Man from Nevada on hot seat over Burning Man demands

Burning Man photo from 2014. (AP photo)

So, how do you think this is going to turnout?

The head of the Bureau of Land Management is Neil Kornze, a native of Elko and former policy advisor to Harry Reid, who managed to have the 35-year-old confirmed by the Senate 71-28 shortly before the bungled standoff with Bunkerville rancher Cliven Bundy.

Now Kornze’s agency is demanding expensive pampering from the organizers of the Burning Man festival in Black Rock Desert. The Reno newspaper reports that the BLM is demanding that the festival organizers build a $1 million luxury facility replete with trailers, flush toilets, washers and dryers and vanity mirrors for the comfort of BLM executives and agents and unspecified VIPs. Festival organizers say the cost of permits and complying with BLM demands have risen from $1 million in 2011 to nearly $5 million this year.

This year’s eclectic event — described as celebration of art, music and free expression, whatever that means — is scheduled to take place between Aug.30 and Sept. 7. It annually attracts about 70,000 people and generates about $35 million for the local economy.

In addition, the Reno paper says emails it has received spell out a demand that the facility be stocked with hot-and-cold running desserts and a 24-hour full-service kitchen providing a potentate’s menu of gourmet meals and snacks that include (we kid you not) 10-ounce steaks, 18-ounce pork ribs, poultry, ham, fish, vegetables, potatoes, bread, salad bar with five toppings and three dressings and desserts.

Kirnze’s old boss Harry has sent a letter to his new boss, Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell, critical of the BLM demands.

“I care strongly about the environment in the Black Rock Desert and was glad to author the legislation that created the Black Rock Desert-High Rock Canyon-Emigrant Trails National Conservation Area where Burning Man is held,” Reid wrote. “While I agree that the BLM should take its permitting duties seriously and work with Burning Man to both guarantee the safety of its participants and the protection of the environment, providing outlandishly unnecessary facilities for the BLM and its guests should be beyond the scope of the permitting requirements. Part of Burning Man’s philosophy is self-reliance and living with the elements is part of the experience. Flush toilets and laundry facilities can be found about ten miles away in Gerlach, Nevada, if BLM’s employees need such amenities.”

The Reno Gazette-Journal reports that Nevada’s other senator, Dean Heller, spoke with Kornze this week and called the demands “a bit over the top.”

Rep. Mark Amodei said the BLM demands raised ethical concerns.

BLM Deputy Director Steve Ellis issued a statement saying the agency need to assure employee health and safety, sanitation and environmental compliance but he was concerned about cost of the agency requests.

We suspect Kornze will find a way to tone down the agency demands.


AG opens another front in fight against EPA water grab

Earlier this month, the Environmental Protection Agency issued its final rule to “clarify” what water is covered by the Clean Water Act of 1972, which originally was intended to limit pollution of navigable waterways. The clarification puts nearly every stream, ditch, wetland or muddy hoof print under EPA control.

AG Adam Laxalt

Members of Congress were already moving forward with legislation to block the usurpation of state water rights. Reps. Mark Amdoei, Cresent Hardy and Joe Heck voted with a majority of the House (261-155) on a bill to block this EPA water rule (H.R. 1732). Rep. Dina Titus, of course, voted against it.

On Monday Nevada Atttorney General Adam Laxalt joined the fray. He joined a dozen others in suing in federal court over the so-called “Waters of the United States” rule.

“I will fight for Nevada each time President Obama attempts to unilaterally ‘transform’ this country through expansive and unconstitutional new interpretations of decades-old laws. My office has pledged a commitment to protecting our state from unreasonable federal overreach and will continue to do so at every opportunity,” said a Laxalt press release.

Coming on the heels of the Supreme Court ruling reining in the EPA’s overreach on emissions from coal-fire power plants, it seems the lawsuit has promise.

“This is the latest power grab by this presidential administration to expand federal oversight into areas that are better managed by state and local governments,” said Laxalt. “Congress directed that the states retain their sovereign authority over state land and water resources. The ‘Waters of the United States’ rule would grant the EPA authority over areas properly regulated by state and local governments. This expansive new rule is particularly problematic for states like Nevada, whose specific needs cannot be understood by federal agencies such as the EPA, with its one-size-fits-all approach to regulation.”

The new EPA rule would allow the federal government to require a permit and demand a fee for any work that alters the flow of water near any rivulet — anything from dredging an irrigation ditch to terracing a field — on public or private land.

Muddy hoof print (Getty Images)

At the time of the rules publication President Obama declared, “Too many of our waters have been left vulnerable to pollution,” which to the EPA includes dirt. “This rule will provide the clarity and certainty businesses and industry need …” he said, claiming the rule has been written to avoid harming farming, ranching and forestry.

But the Western Congressional Caucus said the EPA spurned public comment and input from the states in the rulemaking process, saying of the new rule, “This is nothing short of a federal seizure of state waters, to the point where very few, if any, water bodies will be left for the states to manage. Water rights, economic growth, and local conservation efforts will suffer. Instead of working with the local officials and state agencies who know their needs the best, citizens will have to depend on a disconnected federal bureaucracy for management of our most precious natural resource: our water.”


Editorial: The IRS should back off changing gaming rules

The Internal Revenue Service is pondering new rules regarding tax reporting by casinos — including tracking player rewards and loyalty card programs and lowering the threshold for reporting electronic jackpots from $1,200 to $600.

At a hearing in Washington this past week Geoff Freeman, president and CEO of the American Gaming Association, testified that the proposed changes would be “far more complicated, onerous and unproductive than may have been understood” by the IRS.

In fact, a Wall Street analyst has estimated the regulations could result in $530,000 less in revenue annually per casino. That might mean the new regulations would not increase tax collections, but actually reduce them.

Seventeen members of the House of Representatives who represent districts with casinos — including all four of Nevada’s representatives, Joe Heck, Mark Amodei, Cresent Hardy and Dina Titus — have sent a letter to the IRS Commissioner John Koskinen urging the agency back off the changes.

They noted that the gaming industry supports 1.7 million jobs in this country from $240 billion in business activity and the proposed changes would have detrimental affects on those jobs and local economies.

“Since the $1,200 threshold level was originally adopted in 1977, to account for indexed inflation the threshold should actually be approximately $4,700 today,” the letter argues. “We strongly believe the IRS should not consider any reduction of this reporting threshold, as any lowering from $1,200 would have significant negative impacts on casino operations and consumers. Any reduction in this threshold would dramatically raise costs to comply, decrease gaming revenue due to more frequent ‘lock-ups,’ and would greatly increase the burden workload for IRS.”

Sounds like a full-employment plan for IRS paper pushers because the agency would be flooded with W-2G forms. The cost of processing the paper could well exceed any additional revenue.

In prepared remarks for the IRS hearing AGA’s Freeman said, “Finally, regarding the suggestion in the proposed guidance that sometime in the future the slot jackpot reporting threshold could be cut in half, from the current $1,200 level to $600, to be clear the casino gaming industry strongly opposes any such reduction. Our written comments detail the myriad adverse impacts that would result for the customer, the IRS and the industry — ranging from significant labor cost increases to more lost business revenue from machine down-time. We do not believe that the resulting flood of additional W-2Gs to the IRS will produce any meaningful additional tax revenue and will simply be more administrative burden for everyone involved, including the IRS.”

After the Washington hearing Freeman told a reporter, “The customer would walk away. This would have enormous implications not just for loyalty cards in the casino industry but in the broader hospitality industry — hotels, airlines and others.”

Both the industry and congressional representatives urged the IRS to scrap its proposed mandatory reporting requirements and take a voluntary approach that lets the many jurisdictions where gambling takes place to craft workable solutions.

We urge our congressional delegation to continue to pressure the IRS to relent from this damaging and counter-productive effort that will cost Nevada’s economy dearly and doubtlessly result in job losses that we can ill afford.

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.

Deuling editorials: Right thing to do, wrong way to do it

The New York Times editorial said the Supreme Court’s gay marriage ruling “fits comfortably within the arc of American legal history.”

The editorial continued, “As Justice Kennedy explained, the Constitution’s power and endurance rest in the Constitution’s ability to evolve along with the nation’s consciousness. In that service, the court itself ‘has recognized that new insights and societal understandings can reveal unjustified inequality within our most fundamental institutions that once passed unnoticed and unchallenged.’”

The decision may fit in the arc of changes in attitudes and politics, but it grasped never intended power for five of nine unelected justices.

Justice Atonin Scaliea called it a putsch.

The editorialists at The Wall Street Journal put it this way: “The revolution in mores about gay and lesbian participation in the institution of marriage is among the most dramatic cultural shifts in U.S. history. Justice Anthony Kennedy’s opinion in Obergefell v. Hodges is a declaration of social inclusion whose outcome is welcomed by ever-more Americans. The complication is that the Constitution is silent about marriage and social-policy preferences, which are supposed to be settled by the people and the political branches.”

Nevada voters approved a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage by a voted of 69.6 percent in 2000 and 67.1 percent in 2002. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in 2014 struck the amendment as unconstitutional. It is questionable whether it would pass today, if it were on the ballot.

The Washington Post editorial also mentioned changes in attitudes. “Yet the fact that it’s foreseeable to Mr. (Justice John) Roberts that same-sex marriage bans would fall, state by state, to popular pressure shows how far the country has come, and quickly. In states where lower courts had already ordered same-sex marriages to commence, the transition has been generally calm. We expect to see the same maturity and acceptance across the country now.”

The editorialists at Investor’s Business Daily also questioned the power of the court to do what it did. “Do five men and women believe they can rewrite traditions dating back thousands of years with a few strokes of their mighty pens?” they wrote.

“Apparently so. So much for our democracy.”

As I noted before in comments, the ruling opens a new chapter in the interpretation of the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment. WSJ also noted as much: “A better response — as practical politics and for civic comity — would be to support laws that protect the conscience rights of religious believers and faith-based institutions that do not honor same-sex marriages. The unfortunate truth is that the political left is rarely magnanimous in victory, and its activists may not be satisfied until the force of government stamps out private values and practices they find deplorable.”

Likewise IBD: “Justice Samuel Alito made plain that the decision ‘will be exploited by those who are determined to stamp out every vestige of dissent.’ Those who continue to believe gay marriage is wrong, he added, ‘will risk being labeled as bigots and treated as such by governments, employers and schools.'”

The five justices have opened a can of worms.

It will be interesting to see how the once libertarian-leaning Las Vegas newspaper opines on this topic, if it does.


Newspaper column: Those who once pushed for clean energy now balk at paying the price

Be careful what you so ask for. You just might get it — good and hard.

Return with us now to those thrilling days of the 2013 Nevada legislative session, when lawmakers, determined to save the planet from carbon dioxide-induced global warming by closing down all of the state electric grid’s coal-fired power plants, passed Senate Bill 123. Those coal plants would be replaced with clean renewable energy and natural gas-fired plants.

Some of the state’s biggest and most influential companies supported passage of SB123.

Josh Griffin, testifying on behalf of MGM Resorts International, told an Assembly committee: “I am here to support (SB123). As you all know and have heard here today, the piece of legislation in front of you represents thousands of hours of work by so many different interested parties, many of whom have already spoke. … We are proud to support the efforts in this bill.”

Crescent Dunes Solar Project

Richard Perkins, representing Wynn Las Vegas, chimed in: “As Mr. Griffin indicated, the large users in southern Nevada, particularly the gaming companies, participated with NV Energy working through the bill and finding compromise areas. We are here in support of the bill.”

At a Senate Committee hearing a letter was submitted on behalf of Las Vegas Sands Corp. signed by Andrew Abboud, senior vice president of government relations for the hotel-casino company. “Las Vegas Sands Corp. writes in support of the compromise reached by NV Energy and representatives of the Nevada Resort Association and the Southern Nevada Hotel Group on SB123. The legislation is essential to speeding up the closure of Nevada’s coal-burning electric facilities and enhances our state’s commitment to green energy,” the letter said.

An email form Virginia Valentine, president of the Nevada Resort Association, was placed into the record in support of the bill.

Other companies also supported the bill, which was being pushed hard by Sen. Harry Reid.

Earlier this year The Beacon Hill Institute at Suffolk University in Boston released a study of the economic impact of SB123 commissioned by the Nevada Policy Research Institute.

The study estimated the bill, between 2015 and 2025, would cost Nevadans $617 million dollars and destroy 2,630 jobs by 2020, while driving up electricity prices by nearly 3 percent. These costs are spread across the grid, whether one is a customer of NV Energy or not.

Now, fast forward to a Public Utilities Commission (PUC) of Nevada hearing earlier this month.

MGM, Wynn and Sands are all trying to exit the state’s monopoly grid and purchase power elsewhere at a lower cost.

At that hearing Wynn Resorts President Matt Maddox sharply criticized the power company, saying, “Nevada Energy made more net income ($354 million net income) than the Las Vegas Strip last year. You know where all that money went? Omaha.” That was a reference to the power company being purchased in 2013, after passage of SB123, by a Warren Buffett company.

While Maddox was testifying, MGM CEO Jim Murren was on public radio complaining about having to pay $86 million a year for power and talking about the firm’s attempt to buy cheaper power on the open market. “We’re not interested in subsidizing everybody who lives in our state on the backs of us overpaying for our power,” he said.

Former state Sen. Randolph Townsend also took the opportunity of the PUC hearing to criticize SB123. “(SB)123 was the greatest highway robbery I’ve ever seen coming through this state. I think it was a disaster,” he said.

At that PUC hearing commissioners denied a Las Vegas-based data storage company’s bid to pay a fee and exit the power monopoly, but indicated negotiation with that firm and the casinos could continue.

Another factor driving up the cost of power for everyone is a state law that mandates 25 percent of the state’s electricity be generated from renewables — such as solar, wind, biomass and geothermal — by the year 2025. Renewables cost three to four times as much as natural gas- or coal-fired power.

For example, the Crescent Dunes Solar Energy Project near Tonopah is scheduled to come online this year. The solar thermal plant, which will generate power by using a massive array of mirrors to melt salt to drive its turbines, has a 25-year contract to sell power at 13.5 cents per kilowatt-hour. That wholesale price is three and half cents higher than the residential retail rate in Northern Nevada.

Be careful what you ask for.

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

Feds continue futile and constitutionally shaky subpoenas of people anonymously expressing hyperbole

“Fear of serious injury cannot alone justify suppression of free speech and assembly. Men feared witches and burnt women. It is the function of speech to free men from the bondage of irrational fears. To justify suppression of free speech, there must be reasonable ground to fear that serious evil will result if free speech is practiced.” — Justice Louis Brandeis

Reason magazine has been hit with a federal subpoena seeking “any and all identifying information” about comments posted on an online blog discussing the conviction of the founder of an online website where illegal drugs could be bought and sold.

One comment on the blog suggested, “Its (sic) judges like these that should be taken out back and shot.” Another, “Why waste ammunition? Wood chippers get the message across clearly.”

Robert Kahre on trial for tax fraud. (R-J illustration, probably by David Stroud)

For two weeks the magazine was under a gag order to not discuss the subpoena, but that has been lifted.

“From press accounts of similar actions at other news publications and social media sites, we know that it is increasingly common for the federal government to demand user information from publications and websites while also stifling their speech rights with gag orders and letters requesting ‘voluntary’ confidentiality,” a recent Reason blog posting states. “Exactly how common is anyone’s guess; we are currently investigating just how widespread the practice may be.”

May I reply? Been there done that. It is all too common and entirely outrageous and a futile waste of time and money on the government’s part.

In 2009 in a remarkably similar case the feds issued a sweeping subpoena for information on those who commented on the trial of Las Vegan Robert Kahre, who was on trial for tax fraud for using the rather inventive argument that he could pay people in U.S. minted gold and silver coins based on their precious metal value but for tax purposes use their face value, which is many times less.

One person who signed himself “Louis D. Brandeis” called the federal prosecutor “evil incarnate and everything that is against the American justice system.”

“Christian Patriot” wrote a couple days later, “I suggest we go back to a gold and silver standard, which would immediately wipe out the national debt, not charge us interest for their toilet paper, or better yet, I’ll trade you eggs for milk. Tax that if you will.”

“Randall” wrote, “If it is legal tender, value of said legal tender it set by the gov and stamped on the face. Maybe the Government should be on trial.” (The comments have long since been removed from beneath the story.)

The newspaper was served with a grand jury subpoena from the U.S. attorney’s office demanding that the paper turn over all records pertaining to those postings, including “full name, date of birth, physical address, gender, ZIP code, password prompts, security questions, telephone numbers and other identifiers … the IP address,” et (kitchen sink) cetera. There was no indication what they were looking for or what crime, if any, was being investigated, just a blanket subpoena for voluminous and detailed records on every private citizen who dared to speak about a federal tax case.

I wrote at the time:

My first instinct is to fight the subpoena tooth and nail. After all, John Peter Zenger was just the printer who published anonymous essays critical of the colonial governor. His jury nullified the existing law and freed him.

On the other hand, if someone were to confess to a real and specific crime on our Web site, I’d give him up at the drop of a hat.

Bottom line: We could fight the federal subpoena, at considerable expense, and lose. Our attorneys are now trying to see if we can limit the scope of the information sought.

What the prosecutors don’t appear to understand is that we don’t have most of what they are seeking. We don’t require registration. A person could use a fictitious name and e-mail address, and most do. We have no addresses or phone numbers.

To add prior restraint to the chilling effect of the sweeping subpoena, we were warned: “You have no obligation of secrecy concerning this subpoena; however, any such disclosure could obstruct and impede an ongoing criminal investigation. …”

Even writing that was provoking the beast with long talons and unlimited tax money to feed its fight.

Within about a week the prosecutors did in fact narrow the subpoena, asking for information pertaining to only a few comments that might be construed as threatening to jurors or prosecutors. The paper agreed to comply.

“I’d hate to be the guy who refused to tell the feds Timothy McVeigh was buying fertilizer,” I quoted by the paper as saying, referring to domestic terrorist McVeigh, who destroyed a federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995.

But the American Civil Liberties Union vowed to fight on, believing a chilling effect remained. Staff attorney Margaret McLetchie said the civil rights organization wss seeking a court order declaring the original subpoena unconstitutional. She said theACLU had filed on behalf of three clients, who posted anonymously on the Review-Journal Web site and who would remain anonymous during the legal action.

“The right to speak anonymously about politics is older than the Constitution,” she said.

At one point I asked readers what they would do if confronted with a subpoena from a federal grand jury demanding extensive identifying information about people who had posted comments about a federal tax fraud trial.

The readers were quite brave with my company’s money and my freedom. Nearly 700 people voted. Of those, 51 percent bravely said they would have fought to the highest court in the land even if they (meaning I) landed in jail. Only 16 percent said they would immediately turnover what the feds were asking for, while 33 percent said they would surrender information only on those who clearly made threats or admitted criminal acts.

“For many people now and in the future, this is not academic. What will happen when a friendly federal investigator visits your employer asking about what you’ve been posting online?” I wrote then.

All of the comments on the Reason site and the R-J site were cliches of outrage and mere hyperbole, which are protected free speech rights.

In 1969, the U.S. Supreme Court threw out a case against a man who while protesting the draft had stated that if he were made to carry a rifle “the first man I want to get in my sights is L.B.J.” The court called this “crude political hyperbole which, in light of its context and conditional nature, did not constitute a knowing and willful threat against the President …”

Why the feds continue to pursue such matters is a mystery, but they do. A 2012 Southern Law Journal study reported on several such subpoenas, including the R-Js.

The study reported that in June 2010, Judge David A. Ezra, the presiding judge in Kahre case, commented:

There is no stronger defender of the First Amendment than me … My concern here, however, is that it is a federal crime and a very serious one to attempt in any way, shape or form to threaten or obstruct or impede a jury in either a civil or criminal case … Somebody writing in and saying, you know, if the jury reaches a … verdict of conviction, they should be hung, is really no different than saying, you know, if President Obama does X, Y or Z, he should be killed. That’s a crime, too. So I think we have to be very, very careful when we say that there is no basis to be concerned here or that this is simply government demagoguery or something of the sort. (See the L.B.J. comments above.)

But in December 2010, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed federal Judge Kent J. Dawson’s ruling that claims of those persons who had been subpoenaed groundless because the subpoenas were no longer in effect and “alternatively, that there was no set of facts supporting Does 1-4’s First Amendment claims. We do not reach the First Amendment claims because we decide the case on standing and mootness grounds.”

So the case just petered out, ending not on constitutional firm footing but no standing and mootness.

This is not academic. This is a serious waste of tax money and a breach of fiduciary responsibility and constitutional rights by federal prosecutors.

Reason found a 2013 report by Mother Jones magazine stating that Google, Facebook, Twitter, and Microsoft have received “tens of thousands of requests for user data from the US government annually.” The magazine reported that a Facebook spokesperson said the company provided information in response to 79 percent of the data requests it received between July and December 2012.

Here are three ACLU of Nevada postings on this topic that contain cogent arguments and cite specific cases:

Protecting Anonymous Online Speech

ACLU of Nevada’s Case Protecting Anonymous Online Speech

ACLU of Nevada Continues to Fight for Anonymous Online Speech

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized. — Fourth Amendment




Longtime newspaper rivalry continues to this day with references to the past rivalry

The photo that warranted an inside page in the Sun in 1967 but no printed page in today’s R-J.

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

Today the Las Vegas Review-Journal has 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 photo warranted a screaming red, all-caps banner headline in a size they used to call a “wood,” because no one had metal type that big. The headline reads: “Mysterious flying ship ‘scouts’ Las Vegas area.”

But the photo that was the central topic of the tale ran on an inside page, while the dominant photo on the front page was one of Gov. Paul Laxalt talking at some pro-Israel function, a favorite topic of the Sun, possibly because its editor had been convicted of running guns to Israel. Next to that photo was Hank Greenspun’s “Where I Stand” column. He gave the column that name because an R-J editor once wrote a “Where I Sit” column.

Now, in my way of thinking, a photo that warranted a screaming headline on the cover screamed to be printed on the cover, but no. As for the R-J’s coverage of the hoax, it did not find that photo worthy of print, relegating the actual hoax pix that was the topic of the piece to a package of photos online.

The 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.

Yes, the story uses the old typesetter’s lexicon, spelling the word “lede,” which is not in most dictionaries nor in the AP Stylebook, which I think they still use, even though they don’t subscribe to the AP service.

But two old Hank Greenspun columns delivered on the same day is a bit much. Over in the Sun section, son Brian reprinted the second of three columns from the era of the hoax by Hank. 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 wonder whether the third installment will 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? Will it mention his stake in the Desert Inn was reduced to 1 percent when Cleveland racketeers Morris “Moe” Dalitz, Sam Tucker and Morris Kleinman won control.

The R-J story did not mention that there were a number of UFO sightings in 1967.

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