Newspaper fails to uncover name of ‘mystery’ gaming licensee

Sheldon Adelson, owner of casinos and newspaper. (Reuters pix via NY Times)

Often the most significant aspect of a news story is what it doesn’t report.

The morning newspaper today reports that Democratic Assemblywoman Maggie Carlton of Las Vegas is seeking to conduct a hearing on a surreptitious recording made by Gaming Control Board Chairman A.G. Burnett of a conversation with Attorney General Adam Laxalt concerning “a certain licensee” — in other words, a casino owner.

Near the end, the news account informs readers that neither Carlton nor the AG’s office would name that “certain licensee.”

Now who on earth could that “certain licensee” be?

Back in February an online news operation called The Nevada Independent reported that Burnett had secretly recorded a meeting with Laxalt in which the AG asked that the gaming board file an affidavit in a civil lawsuit in Las Vegas demanding that certain records concerning the Las Vegas Sands be kept confidential. The Sands is owned by Sheldon Adelson, whose family owns the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Adelson is also a major contributor to Laxalt’s political campaigns.

The Nevada Independent is funded by contributions, a large portion of which come from Sands competitors, and is headed up by former Review-Journal, Las Vegas Sun and television commentator Jon Ralston.

Both the Independent and Battle Born Media newspaper sought a copy of the recording under the state public records law but were turned down. “Even if the requested material was a public record,” the gaming board custodian stated, “it is declared confidential and privileged by law and, therefore, exempt from disclosure.”

Laxalt issued a statement at the time in an attempt to explain his meeting with Burnett on behalf of Adleson, “The Attorney General’s Office was approached by the Sands Corporation asking us to file an amicus brief about NRS 463 — a statute that protects the confidentiality of documents submitted to the Gaming Control Board. I’ve made it a practice to personally advise and meet with my clients on a regular basis. As a Nevada statewide elected official, I also meet with constituents all the time on issues that are important to the State and our clients.”

In the story first filed online Tuesday evening, the morning paper quoted Carlton as saying in a statement, “Last week I issued a subpoena for information regarding actions Attorney General Laxalt took to interfere with the Gaming Control Board’s oversight of a certain licensee. … The information is unsettling and warrants a hearing. We will work with the Chairman of the Gaming Control Board to bring more light to this situation.”

At about 4 a.m. today The Nevada Independent, which bills itself in social media as @TheNVIndy, posted a lengthy story recapping its previous reporting on the topic and attaching a 14-page notarized affidavit filed by Burnett on April 27. Why he created the affidavit is unclear.

That affidavit explained for the first time why Burnett, who was appointed by Gov. Brian Sandoval, decided to record the conversation. “Further, because said licensee had in recent months been part of the purchase of the Las Vegas Review-Journal, and as previously noted, there were news articles implying that agents or employees of the newspaper had sent reporters around to monitor particular judges, including the judge presiding over the wrongful termination case, I was concerned reporters might be monitoring me, as well.”

Burnett also said, “I was shocked and in disbelief due to the nature of these unusual circumstances. I was also extremely worried about what the conversation might entail. Based on my knowledge of Nevada statutes, including past discussions with federal authorities, I determined it was in my best interest, and those of the state and the GCB, to record the upcoming oral conversation.”

Burnett reportedly turned over a copy of the recording to the FBI, which found no criminal behavior.

The Independent reported that Laxalt sent this statement to the news outlet: “Today’s news proves the point — Nevada democratic (sic) politicians will stop at nothing — including twisting and politicizing a routine action that previous attorneys general, including Catherine Cortez Masto, have taken. … We look forward to exposing this for what it is: a political attack designed to distract from the Democrats’ radical agenda that harms Nevada’s working families.”

Laxalt is said to be planning to run for governor. In March the Sun reported that Democrats filed public records request seeking copies of Laxalt’s official communications with Adelson and his representatives. The Sun story also mentioned the secretly recorded conversation that remains a mystery to the newspaper into which it is inserted.

The Sun reported, “Laxalt has faced criticism over an April 2016 meeting with Gaming Control Board Chairman A.G. Burnett. Democrats have asked the FBI to release any audio recordings and documents related to the case and called for a state ethics investigation, saying Laxalt was attempting to push Burnett into supporting Adelson in a lawsuit.”

A year ago the Gaming Control Board fined the Sands $2 million for failing to maintain the reputation of the gaming industry. This was based on the company settling with the Securities and Exchange Commission for a $9 million civil penalty, which follow on a $47.4 million settlement with Treasury a couple of year earlier.

 

Suddenly the abuse of a visa program for foreign investors is a problem

Democratic California Sen. Dianne Feinstein asks questions at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Monday. (Reuters pix via the San Diego Union-Tribune)

Only now that the shoe is on the other foot does there appear to be a problem.

Democratic California Sen. Dianne Feinstein said Monday that Congress should end the EB-5 visa program that grants visas to foreigners who invest at least $500,000 in job-creating projects in the U.S., calling it a “citizenship-for-sale” program, according to news accounts.

Her umbrage was prompted by reports that President Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner representatives marketed the visa program to potential Chinese investors over the weekend.

 

Where was the outrage four years ago when Nevada Sen. Harry Reid twisted arms at the Immigration and Customs Enforcement to reverse a decision that was blocking Chinese investors in a Las Vegas casino with ties to Reid’s son Rory?

An ethics complaint was filed against Reid but it was buried in the bureaucracy.

In fact, four days after that complaint was filed, the Senate voted to confirm the nomination of Alejandro Mayorkas to become the second in command at the Department of Homeland Security. Mayorkas was the one who granted the visas after personally talking to Reid. The vote was 54-41. Had Reid not just nuked the Senate rules of filibuster the nomination would have failed to achieve the previously required 60 votes.

Mayorkas was confirmed despite the fact he was under investigation at the time for expediting certain visa applications for certain applicants despite the rejection of those visas by career staffers.

 

Reid had made a personal call to Mayorkas, according to the Washington Times, who promised him his agency would take a “fresh look” at the SLS hotel and casino visa request. Soon after that the agency expedited visas for about two dozen foreign SLS investors. The Washington Times reported that Federal Election Commission records show executives for two companies involved in the hotel project had made $127,000 in political donations over the previous three elections, mostly to Democrats.

The Cause of Action ethics complaint said, “Despite the fact that these applications were ineligible for appeal, Senator Reid’s efforts to lobby USCIS resulted in the reconsideration and approval of those applications … Even more troublesome is the fact that Senator Reid’s son, Rory Reid, and his law firm, Lionel, Sawyer & Collins P.C., are legal counsel to the SLS Hotel and Casino.”

Later an ICE agent who tried to block the SLS visas was fired. She refused to accept a $100,000 severance package that would have required non-disclosure and testified before Congress about the abuse of the EB-5 program. She later accepted an undisclosed settlement.

The agent testified that EB-5 visas were approved in as little 16 days and “lacked basic necessary law enforcement” screening.

 

In a June 2016 story The Daily Caller listed some of the questions left unanswered following the agent being fired:

–Did Reid’s office specifically demand she be fired so the visa application could go through? When (ICE Special Agent Taylor) Johnson was re-assigned to clerical duties was Reid’s office informed?

–When Johnson spoke with Democratic Senate Homeland Security Committee staffers in preparation for her June 2015 testimony at a whistleblowers hearing they coerced her into not fingering Reid. They said mentioning him would violate the Hatch Act, Johnson later told this reporter.

The Hatch Act, of course, limits overt political activities by federal employees, not congressional testimony by whistleblowers.  Who authorized the staffers to employ such obvious falsehoods to coerce Johnson into silence?

The political kneecapping certainly worked. In-remarks, Johnson spoke of suffering retaliation for her opposition to the EB-5 program but left Reid’s name out of it.

–DHS fired Johnson in February 2016 after she declined a $100,000 severance package with a confidentiality agreement that would have allowed her to leave the agency with a clean work record. Who at DHS thought it would be a good use of taxpayer money to pay Johnson not to talk publicly about something she had already testified before Congress?

None of that has been answered.

Back then nothing could be heard from Democrats over the chirping of crickets, but now Feinstein ruminates that it is  “crystal clear that the EB-5 regional center program presents a stark conflict of interest for the Trump White House.”

Reid got a pass and a coverup, but Trump is not a fellow Democrat.

Congressional testimony of Johnson in 2015:

 

 

Here there be gods

Apparently when one is handed the power to write laws, one immediately becomes omniscient and omnipotent — knowing how everything should be done and how everyone should behave and do their jobs, even physicians.

On Friday the Senate Committee on Commerce, Labor and Energy approved Assembly Bill 105, which requires doctors and other health care providers to undergo ongoing suicide prevention training. Like doctors don’t go through enough training already and doctors have no incentive to keep their patients alive and paying the bills.

State law already requires a litany of training requirements, including how to spot terrorism and weapons of mass destruction, but it would change the law from encouraging ongoing suicide prevention and awareness training to requiring it.

 Meanwhile, the Assembly is expected to vote next week on a bill that would prohibit so-called “conversion therapy” for minors, even with their consent and the consent of their parents. Such therapy is intended to alter the minor’s sexual orientation — generally, we presume, from homosexual to heterosexual. Senate Bill 201 has already passed the state Senate on a vote of 15-5 despite concerns to any conversation with a young person about sexual orientation might to construed as therapy under the law.
While the law specifically prohibits treatment that “seeks to change the sexual orientation or gender identity of a person,” despite their actual chromosome composition, it specifically allows support or confirmation for “a person undergoing gender transition …” or provides “acceptance, support and understanding of a person or facilitates a person’s ability to cope, social support and identity exploration and development …”
Our lawmakers know what’s best for you, no matter what you might think. For their next trick: Laying on of hands.

Editorial: Nevadans would benefit from Trump’s tax deduction change

So President Trump has finally decided to take our advice.

More than a year ago this newspaper noted in an editorial that then presidential candidates Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Chris Christie, Jeb Bush, John Kasich and Ben Carson all had proposed repealing the IRS deduction for state and local taxes, but Trump was still vague on the matter.

Nevada is one of only nine states with no state income tax to deduct. Since the creation of the federal income tax in 1913 the residents of states with income taxes have been allowed to deduct those taxes from their federal obligation. Only in recent years have Nevadans been permitted to deduct sales taxes, but this is subject to the whims of Congress because it must be renewed every year.

This past week Trump’s one page tax reform plan called for eliminating all deductions except for home mortgage interest and charitable contributions.

WSJ graphic

Predictably, the high-tax states are whining.

Nevadans — along with residents of New Hampshire, Florida, Wyoming, Texas, South Dakota and Alaska — get to deduct about 1 percent or less of our adjusted gross income, while those who live in New York, Maryland, D.C. and California deduct more than 5 percent. The federal government is effectively subsidizing the big spending in those states at the expense of the lower tax states.

As we pointed out a year ago, using 2010 statistical data from the IRS, the most recent available, you find Californians who filed for state and local income tax deductions claimed deductions of $10,700 per return. Nevadans who filed for the state and local sales tax deduction claimed only $1,430 in deductions per return.

Calculated on a per capita basis, Californians claimed $2,116 in federal income tax deductions, while Nevadans claimed only $166 per person for sales tax deductions.

Heritage Foundation researchers Rachel Greszler and Kevin D. Dayaratna have concluded that the state income tax deductions subject federal tax revenues to the whims of state lawmakers and largely benefit wealthy taxpayers and those in high-tax states.

“The rationale for it is that since state and local taxes reduce individuals’ after-tax income, the income used to pay those taxes should be excluded from federal taxation. …” the researchers wrote. “In practice, however, the deduction allows states to raise taxes higher than they otherwise would and has significant perverse distributional impacts, redistributing income from the poor to the rich and from people in low-tax states to people in high-tax states. Despite some efforts to eliminate it, the deduction for state and local taxes remains one of the largest deductions in the federal tax code.”

Pro-state-and-local-tax-deduction groups have been quoted as saying, “Any alterations to the deduction would upset the carefully balanced fiscal federalism that has existed since the permanent creation of the federal income tax over 100 years ago.”

It is long past time to upset this century-old unfair tax break for some and tax burden for others. Where do we go to get a rebate for being overtaxed all those years?

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

Newspaper column: It may be time to negotiate for Yucca Mountain benefits

Yucca Mountain in Nye County

Former Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman once threatened to lie down on the tracks to block any rail shipment of nuclear waste to Yucca Mountain. “We’re going to do whatever it takes, even if we have to lie down in front of the tracks,” Goodman said.

We hear the train acomin’.

This past week the environmental subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee heard testimony on a draft bill that would restart the Yucca Mountain licensing for storage of spent nuclear fuel — the draft Nuclear Waste Policy Amendments Act of 2017.

Except for four members of Nevada’s Washington delegation, the majority of the House members discussing the proposal seemed strongly in favor of shipping nuclear waste out of their districts to a hole in the barren desert.

Yucca Mountain was designated as the nation’s sole permanent storage site for 70,000 metric tons of nuclear waste from commercial power plants by a 1987 law. More than $15 billion has been spent drilling miles of tunnels into solid rock and analyzing the site. But President Obama, at the urging of former Sen. Harry Reid, suspended funding for the project and it has since lain fallow.

In addressing the chairman of the subcommittee — Rep. John Shimkus of Illinois, the driving force behind the draft bill — Nevada’s senior Sen. Dean Heller testified, “I appreciate your commitment to ensure that progress is made on this issue; however, I do not believe the bill that is before the committee today – the Nuclear Waste Policy Amendments Act of 2017 – is the solution.

“Rather, I believe it is heavy-handed, federal government-only proposal to reinstate Yucca Mountain while making false promises to the residents of Nevada.”

Heller’s mention of “false promises” appears to be a reference to the “benefits section” of the draft bill that envisions dollars flowing to the state and local communities, but the dollar amounts are left blank in the draft.

Under existing law, the state loses any potential benefits by challenging the waste dump, but the draft states that a benefits agreement would not constitute or require the state’s consent.

Rep. Ruben Kihuen — who represents Nye County, where Yucca Mountain is located — called the project a threat to Las Vegas tourism.

Las Vegas Reps. Dina Titus and Jackie Rosen also testified against the bill.

Rosen stated, “Using Yucca Mountain as the nation’s dumping ground would require transporting over 70,000 metric tons of radioactive waste, much of it through my district, and through the heart of Las Vegas, a city that attracts over 43 million visitors annually and generates 59 billion dollars in revenue according to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.”

But the bill says that “to the extent practicable” no radioactive waste is to be shipped through Las Vegas. In fact, one proposal would be to be build a transshipment depot near Caliente and then build a rail spur directly to Yucca Mountain through the newly created Basin and Range National Monument — a job creating endeavor.

Rosen continued, “Severe transportation accidents threaten the health and safety of tourists and individuals who live along the proposed waste transportation routes, and would cause hundreds of millions of dollars in cleanup costs and related economic losses.”

But an expert witness told the subcommittee there have been 5,000 nuke waste shipments without a single incident.

Though Gov. Brian Sandoval and a majority of the state’s Washington representatives oppose licensing Yucca Mountain, the Nye County Commission had entered into the congressional record a letter supporting Yucca Mountain. The letter states, “The Yucca Mountain nuclear repository would bring federal dollars to Nevada, create well-paying science and construction jobs, and improve the state’s infrastructure. The project would also strengthen national security, a role Nye County and Nevada has always taken the lead in through the past eight decades.”

A group calling itself NevadansCAN (Conservative Action Network) has joined the debate by suggesting that nuclear waste could be shipped to Yucca Mountain, not for storage for a million years, but for reprocessing, as is done in a number of countries, to create new nuclear fuel that could be sold — with the proceeds distributed to Nevada citizens in a way similar to how oil proceeds are paid to Alaskans.

If we just shout no and lie down on the tracks, we could get run over.

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.

 

Jim Day cartoon

Just how overcrowded are the local schools?

Though the graphic purports to be about 344 schools the numbers add up to 345 schools. Also, the ratios in the size of the school houses is far out of perspective. Additionally, there is an October 2016 report on school capacities available online, but we’ve yet to find an October 2017 report.

Let’s put that in perspective.

A story and graphic in the morning paper dutifully informs readers that 344 Clark County public schools are at or exceed the number of students for which they were designed, and reports that a “majority” the county’s schools exceed capacity. What it doesn’t say is whether that majority is 51 percent or 99 percent. For lack of a number perspective is lost.

Actually, the school district says it has 356 schools, including various specialty schools, so nearly 97 percent of schools are at or exceed capacity. But having too many schools at less than capacity would be a waste of taxpayers’ capital expenditures. So just how bad is the crowding?

According to an October 2016 report, on which the newspaper account is purportedly based, elementary schools are at 127.6 percent of capacity, while middle schools are at only 89.5 percent of capacity and high schools at 109.5 percent. The district has plans to open seven new elementary schools in the coming year and expand a number of existing schools. More are on the drawing board. It is unclear whether portable buildings are considered part of a school’s “program capacity.”

Those two schools that are more than 200 percent capacity are Walter Long Elementary at 216 percent capacity but with 21 portable buildings and Elaine Wynn Elementary at 210 percent but with 20 portables.

You can see the school-by-school ratio of capacity to enrollment on the district’s website.

At one point the newspaper seems to conflate student-teacher ratio to school capacity, but that’s an entirely different topic.

This is a scene grab of the Clark County high school capacity report.

 

 

Is Cliven Bundy an anti-Federalist?

Cliven Bundy with his ever-present copy of the Constitution in his pocket.

When you work with words, your words should work.

While it was gratifying to see the morning paper finally get around to writing about the difficulty federal prosecutors are having getting jurors to convict armed protesters in Oregon and Bunkerville of conspiracy — Now, where have I read that before? — this one description of cattle rancher Cliven Bundy caused a bit of whiplash: “notorious anti-federalist rancher Cliven Bundy …”

This is being said of a man who is invariably photographed with a copy of the U.S. Constitution prominently protruding from a breast pocket.

Strictly speaking — and you may accuse me of being a stickler — anti-Federalists were those who opposed the ratification of that Constitution in 1788. Bundy frequently cites the Constitution as the grounds for his contention that the state rather than the federal government is the proper custodian of public lands, and he and his supporters have on occasion cited the principles of Federalism.

Federalism is a system of governance in which federal powers are enumerated and limited, such as interstate commerce, while the state and local governments and citizens are free to exercise other powers, such as law enforcement and land use.

James Madison wrote in Federalist Paper No. 45: “The powers reserved to the several States will extend to all the objects which, in the ordinary course of affairs, concern the lives, liberties, and properties of the people, and the internal order, improvement, and prosperity of the State.”

Yes, the anti-Federalists did in fact warn about the potential for the central federal government to grow too big and powerful until it usurps the rights and powers of the states and citizens — hence the Ninth and Tenth Amendments were added to assure ratification.

But Bundy and his ilk surely consider themselves strict constructionists rather than anti-Federalists.

Bundy talks about Federalism:

 

By the way, isn’t a conspiracy charge just a cheap way for prosecutors to pile on and try to double the penalty for a conviction? It is one thing to accuse someone of a crime and assess a penalty upon conviction, but then to double the penalty simply because that person had the audacity to talk to someone about it?