Newspaper column: Too many willing to forgo First Amendment rights

Here is proof positive that ignorance is hazardous to freedom.

The Freedom Forum’s 2018 First Amendment survey, conducted in May and June, asked 1,009 Americans to name the five freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment. Only one person could name all five. One out of more than 1,000.

But perhaps the most telling aspect of the survey was when knowledge of the First Amendment was compared to a willingness to have the government censor social media online. Fully 63 percent of those who could name not a single First Amendment right agreed the government should censor speech, while 87 percent of those who could name four freedoms disagreed.

The more rights one could name, the more those people balked at government censorship. The curve of ignorance runs counter to the curve of freedom.

Knowledge is power and ignorance is hazardous.

Even more scary is the fact that ignorance is rampant. Fully 76 percent of those surveyed could name none or only one First Amendment right — meaning that if such a censorship scheme were put to a vote it just might win.

As for political party affiliation, 54 percent of Democrats agreed with government censorship compared with 47 percent of Republicans.

For the record, the First Amendment states: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

We’ve been writing about this annual survey with considerable angst for two decades and things have gone downhill since. In 1997, the first year of the survey, 2 percent of those questioned could name all five rights.

Somewhat ironically, considering the considerable willingness to renege on it, the one First Amendment right a simple majority, 56 percent, could name was freedom of speech. Only 15 percent could recall freedom of religion. A mere 13 percent could think of freedom of the press, while right of assembly garnered only 12 percent and right of petition a paltry 2 percent. Fully 9 percent thought the Second Amendment right to bear arms was in the First.

Another disturbing finding in the survey is the willingness of Americans to silence someone merely because someone might be offended. When asked whether public universities should be able to retract invitations to controversial speakers if their remarks would offend some groups or even individuals, 42 percent agreed. If the appearance might provoke protests, 51 percent would withdraw the invitation. And if it might incite violence, 70 would cancel — the hooligan’s veto.

“It’s a little disquieting that 4 in 10 believe that public universities should be able to cancel a speaker if he or she might offend ‘individuals.’ In these polarized times, it’s difficult to conceive of anyone speaking on any topic without offending someone,” commented Ken Paulson, president of the Freedom Forum Institute’s First Amendment Center and dean of the College of Media and Entertainment at Middle Tennessee State University.

“That finding — along with majority support for cancelling speakers if a protest is likely — suggests there is significant public support for keeping controversial ideas off college campuses,” Paulson continues. “This begs the question: If a public institution dedicated to the sharing of knowledge and ideas is the wrong place for controversial thoughts, what is the appropriate venue?”

On a more positive note, 74 percent of survey respondents agreed that it is important that the news media act as a watchdog on the government, up from only 68 percent in 2017.

David L. Hudson, Jr. — author, co-author or co-editor of more than 40 books, including “First Amendment: Freedom of Speech” — noted that politicians have long extolled and excoriated the role of the press.

Though President Obama praised “a tough and vibrant media,” President Trump has called some members of the press “enemies of the people” and purveyors of “fake news.”

“The most encouraging part of the 2018 State of the First Amendment survey is the public’s embrace of the ideal of the media serving as the watchdog of a free society,” Hudson writes. “The American public recognizes the essential importance of a vibrant and free press to serve the interests of the public as a check against government.”

But for how long?

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: Modifications to Endangered Species Act overdue

Canadian lynx (USFWS pix via PERC)

It is about time.

A few weeks ago the Interior Department announced proposals to modify the way it enforces the Endangered Species Act of 1973 to make the law a bit less onerous for private businesses and land owners. The agency is currently accepting comments on its proposals.

One of the proposals is to remove the phrase “without reference to possible economic or other impacts of such determination.” Listings of species as endangered or threatened would still be made “solely on the basis of the best scientific and commercial data available.” The change simply allows the public to be informed of potential impacts on the economy.

“Since 1982, Congress has consistently expressed support for informing the public as to the impacts of regulations in subsequent amendments to statutes and executive orders governing the rulemaking process,” the proposal states.

The law currently defines a “threatened species” as “any species which is likely to become endangered within the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of its range.” The proposal is to more specifically define what the “foreseeable future” is on a case-by-case basis. Self-styled environmentalists would define the “foreseeable future” as any remote risk at any time in the future.

The proposal seeks to better define “critical habitat.” In the past the federal land agencies have sought to block such things as farming, grazing, logging, recreational uses and mineral exploration on land deemed “critical habitat” for the dusky gopher frog in Louisiana and the Canadian lynx in Colorado, though neither species had been spied in those areas for decades.

The agency further proposes to better define when, why and how a species might be delisted.

The Property and Environment Research Center, which refers to itself as the home of free market environmentalism, reports that currently 1,623 species are listed under the act, but only 39 species have been determined to be recovered since the law passed, while 11 have become extinct.

The environmentalists rage against the modest changes claiming the law has successfully kept 98 percent of listed species from going extinct, while others focus on the fact only 2 percent have been recovered, largely due to the fact enforcement in the past has only been aimed at blocking human endeavors and little or nothing has been done to actually increase the population.

According to an article in PERC’s magazine, Colorado wildlife agencies took it on their own to reintroduce several endangered fish and the Canadian lynx, both successfully.

“The federal government threatened to sue to stop the state’s recovery efforts, claiming that even possession of endangered species — much less raising them in captivity and reintroducing them into the wild — was prohibited without federal permits,” the magazine reported. “And the government did not want to permit our hatchery or any restocking program.”

When the state threatened to hold press conferences exposing opposition to species recovery efforts, the agency backed down rather than be shown to be hypocritical about “protecting” species.

Republican Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming has a draft bill that would require species recovery plans and give states more leeway in conservation efforts. Democrats are almost universally opposed, apparently preferring to allow nature to take its course, even if that means 98 percent of species remain listed and economic endeavors are blocked in perpetuity.

We support the modest Interior Department changes to the regulatory language, as well as Barrasso’s bill to actually do something about species recovery.

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: Could Nevada benefit from plans for Hoover Dam electricity?

What’s in it for us?

A recent New York Times story outlines a proposal by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power to use Hoover Dam and Colorado River water to smooth out its flow of electricity. The utility has so much intermittent solar and wind power that sometimes it must pay others to take it off its hands lest it overload the grid and result in blackouts.

The plan is to build a $3 billion system of pipes and pump stations by 2028 that would use that excess solar and wind electricity to pump water from downstream of the dam back into Lake Mead. When the utility needs power — when the sun doesn’t shine or the wind doesn’t blow — water would be released through the dam’s turbines to generate power.

Turbines inside Hoover Dam (NYT pix)

The Times article compared the scheme to using the dam as a sort of storage battery, noting that utility-scale lithium-ion batteries cost 26 cents a kilowatt-hour, compared with 15 cents for a pumped-storage hydroelectric project.

The utility already operates a hydroelectric plant at Pyramid Lake, northwest of Los Angeles, that uses the electric grid to spin a turbine backward to pump water back into the lake.

“I think we have to look at this as a once-in-a-century moment,” the newspaper quoted Los Angeles Mayor Eric M. Garcetti as saying. “So far, it looks really possible. It looks sustainable, and it looks clean.”

Of course, the scheme is rife with potential problems. How would it affect water availability downstream? What would be the environmental impact in general and specifically for the herds of bighorn sheep? How would it impact recreational uses?

The concept is not new, though the scale of this proposition is rather audacious. The technology has been around since the late 19th century and there are several working pumped storage facilities around the world. Back in 2011 a proposal was floated to build what is called a pumped storage project in Eldorado Valley south of Las Vegas.

Though it sounded vaguely like a perpetual motion machine, it was based on the principle of supply and demand. Like in the stock or currency market — buy low, sell high.

Eldorado Pumped Storage filed an application for permission to study the feasibility of building a closed-loop hydropower facility. The idea was to build a 10,000 acre-foot reservoir at an elevation of 3,570 feet and another at 1,500 feet. During the day, when power is expensive, the water would flow through turbines and the electricity could be sold on the grid. At night, when power is cheaper, the water would be pumped back to the top of the hill.

A similar plan was once proposed for the gypsum mining property across from Blue Diamond.

Nothing has been heard since about either proposal.

As for the Hoover Dam proposal, what’s in it for Nevada? Nevada would bear the brunt of the impact of disturbances to build pipelines and pump stations. Nevada recreational uses of Lake Mohave and the Colorado River near Laughlin could be hurt by lower water levels.

Nevada gets only a quarter of the power generated by Hoover Dam, while Arizona gets less than 20 percent and the rest flows to California.

As for Lake Mead water, California gets 4.4 million acre-feet a year, Arizona 2.8 million acre-feet and Nevada a mere 300,000 acre-feet.

At the end of the lengthy Times report, Nevada state Sen. Joe Hardy of Boulder City is quoted as suggesting that Nevada would be willing to negotiate.

“The hurdles are minimal and the negotiations simple, as long as everybody agrees with Nevada,” Hardy told the newspaper. “It would be nice if there was a table that they would come to. I’ll provide the table.”

Perhaps Nevada could bargain for a greater share of water and further delay plans for that $15 billion dollar scheme to siphon groundwater from Lincoln and Nye counties.

Additionally, Nevada might bargain for more power for rural electric cooperatives.

What’s in it for Nevada?

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.

Hoover Dam (NYT video)

Editorial: Courts are solidifying gun rights

The courts in recent years have been nailing down ever more solidly the right to keep and bear arms.

In the District of Columbia the U.S. Supreme Court struck down restrictive ordinances that required that guns be kept at home disassembled or nonfunctional with a trigger lock mechanism, saying this violated the Second Amendment.

Justice Antonin Scalia opined that the Second Amendment reference to a “militia” is a prefatory clause that does not limit the operative clause of the amendment, which guarantees “an individual right to possess and carry weapons in case of confrontation.”

In the case of McDonald v. Chicago the high court overruled a 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and held that the Fourteenth Amendment makes the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms for the purpose of self-defense apply to the states. This overturned a Chicago ordinance banning the possession of handguns.

Justice Samuel Alito wrote that rights “fundamental to the Nation’s scheme of ordered liberty” or that are “deeply rooted in this Nation’s history and tradition” are appropriately applied to the states through the Fourteenth Amendment.

Now, a panel of the usually reliably liberal 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled 2-1, in the case of Young v. Hawaii, that states may not prohibit open carry, though the ruling still lets states require permits for concealed carry.

“But, for better or for worse, the Second Amendment does protect a right to carry a firearm in public for self-defense,” writes Judge Diarmuid O’Scannlain. “We would thus flout the Constitution if we were to hold that, ‘in regulating the manner of bearing arms, the authority of [the State] has no other limit than its own discretion.’ … While many respectable scholars and activists might find virtue in a firearms-carry regime that restricts the right to a privileged few, ‘the enshrinement of constitutional rights necessarily takes certain policy choices off the table.’”

Nevada is one of 30 states that currently allow open carry, while 15 require permits, including neighboring Utah, for open carry and five states, including California of course, plus the District of Columbia prohibit open carry.

Judge Scannlain further pointed out that the right to self protection is one of those unalienable rights that existed prior to the Constitution and the Bill of Rights merely restrained Congress from infringing.

The ruling cited the English Declaration of 1689 as having enshrined “the right of having and using arms for self-preservation and defence.”

“In McDonald, the Court incorporated the Second Amendment against the States through the Fourteenth Amendment, invalidating a Chicago law that effectively banned handgun possession by residents of the city. …” the judge explained. “In determining whether the pre-existing right codified by the Second Amendment was ‘fundamental to our scheme of ordered liberty,’ the Court stressed the centrality of self-defense: ‘Self-defense is a basic right, recognized by many legal systems from ancient times to the present day …’”

Perhaps, such sound reasoning will deter Democratic legislators in 2019 from trying to restrict gun rights, as they have so often in the past.

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.

Poll shows tight races for senator and governor

A poll for the Reno Gazette-Journal by Suffolk University of Boston shows both the race for Nevada’s governor and U.S. senator to be almost dead even. The paper concluded undecided voters could play a major role come November.

The poll of 500 likely voters has a margin of error of 4.4 percent.

This is how the race for governor stands:

This how the race for senator stands:

It looks like the campaign to defeat the Energy Choice Initiative, Question 3, is being effective. The measure passed with 72 percent of the vote two years ago:

Notice who has the highest unfavorable rating in the state:

Then there is the question of turnout by county. Those polled were:

The current active voters, according the Secretary of State, breaks down as Clark 69.3 percent, Washoe 17.7 percent and others 13 percent. But in the last mid-term election in 2014, the actual turnout was Clark 61.8 percent, Washoe 21.1 and others 17.1 percent. So, if the rural turnout is greater than the turnout in heavily Democratic urban centers that might make a difference. But as June the number of active voters in the rurals had dropped to 13 percent, down from 15 percent in 2014.

 

Editorial: Now is your chance to speak up on Little Ash Springs

Little Ash Springs as seen through the wrought iron fence from neighboring private property. (Mitchell pix)

Five years ago the Bureau of Land Management locked the gate to Little Ash Springs north of Alamo on Highway 93 in Lincoln County, saying it would take a couple of weeks to repair a man-made soaking pool on the 1-acre popular hot springs recreation area. The closure was for public safety concerns lest the walls of the pool collapse and injure or even kill someone.

This past week the BLM released an Environmental Assessment outlining five alternatives for the site and opening a public comment period that will last through Aug. 20.

The alternatives range from an elaborate and extensive construction of amenities and facilities on the site, along with personnel to manage the crowds and collect fees, proposed by a group calling themselves Friends of Pahranagat Valley, to doing nothing and keeping the site closed and largely as is.

The BLM’s “proposed action” would include repairs to or reconstruction of the damaged soaking pool, and expanding on four acres to the north for parking, day use area, restrooms, picnic areas, shade structures, walkways, and informational kiosks. The BLM would monitor the downstream water to ensure compliance with Nevada water quality standards.

Another alternative proposes to remove the soaker pool and allow only land-based uses such as picnic areas and walkways. Still another alternative is to return the site to its original natural state and close it to any recreational uses.

Of those five alternatives the BML reported all comply with the district’s goals and objectives, except the one proposed by the Friends group.

According to the BLM assessment, the Ash Springs complex had been a local “swimming hole” for years, but the original recreational site was actually on adjacent private property now referred to as Big Ash Springs, a 13-acre tract of private land and hot springs now owned by Joe and Andrea Barker.

Big Ash Springs was once open to the public and had swimming, a water slide and RV parking. In the 1990s, when the previous owners of Big Ash closed and fenced off their private property, the BLM developed Little Ash Springs for public access, building the soaking pool around the year 2000 and installing toilets, picnic tables, trash cans, cooking grills and parking.

By the time the BLM closed Little Ash in 2013 the site had grown in popularity until on some weekends as many as 100 people would be in the tiny soaking pool at once, according to the BLM.

There were also problems with vandalism, trash, graffiti, broken glass, excessively loud music, drug and alcohol use, as well as water pollution that threatened endangered fish species downstream.

The assessment speculates that the Little Ash reopening could benefit the local economy, especially if the Barkers or others decide to develop recreational opportunities on adjacent private property.

“Should the adjacent property be developed in conjunction with the recreational use at Ash Springs, it can be expected that Alamo and the nearby communities would see an increase in visitation,” the BLM suggests. “The impacts of higher visitation could include increased spending and economic growth, increased traffic, job opportunities, and either a higher or lower sense of community pride about the springs.”

Of course, there is also the possibility the local taxpayers might have to increase spending on law enforcement.

The assessment, along with appendices, maps, photos and details about commenting on the proposal are available online at:

https://eplanning.blm.gov/epl-front-office/eplanning/planAndProjectSite.do?methodName=dispatchToPatternPage&currentPageId=146050

Written comments may be sent to the BLM Caliente Field Office, P.O. Box 237, Caliente, NV 89008, Attn: 2018 Ash Springs. Comments also may be submitted electronically with the subject, “ATTN: Ash Springs” to blm_nv_ash_springs@blm.gov. Deadline is Aug. 20.

The Caliente Field Office of the BLM’s Ely District will host an open house to discuss the Environmental Assessment from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 8, in the Pahranagat Valley High School multipurpose room at 151 S. Main St. in Alamo.

The BLM is not a recreational agency and its past lack of management at Little Ash raises questions about its ability to do so in the future. The BLM is not known for its attentiveness to public input, but this is our opportunity to have a say on what will become of this site. Speak now or …

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: BLM rule change doesn’t signal wild horse slaughter

Wild horses being affected by drought. (AP pix)

Wild horse advocates are apoplectic over a change in rules for selling off wild horses recently announced by the Trump administration’s Bureau of Land Management, saying it could lead to the animals being sold for slaughter.

In 2013, after learning that Colorado rancher Tom Davis, a friend and neighbor of then-Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, had over a three-year period sold 1,800 wild horses he had purchased from the BLM for slaughter in Mexico, the BLM instituted a rule that no one could purchase more than four wild horses in a six-month period without approval of the agency’s deputy assistant director of resource and planning.

In May, the BLM issued new guidelines saying up to 25 wild horses could be sold without prior approval up the chain of command.

“The federal government is about to resume selling America’s cherished wild horses and burros by the truckload, sending potentially thousands of mustangs into the slaughter pipeline against the wishes of 80 percent of Americans,” fulminated Suzanne Roy, executive director of the American Wild Horse Campaign (AWHC) in a press release this past week. “This Administration appears hellbent on destroying America’s iconic wild horse and burro herds, and this is the latest step on that path to destruction.”

Pay no heed to the fact the BLM spends 60 percent of its annual budget for handling wild horses and burros on warehousing 46,000 of them in corrals and private pastures, while there are 83,000 wild horses and burros on a range that can adequately sustain no more than 27,000. Nor to the fact that earlier this year BLM officials desperate to rid themselves of the expense of feeding all those “wild” animals were contemplating offering $1,000 incentives to anyone willing to take some off their hands.

An Interior Department inspector general report in 2015 found that Davis over three years bought truckloads of 35 horses at a time for $10 each and sold them to others who took them to Mexico for slaughter. Davis made up to $3,000 profit per truckload. The case was referred to federal and local prosecutors who declined to prosecute, criminally or civilly.

Davis told inspectors that BLM officials had to know so many horses were going to slaughter.

Congress for years has effectively banned the slaughter of horses for meat in the U.S. by denying funding for health inspectors.

The new BLM guidelines for selling wild horses say untrained animals may be sold for as little as $25 apiece, while horses trained to halter or saddle must fetch $125. Purchasers also must provide adequate feed, care and a facility, such as a corral, barn or stall.

Applicants also must swear that the animals are not intended for “slaughter or bucking stock, or for processing into commercial products …”

Though the limiting of sales to only four horses at a time appears to have not been financially conducive to either buyers or taxpayers, and despite the lessons learned from the Davis probe, AWHC’s Roy forecasts doom and gloom will result from the change in rules.

“When you’re selling horses by the truckload for $25 apiece, it provides a big incentive for slaughter,” Roy was quoted in her press release. “Since riding a horse to his first day of work, Interior Secretary Zinke has galloped down a deadly path for America’s wild horse and burro herds – from asking Congress for permission to slaughter tens of thousands of these cherished animals to promoting the mass surgical sterilization of mustangs and burros on the range. Zinke is pushing the livestock industry agenda to rid our public lands of wild horses and trampling on the wishes of American citizens in the process.”

In a recent interview, Nevada’s senior U.S. Senator Dean Heller said he has spoken with Zinke and a middle ground on this matter is being sought.

“Zinke assured me he’s looking at this issue. They’re looking at a number of different avenues how they can cull these herds without, frankly, having to remove some of these horses from the range, but they do believe they can put together a sterilization program and something that in five to 10 years can reduce the size of these herds,” Heller said. “There is a discussion out there. These discussions are being had — looking for a reasonable, reasonable answers to this, and trying to come up with a program or a process that both sides can agree on.”

When it comes to the taxpayers being on the hook to try to preserve non-native species in perpetuity, all means should be stoically explored.

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.