Editorial: Nevada senators back amendment abridging free speech

Nevada Democratic Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto, left, and Jacky Rosen. (R-J file pix)

This past week every Democratic member of the U.S. Senate — including Nevada Democratic Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto and Jacky Rosen — signed on as sponsors of a proposed constitutional amendment that would rip the heart from the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution — the part that says, “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech …”

The Democracy for All Amendment, as it is wrongly called, would overturn the Supreme Court’s 2010 ruling in Citizens United v. FEC. That 5-4 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.

The court said the First Amendment was written to protect speech, no matter who the speaker may be, whether an individual or a group, such as a corporation or a union.

The proposed amendment would allow Congress and the states to “distinguish between natural persons and corporations or other artificial entities created by law, including by prohibiting such entities from spending money to influence elections.”

Sen. Cortez Masto put out a press release saying the amendment is intended to get big money out of politics. “Citizens United opened the floodgates for big money in politics by wrongly allowing corporations and special interests to buy undue influence in American elections,” Nevada’s senior senator wrote. “It’s time the effects of this disastrous ruling were reversed. A constitutional amendment putting the democratic process back in the hands of voters will help ensure that our government represents the will of Americans, not just the wealthy few.”

Sen. Rosen has long been a proponent of overturning Citizens United. During her campaign against Sen. Dean Heller, she declared, “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.”

Ironically, the amendment concludes by stating, “Nothing in this article shall be construed to grant Congress or the States the power to abridge the freedom of the press.’’

Who do they think owns the “press” in the United States? Billionaires and corporations, such as Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, who owns The Washington Post, and casino owner Sheldon Adelson, who owns the largest newspaper in Nevada. A handful of giant corporations own the vast majority of news media outlets in this country. In order to get around this amendment, all a billionaire or corporation has to do is buy a “press.”

In fact, Justice Anthony Kennedy, who wrote the majority opinion in Citizens United, singled out the media exemption that was written into McCain-Feingold. Kennedy wrote, “The media exemption discloses further difficulties with the law now under consideration. There is no precedent supporting laws that attempt to distinguish between corporations which are deemed to be exempt as media corporations and those which are not. ‘We have consistently rejected the proposition that the institutional press has any constitutional privilege beyond that of other speakers.’ … And the exemption results in a further, separate reason for finding this law invalid: Again by its own terms, the law exempts some corporations but covers others, even though both have the need or the motive to communicate their views.”

Aren’t political parties themselves tantamount to corporations — groups of individuals uniting their voices and money in furtherance of a political agenda. Should political parties be silenced?

As Justice Kennedy concluded, “The First Amendment confirms the freedom to think for ourselves.”

Congress should not deem itself the arbiter of who gets to speak and who must be gagged. Cortez Masto and Rosen should reverse course.

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.

Newspaper column: Book offers historic perspective on the press

The premise of conservative commentator Mark Levin’s new book, “Unfreedom of the Press,” is that modern journalism has devolved into an opinionated, group-think pack of politically partisan propagandists who oppose President Trump at every turn and think he is a danger to freedom of the press.

While we don’t think that conclusion is totally valid, the book does offer a worthy historic perspective on the behaviors of the press and our presidents.

Levin notes that for more than a century the American press was unabashedly partisan, often surviving on printing contracts from the party in power when the newspapers were able to put them there. He seems to accept the notion that sometime early in the 19th Century journalists altruistically embraced the concept of objectivity.

Actually the conversion was mostly profit-motivated. It was borne of the penny press.

The newspaper business model changed from being dependent on government printing contracts and political party handouts to one of being supported by advertisers, whose customers paid the same for a pair of shoes no matter which party they embraced. So why alienate half of your potential customers with partisanship? The newspaper that delivered the highest readership fetched the highest advertising dollar.

Levin’s book does point out correctly that Trump’s often repeated and tweeted animus for the press is benign compared to past presidents.

With the ink still damp on the First Amendment President John Adams pushed through the Federal Congress a series of Alien and Sedition Acts in 1798. These acts made it a crime to “write, print, utter or publish … any false, scandalous and malicious writing or writings against the government of the United States, or either house of the Congress of the United States, or the President of the United States, with intent to defame the said government, or either house of the said Congress, or the said President, or to bring them, or either of them, into contempt or disrepute …” The penalty was a fine or imprisonment for up to two years.

Under those laws more than 20 Republican newspaper editors were arrested and some were imprisoned. Among those was newspaperman James Callender who called Adams a “hideous hermaphroditical character, which has neither the force of a man, nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman.” These details are not in the book, by the way.

Levin notes Abraham Lincoln enforced censorship during the Civil War and jailed several reporters, editors and publishers.

Sun takes cheap shot at owner of newspaper into which it is inserted

We do believe the Jewish owner of the Sun insert in the morning newspaper just called out the Jewish owner of that morning newspaper.

In an editorial about a spike in hate crimes for which it blames President Trump the Sun alleges:

For one, Trump’s Jewish financial backers must take responsibility for the president giving aid, comfort and recruiting material to white supremacists.

In backing Trump and his agenda, these donors are helping anti-Semitism thrive in America and putting Jews increasingly at risk by figuratively providing matches to light the torches of extremists.

Trump’s Jewish backers are engaging in self-interested, history-denying behavior — you’d have to imagine the NAACP funding the Ku Klux Klan to find something as perversely self-destructive.

The owner of the morning paper is the family of Sheldon and Miriam Adelson, who have given $113 million to GOP causes this election year. Trump is giving Miriam the Presidential Medal of Freedom on Friday.

The Sun — which is owned by the family of Brian Greenspun, who is CEO, publisher and editor — editorially links Trump’s so-called embrace of nationalism with “white supremacy” and sees a causality link between that and a rise in hate crimes, especially anti-Semitic ones, such as the mass shooting at a synagogue in the Pittsburgh area.

It further pokes Adelson in the eye by saying, “Americans won’t stand for this corrosion of our values, as they showed during this year’s midterm referendum on Trump. That was particularly true in Nevada, where candidates who aligned themselves with Trump got destroyed in the balloting in favor of those calling for an end to the administration’s divisive politics.”

Adelson’s morning newspaper editorially endorsed virtually every one of those losing candidates and Adelson generously contributed to many of them.

The Sun is inserted into the morning paper under a joint operating agreement (JOA) that began in 1990 and runs through 2040. The Newspaper Preservation Act allows competing newspapers to skirt anti-trust law and combine operations if one of them is about to go out of business, which the Sun was at the time.

The Sun in the past has sued the morning paper disputing the amount of money it received under the agreement. That went to private arbitration. In January the Sun started charging for access to online content, saying it was no longer getting a share of profits from the JOA because there are no profits.

We wonder how much longer this pissing match can continue.

 

Newspaper column: These statewide candidates worthy of your vote

The statewide elective offices on the November ballot are of doubly vital concern to rural Nevadans this year, primarily because the urban counties are likely to stack the Legislature with tax-and-spend Democrats beholding to public employee unions and eager to throw more of our money into the bureaucratic maw.

Topping the list is the race for governor, pitting Republican Adam Laxalt against Democrat Steve Sisolak. During his term as attorney general Laxalt has proven himself to be a staunch defender of Nevada’s rights in the face of federal encroachment and displayed conservative bona fides. The voters need to hand the veto pen to Laxalt so he can protect us from a likely left-leaning collective of lawmakers. Sisolak would be a rubber stamp.

Republican lieutenant governor candidate Michael Roberson, who backed Gov. Brian Sandoval’s record-breaking tax hikes, might not be our first choice for the office or even second or third, but letting Democrat Kate Marshall preside over the state Senate in 2019 and cast tie-breaking votes would not bode well either. Roberson as the Senate minority leader has tried to rein in lobbyist and special interest influence in Carson City and advocated for economic development and school choice. Roberson is the better choice.

During her first term as secretary of state, Republican Barbara Cegavske has worked tirelessly to assure the integrity of Nevada’s elections and record keeping. She has worked to increase voter registration and turnout.

Cegavske says that during a second term she will work with county officials to increase cyber security of county registration databases, improve audits and physical security of voting equipment. She is the obvious choice, because her 30-year-old Democratic opponent Nelson Araujo lacks the experience and credentials.

In the race for state treasurer, Republican Bob Beers — a certified public accountant, former legislator and Las Vegas city councilman — is the clear choice over Democrat Zach Conine. The treasurer is the state’s chief financial officer and is responsible for investing state funds, maintaining the state budget, managing college savings plans, keeping records of unclaimed property and maintaining records of the state’s accounts.

Beers has experience managing public money because of his five sessions on the Legislature’s Finance Committee and five years on the city council, plus many years in private business. His integrity is unquestioned.

In his first term as the state’s controller, Republican Ron Knecht has introduced cost-savings and increased transparency in the handling of the state’s funds. The controller is essentially the state’s chief fiscal officer, responsible for the state’s accounting system, settling claims against the state and collecting debts. The office protects the citizens’ money by ensuring that it is properly accounted for and spent in the most efficient and cost effective manner at all times.

Knecht boasts that he has cut the controller’s office spending by more than 13 percent, returning more than $1 million to the treasury and increased debt collection by $1.3 million a year. As a legislator he was a staunch opponent of higher taxes in general and still favors a repeal of the complicated and burdensome commerce tax. Knecht also published the state’s first annual report on the fiscal management of state funds, put the state checkbook online for direct inspection by citizens and has worked to improve data security.

Knecht has the credentials and experience that his Democratic opponent Catherine Byrne lacks.

The major party contenders to be the state’s next attorney general are Republican Wes Duncan and Democrat Aaron Ford. The attorney general is the state’s top lawyer, representing citizens of Nevada in civil and criminal matters. The attorney general also serves as legal counsel to state officials, providing opinions on how to interpret the law.

Duncan has been Attorney General Laxalt’s assistant attorney general and has served as an assemblyman and a county prosecutor and Air Force judge advocate. Ford is an attorney and former state senator who has advocated for higher taxes, though the IRS has filed liens against him for unpaid taxes. Duncan has the experience and conservative philosophy fitting for our next attorney general.

There are two contested Nevada Supreme Court seats on the ballot. The nonpartisan contests pit Nevada Court of Appeals Judge Jerry Tao against Clark County District Judge Elissa Cadish and Supreme Court Judge Lidia Stiglich, appointed to the court two years ago, against Clark County District Judge Mathew Harter.

Both Tao and Harter have vowed to be conservative arbiters of the law and have been rated well by lawyers appearing before them and are worthy of support. Stiglich also dissented from a recent decision strengthening access to public records.

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: 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.

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