Editorial: A day worthy of celebrating: Constitution Day

This Sunday, Sept. 17, marks the anniversary of one of the most propitious days in the history of this country. On that day in 1787, the representatives at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia signed the Constitution. It was ratified by the states and went into effect on March 4, 1789.

You remember the Constitution don’t you?

That’s the document that says the president “shall take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed …” Not waive, delay or ignore parts of laws the president doesn’t like, such as immigration laws, which the Constitution says: “The Congress shall have Power To … establish an uniform Rule of Naturalization …”

The Constitution also says, “All Bills for raising Revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives …”

But when it came to ObamaCare, which is replete with a panoply of revenue generating taxes to offset its expenses, the Senate grabbed an unrelated bill that had passed the House, cut the existing language and substituted the ObamaCare verbiage. The bill number was the only thing that originated in the House.

Yes, it’s those four-handwritten pages that give Congress the power “To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States …” Not to force people to engage in commerce by buying health insurance or pay a fine or a tax for not doing so.

That Commerce Clause also has been stretched to prohibit a farmer from growing grain to feed his own cattle because that affected demand for grain on the interstate market. The same rationale allows Congress to set minimum wages for jobs that have nothing to do with interstate commerce.

It also gave Congress the power to “declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water.” Some wars get declared, while others are just military exercises.

The instrument also says the “President shall have Power to fill up all Vacancies that may happen during the Recess of the Senate, by granting Commissions which shall expire at the End of their next Session.” Not decide for himself when the Senate is in session. At least the judiciary slapped Obama’s wrist on that one.

During ratification the Founders added the Bill of Rights, including the First Amendment that says Congress “shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof …” That probably means Congress can’t order a religion to pay for contraceptions, abortifacients and sterilization against its beliefs.

We’re pretty sure the document did not envision a president’s administration creating by regulation laws the Congress refused to pass — think immigration enforcement and rules promulgated by the EPA, FEC, HHS, HUD or USDA without the consent of Congress.

Another clause gives Congress the power “to make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers, and all other Powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States …” though the foregoing powers and powers vested by the Constitution part is largely ignored.

The Constitution also gave Congress the power “To exercise exclusive Legislation in all Cases whatsoever … to exercise like Authority over all Places purchased by the Consent of the Legislature of the State in which the Same shall be, for the Erection of Forts, Magazines, Arsenals, dock-Yards, and other needful Buildings …” And just when did Congress purchase and the state Legislature consent to turning over 85 percent of Nevada’s land mass to the federal government?

As James Madison said, “I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of the freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments of those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations …”

Happy Constitution Day, while it lasts.

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.

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Newspaper editorial calls for getting Yucca Mountain back on track

Another call for licensing of Yucca Mountain has been made.

Today an editorial in the Albuquerque Journal points out the federal government’s only underground nuclear waste repository — New Mexico’s Waste Isolation Pilot Plant near Carlsbad — is filling up quickly while Yucca Mountain remains mothballed.

The newspaper’s editorial board posits that WIPP can be expanded and such expansion is welcomed by the community for economic development — so long as it can be done safely.

“But WIPP is not a permanent solution for all the nation’s nuclear waste because there are still 70,000 metric tons being stored throughout the U.S., above ground and adjacent to rivers or on top of water tables, with more being created,” the board notes.

Now that Obama and Harry Reid have left office, the newspaper suggests that now is the time to put Yucca Mountain back on track.

“New Mexico has done, and will continue doing, its part to safely dispose of the nation’s nuclear waste. Nevada, which has also benefitted from the nation’s nuclear programs as well as $15 billion-plus in nuclear investment, should do the same,” the editorial concludes.

WIPP is filling up fast. (Photo from WIPP via Albuquerque Journal)

Dueling columnists could be entertaining, except …

Epithets at 10 paces. Turn and fire.

First, in the pages of the Las Vegas Review-Journal columnist Wayne Allyn Root took issue with MGM’s CEO Jim Murren telling his employees that the firm would match any donations they decided to make to certain groups that he apparently identified as civil rights organizations. In a letter to employees Murren noted recent violence in Charlottesville and Barcelona and stated, “In the midst of this uncertainty, I want to affirm a clear-eyed, concrete view of the company in which you have chosen to invest your career, because on the question of human rights, MGM Resorts takes and unequivocal position: The protection of human dignity, demonstrated in the form of tolerance and respect for all people, is the core of our identity. We strive to create workplaces and entertainment spaces that are welcoming, open and respectful to all kinds of people, regardless of disability, age, gender, race, ethnicity, religious preference, gender identity or sexual orientation.” (His bold face and italics.)

He listed the groups for which the company would match donations as Southern Poverty Law Center, NAACP, ADL, Council on American Islamic Relations and others.

Root took issue with the doling out of shareholder funds to liberal groups in general but especially with the Southern Poverty Law Center, which is known for tossing out hate group labels like trinkets at a Mardi Gras parade, and the Council on American Islamic Relation, which has been pegged as the clean-faced front for Hamas.

Root blasted, “Jim Murren has gone too far. And he’s put MGM’s board, shareholders and employees in a terrible position because of his extreme, radical, reckless decisions” — without bothering to append the usual disclaimer about the newspaper’s owner, Sheldon Adelson, being both a business competitor with MGM and frequent political opponent of Murren.

Today, the putative editor of the insert inside the Review-Journal filled that gap with a diatribe. Brian Greenspun said of Root’s Thursday missive:

That day, he went after one of Sheldon’s biggest, most forward-thinking and most responsible competitors in the gaming industry. It is exactly what the gaming industry feared might happen when the news — as secret as the Adelson family tried to keep it — broke that one of the GOP’s wealthiest donors had purchased one of the two largest newspapers in Nevada. The Las Vegas Sun is the other “largest” newspaper in Nevada.

I don’t know if Sheldon knows what Root writes from one day to the next, but he should be very careful about what his minions publish in and under his name. Root and publisher Craig Moon certainly know what would please Sheldon.

Not only are Adelson and Murren competitors on the Strip but also in Macau and perhaps in Japan in the future.

Adelson is a huge Republican donor, while Murren was a card-carrying Republican for Reid and a Hillary Clinton supporter.

A couple of years ago Adelson tore into MGM and Caesars for driving down the price of rooms on the Strip and costing his Sands corporation money. Adelson personally attacked Murren for supporting a convention center expansion, which competes with Adelson’s convention center, over a new football stadium.

But perhaps the funniest thing in Greenspun’s screed was this line:

Which reminds me of one of the first lessons in newspaper publishing I learned from my father, Hank Greenspun, many decades ago — publishers have profound responsibilities to the public interest and it must always be placed before personal interest.

Hank Greenspan was notorious for pulling his newspaper like a dueling pistol to attack business competitors and political foes and to support his friends. He was virulently critical of an FBI agent who conducted a sting on certain politicians and he conducted a campaign to discredit a competitor in the cable television business.

Greenspan concludes his spiel, “Come on, Review-Journal, publish your paper in the community interest. You and your owners should be better than this.”

A little dueling between newspaper columnists could be entertaining — if they both weren’t such clowns.

Editorial: Western congressmen seek monument size reductions

Recently the 17 members of the Congressional Western Caucus — which includes Nevada’s Rep. Mark Amodei — took Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke up on his request for feedback on what to do about all the national monuments created in the past two decades, sending him a letter with specific recommendations about 27 of those monuments.

These recommendations called for vastly scaling back the size of two monuments created by President Obama in his last year in office at the urging of then-Sen. Harry Reid — the 300,000-acre Gold Butte in Clark County and the 700,000-acre Basin and Range in Nye and Lincoln counties.

The letter repeatedly points out that the Antiquities Act of 1906, which authorizes the president to create monuments, was passed in order to protect prehistoric and Indian ruins and artifacts on federal land in the West and the law limits such designations to “the smallest area compatible with proper care and management of the objects.” While earlier monuments averaged 422 acres, several of Obama’s designations exceeded a million acres, the letter notes.

Zinke’s review of the monuments comes at the behest of President Trump, who in April asked for the review in an executive order, giving Zinke till Aug. 26 to comply. Zinke was scheduled to be in Nevada this week to discuss the matter.

As for Basin and Range, the congressmen point out it is larger than Rhode Island and was created as “a personal favor to then-Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid. According to a former Obama adviser, ‘it is only due to Harry Reid that [Basin and Range] is getting done.’”

The letter quotes opposition to the monument from the Nevada Farm Bureau, as well as Lincoln and Nye County commissioners.

Nye County Commissioner Lorinda Wichman called the monument “an excellent example of hypocrisy,” noting that Reid insisted on local consent for the construction of a nuclear waste repository in Nye County at Yucca Mountain, which many in Nye favor, while ignoring the lack of local consent for Basin and Range, which many opposed because of its impact on recreation, grazing and mineral exploration.

The letter also points out that one of the motives for creating Basin and Range was to provide a buffer for an “art” project on a strip of private land, which has nothing to do with protecting antiquities.

According to a Washington Post article in 2015, Reid, who for two years could not get Congress to go along with his proposal to put the land off limits, asked Obama to create a national monument partly as a buffer for a giant earthen and concrete art project called “City” and described as “reminiscent of a ceremonial Mesoamerican city stretching across an expanse of desert nearly the size of the Mall” in Washington. The “artist” has been working on it for 50 years and allows only VIP visitors and journalists to view his work.

Though both Amodei and then-Rep. Cresent Hardy, in whose districts the monument is located, opposed it, Reid persuaded Obama, who owed him a favor or two for such things as ObamaCare and ending the filibuster for judicial nominations.
The caucus letter recommends the monument be reduced to about 2,500 acres — “the smallest area compatible with proper care and management of the objects to be protected.”

As for Gold Butte, the letter notes the designation specifically bans grazing and suggests it was “political retribution” against the Bundy family, whose cattle have grazed in the area for more than a century. Cliven Bundy and four of his sons are currently in jail awaiting trial on charges growing out of an armed standoff in 2014 when BLM agents attempted to confiscate their cattle.

In January, Amodei and Sen. Dean Heller introduced the Nevada Land Sovereignty Act, which intends to prevent the threat of executive action designating or expanding national monuments without congressional approval or local support.

Neither monument needs to be so large.

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.

Gold Butte (BLM pix)

 

Who will stand up for the First Amendment?

The lede editorial in today’s newspaper rightfully thumps Democrat Rep. Jacky Rosen, who recently announced she will seek Sen. Dean Heller’s seat next year, for embracing the First Amendment-shredding effort to overturn the Citizens United Supreme Court ruling that said corporations and unions have free speech rights.

The editorial noted that this week Rosen was endorsed by the End Citizens United group and she responded by saying, “I’m grateful to End Citizens United for their support, and I will be their partner in the fight against mega-donors flooding our elections with unlimited and unaccountable dark money.”

The Citizens United ruling overturned a portion of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law under which the Federal Election Commission barred the airing of a movie produced by Citizens United that was critical of Hillary Clinton during the 2008 Democratic primary.

In the press release announcing its endorsement, End Citizens United’s President Tiffany Muller declared, “Nevada will be a top priority for ECU this cycle and we look forward to working closely with Rosen’s campaign and help her fight back against the special interests who will do and say anything to protect their handpicked candidate.”

Rosen was further quoted as saying, “Washington hasn’t been listening to the needs of Nevadans because billionaires and special interests are drowning out the voices of real people in our communities. If we’re going to make real progress on issues like climate change, gun violence and health care, then we need to bring some transparency and accountability to our broken campaign finance system. Unlike Senator Heller, I will stand up for Nevadans by speaking out for real reform and a reversal of this catastrophic Supreme Court decision.”

That press release also said Heller voted three times against the DISCLOSE Act, Democracy Is Strengthened by Casting Light On Spending in Elections. That bill was pushed strongly by Sen. Harry Reid, whois backing Rosen’s run against Heller.

Actually, in the final vote killing that bill, Heller was absent. Though he was campaigning, his spokesman said he would have voted against it.

But in an interview on Sam Shad’s “Nevada Newsmakers” in 2016 Heller called for ending of corporate and union campaign donations in federal elections, though he did not call directly for overturning Citizens United.

“I would be for eliminating both,” Heller was quoted as saying. “Lets just make it fair and let’s get it back to the grass roots, get back to letting rank and file Americans, let them participate in this process. It (money) has completely overwhelmed the process. I think we should restrict both corporations and unions and let’s get it back to the grass roots.”

How you do that without amending the Constitution and ripping apart the First Amendment was not explained.

Rep. Dina Titus, who also has indicted she might run for Heller’s seat in the Senate, also has expressed support for End Citizens united.

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’).”

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.

Who will stand up for the First Amendment?

Jacky Rosen (R-J pix)

 

Newspaper column: How to make use of those Yucca Mountain tunnels

Obama and Reid tour Nellis AFB solar panel site. (R-J pix)

Sometimes things just naturally come full circle.

For decades Nevada’s former U.S. Sen. Harry Reid constantly pounded on two themes: Blocking nuclear waste from being stored in Yucca Mountain in Nye County and pressing for more and more solar panels to be thrown up on thousands of acres of public land and on rooftops across the state.

When Congress designated Yucca Mountain as the nation’s sole nuclear waste dump in 1987, Reid said two things, no and hell no. As he rose in seniority in the Democratic Party to become Senate majority leader, he finally found the power to make those words stick and steadily turned down the funding spigot for the project until President Obama shut it down entirely.

As he neared retirement, Reid declared Yucca Mountain dead, though President Trump and his Energy Secretary Rick Perry have been trying to breathe life back into it.

Meanwhile, Reid campaigned vigorously for green energy, bragging about his role in the state investing $6 billion in green energy and creating 20,000 jobs. The projects include sites such as the 3,000-acre Copper Mountain Solar project outside Boulder City and the 15-megawatt solar panel installation on Nellis Air Force Base.

Almost every year at his long-running green energy conference in Las Vegas, Reid would drag out some dignitary from the base to repeat the boast that the project was saving taxpayers $1 million a year in power costs — without ever bothering to mention the panels cost $100 million in 2007 and would reach obsolescence in 25 years and need to be disposed of.

Which brings us to the closing of the circle.

An alert reader recently brought to our attention a report from a Berkeley-based group called Environmental Progress. It seems that when you do the math, solar panels create 300 times more toxic waste per unit of energy output than nuclear power plants.

This prompted our alert reader to suggest it is time to contemplate the Yucca Mountain Solar Panel Repository.

“We talk a lot about the dangers of nuclear waste, but that waste is carefully monitored, regulated, and disposed of,” Michael Shellenberger, founder of Environmental Progress, an advocate for nuclear energy, told the National Review. “But we had no idea there would be so many panels — an enormous amount — that could cause this much ecological damage.”

The Environmental Progress report states, “If solar and nuclear produce the same amount of electricity over the next 25 years that nuclear produced in 2016, and the wastes are stacked on football fields, the nuclear waste would reach the height of the Leaning Tower of Pisa (52 meters), while the solar waste would reach the height of two Mt. Everests (16 km).”

Those innocent looking solar panels contain elements such as lead, chromium and cadmium — known carcinogens. The panels are difficult and expensive to recycle. The process is labor intensive and the price of the resulting scrap material is low, according to the National Review. (Never mind the toxic waste created during the manufacturing process.)

But, since they are already imbedded in glass and plastic and would not necessarily have to be protected by water shields like nuclear waste canisters if they were buried in those miles of tunnels at Yucca Mountain, it seems like a solution to the problem of what do with that $15 billion project sitting idle in the desert. The main problem is that it may not be big enough.

The United States has more than a million solar energy installations, many of which are nearing the end of that 25-year life expectancy, and more are being built, though currently solar produces only about 1.3 percent of the world’s electricity, compared to 10 percent for nuclear power.

As for the nuclear waste, we never thought it a good idea to dump it in a hole in the ground, when it can be recycled, as many countries currently do. It would be rather easy to haul the stuff to the desert at or near Yucca Mountain and store it above ground in dry casks until it can be recycled, possibly on site, which would create a number of high tech jobs.

Don’t you love it when mislaid plans come together?

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.

Yucca Mountain entrance. (ABC pix)

Newspaper column: Ownership of land better than paltry PILT payouts

It is that time of year again, when counties in Nevada and across the West squat on the street corner with their tin alms cups extended anxiously awaiting the tinkling sound of a few coins from the federal till — otherwise known as Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT).

Since 1977 Congress has parsimoniously paid out pennies on the acre to local governments to make up for the land the federal government controls but on which it pays no local property taxes. Since 85 percent of Nevada land is controlled by various federal agencies that is a lot of property tax to forgo.

Just a few weeks ago the Trump administration budget for this year proposed limiting PILT funding to an average of the most recent 10 years or about $397 million, but this past week in Pahrump Interior Department Secretary Ryan Zinke announced at a meeting with various Nevada officials that the PILT largesse this year will be $464.6 million, a 6 percent increase over the previous year. The about-face was roundly ignored.

But for some reason, also neither explained nor questioned, Nevada’s share of the booty increased by only 2 percent to $26.18 million, about the same as inflation.

There was much backslapping all around.

Secretary Zinke noted in a self-congratulatory press release that he grew up in northwest Montana, and, “I know how important PILT payments are to local communities that have federal lands. These investments are one of the ways the federal government is fulfilling its role of being a good land manager and good neighbor to local communities. Rural America, especially states out west with large federal land holdings, play a big part in feeding and powering the nation and also in providing recreation opportunities, but because the lands are federal, the local governments don’t earn revenue from them. PILT investments often serve as critical support for local communities as they juggle planning and paying for basic services, such as public safety, fire-fighting, social services and transportation.”

Nevada Republican senior Sen. Dean Heller chimed in by saying, “Unlike other states, approximately 85 percent of Nevada lands are managed by the federal government, making the PILT program critical for local governments’ ability to maintain essential services like public safety and education.”

The state’s Democrat junior Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto did note the previous threats to trim PILT, saying, “From fixing roads to education to basic healthcare services, Nevadans have benefited from these resources for decades, despite constant threats of massive cuts to the program. I am pleased that Nevada will receive its largest grant in the program to date, which signals the Department of Interior’s recognition of PILT’s importance to Nevada and the need to boost our state’s rural communities.”

Nye County Commissioner Dan Schinhofen was quoted as saying, “With 98 percent of the land in Nye County being federally managed or owned, PILT is not seen as discretionary to us, and as such needs to be guaranteed.”

PILT payments are based on a formula that takes into account the number of acres of federal land in each county, as well as the population. It is a formula that defies explanation.

Nevada on average is getting 46 cents per acre, having a population of 2.9 million and 85 percent of its land under federal control. But New Mexico, with a population of 2 million and only 35 percent of its land under federal control, gets $1.72 per acre. Utah, with a population nearly equal to Nevada at 3 million and 65 percent of it land in federal hands, is getting 99 cents an acre.

Every state adjacent to Nevada is getting at least twice as much per acre.

The PILT payments also vary wildly by county, from a low of 7 cents an acre for Esmeralda County to a high of $2.71 per acre for Storey County. Other examples: Clark, 73 cents; Elko 46 cents; Eureka, 17 cents; Lincoln,14 cents; Mineral, 37 cents; White Pine, 24 cents. Dollars and acreage for all 1,900 counties getting PILT are available at: https://www.nbc.gov/pilt/counties.cfm.

Additionally, it should be noted that the PILT payouts amount to only 5 percent of the $8.8 billion the Interior Department collects each year from commercial activities, such as oil and gas leases, livestock grazing and timber harvesting.

Instead of sitting around with tin cups waiting for pitiful PILT handouts, Nevada should demand more control of its land and collect all of those revenues to reduce our tax burden.

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.