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.

Editorial: High court should follow judge’s rationale for upholding ESA program

Mothers rally in favor of Nevada law creating education savings accounts. (Shannon Churchwell photo)

The Nevada Supreme Court could save itself a lot of time and effort by just cutting and pasting a Clark County judge’s 45-page ruling this past week on the constitutionality of the state’s education savings account (ESA) law.

Though Court Judge Eric Johnson’s decision dismissed an American Civil Liberties Union suit that claimed the law violates the state Constitution’s prohibition against funding sectarian institutions because parents could spend the savings at religious-based private schools, he also addressed the crux of another case that is pending before the Supreme Court.

In that case — Schwartz v. Lopez — plaintiffs argue that money set aside for public schools funding may not be used for any other purpose.

The Legislature in 2015 set statewide public education funding at $5,710 per pupil in the Distributive School Account (DSA). The ESA bill dictated that most parents who pull their children from public school would be given 90 percent of that amount to fund education by whatever means they choose — private school, tutoring, homeschooling — thus reducing the public school enrollment and the needed funding.

Judge Johnson, writing on the religious separation argument, said, “The United States Supreme Court’s ‘decisions have drawn a consistent distinction between government programs that provide aid directly to religious schools, and programs of true private choice, in which government aid reaches religious schools only as a result of the genuine and independent choices of private individuals.’ … Where a school aid program, such as the ESA program, is neutral with respect to religion, and provides assistance available directly to a wide spectrum of citizens, or as in this case, essentially all parents of Nevada school children, who, in turn, direct the financial assistance to religion affiliated schools ‘wholly as a result of their own genuine and independent private choice, the program is not readily subject to challenge …’”

The judge also addressed and dismissed many of the financing issues raised in the Schwartz v. Lopez case pending before the Supreme Court, writing that “even if large numbers of parents enroll in the program, so long as there is a ‘uniform public school system,’ open to the ‘general attendance’ of all, the Legislature has fulfilled the duty imposed …”

According to Attorney General Adam Laxalt, whose office represents the state in seeking to have the ESA law upheld, 6,000 students have applied under the ESA program, which is on hold pending the outcome of legal challenges.

“This is a huge and important step in getting certainty for the thousands of families waiting to participate in Nevada’s ESA program,” said Laxalt of Johnson’s ruling. “The Court correctly dismissed these speculative and tenuous claims. The decision today clears the way for the Nevada Supreme Court to meaningfully address the remaining uncertainty caused by the injunction in the other case challenging Nevada’s ESA program. We are one giant step closer to helping thousands of Nevada families choose the best educational option for their children.”

The ACLU is considering whether to appeal, according to the Las Vegas newspaper.

The judge’s ruling repeatedly emphasized that the state Constitution instructs lawmakers to encourage education by “all suitable means,” which is in addition to the requirement to “provide for a uniform system of common schools.”

Johnson also noted that the plaintiffs alleged that certain schools might illegally discriminate in admissions and hiring. If that is the case, he stated litigation could be brought when that happens. “Whether illegal discrimination occurs and a school may participate under the program can be dealt with in the specific context of the facts of an actual controversy rather than in the hypothetical,” he wrote twice in the ruling.

Gov. Brian Sandoval released a statement saying, “Today’s decision by Judge Johnson is a victory for thousands of Nevada families who are pursuing the opportunity to choose the best education path for their children. School choice was an important part of the legislative education reform package enacted in 2015. I hope that all pending litigation challenging these critical reforms will soon be resolved for the sake of our students who deserve every opportunity to succeed.”

Laxalt has informed the Supreme Court that the first quarterly ESA payment for the coming school year is scheduled for Aug. 1, but in order for the Treasurer to do all the necessary paperwork, he needs a favorable court ruling lifting the Schwartz v. Lopez injunction by July 8.

The Supreme Court needs to rule on these lawsuits as soon as possible so thousands of parents and children can be released from limbo and get on with their education.

A version of this editorial appears this past 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.

Update: On Wednesday the Supreme Court issued an order denying the request for a expedited hearing and set the hearing date for July 8, meaning that ESA checks probably will not the ready for the fall semester. “On May 20, 2016, appellant filed an unopposed motion to expedite and set oral argument for June 6 or 7, 2016, and to render a decision by July 8, 2016. We deny the motion, however, we have scheduled oral argument for July 8, 2016, the earliest possible date this court can reasonably hear the merits of this case, and we will expedite a decision in this matter to the extent this court’s docket permits,” the order states.

Newspaper column: Resignation offers a glimpse into the state of newspapering in Nevada

The newspaper community in Nevada is a rather small clique of writers and editors, competing against each other for the hot news scoops and heart-tugging feature stories and precious pearls of political punditry. It is the competition that makes all the papers just a little better than they otherwise would be.

Writers and readers are a little poorer when one of the stars of the journalism craft in the state feels he must walk away in order to maintain his integrity and creditability.

A month ago, John L. Smith, who has written a general interest column four or five days a week for more than 30 years at the Las Vegas Review-Journal, resigned.

The situation offers readers a rare glimpse inside the nuanced world of Nevada newspaper journalism, which seldom gets any coverage and where credibility is often a matter of perspective, motives are suspect and excuses can replace sound judgment and diligent editing.

Smith was among a handful of writers at the Las Vegas newspaper who unearthed the identity of the paper’s new ownership in December — Sheldon Adelson, the billionaire casino owner and generous donor to Republican political candidates. All have since left the paper.

In a December column, Smith commented that Adelson is “precisely the wrong person to own this or any newspaper.”

John L. Smith doing commentary at KNPR.

In January, shortly after Adelson named a new publisher for the newspaper, Smith was told he could no longer write about Adelson because the casino owner had once unsuccessfully sued Smith over a couple of sentences in a book about casino executives called “Sharks in the Desert.” Smith protested but reluctantly followed orders, though he had written often about Adelson over the years since the suit was thrown out in 2008 as baseless.

Then a month ago, the newly ensconced editor of the paper, Keith Moyer, appeared at a weekend meeting of the local chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists to talk about the future of the paper. According to Twitter feeds posted during the meeting, Moyer publicly declared, “I personally think it was a conflict for John to write about Sheldon,” and, “As long as I’m editor, John won’t write about Sheldon Adelson.”

Smith replied with a Tweet: “Wasn’t I also sued by Wynn?” referring to a lawsuit by casino executive Steve Wynn over an ad for a book about Wynn called “Running Scared” that was dismissed by the Nevada Supreme Court in 2001.

The following Monday, Moyer told Smith he could not write about Wynn either. The next day Smith resigned, leaving a letter on desks in the newsroom saying in part: “I learned many years ago about the importance of not punching down in weight class. You don’t hit ‘little people’ in this craft, you defend them. In Las Vegas, a quintessential company town, it’s the blowhard billionaires and their political toadies who are worth punching. And if you don’t have the freedom to call the community’s heavyweights to account, then that ‘commentary’ tag isn’t worth the paper on which it’s printed. … If a Las Vegas columnist is considered ‘conflicted’ because he’s been unsuccessfully sued by two of the most powerful and outspoken players in the gaming industry, then it’s time to move on.”

One man’s conflict is another man’s job well done.

Adelson’s suit said “Sharks” made false implications that he “was associated with unsavory characters and unsavory activities.”

Adelson asked that the case be dismissed when Smith’s attorney, Don Campbell, obtained confidential Gaming Control Board records. “In short, Adelson’s claims were about to be exposed for what they were … false and vindictive,” Campbell said at the time.

Wynn sued when an ad for “Running Scared,” an ad Smith did not write, said the book ”details why a confidential Scotland Yard report calls Wynn a front man for the Genovese crime family.”

The book itself reported that the New Scotland Yard report was “not entirely accurate” and was politically motivated and largely based on investigative efforts of U.S. authorities who did not reach the same conclusion.

I’ve always lectured reporters that every story should have a WSIGAD — why should I give a damn.

You may have never read the Las Vegas newspaper and never heard of John L. Smith, but all the journalists in the state know of his plight, and, when they contemplate covering the rich and powerful, there will be a hitch in their gait that will affect the news you get. That’s why you should give a damn.

Disclosure: I edited Smith’s columns for more than 20 years.

A version of this column appears this week 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 daily circulations appear to be in a death spiral, while weeklies are thriving

In 2007 newspaper still enjoyed a fairly healthy paid print circulation, though they have been in decline for years.

Compare those numbers to ones put together by a writer at Medium.com this past January:

As your can see the Las Vegas newspaper paid circulation has been cut nearly in half since 2007, which is fairly typical across the industry.

The writer, Richard Tofel, president of ProPublica and a former newspaper executive, reports:

Nearly everyone in publishing with whom I shared the 2015 paid figures found them surprisingly low. There is no question that they are dramatically lower than the widely available 2013 numbers.

— If the 2013 numbers represent the “reality” that even industry professionals have in their heads, but the 2015 numbers represent the facts on the ground, how long can it be before print advertising prices (and thus newspaper revenues) come under further severe pressure?

— Finally, and to return to the McKinsey report (which speculated that circulation declines had bottomed out) with which we began, if print circulation is much lower than generally believed, what basis is there for confidence the declines are ending and a plateau lies ahead?

But it is not just the paid print circulation that is in decline it is also the revenue, which is not being saved by the digital side of the business:

Revenue growth in digital is not stanching the print hemorrhage.

 

Household penetration is in steady decline.

This statistic may be the most telling one of all:

People used to ask me what the newspaper’s biggest competitor was. They generally expected me to reply the Internet, I suspect, but I told them the biggest competitor was anything that took time away from the reading the paper, whether that is jogging, brushing their teeth longer, reading a book, etc. If the paper is not holding peoples’ attention, it is in trouble.

Meanwhile, there are a number of accounts reporting that weekly community newspaper are not just surviving, but many are thriving.

Judy Muller, a journalism professor at USC, reports:

In 2010, the National Newspaper Assn. provided some heartening survey statistics: More than three-quarters of respondents said they read most or all of a local newspaper every week. And a full 94% said they paid for their papers.

And what of the Internet threat? Many of these small-town editors have learned a lesson from watching their big-city counterparts: Don’t give it away. Many weeklies, from the Canadian Record in the Texas Panhandle to the Concrete Herald in Washington’s Cascade Mountains, are charging for their Web content, and, because readers can’t get that news anywhere else, they’re willing to pay.

About 67 percent of people who live in rural America prefer a printed newspaper over a digital format.

Editorial: Let the political parties choose their candidates without the state’s interference

A change in election law in the 2015 Legislature has some claiming they are being disenfranchised.

Previously, when the state-run Democratic and Republican primaries resulted in only one of the two major parties having contested primaries, the top two vote earners in the contested primary would advance to the November General Election or, if only two candidates sought a seat, there would be no primary and both would be on the November ballot.

But Senate Bill 499 changed the law to now read: “If a major political party has two or more candidates for a particular office, the person who receives the highest number of votes at the primary election must be declared the nominee of that major political party for the office.”

Thus, for example, if there are only Republicans seeking an office, one of them is the party nominee and appears on the ballot in November, leaving Democrats and independents and those of the minor parties in the district little choice save the one Republican Party members handed them.

The bill also moved back the deadline for independent and minor party candidates to qualify for the General Election from June to July, so a Democrat could still file as an independent but not as a nominee of the party.

In one state Senate race and three Assembly races there are candidates on the June 14 primary for only one of the two major political parties, according to press accounts.

The change in law creates some different dynamics.

Take for example Assembly District 19, which includes Mesquite. Incumbent Republican Assemblyman Chris Edwards is being challenged in the primary by Republican Connie Foust. Only 39 percent of the district is Republican.

Edwards has the distinction of voting for most of the $1.4 billion in tax hikes in 2015 before voting against them.

Conceivably Edwards would have a better chance of re-election if he faced Foust in a General Election with Democrats and others also voting rather than in a GOP-only primary.

Foust is thumping on the tax issue in her campaign against Edwards. “The current incumbent broke his promise when he said, ‘Now is not the time to raise taxes’, and then proceeded to vote for tax increases in 26 out of 32 tax bills!” Foust’s campaign website declares.

Similar dynamics could be a factor in other races and alter the outcome of the election.

As originally introduced SB499 was a weird form of open primary. All candidates of all parties would have appeared on a single primary ballot and the top two vote recipients would advance to the general, unless they both were of the same party.

As signed into law by Gov. Brian Sandoval the gutted bill now just changes minor party and independent candidate filing deadlines and allows only one Democrat or one Republican to advance to November.

This is why some are saying they are being disenfranchised by having limited choices.

Frankly, lawmakers are the last people who should be telling the parties how to choose their candidates. The parties are private entities that should choose their candidates in any way they see fit — privately funded caucuses, primaries, smoke-filled backrooms or “American Idol”-style voting via text message or arm-wrestling competition.

The state doesn’t conduct primaries for the Libertarian, American Independent, Green or Communist parties, why do it for just two?

Not only is the U.S. Constitution silent on political parties, our Founders were actually disdainful of political parties.

Thomas Jefferson wrote in 1789, “I never submitted the whole system of my opinions to the creed of any party of men whatever, in religion, in philosophy, in politics, or in anything else, where I was capable of thinking for myself. Such an addiction is the last degradation of a free and moral agent. If I could not go to heaven but with a party, I would not go there at all.”

“There is nothing which I dread so much as a division of the republic into two great parties, each arranged under its leader, and concerting measures in opposition to each other,” John Adams wrote in 1780. “This, in my humble apprehension, is to be dreaded as the greatest political evil under our Constitution.”

Let the parties choose their candidates without lawmakers dabbling in the process.

A version of this editorial appeared this past week in many 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. It ran as a column in the Elko Daily Free Press.

Nevada primary voting in 2014 (R-J photo)

Newspaper column: The two faces of Cliven Bundy

Cliven Bundy (R-J photo)

Not since Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde shared the same body has one man been seen in such startlingly contrasting lights.

That man is Cliven Bundy, the Bunkerville rancher whose armed supporters two years ago faced down federal land agents until they relented and released his impounded cattle. He and 18 others, including four of his sons, are now in jail facing a litany of charges growing out of that confrontation — including obstruction of justice, conspiracy, extortion, assault and impeding federal officers.

To read the prosecutor’s motion (Cliven_Bundy_Detention_Memorandum) asking that Bundy be jailed without bail until his as-yet-unscheduled trial, you’d think he is evil incarnate bent on loosing havoc and destruction upon the land. A judge agreed.

To read his attorney’s motion (Free_Bundy_Motion) asking that he be released pending trial, you’d think he is eligible for sainthood. The motion has yet to be heard.

“Bundy is lawless and violent. He does not recognize federal courts — claiming they are illegitimate — does not recognize federal law, refuses to obey federal court orders, has already used force and violence against federal law enforcement officers while they were enforcing federal court orders, nearly causing catastrophic loss of life or injury to others,” prosecutors argue, adding, “In fact, all the evidence suggests that Bundy will continue to act lawlessly, will not abide by court orders, and will use violence to ensure that federal laws are not enforced as to him.”

But attorney Joel Hansen calls Bundy a political prisoner in the same vein as South African anti-apartheid activist Nelson Mandela.

“The government is trying Cliven Bundy in these motions, rather than before a jury of his peers. The government is holding Mr. Bundy in solitary confinement, a man who has never hurt a fly,” Hansen writes. “The government seems to be afraid that it might lose in a jury trial, so it wants to keep him in prison, in solitary confinement, as long as it can, because he, like Nelson Mandela, is a political prisoner. … There is nothing in the U.S. Constitution allowing the federal government to hold political prisoners without a trial. Nothing.”

Hansen based his political prisoner allegations on the fact Bundy is accused by the government of having “strong anti-federal government views” and that his views are not “principled.”

“Mr. Bundy, in studying the US Constitution, found in the First Amendment that he had freedom of speech and that the government can’t take that away,” Hansen blusters. “And where in all of Anglo-American or Constitutional law is it held that someone’s views must, in the government’s opinion, be ‘principled?’ Are we now in a fascist state where one’s opinions must be, in the opinion of the government, ‘principled?’ This is dangerous talk, to say the least.”

Hansen states that under the Bail Reform Act the government must prove by “clear and convincing” evidence that Bundy poses a danger to the community or it must prove by a “preponderance of the evidence” that he is a flight risk — noting that Bundy has not gone anywhere for two years.

He also recalls that Bundy was never at the “scene of any confrontation, never brandished a weapon, was never armed with any firearm, never directed anyone to assault a federal officer, and never assaulted anyone or committed any battery in his life.”

That contrasts somewhat with what prosecutors report Bundy said in an online interview shortly after the armed standoff.

“Bundy expressed dismay that the BLM officers were allowed to leave with their weapons on April 12: ‘we haven’t won the war, we’ve just won one chapter of it, ’” the detention motion states. “Bundy’s characterization of the assault as part of a larger ‘war’ makes clear that his efforts to thwart and interfere with BLM law enforcement officers would carry on.”

The government says that “Bundy is a danger to the community and poses a risk of non-appearance. Bundy cannot overcome the presumption that he should be detained and no conditions or combination of conditions will reasonably assure the safety of others or his appearance at future proceedings,” even though Bundy’s attorney says he would agree to any travel, firearm or GPS tracking restrictions the government would impose in return for being set free.

“Cliven Bundy is about as likely to hurt someone or to flee Nevada as a desert tortoise,” Hansen attests. “It just isn’t going to happen.”

Who is Cliven Bundy? Depends on who you ask.

A version of this column appeared a year ago in 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.