Newspaper column: Too many willing to forgo First Amendment rights

Here is proof positive that ignorance is hazardous to freedom.

The Freedom Forum’s 2018 First Amendment survey, conducted in May and June, asked 1,009 Americans to name the five freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment. Only one person could name all five. One out of more than 1,000.

But perhaps the most telling aspect of the survey was when knowledge of the First Amendment was compared to a willingness to have the government censor social media online. Fully 63 percent of those who could name not a single First Amendment right agreed the government should censor speech, while 87 percent of those who could name four freedoms disagreed.

The more rights one could name, the more those people balked at government censorship. The curve of ignorance runs counter to the curve of freedom.

Knowledge is power and ignorance is hazardous.

Even more scary is the fact that ignorance is rampant. Fully 76 percent of those surveyed could name none or only one First Amendment right — meaning that if such a censorship scheme were put to a vote it just might win.

As for political party affiliation, 54 percent of Democrats agreed with government censorship compared with 47 percent of Republicans.

For the record, the First Amendment states: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

We’ve been writing about this annual survey with considerable angst for two decades and things have gone downhill since. In 1997, the first year of the survey, 2 percent of those questioned could name all five rights.

Somewhat ironically, considering the considerable willingness to renege on it, the one First Amendment right a simple majority, 56 percent, could name was freedom of speech. Only 15 percent could recall freedom of religion. A mere 13 percent could think of freedom of the press, while right of assembly garnered only 12 percent and right of petition a paltry 2 percent. Fully 9 percent thought the Second Amendment right to bear arms was in the First.

Another disturbing finding in the survey is the willingness of Americans to silence someone merely because someone might be offended. When asked whether public universities should be able to retract invitations to controversial speakers if their remarks would offend some groups or even individuals, 42 percent agreed. If the appearance might provoke protests, 51 percent would withdraw the invitation. And if it might incite violence, 70 would cancel — the hooligan’s veto.

“It’s a little disquieting that 4 in 10 believe that public universities should be able to cancel a speaker if he or she might offend ‘individuals.’ In these polarized times, it’s difficult to conceive of anyone speaking on any topic without offending someone,” commented Ken Paulson, president of the Freedom Forum Institute’s First Amendment Center and dean of the College of Media and Entertainment at Middle Tennessee State University.

“That finding — along with majority support for cancelling speakers if a protest is likely — suggests there is significant public support for keeping controversial ideas off college campuses,” Paulson continues. “This begs the question: If a public institution dedicated to the sharing of knowledge and ideas is the wrong place for controversial thoughts, what is the appropriate venue?”

On a more positive note, 74 percent of survey respondents agreed that it is important that the news media act as a watchdog on the government, up from only 68 percent in 2017.

David L. Hudson, Jr. — author, co-author or co-editor of more than 40 books, including “First Amendment: Freedom of Speech” — noted that politicians have long extolled and excoriated the role of the press.

Though President Obama praised “a tough and vibrant media,” President Trump has called some members of the press “enemies of the people” and purveyors of “fake news.”

“The most encouraging part of the 2018 State of the First Amendment survey is the public’s embrace of the ideal of the media serving as the watchdog of a free society,” Hudson writes. “The American public recognizes the essential importance of a vibrant and free press to serve the interests of the public as a check against government.”

But for how long?

A version of this column appeared this week in many of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel and the Lincoln County Record — and the Elko Daily Free Press.

Newspaper column: Democrats display disrespectful distraction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A version of this column appeared this week in many of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel and the Lincoln County Record — and the Elko Daily Free Press.

Newspaper column: Congress should dump plan to tax advertising

Congress is finally seriously talking about tax reform for the first time since President Reagan signed the Tax Reform Act of 1986, but there is a fly in the anointment.

The current draft being proffered contains a proposal to alter the Internal Revenue Code to tax advertising for the first time since the income tax was created in 1913. Currently businesses are allowed to deduct advertising expenditures just as they do other necessary business expenses, such as wages and rent.

The tax reform draft proposes to allow only 50 percent of advertising expenses to be deducted, while the rest would be amortized over 10 years — a move that would complicate tax compliance rather than simplify it. It is estimated that over a decade this proposal would generate $169 billion in additional federal revenue, money drained needlessly from the economy.

Americans for Tax Reform — who, as the name suggests, are all for tax reform — have come out strongly against this proposition, saying any revenue generated would be dwarfed by its negative effects.

The tax reform group’s president, Grover Norquist, penned a letter to Congress earlier this year saying that not only should ads not be taxed, but that implementation of full business expensing would grow the GDP 5.4 percent and create a million jobs.

“Implementing full business expensing is a vital step toward creating a pro-growth tax code. At the same time, taking the existing treatment of advertising costs in the other direction by forcing it to be depreciated over multiple years makes no economic sense and undermines both the economic gains and the rationale for moving to full business expensing,” Norquist wrote.

He also pointed out, “In total, advertising directly or indirectly supports almost 22 million jobs and $5.8 trillion in total economic output. Every dollar of advertising spending generates $22 of economic activity. Advertising associated with local radio and television is alone projected to contribute more than $1 trillion in economic output and 1.38 million jobs.”

The impact on the print media, which is the prime source of local news coverage, could be devastating as well.

According to the Brookings Institute, the total number of newspapers in this country has already declined from nearly 1,800 per million population in 1945 to about 400 in 2014.

According to Adweek, from 2000 to 2013, annual U.S. newspaper ad revenue dropped from $63.5 billion to $23 billion. Meanwhile, Google’s ad revenue has grown to nearly $50 billion a year.

This past week David Williams, writing ironically enough at the online site Townhall, pointed out, “The decline of national outlets is one thing — in most cases, online news suffices — but the shrinkage of local papers is far more dangerous. Many areas only have one source of local news. When that one small paper goes bankrupt due to a draconian federal ad tax, there won’t be anybody to cover the local council meeting or report on communal crime. The Wall Street Journal or New York Times certainly won’t have the space, desire, or bandwidth to send in journalists for local stories. And so, many residents will be left totally in the dark about what is happening around them.”

Fortunately, some in Congress are paying heed to the warnings being offered by those who represent both the media and the advertisers who would be financially harmed by the advertising tax plan.

In April, 124 members of the House of Representatives signed a letter addressed to House Speaker Paul Ryan and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi warning of the problems the ad tax would create. Signers include Nevada’s Democratic Reps. Dina Titus and Ruben Kihuen.

“The potential for strengthening our economy through tax reform would be jeopardized by any proposal that imposes an advertising tax on our nation’s manufacturing, retail, and service industries,” the letter states, noting advertising contributes 19 percent of the nation’s GDP.

It goes on to argue, “Advertising has been accorded the same treatment as all other regularly occurring business expenses, such as employee wages, rent, utilities and office supplies, throughout the 114-year life of the tax code. Any measure that would tax advertising — and therefore would make it more expensive — cannot be justified as a matter of tax or economic policy.”

The House letter concludes, “Advertising also is responsible for supporting the high-quality news, information, and entertainment that is a cornerstone of our democracy and upon which our constituents rely.”

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.

Can Adelson and Raiders reach a deal, and what will Adelson’s newspaper have to say?

Photo of Mark Davis that appeared on the front page of Sunday's Sheldon Adelson Review-Journal (SARJ photo by Thor Swift)

Photo of Mark Davis that appeared on the front page of Sunday’s Sheldon Adelson Review-Journal (SARJ photo by Thor Swift)

A number of news outlets are now questioning whether Oakland Raiders owner and casino executive Sheldon Adelson can ever come to terms that will allow the team to move to Las Vegas and take up residency in a new 65,000-seat domed stadium that would be financed with $750 million in room tax money and some as-yet undetermined amounts from Adelson, Raiders owner Mark Davis and the NFL.

One of the latest to raise doubts is NBC Sports, which posted a piece today noting that Davis hasn’t yet dismissed a proposed stadium deal that would keep the Raiders in Oakland, suggesting he may be using the proposal as leverage with Adelson, who in October threatened to walk away from the deal if the Raiders did not meet his terms.

“Per a source with knowledge of the situation, Davis and Sands casino owner Sheldon Adelson … continue to have a difficult time striking a deal …” the NBC Sports account states. “News of the lingering difficulties puts the recent profile/puff piece penned by the Adelson-owned Las Vegas Review-Journal in a different light. The glowing article on Davis could be viewed as an olive branch on one hand, and/or an effort to pressure him to finalize a deal he already has promised to do.”

The puff piece quoted a friend of Davis as saying, “One thing about Mark Davis, he’s an honest guy and he believes in trustworthiness. When he gives his word about something, he’s totally committed.” The same can’t be said about Adelson.

The question is: With all the doubts being raised about the done deal, what will the Sheldon Adelson Review-Journal (SARJ) have to report Tuesday morning?

 

All the news that fits the agenda

Flight from China greeted with fanfare and gushing headlines. (R-J pix)

Flight from China greeted with fanfare and gushing headlines. (R-J pix)

Talk about an orgy of unmitigated puffery. Break out the pompoms, bang the drums, shoot off Chinese fireworks and sing hosannas to the highest.

For nearly a week the Las Vegas newspaper has been filled to the brim with glowing headlines about the second coming, or rather the first coming — the first direct flight from Beijing to Las Vegas, and back again we presume.

The Friday headline was: “Inaugural Hainan Airlines flight from Beijing to Las Vegas lands at McCarran.” Isn’t there an old saw about safe landings not warranting newspaper headlines — “Plane doesn’t crash?” Where was the headline for the other 700 or so flights that safely landed that day?

Another headline and story that day gayly announced that cake, champagne and show performers from the Strip greeted the 300 or so Chinese tourists aboard that plane — less reporters, tourism touts and assorted hangers on. No cake and champagne for the other 40 million tourists who show up here each year? Where’s your sense of fairness?

Parisian Macau opened in September. (R-J pix)

Parisian Macau opened in September. (R-J pix)

The other five or so stories about this auspicious occasion told newspaper readers that local tourism officials are hungry for a wave of flights from China, Las Vegas is being marketed as less than sinful, tickets for the junket were going on sale, many in the Chinese community await investment opportunities, and the pent up demands for Chinese travel to Las Vegas is a good thing. No editorializing in any of that.

Then there was the Beijing dateline from one of the paper’s reporters who apparently took the flight and also took dozens of photos and apparently shot cell phone video to post online telling stereotypical tales about the stereotypical Chinese tourist, as well as the dozens of photos from an actual photographer when the plane actually arrived in full glory and regalia.

The paper gushed more ink than a geyser on this plane load of Chinese tourists.

You’d almost think the newspaper’s owner had some kind of interest in Chinese tourism or had a stake in stoking the egos of Chinese officials who have the power of life or death over his casinos in that country. But none of the stories carried the customary disclaimer about the paper’s owner also owns a chain of casinos, including a couple in Macau, China, so that mustn’t be the case.

In 2014 Chinese officials cracked down on junkets to Macau and money laundering, causing casino revenue there to plummet more than 34 percent in 2015. Wouldn’t want a repeat of that, now that biz is bouncing back and revenues are seeping back into casino owners’ pockets.

Then to make sure the story played out to the last gasp, today a front page story on the “official” opening of the tiny, 200-room, Chinese-themed Lucky Dragon casino just off the Strip has a passing mention of the airline’s inaugural flight. So far the slow-motion opening of the Lucky Dragon, including a feature on how to serve tea Chinese-style, has gotten more coverage than the grand opening of the paper’s owner’s latest pleasure palace in Macau, China.

I hear the paper is planning a Mandarin edition soon, replete with quotes from Chairman Mao, who immediately outlawed gambling in China when he took over in 1949, such as, “The socialist system will eventually replace the capitalist system; this is an objective law independent of man’s will. However much the reactionaries try to hold back the wheel of history, eventually revolution will take place and will inevitably triumph.”

All the news that fits, or fits the agenda.

Photo-op in Beijing. (R-J puff pix)

Photo-op in Beijing. (R-J puff pix)

 

 

 

 

Is it time for a ‘second party’?

Gary Johnson at National Libertarian Party Convention in May in Orlando, Fla. (AP photo by John Raoux)

Sometimes you stumble upon a nugget of wisdom in the most unexpected of places.

Today’s eureka moment is found buried inside the pages of the section buried inside the morning newspaper, the section where I usually scan the cover to see if there is anything local worth a second glance before skipping past the pages of syndicated liberal drivel to the Dilbert cartoon.

But the photo of Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson gave me pause. Beneath are a couple of columns labeled “Point” and “Counterpoint,” though I’ve yet to figure out what the point was supposed to be. It was the headline on the “Counterpoint” that brought me up short: “Term ‘third party’ wrongly implies we have more than one.”

This in the Sun section? Oh, the heresy! Surely Greenspun is spinning in apoplexy. Now there’s a pleasing image.

Both columns appeared at something called insidesources.com back at the end of May. How the putative editors at the Sun stumbled upon it at this late date and had the presence of mind or temerity to actually publish it is a mystery for the ages, but the piece by Antony Davies, an associate professor of economics at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, and James Harrigan, director of academic programs at Strata in Logan, Utah, opens with the question: “Is it time for a third party?”

They answer the question by refuting the question in the second paragraph: “The real question to ask now is whether there is a hill of beans’ worth of difference between the two major parties. Maybe what we really need is a viable second party, because from any objective point of view the Republicans and the Democrats care about only one thing: the acquisition of power.”

The writers then lay down brick by brick a solid logical wall.

They note that the parties present themselves to the public and the voters as vastly different, but over the past 60 years both have merely made government larger and more intrusive and smothering. One grows government by taking away civil liberties, while the other grows government by removing economic liberties. Results are the same, only the methods differ.

“And they have done a brilliant job of crowding out any possible dissenting voices. How brilliant?” Harrigan and Davies write. “‘Minor party’ candidates are not even allowed into the presidential debates unless they poll at 15 percent nationally. But their names are not included in the opinion polls that determine who gets in. Who set that system up? Republicans and Democrats.

“Who says they can’t work together?”

In 2015, they point out Congress passed and the president signed only 150 laws, but federal agencies created 3,000 new rules and regulations. “And soon, everything not forbidden will be mandated.”

They conclude that the major parties have deluded the voters into thinking that voting for a minor party candidate is simply a de facto vote for whichever of the two major party candidates you find least palatable.

The piece ends thusly:

So if you vote for Hillary Clinton to keep Donald Trump out of the White House, or the reverse, you have guaranteed a victory for the status quo. And that’s exactly what the Republicans and Democrats want you to do.

It’s time we had a second party.

The column is nowhere to be found on the Sun website.

sun page

Newspaper column: Widely criticized BLM security agent gets promoted

No bureaucratic bungling shall go unrewarded.

Be it at the State Department, Veterans Affairs, Internal Revenue Service, the Justice Department, Immigration or the Bureau of Land Management.

The man who was in charge of security for the BLM during the botched Bundy ranch cattle roundup two years ago — which resulted in the agency spending $1 million to round up a couple hundred head of cattle, only to release them when confronted by armed supporters of the rancher — has been promoted to a newly created position.

Dan Love, who was in charge of BLM security forces in Nevada and Utah, will now serve as the BLM’s agent in charge of security, protection and intelligence nationwide.

Dan Love

The intelligence part of the job reportedly includes gathering information on emerging threats, such as from websites and online social media.

Why a land management agency should have what amounts to its own law enforcement division is a question to begin with. Even the Nevada Test Site uses private security firms. Aren’t actual law enforcement agencies such as the FBI and U.S. marshals, as well as local police and sheriff agencies, sufficient to protect these public servants?

As for intelligence? Why does a federal land agency need a spy?

Gov. Brian Sandoval chastised the BLM at the time of the Bundy ranch invasion for creating an “atmosphere of intimidation.”

“Due to the roundup by the BLM, my office has received numerous complaints of BLM misconduct, road closures and other disturbances,” Sandoval said in a statement at the time. “I have recently met with state legislators, county officials and concerned citizens to listen to their concerns. I have expressed those concerns directly to the BLM.”

He said most disturbing to him was the BLM’s establishment of a “First Amendment Area,” where any protests were supposed to be contained, calling that a trampling of Nevadans’ fundamental rights under the U.S. Constitution.

“No cow justifies the atmosphere of intimidation which currently exists nor the limitation of constitutional rights that are sacred to all Nevadans,” he said. “The BLM needs to reconsider its approach to this matter and act accordingly.”

Though he said rancher Cliven Bundy must be held accountable for defying federal court orders and grazing cattle on federal land without proper permits, then-Sheriff Doug Gillespie was critical of the tactics and behavior of the BLM security forces for creating a situation that threatened to turn into a bloodbath.

Speaking at an editorial board of the Las Vegas morning newspaper a couple of months after the roundup, Gillespie said he had a tense meeting with some of Bundy’s sons a few weeks before the agents moved in with armed vehicles, heavy weapons, snipers and attack dogs. He feared emotions would boil over.

“I came back from that saying, ‘This is not the time to do this,’” he told the editors. “They (the BLM) said, ‘We do this all the time. We know what we’re doing. We hear what you’re saying, but we’re moving forward.’”

He noted that a video of one of Bundy’s sons being Tasered went viral on the Internet, prompting self-styled patriots and militia to pour into the ranch, an outcome for which the BLM was unprepared.

Gillespie added, “You’ll have a hard time convincing me that one person’s drop of blood is worth any one of those cows,” adding that the BLM had no place to take the cattle it had gathered anyway.

Two years later, Bundy, four of his sons and 14 others are being held without bail on federal charges growing out of the standoff.

Love’s handling of the Bundy situation is hardly the first criticism leveled at his methods.

In an article in the Salt Lake City Tribune in October 2014, rural Utah sheriffs described Love as Public Enemy No. 1.

“Elected law enforcement officers from Nephi to Blanding call him an arrogant and dishonest bully who has little regard for local authority and dodges accountability, derailing a collaborative approach to police work on the state’s federal lands,” the article declares.

According to the Reno newspaper, Love also has a penchant for demanding pampering for himself and his agents. Before the 2015 Burning Man festival in Black Rock, Love told festival organizers his staff would require a separate compound with amenities such as flushing toilets, washers and dryers, and 24-hour access to ice cream.

The cost was estimated to be $1 million. The BLM backed off after being widely ridiculed.

That’s how to mount the ladder of success in a bureaucracy.

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.

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