Senate itself was created to provide all states with an equal number of representatives in the upper chamber — very undemocratic, indeed, just like the Electoral College. Both were created precisely to be undemocratic and protect the rights of the minorities and smaller states.

In Federalist Paper No. 62 either Hamilton or Madison, not sure which, stated, “The equality of representation in the Senate is another point, which, being evidently the result of compromise between the opposite pretensions of the large and the small States, does not call for much discussion. If indeed it be right, that among a people thoroughly incorporated into one nation, every district ought to have a PROPORTIONAL share in the government, and that among independent and sovereign States, bound together by a simple league, the parties, however unequal in size, ought to have an EQUAL share in the common councils …”

Federalism, not democracy.

 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.

Reid doubles down on his ‘brazen lie’ about Romney’s taxes

Harry Reid took to the airwaves in Nevada Wednesday and continued his practice of dissembling, dodging and outright denying his prevarication on the Senate floor in 2012 when he said Mitt Romney had not paid taxes for a decade. In fact, he doubled down.

A caller to KNPR public radio asked Reid about that “brazen lie,” prompting Reid to assert:

First of all, Ryan, there were no brazen lies. What I said is the truth. Mitt Romney has refused and has still refused to show us his tax returns. He gave us the main part of two tax returns. These were when he was running for president. That is not a true sign of what he had done.

Remember, I guess the new plan we have to look at is Donald Trump, who shows us nothing. Prior to Trump it was standard procedure going back many, many decades that presidential candidates would give us 10 years of their tax returns. Mitt Romney has never done that.

So, there was no brazen lies. I did what was necessary. He fought even giving those two years that were meaningless because he was already running for president and all of his financial dealings where he became an extremely wealthy man. We were unable to see any of that. So, you can brand it anyway you like but it was no brazen lies. It was the truth.

Actually, Romney released both his 2010 and 2011 tax returns, the latter in its entirety, as well as a notarized letter from his tax preparer that gave a summary of tax rates from his tax returns for 20 years.

Meanwhile, Reid — who said in 1974, “Any man or woman who will not be completely candid about his or her finances does not deserve to be in public office”  — refuses to release his own tax returns and says his congressional financial disclosures, which list assets and liabilities in broad ranges, are sufficient.

In 1974, while running for the Senate against Paul Laxalt, Reid claimed there were years in which Laxalt paid no taxes. He was proven wrong then, too.

Harry Reid (AP photo via KNPR)

Harry Reid (AP photo via KNPR)

So much for railing against the evils of political free speech

Dark money is evil. Bright money is bad. Money is the root of all political evil. Gag the Koch brothers. Overturn Citizens United. If you buy enough advertising to tell a lie and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. People are that gullible and democracy will never work fairly without restraints on spending on free speech.

This we know because Harry and his ilk tell us so. Over and over and over, ad nauseam.

The medium might be the message, but, just perhaps, the message is more powerful than the money.

According an editorial in the Saturday-Sunday Las Vegas newspaper, President-elect Donald Trump spent $600 million on his successful presidential campaign, including a paltry $66 million of his own filthy lucre, while Hillary Clinton’s losing campaign shelled out a record $1.2 billion — nearly twice as much as Trump.

On top of that, the editorial tells us, according to the Center for Competitive Politics, the total number of ads bought by Clinton and her supporters outnumbered the number of pro-Trump ads by 3-to-1. Also, outside groups raised and spent more than three times as much to push Clinton than they did for Trump.

“Democrats love to complain about political spending,” the editorial concludes. “But they’ve shown time and again that they’re willing to shell out as much as it takes to guarantee victory. Trouble is, money is no guarantee of anything.” Despite what they keeping telling us.

Voters have to be convinced, not just browbeat. People should be free to put their money where their mouths are and voters will be free to evaluate the message and decide.