Newspaper column: Public has a right to see justice done

Steve Kelly cartoon

Currently playing in theaters across the country is a movie called “The Post,” about  how in 1971 The New York Times and The Washington Post both brazenly defied the law of the land and published excerpts of a highly classified document that has since been dubbed the Pentagon Papers, which outlined how a succession of presidents lied to and concealed information from the American public about events and strategy in the Vietnam War.

The public had a right to know, both papers argued.

There was nothing in the Papers that would have jeopardized American security or troops, just the confidence of the American people in the belief that their leaders would tell them the unvarnished truth.

Today, both of those papers are being less than enthusiastic about the public’s right to know what is in a declassified memo from the House Intelligence Committee that states there are “concerns with the legitimacy and legality” of how law enforcement obtained court approval to wiretap a then volunteer political adviser to  now-President Donald Trump, Carter Page, in an investigation into whether the Trump campaign “colluded” with officials of the Russian government.

The memo indicates Justice and FBI officials were less than forthcoming with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court about the material used to support the request for permission to surveil an American citizen, despite the Fourth Amendment guarantee that citizens are to be secure against unreasonable searches and seizures. The memo specifically addresses the fact the Christopher Steele “dossier” was bought and paid for by the Democratic National Committee and the Hillary Clinton campaign and that the credibility of Steele himself was doubtful after he was quoted as saying he “was desperate that Donald Trump not get elected and was passionate about him not being president.”

Never mind that then-FBI Director James Comey testified that the dossier was “salacious and unverified.”

The Post editorialized that the Intelligence Committee under Republican Devin Nunes of California “has become another front in Mr. Trump’s assault on the law enforcement institutions investigating the president and his associates. House Republicans are poisoning the committee’s relationship with the intelligence community and distracting from real issues demanding attention.”

Poisoning? Distracting?

The editorialists at the Times opened with the dismissive line, “Seriously? That’s all they’ve got?” From there the paper derisively chided the House Republicans for what it seemed to believe is a newly discovered reverence for transparency.

“Since the Republicans are now on board with greater transparency, they will no doubt push President Trump to release his tax returns, as every other major-party presidential nominee has done for the past four decades, won’t they?” the Times taunted.

There was nothing in the memo that in any way jeopardizes national security, but the Democrats on the Intelligence Committee fired off a memo declaring, “The Republican document mischaracterizes highly sensitive classified information …” adding, “The sole purpose of the Republican document is to circle the wagons around the White House and insulate the President.”

Nevada’s Democrats, of course, joined the hooting chorus of naysaying.

Freshman Rep. Jacky Rosen, who is running against Sen. Dean Heller this year, said, “Declassifying this memo, filled with innuendo to support unsubstantiated claims, is a blatant attempt to discredit Robert Mueller’s investigation for political gain. This was all done despite the objections of the FBI, and these attacks undermine the integrity of our federal law enforcement officers.”

Nevada Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto released a statement declaring, “This partisan memo is nothing more than an attempt to distract from the very real issue: Did a presidential candidate’s campaign work with a foreign government to influence our election process? I support the dedicated professionals at the Federal Bureau of Investigation. It is clear that to some Republicans in Congress, it’s more important to play politics than to support law enforcement. No one should ever be above the law.

Including those in law enforcement?

Rep. Dina Titus fired off this retort, “Republicans are willing to jeopardize our national security by attacking and undermining an FBI investigation of one of Trump’s advisers in a memo that has material omissions of fact, distortions, and ulterior motives. … Something doesn’t add up. Trump has something to hide.”

And what is the purpose of classifying a document, but to hide? While declassifying reveals.

For justice to be done, it must the seen, and not cloaked under a veil of secrecy.

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.

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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.

Sun’s new slogan: Last week’s news today

The New York Times proudly displays its motto on the front page daily: “All the news that’s fit to print.”

In this age of the Internet some wags have given printed newspapers the derisive motto: “Yesterday’s news today.”

The little insert in the Las Vegas newspaper has taken that dig to heart. Today it has published a New York Times article about a “Black Money” secret government project to investigate UFOs. The article, which appeared on the front page this past Sunday, was first posted online on the Times website this past Saturday afternoon.

The Times reported on Monday that the story had dominated the most emailed and most viewed lists since being posted.

The Las Vegas newspaper carried a brief about the Times story on Sunday and an editorial on Wednesday. Both noted that former Nevada Sen. Harry Reid managed to sneak $22 million in funding for the UFO project into the Defense budget in secret and that the money went to his friend Las Vegan Robert Bigelow.

Meanwhile, Politico picked up the story, as did Fortune, CNN, Fox, Newsweek, the New York Post, NPR, USA Today, Salon, a British newspaper, Slate, the New York Daily News, the National Review, CBS, the Dallas Morning News, the Washington Post, Japan Times, National Geographic, countless other publications and bloggers.

So, today, for its readers who had not yet bothered to read the original story online, in print or in one of its numerous incarnations, the Las Vegas Sun reprinted the five-day-old Times piece in its entirety, earning its new slogan: “Last week’s news today.”

The headline makes no mention of the editor’s pal Harry Reid and his name does not appear until the jump. There is no photo of Reid or Bigelow.

Robert Bigelow (NYT pix)

News coverage of net neutrality changes reveal nuances in news neutrality

FCC Chair Ajit Pai (AP pix via NYT)

Words can convey considerable nuance, suggesting approval or disapproval without coming right out and saying so. Compare the news flashes this morning from The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal about the Federal Communications Commission’s decision to vote next month to end net neutrality rules. There is a difference in tone and emphasis.

The third paragraph of The Times piece reads:

The clear winners from the move would be telecom giants like AT&T and Comcast that have lobbied for years against regulations of broadband and will now have more control over the online experiences of American consumers. The losers could be internet sites that will have to answer telecom firms to get their content in front of consumers. And consumers may see their bills increase for the best quality of internet service.

The second graph of The Journal article reads:

The changes are expected to be approved at a Federal Communications Commission meeting in mid-December. They would create a range of new opportunities for internet providers, enabling them to form alliances with media and other online firms to offer web services at higher speeds and quality. They also would help clear the way for creative pricing and bundling of services to attract more customers.

The Obama administration imposed the net neutrality rules in 2015. They prohibit internet service providers from charging more for faster connection speed. Sort of like prohibiting a trucking company from charging more for heavier shipments. (No neutrality here, of course.)

The Journal noted that critics argued the rules “stifled investment and innovation in the still-developing broadband industry. Providers also worried the rules could open the door to rate regulation and other new oversight.”

The Times did quote FCC Chairman as saying, “Under my proposal, the federal government will stop micromanaging the internet. Instead, the F.C.C. would simply require internet service providers to be transparent about their practices so that consumers can buy the service plan that’s best for them and entrepreneurs and other small businesses can have the technical information they need to innovate.”

The next graph in The Times states:

The plan to repeal the 2015 net neutrality rules also reverses a hallmark decision by the agency to declare broadband as a service as essential as phones and electricity, a move that created the legal foundation for the net neutrality rules and underscored the importance of high-speed internet service to the nation.

Hallmark. Importance.

The Journal outlined the two sides of the argument:

Many conservatives view the FTC’s case-by-case regulatory approach as more appropriate for the internet economy, to encourage more innovation.

Progressives prefer the FCC’s rule-based approach for the online environment to prevent unfair and anticompetitive practices by internet providers from ever taking root.

The Journal also noted that on Monday the Trump Justice Department filed suit to block a proposed merger of AT&T with Time Warner on antitrust grounds, saying this suggested the administration’s   support for big telecommunications combinations has limits. The Times made no mention of this.

News neutrality is difficult to achieve, too.

 

Tax reform bill lands shortly after the morning newspaper

This is one of the problems with running a daily newspaper in the Internet age. The Las Vegas paper — which hit the driveways this morning — has a story about what is expected to be in the Republican tax reform bill, but an hour or so later the actual tax bill has been released.

The New York Times is reporting that the much debated and maligned dropping of the income tax deduction for state and local income and sales taxes is still in the bill.

The state and local tax (SALT) deductions are patently unfair to states with lower tax rates.

Using 2010 statistical data from the IRS, 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 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.

The tax deduction for property taxes remains but is capped at $10,000. The bill also maintains mortgage interest deductions for existing mortgages, but caps the deduction for newly purchased homes to $500,000.

The bill also establishes three tax brackets — 12, 25 and 35 percent. “Single filers making up to $24,000 will pay no income tax; up to $90,000 will be in the 12 percent bracket, up to $260,000 in the 25 percent bracket and up to $1 million in the 35 percent bracket. Those making above $1 million will be in the 39.6 percent bracket, which is currently the top rate for millionaires,” the Times says.

The standard deduction for the 70 percent of Americans who do not itemize would increase from $6,350 for individuals to $12,000 and from $12,700 to $22,000 for married couples.

There will be no changes to 401(K) plan tax exemptions after all.

It also doubles the exemption for the estate tax and repeals it after six years.

Bloomberg is also reporting that the bill ends the $7,500 credit for purchasers of electric vehicles made by companies such as Tesla Motors, which got more than $1 billion in tax breaks from Nevada to build a battery plant in Sparks.

Now the fight begins. Nevada Democrats have largely opposed the tax reforms that would benefit most Nevada taxpayers and stimulate the economy.

 

Editorial: Tax reform that could benefit Nevadans slipping away

It looks like a tax reform proposal that could have resulted in lower income tax rates for Nevadans is swirling down the drain.

The Los Angeles Times is reporting that congressional Republicans are considering jettisoning a part of President Trump’s proposal that would eliminate IRS deductions for state and local taxes. Dropping the deduction would generate $1.3 trillion in additional federal revenue, thus allowing lower rates for the 70 percent of Americans who do not itemize and take the standard deduction.

While Democrats insist tax reform should in no way benefit the wealthy, the retention of the state and local tax deduction does precisely that for the wealthy who live in Democrat-controlled high tax states, such as New York and California.

The Times conceded that Californians benefit more from the state and local tax deduction than taxpayers in any other state. In fact Californians managed to dodge $101 billion in taxes in 2014 — New York, New Jersey and Illinois were next on the list of top tax dodgers. Of the top 10 states for the deduction, Trump carried only three.

The New York Times also is reporting that some Republican spines are weakening, noting that elimination of the deduction has Republicans in high-tax states worried about backlash from voters whose tax bills might rise.

The newspaper said that Rep. Chris Collins, a New York Republican, said in an interview that party leaders had assured him “there’s not going to be full repeal” of the state and local tax deduction. The paper also quoted Gary Cohn, the director of the National Economic Council, as saying the deduction was not a “red line.”

Using 2010 statistical data from the IRS, 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 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.

Nevadans — along with residents of New Hampshire, Florida, Wyoming, Texas, South Dakota and Alaska — get to deduct about 1 percent or less of their adjusted gross income, while those who live in New York, Maryland, D.C. and California deduct more than 5 percent.

“Republicans have said the deduction largely affects the wealthy and is unfair to residents in lower-tax states,” the Los Angeles newspaper reported. “Eliminating the break would help simplify the tax code and make it more equitable, White House officials said.”

In 1985 Ronald Reagan argued for eliminating the state and local tax deduction. He said in a speech: “We’re reducing tax rates by simplifying the complex system of special provisions that favor some at the expense of others. Restoring confidence in our tax system means restoring and respecting the principle of fairness for all. This means curtailing some business deductions now being written off; it means ending several personal deductions, including the state and local tax deduction, which actually provides a special subsidy for high-income individuals, especially in a few high-tax states. Two-thirds of Americans don’t even itemize, so they receive no benefit from the state and local tax deduction. But they’re being forced to subsidize the high-tax policies of a handful of states. This is truly taxation without representation.”

Reagan failed, primarily because there were too many Republican lawmakers from New York and California, just as there are today. California has 14 Republicans in the House and New York has nine.

If Congress caves in to the few who want to keep their lucrative state and local tax deductions, it is unlikely the 70 percent of Americans who currently do not itemize can be afforded a doubling of the standard deduction as is currently being contemplated.

The tax code should be fair and equitable for all and not carve out breaks for some.

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.

Editorial: Trump tells it like it is at the U.N.

Trump at United Nations (AP pix)

The New York Times editorial called the speech bellicose and said it had a dark tone and focus. It compared the speech unfavorably to one by a more humble President Obama in 2009 when many of the same problems existed — without a hint of recognition that Obama had failed to resolve any of those problems.

The Los Angeles Times editorial said the message was undermined by bombast, boastfulness, illogic and was needlessly offensive. “It was a bizarrely bellicose message for an American president to send to an audience of world leaders,” the paper opined.

So President Trump’s speech to the United Nations General Assembly was obviously a rousing success.

“As president of the United States, I will always put America first, just like you, as the leaders of your countries will always, and should always, put your countries first,” Trump told the assembly, which, despite the negative reviews of the liberal press, reacted with applause.

Yes, he pulled no punches when he talked about the regimes in North Korean, Iran and Venezuela, and he did not let Russia and China escape criticism.

“We must protect our nations, their interests, and their futures,” Trump declared. “We must reject threats to sovereignty, from the Ukraine to the South China Sea. We must uphold respect for law, respect for borders, and respect for culture, and the peaceful engagement these allow. And just as the founders of this body intended, we must work together and confront together those who threaten us with chaos, turmoil, and terror.”

He pointed out that North Korea has shown contempt for other nations and its own people by starving, imprisoning, torturing and killing them.

“If this is not twisted enough, now North Korea’s reckless pursuit of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles threatens the entire world with unthinkable loss of human life,” he said of the ruthless dictator he dubbed the “Rocket Man,” who is on a suicide mission for himself and his regime.

Trump called the Iranian nuclear deal brokered by Obama the worst, most one-sided deal ever entered into by the United States.

As for Venezuela, Trump singled out the root cause of its economic collapse under the dictatorship of Nicolas Maduro.

“The problem in Venezuela is not that socialism has been poorly implemented, but that socialism has been faithfully implemented,” the president said to a round of applause, despite the fact the L.A. Times called this a gratuitous insult and a simplistic denunciation of socialism likely to offend many countries. “From the Soviet Union to Cuba to Venezuela, wherever true socialism or communism has been adopted, it has delivered anguish and devastation and failure. Those who preach the tenets of these discredited ideologies only contribute to the continued suffering of the people who live under these cruel systems.”

He also warned the U.N. members that the United States is fully aware that it bears a disproportionate burden, noting there are 193 countries in the U.N., but the U.S. pays 22 percent of the entire budget.

Trump concluded his tell-it-like-it-is speech with a stirring call to action, “So let this be our mission, and let this be our message to the world: We will fight together, sacrifice together, and stand together for peace, for freedom, for justice, for family, for humanity, and for the almighty God who made us all.”

The liberal media is going to criticize Trump no matter what he says, and he too often deserves criticism for popping off. Perhaps he should give more speeches like this one and send fewer Tweets.

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.