Newspaper column: Democrats doubly wrong in effort to gag free speech

Supreme Court justices listen to President Obama rebuke them in 2010 State of the Union speech for Citizens United decision a week earlier. (AP pix)

Democrats keep pounding on a solution in search of a problem.

In January of 2010 the Supreme Court held that it is unconstitutional to prohibit political campaign spending by corporations and unions. In the case of Citizens United v. FEC the court struck down a law under which the Federal Election Commission barred the airing of a movie produced by Citizens United that was critical of then-presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

Within the week, in his first State of the Union address to Congress, President Obama lambasted the justices to their faces, saying the court had reversed a century of law. “I don’t think American elections should be bankrolled by America’s most powerful interests or, worse, by foreign entities,” he said. “They should be decided by the American people. And I urge Democrats and Republicans to pass a bill that helps correct some of these problems.”

During her losing campaign against Donald Trump, Clinton said she would consider supporting a constitutional amendment to overturn the Citizens United decision to “prevent the abuse of our political system by excessive amounts of money …” even though she outspent Trump by two-to-one, $1.2 billion to $600 million.

In 2014 every Democrat present on the floor of the Senate voted to pass a constitutional amendment that would have empowered Congress and the states to pass laws abridging the freedom of political speech.

Nevada’s long-serving Democratic Sen. Harry Reid argued in favor of that amendment, saying “the flood of special interest money into our American democracy is one of the greatest threats our system of government has ever faced.”

His successor, Democrat Catherine Cortez Masto, has taken up the cudgel, also calling for a constitutional amendment. “The U.S. Constitution puts democratic power in the hands of the American people — not corporations or private companies,” she said. “Since the Citizens United decision, big corporations have gained unprecedented influence over elections and our country’s political process. I am proud to be a cosponsor of this legislation; it’s critical that we end unlimited corporate contributions if we are going to have a democratic process and government that will truly work for all Americans.”

Newly elected Democratic Congresswoman Jacky Rosen stated shortly after her election, “Washington hasn’t been listening to the concerns of Southern Nevada because unlimited dark money flooding our elections is drowning out the voices of real people in our community.”

Both Democratic Reps. Ruben Kihuen and Dina Titus have expressed support for a group called “End Citizens United.”

The Democrats in the Nevada Legislature also waded in with a resolution urging Congress to overturn Citizens united. It passed without a single Republican vote.

First, the Democrats are wrong on principle. The fact that an expenditure is coming from a group instead of an individual does not negate the First Amendment guarantee of the freedom of expression by prohibiting Congress from restricting the press or the rights of individuals to speak freely, because it also guarantees the right of citizens to assemble peaceably and to petition their government.

An assembly is not just a crowd of people on the street, it is also an organization, a corporation or a union.

Second, their premise that excessive spending overwhelms and subverts the system is demonstrably wrong.

Not only does the spending gap between Clinton and Trump demonstrate the fallacy, but just this past week an obscure special election for a House seat in Georgia underscored the error of their rationale.

In that race Democrat Jon Ossoff outspent his Republican opponent Karen Handel by seven-to-one and still lost by 4 points.

And talk about special interest money. Democrat Ossoff, between March 29 and May 31, reported receiving 7,218 donations from California, but only 808 donations from Georgia. Overall, he got $456,296.03 from Californians, compared to $228,474.44 from Georgians.

Even when all the third party money is accounted for, spending in support of Ossoff amounted to $30 million, compared to $21 million for Handel.

The Democrats are not only losing elections, but are losing the argument about the effectiveness of the influence of outside money. Being able to spend your own money on political speech is a fundamental aspect of free speech, but the ability to buy repeated messages does nothing to increase the persuasiveness of those messages.

The fundamental principle of democracy is that voters can listen to the free and unencumbered debate and discern what is best for themselves and the generations to come. To deny that is to deny and denigrate the foundation of this nation.

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

Editorial: Governor right to veto bill mandating more clean energy

In vetoing this past week a bill that would have increased the required percentage of electricity in Nevada coming from renewable sources — such as solar, wind and geothermal — from the current 25 percent by 2025 to 40 percent by 2030, Gov. Brian Sandoval did the right thing but apparently for the wrong reason.

The governor felt obliged in his veto message to pay lip service to the concept of increasing the renewable portfolio standard (RPS), noting the proposal is very popular and has received positive news coverage in print and on television and online social media.

But he said that “although the increase in the RPS proposed at this time in AB206 is one that I would otherwise support, the consequences of approving this bill must be considered through the lens of recent changes to Nevada energy policy and those likely to be adopted in the near future. These changes can only be characterized as massive shifts in energy policy that have already dramatically altered the energy landscape in Nevada. They are occurring in real time, with energy policy evolving in real time.”

Sandoval said the reason he vetoed Assembly Bill 206 was that in 2016 72 percent of Nevada voters approved a change to the state Constitution that would end the electricity near monopoly in which 90 percent of power in the state is sold by one company, NV Energy. If voters again approve the Energy Choice Initiative in 2018, the energy market would be open to competition. That would also impact the other 10 percent.

If the initiative passes, the power companies would have to sell assets and that would result in costs that would have to be borne by the ratepayers, “resulting in higher power bills for most Nevadans,” the governor observed.

Assemblyman Chris Brooks, the Las Vegas Democrat who sponsored AB206 and has worked for years in the solar power business, told the press, “AB206 would have made Nevada not just a national leader, but a world leader, in the next generation of clean and renewable energy sources that would have diversified our economy and created good-paying, high-quality jobs.”

Actually an analysis of the current RPS — 25 percent by 2025 — by the Beacon Hill Institute at Suffolk University a couple of years ago found the costs far outweigh any supposed benefit.

The study estimated that in 2025 the current RPS would lower Nevada employment by anywhere from 600 to 3,000 jobs, reduce disposable income by a range of $72 million and $373 million and increase the average household electricity bill by $70 per year and commercial businesses by an expected $400 per year and industrial businesses by an expected $26,220 per year.

You don’t have to predict. Look no further than neighboring California, which has an RPS of 50 percent by 2030. It already has power bills 50 percent higher than the national average.

And for what? According to a Heritage Foundation report, if the entire industrialized world stopped burning fossil fuels and cut carbon emissions to zero, global warming would be reduced by four-tenths of a degree Celsius by 2100.

So, yes, the Energy Choice Initiative and its potential drastic shake up of the energy market added a degree of risk to ratepayers, but ratepayers already would have been on the hook had AB206 become law, despite what the governor and the mostly Democratic lawmakers who passed the bill claim.

In fact, we call for the 2019 Legislature to repeal the RPS entirely and let electricity consumers purchase power in a competitive marketplace.

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: Congress should dump plan to tax advertising

Congress is finally seriously talking about tax reform for the first time since President Reagan signed the Tax Reform Act of 1986, but there is a fly in the anointment.

The current draft being proffered contains a proposal to alter the Internal Revenue Code to tax advertising for the first time since the income tax was created in 1913. Currently businesses are allowed to deduct advertising expenditures just as they do other necessary business expenses, such as wages and rent.

The tax reform draft proposes to allow only 50 percent of advertising expenses to be deducted, while the rest would be amortized over 10 years — a move that would complicate tax compliance rather than simplify it. It is estimated that over a decade this proposal would generate $169 billion in additional federal revenue, money drained needlessly from the economy.

Americans for Tax Reform — who, as the name suggests, are all for tax reform — have come out strongly against this proposition, saying any revenue generated would be dwarfed by its negative effects.

The tax reform group’s president, Grover Norquist, penned a letter to Congress earlier this year saying that not only should ads not be taxed, but that implementation of full business expensing would grow the GDP 5.4 percent and create a million jobs.

“Implementing full business expensing is a vital step toward creating a pro-growth tax code. At the same time, taking the existing treatment of advertising costs in the other direction by forcing it to be depreciated over multiple years makes no economic sense and undermines both the economic gains and the rationale for moving to full business expensing,” Norquist wrote.

He also pointed out, “In total, advertising directly or indirectly supports almost 22 million jobs and $5.8 trillion in total economic output. Every dollar of advertising spending generates $22 of economic activity. Advertising associated with local radio and television is alone projected to contribute more than $1 trillion in economic output and 1.38 million jobs.”

The impact on the print media, which is the prime source of local news coverage, could be devastating as well.

According to the Brookings Institute, the total number of newspapers in this country has already declined from nearly 1,800 per million population in 1945 to about 400 in 2014.

According to Adweek, from 2000 to 2013, annual U.S. newspaper ad revenue dropped from $63.5 billion to $23 billion. Meanwhile, Google’s ad revenue has grown to nearly $50 billion a year.

This past week David Williams, writing ironically enough at the online site Townhall, pointed out, “The decline of national outlets is one thing — in most cases, online news suffices — but the shrinkage of local papers is far more dangerous. Many areas only have one source of local news. When that one small paper goes bankrupt due to a draconian federal ad tax, there won’t be anybody to cover the local council meeting or report on communal crime. The Wall Street Journal or New York Times certainly won’t have the space, desire, or bandwidth to send in journalists for local stories. And so, many residents will be left totally in the dark about what is happening around them.”

Fortunately, some in Congress are paying heed to the warnings being offered by those who represent both the media and the advertisers who would be financially harmed by the advertising tax plan.

In April, 124 members of the House of Representatives signed a letter addressed to House Speaker Paul Ryan and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi warning of the problems the ad tax would create. Signers include Nevada’s Democratic Reps. Dina Titus and Ruben Kihuen.

“The potential for strengthening our economy through tax reform would be jeopardized by any proposal that imposes an advertising tax on our nation’s manufacturing, retail, and service industries,” the letter states, noting advertising contributes 19 percent of the nation’s GDP.

It goes on to argue, “Advertising has been accorded the same treatment as all other regularly occurring business expenses, such as employee wages, rent, utilities and office supplies, throughout the 114-year life of the tax code. Any measure that would tax advertising — and therefore would make it more expensive — cannot be justified as a matter of tax or economic policy.”

The House letter concludes, “Advertising also is responsible for supporting the high-quality news, information, and entertainment that is a cornerstone of our democracy and upon which our constituents rely.”

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

Editorial: Heller sponsoring bills to address doctor shortage

Nevada Sen. Dean Heller has joined with several other U.S. senators to introduce bills to address the looming shortage of doctors in the coming decade, particularly in rural areas.

According to a study released in March by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), the United States is facing a shortage of between 40,800 and 104,900 physicians by 2030, because the number of new physicians is not keeping pace with the demands of a growing and aging population. Though the population is expected to grow by 12 percent by 2030, the number of Americans aged 65 and older is expected to increase by 55 percent and the number of people aged 75 and older should grow by 73 percent.

One of the bills being co-sponsored by Heller is the Resident Physician Shortage Reduction Act. There is a similarly named bill pending in the House.

In a press release Heller said this bill would increase the number of Medicare-supported hospital residency positions by 15,000 to address the coming shortage of doctors and to try to keep new graduates from Nevada’s medical schools in Nevada and rural Nevada in particular.

“While the number of medical school graduates from Nevada’s universities continues to rise, the state does not currently have enough residency positions to keep pace with those graduates in Nevada,” said Heller. “The Resident Physician Shortage Reduction Act increases the number of hospital residency positions available to address the doctor shortage, particularly in our rural communities, and improve the quality of care patients receive.”

According to AAMC data from 2014, Nevada ranked 47th among the states in the ratio of doctors to population. Nevada had 197.4 doctors per 100,000 population compared to 265.5 nationally.

According to a news account in the Las Vegas newspaper this past November, the number of doctors per capita in rural Nevada actually declined by nearly 10 percent between 2004 and 2014.

“Those problems are aggravated in rural areas that have always struggled to recruit and retain or keep those types of professionals in their facilities and their communities,” John Packham, director of health policy research in the state’s rural health office, was quoted as saying.

The other bill being pushed by Heller is dubbed the Advancing Medical Resident Training in Community Hospitals Act. The is intended to make it easier for hospitals to start full-time residency programs by fixing a flaw in current law that prevents hospitals that have previously accepted part-time medical residents from establishing their own full-time, Medicare-supported residency programs.

“The Advancing Medical Resident Training in Community Hospitals Act aims to address the physician shortage in Nevada’s rural communities by giving community hospitals more flexibility to rotate residents,” Heller sad. “By making it easier for Nevada’s hospitals to train the next generation of physicians, our bill will increase access to care for Nevadans living in these communities.”

Though there will be a price tag on these bills, the added health care availability is well worth it.

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: Nevadans welcome review of sage grouse land use plans

Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt, who had filed a lawsuit attempting to overturn the Interior Department’s 2015 land use plan to protect greater sage grouse, is praising the recent decision by the Trump administration to review those plans.

Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke signed an order establishing an internal review team to evaluate federal and state sage grouse plans and report back to him in 60 days. He specifically called on the review team to consider local economic growth and job creation, as well as protection of the birds.

“While the federal government has a responsibility under the Endangered Species Act to responsibly manage wildlife, destroying local communities and levying onerous regulations on the public lands that they rely on is no way to be a good neighbor,” said Zinke after issuing the order. “State agencies are at the forefront of efforts to maintain healthy fish and wildlife populations, and we need to make sure they are being heard on this issue. As we move forward with implementation of our strategy for sage-grouse conservation, we want to make sure that we do so first and foremost in consultation with state and local governments, and in a manner that allows both wildlife and local economies to thrive. There are a lot of innovative ideas out there. I don’t want to take anything off the table when we talk about a plan.”

Greater sage grouse (BLM pix)

Though Interior decided to not list the sage grouse under the Endangered Species Act, its land use plan essentially barred mineral exploration on 3 million acres in Nevada and locked out most economic activity on 10 million acres in a dozen Western states.

Laxalt was quoted in a press release as saying, “My office remains dedicated to protecting the interests of Nevada and ensuring that federal agencies take our unique needs and concerns into account. We look forward to working with Secretary Zinke to develop a plan that protects the greater sage grouse in ways that recognize Nevada’s expertise and commitment to this important issue, and that also preserves and expands Nevada jobs in sectors like mining and ranching. An intelligent sage grouse plan can do both successfully.”

In October 2015 Laxalt filed suit on behalf of the state and was joined by nine Nevada counties, several mining companies and a ranch. The suit repeatedly stated that the various federal land agencies ignored state and local input on the land use plan.

Nevada’s senior Sen. Dean Heller also welcomed the Zinke review.

“I am pleased that Secretary Zinke is initiating a review of the previous administration’s sage-grouse land use plans and committing to work with those who know how to best protect threatened species: states and localities,”
Heller stated. “As I have consistently maintained, allowing states like Nevada to have a seat at the table as an active participant in the discussion surrounding conservation efforts is central to the viability of the sage-grouse. Moving forward, I am hopeful that the Department of the Interior will partner with Governor Sandoval and the Nevada Sagebrush Ecosystem Council to begin targeting the real threats to sage-grouse and their habitat: invasive species, wildfire, and wild horse overpopulation.”

News accounts quoted Zinke as saying the Republican governors of Nevada, Utah and Idaho all prefer that the sage grouse plans give them more flexibility and rely less on habitat preservation “and more on numbers” of birds in a given state.

Gov. Brian Sandoval has complained in the past about Nevada’s input being ignored. In one letter he stated, “I believe the proposed land withdrawal will not be able to show any measurable results except for the demise of the mineral exploration industry in Nevada. The urgency to implement the withdrawal proposal prior to conducting the proper analysis needed to evaluate the efficacy of the action and socio-economic impact of the action is unclear,” adding that the agencies involved have “provided no science or analysis at any level to support the rationale” for excluding mining operations.

Interior’s draft environmental impact statement estimated its grouse restrictions would reduce economic output in Nevada each year by $373.5 million, cost $11.3 million in lost state and local tax revenue and reduce employment by 739 jobs every year for the next 20 years.

And it all may be for naught. According to a 2015 Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies survey, the population of greater sage grouse had grown by nearly two-thirds in the previous two years — before the implementation of strict land use plans.

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

Editorial: Is Faraday Future history?

Work has stopped at Faraday Future factory site. (AP photo by John Locher)

Gullible Nevada lawmakers in a special session in 2015 on blind faith alone agreed to dole out $215 million in tax abatements and credits to entice Faraday Future to build an electric car factory at the Apex industrial complex in North Las Vegas, though at the time it did not even have a prototype vehicle.

The deal, struck by the Governor’s Office of Economic Development, also promised to spend $120 million on infrastructure improvements at the site — water, rail and widening of Interstate 15.

Faraday officials claimed they would build a $1 billion manufacturing facility, create 4,500 jobs and start producing cars as early as 2016.

Now the company is seeking $1 billion in outside investments, while cutting more than 300 jobs in the U.S. and closing its San Diego operations. Work on the Apex site also has stopped and there have been reports the would-be electric car manufacturer is stiffing some of its contractors.

The Chinese head of Faraday Future, Jia Yueting, is reportedly experiencing a cash crunch and, after investing more than $300 million of his own money in Faraday, will not be putting up any more capital, according to a news report from Bloomberg Technology.

Jia wrote in a memo obtained by Bloomberg News late this past year, “No company has had such an experience, a simultaneous time in ice and fire. We blindly sped ahead, and our cash demand ballooned. We got over-extended in our global strategy. At the same time, our capital and resources were in fact limited.”

After visiting China in 2016 state Treasurer Dan Schwartz, long a critic of the Faraday largesse by the state, told the press, “We’re increasingly more concerned than we were before that this is just a big Ponzi scheme.”

When word of Faraday’s fading fortunes surfaced, the head of the GOED, Steve Hill, was quoted as saying, “Trying to predict whether a company is going to succeed or flourish, or even say what they’re going to do is … you’re going to be wrong at times, maybe as often as you’re right.”

Sounds bit like playing roulette with tax money.

Reportedly the state hasn’t doled out any money to the listing electric car company yet, because the firm hasn’t reached the necessary threshold of spending to warrant turning on the taxpayer spigot.

This turn of events supports our oft-stated contention that spending taxpayer money to invite companies to come to Nevada to compete with those taxpayers is a bad idea and unconstitutional to boot.

The Gift Clause in Nevada’s Constitution 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.

But the governor and our lawmakers continue to defy the Constitution with impunity. Disband the GOED and stop calling special sessions to give away taxpayer dollars.

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: Nevada Democrats wrongly predict disaster over Paris Climate Accord pullout

Trump explains amount of global temperature increase. (Reuters pix via R-J)

The caterwauling over President Trump’s decision to pull out of the Paris Climate Accord and renegotiate was quick, loud and anguished — including from Nevada’s usual Democratic suspects.

Freshman Nevada U.S. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto fired off this prediction of doom and gloom: “Withdrawing from the deal would weaken efforts to combat one of humankind’s biggest threats, not only risking irreversible damage, but also harming our economy. President Trump’s decision to leave the Paris Agreement is the height of irresponsibility and an affront to our moral duty to protect our planet.”

Rep. Dina Titus of Clark County was equally over the top: “Any move to abandon this agreement will jeopardize our physical wellbeing, further undermine our standing as a world leader, and endanger our economic vitality for years to come.”

Freshman Congressman Ruben Kihuen, who presents much of Southern Nevada, chimed in by bemoaning: “Now is not the time for America to be stepping away from our leadership role on the world stage, especially when it comes to the future of the planet.”

Freshman Rep. Jacky Rosen of Clark County joined the chorus with this statement: “This decision not only places our country at an economic disadvantage relative to other countries in clean energy production and innovation, but it places us in harm’s way.”

At least Republican Sen. Dean Heller was realistic, while expressing his support for renewable energy development: “Our country will continue to move forward with the development of innovative new energy technologies that make our state and our nation’s energy supply cleaner, more affordable, and more reliable — with or without our participation in the Paris Agreement.”

Was anyone really listening to what Trump said?

Just what is the “irreversible damage?” What is the jeopardy to “our physical wellbeing” and the “future of the planet?” And how are we placed in “harm’s way?”

“Even if the Paris Agreement were implemented in full, with total compliance from all nations, it is estimated it would only produce a two-tenths of one degree — think of that; this much — Celsius reduction in global temperature by the year 2100. Tiny, tiny amount,” Trump said in his half-hour long Rose Garden speech this past week. “In fact, 14 days of carbon emissions from China alone would wipe out the gains from America — and this is an incredible statistic — would totally wipe out the gains from America’s expected reductions in the year 2030, after we have had to spend billions and billions of dollars, lost jobs, closed factories, and suffered much higher energy costs for our businesses and for our homes.”

(According to a Heritage Foundation report, if the entire industrialized world cut carbon emissions to zero, global warming would be reduced by four-tenths of a degree Celsius by 2100.)

Just how many jobs and dollars would it take to avert this impending climate cataclysm?

Citing an economic study, Trump stated that by 2040 the Paris Climate Accord would cost the economy $3 trillion in lost gross domestic product and 6.5 million in industrial jobs, as well as reduce the incomes of households by $7,000 each.

Then there is the fundamental unfairness of the deal negotiated by the Obama administration but never ratified by the Senate.

“Not only does this deal subject our citizens to harsh economic restrictions, it fails to live up to our environmental ideals,” Trump said. “As someone who cares deeply about the environment, which I do, I cannot in good conscience support a deal that punishes the United States — which is what it does — the world’s leader in environmental protection, while imposing no meaningful obligations on the world’s leading polluters.”

In fact, the United States over the past 14 years has already reduced carbon emissions by 10 percent, according to data from the U.S. Department of Energy, and that is not due to wind and solar power generation, which still accounts for only 3 percent of the nation’s energy output. It is largely due to fracking producing cheaper, clean-burning natural gas to replace coal-fired generation.

But under the Paris Accord, China will be allowed to increase its emissions for another 13 years. India’s participation is contingent upon receiving billions in foreign aid, largely from the United States.

“China will be allowed to build hundreds of additional coal plants,” Trump reported. “So we can’t build the plants, but they can, according to this agreement.”

Trump noted the agreement doesn’t eliminate coal jobs, it merely transfers them overseas.

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.