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.

 

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Newspaper column: Constitution stretched to the breaking point

A Utah prairie dog peeks out of an artificial burrow after arriving at a remote site in the desert, some 25 miles away from Cedar City, Utah. (AP pix via WSJ)

If words can mean anything anyone says they mean, then words are meaningless. That is what the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has done with the Commerce Clause of the Constitution.

The appellate court overturned a federal judge who found that the Commerce Clause does not give Congress the power under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) to regulate a species that exists only within the boundaries of one state and has no commercial value whatsoever — specifically the Utah prairie dog.

Nevada has joined with Utah and 21 other states to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to strike the circuit court ruling, saying that if the ruling stands “then Congress has virtually limitless authority, and the Tenth Amendment is a dead letter,” as well as the concept of federalism. (prairiedogamicusbrief)

If Nevada is to have any control over any economic activity within its borders, which include numerous endangered and threatened species, it is vital that the high court reverse this Constitution-rendering exercise in legerdemain.

The circuit court judges stretched the meaning of the Commerce Clause — which gives Congress the power to regulate interstate commerce in order to promote commerce by preventing interstate tariffs — to include anything Congress could imagine in its wildest flights of fantasy.

“We conclude that Congress had a rational basis to believe that regulation of the take of the Utah prairie dog on nonfederal land is an essential part of the ESA’s broader regulatory scheme which, in the aggregate, substantially affects interstate commerce,” the circuit court ruled, without any hint as whether that conclusion was at all rational rather than delusional sophistry.

The judges dived further into base speculation by stating, “‘ESA’s drafters were concerned by the “incalculable” value of the genetic heritage that might be lost absent regulation,’ as well as observing that the majority of takes of species ‘result from economic activity …’” Might that incalculable value be zero? Species became extinct before mankind arrived on the scene.

The amicus brief filed by the attorneys general of 23 states paraphrased the 10th Amendment in the Bill of Rights by stating, “The Framers correctly concluded that both restraints – separation of powers and federalism – are necessary to preserve individual liberty and avoid tyranny. So powers not given to the federal government are reserved for the States and the people. But federalism serves its purposes only if the federal-state interplay remains properly balanced. That means courts must ensure that the federal government operates only within its enumerated powers so the States can function within their proper spheres.”

Adding insult to constitutional injury is the fact the state of Utah was actually doing a better job of protecting the prairie dog population than the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The Fish and Wildlife rules made it a federal crime to “take” the Utah prairie dog — which means to harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture or collect — without first obtaining time-consuming and expensive federal permits. Meanwhile, the burrowing prairie dogs were damaging parks, sports fields, airports and cemeteries and preventing the construction of homes and businesses. Especially hard hit is the small college town Cedar City.

During the time after the federal judge blocked the Fish and Wildlife rules the state of Utah spent a considerable amount of money to move the prairie dogs from population centers to remote and safer conservation areas, allowing the population to boom from a low of 24,000 in 1984 to an estimated 80,000 today.

The original lawsuit was brought by 200 private property owners calling themselves People for the Ethical Treatment of Property Owners. They were represented by the Pacific Legal Foundation (PLF), which litigates on behalf of personal liberty and property rights.

“For decades, the federal government’s harmful Utah prairie dog regulation has prohibited residents of Cedar City from doing things that most of us take for granted in our own communities,” PLF attorney Jonathan Wood is quoted as saying in a press release. “They have been blocked from building homes, starting small businesses, even protecting playgrounds, an airport, and the local cemetery from the disruptive, tunneling rodent.

“The Commerce Clause has long been a source of federal mischief, but the Supreme Court has never allowed it to be stretched this far,” Wood noted. “With their prairie dog regulation, federal bureaucrats have asserted control over local activities that are not interstate commerce, do not affect interstate commerce, and are not necessary to any federal regulation of interstate commerce.”

If the words of the Constitution are so malleable, it has no meaning and Congress is our dictator.

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: 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.

Could North Korea actually defeat the U.S.?

Kim Jong Un with a reported hydrogen bomb. (Reuters pix via WSJ)

Decades ago while I was writing about the threat of a nuclear attack on the nearby Strategic Command Air Force base, my managing editor informed me who would be the unlucky ones in that eventually: Those who would look up and ask: What was that?

The threat then was the Soviet Union. Now North Korea has openly stated the possibility of attacking the U.S. with a single nuclear weapon at high altitude that could destroy much of this country’s electronic infrastructure.

The Wall Street Journal reports that North Korea’s state news agency on Sunday morning, after detonating another nuclear weapon test, specifically stated that it has “a multifunctional thermonuclear nuke with great destructive power which can be detonated even at high altitudes for super-powerful EMP attack.” EMP is an electromagnetic pulse that could cripple the power grid and destroy electronics that allow water to be pumped, food to be refrigerated, banking accounts to be accessed, fuel pumping, communications, electronics in many vehicles and so much more.

How big a threat is EMP? One report from a couple of years ago estimated as much as 90 percent of the population of the U.S. might die from starvation, disease and social tumult after such an attack.

In a 2015 newspaper column I wrote about what was being done to protect the country from such an attack. The answer: Virtually nothing. Because our “leaders” deemed global warming the biggest threat to mankind.

A year a ago I again wrote about the impact of an EMP attack.

In December I wrote about how Nevada could play a role in defense efforts. And there are a half dozen other blogs posted here about EMP.

The cost to harden the power grid against EMP has been placed at somewhere between a half a billion dollars and a couple of billion. Washington spends three times that in one minute.

Newspaper throws stones at liberal East Coast media

The Las Vegas Vegas newspaper carried a front page story in its Sunday edition that criticized The New York Times and The Washington Post for largely ignoring the story of five Pakistani-born congressional informational technology employees suspected by Capitol Police of violating security policies.

“Unlike the Trump Russian scandal, however, The Washington Post and The New York Times have barely reported on the story, which has conservatives observing — with President Donald Trump’s Twitter account concurring — that the mainstream media have a double standard,” the story, which carries a slug calling it an analysis, reports.

 

Up until Sunday, the local paper had itself carried only two mentions in print of the main character in the story, Imran Awan. One was a Washington Post story about Trump’s twitter posts that mentioned a Trump tweet about Awan. Another was a brief that reported Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the former Democratic National Committee chairwoman, had finally fired Awan after his arrest at Dulles Airport as he was about to board a flight to Pakistan after wiring nearly $300,000 there. Some of that money was suspected of being the proceeds of bank fraud.

In the past month alone the paper appears to have carried a dozen accounts that contain the words Russia, Trump and collusion.

After reporting that the five suspects — four members of the same family and a friend of the family — had been paid $4 million over the past dozen years, “three times higher than the norm for a government contractor,” the analysis scolded:

“There is enough smoke to this story to merit intense news coverage. Yet, The Washington Post, the federal government’s hometown paper, had published only two stories on the Awan saga as of Tuesday, when the Post ran an explainer that looked at the story through two lenses — one conservative, one liberal.”

The analysis concludes with this observation: “It is impossible not to see a double standard. The Democrats’ IT guys enjoy the presumption of innocence. And that would be OK, if big beltway media showed the president the same courtesy.”

Those who live in glass houses …

Debbie Wassermann Schultz (AP pix via WSJ)

 

Ho, hum, just another Democrat scandal

The name Imran Awan has appeared in the local newspaper just twice since his arrest at Dulles Airport on July 24 while attempting to board a flight to his native Pakistan to rejoin his wife and the hundreds of thousands of dollars he had wired there — suspected to have been the proceeds of bank fraud.

It took awhile for Democratic National Committee head Debbie Wasserman Schultz to get around to firing him from his IT job. According to Wall Street Journal columnist Kimberley Strassel, Awan has worked for Democrats on the Hill for more than a decade, along with his wife, two brothers and a sister-in-law. His 20-year-old brother was reportedly paid $160,000 for a no-show job. The family reportedly has netted nearly $5 million from taxpayers.

The family, which had computer access to the highest levels of Democratic leadership in Washington,  has been accused of bankruptcy fraud, life-insurance fraud, tax fraud and extortion.

Strassel reported:

The most recent FBI affidavit accuses Imran Awan of defrauding the Congressional Federal Credit Union by lying about the use of his rental properties to get a $165,000 home-equity loan—which he immediately wrapped into a $283,000 wire transfer to Pakistan. At one point, when the credit union asked Mr. Awan (who was pretending to be his wife on the phone) why he wanted to send money to Pakistan, he replied, “funeral arrangements.”

Told this was not an acceptable reason, Mr. Awan went to “look online for an acceptable reason” and responded “buying property.” The bright bulbs at the credit union approved the transfer. His wife was already in Pakistan. The FBI stopped her at the airport in March, and despite finding $12,400 in undeclared cash (in excess of the legal limit), they let her go. Seriously.

No Russians to see here. Move along.

Debbie Wassermann Schultz (AP pix via WSJ)

 

Does it really take a million acres of national monuments in Nevada to protect a few artifacts?

President Trump’s signing of an executive order calling for a review of the national monument designations made in the past 20 years prompted the local newspaper to drag out the usual suspects to moan and groan about the need to “protect” the million acres of Nevada land that Obama designated as national monuments in his last months in office.

Trump called Obama’s use of the Antiquities Act of 1906 to create monuments an “egregious abuse of federal power.”

“We’re very dismayed,” one of the lock-up-the-land advocates told the local paper. “We worked hard on this for 15 years. I think the issue has been decided.”

Largely decided without any input for local officials and residents.

“Today we’re putting the states back in charge,” Trump said Wednesday.

His Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said his agency will recommend which monuments should be lifted or, perhaps, reduced in size. He also said local feedback will be sought.

Before Obama created with a stroke of his pen the 700,000-acre Basin and Range Monument on the Nye and Lincoln border and the 300,000-acre Gold Butte Monument near Mesquite, he might have asked someone to actually read that 1906 law which gives the president the power to declare land off-limits to productive use for the purpose of protecting “historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest” on public land. The law also says that the designation “shall be confined to the smallest area compatible with proper care and management of the objects to be protected.”

Does it take a million acres to protect a few petrogylphs and artifacts?

Though the monuments’ backers say the Antiquities Act grants the president power to create monuments but does not grant the power to rescind previous designations, there is legal precedent that states a presidential right to declare implies a presidential right to rescind.

The Wall Street Journal pointed out earlier this year, “In Myers v. United States (1926), the Supreme Court ruled that the president’s power to appoint officials, with the advice and consent of the Senate, includes the power to unilaterally remove them.”

The court said, “The power of removal is an incident of the power to appoint …”

BLM pix