Newspaper insert takes its lead from the previous day’s editorial page

At least we know there is one person at the Las Vegas Sun insert in the morning newspaper that is reading the editorial page of the Review-Journal and taking it to heart.

It can’t be a coincidence can it?

Back on the 20th of December, the R-J published an editorial referencing an article in The New York Times from four days earlier about Harry Reid ramrodding through $22 million in secret funds for the purpose of researching UFOs. The next day the Sun published that week-old NYT story on its cover.

On Monday the R-J published an editorial referencing an NYT article from the previous Saturday about the regulatory burden being heaped on apple growers by federal agencies. Today the Sun printed that same story on the cover. Perhaps they have finally found their niche — being a helpful supplement to the actual newspaper.

Or, once Pavlov rang the bell his dogs salivated.

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Newspaper column: What evidence is pertinent in Bundy trials?

Pardon us plebs, but we are a tad bit confused about just what is admissible evidence in the Bunkerville standoff trials.

This past week, about a month into the second of three scheduled trials, the judge declared a mistrial because the prosecution had failed to timely turn over potentially exculpatory evidence to the defense.

Federal Judge Gloria Navarro listed six instances in which prosecutors willfully withheld evidence — including information about an FBI surveillance camera, documents citing the presence of snipers, certain maps, FBI logs, threat assessments that showed the Bundys weren’t violent and internal affairs documents detailing possible misdeeds by the Bureau of Land Management agent in charge, who was later fired.

The judge ruled the material might have been useful in shaping a defense for the protesters who showed up at Cliven Bundy’s ranch in April 2014 when BLM agents attempted to impound 500 head of his cattle for failing to pay $1 million in grazing fees and fines for two decades.

Cliven Bundy (Getty pix)

According to press accounts, Judge Navarro noted FBI log entries said “snipers were inserted” outside the Bundy home, though prosecutors previously denied any snipers were posted and now say they were unaware of the FBI log showing otherwise. Ignorance is no accuse, the judge chided.

Curious. In an earlier trial, Judge Navarro kicked defendant Erik Parker off the witness stand for trying to mention where a BLM sniper was positioned. He was not allowed to continue his defense.

During that trial the judge had granted a sweeping prosecution motion to bar arguments about the defendants’ “state of mind,” such as whether they were provoked by the government’s massive show of force.

She ruled that defense could not mention nor show video or audio depicting the arrest of Cliven’s son Dave Bundy in which he was wrestled to the ground; nor any recordings showing the tasering of son Ammon Bundy or a BLM agent grabbing Cliven’s sister Margaret Houston from behind and throwing her to the ground; nor any testimony or opinion about the level of force displayed by law enforcement; nor references to Bundy’s grazing, water, or legacy rights on the public lands; no references to infringements on First and Second Amendment rights; and no mention of the punishment the defendants faced if convicted.

It appears some of the very things not allowed in evidence at an earlier trial are now grounds for a mistrial because the defense was not provided documentation.

To add further to the contortions and machinations of this case, just days before the judge declared a mistrial the prosecution filed a motion similar to the one granted in the prior trial. It asked the judge to not allow the introduction of “evidence or argument at trial that relate to instigation/provocation, self-defense/defense of others, entrapment, justification for violent self-help, impermissible state of mind justification, and collateral attacks on the court orders.” The motion said presenting any of this to the jury would amount to jury nullification. (Bundy motion on jury nullification)

In this trial Cliven Bundy and sons Ryan and Ammon, as well as self-styled militia member Ryan Payne, face charges that include obstruction of justice, conspiracy, extortion, assault and impeding federal officers.

Faced with armed protesters during the cattle impoundment, agents released the cattle rather than risk a shootout.

“The law does not permit the defendants to expand the legally cognizable defense of self-defense against a law enforcement officer by incorporating instigation and provocation,” the latest motion states. “To do so would eviscerate the well-recognized elements of self-defense. Defendants, rather, seek to introduce evidence of instigation and provocation to obtain jury nullification. Jury nullification is illegal.”

Rather than slap a lien on the Bundy ranch and cattle or freeze the ranch’s bank accounts, the BLM instead chose to send in an armed force to oversee the rounding up of Bundy’s cattle by contracted cowboys. The operation has been estimated to have cost $3 million. Once the cattle were corralled and off the grazing range, there was no hay to feed them and reportedly no one willing to take the cattle.

Additionally, withheld documents reportedly included statements that no threatened desert tortoises were ever found to be harmed by Bundy’s cattle, the reason the BLM tried to limit his grazing in the first place.

A hearing in the case is set for January. Unless the judge decides to dismiss the charges, a retrial is slated for late February. What evidence would be allowed?

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

Update: Motions seek to have charges thrown out.

Editorial: Nevada still leads nation in public worker pay

Once again Nevada has earned a worst-in-the-nation ranking.

An analysis of 2016 payroll data by Key Policy Data found Nevada’s state and local public employees are the least productive in the country, according to a news account by Watchdog.org.

Though researcher J. Scott Moody found that Nevada’s state and local governments employed only 11.7 people per every 100 workers in the taxpaying private sector, the lowest ratio in the nation and well below the national average of 15.7, Nevada pays those “public servants” far more than the private sector, the highest in the nation.

Public employees were paid 54 percent more than their counterparts in the private sector, which is 295 percent higher than the national average of 14 percent. The gap has grown like topsy, from only 6 percent in 1969 to today’s 54 percent.

Moody said the driving factor for the gap are the benefits provided public employees, many growing due to union contracts.

In state and local benefits Nevada public employees were provided 286 percent more than those in the private sector, the highest benefit gap in the country, while the national average was 127 percent.

“It is unfair to private sector workers because they are ultimately footing the bill for these very generous benefits,” Moody said. “Additionally, it hurts the private sector overall because it distorts the labor market as workers are enticed into the public sector. The private sector has to raise compensation to compete for labor, but that can make Nevada’s businesses uncompetitive in the national or international marketplace.”

He added that it is easy for politicians to “kick the can down the road” by increasing benefits today, knowing the bill won’t come due for years or even decades. The bill is now coming due.

Here is how the compensation gap breaks down by county: In Carson City, public employees are paid 258 percent more than private sector workers in total salary and benefits; Clark, +61 percent; Washoe County, +55 percent; Douglas; +46 percent; Lincoln; +46 percent; Lyon; +41 percent; Churchill, +37 percent; White Pine, +27 percent; Elko, +26 percent; Mineral, +21 percent; Nye, +19 percent; Humboldt, +15 percent; Storey, -20 percent; Lander, -22 percent; Pershing, -28 percent; Eureka, -41 percent; and Esmeralda, -47 percent.

It should be noted, according to the Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation, that 88 percent of the jobs in Eureka are largely better paying mining jobs, while 60 percent of Lander’s jobs are in mining, 52 percent of Esmeralda’s and 30 percent of Pershing’s. But only 1 percent of Storey’s jobs are in mining. Go figure.

Michael Schaus, the communications director for the Nevada Policy Research Institute, blamed the compensation gap on local public worker labor unions.

“A big part of it is on the local level,” Schaus said. “The local governments in Nevada tend to have very, very strong unions and as a result, every year they seem to get a little bit more pay, a little bit more benefits and, of course, that all comes out of the taxpayer pocket. State level employees, I don’t believe that they’ve actually increased quite as fast and that’s largely because they are not unionized.”

As we have suggested editorially over the years, Moody recommends Nevada lawmakers change the retirement benefits for public employees from the current defined benefit program, which guarantees a percent of one’s final salary for life upon retirement, usually well before the age of 65, to one similar to the 401(k) funds used in private industry.

It is time to put the brakes on what Nevada pays its “public servants.” — TM

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.

Nevada state capitol building in Carson City.

Newspaper column: Bundy case secrecy being rightfully challenged

Bundy family exit court. (R-J pix)

Though the most recent trial of four defendants in the April 2014 standoff between armed protesters and Bureau of Land Management agents trying to confiscate Cliven Bundy’s cattle ended in a mistrial, the case will stand as an historic example of how sweeping secrecy can cast doubt on whether justice is being served.

This past week U.S. District Judge Gloria Navarro halted testimony in the trial and sent the jurors home while she heard arguments behind closed doors over whether the prosecution had failed to provide the defense with potentially exculpatory evidence quickly enough. The judge said the prosecution’s repeated failure to timely disclose information was “sufficient to undermine the confidence in the outcome of the trial,” which she said could result in a mistrial. This week she declared a mistrial.

Attorney Maggie McLetchie — representing the Las Vegas Review-Journal newspaper and Battle Born Media, which publishes weekly newspapers in Mesquite, Ely, Eureka, Sparks and Lincoln and Mineral counties — promptly filed a motion seeking to intervene, which was granted. The newspapers are asking that all documents previously filed under seal be unsealed and that future hearings be conducted in open court.

In July 2016, despite objections from the newspapers, the judge granted the government’s request for a protective order that required nearly every piece of paper to be filed under seal due to some vague suspicions that witnesses and law enforcement officers might be subjected to threats or intimidation.

Though the case involves the April 2014 effort by the BLM to impound 500 head of Bundy’s cattle for failure to pay $1 million in grazing fees over two decades for his Bunkerville ranch, arrests of the original 19 defendants were not made until early 2016. Most remained jailed until recently on charges that include conspiracy, extortion, carrying a firearm during a crime of violence, threatening an officer and obstruction of justice.

The BLM released the cattle rather than risk a shootout.

The complex case, which includes an estimated 1.4 terabytes of electronic evidence, was broken into three trials. The first ended in a mistrial. At retrial two were acquitted and two pleaded to misdemeanors and were released on time served.

The just ended trial was the second and a third is scheduled for 30 days after this one ends, whenever that might be.

In arguing as to why the veil of secrecy should be lifted, McLetchie states that one of the most critical aspects of news reporting is to inform the public as to whether justice is being carried out, quoting a classic Supreme Court aphorism: “In short, justice must not only be done, it must be seen to be done.”

McLetchie goes on to say, “This shroud of secrecy is anathema to the presumption under the First Amendment and the common law that all documents filed with a court are presumptively public documents open for review and inspection. Moreover, closing hearings and filing documents under seal has prevented Intervenors from carrying out their constitutionally protected function of reporting the news. This is troublesome given the importance of this case, and the public’s right to know about the government’s handling of its investigation and prosecution …”

One of the documents apparently filed under seal — meaning the defendants can’t even discuss it — is an 18-page Nov. 27 memo from a BLM investigator to a Justice Department attorney alleging “a widespread pattern of bad judgment, lack of discipline, incredible bias, unprofessionalism and misconduct, as well as likely policy, ethical, and legal violations” by BLM staffers involved in the Bundy case.

The memo was leaked to numerous newspapers. It is a rambling, often redundant, typo-filled diatribe against the agent’s supervisors and prosecutors.

The agent said he was dismissed from reviewing the Bundy case in February and his files confiscated. “Futhermore,” he wrote, “when I did report the misconduct, ethical, professional, and legal issues, I also became a victim of whistleblower retaliation.” He wrote that he “feels” the prosecutor’s judgment is “likely clouded by extreme personal and religious bias and a desire to win the case at all costs. I feel he is likely willing to ignore and fail to report exculpatory material, extreme bias and act unethically and possibly deceptively to win.”

Though it may well be a self-serving effort on the part of a BLM staff member scorned, this is the very thing the public should be allowed to evaluate.

McLetchie notes the tradition of openness “serves as a check on the judiciary because the public can ensure that judges are not merely serving as a rubber stamp” for law enforcement.

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: It is time for Rep. Kihuen to step down

For the sake of the citizens of the 4th Congressional District of Nevada, it is time for Ruben Kihuen to resign.

As if the allegations of sexual harassment of a staffer during the 2016 campaign weren’t bad enough, Kihuen has turned himself into a pariah in the already minority Democratic Party by basically calling his party leaders liars. His effectiveness for his constituents is now nil.

According to a report by BuzzFeed, a female Kihuen campaign staffer quit in April 2016 after the candidate started propositioning her for dates and sex despite her repeated rejections, and he twice touched her thighs without her consent.

Rep. Ruben Kihuen speaks to reporters in November 2016, while backer Harry Reid looks on. (AP file pix)

The woman said the propositions became more frequent and more aggressive and Kihuen asked her if she had ever “cheated on her boyfriend.” She said the candidate offered to get them a hotel room together while campaigning. She was quoted as saying, “I said ‘no’ very firmly and he just laughed at me. It was humiliating.”

Though he says he does not recall the described events, Kihuen was quoted as saying, “The staff member in question was a valued member of my team. I sincerely apologize for anything that I may have said or done that made her feel uncomfortable.”

Fellow Nevada Democratic Reps. Dina Titus and Jacky Rosen severely upbraided the 37-year-old, unmarried Kihuen.

“Many believed Ruben had great potential, but unfortunately his personal behavior has jeopardized his political career,” Titus said in a statement. “This culture of sexual harassment must end. Zero tolerance means zero tolerance. Ruben needs to step up and do what’s right for the people of Nevada.”

Rosen said in a statement, “The culture where this behavior is brushed aside has gone on for too long, and I believe Congressman Kihuen should step aside.”

While stopping short of calling for his resignation, Nevada Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto issued a statement saying all such allegations should be quickly and fully investigated.

Nevada Republic Sen. Dean Heller also called on Kihuen to resign.

House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chair Ben Ray Lujan, a New Mexico congressman, both called on Kihuen to step down.

“In Congress, no one should face sexual harassment in order to work in an office or in a campaign,” Pelosi said in a statement. “The young woman’s documented account is convincing, and I commend her for the courage it took to come forward. In light of these upsetting allegations, Congressman Kihuen should resign.”

Lujan said in a statement, “Members and candidates must be held to the highest standard. If anyone is guilty of sexual harassment or sexual assault, they should not hold elected office. Congressman Kihuen should resign.”

But first-term Rep. Kihuen, a former aide to Sen. Harry Reid who has largely held political patronage jobs, threw mud on the leadership, saying, “I do find it interesting that the DCCC, Leader [Nancy] Pelosi and Chairman Ben Ray Lujan — they knew about these allegations last year. They looked into them. They didn’t find anything, and they continued investing millions of dollars in my campaign. They went out there and campaigned for me.”

Spokesmen for Pelosi and Lujan immediately denied the claim.

“Sadly, this is not the case. Leader Pelosi first learned of these allegations from BuzzFeed last week,” her spokesman said.

“Congressman Kihuen’s statement is not true,” said the communications director for the DCCC. “We were presented with these disturbing facts for the first time last week, and the chair immediately called for his resignation.”

The chances of Kihuen being able to accomplish anything in Congress for those he represents are now dashed.

As accused sexual harassers Rep. John Conyers and Sen. Al Franken have promised to do, Kihuen should resign and let the governor call a special election to replace him as quickly as feasible.

The party primary elections for the next term in Congress are scheduled for June and the voters will have the final say in November. CD4 includes northern Clark County, southern Lyon County, and all of Esmeralda, Lincoln, Mineral, Nye and White Pine counties.

The voters of Southern Nevada would be better served by a vacant office than by the unrepentant and self-absorbed Kihuen.

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: Give the gift of knowledge about Nevada and the West

Christmas is coming and you’re still scratching your head over just what to get for that special Nevada friend or family member. How about a gift that will keep giving for years to come — a book, specifically a book about Nevada and/or the West?

A couple of the newest additions to this narrow genre are David Philipps’ “Wild Horse Country” and Range magazine’s “The Good, the Bad and the Bovine.”

Philipps explores the history of the wild horse in the West with a number of stops along the way in Nevada. He also addresses the issue of feral horse overpopulation and delves into the various options for solving the problem. It is thought provoking and informative.

In November, Range published a collection of articles and photos from its archive of thorough coverage of the people, places and issues touching on ranching and farming on the rangeland of the West. Titles include: “Don’t Fence ’Em In,” “The Ultimate Recycler,” “It’s in the Breeding,” “Cow Pie” and “A Ranger’s Reflection” — dispatches from the empty quarter.

Range boasts of the book, “The hardcover coffee-table edition is a not only a photographic tribute featuring works by some of the best ranch and wildlife photographers in the country, but there are some meaty stories penned by prize-winning writers.”

The magazine also has available on its website other books from recent years. Two of my favorites are “Brushstrokes & Balladeers” and “Reflections of the West.” Both are coffee-table quality books packed with insightful poetry about life on the range and eye-popping paintings that stand up to favorable comparison to Remington and Russell. The wink-and-a-smirk doggerel of Elko’s Waddie Mitchell is worth the cover price alone.

Then there are the books from the dawn of the state’s history that should be on every Nevadan’s bookshelf. These include’s Mark Twain’s “Roughing It,” of course, about his sojourn in Nevada during the Civil War and his misadventures in newspapering as a reporter and briefly as an editor. He claimed his editorials prompted no less than six invitations to duel.

From the same era comes Twain’s editor’s reminiscences about “The Big Bonanza” — Dan de Quille’s foray into the goings-on during the days of the Comstock Lode.

To learn more about the truth stretching Twain, one could pick up a copy of Andrew Hoffman’s biography, “Inventing Mark Twain.” My personal favorite insight is Hoffman’s busting the myth that Sam Clemens took his pseudonym from his steamboat days.

“People who knew Sam in Nevada said that he arrived at the pseudonym by entering a saloon and calling out in the leadsman’s singsong intonation ‘Mark twain!’ — meaning the bartender should pour two drinks and mark them down on the debit ledger,” writes Hoffman.”

For insight into the people who invented modern day Nevada, there are books such as Dallas Morning News reporter Doug Swanson’s “Blood Aces: The Wild Ride of Benny Binion, the Texas Gangster Who Created Vegas Poker.” The book takes the reader from Benion’s humble beginnings in Pilot Grove, Texas, to dangerous Deep Ellum in Dallas, until he drifted and grifted — and reportedly killed — into downtown Las Vegas.

Former Las Vegas newspaper columnist John L. Smith writes about a number of Nevada notables in “Sharks in the Desert,” covers the rise of casino owner Steve Wynn in “Running Scared” and tells of the mob lawyer-turned-Las Vegas mayor Oscar Goodman in “Of Rats and Men.”

Sally Denton reveals the company and the men who built Hoover Dam in her thoroughly researched book “The Profiteers” about the Bechtel Corporation.

Denton and Roger Morris also penned a book titled “The Money and the Power” about the making of Las Vegas since World War II, offering insightful peeks into the likes of gangsters Meyer Lansky and Bugsy Siegel, politician Pat McCarran and newspaper publisher Hank Greenspun.

For those who would like to climb out of the armchair and go visit on foot some of the gorgeous landscapes in Nevada and neighboring states, there is travel writer Deborah Wall’s “Base Camp Las Vegas,” which details how to get to and how to explore 101 hiking trails — from Arches to Zion National Parks, from Death Valley to the Ruby Mountains.

Many of these are available in local bookstores. All can be found online with the aid of a search engine.

And finally a blatant plug. If you’d like to keep your Nevada friends and family informed in the future, you can always give a subscription to this newspaper.

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.

The curious case of the missing score

In sports stories the headline generally tells who won, but somewhere in the story the score is reported.

Curiously, the front page AP story in the morning newspaper reports that Democrat Doug Jones defeated sex scandal-plagued Republican Roy Moore, but never reports what the margin was.

A nearly identical story on the paper’s website, reportedly updated at 10:19 p.m., well before what the paper’s deadline to press used to be, contains this:

Alabama state law calls for a recount if the margin of victory is less than one-half of one percentage point. With all precincts reporting, Jones led by 1.5 points — three times that margin.

Seems like a serious omission.

The AP online version appears to have been posted before 8 p.m. PST.

Roy Moore (AP pix)