Harry Reid suddenly discovers the federal debt

Harry never did a flip that he couldn’t flop.

Back in 2015 Nevada Democratic senior Sen. Harry Reid, having already announced his retirement, championed and regaled a spending bill that made no pretense of trying to rein in deficit spending that would soon balloon the federal debt past $20 trillion — a bill that  blew the top off budget caps and gave President Obama a blank check.

Reid was effusive in his praise of the bill:

The bipartisan budget agreement passed today will help prevent a government shutdown and avoid a disastrous default on our nation’s obligations. It also will prevent a drastic cut to Social Security disability benefits, and a massive increase in Medicare premiums. This agreement is not perfect, no legislation is, but it accomplishes two major priorities that Democrats have supported from the very beginning. The budget agreement promotes economic growth and job creation over the next two years by providing relief from the devastating sequester cuts. It also invests equally in both the middle class and the Pentagon.

Republican Sen. Dean Heller offered a different take, “This latest budget agreement is not a long term plan or solution the American people deserve. This plan will force Congress to revisit this same exact issue in a short amount of time. It’s past time Washington addresses the needs of the people of this nation instead of continuing to punt to the next big deadline.”

Republican Rep. Cresent Hardy, like Heller, noted that the bill simply kicks the can down the road. “Our nation’s financial security is nearing a breaking point that we ignore at the endangerment of our future. Today’s so-called ‘Bipartisan Budget Act’ breaks current spending caps by $80 billion and does nothing to rein in long-term spending. Washington needs to take a long look in the mirror and make some difficult decisions based in reality,” he said.

Republican Rep. Joe Heck said in his statement that “this budget bill suspends the debt limit, giving the President a blank check until 2017, without making the significant reforms necessary to reduce spending and address the major drivers of our nearly $18.5 trillion debt.”

But now that he has retired, according to an editorial in the Las Vegas newspaper, Reid is singing a different tune.

“This may sound weird coming from a Democrat,” the editorial quotes Reid as saying this past month at a UNLV symposium. “I think we’re at a tipping point … driving ourselves into bankruptcy,” adding that the federal deficit is “going to bury us.”

The editorial helpfully points out that when Reid was elected to Congress in 1982, the national debt stood at $1.14 trillion, 34 percent of gross domestic product. When he retired in 2016, the national debt was $20.2 trillion, 103 percent of GDP. It also noted that the chief drivers of the debt are entitlement programs such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, which now amount to more than half of federal spending.

Back in 2011, Reid scoffed at the impact Social Security was having on the debt.

“It’s not just an exaggeration that Social Security is headed for bankruptcy. It is an outright lie. …” Reid proclaimed in speech. “Leave Social Security alone. Back off Social Security. It hasn’t contributed a penny, I repeat, to the deficit and it is in great shape for the next many decades.”

Speaking of flip-flops, this was the same Harry Reid who in 1990 called the spending of the Social Security trust fund money on day-to-day expenses embezzlement, “During the period of growth we have had … the growth has been from two sources: One, a large credit card with no limits on it, and, two, we have been stealing money from the Social Security recipients of this country. …

“Maybe what we should do in conjunction with the president to really carry this conspiracy to its appropriate end, is rather than having it called the Social Security trust fund, why do we not change it and call it the ‘Social Security slush fund?’”

Social Security is expected to run out of money in 2036 and Medicare by 2026. Now the deficit is a problem, Harry?

Harry Reid talks about the nation's debt at a recent UNLV program. (R-J pix)

 

Novel weaves an authentic tale of coming of age in the old South

Return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear, when boys’ haircuts were white sidewalls, flattops and ducktails, when it was said a little dab’ll do ya, but it never really did. Back to those days in the Ol’ Dominion when segregation was strictly enforced, but liquor laws not so much.

Better yet, let longtime Nevada investigative reporter and editor A.D. Hopkins take you there in his new novel, “The Boys Who Woke Up Early.” Yes, the boys might’ve awakened early on occasion, but what they “woke up” was rural Early County and Jubal Early High School, named for a Confederate general. 

A.D.’s teenaged narrator of the tale is named Thomas Jackson Shelor, named after another Confederate general who went by the nickname Stonewall, so Shelor was called Stonewall, which was soon shortened to Stony.

The novel captures the quaint dialect — including language that can be occasionally coarse but authentic — the shabby scenery, nefarious political machinations, family feuds and strained race relations in such detail that you think you are looking at a photo instead of a painting. The plot constantly twists and turns as Stony and his friend, newcomer Jack, confront moonshiners, whorehouse operators and Klansmen.

For a guy who spent nearly half a century in newspaper journalism, which is not known for florid descriptives, Hopkins the novelist can turn a phrase, such as when he introduces jazz aficionado Jack in the opening chapter: “When the bell fell silent, we could hear only his leather heels striking the concrete like an unhurried drummer building for some fellow musician to launch a solo.”

Hopkins and I worked together for more than 20 years at the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

The book is laced with homespun conspiracies, displays of chivalry, dirty tricks, righteous revenge and conflicts that frequently result in gunplay, fisticuffs and the strategic use of ax handles and baseball bats. 

Here is an example of the kind of dialogue and tense action A.D. offers in page after page. This tells of Stony going to the aid of a classmate named Mary Lou who was about to be attacked by Klansmen for dating a black man named Roosevelt:

“Stony! Why’re you sneaking in my back door? And you look like a drowned cat!”

I said, “The Ku Klux Klan is coming is coming up here to hurt you. They beat up Roosevelt. Do you have any guns?

Instead of answering, she jumped up and ran to the front door and locked it, then to the back and locked it, too. Then she ran up the stairs and I followed her, trying to tell her more.

“I need a better gun,” I said. “All I got is this little .25 and just the six bullets in it.”

While I was saying this, she yanked a pair of panties on under the nightgown, so fast I saw absolutely nothing a Baptist boy wasn’t supposed to. She pulled on a pair of bib overalls, stuffing the nightgown into the overalls like a long shirt. She pulled on socks and pair of high-top shoes, which she didn’t take time to tie. …

“Where do you think we should make our stand?” I asked in a half whisper as soon as we were out in the dark.

“We don’t make a stand,” she answered. “If we make one, somebody probably gets shot, probably us. The idea is to live through it!”

The Boys Who Woke Up Early” is a satisfying page turner. Published by Imbrifex Books, it is available online and in some local bookstores.

A.D. Hopkins at book signing.

Book review: Book on Las Vegas civil rights leader captures a man and an era

When you put the book down, you know you’ve been introduced to a man of uncompromising principles and watched him grow to his full potential, despite a myriad of obstacles due to racial discrimination, powerful economic forces and petty party politics.

The book is “The Westside Slugger: Joe Neal’s Lifelong Fight for Social Justice” by lifelong Nevada writer John L. Smith, whose Las Vegas Review-Journal columns I edited for two decades.

The biography introduces you to Joe Neal, the first African America to serve in the Nevada state Senate. It traces his rise from impoverished Madison Parish, La., through his three decades in the state Senate until he earned a place in the chamber’s Hall of Fame. 

Practically every page includes the name of some Nevada mover-and-shaker who befriended or exchanged blows with the ever hard-charging Neal — governors, fellow lawmakers, casino executives, fellow civil rights champions, journalists, mobsters, lawmen and family members who rose to make names for themselves in their own right.

It was Nevada state Sen. Cliff Young — a future state Supreme Court justice — who dubbed Neal the Westside Slugger for having ably represented the predominantly black neighborhood near downtown Las Vegas. “You get knocked down, but you always get back up, and you never stop swinging,” Smith quotes Young as saying of Neal.

Smith uses countless such sources as well his own considerable knowledge of the man and the times — both as a journalist and through his parents’ civil rights and union activism — to paint a detailed portrait of the scrappy Neal, who fought for the things in which he believed. 

After the fatal MGM and Hilton hotel fires in the early 1980s, Smith relates that Neal was probably the key leader in pushing legislation to require the state’s hotels and high-rises to retrofit with fire safety equipment that included sprinklers and proper ventilation systems. 

While he is probably best remembered for the civil rights efforts — including backing the Equal Rights Amendment, restoring felons constitutional rights and creating a holiday for Martin Luther King Jr. — he also fought for higher casino industry taxes to support education funding. He led the fight to limit casino development on Lake Tahoe to protect its shores and pristine water. 

Neal also fought against allowing casino owner Steve Wynn to have a sales tax exemption on his millions of dollars worth of fine art, because it cut education funding. He even bucked his own Democratic Party leaders and refused to take a stand against the storage of nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain. He also fought to end the death penalty in Nevada.

As always, Smith has an ear for the quote that fleshes out the premise of the piece — such as the one from Dina Titus, then a state senator and now a congresswoman, at the Hall of Fame ceremony for Neal, when she called him “the greatest orator in the history of the state. His eloquence derives from his academic knowledge, from his vast experience, and from his compassion for those who are about to be affected by the actions that we are about to take. When Joe stands to speak, a hush falls over the room. Everyone, including legislators, staff, the press, the lobbyists in the back, all stop to listen. He speaks from the heart. He fears nothing. He deftly parries any argument, and he does not hesitate to attack those who he believes turn a blind eye to injustice.”

Smith quotes Neal himself as saying, “You fight for the causes you believe in. You get knocked down, but get back up again. And the fight never ends because you’re fighting for the rights of people.”

The book is thoroughly researched and brings readers through those years when Las Vegas was dubbed the Mississippi of the West, when black Strip entertainers could not stay in the hotels in which they performed, through the mobbed-up days, through rough and tumble politics — including two doomed bids by Neal for the governorship of Nevada. It recounts a remarkable legacy in a remarkably readable manner.

Available in bookstores and various sites online.

 

Newspaper column: Nevada press shield law protects bloggers

Unlike too many jobs in this country there is no such thing as a licensed journalist, but a Carson City judge has found such in the penumbra of Nevada’s press shield law.

Normally those in the press don’t seek any privilege not accorded any other citizen, but by the very nature of the job — showing up at fires and car crashes, attending public meetings, poking into nooks and crannies of government and society, asking questions and quoting people — there needed to be a means to keep the press independent and not be dragged into court hearings or depositions every other week.

That’s the purpose behind the state press shield law. It prohibits giving the third-degree to the Fourth Estate. Otherwise, there would be considerable disincentive for people to talk to reporters, because reporters could be forced to testify about them or reveal their identities.

Sam Toll

The law says, “No reporter, former reporter or editorial employee of any newspaper, periodical or press association or employee of any radio or television station may be required to disclose any published or unpublished information obtained or prepared by such person in such person’s professional capacity in gathering, receiving or processing information for communication to the public, or the source of any information procured or obtained by such person, in any legal proceeding …”

The devil apparently is in the details.

Earlier this month District Court Judge James Wilson Jr. ordered Sam Toll, creator of The Storey Teller blog, to disclose his sources for a story about Storey County Commissioner and brothel owner Lance Gilman, who is suing Toll for defamation. Toll reported that sources told him the commissioner does not actually live in his district.

Toll wrote in a recent op-ed for the Las Vegas newspaper, “Gilman, one of the wealthiest men in Northern Nevada, insists he lives in a double-wide trailer behind the swimming pool at the Mustang Ranch brothel rather than the home he owns in Washoe Valley. Evidence and interviews I conducted suggest otherwise. In order to be a Storey County commissioner, you must reside in the district you represent.”

The judge concluded Toll is a reporter, but he failed to “provide facts, legal authority, or argument that the Storey Teller is a periodical …” Hair splitting. The law says periodical, which is a journal appearing periodically.

Instead of a press, a blogger uses a computer. It can be argued that Benjamin Franklin’s “Poor Richard’s Almanack” was America’s first blog — self-written, self-printed, self-promoted. Print on paper or print in the ether. It is a distinction without a difference.

The First Amendment guarantee of freedom of the press was extended to radio and television without hesitation.

The judge further concluded Toll is not a reporter for a newspaper and did not join the Nevada Press Association until August 2017 and thus must reveal sources obtained prior to then.

Toll is not a reporter of or for the Press Association. He is a member. It is not a licensing body.

The state Supreme Court has recognized the shield law’s important function for the citizenry.

Justice Myron Leavitt opined in a case in 2000 in which a plaintiff tried to force a Las Vegas newspaper reporter to reveal his sources: “Nevada’s news shield statute serves an important public interest and provides absolute protection against compelled disclosure to ensure that through the press, the public is able to make informed political, social and economic decisions.”

Clark County judges have twice interpreted the shield law differently. In 2014 two judges ruled that the Mesquite Citizen Journal and its reporter, “although an online only news media source,” were protected by the shield law from being forced to reveal communications and records related to a series of stories about the local water district. In 2016 a judge denied demands to review a film maker’s unpublished notes and video interviews with a witness in a criminal case, ruling the press privilege also extended to the film maker.

Despite those rulings, Judge Wilson granted Gilman’s motion to compel Toll to reveal sources of information prior to August 2017 and gave the parties until April 12 for discovery to be completed.

For his part, Toll has said he is willing to be jailed before he will reveal sources. “Integrity is the most precious currency we have as journalists. Without it, the public would not entrust us with the information we need to help protect society from wrongdoers,” Toll wrote.

Let’s hope this current case is appealed and results in a similar outcome to that of the Mesquite Citizen Journal and the film maker.

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.

Judge rules Nevada press shield law does not cover blogger

There is no such thing as a credentialed or card-carrying journalist. Unlike too many jobs in Nevada and the U.S. there is no government licensing of journalists. If you talk to two people you are a gossip. If you talk to three you are a journalist.

But a Carson City judge apparently thinks the Nevada press shield law created the concept of a licensed journalist.

Normally those in the press don’t seek any privilege not accorded any other citizen, but by the very nature of the job — showing up at fires and car crashes, attending public meetings, poking into nooks and crannies of government and society, asking questions and quoting people — there needed to be a means to keep the press independent and not dragged into court or depositions every other week.

Sam Toll

That’s the rationale behind the state press shield law. It prohibits dragging members of the Fourth Estate in for a third degree interrogation. Otherwise, there would be little incentive for people to talk to reporters, because that reporter could be forced to testify against them.

The law says, “No reporter, former reporter or editorial employee of any newspaper, periodical or press association or employee of any radio or television station may be required to disclose any published or unpublished information obtained or prepared by such person in such person’s professional capacity in gathering, receiving or processing information for communication to the public, or the source of any information procured or obtained by such person, in any legal proceeding …”

The devil is in the details. The law predates the blogosphere.

This week Judge James Wilson Jr. ordered Sam Toll, editor of The Storey Teller blog, to disclose his sources for stories about a Storey County commissioner, who is suing Toll for defamation, according to USA Today.

It seems the stories were written in the months before Toll joined the Nevada Press Association.

One of Toll’s attorneys issued a statement saying, “Such a ruling undermines the protection of fundamental Constitutional principles of freedom of speech and of the press and stifles the free flow of information that is essential for any free society to exist.”

Whether Toll is press or not, he still has the right of free speech. Perhaps, he should have to face his accuser but should he be required to drag others into the fray?

The state Supreme Court has twice upheld the shield law as serving an important function for the citizenry.

When the First Amendment was written no one could have imagined radio and television, but they came under the protection of the “press.” Shouldn’t bloggers also be allowed to don the mantle?

Justice Myron Leavitt opined in a case in 2000 in which a plaintiff tried to force a Las Vegas newspaper reporter to reveal his sources: “Nevada’s news shield statute serves an important public interest and provides absolute protection against compelled disclosure to ensure that through the press, the public is able to make informed political, social and economic decisions.”

In 2016 a Clark County judge interpreted the shield law differently, denying lawyers request to review a film maker’s unpublished notes and video interviews with a witness in a criminal case.

The ruling, according to a Las Vegas newspaper, marked the first time a Nevada judge extended the press privilege beyond institutional reporter. “This is the first time any court in Nevada has looked at that,” the film maker’s attorney was quoted as saying. “It is a good victory for all information gatherers in the state.”

Let’s hope this current case is appealed and a similar outcome is reached. Or, perhaps, the lawmakers in Carson City could update the law.

The Nevada Independent has posted a copy of the judge’s ruling.

Anyone notice a cause and effect?

The “cause” is on the Business page of Tuesday’s newspaper …

… while the “effect” was on the front page.

The keep building new homes and businesses, while demanding that everyone conserve water.

They keep handing out “will serve” letters.

In 1991 the water authority stopped issuing will-serve letters to developers until it could get a handle on how much water was already committed.

The population of the county at the time was about 750,000. It is now more than 2.2 million, and the state still gets only 300,000 acre-feet of water from Lake Mead and that may be cut soon due the drought.

Of course, the county is still pressing that groundwater grab from rural Nevada.

Cause and effect?

 

It is all politics all the time and principles be damned

Oh, please, don’t even pretend this is about principles. It is politics, pure and simple.

Nevada’s Democratic Attorney General Aaron Ford has joined the Democratic AGs in 15 other states to sue the Trump administration over his decision to declare an emergency to fund the building of more than 200 miles of border barrier after Congress refused to do so.

“President Trump cannot sidestep our Constitution for a political ploy,” Ford was quoted as saying by the Las Vegas newspaper. “The Trump Administration’s proposed diversion of funds would waste billions of dollars that is dedicated to supporting our military and law enforcement agencies. I am proud to join this lawsuit to defend our Constitution, our state’s military bases, and Nevada’s law enforcement agencies.”

Does anyone think any of these politicians would have sued after Obama issued an executive order creating the DACA program for illegal immigrants brought into the country as children after Congress repeatedly refused to authorize it?

Of course, Republican Attorney General Adam Laxalt did join other states in suing the Obama administration over DACA. He said in a press release at the time, “Our immigration system is broken and clearly needs to be fixed. But just as clearly, the solution is not for the president to act unilaterally disregarding the U.S. Constitution and laws. The solution must be a permanent, legal result that includes, not ignores, the other branches of government and their constitutional roles. Anything less is a false hope undermining the rule of law that injures millions of people in America, including many in Nevada.”

At least Trump has the National Emergencies Act of 1976 to hang his constitutional hat on. That act by Congress — probably unconstitutionally allows Congress to shirk its duties to hold the nation’s purse strings — grants the president the power to declare emergencies to cover the expense.

There are no principles any more. It is all about politics.

A woman walks near the border fence on the ocean between Tijuana and San Diego. (AP pix)