Editorial: Lawmakers should repeal football stadium funding

Lawmakers were summoned this past fall to Carson City and asked to pitch in $750 million toward financing a $1.9 billion domed football stadium that would house the Oakland Raiders and the UNLV football program.

The Raiders and the NFL would add $500 million to the pot and Las Vegas casino and newspaper owner Sheldon Adelson’s family would tip in another $650 million.

Since then Adelson has walked away from the deal, taking his money. He was miffed at the fact the Raiders’ owner never told him before hand about a proposed lease agreement with the stadium authority that legislators created to handle the “publicly owned” stadium.

The lease proposal envisions the Raiders paying $1 a year in rent, and the team owners pocketing all revenue from tickets, events, naming rights, etc., as well as having total control over the use of the stadium by UNLV and the Las Vegas Bowl.

“In addition to being discouraged by the surprise submission, I was deeply disappointed for the disregard the Raiders showed our community partners, particularly UNLV, through the proposed agreement,” Adelson said in a statement given to his Las Vegas newspaper. “It was certainly shocking to the Adelson family,” the statement also said. “We were not only excluded from the proposed agreement; we weren’t even aware of its existence. … It’s clear the Raiders have decided their path for moving to Las Vegas does not include the Adelson family. So, regrettably, we will no longer be involved in any facet of the stadium discussion.”

It is high time lawmakers, now meeting in regular session, reconsider the state’s commitment of room tax money to this harebrained, half-baked scheme to enrich billionaires.

Instead of sticking tourists with a 0.88 percent hike in the room tax, lawmakers should let them keep that money to spend on food, drink and gambling, which net nearly 10 times as much in tax revenue.

Sam Boyd, where there are more people on the field than in the stands.

Sam Boyd, where there are more people on the field than in the stands.

Now, we are reticent to suggest that the proponents of this stadium deal are so Machiavellian as to have plotted this from the start, but …

Lawmakers should note that there is no stadium price tag in the bill they passed, and the stadium backers flatly refused to consider capping public funding at 39 percent of the cost of construction. It was $750 million or no deal. The cost of the stadium when first proposed was a mere $1 billion. It ratcheted up from there. What is to stop the Raiders from building a $1 billion stadium, tapping the taxpayers for three-quarters of the tab and getting the state to make the estimated $900 million in road improvements needed to access the stadium?

Besides, does UNLV really need a new football stadium, when it can’t fill the one it has? One that has adequate traffic access off a major freeway and abundant parking. Why is there a need for a stadium on or near the campus, when 93 percent of students live off campus? And never mind the problems it might create for air traffic into McCarran International Airport.

A stadium is a liability, not an asset. It is an insatiable maw that swallows tax money in perpetuity.

The Kingdome in Seattle was repaired in 1994, costing more than $50 million in 20-year bonds, which were paid off in 2015. The stadium was imploded in 2000.

Renovate Sam Boyd Stadium if that is needed and forget this domed stadium boondoggle. If Adelson can take a hike, so can the state.

A version of this editorial appeared this week in some of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel,  Sparks Tribune and the Lincoln County Record.

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Newspaper column: Lawmakers hand out unconstitutional corporate gift to another billionaire

Gov. Brian Sandoval signs a bill giving public tax money to build a football stadium. (AP photo by John Locher)

Gov. Brian Sandoval signs a bill giving public tax money to build a football stadium. (AP photo by John Locher)

Meeting in special session in Carson City this past week Nevada lawmakers opened the windows and threw caution and tax money to the wind, voting to raise the room tax rate in much of Clark County by 0.88 of a percentage point in order to contribute $750 million toward construction of a 65,000-seat domed football stadium estimated to cost $1.9 billion.

The measure, Senate Bill 1, passed by the constitutionally mandated two-thirds majority in both the Senate and Assembly – 16-5 in the Senate and 28-13 in the Assembly.

The stadium is being pushed by billionaire casino and newspaper owner Sheldon Adelson who promises to shell out $650 million from his rather deep pockets to pay for construction. The National Football League and the Oakland Raiders are supposed to contribute $500 million toward construction. The $750 million public sop is the largest ever by any public entity for a sports facility in this country.

All profits from stadium operations accrue strictly to the private investors.

At one point during the Assembly hearings, Assemblyman Ira Hansen of Sparks asked what happens if the stadium comes in under the $1.9 billion estimate. Would the taxpayers still be on the hook for the full $750 million?

Steve Hill of the Governor’s Office of Economic Development, which had touted the project, replied: “Technically that’s correct.”

Before Hill could elaborate, Hansen cut him off with a terse: “Thank you.”

So, if the project comes in closer to the original estimate of $1 billion, the taxpayers will pick up 75 percent of the cost and the billionaires keep their money.

One of those testifying against the public spending for a football stadium for the Raiders was former Las Vegas City Councilman Frank Hawkins, who noted that he played seven seasons for the Raiders, including winning a Super Bowl. Hawkins said billionaires don’t need the public tax money to fund 40 percent of their stadium. He also noted that Raiders owner Mark Davis had called to try to change his mind by agreeing to no television blackouts locally for games that are not sellouts.

SB1 creates a stadium authority to build and operate the stadium, exempts the authority from any legal requirements for competitive bidding and makes just about every financial deal cut by the authority exempt from public records laws.

The bill says “the Stadium Authority shall keep confidential any record or other document provided to the Stadium Authority by a developer partner, the National Football League team or the Stadium Events Company,” if asked to do so. The public will be kept in the dark about whether their “public” stadium is providing valuable public assets to a favored few at below market value.

The Legislature certainly has the power to create exemptions to existing laws.

What it does not have is the power to create exemptions to the state Constitution. That document has a Gift Clause, which states, “The State shall not donate or loan money, or its credit, subscribe to or be, interested in the Stock of any company, association, or corporation, except corporations formed for educational or charitable purposes.”

Self-styled economic development advocates have tried three times to amend the Constitution and remove the Gift Clause. The voters rejected those attempts all three times — in 1992, 1996 and again in 2000 by wide majorities.

The state Supreme Court has said that when the state provides something to a private entity without getting adequate compensation for the value, that is a gift and thus a violation of the Constitution.

Nevada’s high court has cited an Arizona Supreme Court ruling on that state’s nearly identical Gift Clause. The Arizona court said its Gift Clause “represents the reaction of public opinion to the orgies of extravagant dissipation of public funds by counties, townships, cities, and towns in aid of the construction of railways, canals, and other like undertakings during the half century preceding 1880, and it was designed primarily to prevent the use of public funds raised by general taxation in aid of enterprises apparently devoted to quasi public purposes, but actually engaged in private business.”

Professional football hardly qualifies as even a quasi public purpose unless you include “bread and circuses.”

This was the third special session in as many years. The previous two handed out billions in tax breaks and abatements to the billionaire owners of electric car companies Tesla and Faraday Future.

Perhaps some public spirited group will ask the courts to take a look at this latest generous gift and determine whether it truly is for a public purpose.

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.

Update: Space was insufficient to provide this quote from a Nebraska court ruling:

“Every new business, manufacturing plant, or industrial plant which may be established in a municipality will be of some benefit to the municipality. A new super market, a new department store, a new meat market, a steel mill, a crate manufacturing plant, a pulp mill, or other establishments which could be named without end, may be of material benefit to the growth, progress, development and prosperity of a municipality. But these considerations do not make the acquisition of land and the erection of buildings, for such purposes, a municipal purpose. Our organic law prohibits the expenditure of public money for a private purpose. It does not matter whether the money is derived by ad valorem taxes, by gift, or otherwise. It is public money and under our organic law public money cannot be appropriated for a private purpose or used for the purpose of acquiring property for the benefit of a private concern. It does not matter what such undertakings may be called or how worthwhile they may appear to be at the passing moment. The financing of private enterprises by means of public funds is entirely foreign to a proper concept of our constitutional system. Experience has shown that such encroachments will lead inevitably to the ultimate destruction of the private enterprise system.”

This and the Arizona court ruling were cited by the the Nevada Policy Research Institute’s Center for Justice and Constitutional Litigation in its case against the Governor’s Office of Economic Development for handing out state gifts to companies such as SolarCity.

 

Newspaper column: Lawmakers should punt on stadium funding plan

Gov. Brian Sandoval is calling the Legislature into special session in October to consider raising the room tax on Las Vegas tourists by almost 1 percentage point to put $750 million toward a $1.9 billion domed football stadium for the Oakland Raiders and the UNLV football team.

So, why should anyone other than those tourists who will be shelling out a couple bucks more a night even care? It’s other people’s money not ours.

But as Sheldon Adelson, the Las Vegas Sands hotel-casino magnate who is pushing the stadium plan, is fond of saying: Money is fungible.

If state lawmakers approve the outlay, that will be $750 million — $268 for every man, woman and child in the state — not being spent on education, on roads, on other public services. Additionally, every dollar spent for tickets to events in the proposed stadium is a dollar that would have been spent buying goods, or at the gaming tables or in restaurants and bars — all of which are taxed.

The Adelson family reportedly plans to put up $650 million of their own money, while the Raiders and the NFL would chip in $500 million, but taxes would provide the most.

According to a 2014 economic impact study for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, $140 million of Clark County’s room tax went into the statewide distributive school account, $130 million for parks, recreation and transportation and nearly $80 million to Clark County schools. None of that additional $750 million in tax revenue would be available for those purposes.

Since the proposed stadium would be publicly owned, presumably it would pay no property taxes, which fund the state budget.

Speaking of fungible, in January the stadium was estimated to cost $1 billion, but grew to $1.2 billion in February with the taxpayer picking up 65 percent of the tab and the Sands 35 percent. By June the price tag had grown to $1.4 billion with the public chipping in $500 million, the Sands $400 million and the NFL and Raiders the rest.

Today the cost has ballooned to $1.9 billion with taxes covering 40 percent and the Sands 34 percent.

Does anyone think that if the stadium comes in under budget, at say $1.2 billion, that the developers will say: Never mind, taxpayers, we don’t need your money after all?

The more you tax something the less you get of it. Raising the room tax for that stadium plus another half cent or so to expand the Las Vegas convention center would make the city room tax the highest in the nation. Visitors might choose to dispose of their disposable income where it goes a bit further.

In a statement announcing his plans to call the special legislative session to consider funding the stadium, convention center expansion and more Las Vegas police officers, Gov. Sandoval pontificated, “We have before us the opportunity to invest in Nevada’s most foundational industry, tourism, by providing for the infrastructure and public safety needs of the 21st century. We can and must usher in a new era for tourism in the Las Vegas market …”

But economists have been telling us for years that stadiums are more of a drain on an economy than an investment. Most of the jobs created by stadiums are part-time and minimum wage.

In his book “Field of Schemes,” author Neil deMause estimates that sports stadiums and arenas drain $2 billion a year from public treasuries to provide profits for millionaire team owners.

Sandoval decided to call the special session after receiving a recommendation from the Southern Nevada Tourism Infrastructure Committee.

“I have thoroughly reviewed the committee’s documents and I am comfortable with the recommendations related to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority expansion, additional support for law enforcement, and the development of a county-owned stadium that could host a National Football League franchise and be the home of University of Nevada, Las Vegas football,” Sandoval stated.

This will be Sandoval’s third special session, the other two provided billions in tax breaks for electric car makers Tesla Motors and Faraday Future — neither of which has yet proven to be worthwhile. Sandoval keeps throwing tax money at billionaires.

No one has said how much UNLV will be charged to play at this “publicly owned” stadium.

Any tax increase will require a two-thirds majority of lawmakers statewide for passage — 14 in the Senate and 28 in the Assembly. This should be a referendum, just weeks before the election, on who represents the people and who is obliged to power brokers.

 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.
Rendering of proposed stadium.

Rendering of proposed stadium.

Update: Stadium opponents spell out reasons why it is a bad deal.

State senator wants to rename airport for Harry Reid

McCarran Interrational (R-J photo by Jeff Scheid)

Democratic state Sen. Tick Segerblom’s proposal to rename McCarran International Airport after Sen. Harry Reid smacks of a pot calling the kettle black mentality.

According to KTNV-TV, Channel 13, Segerblom plans to ask lawmakers in the next legislative session in 2017 to make the change, even though the naming of the airport is probably up to the Clark County Commission instead of lawmakers. The airport is named for longtime Democratic Nevada U.S. Sen. Pat McCarran, who was ardent anti-Communist after World War II in the same vein as the now much reviled Joe McCarthy.

“I think people it may take a few years to adjust, but we don’t want our town and our major airport named after somebody who’s history is just so repulsive,” the television station quotes Segerblom as saying.

In fact, Reid himself has been railing against having anything named after McCarran for years. In 2012 he called for the airport to be renamed.

“Pat McCarran was one of the most anti-Semitic … one of the most anti-black, one of the most prejudiced people ever to serve in the Senate,” Reid was quoted by the Las  Vegas newspaper as saying. “It’s not a decision I am going to make, but you asked me to give you my opinion. I don’t think his name should be on anything.”

County commissioners at the time balked at the idea of a name change — though they were contemplating changing the name to Las Vegas International — due to the millions of dollars it would cost to make the change in signs and literature and online, etc.

Reid has also called for removing the statue of McCarran from the U.S. Capitol.

Segerblom told the TV station, “As Democrats, we owe it to our state to acknowledge what he’s done for us. He’s preserved more land as far as federal protections, he’s brought the solar industry through, he has put us on the map, nationally and internationally, and so I think it’s important to recognize that.”

He took federal land out of economically productive use and jacked up all our power bills by demanding coal-fired power plants be replaced with expensive and expansive swaths of solar panels. I thought Bugsy Siegel and Moe Dalitz put Nevada on the map.

Bugsy Siegel International sort of has ring to it.

Harry Reid is a self-serving gaffe machine. He rants against free speech. He has made himself a multimillionaire while in public office. He has improperly interceded on behalf his family and friends. He already has an empty research park named for him. Peter Schweizer’s book, “Extortion,” contains a whole chapter on Reid.

Reid called for removal of McCarran statue.

Editorial: Bundy and his followers should get a speedy, public trial

Rancher Cliven Bundy, two of his sons and their 16 co-defendants in the April 2014 armed standoff with federal agents trying to round-up Bundy’s cattle should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law, but prosecuted under the full constraints of the U.S. Constitution.

This past week U.S. Magistrate Judge Peggy Leen set a trial date of Feb. 6 next year before Federal District Court Judge Gloria Navarro for the 19 defendants, all of whom are being held without bail pending that trial. The case was scheduled for trial on May 2.

Cliven Bundy at an event near his Bunkerville ranch a year ago. (R-J photo)

Judge Leen said it is a complex case and the “ends of justice” outweigh the interest of the public and the defendants in having a speedy trial. At a hearing the 69-year-old Bundy and most other defendants said they wanted to exercise their right to a speedy trial, according to press accounts.

Leen also told prosecutors and defense attorneys to confer to determine whether they could agree on a “stipulated protective order” that would keep secret from the public key evidence.

U.S. Attorney Daniel Bogden promptly filed a motion seeking sweeping secrecy in order to “protect victims, witnesses, law enforcement officers, and agent/investigators associated with this case from threats, intimidation, and harassment from supporters of the Bundy defendants.” The bulk of his argument is that some unnamed people have posted strong language on the Internet. (motion for protective order)

As Claude Rains said in “Casablanca,” we are shocked — shocked — to find strong language on the Internet.

The defendants face felony charges that include conspiracy, obstruction, extortion and assault, which carry penalties of up to 50 years in prison.

Prosecutors have had two years to prepare their case for trial, why should it take another year and a shroud of secrecy?

The Sixth Amendment of the Bill of Rights states: “In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury … and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense.”

Keeping the defendants in prison for a year without the benefit of a conviction is hardly a speedy trial, nor does keeping evidence a secret constitute a public trial.

The Las Vegas Review-Journal, Battle Born Media and The Associated Press filed a legal challenge this past week to the proposed protective order to keep evidence secret — a move reminiscent of the British Star Chamber the Founders found so repugnant. (BUNDY RJBBMAP secrecy)

The motion by attorney Maggie McLetchie says “the government’s protective order thwarts the public’s right to information about this case by depriving it of access to all documents produced by the government. Moreover, in its hubris, the government has failed to provide any good cause to do so.”

The attorney offered that, if prosecutors can confirm their “concerns for witness safety and security,” perhaps names and identifying information could be redacted but not the entire evidence.

Yes, Bundy and his followers in all likelihood broke numerous laws, but that is for a jury to decide in a speedy and public trial.

The government has had enough time to prepare its case and call its witnesses. Perhaps, May 2 was too soon since none of the attorneys for the defendants have yet been given the evidence and the names of witnesses who they must confront at trial, but that preparation should not take a year — especially since all of their clients are being held without bail.

The government should not be able to have it both ways — getting a lengthy delay while keeping not-yet-convicted suspects jailed and unable to provide for their families.

The Bureau of Land Management leaders were embarrassed when their army of heavily armed agents descended upon the ranch only to face a couple hundred  armed civilians and have to back down to avoid bloodshed.

The BLM bungled the round-up effort, but no one at the agency has yet been reviewed or held accountable for that.

The delay and the secrecy make this case look more like revenge than justice.

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.

Reflecting on the strangeness and futility of 2015 in news and blogging

Everybody does their top 10 stories of the year — or bottom 10 in the case of one columnist I know — as a way to fill otherwise empty space during a slow news period between Christmas and New Year. I think I started the practice at the Las Vegas newspaper 15 or 20 years ago, but it has been going on so long it seems as if it were always a year-ending feature.

In that fine tradition, I thought I would reflect on some of the strange events perpetrated by strange people over the past year as recounted in this patch of the ether.

January: Speaking of superlatives, Nevada started 2015 by having its governor named the worst Republican governor in the nation by the business newspaper Investor’s Business Daily.

“Wasn’t this supposed to be the year Republican governors showcase innovative, pro-growth economic reforms?” IBD asked. “Brian Sandoval apparently didn’t get the memo.”

Brian Sandoval (R-J photo)

The paper pointed out this will be the third time Sandoval has raised taxes, after repeated promises to not do so.

IBD also pointed out that Sandoval is the same governor who handed billionaire Elon Musk a 20-year, $1.25 billion corporate welfare subsidy for his Tesla battery plant. “We wondered then who would pay for this golden handshake. Now we know,” the editorial commented.

IBD also said Sandoval can now be struck from any list for potential national office.

February: The Nevada Supreme Court further strangled free speech in Nevada by making the right decision but for the wrong reason.

In the case of Citizen Outreach vs. State, the court ruled 5-2 that the organization did not violate a 1997 law requiring those who engage in express advocacy to file paperwork with the secretary of state’s office revealing donors and expenditures.

Nevada Supreme Court (R-J photo)

The ruling states, “Because it is undisputed that Citizen Outreach’s flyers do not contain magic words of express advocacy, the flyers were not subject to regulation under Nevada’s campaign practices statutes that were effective in 2010.”

The problem is that in 2011 the Legislature rewrote the law so that it now states that express advocacy “means that a communication, taken as a whole, is susceptible to no other reasonable interpretation other than as an appeal to vote for or against a clearly identified candidate.”

Both the 1997 and the 2011 laws blatantly violate both the First Amendment and the Nevada Constitution because they are not “content neutral” and address no “compelling government interest.”

Article 1, Section 9 of the Nevada Constitution states: “Every citizen may freely speak, write and publish his sentiments on all subjects being responsible for the abuse of that right; and no law shall be passed to restrain or abridge the liberty of speech or of the press.”

This law clearly restrains and abridges.

March: Being Harry Reid means never having to say you are sorry.

Reid not only is calling the whistleblowers who complained to the inspector general of the Department of Homeland Security about his meddling in decisions about whether to expedite visas to foreign investors in a Las Vegas hotel casino whiners but bragged that he would do it all over again.

“One of the problems we have with government … is people take too long to make decisions,” Reid is quoted as saying.

Harry Reid (Screen grab from YouTube)

In this case, the decision had been made, and it was: No, the visas would not be expedited and the urgency was one created by the hotel-casino, not by the government, according to the IG report. The Washington Times reported at the time that Homeland Security had denied visas for some of those investors from Asia because of “suspicious financial activity.” That decision was ineligible for appeal.

Reid personally called Alejandro Mayorkas, the head of immigration services at the time, and demanded the visas be expedited and that his staff be given a weekly update. Mayorkas did so. He since has been promoted to the No. 2 post at Homeland Security, even though his nomination did not get the 60 votes that would have been needed before Harry nuked the filibuster.

Reid neglects to mention that at the time of his intersession his son Rory’s law firm was representing the company in question, SLS, formerly the Sahara.

The U.S. Senate Code of Official Conduct permits members to assist people with executive branch agencies, but it also says:

“The decision to provide assistance to petitioners may not be made on the basis of contributions or services, or promises of contributions or services, to the Member’s political campaigns or to other organizations in which the Member has a political, personal, or financial interest.”

April: One of the most overused phrases in the English language is: There ought to be a law.

There ought to be common sense, but these days that seems entirely uncommon.

Perhaps that is why Assemblywoman Vicki Dooling believed it necessary to introduce Assembly Bill 375, which would have enacted into state law the dictate that public school facilities — such as restrooms, locker rooms and showers — designed for gender segregation be used only by persons of the designated biological gender.

The bill was being pushed by Karen England, executive director of Capitol Resource Family Alliance, who said she discovered that two Nevada school districts — Clark and Washoe — had been contemplating adopting school policies that were basically cut and pasted from an online model policy by the National Center for Transgender Equality.

The model policy states: “Students shall have access to all restrooms that correspond to their gender identity consistently asserted at school.”

AB375 was killed. Instead the lawmakers later passed Senate Bill 504 under the guise of it being an anti-bullying law. This law prohibits “blocking access” to “any property or facility of a school” on the basis of sex, gender identity or expression. That includes gender segregated restrooms and locker rooms.

The law has already created a problem in Elko.

May: The battle between NV Energy and solar panel installers that ended recently in a Public Utilities Commission ruling that has the potential to end the business rooftop solar installing was foreseen in May.

Have you ever watched pigs nudging each other out of the way attempting to see which one can get its snout deepest into the slop trough?

We saw in May a sort of pork scrum at the Legislature in Carson City between the state’s biggest monopoly electric utility and those who install rooftop solar panels that are only profitable due to ratepayer subsidies and tax breaks and government handouts.

The taxpayers get left holding the bag no matter who wins.

Two years ago taxpayers shelled out $1.2 million to entice billionaire Elon Musk to open an office for his SolarCity company in Nevada. SolarCity is one of those firms that installs rooftop solar panels.

Residences and businesses that install solar panels contract with billionaire Warren Buffett’s NV Energy under a net metering program. Any excess power they generate goes onto the grid and each kilowatt-hour uploaded is deducted from that month’s bill at the retail rate — or was.

NV Energy, which in the previous Legislature convinced lawmakers to require the closure of all its coal-fired plants and foist all of the cost for doing so and building new renewable and gas-fired generation onto ratepayers, doesn’t like paying retail for power.

After paying SolarCity to open here, will it have to close? It recently announced it will.

June: You’ve got to love a good newspaper spat, especially one that goes back decades.

One day in June the Las Vegas Review-Journal had a story about how a few teenagers in 1967 hoaxed the Las Vegas Sun with a Polaroid “UFO” photo that was actually a hubcap tossed into the air.

The June R-J story also noted that it was the R-J that corrected the hoax the next day:

On June 14, 1967, a mere 24 hours after the hoax had gone as viral as something could go in the ’60s, the Las Vegas Review-Journal ended it.

“The mysterious flying ship ‘scouting’ Las Vegas Monday night turned out to be a hubcap, sources close to the ‘ship’ revealed Tuesday afternoon,” the lede read.

But over in the Sun section, Brian Greenspun reprinted the second of three columns from the era of the hoax by his father Hank Greenspun. The intro by Brian includes this dig at the R-J:

The first two columns talk about the building of the MGM Hotel (now Bally’s) and the third discusses allegations of mob association that existed only in the small minds of some hoodlums and on the pages of the other newspaper in Las Vegas.

I wondered at the time whether the third installment would mention that in 1947 Greenspun was hired by mobster Bugsy Siegel as publicist for his Flamingo Hotel or that  Greenspun wrote a column called “Flamingo Chatter” for the R-J?

Of course, I must plead guilty to having tweaked the upturned Greenspun nose a time or two myself.

July: What do you call a country in which one person has the power to dictate to local elected officials how land within their jurisdiction may be used or not used?

Dictatorship?

With the proverbial stroke of his oft-bragged-about pen one day in July President Obama singlehandedly created a 700,000-acre Basin and Range National Monument in the Coal and Garden valleys in Lincoln and Nye counties, even though most local officials oppose it.

Basin and Range National Monument

Congressman Cresent Hardy, whose district includes the new monument, complained about the arbitrary decision made as a sop to lame duck Nevada Sen. Harry Reid.

“We need to be sure local communities don’t have their concerns ignored by politicians eager to leave a legacy or pull favors for their friends by setting aside huge tracts of land,” Hardy said in a statement. “Nevada’s rural county economies are particularly sensitive, and any decisions that affect ranching, recreation or other types of land use activities should have as much local input as possible … but at the moment, they do not. Legacy building in the twilight of one’s career shouldn’t be the driver of our nation’s public land management.”

Congressman Mark Amodei, who represents northern rural Nevada, said in an interview, “One of the paybacks for Senator Reid being one of the administration’s backstops for six of their eight years is the monument thing. … Why the hell can’t you go through the public process?”

Sources confirmed Reid’s role to the Washington Post: “It is only due to Harry Reid that this is getting done.” When told it was controversial in Nevada, Obama replied, “I don’t care. I want this done.”

“President Obama often says ‘we are stronger as a nation when we work together.’ Apparently that rule does not apply to public lands issues when it involves his political allies,” said Southern Nevada Rep. Joe Heck. “The Basin and Range Monument designation goes well beyond the intention of the Antiquities Act which limits parcels reserved by the President to the ‘smallest area compatible with the proper care and management of the objects to be protected.’ It is beyond belief that an area larger than the state of Rhode Island is the smallest area compatible with proper care and management of this land.”

August: Many of the news stories in August about the ACLU suing to block implementation of Nevada’s education savings accounts (ESAs) mentioned that such accounts were declared unconstitutional in Colorado. Like Nevada, Colorado’s state constitution includes a Blaine Amendment prohibiting the use of tax money for secular purposes.

Few stories bothered to mention that Arizona also has a Blaine Amendment in its constitution, but the Arizona Court of Appeals upheld Arizona’s ESAs two years ago.

That court found that ESAs were neutral toward religion by leaving spending decisions to parents, not the state:

The ESA does not result in an appropriation of public money to encourage the preference of one religion over another, or religion per se over no religion. Any aid to religious schools would be a result of the genuine and independent private choices of the parents. The parents are given numerous ways in which they can educate their children suited to the needs of each child with no preference given to religious or nonreligious schools or programs.

Yet the morning Las Vegas newspaper quotes Tod Story, executive director for the ACLU of Nevada, as saying, “The education savings account law passed this last legislative session tears down the wall separating church and state erected in Nevada’s constitution.”

Patricia Levesque, CEO of the Foundation for Excellence in Education, said of the ACLU suit, “It is ironic that the ACLU pledges itself to ‘defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person. … Yet today the ACLU opposes giving every parent in Nevada the right to decide where his or her child goes to school. There is no more fundamental right in this country than trying to create a better life for your child.”

September: Who could have seen this coming?

NV Energy, the monopoly power company that serves most of Nevada, in September proposed to end a contract to buy electricity from an independent generating company that provided peak power with gas-fired plants and instead build its own gas-fired plant.

NV Energy is allowed to pass through costs of power it purchases, but it gets a rate of return on equity — the plants and power lines it owns — of about 10 percent.

Mark Garrett, an energy consultant working with MGM Resorts, said of the proposal, “It should be looking for ways to lower rates, not raise them.” He estimated the new plant could increase ratepayer costs $70 million per year.

NV Energy gas-fired power plant.

Back in 2013 when the Legislature passed a bill to close all NV Energy coal-fired plants, 4TH ST8 quoted Dan Jacobsen of the attorney general’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, which represents ratepayer interests at the Public Utilities Commission, as saying, “In addition to replacing about 1,000 megawatts of coal capacity, the bill also would be replacing a very large amount of power purchase agreements right now that ratepayers don’t have to provide a return on.”

Precisely what was happening in September.

“There are power purchase agreements that are pretty helpful in covering peak load but not having to be purchased at times when there isn’t a peak load,” Jacobsen noted in 2013. “That’s a pretty good mix at times for Nevada with extreme heat in the summer that doesn’t last more than about three months.”

Then Jacobsen addressed the most glaring flaw in the bill: Its decades-long, Soviet-style central planning. “I hope you have an appreciation for the difficult, long-range  decision you are being asked to make in this bill,” Jacobsen said. “Step back and think about it for a minute, you’re being asked right now, based on information you have right now, to make a decision that, for example, in the year 2025 the right thing to do is to build a 500-megawatt natural gas plant.

“That’s 12 years from now. Technology can change a lot in 12 years. The demand projection can change a lot. The wholesale market can change a lot. Efficiency options can change a lot. But this bill says to you: Please mandate the right thing to do 12 years from now is to build a 500-megawatt natural gas plant. That’s quite a challenge for you as a policy makers to make.”

The previous time the power company was given carte blanche to build power plants and begin to recover costs immediately, even before any review by state regulators, was in the 1980s. That was because the company needed new power supplies — from coal-fired plants.

October: Whatever befalls you, sue.

According to a Courthouse News account in October, Harry Reid is suing the maker of the elastic exercise band he was using when he had an accident in the bathroom of his Henderson home on New Year’s Day. The accident left him blind in his right eye.

Reid injured

The suit was filed in state court in Clark County by James M. Morgan of Lanzone Morgan, a firm that specializes in cases of elder abuse. Reid, D-Tort Bar, is 75.

The suit, get this, says, “The TheraBand was mounted to a sturdy object in his bathroom. While in use, the TheraBand broke or slipped out of Mr. Reid’s hand, causing him to spin around and strike his face on a cabinet.” Which is it? Broke or slipped? If it broke, surely there would be two pieces, right?

The Nevada senator and Senate minority leader at first told reporters the band broke but later changed his story, saying the band slipped.

“Reid says he suffered severe pain and injuries as a result of the mishap, including broken ribs and orbital bones, severe disfigurement, facial lacerations and bruising, a concussion, scarring and loss of vision in his right eye,” the story recounts. It goes on to say that Reid said the maker of the band did not include warnings that the band might break or to use a safer design.

Reid announced earlier this year he will not be seeking re-election in 2016. He has a net worth of $10 million.

Reid’s suit accuses the elastic band maker of failing “to warn consumers and learned intermediaries of the danger of the bands’ likelihood of breaking and of causing injuries to the elderly …”

The company will probably settle in secret and pay Reid and his lawyers some undisclosed settlement payment, but it would be nice to see some company have the brass to fight such suits claiming product users were not warned of potential mishaps that any rational person could have anticipated.

November: The Las Vegas newspaper on a Wednesday afternoon in November reported online that Gov. Brian Sandoval had announced that Nevada counties will receive a combined $1.9 million (actually $1.98 million) more in payment in lieu of taxes or PILT. This would bring this year’s total to about $25 million.

“PILT payments provide local governments with the necessary funds to pay for critical infrastructure needs in cities and towns across Nevada,” the paper quoted Sandoval’s statement as saying. “Additionally it allows local leaders to prepare to meet the demands of our growing communities.”

Brian Sandoval (R-J photo)

Sandoval’s statement is also posted online.

Neither the governor’s statement, nor the newspaper account bothered to point out that even with the additional money — approved in the recent budget talks — the PILT payments are still less than was doled out in 2014, when the state got $25.4 million in PILT. With the added funds Nevada will get a total of $25.24 million this year.

“I would like to thank the members of our Congressional delegation for their hard work in securing this additional money. I would also like to recognize the Department of the Interior for fulfilling its obligation to compensate local communities for the land owned by the federal government in Nevada,” Sandoval’s online statement says.

Yes, thanks a lot. Before the additional $2 million, Nevada’s powerful minority leader of the Senate brought home the bacon for Nevada counties by providing 41 cents per acre in PILT, while California raked in 96 cents per acre, Arizona got $1.13, New Mexico fetched $1.54 and Utah’s share was $1.05.

And pay no attention to the fact the Interior Department collects about $14 billion in revenue annually from commercial activities on federal lands, such as oil and gas leasing, livestock grazing and timber harvesting, before sending the states a paltry $439 million.

Never let the facts get in the way of a good pat on the back.

December: We are definitely inside the rabbit hole now.

Both Las Vegas “newspapers” one day in December reported that the man who announced the sale of the Las Vegas Review-Journal to a new company called News + Media may be the pseudonymous writer of a lengthy article in a small Connecticut newspaper that criticized a Clark County judge who is handling a civil case involving casino owner Sheldon Adelson, the once secret money behind the newspaper purchase.

I said it was a rabbit hole. The swirl of ethical mishops is enough to boggle the mind.

Michael Schroeder, AKA Edward Clarkin? (R-J photo)

The R-J reported Michael E. Schroeder, the man described as manager of News + Media Capital Group when the purchase was announced, is probably the person behind the Edward Clarkin byline on the aforementioned article.

The brief story reported that Schroeder’s middle name is Edward, and California marriage records show his father, Clarence J. Schroeder, married Karen A. Clarkin in 1957. Schroeder was born in the following year, the paper says.

Meanwhile, back in the Las Vegas Sun insert, a lengthy story on this topic recounts that “there is compelling circumstantial evidence that ‘Edward Clarkin’ is a pseudonym used by Schroeder. The publisher’s middle name is Edward, and his Facebook page at one time identified his mother as Karen Clarkin Carey. That reference was removed from the page, but the Facebook page for Karen Clarkin Carey contained a photo of Carey with Schroeder.”

What makes the Clarkin tale doubly dubious is that weeks before the R-J was purchased three of its reporters were assigned to shadow three judges for two weeks and report on their activity. One of those judges was Elizabeth Gonzalez, who is presiding over an Adelson lawsuit and who has fined his company failing to disclose evidence.

No story was ever published and no one in the newsroom was told who picked Gonzalez for scrutiny or why.

The Sun reports, “Mark Fabiani, a San Diego attorney retained by the new owners in the days after the sale, said Wednesday that Schroeder would not have a management role. He was retained as an adviser during the purchase and helped conduct due diligence, Fabiani said.”

Then on Wednesday the R-J published a front-page missive under the hed “A message from the new owners about the future of the Las Vegas Review-Journal,” which pledged to publish “a newspaper that is fair, unbiased and accurate.”

There was a short sidebar announcing that editor Michael Hengel had accepted a buyout that said, “Hengel described his decision to leave as ‘mutual’ and said he did not believe he was forced out.”

However, the Los Angeles Times reported in a lengthy article on the shenanigans at the R-J that in an interview Hengel told them he first learned of his acceptance of the buyout when someone from the paper read the aforementioned front-page editorial to him over the telephone.

Fair, unbiased and accurate?

Well, at least it keeps the strangeness factor going into 2016.

———————

This blog in 2015: There were about 470 postings on this blog garnering 110,000 views and more than 7,000 comments — the most frequent commenters were Rincon, HFB, Patrick, Winston Smith and Barbara. The most commented on posting, more than 160 comments, was “The problem is that we think we can solve every problem with a government program.”

More than 10 percent of the postings were copies of freelance newspaper columns and editorials printed in several rural Nevada papers.

More than 1,400 views came on the day I wrote about the fourth anniversary of being summarily canned from a 40-plus-year career as a newspaper editor — without explanation, without rationale, without apology, apparently on a whim — torn like a page from a reporter’s notebook, crumpled and tossed in the trash. That’s ephemera for you.

Small solace: There have been a lot of whims since. Apparently a lot of people empathized or dreaded the whim themselves.

Who wants yesterday’s papers, Mick? Nobody in the world.

I’m living a life of constant change
Every day means the turn of a page
Yesterdays papers are such bad news
Same thing applies to me and you

 

What a difference three weeks makes in the uncertain world of Nevada political favoritism

With sunny-weather friends like these, who needs …

In a Nov. 30 press release a Nevada company boasted about opening a job training center that would train 4,000 workers a year in the skills needed for its industry.

The press release quoted assorted Nevada elected officials heaping praise on the company:

“I’m proud to celebrate the opening of (the company’s) new training center, which will make Nevada the regional hub for training workers in the jobs of the 21st century,” said Governor Brian Sandoval. “Our homegrown … industry has already created over 6,000 good Nevada jobs, and has tremendous potential to continue driving innovation, economic diversification, and opportunity in the Silver State.”

Senator Harry Reid, whose office presented a certificate to commemorate the event, celebrated the opening saying, “Thank you for your contributions to the … industry in Southern Nevada.”

“(This) is the future of Southern Nevada,” said Representative Dina Titus of Nevada’s First Congressional District. “(The company’s) new workforce training center will provide opportunities for people from across the region to learn new skills, contribute to our economy, and build a better … world for generations to come.”

Senator Aaron Ford, Democratic Leader of the Nevada Senate, Senator Ruben Kihuen, and other state and local officials joined (the company) leadership to cut the ribbon at the new facility today.

“The opening of (the company’s) Regional Training Center means more good jobs in one of Nevada’s most important and forward-thinking industries,” said Senator Aaron Ford, Democratic Leader of the Nevada State Senate. “Growing our … industry is not only good for our economy, but it will help our state continue to move towards a … future. I’m proud to help welcome this facility to Las Vegas and, more particularly, to Senate District 11.”

Oh yes, “the company” was SolarCity and the training would be in how to install rooftop solar panels. That was until three weeks after the press release came out. That was when the Public Utilities Commission changed the rates for so-called net metering customers of NV Energy — adding a delivery surcharge and slashing the credit residential and small business solar panel owners receive for uploading power to the grid.

The day after the decision, SolarCity announced it is ceasing installation work in Nevada. In that press release three weeks earlier, the company said it already employed 2,000 Nevadans. There were reportedly 6,000 people employed in rooftop solar panel installation in the state.

According to GreenTechMedia.com, The Alliance for Solar Choice (TASC) calculated that NV Energy’s new rates would add $40 to monthly bills of most solar customers, who currently save only $11 to $15 a month on their electricity bills. Do the math.

SolarCity is the same company that just two years ago received a $1.2 million taxpayer handout from the Governor’s Office of Economic Development for opening operations in Nevada.

To add insult to injury, that Nov. 30 press release contained this boiler plate disclaimer:

This release contains forward-looking statements including, but not limited to, statements regarding future hiring and company expansion, and customer cost savings. Forward-looking statements should not be read as a guarantee of future performance or results, and will not necessarily be accurate indications of the times at, or by, which such performance or results will be achieved, if at all. Forward-looking statements are subject to risks and uncertainties that could cause actual performance or results to differ materially from those expressed in or suggested by the forward looking statements.

Among those risks and uncertainties is the possibility that fawning politicians will pull the rug out from under you.

What a fine fettle the fickle finger of favoritism has foisted on this former friend.

Ribbon cutting a new training facility (Press release photo)