Newspaper column: Stop wasting taxpayer money on secret UFO studies

Reid being interviewed on KLASA-TV

As they say on “The X-Files,” the truth is out there.

Apparently it is still out there, because no one has revealed it. Maybe that is because it is classified. Yeah, that’s the ticket. It’s classified.

In December, The New York Times revealed that former Nevada Sen. Harry Reid had secretly managed in 2007 to direct $22 million in taxpayer money to a secret UFO study, with much of the money going to Reid crony and contributor Robert Bigelow of Las Vegas.

The program was called the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program (AATIP), apparently the linguistic avatar for UFO studies.

According to the Times, money was spent by Bigelow’s company, Bigelow Aerospace, to hire subcontractors and solicit research, as well as modifying buildings in Las Vegas for the storage of metal alloys and other materials “recovered from unidentified aerial phenomena.”

The Defense Department told the Times the funding dried up in 2012, but Reid told the newspaper that only he and Sens. Ted Stevens of Alaska and Daniel Inouye of Hawaii knew about the funding to begin with. So how do we know it ended?

“This was so-called black money,” Reid was quoted as saying. “Stevens knows about it, Inouye knows about it. But that was it, and that’s how we wanted it.” And you thought it took a majority vote.

Both Stevens and Inouye have since died. Reid retired from office this past year.

The Times further noted that in 2009 Reid wrote a letter to William Lynn III, a deputy defense secretary at the time, requesting the creation of a highly secret, severely limited access program, because “much progress has been made with the identification of several highly sensitive, unconventional aerospace-related findings.”

The paper also reported that a 2009 Pentagon briefing on the study claimed “what was considered science fiction is now science fact” — without explanation as to what that might be — but Reid’s request for the super secret squad reportedly was denied.

Recently a Las Vegas television station got its hands on that 2009 letter and posted a copy online.

The letter is a buzzword- and jargon-filled screed claiming extraordinary findings without a shred of supporting documentation or evidence. It never mentions unidentified flying objects or UFOs. Instead it talks about “emerging disruptive aerospace technologies … in regard to advanced lift, propulsion, the use of unconventional materials and controls, signature reduction, weaponry, human interface and human effects.”

The second paragraph, which was partially quoted by the Times, reads: “Since the Advanced Aerospace Threat and Identification Program (AAITP [sic]) and study were first commissioned, much progress has been made with the identification of several highly sensitive, unconventional aerospace-related findings. Given the current rate of success, the continued study of these subjects will likely lead to technology advancements that in the immediate near-term will require extraordinary protection.”

What progress? What rate of success? Extraordinary protection from whom? The taxpayers?

In fact, Reid’s letter specifically states that it is critical for industry partners to be protected, lest public awareness of such folly discourage industry participation.

Reid’s letter further states, “Associated exotic technologies likely involve extremely sophisticated concepts with the world of quantum mechanics, nuclear science, electromagnetic theory, gravitics, and thermodynamics. Given that all of these have the potential to be used with catastrophic effects by adversaries, an unusually high degree of operational security and read-on discretion is required.”

Gravitics? That’s not science. It is science fiction.

The Las Vegas television station also posted what is reportedly a list of studies funded by Reid’s largesse with our money. Titles include “Wormholes in SpaceTime,” “Antigravity Studies,” “Vacuum Energy Applications,” “Warp Drives, Dark Energy, and Dimensions,” “Quantum Entanglement Communications,” “Brain-Machine Interfaces” and “Quantum Tomography of Negative Energy States in the Vacuum.”

The word quantum merely means a specified quantity.

At least two people who have been identified as working without Bigelow on the materials “recovered from unidentified aerial phenomena” have declared they could not talk about their “findings” because they are classified.

Precisely how is the public ever to find out if their money — being spent in secret and producing only secret findings — has been well spent? That is the definition of unaccountability with the potential for chicanery and tomfoolery.

The truth may be out there, but how are we to know?

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.

Poll shows tight races for senator and governor

A poll for the Reno Gazette-Journal by Suffolk University of Boston shows both the race for Nevada’s governor and U.S. senator to be almost dead even. The paper concluded undecided voters could play a major role come November.

The poll of 500 likely voters has a margin of error of 4.4 percent.

This is how the race for governor stands:

This how the race for senator stands:

It looks like the campaign to defeat the Energy Choice Initiative, Question 3, is being effective. The measure passed with 72 percent of the vote two years ago:

Notice who has the highest unfavorable rating in the state:

Then there is the question of turnout by county. Those polled were:

The current active voters, according the Secretary of State, breaks down as Clark 69.3 percent, Washoe 17.7 percent and others 13 percent. But in the last mid-term election in 2014, the actual turnout was Clark 61.8 percent, Washoe 21.1 and others 17.1 percent. So, if the rural turnout is greater than the turnout in heavily Democratic urban centers that might make a difference. But as June the number of active voters in the rurals had dropped to 13 percent, down from 15 percent in 2014.

 

Editorial: Still time to negotiate on Yucca Mountain

Tunnel inside Yucca Mountain (Energy Department pix)

The U.S. House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly, 340-72, this past week to restart the licensing process to make Yucca Mountain in Nye County the nation’s permanent repository of nuclear waste. H.R. 3053, the Nuclear Waste Policy Amendments Act, also ups the ante, increasing the storage cap from 70 metric tons of highly radioactive material to 110,000 metric tons — a 57 percent increase.

All four of Nevada’s representatives voted nay, even Northern Nevada Congressman Mark Amodei, a Republican who in the past has held out for negotiations that might provide some benefits for Nevada.

Amodei issued a press release explaining that he voted against the bill after the House Rules Committee rejected an amendment he had proposed.

“Since I was elected to Congress, I have always said I do not believe Yucca Mountain should be a simple dumping site for our nation’s nuclear waste,” Amodei said. “Additionally, I have always been cognizant that policy makers should not consider Yucca Mountain to be a ‘dead’ issue, meaning Nevada’s congressional delegation should use this opportunity to dictate the terms of the repository under the best conditions for our state. That’s exactly what I chose to do this week by offering an amendment to H.R. 3053 that would have given Nevada a seat at the table to expand upon the mission of the repository.”

His amendment would have directed that the state’s higher eduction system would head up nuclear research and development, designated proper routes for transportation, cleaned up contaminated facilities in Nevada and required the Department of Energy to locate reprocessing facilities at Yucca Mountain instead of just burying the waste. He said reprocessing could create thousands of jobs and recycle spent fuel for further energy production.

Nevada’s Democratic representatives were all in over-my-dead-body mode.

“I have fought the misguided and dangerous Yucca Mountain nuclear waste dump project for my entire career and I’m not giving up,” said Rep. Dina Titus. “This legislation is fundamentally flawed and going nowhere in the Senate.”

Rep. Jacky Rosen, who is running for Republican Sen. Dean Heller’s seat in the upper chamber, called permanent storage of nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain a “reckless and ill-conceived plan that could put communities across the country in danger, jeopardize our military testing and training, waste billions more in taxpayer dollars, and harm Nevada’s tourism industry.”Though 119 Democrats voted for the bill and only 67 against, Rosen blamed the Republican-controlled Congress.

Lame duck Rep. Ruben Kihuen lamented, “I am disappointed that Congress has once again chosen to ignore the will of Nevadans and residents of Nevada’s Fourth Congressional District. 30 years have passed since Nevada was unfairly targeted by the ‘Screw Nevada’ bill and this new bill is nothing more than lipstick on a pig.”

Perhaps, Nevadans are not as knee-jerk opposed as some would have us believe.

Earlier this year, in an op-ed penned for the Reno newspaper, Dan Schinhofen, vice chairman of the Nye County Commission, noted that a poll taken by that newspaper showed 29.3 percent of respondents believed the project, if it included reprocessing, would be good for the economy, while 17.7 percent said Yucca Mountain would be OK if the state cuts a good deal, and 6.4 percent said Nevada should do it for national security — 53.4 percent open to discussion, as opposed to 43.4 percent who said the state should just fight the project.

Schinhofen wrote, “It is time to stop the unfounded fearmongering just to delay this multigenerational, multibillion-dollar project. Many, if not most, Nevadans want to have an honest discussion about Yucca Mountain, and the state’s politicians and opinion writers should start to listen.”

In a recent online article, retired Air Force Col. Bob Frank, chairman and co-founder of Nevadans CAN (Citizen Action Network), noted that recent breakthroughs in technology make it possible to safely and efficiently recycle spent nuclear fuel.

“The advanced reactors no longer require huge volumes of circulating external water to cool them,” Frank writes. “They can be independently installed anywhere in remote or populated areas where power is needed. They can produce uninterruptible power for 24/7/365 at varying levels for up to 30 years without needing more recycled fuel.”

He argues that Nevada has been an international pioneer in nuclear technology and could continue to lead the nation. Explore the possibilities instead of throwing a futile tantrum.

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.

 

Editorial: ObamaCare costs keep soaring

Premiums for ObamaCare-eligible health insurance plans are soaring this year, according to an analysis by the Urban Institute.

The study, sponsored by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, found that the lowest priced of the so-called gold plans that cover 80 percent of medical expenses for a 40-year-old non-smoker increased 19 percent nationally this year and 25 percent in Nevada. The lowest cost silver plans for that individual, which covers 70 percent of medical costs, went up 32 percent nationally and 45.6 percent in Nevada. The second lowest priced silver plans jumped 34.3 percent nationally and 48.3 percent in Nevada.

But not to worry, the Nevada Appeal newspaper in Carson City reports that more than 85 percent of the nearly 100,000 Nevadans who are covered by such plans through the Silver State Health Insurance Exchange will not pay much if any of that premium increase because they receive federal subsidies. Guess who pays those federal subsidies? All of us.

The Appeal reports that, according to a recent report by the Congressional Budget Office, the nationwide increase in premiums will cost the taxpayers $10 billion more in subsidies this year.

Of course, a state health exchange executive blamed the premium spikes on “instability in the health insurance market — much of it caused by tactics designed to undermine the Affordable Care Act. That includes the decision to stop paying insurance companies for the Cost Sharing Reduction subsidies mandated by the ACA for consumers making between 138 and 250 percent of the poverty level,” the Appeal explained.

The taxpayers get stuck with the bill either way — subsidize the insurer or subsidize the rate payer. Six of one, a half dozen of the other.

During the debate this past year over those Cost Sharing Reduction subsidies, The Wall Street Journal reported, “In an ironic twist, stopping the subsidies would also wind up costing the federal government more in the end, the (Congressional Budget Office) report said. Higher premiums for mid-priced plans would require the government to pay larger tax credits to consumers to help offset coverage costs. The federal deficit would increase by $194 billion through 2026, the report said.” Instead of paying $7 billion in subsidies to insurers, we are paying $10 billion to ratepayers.

Pay no heed to the fact ObamaCare premiums have been rising sharply since the law was passed in 2010 without a single Republican vote and using dirty tricks devised by Nevada’s own Sen. Harry Reid. According to the website eHealth, from 2013, the year before ObamaCare went into effect, through 2017, health insurance premiums had already increased 140 percent. Forget repeal and replace, just repeal. Remember at the ballot box this fall just who brought us this expensive boondoggle and would vote to keep it.

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.

Sun’s new slogan: Last week’s news today

The New York Times proudly displays its motto on the front page daily: “All the news that’s fit to print.”

In this age of the Internet some wags have given printed newspapers the derisive motto: “Yesterday’s news today.”

The little insert in the Las Vegas newspaper has taken that dig to heart. Today it has published a New York Times article about a “Black Money” secret government project to investigate UFOs. The article, which appeared on the front page this past Sunday, was first posted online on the Times website this past Saturday afternoon.

The Times reported on Monday that the story had dominated the most emailed and most viewed lists since being posted.

The Las Vegas newspaper carried a brief about the Times story on Sunday and an editorial on Wednesday. Both noted that former Nevada Sen. Harry Reid managed to sneak $22 million in funding for the UFO project into the Defense budget in secret and that the money went to his friend Las Vegan Robert Bigelow.

Meanwhile, Politico picked up the story, as did Fortune, CNN, Fox, Newsweek, the New York Post, NPR, USA Today, Salon, a British newspaper, Slate, the New York Daily News, the National Review, CBS, the Dallas Morning News, the Washington Post, Japan Times, National Geographic, countless other publications and bloggers.

So, today, for its readers who had not yet bothered to read the original story online, in print or in one of its numerous incarnations, the Las Vegas Sun reprinted the five-day-old Times piece in its entirety, earning its new slogan: “Last week’s news today.”

The headline makes no mention of the editor’s pal Harry Reid and his name does not appear until the jump. There is no photo of Reid or Bigelow.

Robert Bigelow (NYT pix)

Banner newspaper story neglects to mention one little niggling aspect

SLS Las Vegas

How soon they forget.

The banner headline in today’s newspaper reads: “SLS lenders sue developers.”

While the story relates that 60 Chinese investors in the project to convert the old Sahara hotel into the SLS Las Vegas are suing, partly because they have not received their promised visas in return for their $500,000 investments under the controversial EB-5 visa program, there is no mention of the role of former Nevada Sen. Harry Reid.

Some of those Chinese investors had been denied visas by Homeland Security because of “suspicious financial activity.” That decision was ineligible for appeal.

But Reid and his staff twisted arms anyway.

According to a Washington Times account at the time, one U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services official reported getting into a shouting match with a Reid staffer over the denial of those visas.

“This one is going to be a major headache for us all because Sen. Reid’s office/staff is pushing hard and I just had a long yelling match on the phone,” that official wrote in an email. That official was later called by Reid himself, seeking the help of the agency’s head,  Alejandro Mayorkas.

Reid made a personal call to Mayorkas in January 2013, according to the Times, and Mayorkas promised him his agency would take a “fresh look” at the SLS hotel and casino visa request. Soon after that the agency expedited visas for about two dozen foreign SLS casino investors.

Mayorkas was later confirmed by the Senate to become the second in command at Homeland Security despite the fact he was under investigation for expediting certain visa applications for certain applicants despite the rejection of those visas by career staffers.

An ethics complaint was filed against Reid, but it went nowhere.

“Despite the fact that these applications were ineligible for appeal, Senator Reid’s efforts to lobby USCIS resulted in the reconsideration and approval of those applications …” the complaint said, adding that the recipients of the investments were major contributors to the Democratic Party and Democratic candidates. “Even more troublesome is the fact that Senator Reid’s son, Rory Reid, and his law firm, Lionel, Sawyer & Collins P.C., are legal counsel to the SLS Hotel and Casino.”

The complaint pointed out that 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.”

Interestingly, in 2015, Democratic California Sen. Dianne Feinstein called on Congress to end the EB-5 visa program that grants visas to foreigners who invest in job-creating projects in the U.S., saying it was a “citizenship-for-sale” program. She said it is “crystal clear that the EB-5 regional center program presents a stark conflict of interest for the Trump White House.”

Her umbrage was prompted by reports that President Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner’s sister mentioned the visa program to potential Chinese investors in a family-owned project.

She had no such outrage years earlier when Reid bullied the agency for the SLS.

Also, Homeland Security’s Inspector General issued a report in March of 2015 accusing Mayorkas of showing favoritism and providing special access to EB-5 visas for Democrats —  specifically Reid, Terry McAuliffe and Anthony Rodham, brother of Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson shrugged it off, saying Mayorkas had been “impatient with our sluggish government bureaucracy.” It wasn’t sluggish. The expedited visas were denied and that decision was, according to agency rules, not appealable.

Later an ICE agent who tried to block the SLS visas was fired. She refused to accept a $100,000 severance package that would have required non-disclosure and testified before Congress about the abuses of the EB-5 program. She later accepted an undisclosed settlement.

The agent testified that EB-5 visas were approved in as little as 16 days and “lacked basic necessary law enforcement” screening.

She told Congress: “In 2013, after disclosing gross mismanagement, waste and fraud that threatened the general public’s safety, National Security Risks and public corruption surrounding an EB-5 project, I was subjected to a significant amount of harassment and retaliation. … Some of the violations I was investigating surrounding this EB-5 project include Title 18 statues; Major Fraud, Money Laundering, Bank and Wire fraud. In addition, I had discovered ties to Organized crime and high ranking officials and politicians, who received large campaign contributions that appeared to have facilitat(ed) the EB-5 project.”

Reid not only called the whistleblowers who complained about his meddling in the visa program decisions 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 said.

That’s all water under the bridge … apparently.

 

Newspaper column: Bill would limit power to create national monuments

Gold Butte National Monument (BLM pix)

The House Committee on Natural Resources this past week approved a bill sponsored by Utah Republican Rep. Rob Bishop to rein in the powers granted by the Antiquities Act of 1906 that allow a president to unilaterally create huge national monuments.

The bill advanced on a party line vote of 27-13, with Democrats in opposition.

The bill, H.R. 3990, the National Monument Creation and Protection Act, amends the Antiquities Act to limit the size of future monuments and specifically grants the sitting president the power to reduce the size of existing monuments — a power Democrats have argued President Trump does not have under current law.

During his administration President Obama created 26 national monuments totaling more than 500 million acres — including the 700,000-acre Basin and Range National Monument on the border of Lincoln and Nye counties and the 300,000-acre Gold Butte National Monument in Clark County.

President Trump ordered Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to review recent monument designations and Zinke sent a memo to the president recommending the reduction in size of six of those, including Gold Butte. The president has not yet acted on those recommendations.

Bishop’s bill would allow the president to unilaterally reduce the size of any monument by 85,000 acres — and by more with the consent of affected counties and states.

The bill would allow a president in the future to create a new monument unilaterally, but only up to 640 acres. Anything larger than that, up to 10,000 acres, would require an environmental review. Anything between 10,000 and 85,000 acres, the apparent size cap on new monuments, would require approval of counties and state officials, as well as the governor.

“Congress never intended to give one individual the power to unilaterally dictate the manner in which all Americans may enjoy enormous swaths of our nation’s public lands,” Bishop was quoted as saying. “Designations are no longer made for scientific reasons or archaeological value but for political purposes. Unfortunately, overreach in recent administrations has brought us to this point and it is Congress’ duty to clarify the law and end the abuse.”

Like the Natural Resources Committee, Nevada’s congressional delegation is divided along party lines when it comes to national monuments. The four Democrats have all objected bitterly and volubly to reducing the size of Nevada’s monuments.

But its two Republican delegates in January introduced legislation that would prevent future designations of monuments in Nevada without the consent of Congress — the Nevada Land Sovereignty Act of 2017 (H.R. 243, S. 22).

The legislation introduced by Sen. Dean Heller and Rep. Mark Amodei is terse and to the point. It basically piggybacks onto current law that reads: “No extension or establishment of national monuments in Wyoming may be undertaken except by express authorization of Congress.” Their bill would amend this by simply adding the phrase “or Nevada” after the word Wyoming.

In response to Bishop’s bill passing the committee, a Heller press aide sent out a comment, “Unilateral federal land grabs in a state like Nevada where the federal government already owns 85 percent of our land should not be permitted. Public input and local support remain critical to the decision-making process of federal land designations, and that is why I’ve introduced legislation that prevents last year’s land grab under the Obama administration from occurring without input from Congress and local officials. I’ll continue working with my colleagues to see that it is signed into law.”

Congressman Amodei said in January before Trump’s inauguration, “I continue to be amazed by the fact that some people hug unilateral, non-transparent monument designations, while at the same time, protesting vehemently over the introduction and public discussion of congressional lands bills proposals. In contrast to the last eight years of this administration’s one-sided approach on major land management decisions in Nevada, our bill simply ensures local stakeholders have a seat at the table going forward.”

Bishop’s proposal also declares that existing water and land rights are to preserved despite a monument designation.

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.